Just under one year ago, a little black Labrador retriever came running, barking, and snuggling into my life. I remember the first week like it was yesterday, worrying whether we’d bond, and trying to convince her that the cats didn’t necessarily want to be friends with a little spaz bucket. Since then, she has enhanced my life and added complicated dimensions that I never saw coming (see this blog post). Since she goes pretty much everywhere with me, I figured I would introduce you to her.
Whenever I talk to someone about their guide dog, especially a new one, I ask these three questions:
1) What does your guide dog do exceptionally well?
2) What is a bad habit that drives you crazy about them?
3( What is something cute or adorable that they do that always makes you smile?
I ask these questions because I want new guide dog handlers to remember that the first year, though hard, does have redeeming qualities. Their dog has good traits and weaknesses, like all people, and is neither the canine with a halo that the media likes to portray nor the little demon from hell that a bad day will make a new handler feel sometimes. So let me answer the questions:
1) What is one thing Jenny does well? Jenny can find an escalator at a hundred paces. She loves to find them, and will almost always wag her tail when she finds one. If I tell her to find me an escalator and she takes me to the steps, I know that the escalator is not working or is blocked off. Given a choice, she will find the escalator every time.\
She has also figured out that, in the absence of an escalator, an elevator is a happy place and a viable option to get from one floor to another. With a cane, I always found finding stairs, elevators, and escalators a challenge; with only one or two exceptions over the past year, Jenny has nailed this, most notably going through a crowded mall food court to get to the elevator with only one brief detour to Starbucks (she has good taste).
2) Her bad habit that drives me crazy? She is a scrounger! She likes to pick up random food off the ground… I had NO clue how much food gets tossed on the ground until I got Jenny girl. We do work on this regularly, and it is getting better, but like all things it is something to monitor.
3) Cute thing she does? There are so many! I would have to say that she loves to play. At home she’s always up to grabbing her toys or bones and showing them off. At the offleash park, she will hoard her toys and even steal another dog’s toys! Most people think it’s OK because she’s so darn cute when she does it.
A bit about guide dog etiquette here: I fully appreciate when people ask if they can pet Jenny. I almost always say no, because for some reason I will never understand, people seem to have radar and ask this on a day when I’m pressed for time or Jenny has been super distracted. Guide dog handlers generally do not say no because we purposefully want to be jerks; in fact, sometimes the opposite is true. I felt like the biggest jerk in the world a few weeks ago in Dollarama when a little kid reached out to pet Jenny. I said as kindly as I could that it was very very important that he not reach out and pet her because she has an important job to do, and that it is not a good idea to pet dogs he doesn’t know.
The first year with a guide dog has been both rewarding and challenging. Jenny has allayed my worries about bonding with me; at least once a week on the bus I get a comment like “She is just so fixated on everything you do!”
And as for the cats… Here’s a cute picture of Jenny girl and her kitty friend, Dash, sharing the kitty bed!