The Freedom I Find In A Guide Dog

I’m going to try and get into 2 carnivals in a row. Holy crap!

So, the topic of this carnival is freedom. Funnily enough, for me, I had a bit of a harder time coming up with something. I blame being busy and tired. But after thinking for a while, I think I settled on something.

I get a lot of comments to the effect of “Oh you have a guide dog, it must be nice to be able to get out.” or “That dog really opens up the world for you, doesn’t she?” This usually happens on the bus, and the person asking is getting ready to get off at the next stop, so there’s no time to explain how complicated the answer is.

I certainly would say that having a guide dog makes things easier as far as getting around. But I would never say that without a dog, I would be completely housebound and never get out and do things. I’ve had to do it before, and I’ll do it again.

I realized the amount of freedoms having a dog gave me when I was between Trixie and Tansy. I went back to the cane because I had to, and even though I still got from A to B, it was a lot slower and more laborious of a process. I also had to remind myself that nobody but me was going to move me out of the way of that tree. A few trees helpfully made that point clear when I hit them, but yeah. I had to pay far greater attention to my line of travel when crossing the street. No other half of the team would clean up my alignment. I had to make sure I was doing good cane technique so I wouldn’t go head over heels down a flight of stairs I didn’t know was coming up. I had to pay better attention to all the uneven bits of ground along the way. I had to remember exactly where the turn was to go into the corner store, or I had to remember precisely how to cross at that angled intersection. I had to really listen hard for traffic in case somebody decided that traffic lights and stop signs were a suggestion. All these things, I hadn’t had to worry quite so much about for a few years now, and it felt strange, and exhausting, to have to focus on them again. It really did illustrate the pieces of travel that Trixie had taken over for me, freeing my mind up for other things, like enjoying the birds or the breeze or just thinking about life. But I still was able to do them…it just wasn’t my preferred way of doing things.

What scares me is when people say “Oh my uncle is going blind and he doesn’t get out much. We think he should get a dog.” No, not yet. He should get some O and M training first, learn how to get around safely, and when he can do that, if he still wants a dog, then he should go get it. If you get a dog before you can travel safely on your own, the dog will not open doors for you. It might walk you into a few, and find some garbage cans instead of doors, but the experience will not be liberating. I forget who said it, but someone said if you’re always getting lost without a dog, getting one will only cause you to get lost faster and with more gusto. I learned this the hard way with Babs. She learned that more often than not, I didn’t know where I was going…so why not take some side trips along the way, to this garbage can? This junk on the sidewalk?

I realize this view of how much freedom a dog provides probably differs a lot depending on the kind of assistance the dog is giving. Chances are, someone whose dog performs physical tasks for them would find a whole different type of freedom in having a dog. Maybe they would feel that without the dog, they wouldn’t get out and about as much. But I think people need to realize that not all the freedom a person has is in the paws of a dog. Handler and dog are a team, and without the dog, the person isn’t completely helpless.

So what’s my point? Do guide dogs give their handlers more freedom? For sure! But is the dog the difference between the handler having all the freedom versus any freedom at all? Hopefully not!

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