Guiding Eyes for the Blind

I hadn’t intended to write this out or post it, but since I’ve been writing so much about my experiences as a guide dog handler for my Nano I thought I’d finally share this with everyone. Especially since every new potential or current guide dog user who has come across this blog eventually asks the same question of me, “What happened that caused [me] to sever [my] relationship with Guiding Eyes?” Well, the short answer is that it was several different things over many years. Hardly an adequate explanation, I know, but at the time when all of this culminated in what I have dubbed “the fallout” I wasn’t in a position to be entirely forthcoming with all the details. In fact, sharing certain details was exactly what sparked the most volatile aspect of my past relationship with the school. As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. So, let’s back up and start way back at the beginning.

First, let me emphasize that this is wholly my own experience and any opinions stated are completely my own. Also, it should be understood that I have no qualms with the school’s ability to train and turn out wonderful guide dogs — I was incredibly pleased with Dolly, she was a terrific guide all her working years.

Second, I have thought long and hard about all of this and looking all the way back on my decision to get a guide dog, I realize there were a lot holes in my knowledge. At 19 I thought I was as prepared as one could possibly be to get a guide dog. This is to say that much of my initial issues with the school may have stemmed from my own teenage naïveté and stubbornness. Sadly, this foundation only compounded the issues that would occur as time went by, but it does not excuse the entirety of it. (Possibly none of it.)

Alienation

I’m shy, sort of. I get really nervous and uncomfortable when there’s a lot of people around, especially strangers or new acquaintances. There’s no set number, of course. At times I can shove the shyness into the background with a false sense of bravado and extroversion; more often it’s debilitating to me and I just stand around seeming anti-social.

With that understood, imagine my feelings when in a class with 15 others, two instructors, a supervisor, and various other staff milling about. The majority of my class were “retrains” and every single person was older than me, by a substantial margin. Suffice it to say I had a very difficult time fitting into the class. No doubt I contributed to it with my awkwardness, but I felt quite isolated. I didn’t fair much better with my instructors or the other staff. The nature of training at a school demands that no one can be singled out, which I did understand, but whenever I did approach someone about something I would come away with the distinct impression that I was inconveniencing them somehow. I was often jokingly teased by staff that I always had a question or “issue” — and it was a running gag to note any time I tripped or walked into something.

Things were copable, though, because I had my sweet Dolly as company. But all too soon we discovered the first wart on her foot. In a way the necessary care the vet recommended for her did allow me a bit more interaction with the instructors, but even still I would come off it feeling like they cared more about the dog than anything I had to say. Eventually Dolly developed warts on her other three feet and I was sent home until she could recuperate. Having to leave her behind after graduation remains one of the hardest, most painful things I’ve ever done. I can’t begin to explain it, but in a way it was like simultaneously severing my left arm off and ripping out a piece of my heart. I cried nearly the entire drive home.

When I came back to GEB, I was then in another class. This actually worked out much better for me as it was the last week of this particular class and most of the retrains had gone home. There were a good handful of “newbies” who were around my age. But I had a week to make up a lot of training that didn’t really occur because of Dolly’s feet, so I didn’t work with any of them really. Mostly I was off on my own with my instructor. That in itself made me incredibly uncomfortable, like I was getting special treatment. And I do know that there was a moderate level of jealousy that I had a trainer all to myself.

Fundraising

One of the reasons I’d chosen GEB was because I felt strongly that I “give back” to whatever school I chose as much as I could. Specifically, it was one of the few schools I could arrange my own transportation to and from. So I arrived there on my own without any assistance on GEB’s part. And then I presented them with a rather substantial donation considering I was a “broke college student.” And yet, I ended up feeling pressured by staff to purchase things from the gift store and buy extra equipment from the school. This wasn’t an overt pressure, but it was mentioned fairly often by different staff. In the end I spent an equal amount to my donation via these unnecessary purchases.

Some time after I had completed training I’d visited my grandmother and saw an envelope from GEB. I inquired about it and she nonchalantly stated they had sent her a few letters about donating — and so she had. I was furious. Not only had I arranged my transportation and given them quite a good amount of money, but I had not given them any addresses of my family members. I explicitly told my grandmother that as I was under the impression I had no obligation to give the school anything for my training, neither did she. We never broached the subject again, but I’m fairly sure she continued getting letters and sending them money which just infuriates me to no end.

