Bob Baillie, founder of MIRA FOUNDATION USA, INC. was a sighted individual until 2007 he went into the hospital for a routine heart by-pass. When Bob awoke, 100 percent of his sight was gone – an obvious life changing event. Enveloped in total darkness and coping with the certainty of being unable to regain his sight, his world brightened appreciatively when a friend told him the story of his daughter’s experience with a guide dog and how the dog had such a positive impact on her life. Bob worked diligently to gain the required skills to be considered for a guide dog. In 2008, Bob was approved to receive a guide dog and he and his new best friend Devon formed a team than gave light to Bob’s world of darkness. Realizing the life changing difference Devon made to him, Bob set out to improve the experience for others who have lost their sight. After research, it was discovered that no guide dog organization in the USA will provide dogs to children under 16 years of age. This string of events lead to the founding of MIRA Foundation USA.
MIRA FOUNDATION USA, INC. is a non-profit based in Aberdeen, North Carolina, whose focus is to provide guide dogs to the underserved group of visually impaired Children as young as 11. The 2007 Annual Report from the American Printing House for the Blind reports 57,696 children who are legally blind in the US. The Exceptional Children Program 2007-08 reported 702 children in NC ages 3-21 who are Visually Impaired. Each year, more visually impaired children attend main stream schools and attend college. The use of a cane tends to be a barrier for children to build friendships, but research shows that a guide dog not only helps a children navigate, it becomes a conduit to building relationships.
Since its inception, Mira Foundation USA has arranged guide dogs for an 11-year-old girl, Cricket, and a 17-year-old boy, Matthew. MIRA Foundation USA currently has five North Carolina teenagers waiting for review and acceptance. Recently, students at the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh were introduced to MIRA guide dogs and were given an opportunity to work hands on with a dog under the guidance of MIRA trained professionals. Their experience lead to many more saying they would like to get a guide dog. Cricket, the 11 year old from San Diego who will received her dog in July is quoted by Raleigh News and Observer Report Josh Shaffer as saying, “I thought it was a wonderful idea, I’ll be a lot safer at school, and I’ll have a friend to talk to at home.” Sally, Cricket’s mom, argued that guide dogs should be provided according to need and ability rather than age. She tried every agency in the country, she said, before finding Mira. Cricket navigates the halls of her school, including the stairs, on her own each day. When her dog arrives this summer, the school will hold an assembly to orient Cricket’s classmates on how to approach her companion. “It’s like somebody getting eyes, almost,” she said. “It’s like getting another sense. ”Research shows that a guide dog makes a tremendous difference in a blind individual’s life. The dog helps to provide a bridge between the sighted and non-sighted that helps to remove the stigma often associated with blindness while providing the freedom and mobility to be more independent, self confidence, safety and companionship.
It is only with the support of individuals and organizations like the lions club that MIRA USA can provide these dogs free of charge to children throughout the United States.