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Legal beagle Seeing-Eye dog helps law student get her degree

29 May

New York Law graduate Amanda Davis says she couldn’t have done it without her true best friend

 

Amanda Davis and Ellis at the 2012 New York Law School commencement ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

The audience at Radio City City Music Hall cheered as Ellis trotted across the stage wearing his custom-stitched graduation gown.

Like any good working dog, the 80-pound black lab stopped to soak in the thunderous applause as he escorted Amanda Davis to receive her diploma.

“I couldn’t have done this without Ellis,” said Davis, a beaming New York Law School graduate who credits much of her success to her loyal Seeing-Eye dog.

Davis, 24, had dreamed about living in Manhattan since high school, when she came here from Port St. Lucie, Fla., to sing in the choir at Carnegie Hall. But in those days she relied on a cane and someone by her side — and moving away from her family seemed unthinkable.

Her life soon took a happy turn, however, when Davis applied for a dog at the The Seeing Eye, in Morristown, N.J., and a few months later was matched with the pup.

“We both walk fast and are both very hyper, so it’s a perfect match,” Davis said.

The duo set off to the University of Tampa, where Davis pursued her undergraduate degree. After a few spills on the uneven sidewalks, and a few other mishaps, Ellis and Davis adjusted to life as partners.

Davis’ grades were good enough to get her accepted to New York Law School three years ago, but the idea of life in the crowded, noisy city was frightening to her mom.

Still, the loving mom, a financial analyst, set aside her fears to ensure her daughter had a promising future. She helped Davis find a doorman building and map out an exact route from her upper East Side apartment to the school’s lower Manhattan campus.

“I knew I had to let her go,” said her mom. Sonja. “I owe this dog my life. He allows her to be normal and live a life of freedom that she wouldn’t have.”

The law school made sure there was room for Ellis in the classroom, and that Amanda’s schedule allowed him proper breaks, said Sally Harding, NYLS senior director of Student Life.

More frustrating were her attempts to hail a cab or get into a restaurant. She hopes to raise awareness that service dogs are allowed in all private and public spaces.

“It’s shocking that people don’t know the law,” said Davis, who plans to take the bar exam next year and begin looking for a job, preferably in financial arbitration.

Meanwhile, when he’s off harness, Ellis is just a regular dog. At home, he loves to sprawl out on the couch and play with squeaky toys.

Aside from providing her freedom and safety, the 8-year-old dog is also a great judge of character.

He’s not about letting her know when he doesn’t approve of a potential suitor.

“He recently peed on one guy’s shoe,” Davis said.

That’s one trick he didn’t learn at the Seeing Eye, which has helped more than 6,000 blind people travel and live independently. The organization, which breeds its own puppies, graduated 249 Seeing Eye Teams in 2011.

While it costs about $35,000 to raise and train a dog, a student pays only $150 for his or her first dog from The Seeing Eye, and $50 for successor dogs.

New Yorkers can apply to be a puppy raiser, who helpsocialize the dogs and get them used to a variety of situations, before they are formally trained and partnered with a visually impaired person.

For more info, go to Seeingeye.org

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