Assistance

Rather, the lack thereof. While the school had no problem soliciting me and my family for money, when my need was greatest there was hardly such generosity. On April 24, 2000, I was in a massive car accident with a friend of mine. Both Dolly and I were severely injured, but the insurance company would not pay anything towards her staggering vet bills. I called GEB with the understanding that they would help with the medical costs, which I could scarely afford as a college student. Their only offer was that rather than have the specialists at Cornell perform the surgery she required, we could drive two hours further and bring her to the campus for their vet to work on her. My own vet at the time was an animal surgeon and admitted that his own skills were not sufficent to work on her wound without potentially leaving her with a scar that would surely bother her when working in harness; his professional opinion was to take her to Cornell. I borrowed the money from my father and Dolly spent her 4th birthday being operated on at Cornell University. And considering once her fur grew back there was scarcely any sign of a scar, I don’t regret this decision one bit.

Attitudes

Above I touched briefly on this in the sense of how I felt. But I will say that the basic feeling I felt exuded by the staff at the school could be categorized as rude. This was never in a blunt manner, but if I were to be going through this exact experience today I would be highly insulted at the condescending manner in which I was treated. It seems plain to me that I was viewed as less than intelligent and capable because of my age. This seemed to permeate itself to my classmates and by the end of my training I really was loathe to be around anyone because I was so often mocked and ridiculed. I don’t think it was meant in that spirit, but I was too meek to assert myself and too stubborn to admit there was a need.

My father drove four hours to pick me up a week earlier than initially anticipated due to Dolly’s feet. Probably he would have come anyway, since it was Graduation Day, but I’ve never bothered to ask him because he remains to this day so vastly insulted by how he was treated at the school. He and Keith had gone in the wrong entrance and rather than find my room, they were by the administration offices. No staff would help them. One woman walked by three separate times and ignored them. My father, however, wasn’t bothered and merely assumed she was a blind student at the school. Only to later find out it was the very sighted supervisor of my class.

Frankly, the conclusion my family has come to is that the school does not and has not shown respect towards any of us.

Fallout

All of that aside, I did my level best to be a responsible graduate. I filled out the yearly paperwork. I ordered my supplies properly. I even read the newsletter each quarter to keep up-to-date on things. So, I was very surprised by the nagging response I received when I alerted the school about my desire to retire Dolly. I’d initially planned to send Dolly back to her puppy raiser, but unbeknownst to me my family had decided long ago that they would take her if I couldn’t keep her. The call back to GEB to clarify this started ongoing telephone calls and letters to me about the status of “their” dog, even though she’s legally mine. In fact, they went so far as to send me and my father new paperwork so that I could sign over Dolly’s ownership to him. When I asked about this and why it was necessary, I was given some vague answer about it being how these things work. (Point of fact this whole thing continues to this day, we’ve been throwing the letters out.)

Later that year, I began preparations for getting a successor dog from GEB. When I contacted the school I was honest about the precarious status my life was at the moment due to the events at Lions World, but was firm in my desire to get a new dog before the onset of winter since this is the most difficult time for me to navigate. I was told the earliest date I could get was if I went into a full three week class, which was impossible since I had just started two new jobs. I was told that I could apply for an accelerated class and put my name on the home training list, but they would be far later dates. (Home training at that point had a two year wait list.) I requested to have that done, but made it clear I was looking at other schools.

Anyway, this application process was delayed a few times because of several upheavals in my life — quit one of my two jobs, moved, got another new job, and quit second of original two jobs — and the onset of a nasty winter. Suffice it to say GEB kept trying to schedule a home interview that I was incapable of having. Six months later I called GEB again to find out what was going on and we set a date for a home interview. This interview date was later rescheduled for a month or so later because I landed an interview with State Ed (for a different position than the one I currently hold). The rescheduled date I had was apparently a different date than the rep had and he showed up and I wasn’t home. We played telephone tag trying to schedule a third interview.

