AUBURN — When musician Paul Puiia is on stage, Grant doesn’t quite understand why he can’t be there, too.

After all, Grant, Puiia’s guide dog, is with him all day. All night. When he travels the state for performances. When he crosses the street.

It doesn’t quite work out on stage, though. Grant gets a little too excited.  

“Sometimes he tries to sing along a little bit,” Puiia said. 

Puiia, 36, was born with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that can occur in premature babies. The disease blinded him in one eye and affected his vision in the other. As an adult, he developed glaucoma and endured multiple surgeries to try to deal with it. Despite the operations, he rapidly lost his sight. 

For a long time, Puiia was in denial.

“I thought the surgeries would help,” he said. “It took a while for me to come to the realization that they wouldn’t.”

Puiia had trouble getting around on his own, and he was uncomfortable using a cane. Finally, about a year ago, he got Grant from the New Jersey-based The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the world. A black Labrador-mix, Grant was loving, friendly and attentive. He had a puppy’s energy and an adult’s training.

“He loves to swim and fetch sticks,” Puiia said. “Most of all, he’s a great working dog.”

It had been a hard decision for Puiia to get a dog, but he quickly felt safer with Grant beside him. More confident. Puiia started to accept that he’d lost his sight.

Grant, now 3 years old, still has his puppyish periods. He loves attention and will paw at a visitor to get it. But it’s at Puiia’s feet that he sits, leaning back into his legs and looking up at him with tongue lolling.

A trained musician, Puiia sings and plays keyboard, guitar and bass throughout the state. An Auburn resident, he often performs at the East Auburn Baptist Church. Although Grant helps him get to his gigs, the dog’s work ends at the stage. Often Puiia will give Grant to an audience member who can babysit for a bit. Grant stays close, though.

He usually watches from the front row. 

Although it’s been an adjustment for Puiia, he’s glad he got a guide dog. And he’s happy that dog is Grant.

“He’s just a great companion,” he said.

Have an idea for a pet feature? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or e-mail her at [email protected]

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