The “Dog Day” Experience

Guide Dog Partnership
Guide Dogs are probably the most widely recognized type of assistance dog. Equipped with a harness with a long, semi-rigid handle held by the blind handler, a guide dog strategically navigates around obstacles, indicates to hazards in the team’s path and intelligently disobeys commands that would be dangerous with which to comply. With up to two years of extensive training, a guide dog offers his handler the safety and confidence she needs for all manners of independent mobility.

Guide Dogs have traditionally been trained by nonprofit organizations or guide dog schools. Members of the blind community attend these schools for about a month at a time to train with their first guide dogs. The first couple of days are usually dedicated to orientation and lectures.

In many cases, students have preceded their lives as guide dog handlers with years of cane use and help from other people acting as sighted guides. Embarking on the journey of guide dog partnership will be like nothing they’ve ever experienced and may open doors which were previously inaccessible. Though many students live full, independent lives both before and after becoming a guide dog handler, they report preferring the increased degree of dignity guide dog partnership offers in comparison to alternative mobility options.

Dog Day
The day has finally come, when students know they are about to meet their guide dogs for the first time.  This day is wrought with intense emotion, as it is a moment students have been dreaming about for months- sometimes years.

Imagine what it would feel like to know, well in advance, that you were about to meet your best friend for the next decade. While it goes without saying that you’d be looking forward to this moment, it makes sense that you’d likely have a severe case of butterflies in your stomach. Will your new partner be all that you hoped for? Would you click right away? Would he be the breed or color you strongly desired? Did you make a mistake attending guide dog school? You have months of anticipation built up. How could you be expected to wait a second longer?

Speaking about her own Dog Day, Emily Sheets, handler of a guide dog from The Seeing Eye, expressed to me so poignantly, “When we were told to go to our rooms while they went over to the kennels to get our dogs, that’s when I simply refused to wait any longer, but had to anyway.” If that doesn’t sound like a day filled to the brim with excitement and tension, I don’t know what does. Emily goes on to talk about just how much her nerves had affected her, “I forgot my leash so I had to dart back in my room to get it. Talk about nervous when I literally was just told to bring the leash and leave it up to me to immediately forget to grab it.”

After minutes drag on like hours, it’s time.

Each guide dog is brought to his or her new handler by the student’s instructor. Students are told the dog’s name, how the name is spelled, the sex of the dog and the dog’s breed and color.

This is the point at which the new handler puts her hands on her new partner for the first time.  Feeling out his features, she notes the blockiness of his head and the texture of his fur.  She finds out whether her dog is the type to greet her as an old friend or may be briefly disappointed to find that her dog prefers to stick by the more familiar person in the room.  She’ll speak the dog’s name for the first time and may offer some treats.

All the eagerness, anticipation, worry and excitement of the past several months culminates in these first moments together.  This is just the beginning; this is Dog Day.

A New Beginning

As anyone who has followed my blog in the past three years will know, it has been a long road in my endeavor to obtain a successor to Bradley. After some wonderful and major life changes, I’m ready for a new beginning with a new partner. Please join me as I begin the journey to obtaining my future guide dog.

You’ll notice a revamping of this blog, looking to the future, as I invite new friends to share this experience. I’ll continue writing about issues relating to assistance dogs and, of course, keep the updates about this journey coming. Please bear with me as I (re)introduce myself.

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Bradley, Retired Service Dog

Here is a photo of Retrieverman’s gorgeous girl, Miley. She is Bradley’s age and, as you can see, also has a bit of the graying going on that Bradley does now. Because Bradley is darker, his graying stands out to others more and I find myself getting almost constant inquiries about his age, these days. Seeing Miley’s ‘spectacles’ is my first time seeing similar graying on a Golden with a lighter coat than Bradley’s. I think she looks beautiful!

 

Below is a current photo of Bradley.  You can see his more obvious graying against his darker face.

Natural History

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Getting gray spectacles now.

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Inquiries Welcome!

I won’t be bold enough to assume many people read this blog, without me promoting specific posts, but I hope this reaches enough people- especially those who are interested in any of the topics I’ve written about.

I’m inviting everyone to submit requests or suggestions for specific subject matter to be discussed.  You can ask whatever questions you’d like, whether they’re general or personal.  I’ve already gotten some fantastic suggestions and questions in response to my post about this on Facebook.

Thanks for reading! (Please pass this on, to anyone you think may be interested!)

Oh, behave.

This certainly does make a good point.  Except, the difference between this comic, which depicts pet dogs, and handling a service dog is that a service dog really can be expected to behave better than most people, in public.

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Which reminds me of this video I took, when shoe shopping, a few months ago:

Bradley is my hero

It wasn’t my intention to return from my extended absence, with this post, but the topic is currently relevant.  Thanks for humoring me 🙂

Bradley has been nominated in the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards! You can show your support for him and help him get the recognition I wholeheartedly believe he deserves, by voting for him daily.

You can go to http://pleasedontpetme.com/hero to go directly to Bradley’s page and vote!

(I promise, I’ll be back with posts of more substance, in the very near future!)

This photo shows Bradley with his head on my chest, looking at me very intensely, as he alerts to an impending crisis.