By this time I’d already been interviewed by Fidelco and would discover that my application was pending with them because GEB hadn’t forwarded the paperwork they needed to. A frantic call to GEB rectified this, and also continued my telephone tag about the home interview. Two weeks later I get a phone call from another rep while at work who was in town and wanted to do my home interview the next day — with so little advance notice, it shouldn’t surprise you that I wasn’t free. From my understanding, this action of not taking the interview put my application into some kind of holding pattern of which I was unaware.

Fast forward a few more months — by now I’m waiting on a dog with Fidelco and have a class date with GDB — and I call GEB to inquire what’s going on. I find out the above about the application and am told I should get a call from a rep for the necessary home interview. So, a week or so goes by and I am bedridden with the flu. During my fever-ridden haze a rep calls and we make an appointment of which I only know of because at the time I was in front of my computer and had made a short, random post to my blog to announce that I’d finally had some news on my potential guide dog. 36 hours later I wake up and realize what I’d agreed to; I call the person to explain I’m far too sick for an interview. The rep is disappointed but understanding of the situation (and probably didn’t want to risk catching the flu).

The next week another staff rep calls to make an appointment for a home interview and says to me, and I quote: “If you cannot make this appointment or for any reason have to reschedule; Guiding Eyes will be forced to sever our relationship with you.” The next day the rep from the week before calls and inquires about my “feelings” regarding the school. I’m dumbfounded, so he paraphrases my blog post about the whole home interview thing that I posted when I was sick. He was upset about the “bad publicity” I was spewing and specifically told me to take down the post . . . And then he yelled at me for posting something that makes it out that the school is “inconveniencing me.”

The yelling is the straw that broke me: I retorted back that the post was written (1.) when I was running a fever of almost 103, (2.) being taken completely out of context, and (3.) meant as a tongue-in-cheek response to more than a year of communication — or lack thereof — to get my successor dog. I went on to further say that had he called the day before, I probably would be more than apologetic about the incident. However, the other rep had called and given me an ultimatum and that absolutely made me feel inconvenienced and downright insulted. I ended the call saying some rather derogatory things about where he could place the school’s dogs. And have since never spoken to the school or its staff.

Comments

  1. Whoa. I had no idea this all went back so far. Just… whoa. I knew the post-retirement story, but that’s it.

    FWIW, I get fundraising letters from them, too. Mind, I never applied to the school, never requested info, and, uh, do not have a dog from them. So who the hell knows?

    • You know, if it hadn’t culminated the way it had, I wouldn’t care about all the history. I was aware of it and I was annoyed by it, but I never let it affect me because at the end of the day I felt strongly in their training and that was the most important thing to me. But after those last two phone calls, I forgive them nothing.

