HOUSTON – Austin Marshall has always planned to live life to the fullest and now he has a little help.
Marshall, a Houston native and senior at Mississippi State University, was raised as a normal child but his blindness presented challenges as he moved about this world.
“My parents raised me as a sighted child and I’ve always tried to never let this hinder me in any way,” said Marshall. “Teachers, friends and people in Houston have always stepped up and helped me navigate. I will be the first to say Houston, and the people here, are the ones who have helped me the most.”
But a recent trip to Atlanta and a ride on the subway there, opened Marshall’s eyes.
“I had a friend who was helping me around and helped me step across the gap into the subway just seconds before it took off,” said Marshall. “As I sat there I realized someone across the aisle had a guide-dog. The light sort of came on and I started checking into it.”
Getting a guide-dog is not as simple as going shopping. It is also very expensive and each dog has to be tailored to its new owner.
“The first visit was actually to my house to see how I might use a dog and what my needs were,” said Marshall. “They asked me about my future plans and where I wanted to go.”
Marshall is a Communication major at MSU and hopes to land a job in a big city working with a sports/news company doing the behind-the-scenes video and audio work.
“That means I will probably move to a big city and I won’t always have people around to help me cross the street or navigate a subway platform,” said Marshall. “That is where Bentley comes in.”
Marshall got the two-year-old Labrador on May 13.
Both Bentley and Marshall were measured, tested, examined and retested before the match was made.
Bentley was matched to Marshall’s gait as well as his the environment where he lives, works and goes to school.
There was an extensive education process for Marshall and a lengthy “test-drive” between man and beast to make sure everything fit.
And Marshall said one of the happiest days of his life was the day he finally got to go get Bentley and bring him home.
“I can’t tell you how this animal has expanded by horizons,” said Marshall. “I have learned to compensate for my lack of vision and that has been a hindrance. Bentley has removed some of those hindrances.”
Marshall said carrying on a conversation with people as he walks down the street was his first big changes. In the past Marshall, who has some vision, had to be on the look-out for curbs, steps and even sticks and stones on the sidewalk.”
“Being able to walk down the street or in a building that is new to me with my head up has done a lot for me,” said Marshall. “It’s the same when I walk in the mall or into a restaurant.”
Marshall pointed out Bentley is not a pet, but it is Ok for people to pet and get to know Bentley.
“He stays at my apartment in a special place in my bedroom,” said Marshall. “I’ve been carrying him around to meet people and sort showing him my world.”
And as a young man set to embark on a new career in life, Marshall – and Bentley – are now ready to see what the rest of the world has to offer.