Ed Eames, service dog advocate, dies in Fresno

Death of educator, speaker leaves void in community

November 13, 2009 (published)
By Timothy Kirn

It is perhaps appropriate that in condolences for the passing of Ed Eames last month, many expressed sympathy for his Golden Retriever, Latrell.

One can assume Eames would have wanted it that way.

“As hard as it is to lose an assistance dog, I can't imagine being in Latrell's paws right now, as the person he devoted his life to protect has gone,” wrote a woman named Karen, on a Web page bulletin board dedicated to eulogizing Eames.

Eames, a renowned advocate for disability and service dogs, died on Oct. 25, after contracting a systemic blood infection. He was 79 years old and lived in Fresno, Calif.

Eames founded the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners in 1993 with his wife, Toni, and Joan Froling, a service dog trainer, at a conference of Assistance Dogs International in St. Louis. The association has since educated and advocated for guide dogs, hearing dogs, service dogs and their owners.

During the years since, Eames and his wife, who also is blind, traveled extensively and tirelessly to testify and lecture in support of their cause. Eames authored books on guide dogs and numerous magazine articles.

While traveling, the couple boarded planes with their dogs in the passenger compartment, and on trips overseas, their dogs were exempted from the need to be quarantined upon arrival — accommodations for assistance dogs that advocacy like theirs helped bring about. They spoke at and visited many veterinary medical schools.

Eames’ own veterinarian, Cheryl Waterhouse, DVM, of the Waterhouse Animal Hospital, in Fresno, said she felt lucky to have Eames as a client because whenever he brought in Latrell, or Keebler, Toni’s dog, or any one of the four cats they also owned, she and her staff got the entire course that Eames gave when he spoke at veterinary schools. That is, he gave them direction on what things they needed to be aware of when dealing with a blind person and his or her working dog.

Much of the directions are fairly simple, but they are the kind of things one does not necessarily think about unless prompted, she said.

“When we are working in our office, we don’t necessarily announce who we are every time we enter the exam room,” Waterhouse said. “It was a lot of little things like that.”

Eames and his wife “did so much for the community and for the whole world,” she added.

He began his career as an anthropologist at Temple University, following with field work in India. Eames was at Temple for 15 years, and then, in 1970, moved to Baruch College, a branch of City University of New York, located in Manhattan.

Two years later, Eames was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and was told to prepare for blindness. He had given up driving seven years prior to the diagnosis when, one day, he stopped at a red traffic light that never turned green. “After realizing it was a Christmas ornament near a traffic signal, I decided to turn in my car keys to protect the public and me,” he once wrote.

In 1987, Eames was on sabbatical and went to Fresno, where he and his wife jointly taught a class on the sociology of disabilities at the city's California State University campus. When he retired, the couple became active in the community.

"He was a fighter, but he also was a thinker," said Fresno City Council Member Henry T. Perea, in an article in the Fresno Bee. "He knew the issues, but he did his homework."

In an editorial eulogizing Eames, the Bee said: “Mr. Eames, who lost his sight at age 42, fought to improve bus service, lobbied for more sidewalks and battled against the growing trend of roundabouts and traffic circles in Fresno intersections because they make it difficult for the visually impaired to cross the street. Mr. Eames also founded an organization for people who use assistance dogs. 

“He made a difference, and our community is better for his work.” 

In another eulogy, Peter Gorbing, president of Assistance Dogs International, wrote, “I am still coming to terms with the implications for the assistance dog movement of losing such a wonderful advocate as Ed.”

Mary Harris, a local puppy raiser, said Eames' dog Latrell is being well cared for. Latrell has been seen in public wearing a “retired” guide dog jersey.

“We will all make sure Latrell gets lots of attention,” Harris said. “He is not likely to be lonely at all.”

Eames is survived by his wife, Toni, two daughters and eight grandchildren.

It is estimated that about 20,000 people in this country have an assistance dog, and there are at least 60 groups that train them.

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