By Alicia Ceccarelli

Genevieve Smith and her guide dog, Peru Photo by Jayaruwan Gunathilake
Genevieve Smith and her guide dog, Peru
Photo by Jayaruwan Gunathilake

Oct. 22, marked the seven-year birthday of an honorable canine on the KU campus. She is a charmingly sweet and hard-working black Labrador retriever, named Peru.

Owner Genevieve Smith, who spoils her loyal pooch with a rotating menu of home-cooked food each week, knew she had to go above-and-beyond to celebrate Peru’s seven lucky years. The agenda consisted of an internet-instructed doggie massage and bacon-laced peanut butter dog treats fresh from Smith’s oven.

Peru was destined to impact the life of her future human. At a specialized school in California, she was born into the “P” generation, perhaps among brothers and sisters named Penelope and Pogo. For over two years, her breeders meticulously trained her litter, choosing strictly those who excelled in testing without error. Smith also committed to a full month of learning “working” commands. The duo has been inseparable after nearly five years of meaningful companionship.

The pair receives warm smiles from peers wherever they venture on campus. Peru is not quite a Golden Bear in color or species, but she definitely qualifies as a university mascot in her own right. She cautiously guides her loving master with her keen sense of smell and introduces her to new territory. Smith’s confidence assures Peru that she is in control, and Peru dutifully navigates through entryways, or the flow of students. Smith doesn’t fault anyone who gets the urge to pat Peru’s sweet head or rub her silky ears; clearly Peru is magnetic, but when she is “in harness”, it is in Smith’s best interest to be the only one who physically interacts with the 40 lb. retriever.

While obtaining an education degree at KU, Smith found herself enthralled with computer science after taking a general class. She especially loves the technological world of coding for web-design, and recently became a peer tutor on the subject. This is how we met for the first time, at Rohrbach Library.

Smith and Peru drew me in, initially because of the seemingly impossible situation. A young student, who has never known life with even the slightest sense of vision, was excelling in computing at our university. My bewilderment drove me to meet with her again so I could soak up the amazement that is Genevieve Smith.

We chatted at a table in the Fireside Lounge. She received my curiosity graciously. I questioned how she is able to adapt to the world around her despite lacking a crucial survival sense. She does rely especially on her hearing to travel, and trains herself to listen closely, like for Peru’s jingling collar when she is playing off-leash, but debunks that it is hypersensitive as a result. In fact, she admits she is just as likely to zone out in deep thought, and her friends tease her for it. However, she did swear her discerning palette could recognize the difference between bottled water and fountain. She took me up on the challenge of a taste-test to prove her claims.

“I’ll even let you blindfold me,” she joked.

Smith credits technology for enabling her with freedom in mobility and quality of life. The software program Job Access with Speech (JAWS) speaks information on her laptop. Additionally, she has a BrailleNote keyboard that she uses for term papers. The newest update to the iPhone narrates her messages and content on her web browser.

For Smith, independence means “being able to do what you want or need without having help from people.” Smith could not wait to branch out from her small town in Kansas and experience a new and exciting world. Once she completes her Master’s in computer science, she dreams of taking Peru somewhere they can both enjoy the warming sun on their faces year round.

Spending time with Smith has illuminated life’s meaning with new perspective and greater depth. What makes her remarkable is not that she manages to cook bacon and bake birthday treats without assistance, but because she does so as emphatically as a Food Network personality.

It is a refreshing revelation of true courage, independent will, trust and most of all, gratitude. She is the beacon of limitless potential within us all, allowing nothing to prevent her from experiencing the fullness of life.

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