Caution: White Canes and Guide Dogs Ahead

CHARLESTON - A White Cane Awareness walk will be held this Saturday morning in West Charleston. The purpose of the walk is to promote awareness regarding those who are visually impaired or blind, and their dependence on canes and seeing eye dogs. Among those participating will be some young members of the Free Will Baptist Church who will be blindfolded and have a guide.The walk will begin at the home of Carolyn Clapper and will follow a path to the Free Will Baptist Church in West Charleston. The walk is challenging, said Harriet Hall, the coordinator of support services for the Vt. Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired.Traffic will not be blocked off for the walk, and walkers will travel along a curved road near a roaring river. Those who are visually impaired rely heavily on other senses, especially hearing, said Hall. The experience of the walk is geared to help others understand what obstacles are present for the blind.Under Vermont law, drivers must yield the right of way to a pedestrian with a white cane or a guide dog, Hall said. Following the walk, there will be an opportunity to interview those who are visually impaired to gain a better perspective and know what to do to assist someone who is impaired.It is White Care Awareness Day and walks are being held across the state. This is the first time it will be held in Charleston.Clapper lives in Charleston and has a seeing eye dog named Aladdin. The dog provides assistance for Clapper and helps guide her to church along the streets of Charleston, where there are no sidewalks. On four different occasions, her dog was attacked by other dogs. On one occasion, while walking to church, her guide dog was attacked by a dog that jumped on Aladdin's back. The attacking dog, using his teeth, held Alladin by his throat, Clapper said. The owner of the dog finally came out and had to kick his dog off of Aladdin. “It was traumatizing to the dog and to me,” Clapper said.Clapper said that, following the attack, both her and the dog became disoriented and she found herself out in the middle of the street. After guide dogs are attacked, it is difficult to get them to work again because they are scared, Clapper explained. Once an attack has occurred, the dog must go through training again in order to be able to work. In some cases, dog trainers from out of state must travel to work with the dog. Retraining takes time and persistence, Clapper said.It is expensive to prepare guide dogs in the first place, Clapper noted; nearly $50,000 per dog.Clapper said now her dog is having some difficulties.Clapper testified before the Legislature to pass a law regarding seeing eye dogs. The law passed and any attacks on a seeing eye dog will result in the owner facing a fine and possible jail time.“It’s our independence,” Clapper said of the seeing eye dogs. “Without the dog, we can’t go anywhere. It’s a quality of life issue, and with the dog we can be productive.”Everyone is welcomed to join the walk. The walk begins at Clapper’s house at 949 Vt. Route 105, West Charleston, at 9 a.m., with registration prior.