KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Marian Wildgruber loves to walk fast, but as she has lost some of her vision, it has become harder to do so with just her white cane. That is why she said she is thankful to have a service dog by her side.
"A guide dog just makes it very relaxed and able to walk much faster with her," she said.
She also said it has helped her bond with people on the streets.
"People are much more likely to come up and talk to you about your guide dog and their dogs than they are to approach you when you have a white cane," she added.
Wildgruber said she wishes people knew more about service dogs and how to properly deal with them, though. That is why community organizations in Oak Ridge are partnering to raise awareness about the important role service dogs can play in people's lives.
Patrick Sanford works with Paws and Badges, a Knoxville organization that offers veterans and people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder the chance to spend time with a service dog for free.
"The more people that get exposed to this, and realize that they do not have to be stuck in a house and that there is more to life, the better," he said.
Staff with the Oak Ridge Kennel Club hope raising awareness will also help raise funds for them. They said the process of training a dog can be very expensive and they also need staffing to do it. However, community leaders said investing time and effort into service dogs is well worth it at the end of the day.
"The change in the person that goes through the training reflects through the families, and everybody and it is an amazing thing to see," Sanford said.