The Match

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!

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A Typical Day at The Seeing Eye

Its all about timing and structure. Dogs thrive on routine, and at The Seeing Eye, where Dora was conceived, born, nurtured, and trained, there is a time for everything. This was evident in our daily routine during my training earlier this month. Heres how the schedule went.

5:30 a.m., Rise, feed your dog, take her out to empty, and return to your room to shower and get dressed. 7:10, Harness up your dog and go to breakfast. Meals at any dog guide school are a vital part of the dogs training, because they need to learn to lie quietly under the table. Believe it or not, this actually happens, even when there are 4 or 5 dogs under the same table. The trick is to place them with their noses facing out. 8:00, a.m., drive into town for training on the streets of Morristown. 10:30, offer water and take your dog out to empty. 11:00, meet in the common lounge for a lecture on such topics as making a smooth transition to life at home with your dog, accessibility, dog food, medical care, and education of the public about dog guides. 12:10, work your dog through the now crowded dining room for lunch. The staff at the Seeing Eye has lunch with the students, so in addition to the 20 students, 20 dogs, and 5 instructors, there are many more plates to pass by and not sniff. . 1:00, back out to the streets of Morristown. 4:30 Feed your dog, offer water, and take her out to empty. 5:10 Dinner. 6:15 Lecture in the common lounge. 8:00 Offer water and take your dog out. Meanwhile, on your own, groom your dog, brush her teeth, run through an obedience routine, and finally, play with her. You might even find time to have a cup of coffee with other students at the coffee break, which of course, is scheduled from 10:00 to 10:30.

When some of my acquaintances asked me when I would be going to pick up my new dog, I had to explain that its not a matter of plunking down some money and picking up the leash and taking off. Its hard work, and this routine goes on for 2 and a half weeks, 3 and a half for first time dog handlers. Its a huge commitment. Thats why it took me a very long time to decide that cisco and I were not a good match, and that I needed to return to train with a different dog. In my next post, Ill talk about how the matches are made, who makes the decisions on who gets which dog, and why. Meanwhile, you can imagine my routine each day, even now that were home, starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 8:00 each night, exhausted, but very satisfied with our progress together.

Introducing Dora

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you, my 5th Seeing Eye ® dog, Dora. Shes a lab/golden cross, about 60 pounds, 22-1/2 inches tall, 18 months old, very smart, and absolutely adorable.

Dora

Hi. I’m Dora.

Dora and I met at the Seeing eye in Morristown, NJ on February 5. together, we charged down the snow-covered sidewalks of Morristown, affirming her skills at observing street crossings, even when the curb ramps were piled high with snow and ice. I say charged, because this little power house has 2 speeds, hurry, and hurry faster. She loves to work. Ive always been jealous of dog guide users who claim their dogs virtually leap into their harnesses, and now I have one!

You might recall the blizzard that dumped 2 feet of snow on the east coast early in February. Thats when I was trying to get to NJ. My flight was cancelled and then cancelled again. I was lucky though. I just had to turn around and go home from the airport. Many of the students in my class were traveling from the west coast, and they were stuck in airports for 6 hours or so. One of the days during our training, we got hit with another snow storm and had to stay indoors all day. We found things to do, obstacle courses in the hallways, clicker training, grooming, laundry, and naps. Especially naps. But we still had to take the dogs out to empty. Let me tell you, it was brutal, standing out there in the wind and single digit temperatures, with the ground covered with ice, begging our dogs to please hurry up and just do it.

Dora in the snow

Dora in the snow

In another post, Ill describe what its like to train with a Seeing Eye ® dog, but for now, Ill just say that Im looking forward to spending the next 10 years or so with my darling Dora, my Dora, the explorer. One of the photos accompanying this post shows Dora with 3 of her littermates who were all in this class. Arent they beautiful?

Dora and her litter-mates

Dora and her litter-mates