May 03, 2013 02:29AM
● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
When 12-year-old Natalie Marini says her family loves animals, she isn’t kidding.
Her family has three horses, two dogs, two cats, three rabbits, a hamster, a gecko and a rat. “We’ve always been a big animal family,” laughs Kerry, Natalie’s mom. Last year, one of Natalie’s friends told her about Guide Dogs for the Blind (guidedogs.com), an all-volunteer non-profit organization that trains specially-bred dogs to be companions for the visually impaired. “I love working with dogs and training them,” Natalie says. “When my friend told me about the program, I was very excited!”
Natalie’s mom was less enthused. She was worried her daughter would not be able to handle the rigorous training schedule, in addition to the emotional impact of having to give up the dog after the 15-18 month training period. “I wanted to make sure she was ready to take on something like that,” Kerry explains. Eventually, however, Natalie won her mother over, and last December they adopted Laguna, a Labrador retriever mix. Although it’s often challenging to be strict with Laguna and to frequently remind people to ask before petting a guide-dog-in-training, for Natalie, it’s all been worth it. “It makes me feel really good that I can help [the visually impaired] be independent and do what they want to do,” Natalie says, and her family couldn’t be more proud.
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