>Decision Time

>I really don’t know where time is going. It seems like I just wrote a post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. Now it’s time to write another one. Well, It’s due on the 17th, but ya know. Close enough.

This topic is decisions. I looked at that blog topic and thought what in the holy hell can I write about decisions? I already basically talked about what helped me make the decision to get a guide dog, so what more could I talk about in this department? Then, it hit me! I could talk about how, contrary to popular belief, getting a guide dog is a decision.

This probably sounds really kinda elementary to everybody with an assistance dog, but I can’t count how many people in the general public think that, for a blind person, getting a guide dog is some kind of rite of passage. I’ve talked about it in this post and a little bit here, but I can’t emphasize enough that having a guide dog is not something that is thrust upon you once you reach a certain age, and those who don’t choose a guide dog are not inferior. To have or not to have a guide dog is a decision, a big one.

Let me put it another way. Wouldn’t it sound pretty ridiculous if someone said, “And when are they going to send you to college?” Nobody would say that, because everybody knows that choosing to go for postsecondary education is your decision. You have to decide if that’s what you want to do, then what program you want to take and what school you want to attend that has that program. Then you have to apply and see if you get accepted, and where.

It’s the same with getting a guide dog, minus the what program you want to take bit. First, you have to decide if the guide dog lifestyle is right for you. When you get a dog, your life changes in lots of little ways. They’re definitely something to get used to. Plus, taking care of this living being is your responsibility now. Do you want that? It’s kinda like getting married and having a kid all at once. And it’s work. If the dog develops a behaviour you don’t like, it’s you who has to deal with it and teach the dog that it’s not acceptable.

Lots of people decide that they don’t want a guide dog. They recognize the enhanced mobility aspect of having a guide dog, but they’re just not a dog person. This is important, since your guide dog is a dog first.

Steve, my boyfriend, is one of these. He sees what Trix did for my pace and ability to navigate spaces, and he sometimes thinks that would be cool to have. But he just can’t do picking up dog crap. Since you have to do this at least twice a day, it’s kind of a deal-breaker. Plus, he has an ankle that randomly gives out, and he doesn’t think he could handle having an animal exerting the slight pull that happens with holding onto a harness. I tell him that if he wanted to go this way, they could probably find him a great match, but I understand what he’s saying and respect that.

…Which brings me to another point. It seems that some guide dog-handlers have this holier than thou attitude towards those who choose not to get a dog, and I just don’t get that. Just because *they* didn’t like the cane doesn’t mean everybody feels that way. Choosing to walk with a white cane makes someone no less independent than somebody with a guide dog. After all, don’t we spend forever pounding it into Joe Public’s head that we’re the leader of a team? How can we now decide that the dog makes our independence? Sure, for us personally, we may feel that way, but somebody with a cane may feel he’s doing just fine and doesn’t need a dog.

So you’ve decided that you’re ready for your life to change and you want a dog, and you know what a guide dog can do for you. Now, do you want to train your own, or do you want to go to a school? If you go the school route, which school do you want to go to? I hear the voice of Joe Public again. “What do you mean which school? There’s the school, you go there, that’s it. What is this which school business?”

Yes, in fact, there are many schools, and they’re not all created equal. So you have to do your research and decide which one works for you. Are you willing to travel? Do you need in-home training? What about follow-up? What about help with big vet expenses?

Take me, for example. There’s a school nearby, only about an hour away, but after doing some research, I found the consensus about its success rate wasn’t good. Plus, I had heard rumblings that if you needed something, there was no guarantee that you would get follow-up. The school I finally decided on this time around had a very good reputation, good services and even help with vet care if you needed it. Plus, their literature was in lots of formats, and it made me feel good that I didn’t need someone’s help to fill out the guide dog application.

And yes, you have to apply, and the application looks kinda big. You fill out one part, and then you need a medical evaluation and some other forms filled out. Then, at least in the school I chose, they send someone out to see you travel so they know that you would be safe with a guide dog. They also assess your walking pace, stride, all that jazz. But most importantly, you get to ask them lots of questions, which is awesome for the newby handler to be.

Then you have to wait. You wait and wait and wait for word. You find out, if you applied to multiple schools, which ones accepted you. Time to make another decision. What school do you go with? If you haven’t heard word from one school, do you hold out? Or, do you take the school that offered you a spot? This guide dog decision-making thing isn’t easy, is it?

So you’ve come home with your guide dog. You’ve made a lot of decisions that have led to a big commitment. This dog, if all goes well, will be with you for the next 8 or so years of your life. That’s huge. This is why I don’t understand the general public’s thought process that you just *get* a dog.

And then the day will come that your guide dog retires. You have to make another bunch of decisions. Do you want another dog? Or would you prefer to go back to the cane? And whether or not you get a new dog, do you keep the retired dog? If you choose to get another dog, can you, and where you’re living, handle two dogs? What will you do to make sure your retired dog is happy and satisfied, even if s/he isn’t working anymore as a guide dog? Do you figure out what is involved to get your retired dog certified as a therapy dog and then send him/her into hospitals?

Or, do you place your dog with a family member or friend? Who do you think would have time to meet your dog’s needs? Can you handle letting go of being responsible for your dog’s care? The decisions don’t get any easier.

This post has turned into a monster. And this happens after I think I don’t have anything to say. But my point is to hopefully teach somebody that choosing to live life with a service dog is not something to take lightly. Make smart decisions, for they will influence the next several years of your life.

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