Being surrounded by a camera crew in the Santa Fe residence hall became normal for UNT students Kendal and Nikki Lyssy last May. The pair were filmed to be featured on Disney Plus’ original series, “Pick of the Litter,” a show that aired last month.
“Pick of the Litter” is a show that follows several puppies as they train to become guide dogs for individuals with visual impairments. It also features different people who are hoping to be paired with one of the dogs as they finish training. Kendal, a communication studies senior, said she got involved with the show last year after receiving a call from the director.
“She told me that I was going to be, if I wanted to, in a documentary about getting guide dogs,” Kendal said. “From the very beginning I loved it — I thought it was super neat. I thought the whole process of the puppy-raisers raising puppies to become guide dogs for the blind was really interesting and unique.”
Kendal’s twin sister and English senior Nikki Lyssy also had the opportunity of being on the show with Kendal to support her and help share their story as blind identical twins.
“My role in the ‘Pick of the Litter’ docu-series was to support Kendal and show people what a day in our lives looks like,” Nikki said. “It’s actually very interesting watching it back because I’m always beside her and we’re always together in it. I very much feel that my role is to be there with her because I’m a huge part of her life and she’s a huge part of mine.”
Though she did not end up getting a guide dog from the show, Kendal described her experience on “Pick of the Litter” as nothing like anything she has experienced before.
“Being surrounded by cameras and crew was really unique,” Kendal said. “The camera crew was really professional and so kind, and it was so fun. At first, it was really weird because I wasn’t used to it, but I got used to it. I really could just have fun with it and be myself and show the world what I’m all about.”
Kendal said the show caters to multiple audiences and offers insight into the lives of those with blindness.
“I think people who are interested in getting guide dogs [should watch the show], and also people who are interested in attending college and just people who don’t know very much about blindness should watch ‘Pick of the Litter,’” Kendal said. “It paints a really positive picture of blind people and guide dogs.”
Dana Nachman, “Pick of the Litter” executive producer and Los Angeles resident, had the opportunity to form relationships with the people who were in the show while producing the show and directing three episodes.
“I think the best part of the process was getting to know the visually impaired and blind clients that we got to work with, including Kendal,” Nachman said. “The dogs are great and we love the dogs, but the people are more meaningful.”
Nachman said she particularly enjoyed Kendal’s time on the show.
“I think Kendal’s one of the best, if not [the] best, characters we have in the show,” Nachman said. “Truthfully, I think she’s a magnificent person in general, and we all could learn a lot from Kendal.”
A couple of Kendal and Nikki’s friends also got to be featured in a scene on “Pick of the Litter,” as well as supported them throughout the production process.
“Kendal and Nikki asked me [to be on the show] one day, and I can’t imagine [saying] no,” psychology senior Samantha Gitre said. “I think of both of them as [my] sisters, and have known them for a long time. I just wanted to support Kendal and be there for her. Me being included in the show was just an added bonus.”
After being on the show themselves, Kendal and Nikki’s friends grew to understand more about the blind community.
“[There are] people that you pass every day but have no idea how hard they work to function,” said Kiersten Akins, English senior and Kendal and Nikki’s friend. “There is an important message here about how important guide dogs are, and that there really is a difference in training when it comes to a guide dog.”
Nikki said “Pick of the Litter” is important because it brings a story into the world that might not have as much of an opportunity to be told elsewhere.
“I think what a show like ‘Pick of the Litter’ does, is shows people who have not encountered blindness before, or have never met a blind person, that there are so many possibilities for blind people to be in the world and be successful,” Nikki said. “I think a lot of people might not realize that we do go to college, and we do have careers and we do have families and these are parts of our lives that are completely normal. ”
Kendal and Nikki said they are fortunate for the opportunity to share their story with others.
“A show like this is really important for normalizing blindness within society and showing the world that we do all the same things that people who can see do, we just do them a little bit differently,” Nikki said.
Featured Image: Communications studies major, Kendal Lyssy, poses outside the union on Jan. 21, 2020. Lyssy was featured on the Disney Plus show, “Pick of the Litter.” Image by Kare Gray