The Ethicacy of Guide Dogs

While poking through my referrers today I ended up surfing Tumblr a bit and came across this post. Immediately I had a rebuttal forming in my mind and if it wasn’t necessary to have an account on Tumblr to share it I would have ranted my fill. Instead I made myself dinner, though, not before taking a moment to post the link in my usual online haunts. While my social media feeds lit up light a Christmas tree, I had a pleasant orzo salad and let my blood pressure come down from stroke levels.

Now that I am not a ball of rage, I feel capable of combating quoilecanard’s overwhelming ignorance point-by-point with a calm helping of truth. Let it be known that I am solely focusing on guide dogs1 and not generalizing to all working animals, even the greater umbrella of assistance dogs. I reserve the right to come back and edit to address that, though.

Animals do not exist for our use.

I’m not a vegan, but I am a firm believer in animal rights, so I’m not about to disagree with that statement. However, let’s first agree on some constants. We are specifically talking about dogs, which are an animal that ranks pretty high on the hierarchy of intelligent life. They are capable of not only being taught things, but in making decisions. You’re welcome to disagree with me on all of this, of course, but if you do I suggest you stop reading now and go do some research on dogs. I’ll wait here . . . Right, so now that we’re on the same page about dogs, you should understand those same qualities are two very important aspects for a guide dog. And by extension, being a guide dog is a choice that the dog makes. No one wants to be partnered with the dog that doesn’t want to be a guide dog. A large part of puppy raising is observing whether the pre-training puppy is showing the hallmarks of a dog suited for guide dog training. This doesn’t stop when they are in formal training or during placement or even when they are actually working! And in those cases where it’s obvious that the dog doesn’t want to or cannot be a guide dog, they find another niche in life to satisfy that is equally fulfilling.

Guide dogs are generally taught not to seek out contact or socialization from others besides the “owner” they are helping, and are taught to spend all of their time tending to the needs of a person.

Okay, I’m personally bristling over this “owner” terminology. To be fair, yes, I do have legal ownership of my guide dog. (As I did with her two predecessors.) However, we’re called a “guide dog team” for a reason: it’s a partnership. Meaning we both have responsibilities to uphold. Fundamentally, I take care of her physical and emotional needs and maintain her training, while she does what she was trained to do without distraction.

Yes, I discourage her from seeking out attention from others. Not because I don’t want her to be loved and petted and not even because I want her rapt attention solely on me,2 but because if she’s paying attention to someone else she is not paying attention to her actual job. This is no different than if you spent your workday goofing off rather than doing the things you’re actually paid for.

And, moreover, those other people present an unknown factor. In the past I’ve had strangers put my guide dogs’ health at risk by giving them food that would make them very ill. Once I observed someone walk by and toss my guide dog a chicken bone! Also, your assumption seems to be that it’s totally fine for anyone to give attention to any dog, which is patently false and a topic I’ve discussed here at great length. I’m not a parent, but I’d feel equally strong about discouraging my child from seeking attention from complete strangers, too.

Lastly, the amount of downtime during harness work and actual time off that my guide dog has is far greater than the time she spends actively doing her job. A lot of being a guide dog is napping under chairs and the like and when we are home the only things I expect of her are to be a suitable roommate. Yes, she may well work very hard, but she plays even harder. Trust me.

[Guide dogs] are often put in situations where their safety is at risk and every guide dog I’ve ever seen looks unresponsive and despondent.

I think I need an actual example of where a guide dog’s safety is put at risk because I can’t think of anything particularly hazardous about their work. For argument’s sake I’ll reiterate that this is a partnership. My guide dog and I are a team; we’re equals in whatever we do and wherever we go. The best example of this that I have is crossing a street. I wait for when the traffic pattern tells me it’s safe to cross and I indicate that to my guide dog. If she doesn’t agree with this assessment, e.g., she sees a car turning on a red light that I wouldn’t have noticed, she won’t move forward. We cross when we both feel it’s safe. Period. She’s not my furry butler catering to my every whim. She works by my side willingly. In fact, most of the time she’s more eager to get out of the house each morning than I am.

I don’t know how many guide dogs you’ve seen that you can claim they are all despondent, but I can assure you that is not the majority of guide dogs. They are happy to do their job and approach it like, well, a dog approaches any enjoyable thing in life. Mine, for example, have shown their love to work by leaping into their harnesses, whining at my not being faster to get ready in the morning, and literally herding me out the front door.

