I have a pet dog, and I am often asked if he is my guide dog. Sometimes I am asked why I don’t have a guide dog, and just have a pet dog. This is kind of a complex answer. Having a guide dog, or not having one, is a decision each blind individual needs to make on their own. It is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer. There are benefits to having a guide dog; and there are benefits to not having one, and just having a pet dog instead.
For me, it was a difficult decision that took years to make. Originally, I was dead set on having a dog guide as soon as I graduated from high school. I even attended a weekend seminar for youth at the Seeing Eye, to learn about them, and experience what it would be like to have one. And I loved it! It was absolutely amazing! I could walk a lot faster; I could cross streets straighter; and I just felt twenty times more confident overall. Though, I was not so enthused about the strict schedule you are supposed to keep your dog too. To a 16 year old, getting up at 5 in the morning to take your dog out to the bathroom, and potentially have to pick up poop, was not at all a pleasant thought. But it wasn’t a complete deal breaker. I still wanted a dog guide.
Towards the end of my senior year in high school, a couple of things happened that would really shake up my feelings on getting a dog guide. The first was that my mom signed me up to attend a blindness training center immediately after I graduated. This would give me no time to get a dog guide, as to get one you must stay at the school for several weeks. So I was going to have to wait until I finished my blindness training.
The second thing that happened, that made a bigger impact on my decision, was that my beloved cat unexpectedly died. Seemingly, this has nothing to do with deciding whether or not to get a dog guide, but it was a huge factor. I loved my cat more than anything; more than anyone in the world. He was only seven when he died, and it hit me harder than anything else I had ever experienced in my life. To this day, I have not known that level of grief.
If my cat, who I loved so dearly, could die, and leave me broken, then how would I feel if that were to happen to a working companion? A dog who I would rely on day in, and day out. I couldn’t fathom having another pet for fear of their eventual death. So how could I ever have a dog guide? Even if that dog didn’t die, they would get old, and I would have to retire them. And after they retired, I might not get to keep them.
When I get a pet, I commit to having them for the rest of their life. I am in for the long haul. I don’t take pet ownership lightly. They become part of my family; part of my life. So how then, was I ever going to get a dog who would be my constant companion, and not be guaranteed that I could keep them after they were retired?
Lucky for me, it only took a couple of years for me to get past the never wanting another pet phase. Now I have an amazing, beautiful dog, and a wonderfully mischievous pest of a cat, who. If I would have known when I got him how full of mischief he would be, I would’ve named Fred or George, and gotten him a collar that said: “mischief managed!”
Anyway, if I got past my fear, why then did I not decide to get a dog guide? Why did I decide to get a pet dog if I love animals so much, instead of getting one that could go with me anywhere? The short answer is, that a dog guide is not a pet. They are a working dog. And working dogs require discipline.
You must keep up their training constantly. You don’t let people pet them while they are working. You would constantly get people asking if they could pet your working dog. To which the answer is “no!” And I personally, would not be able to say no to an adorable four-year-old who really wanted to pet the cute friendly doggy. I lack the discipline required to have a working dog. I bark at, and talk to dogs that may be across the street. So how would I be able to say, “Please stop doing that” to someone, if they were doing that to my working dog?
There were other things that factored into it as well. When I went through my training, I got really attached to my cane. I realized that I am a really independent person who doesn’t enjoy relying on anyone. If I were to get a dog guide, then I would rely on them constantly. I would get used to that dependence on them. And if the dog were to get sick, and have to take a few days off, I would not be comfortable just using my cane anymore.
I know myself; I know that if I got used to using a dog guide, and for some reason couldn’t for a while, I would have so much anxiety that I might not even leave the house. I wouldn’t be comfortable with cane travel anymore, and might feel trapped, and not want to go anywhere until my dog was better. It would end up being more of a limitation for me, because my confidence would go down, and my anxiety would rise tenfold, if I couldn’t use the dog I had become so dependent on.
Having a pet dog is wonderful, and is what is right for me. I still pick up his poop, and clean up his messes when he is sick; I still have some discipline with him, but I don’t have to be so strict; and I still take him for walks, but I can let people pet him, and say adorable, nonsensical things to him. Equally, I can leave him at home, if I don’t feel like having all the kids flock to him and ask tons of questions, when I pick my son up from school. It is a bit harder to find places to rent, and to bring him to social events with me. But in the end, for me it is totally worth it to just have a pet dog.
I am not saying I am right; that having a dog guide makes you less independent. I am saying, that for me personally, I would feel less independent if I had one, more because of who I am than anything else. Having a dog guide can be a wonderful thing that can boost your independence, but it is not for everyone. Every blind person has to figure out what is right for them. You do you. Maybe having a dog guide would boost your confidence and enhance your life; or maybe you don’t really like animals, and having one would be more of a burden to you. Whatever the case, you must decide for yourself. You do you!
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