PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — As a young woman, Sharon Zenger traded in her driver’s license for a seeing eye dog.
Zenger started life with almost normal vision, but as a toddler was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Growing up in Pendleton, the girl spent years preparing for blindness, practicing with a white cane and learning to read Braille. When her sight dimmed, she was ready.
Zenger, now 37, trains visually impaired children in six Oregon counties as an employee of the InterMountain Education Service District. Tod Zenger chauffeurs his daughter and her guide dog, Jude, from school to school each day.
Except for the ever-present Jude, one might not realize the Pendleton woman can’t see. She walks with an air of confidence, following her German Shepherd’s subtle guidance. She wears glasses and appears to look directly at people who speak to her, though in reality she sees only blur or blackness, depending on the brightness of the environment.
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Zenger’s easy nonchalance belies her toughness. She got her first guide dog at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog school in New York City. To graduate the month-long training, students must navigate the Big Apple’s legendary traffic and multilevel subway system.
“I walked out of Grand Central Station and had to find my way to Central Park,” Zenger recalls.
After reaching her destination, she headed to the subway, found a train to the upper east side, got off at the proper stop and found a pub where she met her classmates and instructors. Getting around in New York City can rattle even sighted people — doing it with impaired vision takes nerves of steel.
“I remember thinking I’m glad I don’t live in New York,” Zenger said.
She returned to Oregon, where she earned undergraduate degrees in social science and teaching and a master’s degree in education at Portland State University. She memorized the campus and surrounding cityscape. She knew the exact number of steps and stairs in various PSU buildings from front door to classroom.
She learned to navigate through the school’s underground tunnel system.
After graduation, Zenger taught for 10 years at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. In the three years Zenger has worked at the IMESD, Superintendent Mark Mulvihill has become a fan.
“When we hired her, we were really excited to have such a…