The topic for my first ever blog carnival post is “firsts”. (I’ll post when the carnival is organized so you can check out other posts.) I thought about just sending in my dog day post, but decided on something original. So, here is the story of my first meeting with a guide dog.
It took me a good month or so to call Dana*. I just couldn’t bring myself to speak with another person who was blind, because I just couldn’t accept that I myself was blind. Somehow, calling another who suffered the same affliction as I meant that I would never see again.
It’s funny the thoughts that plague our minds when something unthinkable happens. Looking back on those first few months blind, I just can’t relate to the girl I was. Twenty nine, suddenly blind, hopeless, afraid, actually make that terrified. Life was over.
Now? Ha! I don’t resemble that girl in the slightest, nearly two and a half years later.
Let’s get back to Dana; I was able to talk with her easily. A mutual friend had given me her number and Dana was eager for me to call. She knew what it meant in the healing process to speak with another who understands. I was in awe of her. I thought she was remarkable. I could never be like her. Especially when she said she had a guide dog and went into details about going away to guide dog school for a month. She said it was amazing and the campus was beautiful and I just had to do it. She explained that I’d have to learn the white cane first, but I wasn’t paying attention; I had already shut down at the mention of going away for a month. There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to fly away for thirty days and nights all alone. No way. Are you kidding me? Don’t you know I’m blind now? I can’t do that. You’re mad!
We talked on the phone every few weeks and I’d ask how her guide dog Scully* was and she’d tell me all the amazing things they did. I eventually started to learn orientation and mobility, or O & M. Basically, those are skills we learn to use with a white cane or a guide dog. Of course in my case it was the white cane.
After learning O & M skills and independent living skills from the blind center, life started looking up. I soon discovered that being blind was not the affliction I had once thought it was. A little over a year after losing my vision I went with a friend to a big celebration for a fellowship I’m a part of. Dana was also part of that fellowship and we had never met face to face. I couldn’t reach her before the event to see if she and Scully would be there, but I sure hoped they would be.
The event was insane. Loads of people sitting along long tables, packed in like sardines, eating, talking, laughing, lots of noise, incredibly overwhelming. Doing sighted guide was rather cumbersome, and I just sat in the chair pretty much the whole time so I wouldn’t have to deal with bumping into people while trying to communicate with my friend above all the noise. There was no way I was going to try and use my cane in that situation.
A friend came up to me about mid way through the event and asked if my friend who had the guide dog was named Dana. We all wore name tags at the event and it’s hard to miss a lady with a guide dog. I told her yes and my friend told me Dana was there. I was so excited! My friend told me to stay put (like I was gonna try moving) and she would go get Dana.
A few moments later, I heard her speak from across the table. We shook hands and she shouted she’d come to me, and was gone. My friend was still there, across the table. How was Dana getting to me without my friend’s help? I was sitting in the middle of the incredibly long table. She would have to walk up towards the stage and back down between the tables. I sat and waited and wondered.
Suddenly I heard Dana call my name and I responded so she could find me. She was there in an instant and I stood to embrace her. After we sat, she asked if I wanted to meet Scully. Boy, did I! Her guide dog had gotten her through that mess of people. Wow.
Dana said Scully was right there between us and I reached out and felt the thick soft blanket of fur that was her guide dog. Scully sat patiently between us, and leaned in to my touch. She was just so sweet! It was love at first touch. How could you not love a dog who sits there calmly, pressing her body into you comfortingly? It was as iff all the anxiety I was feeling being in the middle of all those people just melted into her silky coat.
I knew Scully was a yellow lab, and I had seen a guide dog in harness back in my sighted days, so I formed a mental image of her as I touched her. I was surprised when Dana took my hand to describe the harness to me. She showed me how the straps go around the chest and under the belly. She guided my hands to where the handle was, and she explained how you hold the leash when you’re working the dog. It was all terribly confusing, but so amazing to experience first hand how it all worked.
We only chatted briefly; it was incredibly hard to hold a conversation among the loud chatter of hundreds of people around us, however in that moment it felt like just Scully and me. I stroked her lush, soft fur until she decided to lay down at Dana’s feet.
That was my first meeting with a guide dog. It sparked a curiosity in me, though the fear of going away still won, however only for a short time.
Three months later I had applied to Guide Dogs for the Blind for my first guide. I was very saddened when I called Dana to tell her and she informed me that Scully had passed away. I had just met her three months earlier, how could this be? Scully had worked for eleven years. Now that’s a good long career for a guide dog! She worked up until the day she died. She just got tired, went to the vet, and passed.
Dana was going to take time before she went back for her next guide. Her first having just passed, she wasn’t yet ready to move on. I haven’t spoken with her since getting my first guide. I haven’t known if it would be too painful for her. As I finish writing this however, remembering how Scully affected me, I think it might just be time to check in, and tell Dana how much meeting her departed guide dog has changed my life. I know now that I can navigate a crowd of hundreds, just like Dana did with Scully that day. I can’t imagine life without Jayden by my side now. He is my companion and eyes today in part because of my first meeting with Dana’s guide dog at the celebration.
It goes to show that we never know how our assistance dog, whether he or she be a guide dog, hearing dog, seizure dog, diabetic dog, autism service dog, therapy dog, the list goes on, will affect another. These amazing dogs have such an impact on every life they touch. The next time you see one, look on fondly, from a distance, unless you have the courage to ask if you may pet, just don’t be upset if we say no. We’ve only got our own best interest to think about, or that of our dog, or the future person the dog is being trained and raised for.
Thanks be to assistance dogs! I hope they know how special they are!
*Names changed to protect privacy. Yes, I had to pay homage to the ‘X-Files’. 😉