Bond spurs gift Published 07/26/2007 Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald

Bond spurs gift


Many believe there is an unmistakable bond of trust, love and respect between people and certain animals. "And I don't know of any canine-human bond greater than that between a person and their guide dog," said Leonard A. "Lenny" McHugh, Pottsville, as his hand reaches to rub the head of his guide dog, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever named Micah. This strong bond evident between McHugh and Micah was the motivation for the recent $500 donation made to Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind, New York, from the Dr. Gail D. Mackey, VMD, DABVP Animal Fund. This fund is one of 102 philanthropic funds of the Schuylkill Area Community Foundation. Established in 2001, earnings from the Mackey fund are expressly awarded to "individuals, organizations and/or municipalities to foster the bond between animals and humans so as to improve the quality of life." "As a child, Dr. Mackey's love of animals and fierce determination carried her to her goal of completing veterinary school and establishing a successful career working with animals," said Eileen Kuperavage, SACF executive director. Mackey is practicing in Raleigh, N.C., but her family, the donor of the fund, is from Klingerstown.

When Kuperavage heard McHugh relate his story at the recent Goodwill Industries Keystone Area Awards program, she recognized the fit between the fund and the charity. "Freedom is not just their name, it's what they offer to those who need it," Kuperavage said.

McHugh, a Pottsville native, has a retinal degenerative disease known as retinitis pigmentosa. "I have a map of Pottsville imprinted on my brain," said McHugh, who once saw no need for a guide dog. "I was just so good with my cane. I traveled everywhere with it. Most of my life I never wanted a dog. I never had to take my cane out or feed it, you know."

Following complications from neck surgery in 1995, McHugh suffered a loss of stamina and strength in his left side and experienced balance problems. Various agencies that provided guide dogs were unwilling to work with him because of these additional health problems. "When I lost the use of my cane, I lost independent traveling and I knew it was time to look into a guide dog," McHugh said. "It was not as easy as I thought it would be. Every school turned me down. Freedom was the only school that would help me."

Unlike other guide dog schools that require new owners to attend three to four weeks of training at their facilities, Freedom sent a trainer, Eric Loori, to McHugh in 1998. Loori provided McHugh and his dog at that time, another black lab named Indy, with two weeks of intensive in-home training specifically for McHugh's needs in Pottsville. Indy is now retired from his guide dog duties and has been adopted by a young couple, according to McHugh. This past March, Loori visited Pottsville to train McHugh with Micah. Together, McHugh and Micah are getting used to working with each other, according to McHugh's wife, Karen.

ŠThe REPUBLICAN & Herald 2007

Photo: Eileen Kuperavage, Lenny McHugh andFreedom's Micah

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