Guide Dogs for Visually Impaired and Blind People

The choice to use a guide dog will change your life, so is a choice that should be given a gooddeal of thought. Like everything else in life there are pros and cons in using guide dogs for visually impaired or blind people. For some folks the pros outweigh the cons, and it goes the other way round too.

One important thing to keep in mind when sorting out if a guide dog is for you or not is to remind yourself that unlike a white cane which can be tossed in the corner or put away in your backpack when not in use, a guide dog will require a full-time commitment from you to provide him with the love and care he thrives on and can not be ignored or put away without a second thought at the end of the day.

Some Pros of using a guide dog:

• A guide dog can help you avoid overhead or waist high obstacles. I can remember when I was younger going down to visit a friend that lived down the street from my house. Between my house and my friend’s was a horrible old tree who felt compelled to comment on my hair style by way of whacking me in the head and raking my hair back every time I walked by it. Even when I started using a cane I still tangled with this outspoken tree. The cane simply could not tell me “hey here comes that tree we better watch out…” The first time I walked to her house with my guide dog we smoothly went round the tree and my hairstyle remained as I originally intended it to look.

Guide dogs can also stop for waist high obstacles sooner than you may be able to find them with a cane. Some examples of these sorts of obstacles are things like sawhorses or construction tape that marks the edges of construction sites. Tables that are sitting around in an eating establishment. Trucks that may have been parked in a driveway with long boards, poles or other things sticking out the back.

• A guide dog takes you around things your cane would contact. Unlike a cane that will come in contact with every single crack in the sidewalk, post erected along the way, mail box, or other outdoor accessory a guide dog can quickly zoom around them. This can be good if you are one of those people who don’t want to know there are three mailboxes along Main Street between your house and the food market. But can also cut you off from knowing exactly where poles and the like are. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but if you are used to all the feedback a cane gives you this quick and to the point means of travel can take some getting used to.

• A guide dog can quickly learn the routes you take most often. One of the things I like most about using a guide dog is the fact that sooner or later he will pick up and remember the routes we take the most. I have a problem reversing routes in my head. Have always had this and probably always will. Last summer when we lived near a Mc Donald’s my step girls and I would often walk up there together to get lunch then bring it back home. One weekend I wanted to get something for lunch but Fleming, my current dog, and I had not gone without the girls coming along. After going over the route with Larry, my fiancée, Fleming and I set off. We already had a pretty good idea on how to get there but I still was nervous. We made it and then it came time to go home. I had some trouble with this, sorting it out in my head but Fleming had learned “go home” because I always told him this when it was time to leave. With us working together we made it home and my life was made very good…

• A guide dog can be an “ice breaker”. Personally, I find this to be a pro; however there are those who see this as a con. I have been out in public with my cane and at other times with my dog. I found that when I was out with my cane it was harder to find help if I needed it. I think people were not comfortable in talking with me. However when I was out with my dog I found loads of people who were willing to help if I needed it.

Some cons about using a guide dog:

Perhaps the word “con” isn’t exactly the right word to use here, but here are some things you really should think about that could possibly detur you from working with a dog. For those of us who have taken the choice to use a dog these aren’t so much “cons” they have just become a part of life…

• Some people dislike dogs, are afraid of large dogs or have allergies that make it uncomfortable to be around any dog, regardless of if they like them or not. While it is against the law for a place of business, public transport, land lords and the like to bar you access with your dog, the private sector, i.e. family or friends, can express their dislike of your dog and may not wish to have him in their house or car. This can cause tension within a family and can be very hard to deal with. My folks, for example, like my dogs (I have my current dog and a retired dog that lives with them) but they don’t think I need to work my dog when I’m around them. Over the years this has caused much tension between us but it seems to be working out.

• Dogs take up room. Like it or not dogs take up room. Sometimes you have to make a choice on do you have room for the dog to go along? Sometimes I can’t take Fleming along because we simply don’t have room in the car. When I go for a trip on greyhound, although this isn’t hardly ever a problem, I have to make room for Fleming on the floor next to my feet which often means giving up some of my foot room. When we go to a school event or the like we have to make sure Fleming has room to curl up if he goes along.

• Dogs require extra time, care and up-keep. This goes without saying, but guide dogs, like children, require extra loving care. You’ve got to spend time grooming your dog daily. This will cut down on doggie odor and shedding. And has the extra added bonus that you will be able to feel your dog’s body so you can check out if he has a hotspot or a lump. You’ve got to take your dog out to toilet day or night, rain or shine. Even if it is 30 below or pouring down rain. You’ve got to take your dog to the vet for check-ups each year or if your dog is ill. Some schools offer help to pay for yearly vet visits, flea and heartworm medication and other needed health care costs, some do not. You’ve also got to pay for food for your dog. Most dogs eat anywhere between 2 – 4 cups of dog food each day and so it is perfectly common to have to buy a big bag of dog food each month.

• When you travel you’ve got to pack for your dog, or if you are going to be out late you’ll have to take along extra food for your dog. When we go out of town I pack a bag for myself and a bag for Fleming. I take along his rug, a dish, enough dog food for our visit, his toys and any medications he may be on. If you are going for a long visit you may be able to buy your dog food when you get to the place you are going but you must take along things for your dog as well as yourself. Likewise if you find that you’ll be working late or in class at a time your dog normally eats you’ll have to take along food so your dog doesn’t become too cross. It is important to maintain a daily feeding schedule because if you control when food goes in, you’ll have a good idea of when it will come back out again.

• Finally, guide dogs don’t work forever. The time will come when you must retire your dog. This can be hard never mind how long you and your dog have been together. Dogs work on average between 8-10 years. Some work longer, others due to whatever reason work less but it is something we all must face sooner or later.

Having seen some of the pros and cons in using a dog here are some questions you should ask yourself.

• Are you a dog person?

• Do you have the time and resources to care for and work with a dog?

• Do you have good cane skills? (it is important that you have good cane and travel skills prior to getting your dog)

• Will working with a dog make your life easier?

Once you figure out the answers to these questions then it comes time to start talking to others, in fact, while you are trying to sort this all out talking to other guide dog users is a very good way to get a very good idea of what life with a guide dog is like. Going to the schools is fine, but they are in the business of providing dogs and so will paint dog use in the best light. Talking to those of us who use dogs every day and have done so for a while will really provide you with a good picture of real life with real dogs. One good resource for this is E-mail lists. If you go to yahoogroups.com and look for guide dog groups you’ll be able to find groups of users and groups for particular schools where you can ask your questions and get a good idea of what it is like to work and live with a dog.