Achieving Goals — Michelle Plunkett, Guide Dogs of America Alumni

michelle, guide dog, jasper
Michelle with guide dog Jasper

Having a guide dog has helped me do so much…

Michelle Plunkett may have only five percent of her vision, but she puts 100 percent into everything she does… and she does a lot. At her side is Jasper, her second guide dog from Guide Dogs of America.

Michelle was just 20 years old when a serious accident left her with brain and nerve damage. It also was the cause of the stroke that took her vision. After the accident she had to relearn how to walk and do everyday things for herself and she had to do it all without the benefit of sight.

Michelle is the first to admit that she is a “deeply stubborn” overachiever who likes things the way she likes them and that she does not like being told “no” or how to do things. She also is fiercely independent, so the notion of needing someone or something to help her go about her daily life and pursuits raised more questions than answers.

She became curious as to how a guide dog would be a help to her but was not ready to commit to the idea. Her first notion was to do her research, which led her to Guide Dogs of America and a friendly and helpful voice at the other end of the line. She made the call with a couple of questions in mind; three hours later she had answers to “every question that popped into my head.”

“It was so great to have someone to talk to who could answer my questions – big or little, realistic or ridiculous – they were all answered with understanding, patience and caring,” said Michelle. “She showed a genuine interest in me and how having a guide dog would make a difference in getting me back to living my life.”

On her 21st birthday, Michelle graduated with her first guide dog, Noble, and she has never looked back. In fact, she has lived life full steam ahead. When she retired Noble four years ago, she returned to Guide Dogs of America a month later and graduated with her current guide dog Jasper.

In between graduations with her guide dogs, Michelle also has graduated from college as a physics major, had a child, worked as a physicist and now as a high school physics teacher. She also coaches the high school dance team and band and runs marathons. In fact, she completed her seventh Los Angeles Marathon this past spring and she will run her eighth marathon in Florida in January.

“I had to relearn how to walk, then I started power walking, then running; that led to marathons. It was kind of a natural progression and I love it,” said Michelle. “Destination marathons are my favorite. I have a couple on my bucket list, including the Great Wall of China.”

Michelle trains with her guide dog, but Jasper does not run the marathons. When it comes to the race, she runs with a sighted guide who helps her to stay on the course. In January, she will Beta test a new vest that will beep when she gets close to anything. Given her penchant for independence, it is no surprise that she finds this to be an exciting next step and new frontier.

Don’t take no for an answer approach to living her fullest and best life

“Like I tell my students, we go for progress not perfection,” said Michelle. “I set my goals and I work hard and do what it takes to achieve them. Having a guide dog has helped me do so much and taught me that it’s okay to have help.”

Of course, for Michelle there would be no guide dog in her life if it weren’t for Guide Dogs of America and that first call to see if having a guide dog would contribute to — or hinder — her intense desire to maintain her independence.

“I owe so much to the school and all they have given me. It’s not just what they give you when it comes to learning about how to work with a guide dog, it’s the support and understanding at every step, even after graduation,” explained Michelle. “They are there for you any way you need them to be. From helping you work through the training to helping you work through your emotions. There is no judgement, just understanding and support. When you leave Guide Dogs of America you are part of the family. And like family, they are always there for you… no matter what.”