The transition between high school and college can be a difficult one for most students. But for junior communication major Marissa Arndt, it was a unique shift: she had a seeing-eye dog, Lucy.
“I do things a little differently,” Arndt said. “I have a dog.”
Arndt first decided that she wanted a seeing-eye dog freshman year of high school when her visual therapist suggested that she would make a good candidate. People usually aren’t accepted to get a seeing-eye dog until they are eighteen or a senior in high school, but Arndt wanted a year with the dog before she went off to college. She had to go through a mobility training process in which she practiced maneuvering around a variety of environments including busy streets, city buses, farms and more. After the long process, Arndt was given the now six-year-old golden retriever/yellow lab mix.
“I was like an eager child on Christmas morning when I first met her,” Arndt said. “We went on our first walk and it was a blessing how quickly we connected and walked as one.”
The process of moving into college was different for Arndt, but she found residential living to be accommodating. She was able to move in a few days before the rest of the freshman class so she could explore the campus and teach her dog the route to her classes. Freshman year was also another big transition time for Arndt, for she lost a significant amount of her sight.
“It’s been different, like not being able to read my phone or directions on the mac and cheese boxes,” Arndt said. Although overall, Arndt has had positive educational experiences at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, she has faced some setbacks.
“I’ve had professors tell me to drop classes, but I never have,” Arndt said as she told the story about one class. During week 12, the professor told her that they didn’t think that she could finish the class due to her disability and should drop. “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal,” Arndt said.
Arndt has been using a Mac computer since eighth grade that reads her exams, readings and notes to her.
“Reading off of a computer is just not as exciting,” Arndt said. Due to this, it sometimes takes Arndt a little more time to complete her studying, and the dog can also be distracting at times. One time, Lucy managed to get away and run up and down the dorm halls during the extreme quiet hours of finals week.
Arndt hardly sees these small distractions as disadvantages and only sees Lucy as an advantage. Lucy accompanies Arndt to all of her classes and sometimes the days can get long for the dog.
“She normally falls asleep [in class] and snores really loudly or has dreams and starts barking,” Arndt said. Although Lucy is a generally a good-natured dog, she has her moments of defiance, Arndt explained.
“She’s a sassy dog. She has such an attitude,” Arndt said. Arndt said that one time she made her dog wear boots in the winter and Lucy purposely made her lost on the way to class as a means of protesting the wardrobe choice. “She’s such a drama queen,” Arndt laughed.
For Arndt, Lucy provides much more than a seeing eye, but a companionship. This connection was apparent throughout the morning as Lucy sat on Arndt’s feet watching and almost seemingly listening to what her owner had to say about her.
“She [Lucy] just loves love. She knows when people are upset and gives them loving,” Arndt said.
Note: The name of the dog has been changed under Arndt’s wish to keep the dog’s real name hidden to the general public.