I’ll give you the unresponsive claim because (a.) a good guide dog shouldn’t be responding to anyone but her partner and (b.) a lot of guide dog work is mental so what you might think of as a lack of drive may well be a dog contemplating how best to accomplish the task at hand. But I’ll also add that your observations alone are not an adequate assessment of a dog’s mental state. My guide dogs, especially my current partner, all act very different when working as opposed to their off-duty times at home. They’re still the same silly, crazy, hyper, and happy dogs but they know to contain themselves when it’s not appropriate.

The dog’s best interests are not usually taken into consideration at all, and instead the dog is utilized to how they can help a human. It perpetuates the whole “servant/master” relationship between humans and animals, and that type of relationship is always harmful to animals.

Whoa. Now you’re just jumping to conclusions. As I said already, it’s a conscious choice for both parties of a guide dog team. So the dog’s interests are very much a consideration since that’s a large part of why she is a guide dog. Clearly, if you’re thinking of a guide dog as being a servant you have no understanding of what goes into a guide dog team. There’s the obvious stuff that any dog requires: being fed, going potty, grooming/bathing, yearly vet visits, etc. In general guide dog teams work on maintaining the training we have received and strengthening the bond we share. And most of this is done by meeting those aforementioned obvious needs. As a handler, I know my guide dog inside and out. Every day we go through obedience and we have a grooming session. The obedience is fun for her because I strive to make it interesting and rewarding. During the grooming session I’m not only helping her stay cleaner and making her coat look nice and pretty, but I’m taking note of anything abnormal that might have cropped up on her body. I can tell you without her even in the room exactly where every bump, lump, skin tag, scar, scab, bite, etc. is on my guide dog at any time. I’m failing to see how any of this is harmful to her.

Almost all guide dogs are bought from breeders and are raised as guide dogs since birth. So not only is the practice wrong, but it also supports the breeding of animals while there are still millions of dogs and other animals being killed in shelters everywhere annually.

Actually, almost all guide dogs are bred by guide dog schools. Many schools don’t even accept dogs that aren’t part of their specific breeding program because they are looking for very different traits than a regular breeder. And while I am very pro-rescue, you are neglecting the simple fact that responsible breeding works to strengthen the breed. Guide dogs are generally purebred dogs because this allows for a better understanding of their background, i.e., genetic traits, health, temperament, etc. This is usually not a possibility for a shelter dog and personally as a handler that worked with a dog with severe health issues I’d much rather have the history of my partner readily available than not. Which is not to say there is anything wrong with working a mixed breed dog or training one from a shelter, but just like not every dog is a fit for every person not every dog regardless of breeding is meant to be a guide dog.

It’s just really sad to me that people can look at animals and view them as property to use as we please. While not every guide dog is going to be treated so poorly, it’s the principle alone that goes against veganism because it’s using an animal to benefit a human, and disregarding the dog’s individual rights. It shows no respect to him or her as a being with their own wants and their own life.

Okay, I’m going to put aside the fact that you’ve basically argued my point for me here by stating that the alleged cruelty is less the issue and your point is more the assumption that there is cruelty because I’ll maintain that guide dogs are generally treated far better than the average pet dog.3 Instead, I go back to my original point about dogs being highly intelligent and the assumption that having read this far you’ve agreed to that. Well, you can’t have it both ways. The dog can’t be sentient enough to make choices and yet not actually be smart enough to, you know, make them. So, the dog — like the handler — has chosen to be in the partnership, which makes your claim that there is a lack of respect completely moot. Furthermore, what you clearly are failing to take into account is that guide dogs actually enjoy their work.

Now all that’s said and done, quoilecanard was then asked whether there was an alternative to working with a guide dog to which she replied:

Is there an identical alternative to forcing someone to serve you 24/7? Not really. But of course, just because there isn’t an alternative that is equally beneficial to humans doesn’t mean that the practice is justifiable by default. The only things I can think of are hiring someone to help them around the house and assist them with their trips into public areas if there are no family or friends able to help them. I know there are also free public services in some places where groups of volunteers collaborate and offer to help disabled people with their basic needs upon request, which could be looked into for said person who’d want a guide dog. Regardless, it isn’t fair to force a dog to suffer or to be exploited simply because it’s in the best interest of a human.

I’m feeling maddeningly redundant but let the record clearly reflect that “guide dog” is not synonymous with “slave.” Please stop insinuating otherwise.

