Craig J. Hansen

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Interview with a Guide Dog

Photo of golden retriever guide dog


Interviewer: So, you are a guide dog, correct?

Dog: Yes, that’s right.

Interviewer: Why did you choose to pursue that profession?

Dog: I didn’t really choose it. My life started out straight forward enough. I had a happy puppyhood. Then I was sent off to what I thought was camp. And there, people began to teach me things. As time dragged on, I began to realize this was not camp. I had been institutionalized.

Interviewer: What do you mean by that?

Dog: I mean that I was a cog in the machine, and I was being shaped to serve some larger purpose, a purpose that remained obscure to me for the longest time. But having nothing else to do, and it being my innate Labrador prime directive to work hard and be agreeable, I began to learn things.

Interviewer: How did you feel about that?

Dog: I had mixed emotions, to be truthful. I did enjoy the camaraderie of other dogs who found themselves in the same situation. We had some great talks at night. And I took some pride in what I learned, although it seemed completely without purpose to me. Still, I tried to enjoy each day.

Interviewer: And so you were trained. What happened next?

Dog: Then came what I never saw coming. Suddenly, I was paired with a human. We did some training together, rather ineffectual on his part I’d have to say, and then we boarded a plane. And there I was once more, my world was upended and not through my choice.

Interviewer: And this human, he was blind?

Dog: I think of him more as clueless. Yes, I did figure out he couldn’t see and I did have some fun with that, standing just out of reach, perfectly silent, while he called me and called me. But it wasn’t just the blindness. His sense of smell was not very good at all and he hardly ever sniffed anything. And his hearing was suspect also. I won’t go into some of the other things, such as his inability to tell left from right. At times, the whole thing could be quite embarrassing.

Interviewer: Would you say this was against your will? Did you feel like a victim?

Dog: No, I figured out why I had been institutionalized and put through my rigorous training. I was special. Other dogs, well, I liked to sniff them and all that, but I began to think of them as rather inferior. I began to understand that this human would not last for five minutes without my supervision. This gave me a sense of purpose. Now, I don’t know how well you understand dogs, but a sense of purpose is very important. A dog with no purpose might as well be a cat.

Interviewer: So, you don’t like cats?

Dog: I did not say that. Cats have their place in the universal order, I’m sure. I just don’t see the point in them.

Interviewer: How long have you been guiding?

Dog: I have been guiding this human for nearly 60 years. Of course, this is in dog years.

Interviewer: Did I hear that you are nearing retirement? Will this be a difficult decision or transition for you?

Dog: Yes, I plan to retire within the year. I like my human well enough, and I plan to stay with him but in another capacity. I will become more of an advisor, working essentially part-time. I plan to keep my paw in things, but I will surrender my harness and let a younger dog bear the brunt of the work. I earnestly hope this new dog will be as superior as I am, and if so, I look forward to the companionship.

Interviewer: You are a rather serious dog, is my impression. What do you do for fun?

Dog: My human can be quite entertaining. Mostly this is unintentional on his part. But he does like to play. For some reason, he likes to play tug. I oblige him, and let him win most of the time. He is probably fragile, given his many weaknesses. Have you ever looked closely at human teeth? They are hilariously tiny. Also, they have almost no hair. At first, I felt I had to avert my eyes to this display of naked skin. They try to make up for it with artificial fur which they put on and take off with alarming regularity. I have surmised that their innate insecurity makes them always wish for a better pelt, hence the indecision and compulsive changing.

Interviewer: I see that you have become a keen observer of human nature. If you could talk to your human, what would you say?

Dog: If I could talk to my human? Of course, I talk to my human, all the time. And I have to say his vocabulary of tail wags, eye rolling, body wiggles, whines, head bumps, teeth baring and such has grown amazingly. I sometimes think he knows everything I’m saying. It is a little eerie. For his part, he has many vocalizations. Some of these do seem to carry meaning. No doubt, through trial and error and various forms of conditioning, he has learned to attach certain sounds to specific objects or activities. So it’s clear that most of the noise he makes is just that, noise. It is quite interesting to watch humans interact with other humans. I would call it parallel play. They vocalize and make small movements with their front legs and then another human does something similar. It’s clear that this is not true communication, but who knows what will happen over millions of years as the species evolves, if it does.

Interviewer: Very interesting. If your human were to, say, die, would you be sad?

Dog: Humans have remarkably long lives, like tortoises. I think the overall dullness of their brains, bodies, and life in general, helps preserve them from the ravages of time. But yes, I would miss my human, were he to depart. Against my intellect and value system that prioritizes independence, self-determination, and critical thinking, I have, as I have referred to, a need for purpose and I just can’t help but root for the underdog.

Interviewer: I have to say, you really are a special dog.

Dog: I know.