Tony Compton has a new pair of eyes. And four more feet help to get him where he needs to go.
Oh, and there's a smile back on his face.
Almost entirely blind, Compton pretty much hit bottom in August 2012 when Warner, his seeing-eye dog and best friend, fell terribly ill and died.
Compounding the loss was the sad fact that Compton, who's 67 and lives leanly in a Rohnert Park mobile-home park, was left with a $9,200 bill from the veterinary hospital that tried to save the black Labrador retriever that had served and delighted him for six years.
Compton had no hope of taking on another trained service dog, which he regards as essential to him making his way in the world, until the debt was retired. Living on Social Security benefits of a bit more than $1,900 a month, he put on weight and grew increasingly glum while he chipped slowly at the bill.
Neighbors who'd been accustomed to seeing him step briskly while grasping the harness of an eager dog noticed how broken he seemed when, following Warner's death, he walked awkwardly with a red-tipped cane.
Losing the dog “really changed his life for the worse,” said Karen Kuenzi, who manages the 309-home Rancho Grande Mobile Home Park with her husband, Deuane. “It was saddening for many of the people in the park.”
Compton, who prior to losing his vision to hereditary retinitis pigmentosa bowled competitively and worked in construction, food service and other industries, never asked anyone's help to pay off the debt to the vet.
“I was just living my life, being a sad guy,” he said.
But some sympathetic neighbors came together and hosted an ice-cream social at the mobile-home park, collected donations and gave him all the money.
Word of his plight and his neighbors' gift reached Lois Lindstrom, president of the Rohnert Park Social Club. She easily persuaded club members to approve a donation to Compton.
A story in the Press Democrat in July prompted enough additional contributions for Compton to pay off the debt and put away some money for the upkeep of another dog — and for veterinary insurance to guard against another huge bill.