A dog restored his hope. A miracle restored his eyesight.
Never in the 40-year history of Southeastern Guide Dogs has someone offered to return a guide dog because his vision came back.
But Jeff Lowery did, sobbing after hanging up the phone.
“I thought I was going to lose her,” Jeff explains. “Quincy loves to work, and because I was no longer blind, morally and ethically, I didn’t feel it was right for me to use her in public, even though she brings me so much calm and peace.”
Years after experiencing blunt-force trauma to the head, Jeff lost vision in one eye. As a behavioral analyst for severely abused youth offenders, he took a pipe to the head while apprehending a runaway teen and was left for days bleeding in a field. That attack—the worst of many—left visible scars and ghosts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Doctors treated his anxiety, hypervigilance, sleeplessness, and night terrors with a cocktail of medications, which—combined with therapy and his faith—kept Jeff alive.
“When you lose your vision, you take away your security…your trust…and you’re trapped in a dark and darkened world.”
But his world collapsed when he lost vision in the other eye, presumably from old injuries. Immobilized by depression and fear, Jeff’s old recliner became home. He lost his driver’s license, independence, confidence, and identity as a tough and capable man’s man and involved husband and father.
“My whole world—as I knew it—ended,” Jeff explains. “When you lose your vision, you take away your security…your trust …and you’re trapped in a dark and darkened world.”
“Jeff is an extrovert,” shares his wife, Sara. “When the vision loss occurred, he became reclusive and isolated. I felt helpless. It was hard to see him lose that light and life he had carried and to see him in a fragile and weaker state. It was shocking because he not only had PTSD and the trauma we were working through as a couple, but now he had another health crisis with vision loss.”
But then a guide dog named Quincy restored Jeff’s hope, starting with their first night together.
Jeff had learned to navigate with a cane, but hoping for more independence, he came to Southeastern Guide Dogs. As he learned to navigate with his new guide, he realized how much he needed Quincy.
“The first time I slept in years was at the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus,” Jeff recalls. Quincy wasn’t trained to help with post-traumatic stress—she was trained to help Jeff travel safely and independently. But her absolute love and innate ability to sense distress meant Jeff got more than he asked for in this sweet and playful Labrador.
“The day Quincy came home was exciting,” Sara recalls. “I could see hope re-installed in Jeff, which was encouraging. We were on the horizon of a new, fresh start.”
Four years passed, and with Quincy’s help, Jeff adjusted to vision loss. The days blurred with kids, school, work, and church. But one day marked the beginning of a miracle. A friend mentioned his own PTSD medication’s adverse side effects.
“I was in the medical field,” Sara says. “Pharmacology interests me, so I looked it up. The side effects were blurred vision and neurological issues. Jeff was starting to get shaky; they thought he might have the early onset of Parkinson’s. He had four or five side effects that lined up with this drug.” After consulting with his pharmacist and doctor, Jeff began weaning off that medication.
Three weeks later, Jeff called Sara with a now-humorous observation. “I saw dog poop in the backyard,” he told her. “I actually saw it. I could tell it from the gray of the rocks!” It took Jeff about two weeks to regain full vision in his left eye. The right eye remains blind from trauma, but his left eye returned to 20/20.
Jeff’s joy at his restored vision—and the freedom of driving again!—was tempered by his growing conviction that Quincy was destined for more. “I called the Southeastern Guide Dogs instructor and said, ‘Quincy needs to work. She needs to go to somebody else who is blind.’ Then I hung up and sobbed because I thought I would lose her.”
When faced with significant decisions, the Southeastern Guide Dogs team always asks: What’s best for the dog? and What’s best for the person?
After consulting with guide dog instructors, service dog instructors, and leadership, the instructor called Jeff back.
“Hey Jeff,” she said. “How about I come to your house, and we work on transitioning Quincy from a guide dog to a PTSD service dog?”
“I was thrilled, then I hung up, and I cried again because I got to keep Quincy with me,” Jeff says. “The staff at Southeastern Guide Dogs are so loving. They’ve never dealt with this before, but you wouldn’t know it—they’re just phenomenal.”
As Quincy hones skills to help Jeff’s PTSD, she excels at the touch and the hug cues because the real miracle resides in Quincy’s touch.
“If I start disconnecting or become ungrounded, she’s there,” Jeff explains. “She’ll lay on my foot or lean against my leg. And it’s so comforting that you’re not experiencing this stuff alone. You’ve got someone there, and you’re being loved, because she adores me. She takes away fear, and her touch brings peace. Someone once said that I have a ‘tenacity of hope.’ And I didn’t have that until I got Quincy.”