On nice afternoons in Santa Clara you may cross paths with Nancy Prior and Ventana, her nine-year-old guide dog for the blind.
Ventana, which means “window” in Spanish, is a yellow lab that Prior received from the San Rafael campus of the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind. They graduated from training school on Prior’s birthday in 2012.
Prior depends on Ventana for companionship and independence, whether walking the neighborhood or going on a cruise with her parents, who adopted her from the Philippines when she was four.
“With a dog, you always have someone with you,” said Prior. “If you’re lost, you’re not lost by yourself. Ventana’s companionship makes me feel like I can go out alone.”
She explained that to have a guide dog, one needs good orientation and mobility skills.
“A dog isn’t a GPS. You have to know where you’re going,” said Prior. “Their job is to get you there safely.”
She has a white cane that she isn’t crazy about using, pointing out that a cane finds an obstacle, but a dog goes around it.
“With a cane, you have to figure out how to get around an obstacle that you can’t see,” said Prior. “With a dog, you don’t even know you’ve gone around it or that something was there.”
Ventana is a great conversational ice breaker, but it’s important not to approach a guide dog without first asking permission.
“Ventana might be doing a job. If she loses her focus, it could put us in danger,” said Prior.
Ventana is Prior’s fourth service dog. Prior, who moved from Colorado to Santa Clara with her family in 1986, received her first dog, Mattie, shortly after graduating from Wilcox High School in 1990.
Mattie had to retire after she and Prior were hit by a car near their house. Prior suffered bumps and bruises. Mattie, although uninjured physically, became too fearful of cars to do her job safely.
“I was afraid, too,” said Prior, whose vision is limited to light perception — recognizing day from night and whether a light is on.
“You’re going to live in the world. The sighted world is not going to adapt to you. You’re going to have to adapt to it,” said Prior, who earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education at San Francisco State University in 2010.
“I was born blind. If you lose your sight later, you won’t find the world as friendly as you’d like.”