Four Paws Test Drive - Learning to See Guide Dogs Differently
December 20, 2012
By Linda Falconiero
This article first appeared in the December 2012 PXE International eNewsletter
See also "The Test Walk - Partnering with a Guide Dog" by Kent and Jenine Stanley
I am a PXEer with vision loss. For many years, I’ve been asked why I don’t have a guide dog. My response has always been: Can this dog take care of my checkbook? Drive my car? I never received an answer to that, so I never really understood the point. Everything changed, however, at the 2012 PXE International Biennial Conference this September in DC.
I’d been admiring, petting, and chatting with two furry fellows, guide dogs who came to the conference with their owners, Kent, a fellow PXEer, and Jenine Stanley. Jenine is Consumer Relations Coordinator for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, New York.
After about my sixth visit to their exhibit, Kent asked me if I would like to take a ‘test drive’. I was excited but skeptical as I took my glasses off, took hold of the bar attached to ‘Swap’ (which is Paws spelled backwards) and we went ‘Forward’. Without my glasses my vision is extremely fuzzy and unclear. I allowed Swap to take control. Kent held onto Swap’s leash as we went through a very crowded wedding gathering. With the ‘Find a way’ command, Swap led me safely through the crowd. I was in heaven because I knew that I had just found my Plan B.
When I started to lose my vision, it was hard not to be consumed with what would happen in the future. Sure, I could manage now, but how would I get along as my vision worsened? As someone who likes to be prepared, that has never been an easy thing for me to handle. So no, Swap couldn’t keep my checkbook or drive my car. But I realized that having a furry helper might be more useful than I had thought. Having a guide dog would be a way of maintaining my independence and control, even if I could do nothing to stop my dimming vision.
As we continued our test drive, Swap took me to the elevator in the enormous hotel, and then we went outside. Now, Swap had never been ‘Outside’ in this particular parking lot, but he kept me in the middle of the lines of cars and then put me on the sidewalk. The next command was: ‘Find inside’. Imagine my amazement when Swap did just that and took Kent and me through the front doors of the hotel lobby.
What a wonderful experience it was for me to know that having a guide dog was actually an option for me. Although I’m not quite ready for a guide dog, I was and am thrilled to have had this experience and this option presented to me. I wanted to share this experience with all of you, as it might be an option for you – maybe not at this moment but in the future.
In the past it was difficult for me to even look at someone with a guide dog. I was looking at the dog and wondering if that might be my future. I was not looking at the person confidently and independently moving about; I could only see the walker as helpless. I realize now how distorted that is. A guide dog does not mean dependence; it helps those with vision loss achieve independence.
It is always difficult for me to see what I perceive to be my future. The good thing about the future is that we have no idea what it holds. I do know that technology, research, treatments and, yes, maybe a guide dog, will only help me to remain independent – that’s always my goal.
I hope that my Four Paws Test Drive story has helped you feel more comfortable about your future. I know that the next time I see a person with a guide dog, I will see a team not just a dog and a person. No matter what, dear reader, you are going to be okay!