I take the bus to and from work every day, and have done for the majority of my working life. Even when I wasn’t working, the bus has always been my primary means of transportation to job interviews, to get books at the library, to meet friends for coffee, to go shopping, you get the idea. For the most part, I’ve had good experiences on the bus, but sometimes… not so much. The bus is full of interesting people – both fascinating and otherwise – and I get many reactions from many different people. I’ve been told in a sickly sweet yet loud voice how sorry someone is because I can’t see, apologies from someone stepping on my guide dog’s paws because she likes to stick them out in the aisle, and the evver-present questions about how I live my life and could possibly be happy as someone who can’t see.
One comment I got yesterday really got my hackles up. Perhaps because it was just an exhausting day, but I got pretty prickly when a man got on the bus, he saw my guide dog, and said something to the effect of, “Such a cute dog; he’s your best friend!” Someone might say that, well, a dog IS a man’s best friend, but it wasn’t said like that; it was said like my dog is MY best friend. I tried to correct him by saying something like “Well, she is a wonderful dog, but my best friends are people,” and he came back with “no, no, no, she is your best friend because she is your eyes!”
At that point, I gave up. There’s no point in trying to change someone’s perception of what my life is like, or what my dog does for me. Sure, Jenny is a super-smart dog (as evidenced today by her super awesome problem-solving skills contrasted with a HUGE sniffing/distracted tendency), who gives the best snuggles a girl could ask for; she’s kept me safe from oncoming cars, kept me going in a straight line or angled me to a corner when I thought I knew better, guided me through the crazy streets and sidewalks of New York City alone and with my husband, and taught me more than I ever wanted to know about my own perceptions as a blind traveler. I owe her a tremendous debt, but she is a dog, not a person, and my best friends are people. Wonderful, whitty, sarcastic, moody, flawed people. Jenny cannot drink a cup of coffee with me at 4:00 AM when I’ve had a bad day and can’t sleep. She can’t wax eloquent on the economy, literature, politics, religion or technology when I feel like having a profound conversation. She can’t call or text me and allow me to serve her when she’s struggling due to some severe medical concerns. She can’t verbally smack me upside the head when I do or say something totally outlandish (that’s when running me in to poles comes in to play).
I love my dog – I truly do – but when it comes right down to it, we are different species. We rely on each other in many ways more special than I can say. But when it comes right down to it, she does have her limitations. She will never be a human being, and those flawed beautiful creatures are my best friends.