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Briella TomassettiApr 25, 2018, 10:18 pm

Guide Dog Foundation gives former Bethpage football player new outlook on life

Smithtown-based trainers get furry heroes ready to help the blind

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SMITHTOWN — Matt Sherwood is a former Division I football player from Bethpage. He got seven concussions during his college football career and was since diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy, a condition that has caused him to lose most of his vision.

"Over a week ago, I came here to the Guide Dog Foundation to train and learn how to work with Chris, the guide dog. That is changing my life," Sherwood said.

In many ways, Chris, Matt's Labrador retriever, has become his four-legged hero and it's all made possible through the Guide Dog Foundation, based in Smithtown.

The foundation has been helping the vision impaired community since the 1940s and its reach extends far beyond Long Island.

“We see people from all around the world. You know, for instance, we have people from Brazil, Canada, and West Islip this week," said John Miller, President, and CEO of the Guide Dog Foundation.

The guide dogs go through an intense 10 to 12 week training period in Smithtown and then go through another two weeks of training once they're matched up with their handlers. They're trained to lead people in straight lines, follow a clear path, maneuver around obstacles, and even notice changes in elevation.

"It’s a target of mine when training, can your tail wag during training? It's been proven that if dogs are happy when they're training, they'll be more likely to reproduce it," Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Mark Briganti said.

Briganti says once he and Chris complete their training it'll be the start of a brand new journey.

"For me, I get a little emotional. It really does change your life and it's given me a new outlook and perspective to continue to grow in my career, pursuits, endeavors, and travels. That, I never thought, I'd be able to do," Sherwood said.

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