NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. –
Distribution headquarter employees may have noticed a new employee over the past few months, a rather furry new employee. Xavier Chronister, a nearly two-year old Golden Labrador Retriever is DLA Distribution’s newest Organizational Management/J9 directorate employee.
Mason Chronister, an administrative assistant in Distribution’s OM/J9, has Usher Syndrome. A relatively rare genetic disorder, Usher Syndrome results in a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment. About four people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with the incurable condition.
Chronister and his mother originally discussed the idea of getting a guide dog back in 2012, but decided to hold off on the idea at that time. Flash forward a few years, after Chronister’s favorite dog passed away, the idea was revisited. His mother did some research and discovered an organization called Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Founded by three Detroit-area Lions Club members in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind enables people who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind to gain skills for a lifetime of independent travel, opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight.
Their training is personalized for each client. Due to the sophisticated breeding, puppy raising and dog training programs, Leader Dog is able to match clients with a dog that best fits their lifestyle, travel pace, physical size, stamina and other considerations. Clients have the opportunity to train with their guide dog in a wide variety of situations to fit their current and future needs.
Chronister traveled do Florida, where Xavier had already spent six-months training with a professional guide dog trainer, to finally meet with the trainer. After meeting Xavier, the trainer instructed Chronister how to command Xavier to walk to the left or right, sit up or lay down, and stay in place or come to his side.
Additionally, Chronister was taught how to put on Xavier’s harness which allows him to perform his “guide dog” duties when they are walking in a multitude of situations.
“We spent a hot and humid week and a half in Florida forming and building our special bond,” explained Chronister. “It is the time in his harness, when we are training together that I put my trust in him and he gives me a sense of confidence.”
Chronister explains that he and Xavier practice every day to ensure he maintains his knowledge and does not get distracted. However, like most young dogs, Xavier is extremely playful and is allowed plenty of play time when he is “off the clock” at home.
In addition to Xavier, the Chronister family has two smaller dogs at home. “When I first brought Xavier home from training in Florida they did not get along well. I believe they were scared of him since he was bigger than them, but a few days ago they seemed to break through the fear and now they get along better and follow us around the house.”
In addition to accompanying Chronister to work, Xavier is at his side when he goes anywhere. “It is pretty hard to keep people from petting X, when the sign saying ‘Do not pet me. I’m working,’ is on his harness. I would recommend people ask me directly if they can pet Xavier whenever the harness is off.”
Leader Dogs has a puppy-raising program, which means the organization breeds dogs with specific characteristics that are beneficial for guide work. The dogs are bred and puppies are born in the same home that the mom lives in. Once the puppies are old enough, they are brought to Leader Dog and given their initial medical examination. The puppies are then taken by volunteers, known as “puppy raisers,” located all over the United States and raised for one year. During this year they are socialized, exposed to a variety of environments and taught obedience. Once the dog turns a year old, the puppy raisers return them to Leader Dog to begin their six-month guide training.
Chronister also explained that Leader Dogs has a Prison Program where they work with certain prisons and puppies are raised by inmates. “I learned that Xavier had been raised by an inmate for one year. I was very surprised and touched by the inmate’s kindness while caring for Xavier. The inmate stated that Xavier changed his life and made him want to be a better person.”