MEDFORD, N.Y. (PIX11) — For 15 years, Michelle Krupa was trying to find a guide dog who could work with someone who is both deaf and blind. Michelle has Usher’s syndrome, a rare disease that is slowly robbing her of the ability to see and hear.
Two years ago, by a stroke of luck, she was able to finally get her guide dog – a sweet black lab named Milton. It was a match made in heaven.
“First, he jumped up and licked my face,” said Michelle. “And then they’re like, ‘OK, Milton, calm down.’ And then he calmed right down and he stood right next to me. It’s like he knew.”
Michelle’s husband, Tom, was amazed by their connection.
“He was a puppy when his harness was off, but when he had his harness on, he knew he was who he was,” said Tom. “He would sit a little taller, stand a little straighter. He knew what his job was, and it was to protect her.”
Michelle said Milton gave her the ability to not just exist but to truly live again.
“When I walked, he guided me,” said Michelle. “He protected me. He kept me safe.”
“She was going down to the beach,” said Tom. “She was going to stores. She was going out. She was going to the mall – places that she hadn’t been in years.”
Thanks to Milton, Michelle even decided to open a restaurant last November – Shelby’s Kitchen in Bellport on Long Island.
“Guide dogs are guardian angels here on earth,” said Michelle.
But her new lease on life came crashing down on July 22, when Milton suddenly died. The pup was accidentally left in a hot van at The Guide Dog Foundation, where Milton was initially trained. He was back for additional training, so he could sit still with Michelle in a classroom.
“He was going to go out,” Michelle explained. “It was hot. Plans got changed. And they left him in the van like he was going to go out.”
Tom said Milton was accidentally locked in the van – without air conditioning, for hours – and was found in the afternoon, non-responsive.
Michelle and Tom are obviously devastated and want to know why the Foundation had no system of checks and balances in place to prevent this.
“They said that they thought nothing like this could ever happen,” said Michelle. “And that’s the problem. You can’t rely on humans to be perfect when they’re not.”
Michelle and Tom are not mad at The Guide Dog Foundation. They understand its employees are hurting just as much as they are. They do, however, want to see new procedures put in place to safeguard against future accidents.
“Something has to be in place,” said Tom. “Milton cannot die in vain … That’s like your child. You need to be accountable.”
In a statement to PIX11 News, a spokesperson for the Guide Dog Foundation said:
“The Guide Dog Foundation offers Michelle and her family our full support if and when Michelle is ready to be matched with a successor dog. The foundation will be ready to provide her with a guide dog as soon as one is trained and available. The Guide Dog Foundation has been taking immediate steps to review this tragic event to mitigate the potential of this ever happening again”
Michelle said she will go back to the Guide Dog Foundation when she is ready to find her new guardian angel.
“They are wonderful people,” said Michelle. “They are giving, and they’re loving and they’re caring. But they’re human.”