When human eyes can’t see, it’s up to man’s best friend to lead the way.
A gorgeous and furry Bernese mountain dog, Maestro is a trained guide dog who bears a heavier burden than most regular dogs — he’s responsible for the day-to-day safety of his owner.
Public servant Lawrence Euteneier, 45, is Maestro’s blind owner and says Maestro isn’t just a guide dog, he’s a shoulder to lean on and by all definitions a true best friend.
“He’s a great dog and an even better friend. When I get nervous he has to be calm for me. He counters my nervous energy with his strength,” Euteneier said.
Among his many talents, Maestro can find a hotel room by sense of smell alone after he’s visited it once and can pick up emotional signals too subtle for most humans to notice.
“He knows I’m feeling a certain way before I know I feel that way. I’ll know I’m stressed out by his reaction to me,” Euteneier said.
Dogs like Maestro have enabled Euteneier to live a life as full of excitement and adventure as any regularly sighted person, including numerous travels around the world and a career in public service spent breaking down barriers for people with disabilities.
Maestro makes Euteneier’s active life possible by letting him walk the streets and navigate indoor spaces easily and safely.
It’s all in the training and the harness, which Maestro uses to signal when Euteneier should stop, step back or go forward. If needed, he’ll use his own body weight to push Euteneier out of the way of impending hazards like moving cars or cyclists. He’ll also stretch his neck out to signal when Euteneier needs to grab something like a door handle or a handrail.
Maestro has to judge situations and react to them even more quickly than a human being does so that he can signal Euteneier in time. It’s a huge responsibility for anyone, especially a dog, to bear and this is what makes Maestro so special.
The MIRA Foundation, located near Montreal, trains dogs like Maestro free of charge for disabled individuals who need them. The organization’s founder and CEO Eric St-Pierre says training Maestro took about 20 months and the bubbly Bernese was one of only 67 dogs in his year out of 300 puppies that had the skill and personality to become a guide dog for the blind. Training is challenging and time-consuming and in the end, only dogs as smart, friendly and perceptive as Maestro can make the cut.
For Euteneier, Maestro is much more than just another pet.
“I take care of him and he takes care of me,” he said.