CALGARY – A different kind of white hatting ceremony was held Saturday in Calgary.

This one, dedicated to service dogs and the people they help.

A young Calgary man who was blinded by gunfire in downtown Calgary credits his independence to his working dog.

Jose Neto’s inspiring story continues to touch Albertans and he gets around a lot easier these days, thanks to his golden retriever Leo.

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Leo acts as Neto’s eyes and says his service dog is committed to leading the way.

“As soon as you put the harness on, you feel that they are committed to taking you safely. So I am very confident and it’s great to have him,” said Neto.

Neto first came to Calgary from Brazil to study English.

Seven years ago he was struck in the head by a stray bullet in Calgary’s Chinatown.

He lost both eyes. Now, along with four other Calgarians who work with  service dogs, he was white-hatted. A tribute to his optimism and triumph over tragedy.

“Jose Neto. What a wonderful story. The spirit in the strength and the courage and his dog Leo has made a huge difference in his life,” said Cheryl Herperger with the City of Calgary.

“The bottom line is, people couldn’t afford it. And that’s why we do so much fundraising,” said Steve King from the Chestermere Lions Club.

Local lions clubs helped raise the 25 thousand dollars it cost to get Leo into Neto’s home.

“It’s very labor-intensive. From breeding right through to placing the dog with the client, getting the client to Ontario to do the matching in the training and also the support group to support function once people have the dog. You can’t just give a dog to someone and say see you later,” King said.

For Jose Neto, Leo’s guidance allows him to get around without the aid of another person. Since the shooting that took his sight, he graduated from college,  became a Canadian citizen and opened his own massage studio.

“It’s just great to have them around. It’s a partnership they are your eyes or whatever disability you have. They help you out with whatever you need, it’s just so important to have that independence and a dog is a big step on getting that,” Neto said.

Leo also has a new little human he looks out for.  Last month, Neto and his wife welcomed a baby girl into their lives.

“He loves her. I think he’s kind of protective at first, he didn’t know what was going on,” Neto said.

Saturday’s white hatting event was part of the second annual working dogs day event at Bowmont Park.

It was a chance for people to get to know the city’s working dogs and their handlers and learn about the roles of service dogs.

– With files from Lisa MacGregor