Reprinted and brought to you from The Consumer Vision email newsletter published by Bob Branco
The Handler’s Corner: Living and working with guide dogs
By Ann Chiappetta
Happy New Year to all of you and your two and four-footed family members. Since this is the first article I am writing for Consumer Vision, I am excited and about being here and want to thank Bob for agreeing to give me a byline.
A little bit about me: In 2009 I was matched with my first guide dog, Verona, a black Labrador retriever from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Back then, my vision was deteriorating from retinitis pigmentosa and I began feeling less and less confident using a white cane. This was a life-changing experience for me.
I retired Verona in late 2014 and resumed traveling with the white cane until March 2015, whereupon I met Bailey, my second dog, a large yellow Labrador retriever also from Guiding Eyes. Additionally, Verona has just earned her animal assisted therapy dog certificate from The Good Dog Foundation and we will soon be visiting folks in hospitals, nursing homes, and other pet assisted therapy programs. I plan to share these events with you all as they come.
During the first five years of being a guide dog handler, or guide dog user, as some folks might say, I also became more involved in advocating for the rights of guide dog teams. Discrimination and ignorance towards people who are blind and guide dog handlers is still common; I’m sure any guide dog handler can tell stories about being refused access or feeling a bit tired of answering questions from strangers regarding his or her disability or dog. When I experienced the ignorance and access refusals, after dealing with the situation, I remained so upset, I made it a personal goal to learn how to advocate and do my part to change things to benefit access rights for guide dog users in the U.S. and internationally, if possible. Over the years, I worked with a few advocacy groups, volunteered on a National guide dog organization board of directors for five years, made presentations, and helped out other guide dog handlers who graduated from Guiding Eyes while being a member of the graduate council.
I also continue to serve on the board of our local guide dog users group focused on upholding the rights of guide dog handlers in my home State of New York. I participate in monthly presentations at elementary schools among other activities focused on educating the public about blindness and guide dogs.
Moreover, Verona opened up a world of independence I did not experience with my cane and as I became more confident my friends and family realized how much a guide dog could enhance my life. When she retired, our family felt it, not just me — this is proof that our four-footed partners are just as valued as any human family member. Now that Bailey is guiding me, we have opened our hearts to another dog and the unconditional regard he provides us, and I feel extremely fortunate to have his dogginess and canine loyalty as a partner while working and traveling.
I hope to share the journey of this path of independence with all of you, our readers, and welcome comments and questions. Being able to share this journey is an honor and I hope you enjoy it. As we say in guide dog land, “forward!”