For anyone who knows me, they know I’m a guide dog user through and through. Maybe I need someone to hold my hand – a cane just doesn’t give me that same sense of security. I know a guide dog isn’t for everyone, but for me, it’s the only way to travel.
In my attempts to convince others of the benefits of guide dog travel, Polly Abbott and I collaborated on a mobility workshop at Second Sense called “The Truth about Canes and Dogs.”
I wanted to make sure both sides of the travel question were addressed, so I started by listing all the benefits of using a guide dog — you can walk faster, you meet all sorts of interesting people, and if you like to shop like I do, having your dog take you right to Macy’s front door is a really nice perk. I felt I had a nice long list that would convince anyone.
Turning to the other side, I interviewed some long time cane users, one of whom at one time was also a guide dog handler. My research revealed many benefits of using a cane – you get more tactile information about your environment, there is no going out on a cold wintery night to relieve your dog, canes cost much less to keep up than a dog – it turned out to be a much longer list of benefits of using a cane, not at all what I expected. I was disappointed. It was going to be difficult to convince people that a guide dog was the right answer.
As Polly and I gave our presentation to Second Sense clients, I remembered one important fact that might convince people that a guide dog could be a valuable asset, especially in times of emergency. When training with my second guide, Solomon, out at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, I met Michael Hingston. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the guy who made it down from the 87th floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He talked about how he, his guide dog Roselle, and so many others walked down all the stairs to get out before the tower fell.
Going down lots of stairs with a cane or a dog and lots of other people isn’t that difficult, but the real challenge came when Michael got outside. How fast can you travel using a cane with all the debris in your way, ash everywhere making it difficult even for sighted people to get around? But, a dog can get you around any obstacles that are in your way and help you to safety. For me, I sure wouldn’t have wanted to have reached the bottom and not known which way to go. This is a game changer if there ever was one.
Working with a guide dog takes a lot of patience, discipline to stick to a routine and forgiveness when your dog has a bad day. For me, the ability to glide through pedestrian traffic and have the “seas part” is a wonderful thing and I will put up with all the inconveniences to feel that freedom of movement.
If you needed to choose a mobility option, what would you choose – cane or guide dog? Why?
If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to be a guide dog handler, I will be talking at the Vision Dynamics Expo in Orland Park on April 26.