Pippen and I invite you to come along as I take our daily walk around the neighborhood. We’ll describe how a guide dog works and what challenges we experience along the way.
We like to walk early in the morning, either before7:30or after8:30. We avoid walking during that hour, because that’s when the great exodus takes place in a suburban neighborhood. How does this affect us? Think about what you do when you get in your car to leave for work. Do you hop in and immediately back out? You might check your make-up and realize you forgot your lipstick. You see that your son sent you a text, and you need to respond. This may take a few minutes, and during this time, do you ever look up and down the sidewalk to see if a pedestrian is coming? I don’t think so. That’s why, when we approach a car that’s idling in the driveway, we come to a stop and wait… and wait…and wait. Does the driver see me? Should we walk behind the car in hopes that he does? I don’t ever do that anymore, because I have been hit this way. Now, when I approach, I either stand and wait or raise my arm and wave it around, trying to draw attention to myself. I may look a little crazy, but it’s better than being run over.
As we walk along, we enjoy listening to the joyful songs of birds. The sounds that I do not enjoy are the roaring lawn mowers. Usually, we pass by them without incident, but they are a real danger to us when they are on a corner lot, and there is a street for us to cross. My ability to hear oncoming traffic has just been completely wiped out. One Sunday morning, as we were walking to church, I stood at the corner of a busy intersection, as a lawn mower roared in the corner lot near where I stood. Realizing that the operator of this obnoxious machine probably did not know that the noise prevented me from crossing safely, I turned and faced in his direction. I was so grateful when he shut down the mower and asked if I needed something. “Yes, if you could keep your mower off just until I get across the street, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.” At that same corner, I have often played a waiting game with a car that has pulled up to my left and is also waiting for a clearing, so he can pull out. Thinking he is being helpful, he sits and waits for me. I stand and wait for him. Finally, I motion for him to go ahead and turn. What he doesn’t understand is that the noise of his car is masking the noise of oncoming cars. I need to be able to hear the traffic to cross safely. No, Pippen does not make that decision. She is a dog, so she can’t make a judgment, like how fast that oncoming car will get to us. I have to do that. She also does not know where to turn or what route we will take. I make those decisions, because I am the human in this team. Her job is to guide me around obstacles, such as toys left in the sidewalk, cracks in the pavement, parked cars in their driveways, and low hanging branches. She turns right or left when I tell her to. She slows down at curbs or comes to a complete stop. She keeps me on the sidewalk and crosses the street in a straight line. She really has a very important job to do, so if you see us coming, please resist the urge to call out to her. She needs to keep her mind on the job. I, on the other hand, would love for you to speak to me. More about that in another post.