I remember it like it was yesterday. I stood in my dorm room, pacing back and forth as if I were a caged animal longing to be free. It just had to be about time. I couldn’t wait any longer. Just when I thought I would lose my patience, I heard it, a gentle knock on my door. My instructor’s voice sounded on the other side of the door, and I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for almost all of my life. I was about to meet my first seeing eye dog.
I have been blind since birth. When I was five, I heard about a seeing eye dog, and being the animal lover that I am, I told myself I was definitely getting one. My dream came true at the age of 16. As I walked alongside my instructor to the lounge where my dog was waiting, I didn’t know what to expect. When I sat down in that chair, I suddenly felt a fluffy head in my lap. He was a black lab, and his name was Errol. Through the remainder of the three weeks I was required to stay at the school, I learned how to appropriately care for Errol, how to train with him, and how to adjust from using a cane to using a dog guide. Eventually, I want to share with you the trials I faced owning a dog guide at such a young age, but I’d like to focus first of all on the Seeing Eye located in Morristown, New Jersey.
The Seeing Eye was the first dog guide school to be created. Morris Frank was the first to receive a dog guide, a German shepherd named Buddy. A trainer, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, trained German Shepherds in Switzerland to guide veterans who were blinded after World War I. She wrote an article titled “The Seeing Eye”, describing her work, and when Frank read the article, he wrote Eustis a letter asking her to train him to use a dog to guide him. This article written by Eustis is where the name for the school came from. If you would like to find out more information about the Seeing Eye and its history, visit their website at http://www.seeingeye.org/ .
Since the year of 1929, the Seeing Eye has provided dog guides to numerous blind individuals. I myself benefit from these wonderful services. I have been a dog guide user since the year of 2008, and to me, there is no better way to travel than with a harness handle in my hand. Errol worked for four and a half years, and in the summer of 2013, I received my second guide, a yellow lab named Joba. People have asked me why I choose to use a dog guide rather than a cane. After all, wouldn’t a cane be less of a hassle? If you are a good cane user, why would you want the extra work of owning a dog guide? There was a time when I didn’t know how to respond to these questions, but giving it some thought, I came up with the following response.
I am a competent cane user. Had I not been, I would not have been eligible for a dog guide. However, I love the feeling of walking next to my dog. Yes, a dog guide is hard work, but so is owning a pet. You still have to feed them, take them outside, and keep them clean. Not to mention, you have to spend time with them so they feel loved. I believe most pet owners would agree with me that owning a pet brings about joy and happiness. The companionship and unconditional love of a dog makes all of the work worth it. But a dog guide is so much more than just a pet. To a person who does not use a dog guide, it is hard to understand the bond that grows between owner and dog. I am literally placing my safety in my dog’s hands, or, more appropriately, in his paws. When I am crossing a busy street, I am trusting that my dog will help me safely across. I weave confidently in and out of crowded sidewalks and hallways, knowing that my dog will keep me from running into walls, tables, and other people. But the greatest feeling of all is the feeling of freedom and independence. Choosing to own and work with a dog guide was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I am now, and hopefully always will be, a proud dog guide user.