In honor of White Cane Safety Day, I offer this…
On another blog,, Jena asks her readers what they would choose and why, after telling her own story. Here’s my response.
I don’t see this as an either/or, but I’m weird. Always have been. Also contrary.
I’m a good cane user. I have no problem with the cane, nor with the fact that it very definitely marks me as blind. When I use a cane, I prefer a rigid one (one that doesn’t collapse or fold), because I haven’t found a collapsing one that gives nearly the tactile feedback a rigid cane does, and that’s much moreimportant to me than the ability to tuck the thing out of the way.
Back in 1995, I read a whole bunch of articles in a now infamous issue of *The braille Monitor*. Some had a definite anti-guide dog bias. Some of the ones that were pro rubbed me wrong. Remember contrary? Yeah, after reading that, I decided I’d like to do this guide dog thing. Four dogs later and, well, here I am, four dogs later, and that fourth was the first one I have trained myself. That should tell you where my preferences lie.
Why though? It’s really simple. I just plain like working a dog. Does it “enhance my independence”? Does it “give me freedom”? Not especially. I’ve traveled as much and as widely before I got my first dog as after. I’ve visited two more countries without a dog than I have with one. I just plain and simple like working a dog. I like seeing how they work a problem. I like the ease of crossing wide open spaces, like parking lots. I like the way they’re so proud when they’ve found the door that you asked them to find. Sharing my life with an intelligent being whose intelligence is far different from yours is pretty amazing. My dogs and I are very close and share real rapport. Are they “my best friends”? No, I have human friends, thanks. Do they ‘take care of me”? No, they’re always late with the mortgage payments. It’s a partnership, and like any good partnership, it isn’t, as Dr. Phil says a 50/50, it’s a 100/100. They give me their best, and they get my best in return.
Are dogs a lot of work? Oh,goodness yes. There are food and vet expenses, and you can’t just fold them up and stick them in a corner. Training my own was rewarding, too. But I tell you, my life is full and rich and lovely with my dogs. Oh sure, my life would be full and rich and wonderful if I didn’t have them, but it would be different somehow, different in a way that I can’t really describe.
So, yes…I think, as long as I am able, and can find enough meaningful work for one, I’ll have a guide dog.
Here are some additional thoughts that I didn’t post in response.
After my first and second guides retired, I did the same thing. I asked myself, “Do I really want to do this again?”
Ultimately, we all know what my answer was, but why would I have asked the question in the first place? If guide dog use is, as many guide dog users would have it, superior to cane use, why is this even a question?
Everything is a tradeoff. Canes are not wholely good or bad. Guide dogs, likewise, are not wholely good or bad. Each has very definite advantages and disadvantages. Most people know what the advantages are to a guide dog.
- A guide dog is a constant, reliable companion.
- A guide dog navigates open spaces with ease, even where sometimes a clearly defined path does not exist. Think of parking lots as the most obvious example.
- Guide dogs remember and cue on familiar places, thus making familiar routes and destinations very easy.
- Guide dogs offer an additional safety check for that car you didn’t see, and didn’t hear coming in time.
- Getting through crowds and obstacles is often very efficient, since a guide dog will avoid obstacles as a matter of course.
All great, right? So what’s to put someone off? There are disadvantages, too.
- Dogs require feeding and vet care.
- Doggie doo. Need I say more?
- You can’t just stick a dog in the corner when you’re not using it.
- Dogs consider useful landmarks as obstacles to be avoided.
- Learning a new route with a dog takes a while sometimes, and, until the dogis patterned to a new place, finding said new place is often time consuming and not as easy. Finding, for instance, the fourth sidewalk on the left, or second door on the right, takes a bit more effort and a different strategy. And sometimes a cane.
- Dogs argue. If you go somewhere and intendon going somewhere different from where your dog thinks you’re going, well, the arguments can be pretty epic. Silent, but absolutely real.
- Complaints about dog hair left in homes, in cars, on clothes.
- Related, getting a cab or an Uber or Lyft can be a real problem. No matter what the law says, there are jerks who somehow think that it doesn’t apply to them.
- I’ve even heard of people who lose friends, or whose interactions become severely limited, with friends who just don’t want your dog in their car or home or general vicinity. (I’ve been very fortunate in this regard, and the friends I have who don’t want my dogs around them have actual real life allergies and are very respectful about asking, so not really a consideration for me.)
- And the big one, public interference. SOme call it “social icebreaker”, but I call it “damnedably annoying”. I really don’t want random people interrupting perfectly nice lunches with friends, or reading books on the bus, or crossing the street, to demand that I gie them my life story, or tell me about the dog they had just like mine, except it was a completely different size, color, and breed, and also refuse to talk about anything else. and distract/pet/talk to/make stupid noises at/otherwise distract my dog. The people who say that people don’t ignore them anymore the way they did when they used a cane, I have to disagree with. We’re ignored just as much whether we have a cane or dog…it’s just that with a dog, your dog gets all sorts of attention you (or at least I) don’t necessarily want.
But even with all those disadvantages, I still believe that having a guide dog is nicer than not having one, and so I’ve had four so far. And that doubt? Yeah, it never lasted very long.
Oh, and the other thing. Trust. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the hardest part for me, putting my trust in a new dog. If the people who just automatically and immediately trust a new dog really exist, I’m not one of them. Learning to trust a new dog is a real effort for me. I want to be in control, and i have to learn to give up some of that. I have to learn it every time. Imagine this transition as Hilde goes from student to not student anymore, and I go from teacher to…whatever it is you are after.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.