As for real factual alternatives to a guide dog, yes, they exist. They’re called mobility aides and most anyone with some type of visual impairment learns how to use the most common one: the white cane. It’s almost always a requirement to apply for a guide dog, actually. And amongst those that work guide dogs you’ll generally hear a lot of grumping about them because of all the downsides to using one over being partnered with a guide dog. Canes won’t notice that car you didn’t hear turning in on you. Canes get stuck in the cracks in sidewalks. Canes can’t learn landmarks or recognize familiar paths.4

I’m not even going to bother trying to figure out what mythical universe you’re in where there exists people who can be hired to lead blind people around. I’ve been blind since birth and I’ve never heard of that.

Here’s a bit of truth you totally don’t seem to be aware of and/or understand: for a blind person working with a guide dog is about independence. First, it’s not exactly an empowering thing to be dependent on another person to get you from place to place and make sure you don’t walk into or off of stuff en route. And for what it’s worth, most of the people who have guided me in my life have managed to not accomplish this and I’ve been assisted in being walked into many things. One person almost walked me right off the side of a flight of stairs! It’s also incredibly inconvenient to be dependent on other people. You know how annoyed you get when your friend is late picking you up to go out to dinner together? Yeah, multiply that by EVERY SINGLE TRIP ANYWHERE.

I admit it, working in tandem with your guide dog partner is really something you have to experience to fully grasp. However, if it helps you understand the gravitas of how profound it is to pick up that handle and feel your partner move along side you, I will say that my very initial walk with Dolly was literally the first time in my life that I realized I walked slightly hunched over, staring (unseeingly) down at my feet straining to catch any potential hazard I might stumble over. It was during that walk that I realized how stressful getting around was for me and how ridiculously scary it was to be so vulnerable. All I can say is that if there is a servant in this partnership, it’s definitely me because there’s no way I’ll ever be able to convey to her all that she means to me. Not that I don’t try anyway.

To be continued, probably. . . .

  1. That was the question after all.
  2. Dogs are pack animals and as such it’s their very nature to pay attention to their pack. So, I’m honestly confused at the insinuation that being the sole recipient of attention is actually an unexpected, even a bad thing.
  3. This is a point I’ve been argued on a fair few times so please feel free to make me prove my statement.
  4. For what it’s worth, cane users would easily list many different (and contradictory) pros and cons as navigational methods are an entirely individual choice.

Achromat

“You know, we sometimes forget you’re blind,” my grandmother matter-of-factly stated in response to a situation that inevitably happens between me and every sighted person I spend any amount of time with. The exact event varies, but always involves me not seeing something that is right in front of me. In this particular instance she had left me a cup of coffee on the counter, which I only discovered after nearly knocking it into the sink when I set a second cup by it to reach for the sugar bowl. I must have looked a bit dumbfounded because she continued: “You get around so well most of the time we just don’t think about it.”

I remember it gave us both a good laugh, but for a good part of my life that rather mundane exchange with my grandmother would have bothered me because it seemed like I constantly had to defend my own inability to see.1 This was especially difficult when I was younger because I’ve always seen the way that I do and so I had nothing to compare it to. I knew I was colorblind, but it held as much meaning to me as being legally blind. I once heard my father tell someone that my vision was like watching “an old black-and-white television.” It was the first time that people seemed appeased by a description of my blindness and so for the longest time it was the explanation I used. Until I actually watched an old black-and-white television and realized this description was wholly inaccurate. I could tell the difference between what I was seeing and how things appeared on the television screen where the world was portrayed as monotone and I found it hard to distinguish things like clothing and furniture from the background. Whereas in reality things were vibrant and full of contrast. Sometime after I had a discussion with my father about this and, at least for me, it was the moment of realization that there was possibly no way sighted people would truly understand how I saw things.

