University of San Diego Fraternity Helps Blind Student Get Service Dog

Michael Girard, a student at University of San Diego, lost his sight in a hit-and-run crash and had trouble navigating the campus – until a fraternity stepped in to help

A University of San Diego (USD) student who lost his eyesight in a hit-and-run crash has now gained many things: a canine companion, loyal friends and newfound confidence.

Michael Girard, an undergraduate student majoring in sociology at USD, was involved in a life-changing crash in the late 1990s. As he rode his motorcycle from California to New Mexico, Girard was struck by a car. The driver fled the scene, leaving him badly injured.

The next thing he knew, Girard was lying in a hospital bed. He soon learned the impact from the collision had caused him to completely lose his eyesight.

Nearly 20 years after the crash, Girard navigates the world using his other senses.

However, as a student on a college campus, being blind has been a bit of a challenge – and members of the university’s Sigma Pi fraternity could clearly see that.

For the past year-and-a-half, the frat has been working to raise funds to get a service dog for Girard through a project dubbed Operation Bow Wow.

With support from other Greek and student organizations across the campus, Sigma Pi was recently able to obtain a seeing-eye dog for Girard, a 19-month-old German Shepard named Eric.

Now, with Eric by his side, Girard’s life on campus has changed.

“I have greater mobility; I have greater confidence in crossing the street. Because I was hit and run down, I still deal with some post-traumatic stress of wondering where the other side of the curb [is],” Girard told NBC 7. “I don’t worry that I’m going to be hit and run down again.”

With the help of his canine companion, Girard said he also feels safer. And, with so many friends and fellow students by his side, he’s also never felt more loved.

“I’m still overwhelmed by so many people’s outreach. The support has touched me in ways that I can’t even begin to describe,” Girard said. “The kind support of the people from Greek life – that I find a new life with Greek life – and it can enable me to transform my very challenging life into a very remarkable life.”

Operation Bow Wow was spearheaded by Sigma Pi member Jesse Nebres, who has become a good friend to Girard.

Nebres said he and his friends would often see Girard around campus, walking with his cane, and help guide him to class or the cafeteria.

The two got to talking and one day, Nebres asked Girard why he didn’t have a service dog. Girard said he’s on scholarship at USD, and while he qualifies for a service dog, he didn’t have the means to pay for the costs that come with having a service companion, including medical care and food.

Nebres mobilized his frat brothers and Operation Bow Wow was hatched.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to try to make his life a little bit better. He’s been through a lot. Knowing that we could make a difference for him, to get him a guide dog that could be with him when students are not able to help him out, that was a cause everyone rallied around,” Nebres told NBC 7.

“It was incredible to see how many organizations knew Mike, and wanted to help get him that guide dog.”

The word spread quickly, and through an online fundraising campaign, the fraternity was able to raise $10,000 to cover expenses for Girard to have a guide dog.

A member of a USD sorority reached out to her father, local veterinarian Dr. Sarbjit Singh of Animal Medical Hospital of Poway, who pledged to provide medical care for the service life of Girard’s dog.

Last month, Girard met Eric and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

“I was speechless when I finally saw Mike with his guide dog,” said Nebres, smiling. “Within a year-and-a-half, you can pet the results of this campaign.”

Girard said he will forever be grateful to his friends at USD for banding together to help him.

Every time they guided him around the campus, Girard said the students helped him “not feel so awkward.”

“Most of the fraternities helped me before I tried to help myself,” Girard said. “I have been so honored to be a recipient of so much service from people associated with Greek organizations.”

Nebres said the desire to help others is part of frat life – even though it’s not always highlighted.

“It’s always been there – that fraternities are trying to make their communities better. [USD] Toreros really do take care of each other. You see it with alums – with everyone on campus.”

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