by Kathy Farina
That depends on a couple of factors. Is your vision changing? Is it not as reliable as it once was? I recently had to answer yes to both questions. Although I have been legally blind all my life due to retinopathy of prematurity, I got around using a white cane quite nicely for many years. However, a couple of years ago, I noticed my vision changed. Glare was bothersome. Something was obstructing my vision from time to time. My confidence was lagging. An eye exam revealed that some scar tissue broke off and was floating around in my eye. Removing it would be tricky and I was told I might lose my remaining vision after surgery to remove it. What to do?
I sought services at the Northeastern Association of the Blind in Albany, N.Y. I brushed up on my cane skills with an orientation and mobility instructor. I also talked to several people who use guide dogs about the responsibilities and joys of using a dog for travel. My husband is totally blind and has worked with guide dogs for his whole adult life. He is a very independent and competent traveler. At his suggestion, I talked to representatives from various guide dog schools. Many schools have representatives at ACB national and state conventions. I chose to apply to get a dog from The Seeing Eye, where my husband trained with a total of seven dogs, so far. I am now working with my first dog, Kenya, a female black lab-golden retriever cross. We have been together since 2018. It is a good partnership.
If you are considering getting a guide dog, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you a dog person? A dog is a 24/7 responsibility. Dogs need exercise. They need to be taken out several times a day. They need grooming. Then there are bills for food and the vet. The dog needs affection and attention every day.
- Can you trust the dog? Dogs navigate around obstacles that you would bump into with a cane. They cut it close. Can you resist the urge to steer the dog around things?
- Do you have good orientation and mobility skills? The dog does not decide when to cross the street. You do. The dog doesn’t know where you want to go nor how to get there. That’s your job. The dog may point out familiar places along your route. You decide if you’re going to that place or not.
Do your research. Ask questions. With some careful thought and knowledge, you can decide if getting a guide dog is right for you. I am glad I chose to become a guide dog user.