Piper the Dog is an Model of Supportive Friendship


photo by Annie Uyehara

Piper the Dog

By Annie Uyehara

Piper was a handsome, charismatic dog. However, that’s not what made him exceptional. Piper was a dog born and bred to be a guide dog for the blind. 

He died in 2016, but Piper is a rare example in our community of what a guide dog does. For 17 years, he was the constant companion and guide for John Barbee, who became blind at 25 years old. John, a Peace Corps volunteer, staffer and later a director in Washington, D.C., died a year before Piper. Piper stayed with John until the last moment, staying beside him at his bed. That’s not only a partnership, but a deeply loving relationship forged between a man and his guide dog. 

Piper was trained through KSDS an organization that provides assistance dogs to enhance independence for those with disabilities to be able to fully function in society. 

Piper took a bit more training than most dogs. “He didn’t quite pass muster,” says John’s widow, Nancy Barbee. “So he went to a women’s detention center and they helped socialize him.” 

Piper, being a larger than average yellow lab, and John, being a larger than average human at 6’5”, were paired together by KSDS. John required training as much as Piper. “They spent three weeks together. Only John was allowed to make eye contract with Piper so they could bond,” recalls Nancy. 

And bond they did, although it wasn’t always easy. “They had a ‘push-me-pull-you’ relationship. John would get agitated sometimes about where he wanted to go, but usually Piper was in the right.”

Piper led John on buses, ships, and planes. Piper also was trained to stay out of sight. ”He could curl up under a folding chair,” recalls Nancy. “You would never know he was there.”

Her son, Mike, says Piper’s charisma facilitated John’s social life. “With Piper, my dad was accepted as a person with a disability. Piper sometimes connected my dad with other people who had disabilities. It made my dad feel more included in the community.”

Piper was popular, particularly with kids; he’d give them high fives. But guide dogs have a special etiquette that must be adhered to, and John taught people how to interact with Piper.

Until the end, Piper was loyal and loving. “He was a sweet dog,” says Nancy, “He loved to put his head in our lap. He was a very calming influence.”

KSDS Assistance Dogs, Inc: http://www.ksds.org/


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