      • I went to Guiding Eyes when I was sixteen years old, and I was astounded that I and one other girl in class were the only ones in the class under their late thirties. This says something to me, considering that this was a summer class. All the young up and coming potential guide dog users apparently were selecting other schools. I was treated like an incompitant, inconvenience in most cases, and the pervasive air of “the dog is always right” really bothered me. The older people in the class were downright nasty, making fun of me and my dog in the lounge and my room-mate, the other young person in the class was the only one who stood by me. I was a voice student, and people made a huge deal about the performance of an older woman in our class with a really intense and sometimes downright disgusting sounding speech impedament, while my performance met with little aplause and some impatience. I was often picked on for things as mundane as the fact of how I would talk to my dog, as if she was a furry person, a rather sarcastic and snarkey one at that. I felt the constant pressure to buy things, to the point that I was all but repremanded when I told another student that there was a great website I knew of that carried bandanas for dogs with clips to close them, as the ones that GEB sold were the kind that you tie, and much too short to tie properly and have stay in place. I even had a serious arguement with one of my trainers, when I expressed my intention to switch my dog from Centinal to Heart Guard, providing flee and tick protection of course, with a topical, Front Line Plus. When I lemented that there were no longer the random drop-off routes, where a student must ask questions and dirrections from passers by, in order to find the specified place to meet up with a trainer, I was told that that was never done, even though my mother, who had three dogs from them, absolutely participated in such training. When my dog did poorly in trafic checks, and I expressed a lack of confidence in her, I was sumarily dismissed. In NYC I was descouraged from doing the subway work, they didn’t have much room in the van, when the older students, who lived nowhere near a subway and hardly used their dogs once they got home, were not asked to stay back. I insisted, and was ridiculed the whole time. When we would eat in a restaurant and I wanted to order a dessert, assuring them that I would pay for it with my own money, since only an entree was covered by the school, I was treated like a selfish child. My dog was one of those that will not play well, or really at all on a long line. So, I shut the doors to the lounge we were supposed to be playing in together, and took her off-leash. A trainer rushed in immediately and freaked out in a big way. This tells me two things. One, they were spying on me constantly, and two, they are beyond paranoid, as the room was entirely inclosed. No one in my class was that interesting to talk to, aside from my roomate, and when she and I were not in the White Planes lounge at the same time, I would go upstairs on the couch, curl up with my talking book player, with my dog’s leash securely wrapped around my thigh and do the massive amount of reading I had for the up-coming semester of AP English. Sometimes I would take a nap up there and or do needlepoint. A trainer told me I was antisocial and that I was lazy for always sleeping, and asked if I was going to play with my dog at home. How precicely my dog would get more enjoyment snoozing under a cramped chair downstairs, VS. curling up with her back against the couch upstairs still is unclear to me. My conservatively cut, but flamboiently printed pajama pants and night shirts were critisized as inapropriate, when I would come out to park my dog at six A.M. even though no leg, no cleavage, etc was shown. The letcherous photographer, who scared the crapola out of me, he was there and equally creepy when mom got her dogs, kept touching my shoulder, arm and back in a very disconcerting manner, and I was yelled at for expressing my discomfort to my room-mate, welll out of the photographer’s earshot. When I told their supposedly amazing cook, all the food was frozen, aside from the night that my roomate and I made dinner for the class, that one of his jokes was extremely offensive to me, I was pretty much told to get over it. He would make extremely sexually explisit jokes, I even remember one of the ones I took exception to. It was something about a woodpecker saying to another something along the lines of “Do you think that tree is a beach or a burch?” and the other bird saying something like “No, it’s the best piece of ash I’ve ever had my pecker in.” All of that and I was almost threatened with being sent home when I commented to my room-mate, with no other class mates in the van, and none of our class mates was black or latino, that it was “all of the black labs to the back of the van.” Was it tasteful? Of course not, but I was sixteen, and no one else, but my room-mate, who thought it was helarious and the trainer heard me. An adult, the cook, should be expected to have a higher standard of behavior than a teenager, for crying out loud. I have been picking up for my pet dogs and for my mom’s guide dog, when my mom had had surgery, since I was younger than ten years old. The first night that I had my new dog I just picked up after her, out of habbit, and I was actually yelled at for doing that, as we weren’t supposed to start poop pick up for our dogs until a few days later. Give me a break. Well, I could go on and on, but I have a lot of house work to do, and I really don’t feel like starting any more trouble with them, since they have more or less forgotten about me now.

  2. Hi. My name is Miranda and I am trying to get a guidedog. I have applied with Giding Eyes for the Blind, but just recently came across a rather disturbing story about them. If you don’t mind telling me,when did your bad experiences occur? Thank you. Have a great day.

    • Hi Miranda! I’m sorry if my story has caused concern for you regarding GEB. As I stated in this post, the experience I had is wholly my own and I make no claim of knowledge about the school beyond what I have personally gone through. I haven’t stepped foot on the campus since 2000 and the last dealings of any sort that I’ve had with the school were prior to 2007. (I trained with my first guide dog in 1998.)

      One thing that you should understand about guide dog schools is that it’s a lot like trying to pick a college. You’re going to find people who had wonderful experiences and people who have horror stories and everything in between. What it comes down to really is how that school’s services mesh with what you want, which I know is somewhat difficult to understand when you are going for your first dog. If you are really concerned about GEB’s reputation, I would suggest calling the school and requesting they have a graduate contact you to speak with individually. You might also want to get in touch with GDUI or NAGDU and finding other graduates through those guide dog user groups. There’s also a few Internet groups and other email lists.

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