By now you know that I lost my dear sweet Dora to cancer on April 3 of this year. Without going into the heartbreaking details, I’ll share with you what comes next. As with any kind of grief, I needed a few weeks to recover from this life-changing loss. Eventually, I was so lost without her that I finally contacted The Seeing Eye to apply for my next partner in life.
Most people who have no experience with dog guides, or guide dogs, as they are often called, have no idea of what goes into the preparation for a new partnership. I’ve been asked when I will go pick up my new dog. It’s not a store where you pick one out, plunk down some money and take the dog home. They don’t realize that months of training have gone into making a puppy into a dog guide. It takes many skills, which a lot of people don’t even notice because they are executed so smoothly with gentle commands.
Dog guides lead their humans around obstacles, slow down and stop at intersections, stay between the lines at a crosswalk, show them where the elevator is, find the doctor’s office in a complicated building, stop at the top of stairs, keep them from getting too close to subway tracks, find their way out of restaurants, lie quietly under the table, don’t beg, don’t chase squirrels, waits patiently while her human works out or swims at the Y, sits quietly at the feet of his human on a bus, in a car, or on a plane, and a myriad other tasks that a pet dog would
not know how to do.
When a puppy at The Seeing Eye breeding station is old enough to be weaned, a “puppy-raising” family adopts her, she lives with that family for about a year. She learns her house manners, how to get along with other dogs, children, and baby humans. She gets to go to stores and restaurants, to the library, to church, and many other public places. She learns to walk on a leash and keep on the sidewalk. She learns to ignore squirrels and birds and all the basics of a well-behaved guide dog in training.
The next stage of her education is to return to The Seeing Eye, where she learns how to guide people who can’t see. This process takes about three months. It’s a complicated course of study, because sometimes she is expected to lean into her harness, and at other times, she is expected to lie quietly under the table until it’s time for the next task. Then comes the day when she and about 20 of her classmates each meet a person who will change their lives again. For the next two weeks, her new person will be giving her commands, instead of her trainer. They will learn together to be a team. Sometimes she will make mistakes and will have to do a certain task over, and sometimes her person will make mistakes, and they will work together from 5:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night. There will be times during the day when she will be allowed to play with her person in their room or go for a stress-free walk around the grounds. At night, she will be expected to sleep in her crate without her doggy friends or her trainer, but her new human will be with her always.
And finally, she will board an airplane with her new person and travel to her new forever home. She will learn a whole new set of skills, like knowing which house is hers and where she is allowed to empty. It’s a very exciting time, a lot of work, and a truly rewarding life.
Meanwhile, I wait; wait for an opening in the class and wait for the trainers to find just the right dog for me.