The Seeing-Eye Dog Who’s Always Ripe for a Challenge

I was at my lowest and things were only getting worse—then I met my service dog, Plum.

“It’s on like Donkey Kong!”

If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it means something is about to go down. It’s a rallying cry to face a challenge head-on—and a victory cry. You say it with confidence. With Plum, I look at my life and say, “It’s on like Donkey Kong.”

Plum (aka Princess Plum, Plummy, Plumpkin, Plum Plum, Plumeria, Plum Jelly, Plumpernickle) is my guide dog, a black lab who I was paired with by Southeastern Guide Dogs in 2016. Fourteen years ago, I lost my vision after being diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type 2. At the time, my life was defined by “I can’t.” I couldn’t drive, go to the movies, go on a date, stay sober, or be happy at all. I had no clue how to handle it. It was not pretty.

I struggled with depression. Many mornings, I didn’t want to get out of bed, and many moments felt without a sense of purpose or contribution. I was only in my 20s and abusing alcohol to numb the pain. I was sliding down a slippery slope of hangovers and regret. My sense of worth was low. My expectations were low in regard to relationships and how I was treated. For years, I lived in a deep, dark hole that left me wondering if I would ever be able to climb out of my personal hell.

In 2006, I applied for a guide dog. But when I found out I was expecting my first child, I put it on hold. It would be ten years, two kids, and one divorce later before I applied again in 2016. I met Plum on a walk that all prospective students and dogs do to check compatibility with speed and other factors. Mine and Plum’s walk wasn’t much different than those with the other dogs I tested, but with her, the connection was different. We sat down and she curled close to me, and I knew she was special. But she wasn’t mine at the time—she was just one of the dogs they used to evaluate my pace. We wouldn’t find out the name of our official partner until later. On the first day of training, I learned my new dog’s name was Plum.

I was crying while waiting to meet her—I was a mess before she ever walked in. It was so strange, knowing that she was not just a pet, but a partner in helping me function at a higher capacity. It was pure awe.

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seeing eye dog and Rachel WeeksCourtesy Rachel Weeks

Plum has a very quiet personality with bursts of energy. She’s both the laziest and most hardworking of them all. When her harness is on, she’s all business and guides very well. When her harness is off, you can hear her snores through the hallways at work and over meeting chatter. When she walks into a space, everyone’s mood lifts, and I get to see the best of humanity because it’s hard to be down while Plum is around.

Plum and I hit the ground running after graduation. She did great on our first hike together, navigating snow, water, and steep descents. Since she came into my life, my competitive side has emerged. We have flown to California for the No Barriers Summit for individuals with disabilities, participating in hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and other challenging activities. I train and race as a track cyclist, and Plum and I frequently visit Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center. We are always on an adventure, whether I am out rowing, shooting a recurve bow, lifting in the gym, or canoeing down a Florida river.

She has been wonderful and has kept me safe and independent. She has kept that adventurous spirit alive and she gave me back the confidence that I had lost. My life today is incredible. It’s explosive, really. I get to work for the very organization that paved a path to my many breakthroughs.

seeing eye dog and Rachel WeeksCourtesy Rachel Weeks

Usher Syndrome is still part of my journey, but the alcohol abuse, depression, and anxiety are now part of my past. Every day, I walk my path in sobriety, gratitude, and service because they are the very foundation of what makes my life positive and peaceful. And Plum is the partner I count on to help me walk this path. She not only gives me hope but helps give me purpose. I am both the recipient of this amazing gift and also the servant.

Working with Plum has opened up doors that have been otherwise closed these last 17 years. With the help of Plum, it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Reader’s Digest is on the prowl for the most touching, adorable, or hilarious friendships involving a pet. Submit your story and photos (and video!) for consideration. We will honor the best in many categories of friendship online, in the magazine, and on social media.

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