CRESTVIEW — The Bouton family wants you to meet their newest addition.
Andros, a trained guide dog, is a black Labrador who will assist Chad Bouton, a 21-year-old with a progressive eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. RP has left him with 10 percent vision peripherally, and he is legally blind.
Chad and his sister, Alexa, 19, were both diagnosed with RP at a young age.
“First it attacks your peripheral vision then it attacks your central vision, until it leaves you completely blind,” Chad said.
Chad and Alexa are taking treatments to slow the disease’s progress, but there's no cure for RP.
“There is no surgery or no cure for it, because it is a mutated gene,” said Donna, Chad and Alexa’s mother.
Chad and Alexa use canes to get around, especially during evenings, Donna said.
Family and friends walk slightly ahead of Chad, who holds on to their elbows; that's how he knows when he needs to step up or down for curbs.
Donna said her children are her heroes for how they've coped with declining sight.
“I am beyond proud of my children for their strength and determination,” she said in an email.
Now, a little extra help is needed. Chad and his family reached out to Southeastern Guide Dogs, a Palmetto, Fla., non-profit organization that pairs visually impaired individuals with a trained guide dog.
In May, Chad stayed at the south Florida campus for 26 days, while he trained and bonded with Andros.
Through a donation from the Lions Club of Sarasota, Chad attended at no cost.
Ready for college
Chad returned to Crestview earlier this month and continues to bond with Andros, who's been trained since he was a puppy to help people get around safely.
Androsguides Chad around objects in his path and warns him of approaching doorways or sidewalk curbs.
Chad, who majors in history at the University of West Florida, said he looks forward to having Andros with him in the fall.
Using a cane is not nearly as good as having a guide dog because a cane cannot detect limbs hanging down on sidewalks, Chad said. Plus, his cane gets caught on limbs, leaves and cracks in the sidewalk. Andros steers him away from path obstructions, his mother said.
Alexa doesn't have a guide dog, but her mother says she's interested in seeing if she can have one, too.
Donna said she is encouraged by what she's seen.
“After watching Chad work with Andros, I have so much more confidence now,” she said. “I don’t worry so much … I know that he has got Chad.”