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Wadena business owner defies disability

Ryan Andrews pets his new guide dog Mowgli at his PC repair business in downtown Wadena. Andrews is legally blind and the dog helps him navigate town.

Ryan Andrews can't see, but he can fix PCs.

In fact, the 32-year-old owns a downtown Wadena business that specializes in repairing and selling computers. Ryan's PC Repair and Video Transfer Service also converts records, cassettes, VHS and film into digital formats.

"I'm the only one in about a 90-mile radius that does that," Andrews said.

Born with an inherited degenerative eye disease, Andrews' vision deteriorated throughout his childhood. Then, in the midst of high school, he lost nearly of all his ability to see.

"I turned 16 and it kind of hit me," he said.

It was a tough transition, said his mother, Deb Andrews. But when he got Levi, his first guide dog, she said Ryan went from dismal to optimistic.

"The guide dog is what really got him through being blind," Deb said. "Once he got the dog, his confidence increased."

Always interested in computers, when Ryan went to a special school to learn how to live independently, one of the courses taught him how to use JAWS, a screen-reading program for the visually impaired. Later, he enrolled in M State Wadena, graduating in 2006 with a computer technology degree.

"I'm the first vision-impaired person who's ever been through the program," Ryan said.

After working for a couple of computer repair businesses in town, he started his own company in 2008.

"I built this place from scratch," Ryan said.

While he uses JAWS for email and to run software fixes, he's able to feel his way around the hardware. Last year, Ryan rewired his shop by himself.

"I think it's unbelievable what he can do," said Ryan's friend, Gordy Macklem, who came by to install new signs for the business in late February.

For 11 years, Levi helped Ryan navigate Wadena. By last fall, he could no longer do the job.

"It was hard to retire him," Ryan said.

Earlier in the year, his dad died in a motorcycle accident.

"The last year has been nonstop nightmare after nightmare," he said. "This year's a new start and Mowgli's a part of it."

Mowgli is Ryan's new guide dog, a nearly three-year-old cross between a yellow labrador and golden retriever. He arrived in February, courtesy of LeaderDogs for the Blind, an international organization that trains guide dogs and delivers them to people throughout the world.

Funded through private donations - much of it from Lions Clubs International, which founded the organization in 1939 - LeaderDogs provides dogs at no cost to the client.

"That's a beautiful dog he's got there," said Carlos Gallusser, an international field services representative for the company, who brought Mowgli to Wadena and worked with Ryan for a few days.

It's much easier to train clients like Ryan who have worked with a guide dog before, Gallusser said. "We got all over town," he said. "He did really well with the dog. He knows the home area. He knows the streets, the names. He's also very dog aware ... He's a young motivated blind guide that's very attuned to working with his dog and he works his dog every day."

Ryan said Mowgli is easy to work with and isn't alarmed by loud noises. "He'll be a good dog."

These days, Levi lives with Deb and spends the days with family and friends around town.

Deb said her son impresses her every day, living independently and doing things with computers that would confound most sighted people. "I'm so proud of the man that he's become."