I have been a guide dog user for six years now, and it’s become a way of life. My guide dog is a mobility aid, and so affects the way I travel, but she also affects my schedule, personal interactions, thought processes, financial decisions, clothing choices, etc. For the last while, a lot of those things have been absent from my life. These are some of the things I’ve missed most since retiring my first guide.
1. That Glidey, Free Feeling of Working a Guide Dog
If you have never worked a guide dog, you may not understand what I mean here. When you pick up the harness handle and tell your dog forward, your dog leans into the harness, you lean back, and you take off. It’s a smooth, exhilarating sensation that I can only describe as a sort of flight. Having worked with a guide that has not really pulled into the harness for years, I have not experienced this feeling properly in a good long while, and I cannot wait to experience it again.
2. Excessorizing My Guide Dog
Oleta’s drawer in my apartment is full of brightly colored flowers, bows, ribbons, bandanas, and collars that coordinated with my outfits. My guide dog is, in a way, an extension of my body, and therefore, also fashion, and right now, I’m missing my canine fashion extender!
3. Interacting Regularly with a Dog
I love the nitty gritty mechanics of the guide dog team. I am a dog person, and I love being near them. Learning to communicate with my dog, improving obedience and work-related skills, and watching my dog put those skills into action are all things that give me joy, and that I miss having as part of my everyday life.
4. Interacting with the Public
When you take a dog everwhere with you, you get noticed. Suddenly everyone wants to shower you with compliments, pester you with questions, and tell you long detailed stories about their childhood labrador Rex who was their best friend, could open doors, slept with them every night, saved their sister’s pet rabbit from a fire, etc etc. Sometimes it can become overwhelming, but in general I enjoy those conversations. I love sharing about my guide dog, the amazing work that she does, and the organization that bred, raised, and trained her. More even than that, I love how the presence of a dog seems to normalize my interactions with others. Instead of viewing me as “that blind girl”, they think of me as “that girl with the dog”, which honestly I prefer.
5. Going Out Early Every Morning
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of like being awoken at the crack of dawn to park and feed my starving canine. I am an early riser anyway, but there’s no staying in bed with a hungry labrador in need of a potty break bouncing all over you. I love having that motivation to roll out of bed, no matter how groggy, and go out to greet the new day, whether that be freezing wind and rain or sunshine and birdsong.
6. Always Having a Good Excuse to Talk to Myself
Sometimes verbalizing my thoughts helps me process things, okay? With Oleta, people assume I am talking to her… which I may very well be. Right now, with no dog, I just appear unstable.
7. Spacing Out On The Walk Home Because My Dog Knows Exactly Where Home Is
Guide dogs are not GPSs. I can’t just say, “Juno, take me to Walmart.” and then find myself magically at Walmart 20 minutes later. Still, after directing my guide dog home over and over again, day after day, my guide dog starts to understand that when I say, “Let’s go home.”, I am about to tell her forward, left, to the curb, forward, right, etc.” Basically, she becomes a bit of a GPS. Of course I can’t totally space out. I still need to keep track of where I am, and make safe traffic decisions, but I can, for example, work on memorizing music for my voice lesson the next morning the whole walk and still do it completely safely (I can do that with my cane too but I usually miss more turns).
What I’m trying to say is my dog knows where dinner is. My cane, on the other hand, doesn’t care.
Today marks one day before Dog Day, and one day before I get to reclaim these and other elements of the guide dog lifestyle, and I can’t wait!