He is visually impaired, but that doesn’t stop Paul Horgen from being an active member of the Comox Valley community.
The 71-year-old Comox resident — who taught biology at the University of Toronto during his working years — is board chair of the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, is involved with the local White Cane Club, and sits on the Vancouver Island board of directors of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the National Research board. The latter is comprised mostly of ophthalmologists and scientists that deal with the eyes.
He and his wife Ilona have been involved in ElderCollege at North Island College. She is a past chair of the organization for students 55 and older.
Horgen has also written a book about his seeing eye dog — a seven-year-old yellow Lab named Kona. The book, Tails of Kona the Guide Dog, is self-published. He would like to see it appear in school libraries.
“It’s received very good feedback from teachers,” said Horgen, a recipient of the prestigious Paul Harris Award from the Comox Rotary Club.
“I’d like to teach children and parents and grandparents about how to behave around guide dogs. You’d be surprised how many people will come up and want to pet Kona when I’m walking with her. She’s on duty.”
In his 20s, Horgen was diagnosed with an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa where the eye slowly deteriorates. He was told he would first lose his peripheral vision and then his central vision in his 60s. It happened exactly that way, but he nevertheless worked until age 63. He has retained a bit of his eyesight.
Horgen grew up in California, came to Canada in 1972, and moved to the Valley in 2005.
Upon graduating from guide dog school in 2008, he was teamed with Kona. Both underwent training in Vancouver.
“She’s got two more good years in her, according to the BC Guide Dog Services,” Horgen said. “She’s in very good shape.”
Music is also part of Horgen’s life. He used to lead a doo-wop singing group in Toronto. He later wrote a song called Our Estuary, recorded at Dove Creek Recording Studios, with Mary Murphy on vocals, and Paul Keim on guitar and bass.
Accompanied by his buddy Jim Gillis, Horgen is having fun engaging in ‘tasty reviews’ with the Blind Taste Tester, which involves eating, drinking and supporting local restaurants, breweries, pubs and wineries.