Orzo plays with a squeaky toy as Andrew Crane talks about how the black Labrador retriever has changed his life.
He’s not only Crane’s best friend; he’s the key to Crane’s independence.
Crane was born blind and has cerebral palsy. The 26-year-old received Orzo from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 2009.
With Orzo’s help, Crane has been able to move out of his parents’ house and live independently in a loft apartment in Old Town.
On Jan. 4, Crane will pay it forward with Guiding Paws, a fundraiser for the New York-based nonprofit group that provides guide dogs to people like him.
“I really want to give back what they gave me,” Crane said.
Crane volunteers at Mead’s Corner coffeehouse near his apartment.
“Orzo helps me get there every single morning,” Crane said. “Guiding Eyes pretty much gave me my life back.”
Before Orzo, Crane said, he “stumbled around with a cane” that didn’t work well for him.
Crane spent more than three weeks training with Orzo in New York. At one point, he called his father and said: “I got the keys to my new car. Orzo is my keys. He gives me opportunities.”
When Crane brought Orzo home to Wichita, his parents picked them up at the airport. On the way home, they stopped at a Wal-Mart. Crane said his parents were walking ahead of him and Orzo. Orzo stopped abruptly, refusing to move. A car was backing out. Orzo wouldn’t let Crane walk until it was safe.
“I knew then Orzo was going to take care of me, and he has,” Crane said, tears rolling down his cheeks. “He’s my best friend, and Guiding Eyes made that happen for me.”
The fundraiser will feature door prizes, music and a silent auction featuring items such as hotel stays, restaurant certificates, Wichita Wingnuts season tickets in a skybox and a VIP pass to the Wichita River Festival, including backstage access to concerts, Crane said.
“I want to give a big fat check to Guiding Eyes,” he said.
Eric Selzer, a shift manager at Mead’s Corner, has known Crane for a few years.
“He loves his dog,” Selzer said of Crane.
Crane is passionate about the fundraiser, Selzer said.
“I think he’s a great guy,” he said. “He has a big heart.”