"She trusts me, and I trust her," Janet Gearhart says of her guide dog

By Kelli Bender
September 10, 2018 05:04 PM
Marilyn Niles Photography

Janet Gearhart uses a lot of adjectives to describe her guide dog Poppet. The 3-year-old black Labrador retriever is “delightful,” “wonderful” and “friendly.” But Gearhart, a retired program director for the visually impaired, can think of only one adjective to describe life without Poppet: “Awful.”

Diagnosed in her early 30s with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease, Gearhart, now 69, has been gradually losing her peripheral vision. Today that loss is so severe that she can no longer distinguish facial features. When she was first diagnosed, Gearhart, who lives in Oakdale, California, navigated the world with a cane or help from her husband, Ed.

But it 1996, after she was nearly hit by a truck while walking to work, she obtained her first guide dog so that she could retain her independence. Poppet, who joined the family in February 2017, is her fourth.

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“My dog does for me what a human probably couldn’t do for me,” says Gearhart, who got Poppet through the non-profit organization Guide Dogs for the Blind. Their special bond is showcased in the documentary Pick of the Litter, in theaters and on video on demand now, that follows guide dogs from puppyhood to placement.

“Because Poppet is at my side all the time, she keeps me safe 24/7,” Gearhart tells PEOPLE. And that’s not all.

“If I am sitting and watching TV, she will come up and put her chin up on my thigh and just stare up at me,” she says. “We are a team. She trusts me, and I trust her.

Read more about Gearhart, Poppet and how they work together in the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now. 

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