The decision to get a guide dog is not one to be made lightly, as I’ve learned in recent days. When I first went blind, everyone asked me if I was going to get one. I don’t remember what my response was to the question initially. I started talking to a woman on the phone, who I met through a mutual friend. She uses a guide dog, and told me about the school, about how you go for 28 days. As a newly blind woman, I was like, uh uh, no way, not gonna do it, not leaving for that long. I pretty much nixed the possibility. As I’ve continued in my “blind education”, learning the white cane, getting to Saavi on my own, the idea started popping into my head again.
When my boyfriend came home and told me he saw a couple like us, a sighted guy and a blind woman, and she had her dog, I think I unconsciously started marinating on the idea. One day a few weeks ago, I looked them up, and read everything I could on guidedogs.com. I called the school and asked some questions, mostly worried about my MS and what the fatigue might do if I was too tired to take the dog out for a few days. Dogs forget if they aren’t worked on a regular basis, so I was worried about having a tired week. The lady on the phone said that they really only worry if you’ll be down for a month, in which case they come and take the dog back to the school to keep their skills fresh.
During my researching that day, I got a call from Saavi saying that my name was up on the health and wellness list. Which is good, because I’ve gotta be able to walk a mile and have decent stamina to be admitted to the school. Shortly after that, Dave called about doing an O&M lesson in the gym, and I told him that I knew what our next goal would be, that I wanted to get a guide dog. He was excited about it, and told me to go ahead and apply, to get my name into the rotation, as it takes some time. He suggested I talk to my boyfriend first too.
So that evening, I told my boyfriend that I wanted to get a dog and he wasn’t surprised at all. He had been expecting it since day one, and knew when he told me about the couple at the mall that I would be looking into it. Apparently, significant others aren’t always happy about the decision to get a dog, so I’m lucky that he’s excited about it. We have 3 cats, so that was his main concern haha!
I sent off my application that night and then expected to sit back and wait awhile before hearing anything. I began telling everyone that I was starting the process. My Dad and Grandma had immediate concerns, mostly about apartment living and dog, food bills, vet bills etc. I was a little dismayed, wondering if their lack of enthusiasm was correct. But the next day, I had my initial interview from the school. The phone rang, and I thought, is it the school? No, its probably my friend returning my call. But it was the school!
They had received my application, and were calling for the initial “get to know you”. He asked me questions about my health and my environment, and said I sounded like a good candidate. I asked him about the fact that I live in an apartment, and he explained what I already knew, that while they are big dogs, they aren’t your typical dog. They get their exercise and work time when you’re out with them, they don’t require a yard, and when they’re home at the end of the day, they are beat from working all day, and just want to lounge. The school has a veterinary assistance program, and they know of vets in the area, so that isn’t a big issue. Any qualms I might have were smashed.
The very unique thing about the school I have chosen, Guide Dogs for the Blind, is that they are with me for the lifetime of the dog. If I ever have any problems, they send someone out. They have councelers available for when the dog needs to be retired, or if a problem can’t be corrected. As far as I’ve heard, they are the only school to offer this. I will never be “alone” with my dog once I bring her home, and that is quite comforting.
When I next saw Dave, he got very serious with me, and wanted to talk about his reservations. He mentioned my level of fatigue and told me to take that into consideration. He told me about the responsibility that having a dog will suddenly throw on me, and he suggested I talk to some people at Saavi who have or have had dogs. So that day I sat down with one of the rehab teachers, who has been blind since birth, and talked about her experience. She loves having a dog. She had to retire her last one, and hasn’t gone back to get another yet. The main reason is just because she’s got a bunch of stuff going on, and doesn’t yet want to take the time to go get another dog. She told me about the partnership, how smooth the travel is, how wonderful it is. She also suggested I talk with someone who chooses not to have one, so I found him and asked and he doesn’t have one because of a lifestyle choice. He is very active, and plays music in the evenings, and doesn’t want the responsibility of keeping a schedule with the dog. Another guy was there and he said that if he ever lost more vision than he already has, the first thing he’d do would be to get a dog. I also talked to my braille teacher, and she is going back to the school in a week to get another dog. She had to retire her last one in October, because it just wasn’t working out. And that was very emotional for her, so she took some time to sharpen her cane skills, before deciding to get another.
The emotional aspect is probably the only thing that gives me pause. I love animals, and to form that kind of bond with a dog, and then have to retire it, will be incredibly hard. But, thats something that every pet owner faces, since animals don’t live as long as we do, and I know that the benefits will far outweigh the emotional aspect of it.
So I am completely decided. I am moving forward with this, and I know in my gut that its the right thing. I’ll be sending in my medical release information and then wait for a call to find out about my home visit. I’ll go into that more in my next post.
While this decision has been fairly easy, and as my friend Carol said, “a no brainer”, there were definitely some things to take into consideration. I always like to know what I’m getting into, and that is one of the beauties of having the internet, and people to talk to, so that I am informed. The hardest part now, is waiting. I’m hoping to go in January or February of ’10, because the school likes to get you home with the dog when the weather is nice, so that will mean getting home in March at the latest. Or I’ll need to wait until next fall. I’m an instant gratification kinda gal, so this process will definitely teach me about patience! There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then, so I know the time will fly.
And so the journey begins…