Ross Kirk

Ross Kirk of Waterbury was working in Human Resources for a major insurance company in the mid-1990's when his blindness set in. Since then he has retired one Fidelco guide dog and is now working with his second; Zeva, who he calls, "my eyes." (MARK MIRKO, HARTFORD COURANT / June 6, 2011)

BLOOMFIELD -- Ross and Zeva are a loyal, loving team in every step they take and every endeavor they try.

Riding the rails to Grand Central Station and hopping the subway downtown in New York isn't a problem for this pair.

"She gives me security, safety, mobility and independence. She is my eyes," said Ross Kirk, gently petting Zeva on the head.

Earlier this month Kirk, 61, made a visit to Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. As soon as he sat down, Zeva laid down at his feet.

She never took her eyes off him.

"When she's in harness, she's a working dog," Kirk said.

The yellow sign on her back reads: "Do Not Pet Me. I'm working."

Eliot Russman, CEO and executive director of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, said that the message is so important.

"When a dog is in harness, it's working," he said. "Its attention is solely on its client. There should be no distractions."

Requests by others to pet, feed or play with the dog are declined by Kirk.

He has utilized the services of the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, the only guide dog school in New England, since 2008.

Kirk was a field director of human resources for a life insurance company in New York from 1980 before he retired because of disability in '96.

That was because of two detached retinas that occurred in 1995 and 1996. "They just happened," he said. "I cannot see out of my left eye. I have minimal vision in my right eye."

He primarily used a cane for mobility after that. But through the encouragement of the Naugatuck Lions Club, he said, he went to Fidelco.

Kirk's first dog, Keafe, was paired with him from 2008 until early in '10, when tragedy struck.

"We were walking the same route near my Waterbury home, when a rottweiler got lose and attacked Keafe," Kirk said.

Keafe no longer could be Kirk's seeing-eye dog, more because of emotional issues than physical ones.

"When in harness, it's extremely rare for a dog to go back being a fully functionally guide dog after being attacked," Russman said. "The dog remembers what happened when it was in a harness, so it's focus would not be solely on the client. It's safety first, for the client, the dog and the community."

Kirk said losing Keafe, who was later adopted by a trainer at Fidelco, was like putting a dog down. "The animal wasn't ill, but I had lost him. It was very emotional," he said.