I was born with the retinal condition achromatopsia. You probably have never heard of it outside of the few mentions on this blog because it is incredibly rare, affecting roughly 1 in 33,000 people.2 Nowadays there are genetic tests that can aid in diagnosing achromatopsia, but when I was younger the tests were far more complicated. There were signs, of course. As an infant the main one was that I had nystagmus, which is an involuntary movement of the eye and is a common sign of vision loss in children. However, it can occur all on its own and it can even improve with age. My parents were predictably freaked out about it, but their fears were basically brushed aside by doctors. I can’t really fault them on this because these were the same doctors that told my parents my allergy to cow’s milk was a heat rash and so mostly I’m glad my parents didn’t succeed in freezing me to death before that was cleared up.3

Anyway, the years passed and as my father put rather succinctly, “We just thought you were clumsy.” He explained that I could “obviously see stuff” but then I seemed to deliberately walk into the coffee table on almost a daily basis. In his defense, he did cart me around to pretty much every doctor on the planet, though, to this day I’m still not sure if it was my increasingly quirky behavior that spurred him on or his lack of faith in military doctors after the heat rash debacle.

The first six 'ishihara plates' which are circles formed by alternating colored dots It was through this that I became familiar with colorblindness tests like the example of the Ishihara Color Test to the left. I can only assume that lack of understanding about achromatopsia contributed to how often these color perception tests were administered. Otherwise, someone probably would have bothered to explain to me that as I possess absolutely no ability to perceive color it was literally impossible for me to see anything beyond that first plate’s number 12.4 Instead I perused these circles with a same devotion many give to Magic Eye images.5 I forget exactly how I came to understand that I was completely colorblind, but I can assure you that it had nothing to do with these tests.

The other main feature of achromatopsia is that it causes severe light sensitivity. The type of achromatopsia I have is classified as “complete rod monochromacy” and means that the only functioning part of my retina are the rods. Whereas cones function best in bright light, rods saturate at higher light levels. It’s basically the concept of being dazzled by high-beams, except that in my case I don’t have cones to pick up on the visual slack and so instead I’m completely blinded by light. You know how most people loathe going to the dentist? Well that’s basically how I feel about the eye doctor. Part of this is because having my eyes dilated is basically like taking the entire sun and shoving it straight into my eyeball and it seems to take about twice the normal amount of time for the solution’s effects to wear off. But mostly it’s because I have very distinct memories of being subjected to electroretinogram tests. ERGs test the eye’s reaction to natural stimuli, which sounds innocuous when you put it like that. In practice it was more traumatizing and involved sticking me in a dark box and having lights shined straight into my eye for an hour. Really puts that teeth cleaning into perspective now, doesn’t it?

My childhood nightmares aside6 there is one last defining characteristic of achromatopsia: it is incredibly stable. In fact it is so stable that aside from a change to bifocals at about ten, I’m wearing nearly the exact same prescription in my eyeglasses right this moment as I did in the first pair I was given at four. My eye doctor finds this one of the most fascinating things about achromatopsia. Second only to the fact that the retina of an achromat does not appear any different than that of a fully-functioning one. He and I have very different feelings on what is fascinating, but then I wasn’t the one who went to college so I could look in people’s eyes all day.

What’s more, as I’ve detailed before, if I’m in an optimal light situation I can read regular print without the aid of a magnifier. Much like the coffee table, this has caused no small amount of confusion for people throughout my life. It’s difficult to understand unless you fully grasp the anatomy of the eye. In the simplest terms, it’s basically cones that handle distance vision and give clarity and crispness to your sight. Without them, there isn’t so much an absence of these but a substantial drop in both. Meaning that things I can see are in sharp detail, but they need to be relatively — sometimes extremely — close. A person with 20/20 vision looking out at the horizon on a clear day can see for quite a ways, but at some point things start to grow indistinct and they can’t quite make them out. In my case, that line where things grow indistinct is very dependent on the amount of light, but sometimes it’s hardly six inches away. Which is why trying to explain what I can see in terms of visual acuity is like describing a cell phone to Alexander Graham Bell. It sort of gets the point across, but it’s not really the same thing at all.

Recent events have sparked a lot of chatter about the different viewpoints between people who are born blind and those who lose their sight later in life. It’s a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years and actually wrote a paper on for a Psychology class in college. In a lot of ways the two are almost different disabilities because of the different psychological effects they present.7 Where this comes into the sharpest relief for me is in understanding color perception. Being able to perceive color is an ability, but actually identifying colors is something that is taught to you. Our understanding of this has grown lately due to scientific studies that prove animals such as dogs, cats and birds can perceive color and can be taught to appreciate them. Learning colors is one of the very first things we teach our children and because of that knowledge a person with color perception would consider my vision an absence of color, but it’s really not. Unfortunately, there’s no way to really bridge this gap because you can’t really unlearn colors and my understanding of vision would change drastically were I suddenly able to perceive them. When I think about it I can understand how frustrated people in my life must have been in trying to understand my vision. Me? I find the whole thing thoroughly intriguing.

