Blind man’s best friend
Guide dog changes the life of Forest Ranch resident
For Larry Marcum, the first difficulty he experienced when he lost his eyesight years ago was being approached by someone and not knowing if that person was trying to shake his hand.
Marcum is legally blind due to an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. He has some sight in his left eye, equivalent to the tunnel vision someone would have “looking through a straw.” Since his eyes still track—moving toward what is in front of him because he was not born blind—people do not know he can’t see.
So, casual handshakes created a lot of uneasiness. Walking in or out of a restaurant or grocery store was also an intimidating experience.
Marcum’s life changed eight years ago when he brought home Galleon, a specially trained golden retriever/yellow lab mixed breed. Recently Marcum, 59, has been speaking as an advocate to raise awareness about guide dogs and the impact they can make on someone’s life.
“Having a guide dog can be such a huge help and can change a person’s life,” he said. “[Galleon] has given me confidence to go out and about on my own. … He gives me confidence to go some places without being nervous [or] worried that I am going to trip and fall, or hurt someone else.”
Six years ago, for example, Marcum traveled to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., a lifelong dream he never thought was possible with his diminished eyesight.
Marcum got Galleon from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael. To be eligible to have a guide dog, one must be legally blind, at least 16 years old, and also be physically and mentally able to care for and work the animal. Anyone who fits the criteria can qualify to receive a dog and be trained to work the dog free of charge, which is important since studies indicate about 70 percent of visually impaired individuals are unemployed.
Marcum’s genetic eye condition was diagnosed when was 20. The condition is progressive, and affects everyone differently, often starting with night blindness, followed by tunnel vision. Marcum’s eyes worsened in his late 40s. He was still driving 10 years ago, but now his field of vision is less than 10 degrees, compared to the 180 degrees associated with normal vision.
But blindness has not stopped him from being active. Recently he was featured in a two-minute video that was entered in a contest by Mitchum Deodorant titled the “Hardest Working Person in America.” Had he won, Marcum was planning to donate the $100,000 prize to Guide Dogs for the Blind. In the video, created by a CalArts graduate student named Amy Young for her thesis film project on visual disabilities, Marcum is shown at a store buying chicken wire and building a pen for two pigmy goats, using a skill saw and hammering nails.
Marcum lives in Forest Ranch with his wife, Ida. He relocated there in 1997 from Southern California to be near his parents, who both have since died. He also cared for his first wife, who died after a long bout with cancer.
During the CN&R’s recent visit, Marcum walked his property, Galleon at his side, and pointed out various projects he is working on, starting with the wooden frame he is building around his propane tank. He built the steps leading to his front porch and the archway, along with a bench, the goat pen, an outdoor cat house, and a seven-foot deer fence to protect his wife’s garden. On the side he operates a small printing business.
Marcum says that people with disabilities are fully capable of pursuing their dreams. Yet he is also aware of the struggles of blind people who do not have a strong social network.
“We are capable of doing a lot of stuff, given the opportunity,” he said. “Many people think we are helpless and tend to baby us.”
Marcum enjoys writing and is starting a website for others to chronicle their experiences with guide dogs. He is able to use a computer with software that is designed to change the background, enlarge the font and verbally interpret writing, if needed. Marcum is often on the computer. In fact, he met Ida on the online dating site match.com. He is an active member of the Lions Club and recently served a three-year term as president. On Thursdays Marcum travels to nursing homes in Chico and plays the harmonica.
“It’s very easy when you lose your vision to give up and become a recluse,” he said. “If I can help someone to not give up, then it makes it all worth it.”