Starting today my trusty Chris Park Designs cane will take a backseat when it comes down to orientation and mobility. This slender telescoping white cane will be set aside in favor of a guide dog from America’s Vet Dogs, an affiliate of the Guide Dog Foundation. As of the writing of this post, I am unaware of the details about the guide dog, and will not be able to report on it for several days yet, however, these next posts with chronicle the experience.
The choice to apply for a guide dog came after many years and discussions with my wife and family. This is due to the lifestyle changes necessary to successfully incorporate a guide dog into ones life and family. Keep in mind that a white cane, while effectively creating independence for the blind, remains an inanimate object that one places in a pocket, bag, or purse when not in use. When the cane breaks or is no longer serviceable, one discards it.
Differently, a guide dog is a living and breathing life form capable of delivering and receiving love. A guide dog becomes apart of the life of the blind and their family. Its this bond that makes a guide dog much more than a tool for the blind, but a completely new method for overcoming barriers associated with blindness through a lifelong bond a cane cannot replicate.
It is this difference between the guide dog and white cane that prompted me to reconsider what type of mobility meets my needs. I finalized my decision to seriously pursue the process for requesting a guide dog last year during the Blinded Veterans Association National Convention. Jenine Stanley, of America’s Vet Dogs demonstrated guide dogs to interested individuals. This comprised of a walk around the convention area and nearby sidewalks with her guide dog. During this experience, I felt the power and freedom a guide dog provided when compared to a cane. For example, prior to going blind, my walking pace can be best described as a range walk or a very quick step. Since adopting a cane, this pace dramatically slowed down as the cane forces one to find obstacles to navigate. When a sighted person walks, the subconscious marks these obstacles and automatically maps then and finds the best route. The cane is incapable of this, thus slowing ones walking speed. A guide dog returns this simple aspect of walking back to the blind, allowing a quicker and more confident manner of walking and traveling. Its this level of confidence I never truly felt with a cane, but instantly felt it through the symbiotic relationship for those few minutes with a dog.
Once I returned home, my wife and I discussed this decision in detail and opted to pursue the guide dog. Selecting America’s Vet Dogs required little debate thanks to the number of friends who acquired their guide dog from here.
Well, that was roughly six months ago, and now here I sit within the Guide Dog Foundation’s facilities reflecting upon the experience thus far. Having arrived last night, we just started upon the process of learning about becoming a guide dog handler. This consisted of orientation to the building, schedule of events for the next several days, daily routines, and the first lessons with the harness and leash attached to an instructor. Just through this introduction, I feel the excitement growing, anticipating the arrival of the guide dog later this afternoon.