Hundreds of people crammed into Dwight Hall at Perkins School for the Blind Tuesday to catch a glimpse of the service dogs and the people they assist during a ceremony to unveil the U.S. Postal Service's new service dog stamps.
The stamps honor four kinds of service dogs, said Boston Postmaster Jim Holland: a guide dog represented by a black lab, a tracking dog with a yellow lab pictured, a search dog with a picture of a German shepherd and a helper dog which has a Welsh Spring Spaniel. The event was emceed by WCVB Channel 5 news anchor Randy Price.
Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library can attest to the value of service dogs. She has had four seeing-eye dogs, including her current one, Dolly - a German shepherd.
She travels all over the place with Dolly, including Australia.
"It takes a lot of planning and a lot of paperwork," Charlson said. "It is a 17 hour plane ride, with no grass in sight. It takes a lot of careful preparation."
Charlson thanked the USPS for the stamps, and for the service it provides the Braille & Talking Book Library. Each day the Post office collects 2,000 packages containing items such as CDs, tapes, and players to go to people who are blind and hard of hearing, and return another 2,000 items to the library.
People have misconceptions about guide dogs, said David Lynn, an Air Force Veteran who retired in 2003 when he began losing his eyesight.
"In the store, I have had people come up to me and ask 'How does the dog find what you are looking for?'" Lynn said. "He can't read what kind of corn it is."
Lynn said he and his guide dog Blazer, a Doberman pinscher, work as a partnership.
"Without my knowledge and the dog's assistance I wouldn't get anywhere," Lynn said.
Carl Richardson, who is legally deaf and blind, said he does not think of his relationship with his guide dog Kinley – a black lab – as a partnership, but that they act together as one.
"We communicate subconsciously, it's such a great relationship," Richardson said.
Service dogs perform all sorts of tasks, he said. He knows of dogs that collect items that have fallen to the ground for people who are in wheelchairs and a dog that warns parents of a boy who has seizures when he is about to have one.
"He can put on a helmet and prevent him from having further injuries," Richardson said. "My hope is the stamps increase public awareness of serviced dogs."
Arlington's Anne DeFeo has had vision problems since she was 19, but seven years ago she needed to get a white cane to help her get around. She learned about how to get a guide dog while she was taking classes for seniors at Perkins.
DeFeo went to New York City for training and to get to know her guide dog.
"I went into a room to wait and got a knock on the door and Viv comes in," DeFeo said. "It was love at first site."
Since she has had Viv, DeFeo said she has been able to go to lunch with friends, plays and attend church on Sundays.
"We go everywhere," DeFeo said. "She is given me back my confidence and independence, which I was losing."