  1. Though it’s more accurate to say that my elementary through high school years were spent feeling disgusted and ashamed of being blind. But that’s a whole other post.
  2. It should be noted that statistics on achromatopsia have not been updated since the 1960s, but using the United States July 2011 census results that works out to less than 9,500 people in a country of an estimated 21.5 million people with “trouble seeing.” I’ve been seeing the same eye doctor, a low vision specialist, since I was four and he’s only ever had one other achromatopsia patient. And aside from people I’ve met via the Internet and through a support group (that was more accurately a list of pen pals), I’ve met one other achromat in my life and it was at a school for the blind.
  3. I’m really not kidding about the freezing me to death thing because they had me naked in my crib with fans blowing on me and the thermostat set to 55°. I ended up being properly diagnosed on the fly by a pediatrician on a bus who took one glance at me in my mother’s arms and bluntly told my parents: “That baby’s allergic to milk.”
  4. The first plate is a control plate that everyone should see regardless of the level/type of color blindness. I can kind of see the 15 in the sixth plate, but probably because of monitor calibration and the fact that I know it’s supposed to be a 15. The other plates are 8, 29, 5, and 3. If you have red-green color blindness you’ll see different numbers for those five plates.
  5. No, I can’t see those either.
  6. ERGs and colorblindness tests featured heavily in a recurring nightmare I had as a child. Honestly, I try not to think about it.
  7. It’s worth noting that there is something of a controversy over this. Essentially it boils down to the two being different because one is a “worse” type of blindness. Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

An Open Letter to the “Public”

My dearest So-and-so:

I’ll be blunt. This just isn’t working out. And I think we need to start seeing other people. Privately.

Sure, we had some good times. After all it wouldn’t be much of a relationship if we hadn’t had at least a few laughs. I remember that time back in college after that night partying. It was hilarious! In fact, I’m pretty sure we promised not to bring it up ever again. And the point is we just don’t click, you know?

Portrait of me and Uschi on a brown background; Uschi is sitting in front of me with my arms around herWhat it comes down to is, I think, we’re too different. Where I want to be invisible and virtually ignored, you take notice of every little detail and more often than not have to point it out. I mean, seriously, I can’t walk down the street without a comment about my guide dog! All you ever can say is how awesome she is and how she makes you think of your old dog or that you just can’t believe they let a dog wherever it is we happen to be. I get it already, okay? I don’t suppose you’ve considered this, but the truth is there isn’t a person on the face of this Earth who could be more aware of the fact that my partner is amazing. Not a one.

Which perhaps is why you have unrealistic expectations of my guide dog. She’s the pinnacle of perfection in your eyes. Yeah, she has a better work ethic than the both of us combined, but then again she gets to sleep for large chunks of her work day. Forgetting for the moment those times that you mistook her for a wolf, you seem to have trouble grasping the simple fact that she is a dog. When she does things that any normal dog does, it almost seems to offend you. If I didn’t know better I would swear you just didn’t like dogs. Except that seems unlikely given how every conversation we have inevitably ends up being about her in some way. I know I said I wanted to be invisible, but I am quite literally ignored in comparison to the attention you lavish on my companion.

Where things between us truly break down is that you seem to think of my guide dog as community property. You want to talk to her, pet her, feed her . . . basically if it’s a form of distraction, you totally want to do it all the time. What’s more is that it’s my fault when she does get distracted by you. You look at it as if she’s somehow tainted by my ineptness or inherently deficient because of this one moment of weakness. And by the nature of having to correct her for this misdeed, I’m a mean person! Exactly which one of us is the blind one here?

Headshot of Uschi lying on a white backgroundIt’s not just this lack of understanding, though. Basically, I feel smothered by you. I guess it’s flattering that you think I’m just that awesome, but I don’t even think I’m that interesting, Not to mention you’re everywhere I go and are constantly aware of every single thing I do. If I think about it too much it actually creeps me out. I mean, if I wanted Big Brother following me around I’d be vying for a spot on some reality TV show, don’t you think?

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming you for all the failings of our relationship. I’ve basically ignored your very existence and gone about my life as if you weren’t a part of it. In fact, it seems the more I work towards not engaging you the harder you try to get my attention. If the neediness wasn’t enough to drive a wedge between us, you top it off with rudeness and outright hostility! Hardly seems fair when I’m a bit short with you.

