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Guide Dog Poppet Takes The Spotlight
Janet Gearhart poses with her guide dog, Poppet, in the backyard of their Oakdale home. The dog is featured in the film ‘Pick of the Litter’ which has a special screening on Sunday, Sept. 30 at The State Theatre in Modesto. Marg Jackson/The Leader

Janet Gearhart of Oakdale considers herself blessed.

Blessed to have a guide dog like Poppet, a faithful servant that helps her navigate her way through life.

Poppet and her littermates, however, are about to get a little extra attention.

They will be featured in ‘Pick of the Litter’ – a documentary film that follows a litter of puppies from birth to their training as guide dogs and their eventual pairing with a human companion. A special showing of the film at The State Theatre, 1307 J St., Modesto, is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30 and will be a benefit for VIPS, Visually Impaired Persons Support.

Gearhart has had a few guide dogs over the years but is thrilled that Poppet will get her moment in the spotlight.

“The film has got drama, it’s got cuteness,” Gearhart said. “It’s a tissue movie.”

She added that the producers approached the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization in San Rafael with the idea to do the documentary, giving people an up close look at the rigorous training that guide dogs go through in order to serve. Not all of them make it; in fact, only the ‘pick of the litter’ can handle the discipline required to earn the service dog title.

An Oakdale resident for 18 years, Gearhart previously lived and worked in the Silicon Valley, spending many years in the banking industry. She began losing her peripheral vision in her late 20s and was later diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Gearhart today can make out shapes and shadows but little more. She has been partnered with Poppet, a black Labrador retriever, since February of 2017.

“Poppet is my fourth guide dog and the best I have had,” Gearhart said. “They all were great but I feel they all are wrapped up in Poppet.”

She said the film will benefit VIPS, which provides a variety of services to the visually impaired, and she and Poppet will be attending the screening in Modesto, as well as take part in a panel discussion following the film. Gearhart also attended the world premiere in Park City, Utah.

She admitted that people that lose their eyesight often lose confidence and go through a wide range of emotions; programs offered through VIPS and working with a guide dog can help the visually impaired take back their life.

Gearhart’s story was featured in a recent issue of People magazine and she said her husband, Ed, “ran out and bought” several copies.

Poppet is also a pet; but knows that when her harness is on, she is on duty and in the guide dog role.

“Oakdale is in the film, and they would film us in class and working with the dogs in San Rafael,” Gearhart explained. “You see me meeting her for the first time, it’s really emotional.”

The film is also audio described and closed captioned.

Together, Gearhart said, she and Poppet have forged a bond that strengthens them both.

“It’s amazing to have a guide dog,” she added. “It gives you such freedom.”