The Truth about Canes and Dogs?

March 13, 2013 | 2 Comments

by Kathy Austin, Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense

Kathy posing with her current guide dog, Solomon, and her retired guide, Jethro

Kathy with current guide dog, Solomon, and retired guide, Jethro

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.

2 comments on “The Truth about Canes and Dogs?”

  1. Sharon says:

    Here is one more point on the pro-guide dog side of your list: On duty or off, the uproarious personality of a guide dog keeps you laughing out loud while a cane is generally quite reserved and on the very quiet side. I’ve never seen anyone having a good chuckle with their cane.

    1. secondsense says:

      I agree – a dog can really lighten up your life. Our pal Jethro has certainly given us many laughs over the years and continues to do so. Your descriptions of him as a pup falling off the stair and falling into the swimming pool are just a few! Thanks for pointing out one more reason a guide dog is a treasure.

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