A guide dog that led its owner around as he fought for rights for blind people and for access to restaurants, delis and taxicabs has died.
Ruger, a yellow Labrador, died Wednesday of old age on a farm in Warwick, in upstate New York. The dog was 13.
Coughlin, 48, got the dog from The Seeing Eye guide dog training school in Morristown, N.J., two years after going blind from a rare genetic condition. He retired the dog in 2008.
"A lot of my mourning for the loss was done two years ago rather than now," said Coughlin, who had not visited with Ruger since but kept in touch with the new owners. "Now I'm more filled with gratitude for the nine years he and I were together."
With Ruger, Coughlin filed complaints with the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission when business owners and taxi drivers turned them away. The "CBS Evening News" followed Coughlin with a hidden camera, taping businesses giving him a hard time because of Ruger.
Coughlin always was taken aback by how he was treated, his friend Adam Brecht said.
"When you go blind in the middle of your life," Brecht said, "every little injustice you experience is very striking."
Ruger was a combination of a great working dog and a calming presence, and the only thing that fazed the dog was thunder, Coughlin said. The dog was a true New Yorker, always trying to get around people who were walking too slowly, he said.
"After losing my vision so suddenly, I truly felt that I wasn't ever going to experience joy again," Coughlin said. "When Ruger came into my life, he had this in-your-face, all-encompassing, just boundless joy. It was impossible to not let it rub off."