Blind at the age of five due to cancer, Mathew Sapolin, has never let his disability get in the way of pursuing an active lifestyle and career. Inspired by an elementary school encounter with a successful blind man with a guide dog, Sapolin, knew at that point, that he would follow in the man’s footsteps some day. Sure enough, within a week of graduating high school, Sapolin headed to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, New York, to undergo a 24 day residential training program with his first guide dog, Jay. Over the last 20 years, he has been given two additional dogs from the foundation, the most recent one being a 2-year-old golden retriever named Downy.
New York City is a great place for blind people, says Sapolin, because it is set up as a grid which makes it easier to travel. Still, the ever changing environment in which construction sites go up overnight makes it difficult to navigate with a cane. Particularly downtown where Sapolin works as Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities which is located directly across from a hospital where ambulances go roaring in and out of, he says Downy’s eyes are critical.
He said, “When you go with a cane you find all the ambulances. When you go with a dog, you work your way around them.”
Watch here to to see and hear how Sapolin gets around the city with Downy’s assistance.
To read about another woman’s relationship with her dog as she battles cancer read the NY Times article, “Life Lessons from the Family Dog.”