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      Gretchen and Floyd: Leader dog team for life

      Local Marquette author, Gretchen Preston was in the fifth grade when she noticed something wasn't right.

      â??Within a two-week period, I went from having normal vision, being able to see the board and read normal-sized print, to not being able to do either of these two things,â?? Preston said.

      She was diagnosed with a juvenile onset of Stargardt's macular degeneration, which meant over time, Gretchen would eventually become legally blind.

      â??Iâ??ve lost a lot of usable vision in the last 10 years, between the ages of 50 and 60, just due to the normal aging of the eye,â?? Preston said. â??I was getting lost. I was getting lost in my own yard; that's when I knew it was time to get a dog.â??

      Meet Floyd. A young and spunky black lab with a unique career: he's Gretchenâ??s leader dog. â??I got exactly the right dog, exactly the right dog,â?? Preston said.

      Gretchen and Floyd met at the Leader Dog School for the Blind in Rochester Hills, MI, which is a non-profit school founded by the Lions Club. The 26-day program was completely paid for by the Lions Club, and Gretchen said she's extremely grateful that through their help, she and Floyd can become a working team.

      â??Floyd is going to provide me with a lot of opportunities to be able to be more independent, to travel more independently. They say at the school that it takes a year for a team, a dog and a person, to become what they call a â??seasoned teamâ??, and they assure me that in a year, we'll be reading each other's minds,â?? Preston said.

      So far, Floyd is adjusting well to his new job, and he's even playing nice with the house cat, "Buddy".

      â??We work everyday to expose him to new things and new situations, and he's doing just fine,â?? Preston said. Some of that exposure included introducing Floyd to the Marquette area and the people who live here. Crossing a busy intersection in Marquette used to be risky for Gretchen, but with another set of eyes, ears, and legs, she's able to do it with confidence.

      â??Having a leader dog, I can walk so much faster, I can walk at a normal pace and actually get my heart rate up, and get some exercise, because prior to that I had to walk cautiously,â?? Preston said.

      Regularly meeting people on the street is something Gretchen and Floyd are getting used to, but she says there are a few things for curious pedestrians to keep in mind.

      â??The one thing to remember about any kind of service dog is that they are dogs, they are not robots. They all had special training, but when they're working, in my case, Floyd has a harness that we work with, then they are a working dog, they are not to be petted. But when I drop that harness and have him sit and relax, then people are welcome to pet him,â?? Preston said.

      Floyd will also be getting used to the professional and creative side of Gretchen, who is an author of childrenâ??sâ?? books about two cats, â??Boonieâ?? and â??Riverâ??, who go on adventures in the Upper Peninsula.

      â??This dog is my new-found independence and my new-found mobility. You will see Floyd at the different holiday craft shows and childrenâ??s book fairs,â?? Preston said. With Gretchenâ??s determination to live life despite blindness, combined with Floydâ??s leadership, the two have what it takes to become a team for life.

      For more information on Gretchenâ??s books called, â??Valley Catsâ??, visit her website here.