Recapping My First Year with a Guide Dog

A selfy of Black Jack,  a Black Lab, and the Author Timothy smiling.One year ago, an energetic young black Lab stormed into my life. Immediately upon entering my dorm room at the Guide Dog Foundation’s facility, Black Jack lunged towards me, bestowing puppy kisses and licks all over my face, arms, and hands. Since then, I cannot imagine my life without him guiding me through our daily exercising routes, chasing my daughter, attending classes, and traveling throughout the country. This post will share a few of the highlights from this adventure.

When America’s Vet Dogs received my application, they faced a challenge determining if I walk fast or slow. Determining the handler’s walking style plays a significant role in the matching process, along with individual personality. Something informed them to select Black Jack, whose pace exceeded most of the other dogs. You have to understand a video of me using a cane fails to show I am actually a fast walker, a lesson everyone learned the first time Black Jack and I walked through the park. We quickly found our rhythm, a glide that forced our trainer to begin trotting to a jog just to keep up. Seeing this, the photographer just opted to wait for us to come around for his picture.

Our walking pace represents one of the key reasons why I opted to ditch the white cane for a guide dog. While my Chris Park white canes Created a level of independent travel, the tradeoff stems from the cane technique. The cane’s design and implementation forces one to tap objects for navigational cues. Differently, a guide dog does all of this just like you do when walking with sight.

This takes us to the next highlight, walking and running for leisure. Whether black Jack and I venture forth on a simple 3-mile loop hike in the park, or jog down a familiar trail, I have not experienced this much fun exercising since losing my sight. We have marked out everything from a quick mile loop to a complex six-mile jaunt through neighborhoods. Instead of relying on a ride to visit friends or family, we prefer to walk across town, often arriving much faster than waiting for a cab, ride, or bus. Even better yet, Black Jack inspired me to pick up distance running. These are all things I skipped out on with the white cane due to frustrations with sidewalks, routes, and obstacles. If I had to guess, we logged over 1,000 miles together.

While mostly positive, we have had our share of downsides. Employing a guide dog requires one to learn how to properly implement its training to achieve ones independence. The Guide Dog Foundation immediately sent a trainer of my house for additional home lessons. The trainer corrected my actions and provided some additional tips and tricks for operating in my neighborhoods. After all, Kansas is slightly different than Long Island. I am now happy to announce we have been mostly problem free since then, minus approaching large banks of doors with undergraduate students buzzing in and out of and not paying attention to the adorable black guide dog attached to the middle-aged dude trying to grab a coffee from the KU Union.

Thank you America’s Vet Dogs and the Guide Dog Foundation for introducing Black Jack and I. Thank you to the trainers, Jodi and Maria, for teaching me how to properly handle Black Jack. Thank you to the wonderful family from Fort Bragg who raised black Jack as a puppy and taught him how to be a part of a family. Thank you Black Jack for your willingness to be my partner in guide wherever we go.