Mental Rants Before the Dog

My class date at the Seeing Eye was confirmed for May 4. No, I don't plan on devoting pages and pages to my journey with the new dog, whose name shall be Rufus until we learn otherwise, but yes, I do plan on documenting at least part of the experience for the benefit of anyone later interested in learning more about what it's like to train at the Seeing Eye.

For the record, I am changing its name if I get something exceptionally fruity. If I come back and tell you its name is Dallas, you know it was for a good cause.

Now that I know it's a done deal, I begin to trace my daily schedule with an eye toward accommodating my future sidekick. Last week I went scouting for possible relief areas around my office building. For security reasons, there aren't any, so it will take some creativity to find a spot that allows the dog to handle his, or her, business without us both getting rammed by a vehicle. There is no grass. I'm obviously not letting the dog squat on the sidewalk, nor will I be taking a friend's advice to let the dog jump up on one of the planters. You see? These are the random, but essential, points you didn't consider about handling a service animal.

But it's more than finding relief areas. I get off the commuter bus and consider the harness I'll be holding onto while crossing busy streets and navigating congested sidewalks. At the moment, on entering our cafeteria, I zip right over to the stations whose economies I am all too eager to help boost, and although I know beyond any doubt that the same will be achieved with a guide dog, it will take some patterning to get the dog to turn and veer where I want in the open spaces. I consider the constant presence under my desk. If it's a shepherd, I have been told, and can personally attest, to said presence being in a constant state of ready to pounce on the next destination. If it's a Labrador, I'm told said presence will be content to sleep until I'm ready to leave. I have a pet black lab now and just don't see it. :)

I began the application process with a specific preference for a German shepherd. I later dropped that preference, putting my trust in the trainers to identify the dog that would best fit my current lifestyle and personality. It makes me a little sad to think I could come home with something other than a shepherd. Part of me, I am sure, wants to reclaim the Gator experience without the ailments, but I eventually came around to understanding the value of doing what's best for both the future dog and myself. I'm told, for example, that shepherds do not do as good of a job lounging around an office for hours at a time. I wouldn't know since Gator was my sidekick at a time when my life was a lot more active, but I think any shepherd could be coaxed into adjusting to whatever scenario is thrown at them, provided they receive sufficient exercise and mental stimulation.

And it's more than routine scenarios and breed preferences. I am acutely aware of how people's image of me will shift. For nearly three years I have been the blind guy with the cane. Now I will be the guide dog with the blind guy, because you know moving forward I will be secondary to the awesomeness that is this highly trained dog that can move mountains, right?

That sounds a little bitter. It's not meant to come across that way. It's more a reflection on how peoples' perceptions change on a dime. I'm sure it's going to take my team some adjustment to see a dog in our office space, but for the scores of people I pass in the halls, on the courtyard, and share elevators, I wonder how their image of the guy they don't know will be reshaped.

And, amidst all this internal debate, there is the persistent question as to whether or not this is a good idea. This morning I got on the bus and casually asked the driver if he thought using a dog would pose any problems for the drivers in general. He made an uncertain sound and finally said something to the affect of, well, I guess it depends on the driver. Umm, it depends on the driver? I like this old guy, friendly enough feller, but it depends on the driver? Move past the public advocacy, and then you have questions of whether or not a dog is convenient for someone with the potential to be self-centered. Well, you might call it self-centered. I call it focused.

I could be guilty of over thinking it. And, because this is quickly becoming a directionless rant, I'll stop it here, but suffice to say it's difficult for people to conceptualize the tangible and symbolic changes that occur with the companionship of a service animal without having experienced it for themselves. There's a lot more going on than taking off three weeks from work to train with a new Seeing Eye dog. None of it is bad, otherwise I wouldn't be going, but there are changes. A lot of it could have to do with my now having spent three years without a guide dog. Who knows, but stay tuned for more musings on this evolving saga.


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