guide dogs

Guide Dogs, meeting my first dog

Happy Friday bookish people! I hope you are all having a good day today.

Today I am talking about the next step in the Guide Dog process where I finally got to walk with an actual dog.

It might sound silly, especially when I am talking about waiting for a guide dog, but I never particularly wanted a dog. I love animals of course but usually just to look at, dogs can be very quick and loud and unpredictable and having limited sight makes it a really difficult experience to be around dogs. So, honestly I was pretty worried about having to interact with an actual dog.

My first meeting was with a yellow Labrador called Jojo and she was a beautiful dog. She bounded into my house as soon as the door was open. It was an interesting experience because I wasn’t sure how I would react around the dog and her being in my house to start with, as this meeting also included answering questions although these were more like how do you think you will work with the dog and are there any barriers to you being able to look after the dog. While we were having our chat, Jojo was entertaining herself and sniffing around everywhere, giving my hands and legs a good lick where she could.

The next thing that happened was Jojo was put back in the car while the woman from Guide Dogs and I practiced a walk with her holding the harness to see if – relying only on what I could feel – I could follow the movement in the harness. So, she was holding the harness at the level that a dog would be at and while doing this she was teaching me the positions I would be using for my feet, hand gestures and the words I would say to the dog when we were walking. This actually didn’t feel as ridiculous as I thought it would, you become so focused on learning what they are teaching you, you forget that there’s no dog in the harness yet.

Then when we got back to my house it was time for me to walk with Jojo. I’ve had a cane for a couple of years now, long enough I don’t remember when I first got one, and it was strange to be going out without it. It’s almost like leaving my comfort behind. There’s really a lot to learn all at once, like how you have to hold the harness, feet positions, looking up but knowing to look out for signals from the dog as well. It was a lot. But what surprised me the most was the feeling that came over me during the walk. It was honestly like I had found something I had been missing for years. Like if they took the dog from me then in that moment I wouldn’t know how to go back to the cane again, it would be too uncomfortable. It was a really emotional experience to realize that this was exactly what I needed and there was no way for me to explain that to someone else unless they were going through the same experience I was, and I don’t know any other visually impaired people at the moment. It shocked me and after the dog had left for the day I missed it, I missed the feeling of protection and freedom it gave me. It felt right for me.

This decision went to panel the week after. It was terrifying waiting for those unknown people to again be deciding my future, especially because this time I knew what it felt like to have that help even if it was only for a short walk. Thankfully, they decided in my favour and I was officially put on the guide dog waiting list.

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