Guide dog opens eyes of entire Mars school district, community
When the Mars Area Centennial School yearbook is printed for the 2012-13 school year, Seal Lamm's picture will be in it right next to Max Lamm, 11, of Adams.
They aren't brothers or even related, but their bond is strong. Seal is Max's guide dog.
“The dog is really part of the school community. He's part of the class,” said Principal Todd R. Lape.
Seal, a 2 year-old St. Pierre (a cross between a Labrador and Bernese mountain dog), blends in so effectively that Lape said no one really notices the dog anymore.
“The dog can be in a lunchroom with 250 fifth-graders and the dog doesn't budge, even with food an inch from his nose,” Lape said.
Max grew up without sight, having been diagnosed with a rare eye cancer in both eyes at 9 months old. But he's a typical fifth-grader in most ways, said his father, Eric Lamm, 45.
“You probably wouldn't know when you first see Max that he is blind,” he said. Max skis, runs, plays drums and enjoys tackle football games in the backyard with his buddies.
Until last summer, Max used a cane to get around, which he didn't like.
“I was confident with the cane but I'm way more confident with the dog now,” Max said.
Lape said he made sure that Seal's introduction into the school community was smooth. He set up time during the summer for Max and Seal to get acclimated to the building. A letter went out to parents to inform them about the guide dog and provide an opportunity to express any concerns.
Aside from a few allergy issues, there have been no problems, Lape said.
“Everyone has embraced Seal being in the building,” he said.
And Max can better blend in.
“Seal is my best friend,” Max said. “He's more than that.”
Robert Baillie comes close to understanding the bond between Max and Seal. Baillie is the founder of MIRA USA, a North Carolina-based foundation dedicated to providing guide dogs to blind children. He lost his vision after complications from coronary bypass surgery in 2007 and, like Max, has a guide dog, named DJ.
“Max will tell you that it is an unbelievably life-changing experience,” Baillie said.
He was inspired to form MIRA USA after meeting Eric St. Pierre, founder of MIRA CANADA. Unlike other guide dog foundations that concentrate solely on the needs of adults, MIRA strives to address the needs of blind youths.
“It's tough being a teenager at any time, but being a blind teenager? Socially, a dog can make a huge change in a child's life,” Baillie said.
Max traveled to Montreal for a month of extensive training with Seal. His mom, Lisa, 43, accompanied Max for the training but was prohibited from interacting with him for the first two weeks so that he and Seal could develop a strong bond.
The training is tough, Baillie said, with kids working with the dogs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 6 days a week. Commands are taught in French and the final skills test required Max and Seal to navigate across four or five lanes of busy traffic.
“MIRA puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into training the dogs,” said Eric Lamm.
Although each guide dog costs $60,000, they are provided to families for free. In Max's case, a North Carolina family, anonymous to the Lamms, donated the money to MIRA. The only stipulation: Max's dog needed to be named Seal, in honor of the family's son who was in the Navy.
The Lamms have helped to organize a “Dining in the Dark” fundraiser April 27, at Oakmont Country Club. Attendees will enjoy their dinner while blindfolded, allowing a glimpse into the challenges blind children can face.
Mars Area Centennial School is holding a Pajama Day fundraiser April 25. For a donation of any amount, students can come to school in their pajamas.
“Parents are very supportive. We're very fortunate in Mars — people really give back,” Lape said.
Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.