My darling Dora died of cancer six weeks ago. While there are times that something sets me off, a word, a song, or just the overbearing feeling of loneliness, and I weep, even sob, in self-indulgent sadness, I know that sooner or later, I must replace her with a new Seeing Eye ® dog. I hate using the word replace, because a dog like Dora cannot be replaced. Yet, I can’t go on needing to hold the arm of a kind person to go anywhere outside my home, and I’m terrible at using a white cane. It’s time to go back to the Seeing Eye to train with a new dog to regain my independence.
In this post, I’d like to describe how the process begins, because most people don’t realize what a process it is. To start with, people seeking a guide dog go to a training school such as the Seeing Eye, which is located in Morristown, NJ and stay there for training with their new dog for two to three weeks. Then you might wonder why the person who has had guide dogs before should have to train each time they get a new dog. Each dog has its own personality, strengths in certain skills and must learn to obey the commands of someone he or she has never met before. Here’s where I come in. The dog needs to put their newly learned skills to use with an actual blind person. At the same time, the blind person must adjust to a completely different dog’s personality. Together, they work on becoming a team.
It’s hard work. Their days start at 5:30 in the morning and continue all day until lights out for the pups at about 8:30. They are tired and go to sleep easily . Throughout the day, there are learning opportunities, everything from guiding a person on the sidewalks of Morristown to stopping at corners to lying quietly under the table at mealtimes.
But the first step begins with a visit from an instructor at the blind person’s home. Today, I had that visit, and although I didn’t think I was ready for a new guide dog before, I do now. The instructor and I talked about what kind of breed and gender would be my ideal dog. Of course I said I wanted another Dora. I wish they could have cloned her. After a long talk about my dream dog, we took what is called a “Juno” walk. The instructor held the front end of a harness, and I held the handle, as if there were a dog in it, and we started walking through my neighborhood. I gave her commands, so she got an idea of my style of working with a dog. She asked me if this was the pace I liked, or would I prefer a faster pull or slower.
When the Juno walk was over, so was our visit. The instructor will go back to the Seeing Eye for the next step. As the group of 10 dogs in her class mature and learn the basic skills of guiding, she will keep an eye out for one that will fit my needs and will make a good guide for me. The next step is to wait. I wait for the call when they think they have the right dog for me and that there is an opening in a certain class in the coming months. It could be sooner or later. In the meantime, I wait as the wheels are turning at the Seeing Eye. It’s exciting to think that there just might be a young dog in training as I write, who will be the best one for me. Stay tuned. I plan to give you updates on this new chapter in my life. But don’t think for one minute that I’ve stopped loving Dora. She will be there in my heart with every step I take with the new dog. It will be a challenge for me to not compare them, but I’m ready to give it a try.
The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir
Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life
Available from Amazon