In December 2012, I was matched with my very first Guide Dog, a black, 18-month-old Labrador named Ben.
This was really exciting for me as I had been on the waiting list for more than 18 months, and I was actually starting to wonder if I would ever get that long awaited phone call telling me that a match had been found.
I have been vision impaired since birth, and had used a long cane to get around for more than half my life at that point. I knew from talking to friends with Guide Dogs that the experience of walking with a Guide Dog was markedly different from using a long cane. I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead of me, but I had had the feeling all the hard work would be worth it in the end.
I started training with Benin January of 2013. Our training ended up lasting for two months, and was far more intense and demanding than I ever imagined. For the first few weeks I was more exhausted, both physically and emotionally, than I could ever remember being before in my life. There were definitely times when I wondered if I had made the right decision getting a Guide Dog and if we’d ever get to the point where we could work well as a team.
Things eventually fell into place for us, and before I knew it, I was exploring new places and having new adventures, all with Ben at my side.
The one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve had Ben is the sense of freedom I have now. As a long cane user, I was never very confident, and as a result, found traveling to new places very difficult. I would often get anxious at the thought of having to go somewhere I’d never been before.
With Ben beside me, I found that new places were no longer scary, and, in fact, Ben preferred to work in new places, rather than the same old ones every day. Over time, I noticed my confidence and independence increasing. I was moving around easily and confidently, and loving it.
Unfortunately, this sense of freedom and independence was dampened slightly the first time I was refused entry to a cafe because of Ben. I was told that I couldn’t bring a dog inside, and when I explained he was a Guide Dog, I was met with confusion. The member of staff I was speaking to clearly had no idea what a Guide Dog was, or that it’s against the law to deny them entry into public places such as restaurants and cafes. I was eventually able to convince her that Ben was allowed inside, but the entire incident left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt as though I had to justify my reason for wanting to be there, instead of just being able to sit down and enjoy a meal like any other member of the public.