From the early 1990’s I have always had a guide dog. When my first guide dog, Nixon retired I went, the following day to be trained with his successor, Zeff. Again, on the day of Zeff’s retirement I received Drew, thereby achieving another smooth hand-over.
During the above period I hardly ever had to use my long white cane (the cane which many visually impaired persons use as a mobility aid to prevent them from colliding with obstacles and, in addition to act as a symbol to the general public that the user is sight impaired). All this changed following the wholly unexpected death of Drew on 18 March. Apart from the emotional turmoil caused by the demise of my companion of some five years (I got Drew in June 2005) I was, suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar world in which the long cane became my standard means of mobility.
As a child I was taught to use a white cane long before I received my first guide dog. However the infrequent use of the cane during my protracted period of guide dog ownership has meant that my technique has become somewhat rusty as can be seen by the attractive yellow bump which currently decorates my forhead. It really looks most fetching and was gained as a consequence of me colliding with a sign, on the pavement situated near to my office. Had I still been working with Drew this would (almost certainly) not have happened but, on the positive side I am told that the bump does look rather fashionable!
Since becoming a regular user of the long cane I’ve been struck by the way in which people react to me as compared to their reactions while using my guide dogs. As a guide dog owner I certainly received offers of assistance, for example in crossing the road these have, however increased since I began to use my cane on a regular basis. I can only conjecture that people believe that guide dog owners are more independent (because of their four-legged friends) than long cane users and, as a consequence the former group require less assistance than the latter. Certainly certain individuals have an exhaulted perception of the abilities of guide dogs. I recall one incident in which a gentleman asked me (in all seriousness) whether my guide dog could read the numbers of buses and thereby let me know which one I should be boarding! Well genetic enhancement of canines has not (to the best of my knowledge) advanced to a stage which permits man’s best friend to interpret bus numbers, however perhaps I am behind the times on scientific developments.
In all seriousness guide dogs are truly wonderful. Unlike white canes they possess intelligence. They can, for instance remember routes and help their owners to get from a to b much quicker than would be the case using a long cane. In addition a dog can take it’s owner round an obstacle while a long cane can only prevent it’s user from colliding with it. Just as importantly a tremendous bond and love develops between guide dog owners and their dogs especially as you are living and working together more or less constantly throughout the relationship.
For my previous posts on guide dogs please visit http://kevin-morris.co.uk/category/guide-dogs/