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Bob Lind column: Neighbors: Cinnamon adds spice to man's life

No question about it, Cinnamon has spiced up Scott Hammer's life. Scott is legally blind. Cinnamon is his guide dog. She allows him to go everywhere: the store, church, to his job as a massage therapist at the Fergus Falls, Minn., YMCA. Cinnamon ...

No question about it, Cinnamon has spiced up Scott Hammer's life.

Scott is legally blind. Cinnamon is his guide dog. She allows him to go everywhere: the store, church, to his job as a massage therapist at the Fergus Falls, Minn., YMCA.

Cinnamon is trained to lie quietly beside Scott when he's not moving around; she doesn't even budge when wonderful food is served to Scott in a restaurant ... and Scott knows about good food. He had plenty of it when he was training with his guide dog.

Scott's vision was fine when he was born in Breckenridge, Minn., and when he was growing up in Halstad, Minn., where he was in the first graduating class of Norman County West High School.

He attended Minnesota State University Moorhead for a time, was an on-air guy for a couple of radio stations in Brainerd, Minn., then moved to Fargo where he worked for a packing and shipping company and an employment agency before moving to Fergus Falls in 2000.

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At first, he says, "I was doing it all: driving, reading books, into sports. Then in 1995 I began noticing a change in my vision."

Eye examinations showed he had a rare eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, in which the retina gradually degenerates. People with it usually have difficulty seeing in dim light at first, then gradually lose their peripheral vision. Some have only minor problems, while others, like Scott, go blind.

The disease is hereditary. Scott is sure he got it from his mother, who also is blind.

That's the downside of Scott's story. Now, the upside part, in the form of a German shepherd named Cinnamon.

She is Scott's second guide dog. His first one had cancer and had to be put to sleep. So last year Cinnamon took over as Scott's inseparable buddy at San Rafael, Calif., where Scott went to meet her and be trained with her by Guide Dogs for the Blind.

This is a nonprofit charitable organization that provides and trains guide dogs for the visually impaired throughout the United States and Canada. It has provided more than 10,000 trained dogs since it was started in 1942. It is supported entirely by private donations; there is no charge for anything.

A committee had to approve Scott's application for a dog and he had to have personal interviews and evaluations to get his first dog. When he was accepted, he headed to California to begin a monthlong training session.

The students live with their dogs in the organization's dormitories and eat in its dining facilities.

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"When I went out there," Scott says, "I figured I'd get institutional hospital-type food, but that was OK, I figured I could survive a month of that. But the first meal they served us was prime rib, and the food was like that the whole time."

And it didn't cost him a dime: the dog, the training, room, board (including the prime rib), all were covered.

Since he'd trained for a month with his first dog, the training with Cinnamon took only two weeks. Then he and Cinnamon went back to Fergus Falls. There, Cinnamon is the link to a relatively normal life for Scott. She guides him up stairways, along sidewalks and across busy streets.

Scott knows she saved him from at least one serious accident. He was about to cross a street, but she refused to move. "Then a car zipped in front of me," Scott says.

Fun-loving pair

Scott has a wife, Linda; a son, Andrew, 14, in Little Falls, Minn., from a previous marriage; two stepchildren, Jason Harlow, 32, Alexandria, Minn., and Rebekah Harlow, 27, Fergus Falls; and a stepgranddaughter, Noel, 9, Fergus Falls.

And he has Cinnamon, 2, who is a big help at work as well as elsewhere. "She leads me into the office, through the lobby, around things," Scott says.

Scott and Cinnamon have similar personalities; that's a major reason the Guide Dog folks teamed them up. "We're both fun-loving and full of life," says the fun-loving full-of-life Scott. "But we both can be serious when we need to be."

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The fun-loving full-of-life Cinnamon was unavailable for comment.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com

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