Matt Sherwood works in Manhattan, so he knows the importance of “walking like a New Yorker” — which requires the quick, determined gait of someone who has somewhere to be.
Every day Sherwood makes the 90-minute commute from Long Island to New York City, taking the Long Island Railroad into N.Y.C’s Pennsylvania Station and then riding multiple subways, to get to his investment industry job.
For years, Sherwood, who became visually impaired in 2008 at the age of 24, made this trip with the assistance of a cane, opting not to research guide dogs out of worries that a service canine would slow him down.
“It’s been quite the opposite,” Sherwood said of guide dog Chris, who he has had for a year. “He is a very fast dog.”
In 2018, after a few “bumps and bruises with telephone poles” Sherwood decided to look into getting a guide dog and found Guide Dog Foundation. Located in Long Island, Guide Dog Foundation is a non-profit organization that trains and pairs guide dogs with visually impaired individuals. Sherwood went to the group’s campus and tried walking a guide dog.
“It was something that was very revealing of how amazing it is,” he said. “That one experience made me apply.”
Not long after applying for a guide dog, Sherwood was matched with a black Laborador named Chris and, after training, brought the dog home in May of 2018.
“He is my black ‘Lab’-orghini,” he told PEOPLE. Chris has earned the nickname thanks to his strong gait and his ability to keep up with the hustle and bustle of New York City. “I just hold on for the ride.”
Before Chris, Sherwood used his cane to “feel with his way around obstructions.” Now, he has a well-trained companion who looks out for him and guides him around obstacles without any second guessing. Sherwood says this erases the anxiety that can come from tackling common city obstructions, like walking through a construction site.
“I just hold on and trust him, and I don’t have to worry about being stressed,” he said, adding that constantly having a caring, cuddly dog with a soft ear to pet around you 24/7 is a great stress buster in general.
Chris now joins Sherwood on his commute and makes “everything faster,” and at home, when the harness is off, Chris is a great family pet, who loves playing with toys, cuddling Chris’ daughter Chiara and going to the dog park.
Sherwood has accomplished a lot in his life, including completing his dissertation and getting a PhD after losing his sight, but he also lost a lot.
“When you lose your eyesight, you lose something a entire sense. A sense is huge,” he said, adding that what he misses most is being able to see the faces of his loved ones and the independence of certain activities, like driving.
“I would drive to the store or drive to the train station, and you lose that. But now, I gained so much with Chris. Like I said, now I drive a black ‘Lab’-orghini and I almost got a part of myself back,” Sherwood said. “I picked something up.”
September is National Service Dog, a great opportunity to celebrate these amazing canines who change lives every day. To learn more about Guide Dog Foundation and their work with service dogs, visit the organization’s website.