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Second sight

Katie the Service Dog brings renewed hope to Solon man
The North Liberty Lions Club’s Lion, Dr. Ryan Veatch and Todd Bevans pose with Katie, Bevans’ new service dog on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the annual Breakfast with Santa event at the North Liberty Recreation Center. The Lions and Dr. Veatch (founder of Blink Vision in North Liberty) were instrumental in finding and funding the dog for Bevans, who lost his eyesight in a 1998 motor vehicle accident. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

NORTH LIBERTY– Two friendly, furry creatures were spotted at the annual Breakfast with Santa event at the North Liberty Recreation Center on Saturday, Dec. 8. One was the North Liberty Lions Club’s mascot; a six-foot tall lion who greeted kids and adults alike, freely dispensing hugs and posing for pictures. The other was a ten-year old German Shepherd named Katie who, despite being on the job and in her uniform (service dog vest), graciously accepted petting and pats from complete strangers.
Katie belongs to Todd Bevans, or perhaps he belongs to Katie as it is her job to act as his eyes, his guardian and his assistant. Bevans was born in Jessup and graduated from Solon High School in 1996. A serious motor vehicle accident in 1998 literally changed his life in an instant. Bevans sustained a depressed skull fracture in a head-on collision with a farm truck. The injury caused a devastating brain injury, which left his survival in doubt initially. After several weeks in the hospital, he underwent extensive rehabilitation where he relearned basic functions such as walking, dressing himself and feeding himself. All-in-all, a three-year process.
The biggest challenge however, was learning how to do everything without his eyesight. The brain injury irreversibly damaged his ability to see, leaving him legally blind.
He managed to lead a relatively independent life, with a roommate, and was able to hold down some jobs. But a diagnosis of adult-onset diabetes, which causes his blood sugar levels to fluctuate dangerously, threatened not only his life but also the independence he’d worked so long and hard to achieve. Exercise was one way to manage the condition, along with daily injections. However, navigating walking trails, sidewalks, etc. as a blind man was a daunting challenge.
A stroke of good fortune brought Todd and his first service dog Arvo together.
“A guy had just trained a dog and wanted to get rid of him,” he said. “I met him, he came over to my trailer (he was living in North Liberty at the time) and that’s where I ended up getting Arvo at.”
A college student trained the dog but needed to find him a new home before graduating and moving away.
Soon after, Todd and Arvo were best freinds and constant companions. For five years, they were commonly seen walking the trails of North Liberty.
“He stayed right with me,” he said in a 2016 interview. “It was all voice commands, he stayed right with me, I never fell or nothing.”
The exercise did both man and beast good.
“Walking back and forth burning blood sugar. It was fun. It was great. I loved having a service dog, we were everywhere.”
Arvo even made it possible for Todd to do something many would think impossible: riding a bike, with Arvo running alongside.
A pair of massive brain tumors led to Arvo falling down and having seizures. The diagnosis and prognosis devastated Todd.
“They said ‘We can wake him up and you can take him home,’ but he was only living to walk with me, and I said I didn’t want to find him dead. So, they didn’t wake him up.” Arvo was euthanized in January of 2016.
While he grieved the loss of his furry best friend, his family began the search for another dog. However, not just any dog would do. To find not only a seeing eye dog, but also a dog capable of detecting changes in blood sugar levels through their enhanced sense of smell would be a very expensive proposition.
Dr. Ryan Veatch, Doctor of Optometry and founder of Blink Vision in North Liberty, spearheaded an effort through the North Liberty Lions Club. The organization covered Arvo’s veterinary costs and was willing to undertake a fundraising effort to pay for a replacement.
“The Lions Club stepped in, that’s what they do. They raised money and helped me do this,” Todd said. “I think it’s a great deal. I wouldn’t have known nothing about this if I was never blind.”
Before Katie, Todd tried a puppy named Marley. “She was just a puppy,” Todd’s mother Robin Bevans said. “He’s blind, he couldn’t potty train her and all that, it was just impossible. And she was too (high) spirited.”
“She was a good potential dogbut it would’ve taken too long to get her up to speed,” Veatch added.
“She was an awesome dog,” said Robin, but just not the right fit.
The search continued with Donna Manchester of The Hound’s Tooth Dog Obedience Training, in Coralville, taking the lead. She had been involved in Bevans’ case for quite awhile.
Veatch said. “She has been extremely helpful, she trains dogs, service training, obedience, things like that.”
Donna found Katie through her network of contacts. A breeder she knew was planning on retiring Katie, Veatch said. “She’s a well-suited, mellow dog and she’s been through all the training steps (and accreditation) to be a Service Dog, so she’s legitimately very helpful to Todd.”
“Donna, the lady that works with me with dogs, she was real particular about the kind of dog. I never thought it’d be a German Shepherd. I thought I was getting another lab. But German Shepherds are good dogs too. They’re smart, she’s a really good fit for me.”
Donna and Todd worked together to get man and dog acquainted and comfortable with each other, as well as to complete Katie’s training. Sessions were held at her business, as well as in Todd’s apartment. They also meet at other venues around the community to get accustomed to walking around in crowds, noisy environments and other settings that could be distracting for Katie.
“She’s (Manchester) been wonderful,” Robin said.
“And it’s harder to match a dog to Todd because he’s not only blind, he’s blind from a brain injury. He needs a dog that’s a little more higher trained,” Robin added.
“Smarter than me,” said Todd. “Other than Arvo, she’s the best-behaved dog I’ve ever met,” he added. “She’s very social, she doesn’t mind anything as long as she can see me.” Todd and Katie currently live in an apartment in Solon, downstairs from Robin. With help from her in managing his diabetes, and Katie helping him regain his independence, he said he was hopeful to be starting a job in the near future. “I’m only 41, I can be working. I did it at Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee.”
The process of trying to replace his beloved Arvo has been arduous, but Katie appears to be well worth the wait.
“It’s slow with service dogs because there’s so much to do with them,” Todd said. “There’s so much work you got to go through and they got to go through. Nobody ever even thinks about that.”
“It’s been a long, twisty road,” Dr. Veatch said, “Lots of unexpected turns.”