What it’s like when a person with a visual impairment first meets their guide dog.
It’s impossible to accurately describe what it felt like when I first met Bree. There was a little excitement, but also a lot of uncertainty. The point at which I decided my life needed to go in a direction which required me to have a guide dog for greater mobility was not an easy one. I had wrestled with the emotion of finally announcing to the world that I had a disability. Pretty hard to hide it once you have a guide dog.
Once you take the leap and decide to pursue getting a guide dog and you’re approved, the process moves very rapidly. I think they do this so you have little chance to change your mind. In my case, I contacted the Royal Society for the Blind and spoke to the person who had assisted me with using the white cane. The idea of getting a guide dog was floated by the trainer a few times earlier, and he convinced me that having a guide dog would drastically improve my mobility. Two days later, I received a call from the Guide Dog department.
The trainer I spoke to was originally from Scotland, and he said he would be happy to come down to my place with a guide dog for me to try. It was an opportunity to become familiar with the feeling of having a dog guide you. After finding out that a dog has the decision-making capabilities of a three-year-old, I was more nervous.
The trainer arrived with a dog a few weeks later, smack bang in the middle of winter, and he was wearing shorts. Obviously, our winters are more like Scotland’s summers so he was right at home. After a brief chat, he brought in the dog. I didn’t realise it at the time, each guide dog is different, same as any other dog. Some have a livelier temperament suitable for people with families or an active lifestyle. Others are more placid, ideal for elder people or people with less mobility. My try out dog was the former, and her name was Bree.
My family was with me, and Bree immediately bounced up to them and being really energetic. Her tail wasn’t wagging, her whole body was. I was surprised how bouncy she was. I bent down on one knee to pat her, but I wasn’t quick enough. Bree ducked under my hand and gave me the biggest, wettest kiss on the lips. I guess it was sealed right from the start.
We had her for three days, and on each day, the trainer accompanied Bree and I for long walks around town, in shops and in restaurants. The more time I spent with her, the more certain I felt I had made the right decision, although Bree was a young dog with an abundance of energy. At the end of the three days, the trainer asked if I was keen to still have a guide dog. My obvious answer, and there was much pleading from the rest of the family, I agreed. It was then when the trainer confirmed that the dog he considered would be an ideal match for me and my lifestyle was the dog sitting right next to me.
From then on, Bree became a member of my family and that’s when the adventures started.
So, what did I learn?
Life can take you on unusual paths. Sometimes, the best course of action is to go with the flow.