Guide dog owners like me who are still at least somewhat inexperienced have so much to learn from those older, more experienced guide dog owners. I am on a Seeing Eye graduate’s email list in which graduates both young and old, and both first-time and long-time guide dog users share are many experiences with one another. Along with that, we tell stories about our dogs, whether it be humorous or serious. We have good discussions about specific guide dog topics, and graduates can ask questions. The rest of us will do our best to answer them. I personally wish I would have had this list when working with my first guide because there is just so much encouragement. Those of us who are using our first or second dog can look up to those who have been using guide dogs for almost 60 years. These graduates who have attended the Seeing Eye since the 1960’s or 70’s have been with the Seeing Eye through all of the changes, and Seeing Eye has had many of those. From renovations to the campus and kennels, to new instructors, to new training techniques, these successful guide dog owners have seen and experienced it all.
Along with this wonderful list, Seeing Eye keeps graduates and the general public aware of everything going on at Seeing Eye. I always find their newsletters and guide magazines very encouraging. Today, I want to take some stories out of a few of the magazines to show you how a guide dog has greatly contributed to the success of a guide dog user.
First is a woman who has been a guide dog user since 1970. There is a program for blind individuals in which books, whether it be textbooks, novels, or poems, are available in Braille or audio format for blind people to read or listen to. Magazines are also available for download on this website. This long-time guide dog user became the director of this program which is called National Library Service. This director states that, while she can get around perfectly fine with a cane, she feels more free, more relaxed, and less stressed when traveling with a dog. Currently, she is using her 7th dog and has already gone to many different cities and even moved from a small suburban area to a big city in which there is plenty of activity.
Another successful guide dog owner has been using guide dogs since 1960. From black labs to German shepherds, she is using her seventh dog. Her dogs have helped her manage moving to new areas, from Washington D.C. to New Jersey, for example. She has gone from being a teacher, to an analyst, then a paralegal in Orlando Florida, and finally a retiree. But do you think she stopped there? No, not at all. She not only donates to the Seeing Eye but also helps other charities involving animals and people alike. She strongly believes in getting involved in society, and she has had a guide dog by her side through all of it.
And finally, I want to talk about the president and CEO of Seeing Eye, James Cutch. As the president of the Seeing Eye, he is also a graduate. He became the President and CEO in September of 2006. Before he started working as President and CEO of the Seeing Eye, he worked in technology services and computers. He was responsible for evaluating new and emerging programs and including them in company services. From 1976 to 1979, he served as a professor in computer science at West Virginia University. Not only that, but he also took part in the puppy raising program, so he knows and understands the work and sacrifice it takes for puppy raisers to do what they do. And finally, he has had 8 Seeing Eye dogs.
Hearing these amazing stories always inspires me to look forward to each day using my Seeing Eye dog. Along with that, I am encouraged by their stories and success. While I’m sure all of these experienced guide dog users would tell anyone who asked them that they’ve had their difficulties and trials with guide dogs, they would also say that choosing to use a guide dog is the best decision they have ever made. I hope that, as I get older and continue to choose to travel with guide dogs, I will become experienced. And, if I am experienced, I can share what I know with those who are just beginning. Sometimes the first dog is always the hardest, but I have already gathered so much information not only through my own experiences but also from hearing stories of these successful guide dog owners. I don’t know if I will ever travel the world, and I know I won’t become a computer science professor, but wherever I decide to go with my life, I know I will always have a guide dog by my side.