A Guide Dog Experience
Last week I had an assessment for a Guide Dog. I have been using the cane for some time now (you would know Mr Cane and I have had a rocky relationship if you’ve been following my blog for a while) and have been considering a Guide Dog for my mobility.
Mobility aids are a personal choice; what works for the individual with their vision and lifestyle. Two people with the same condition and similar level of vision may use totally different mobility aids. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ matter. I’ve previously written about mobility aids here. The reason why I am considering a guide dog is not only for mobility but also to boost my confidence whilst decreasing my anxiety when I am travelling. The cane helps me to navigate the footpath, find curbs and is an indicator of my vision impairment when I’m crossing the road. I have begun walking long distances and I find it quite tiring swinging the cane from side to side, especially when I need to go at a faster pace (I’m constantly running late). I also have been avoiding public transport since losing my sight as I don’t feel confident with just the cane and tend to rely on others to drive or my trusty short legs. This is something I want to overcome.
I must admit, I have been pondering having an assessment for a guide dog for over a year. It is another step in the acceptance process, a further acknowledgement of my vision loss and the reality of my life. I am mostly open and confident about my diagnosis now, although there are still days I struggle and would rather just appear ‘normal’ without using a cane or aid. So actually booking in my assessment was a fairly big deal. Once it was booked I was excited. I had the first part of my assessment early in the week, which involved demonstrating my cane skills and mobility on a regular route I travel. The second part of the assessment was actually trying a guide dog. I did this part later in the week and couldn’t sleep the night before as I was just a little excited to meet George, who was travelling from the outskirts of Sydney to meet me.
George is a black Labrador who is near the end of his training. He was simply adorable. When he got out of the car he was whimpering a little because he didn’t know where he was. He got some treats and cuddles and was ready to go.
Walking with George was a very different experience. I have little dogs myself so just his size and strength was different for me. When you are walking with a guide dog you hold the harness and also a short lead. There are commands to start him walking (verbal and a hand gesture), finding the curb, turn left or right and slowing down or speeding up. The commands are fairly straight forward but in the moment I kept forgetting what they were. It was a little overwhelming but enjoyable at the same time. Having such a strong, physical presence by my side was very comforting. I can see how having a guide dog would help with confidence and would open up the world for me. Once I got the hang of the commands and George got more used to me and his surroundings, we found a rhythm on our way home. He was more confident on the return trip knowing his way. He would find the curb when I asked him to and stop, waiting for me to tell him when it was safe to cross, and then lead me up to the curb on the opposite side of the road. He would slow down slightly when we approached the curb. He also stops on the first step to let you know it’s there. George is so clever!
Walking with George made me relax more; I didn’t have to strain my eyes to find every detail on the footpath and once I trusted his guidance I could actually enjoy walking and take in experiences form my other senses. I can see how a guide dog has such an impact on a person’s confidence and quality of life. I experienced this in only half an hour. Being able to experience this for an extended period of time makes me excited for adventure!
For me, I now wait to see whether my assessment is successful and a guide dog is suitable for my needs. George was a trainee from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. The staff from Guide Dogs are incredible and really make every experience positive even if the situation may be a confronting part of the vision loss journey. I can’t praise them enough! If anybody needs assistance with mobility, whether it be with a cane or guide dog, I highly recommend you get in touch with your local Guide Dogs organisation.
Never be afraid to try something new. If it’s not right for you, so be it. You will never know the impact something may have on your life until you give it a go. Take advantage of all the tools offered to you and find your specialised tool kit to ensure your life is as incredible as it can be.
Photo Credit: Feature image is Poppi from Poppi the Guide Dog.