So, here’s my proposal: We cut our losses here and go our separate ways. To break it down further, my plan is to continue doing things as I please, going about my life just as I always have and I sincerely hope you do the same. We’re bound to meet face-to-face, though, and so we also agree to be civil, even cordial. You will restrain yourself from being overly friendly with my guide dog and I’ll happily answer any questions you have about her provided I have the time. Oh, and you don’t stalk me. Sound fair?

I await your reply.

Fondly yours,
Me


This post was written as part of the eighth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Marchin’ to Your Own Drum” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

Cottleston Pie

Initially, I set out to write this incredibly serious post about public image and the burden it can present as a guide dog team and I had what you might call writer’s block. I knew where the issue stemmed from and all the points I wanted to highlight and yet I couldn’t get much written beyond the title and a paragraph that I wrote and erased more times than I care to admit. Eventually I decided distance would be beneficial and I promptly began procrastinating on the post for something like a month. This worked out beautifully because when I returned to the post I immediately knew what the issue was: I’m partnered with Uschi now and this is not the issue I think of most readily with her. So, this is not a post about public image, which I may well write one of these days but at present there are 100 other draft posts that are vying for that same opportunity. This is a post about Winnie-the-Pooh.

Portrait of Uschi and me on a white background; Uschi standing on her head in front of meOkay, no it’s not. Though, the title is a reference to A.A. Milne’s character. (Albeit I generally think of The Muppet Show as Rowlf is quite famous for singing it.) Rather this is about how Uschi is not anything remotely close to serious and is far more often times the living embodiment of a “fluffy brain.” If Uschi had a theme song, it would be “Cottleston Pie.” (Mine, if you’re curious, is probably the “Cupcake Song.”) Now let me assure you, she does have quite a lot of brain and I’m almost entirely certain she is not full of stuffing. Nevertheless she has moments where I sincerely debate these things as fact. For visual proof, please note the photographs in this post. They are some of my most favorite shots of her because of how adequately they showcase my goofy partner.

In controlled situations I truly do not mind the fact that my guide dog is less a working assistance dog and more closely resembles the Nutty Professor. And by “controlled” I mean any time I am not working with her in public, entertaining house guests, or trying to get anything that could be loosely categorized as productive done. I’m highly amused by her. I was quite adamant when I retired my previous guide dog that I wanted the school to provide me with her duplicate sans health issues. I’m just as positive that they thought I said this with tongue firmly in cheek and what I actually meant was “I want a dog who can keep pace with me, but is small in stature so as not to overpower me and has personality to spare.” So, that’s what I got.

I’ve seen a fair few handlers that have mellow dogs and most of them seem quite happy with this. Call me a snob if you will, but I don’t get the appeal of mellow dogs. I don’t really know why, but for want of words to fill out this post I’ll postulate that it stems from my childhood. We always had at least one pet dog while I was growing up. Unfortunately, most of those were senior citizens and excepting when they were either actively working at creating awesome amounts of poop or physically generating said poop they were little more than furry space heaters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them to bits, but they were not Frisbee catchers or ball chasers or known for trying to stand on their heads. And if any of them were, I was too young at the time to commit this to memory.

Uschi is also a space heater, but that’s the only similarity with my childhood pets. Even in this she separates herself from the pack because her heat output is such that I’m convinced only the fires of Hades can outperform her. At 70 pounds, she’s a tiny thing as shepherds go and like all things that are packaged in a small way she is inherently good. To Uschi, or so my theory goes, “good” means “excessive amounts of energy” which when witnessed is quite impossible to differentiate from what most functioning brains would define as “crazy.” Sometimes this is exhibited by trotting around the house in a very convincing imitation of a dressage horse. Other times she’ll eschew such formality and instead use the length of my house as a racetrack. My personal favorite is when she is so bursting with excitement that she is only capable of processing that she’s very thirsty and so she flits about the house dribbling the entire contents of her water bowl.

Literally and without a drop of hyperbole, she has the most pronounced difference in demeanor when in and out of harness of any guide dog. Not just my girls, but of any guide I have ever known in my entire life. It’s been a year now and I still find myself shocked and amazed that this wild child of a dog actually has the ability to focus and be calm and, you know, work as a guide dog. Oh, and it’s worth stressing this fact: she’s an excellent guide.

Except for when she’s not.

