This entry continues exploring the question, what do our dog guides actually do for us? In a previous post I wrote about how Verona helps me in the therapy room. This time I want to try and describe how she helps me when we travel and how her breeding and training has prepared her and other Guiding Eyes dogs to be able to perform so well in circumstances involving high stress situations like airplane travel.
First, let me begin by saying that many folks like traveling but if you asked them if they would like to do it if they couldn’t see, I bet many of them would not want to answer that question, a look of horror on their face. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have traveled outside my immediate area without some serious anxiety while using a white cane. Airports, train stations and bus terminals are controlled chaos and travelers must bring a huge bag of patience along with the other luggage. A traveler with a visual disability must tow ten times that of a person without a visual disability because we require assistance from airport personnel, meaning we are more than likely going to wait for help. All our senses are on high alert, too, which is mentally and physically draining.
My first solo trip on an airplane with Verona was a positive experience. Once we got through the security line, with the help of a very sweet airline employee, I realized for the first time since losing a significant portion of my vision that I can do this myself. I can use my dog to find the counter, follow someone through the maze of people, luggage, and crowd control line posts. In a fit of frustration, I told her to find the bathroom and she found it. Then I asked her to find the store and she led me to the kiosk that sold water and snacks. Now, I wasn’t just being led like a two-year old, I was listening for the flushing sounds of the bathrooms and the beeping of the cash register to confirm she did find what I asked her to find. I knew my way back to the gate. But, I thought, would she take me back to my seat? I said, “let’s go back,” and you know what? She led me back to the same seat we’d left. Did I praise her and give her a treat? You bet, I even gave her more than one treat.
Since that first solo trip to visit my mom, we’ve been lots of places. She’s earned the respect and admiration of all my family and friends who’ve watched her work. The level of discovery I share with my dog transcends my expectations. Sure, there are moments when we are stumped. At those times, I take over and we deal with it. These times are few and far in-between. Mostly, though, only a few hours go by before I think how lucky to have been bestowed with this gift called my guide dog and how satisfying it is to work as a team.