Match Maker, Match Maker, make me a match, goes that wonderful song, playing over and over in my head as I wait to be called to the common lounge, where I will meet my new Seeing Eye ® dog. Typically, we arrive at the Seeing Eye campus on a Monday, and were given our dogs, one by one, on the Wednesday. For the first day and a half, the instructors take each student for a Juno walk around the campus. The instructor holds one end of the harness, and the student holds the handle, as if she were being led by a guide dog. This way, the instructor gets an idea of the pace the student prefers, her gait, and her style of handling a dog. Were expected to give Juno regular commands, like Juno, forward, and Juno, right. We talk a lot about our life style and what we expect our new guide to do. My instructor already knew what I was looking for in a dog, since my previous dog didnt work out for me. Among other problems, I couldnt get him to walk at a brisk pace. He simply refused. So top on my list was a dog who would pull, a dog who liked to work, and a dog who loved to be loved. Cisco was very affectionate, and he was absolutely gorgeous, but the match just wasnt right for us.
This match business is a very delicate and fine-tuned process. Before I arrived, sometime within the last few weeks, the current string of dogs ready to be placed with someone were each considered for me, and for each of the other 19 students scheduled for the February class. Each of us has a slightly different need or preference. The dogs are trained for 8 weeks before they are considered for placement. Dora was evaluated, not only by my instructor, but also by the training supervisor. They agreed that Dora had just the right amount of spunk for my preference. She is sharp enough to learn the routes I travel and calm enough to sit through my meetings and other activities. Shell pull like crazy when its time to do an exercise walk, and shell lie still, when its time to watch me as I do laps in the pool. Shell be able to figure out which door is the one for the coffee shop and where we need to stand to wait for the light to change. All the dogs have all these skills by the end of their training, but some are better than others at different skills. They are each rated with a number score on the various skills, but when it comes right down to it, taking the dog out, under blindfold, for a spin is the final test.
So now, its Wednesday, and we get to meet our dogs. Up until this time, we are not told which dogs are being considered for us. Dog day is always an emotional time for me. Its like having a baby or getting the best Christmas present ever. I sit down on one of the chairs in the common lounge. This is it, the moment when I meet my new partner for the next 8 or 10 years. My instructor brings a dog over to me and says, Mary, this is Dora. shes a lab/golden cross. Then she describes what Dora looks like, but Im not listening. I put my hands on each side of her sweet little face, and she sniffs my face, ever so gently. Then she takes a very tentative little lick at my nose, and Im in love!