Uschi on a brown background rolling around on her backThree guesses when that is — and the first two don’t count. Right. That whole “crazy” thing. You see sometimes she just can’t help herself and that goofy personality just slips out. Thankfully, a good number of these times have been situations where I’m mostly embarrassed in front of a friend or family member, like when instead of just getting into my friend’s car she literally hurled herself across me and into his lap! More concerning is when her “fluffy brain” turns the most random things into nothing short of intense distraction. Yesterday for instance she spent no less than five minutes completely entranced by one of the garbage cans in my driveway. She actually lunged at it — and very nearly sent me into cardiac arrest because I had no clue what she was reacting to at first. Granted that’s a random example even for her, but sometimes I swear she’s having an incredibly vivid hallucination while she’s supposed to be, well, guiding me. So far this hasn’t caused me anything but temporary confusion at why we’ve stopped for no reason other than for my partner to sit down and observe some elusive thing only she can see. I almost would prefer her wild and intermittent animal distraction. Actually, no. This is at least mildly entertaining and that day in the park was so very not. I used to say that Dolly had a “fifteen minute or two block rule” that was basically her version of needing a cup of coffee in the morning; she needed those minutes or that length of a walk to actually wake up enough to realize she was not asleep and really working. Uschi, on the other hand, is like a three-year-old in her own imaginary play land and sometimes she forgets that the play land is in her mind and it takes over completely. Last year I used that same description save for that she was a two-year-old . . . I’m not sure how long I can justify her childlike (mis)behavior based on age alone. Especially since I don’t think her actual age has anything whatsoever to do with the inner-workings of her stuffing-filled brain. If I had to give a reason, I would say that while her brain may not actually be full of stuff and fluff, it has a specific capacity to hold information that is only rivaled by its ability to be completely overwhelmed by, for lack of a better word, fun. Essentially, she gets carried away with herself and no amount of discipline and obedience is able to fully overcome it.

Let me assuage your fears: her bouts of absentmindedness during work are infrequent. Though, I’m torn between mind-numbing paranoia that one day she’ll fully commit to her Mr. Hyde side and havoc beyond imagining will ensue. However, she is not only almost always spot on when in harness, but she’s shown an amazing ability to stay on her job when other crazy things have happened, like a cat spazzing out on her in a bookstore. So, while the potential exists that she’s going to royally embarrass me in front of more than a few close friends, I’m not wary of her ability to keep me safe even if she is possibly certifiable. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, she proves on a daily basis to be tons more entertaining than my television was all of last year.


This post was written as part of the sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Obstacles” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #5: Achievement

Hello and welcome to the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! This edition is all about achievement.

Assistance Dog Blog CarnivalThere are several definitions for achievement, but I think my favorite is “a great or heroic deed.” To me that really defines an assistance dog. Great or small as the accomplishment or task might be, every single day of their lives these amazing dogs showcase their superior ability. Seeing as a definition alone can hardly encompass how profoundly these dogs influence our lives, I’ll let the posts speak for themselves.

Achieving Independence
One of the greatest advantages that an assistance dog partnership brings to a handler is independence. So it’s not surprising that this would be one of the most common topics that participants wrote about. By My Side‘s Katrin blogs about “The Achievement of Independence” through the different roles she has played with her two guide/service dogs. She states: “With the sense of confidence in myself and my own skills, entering into a partnership with Tom has been [successful] and rich in ways that my partnership with James had never been.”

Torie of The Average Blog by an Average Blogger writes about her journey to “Achieving independence” through her partnership with her guide dog. She sums everything up by writing about how her life has changed and notes that while some might not view it as much, she feels strongly that it wouldn’t have been possible without her assistance dog.

At My Life as a Blind Person, Michelle also writes about gaining greater independence through obtaining and being partnered with her guide dog in her post “Achievements.” She stresses how this achievement is complex in that it has layers built into it that are themselves achievements.

And Karyn from Through a Guide’s Eyes discusses the “independence [she has] gained by the massive achievement of training [her] dogs with all the naysayers out there” in her post “The Border Collie Boys” highlighting the specifics of training her service dogs and the lessons imparted from it.

The Journey
Sometimes it’s the journey itself that is the achievement as Carin, of Vomit Comet, states: “Some people don’t understand what all goes into working with a guide dog. They don’t get the concept that the team’s learning doesn’t stop when they leave training. But truly, the life of a team is a great big string of achievements.” Her post “Figuring Each Other Out is an Achievement” further details the nuances of a guide dog partnership that require time and effort to explore and fully understand.

