By Craig J. Hansen
It’s been a while since my last blog. I’ve been busy. I decided a while ago that stumbling around, trying to hide impaired vision, was not a productive long-term strategy. I have learned to use a white cane fairly well. It’s awkward and I can’t help feeling like a human weed whip. I have a way of walking too fast, overrunning the safety zone of the white cane and colliding with things anyway. If the object was a person, they also received a smart cane thwap. So, I decided I should get a guide dog.
I went through a long, detailed application process, and then waited to hear. Finally, I was told I had qualified for a guide dog and they gave me a date. I waited for nine months, and then about three weeks ago, went to the facility so I could be trained.
The name of the guide dog is Volta. I’ve had him back on my home turf for a week. He’s smarter than me, has a better personality, and is much better looking. I’m a little jealous, but I’m getting over that.
I discovered that working with a guide dog is not as easy as it looks. You communicate with your guide through verbal cues, body position, and hand gestures. It is important that the person being guided knows right from left and has incredible dance moves. I fail on both counts.
In fact, if Volta could write a blog, the day after he was introduced to me, his blog would have been titled “The Biggest Loser.” It would go something like this:
“Sometimes bad things happen to good dogs. Ever since I was a puppy, I took my training seriously. I tried to please the trainers and pretty much all of the humans that I met. I was willing to work for kibble. I was selfless, a team player, and swallowed my own urges to chase and eat things to reach a greater good. The other guide dogs in my training pack were abuzz when the news came that we were going to be matched with impaired people. The other five dogs got paired with attractive, smart, coordinated female humans. In the human pack, however, there was one loser. This was a male human. Awkward, dull, and distinctly puppy-like. While the female humans tapped their way around with sticks that they didn’t even chew on, and seemed to master the mysterious impairment, the male human smiled a lot and blundered into walls and chairs. He was clearly 2 puppies short of a litter, and by the rules of fang and claw, long ago should have been thrown in a river.
And then they brought me to him. I was so embarrassed that I almost forgot my humiliation. I thought, this can’t be. I’ve worked so hard. I can deal with that impaired human, but not a total loser. My worst fears soon turned out to be real.
I would guide patiently and effectively, but he would still manage to bump into things. He didn’t give clear orders. Instead, he kept up a rambling human conversation, little of which I understood, the most of which seem to involve his interest in music and craft beer. He would ask me to turn right, and then he would turn left. He would tell me to go forward while waving his arm in a circular motion, all the time smiling with those tiny human teeth. He was too free with the kibble, rewarding me when I did good things, bad things, or nothing at all. My well-trained heart sank.
Perhaps this is a test from the Great Dog. Or perhaps a bad dream and I will awaken with twitching paws and no human. Or maybe it is the dog’s lot to suffer – born to suffer, even highly trained, super intelligent, handsome, exceptionally athletic dogs.
Perhaps this human is trainable. Perhaps I can shape him into something more worthy of my skills and talents. I must cling to this hope, like that last stump of Nyla bone you hide in your crate. Fellow canines, wish me luck and dogspeed.”