I’m starting this blog to journal my experiences throughout my life with Bradley, my guide dog in training (GDIT). Bradley is my 19 month old Golden Retriever. I’m legally blind and decided to train Bradley as my service dog when he was about 4 months old.
My blindness is the result of a condition I was born with, called Septo Optic Dysplasia (SOD). While I am not totally blind, my vision meets the standard of legal blindness. My vision is affected by strabismus, nystagmus, astigmatism, limited visual field and, most recently, a pesky floater. I have almost no use of my left eye; while I do have light perception in it, I don’t consciously make use of the little vision I do have in it. It would be completely useless to me, if I didn’t have latent nystagmus (when my left eye is covered, the nystagmus in my right eye increases.)
When most people think of someone who is blind, they think of an individual who has no vision whatsoever and cannot get around independently. Blindness is not a black and white concept and people who are affected by this disability experience it in varying degrees. There are a multitude of eye conditions and any one or combination of several can have very different influences on an individual’s vision.
While I’m not affected as severely as many blind people, it still has a very significant impact on my life. I have no depth perception, so I frequently misjudge distances between myself and stationary and moving objects. Another result of not having depth perception is the failure to recognize steps down. It’s almost equally dangerous to think there is a step down where there is not as it is not to notice a step down that actually is there. I’ve had the broken ankles to prove it. Having nystagmus makes it difficult to focus on small things, objects in the distance, or anything for more than a second or two at a time. Last but not least, a limited visual field inhibits my ability to recognize or acknowledge things in my surroundings, causing me to bump into people and objects.
All of these aspects of my disability can be mitigated by the use of a guide dog, as well as the anxiety that stems from them.
This is where Bradley comes in. I didn’t get Bradley with the intention of training him as a guide. Fortuitously, I began exploring the concept of owner training service dogs right around the time we got Bradley and his temperament happens to be ideal for this. I began rigorously socializing him from around 4 months of age and he relished the variety of environments he encountered at such a young age. Being a novice, I had no idea what I was doing. I was learning as I went and I’m very lucky that Bradley intuitively knows what I’m asking of him and is forgiving of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better dog to be my first partner.
In this blog, I’ll narrate my experiences throughout the owner-training experience, and eventually move on to journaling my life as the handler of a fully trained guide dog. From time to time, I may post about relevant topics relating to service dogs, Golden Retrievers and other issues concerning dogs.
Thanks for getting this far in reading! I hope you’ll come back again and appreciate any input you’re willing to offer!