In “A Puppy Raiser’s Achievement” at Plays with Puppies, Patti details the steps in preparing a puppy for his potential career as a guide dog. Or, more accurately, how she goes about her goal “to raise a puppy that is ready to take on the next step” by achieving the established standards outlined by Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Cait also writes about her goals, noting the progress she and her potential service-dog-in-training, Jack, are making and the sense of accomplishment that brings with it in her post “Deep Thinking” over at Dogstar Academy.

At Ruled by Paws, Brooke outlines the path that led to her having the confidence to raise and train her own service dog in “Achieving the Confidence.” She emphasizes: “I’m hoping Cessna will never stop challenging me to become a better person, and that she will help me teach Rogue how to walk in her shoes.”

Here at Gentle Wit I chronicled the “Trials and Triumphs” of my second guide dog’s health issues. The road itself was none too easy, but “obviously it wasn’t all for naught and we made it through . . . Not that I want to repeat it, but I don’t regret the struggle.”

Achieving Team Balance” by Kimberly of Dog Days of Kimberfus, is also about health struggles. Specifically, she writes about the health issues in her second guide dog, Jack, and how that impacted her initial working relationship with her third guide dog, Abby. It’s an experience that I can personally relate to quite well (see the comments section on her post) and a truly inspiring piece that she happily concludes with: “Abby’s health issues played a part in our team taking longer to gel than I’d like, but hard work and determination on both our parts helped us keep the partnership and our bond intact. By our first team anniversary, we were a smooth tandem, gliding along, two bodies working as one.”

A Story of Hope is a website devoted to the memory of a Hope, a service dog who passed away from cancer in 2010. Her partner, Hopesclan, is currently fundraising to obtain her successor. In her post “When All Seems Lost” she blogs about the state of limbo she has been in and the grief she has dealt with since losing Hope: “I know Hope made me a better person and gave me a chance at a much better life. With her I knew achievement. Where I go from here is a great unknown, but at least I now know the potential my life holds.”

Celebrating Success
Ending on a high note we have some posts that emphasize the accomplishments in an assistance dog partnership! In fact, a notable milestone happened at Dog’s Eye View. In “Achieving Team SuccessLaura marks the one-year anniversary with her second guide dog, Jack, and notes the work that the two have put into maintaining their partnership. Specifically, she writes about how these accomplishments, both big and small, have led her back to “[her] regular life again.”

“I think how much better our partnership has improved is the real achievement here,” remarks Ashley who celebrates the half-year anniversary of her partnership with service dog, Cole, in her lovely post entitled “Six Months and Stronger Than Ever over at The CRPS Girl.

Meanwhile, at Gilbert and Me, Allison reminisces about her initial meeting with her guide dog Gilbert, their graduation day and the beginnings of their partnership together in “Our Journey Begins.”

Milestones aren’t always big events, though as Sharon, of After Gadget, states in her post “Our Recent Public Access Achievements.” She explains: “The achievements that Barnum and I celebrate are not the successes of a graduation or a title. Rather, they are small steps that are leading us — oh, so slowly, it often seems — along the path to a working partnership.”

Likewise, Martha at Believe in Who You Are writes about the accomplishment of her “First Major Trip” with her guide dog. She highlights their incredibly long bus ride to a fairly large convention and their initial work as a team on the streets of St. Louis.

Of course, what would a celebration be without a party? Last, but certainly not least is “Puppy Party,” at Allie’s Antics, where puppy raiser Wendy tells us all about the birthday party that was thrown for the first Guide Dogs of Texas litter of puppies. She’s included a slideshow of photos from the party and they are applicably adorable.

In Conclusion
I would like to thank everyone who helped make this edition of the ADBC a success by contributing posts and taking the time to read the submissions! I’m also extremely grateful for all the assistance I received in promoting the Carnival; it wouldn’t be nearly the success if there wasn’t a way to garner interest in the event itself. I sincerely hope that you all enjoy this edition a fraction as much as I have in organizing it. It was a great honor and a lot of fun!

If you haven’t yet, please take the time to show your appreciation to our many contributors by leaving a comment on their piece. We all might blog first and foremost for ourselves, but it can sometimes feel a bit lonely in the vastness of the Internet. Also, please share this link with others!