I am asked this question a lot. Why do you want a guide dog? Of course, when I was little I usually would say something along the lines of: “Oh, I just love dogs”. I’ve learned over time, however, that responding to a travel instructor with that answer, whether it be a dog or cane instructor, that this answer is incorrect. If I would use this answer, many other blind individuals, maybe even including myself, would say that my intentions were not so great. Not that there’s anything wrong with saying that you love dogs. It simply should not be the only reason why a blind person should want a guide dog. Now, when I am asked this question, I tell them that a guide dog brings about so many benefits that a cane just can’t give.
I know I’ve talked a lot about the trials I faced with getting my first guide dog, and I’ve mentioned learning from those mistakes. While there are still trials and disadvantages, my mind is usually always on the benefits. Probably one of the biggest benefits is that my guide dog enhances my independence. I am a good cane user. I can effectively switch back to a cane, for example, when my dog is ill or I’m going to a place that could be potentially harmful to him. However, traveling with a dog is faster and smoother. By smoother, I mean that I’m not constantly hitting objects on either side of me. The cane is an excellent tool for locating things. If I want to find a table and chairs, a bench, or a desk in the classroom, the cane will accomplish this. However, when I don’t want to find these things, a guide dog will lead me around that obstacle rather quickly. It is sometimes time consuming to wander through a room where there are tables and chairs when using a cane. Seriously, you come in contact with every single one of them. Or, at least, I do. Not only is a guide dog good for leading a blind person around obstacles, but a guide dog also makes it easier to cross streets.
When I am crossing a busy street, I love having my dog with me. I do not have a straight line of travel. When I am using my cane, I feel like I am constantly walking at some sort of angle. This isn’t fun while crossing the street. Joba just goes straight across. I can still cross streets with my cane. I just usually have to get to the other side and feel along until my cane touches the ramp leading up to the sidewalk at a street corner. It works, but a dog is easier for me. In general, I travel faster with my dog. There are other reasons why a guide dog is beneficial.
I sometimes feel safer with a dog by my side. During that winter after Errol died, I had a class at Southeast Community College that was early in the morning. Because I don’t live anywhere near SCC, I had to take two buses just to get there. This meant I had to leave even earlier. I’ll tell you one thing. Walking to the bus stop by myself while it was still dark outside was just too creepy. I would literally startle every time I heard a trash bag move in the wind or if an aluminum can slowly rolled up behind me. This usually brought about a fight or flight reaction in which I would scream slightly and start walking faster to the point where I was running. Okay, so for those of you who do not know me, things scare me easily. Some of my friends love this because they can play tricks on me and rile me up with hardly any effort. But anyway, I really missed having a dog during these early winter mornings. While a guide dog is not trained to guard or protect, there’s just something about having that sense of protection next to you. Even though this is true, I still don’t like when aluminum cans are chasing me. So, now that we’ve talked about the benefits of a guide dog in terms of traveling and protection, let’s talk now about my last reason why guide dogs are beneficial.
While I still will not answer the “why do you want a guide dog” question with the “I just love dogs” response, it’s still true. I do love dogs, but why do I love them? There is really only one reason. Dogs are wonderful companions. Right now, I am in my apartment where it is nice and warm. I’m doing laundry, and my dish washer is running. I’m sitting in my favorite recliner writing, and Joba is snoozing on the floor. Just knowing that Joba is here makes me feel better. I know that I’m not the only one in the house. Joba provides that company. When I’m just home and not doing anything, he will jump up in my lap and snuggle with me. At the end of the day, we usually spend 10-15 minutes playing with his favorite toys. I love this dog very much, and I just couldn’t imagine my life without him. There are just so many wonderful benefits of owning a guide dog.