Episode 8: Decision Day
After a half-year of being the “big brother” to a pack of seven CNIB guide dog trainees and being part of their formation and training as reliable guide dogs, it was finally time for me to put my “blind guy” hat back on.
I needed a guide dog. It was my hope that one of the seven dogs I had been working with would be suitable as my next set of eyes on the world. I understood the choice of which dog would best suit my needs was not going to be taken alone. There were lots of times when Andrew, Karen, and I discussed the merits of each dog, but at this point I just wanted my next guide dog and as far as I was concerned, they all seemed great.
Of course, I had my favourites. Even before I met the dogs, people had started dropping hints about which one they thought would be the perfect dog for me. Each of the seven dogs had been living with foster families for the first year of their lives, and so the CNIB officials had gathered a lot of information about each of them. It was all I could do to not build up my expectations of the guide dog trainees.
This is how my decision process worked. My first choice was Sherman, and when I mean first choice, I mean that this is the dog that I initially thought would be the best one for me. Strong, large, confident, and, so I’m told, quite good looking.
I don’t know at what point this may have changed, but in time, I switched to Sherman’s littermate, Dunstan.
Now Dunstan is everything Sherman that is, but a bit taller and lankier. He is also just a bit more laid-back in nature. Where Sherman has that “go for it” personality, Dunstan has more of a wait-and-see approach to life. That makes him kind of like me, able to wait it out for a fish to bite without feeling I have to be doing something all the time.
But then, somewhere Between Sherman and Dunstan, was Vincent. Vincent is the littermate to Lewis. Both are Lab/Golden Retriever mixes, and both are all black. Something to be said for black dogs, they just look so cool. It was when we were ice fishing together that Vincent captured my heart.
He was interested in looking down into the fishing holes, and up into the sky to watch the drone. There was nothing this dog missed. His is a true hunter’s instinct. I’ve had dogs with a strong hunter’s trait before, and I knew I could keep it under control, while at the same time, benefit from his keen observation skills.
Just when I thought things were settled, Andrew told me that Vincent had been removed from the program. I was so disappointed especially as I never found out exactly what happened, but I could just imagine Vincent coming home with a squirrel in his mouth.
So it’s Daisy? She was never a really strong contender due to her diminutive size. A beautiful dog with a wonderful warm personality, but if she only had another four inches of height at her shoulder, I would have fallen in love for sure.
Marion too is a wonderful dog. Again though, she’s a bit too delicate for me. Nothing can crush a dog’s confidence easier than constantly struggling to turn or stop a 200 pound, 6-foot 3-inch man. She sensitive enough without having to deal with trying to guide someone of my size. She does have those beautiful brindle-flecked legs, and on a black dog with the brown flecking, that sure is a head-turner.
I mustn’t forget Piper. He impressed me so much on the cross-country ski trail that day. What a responsive and strong Golden Retriever! He wasn’t the biggest dog in the group but I think I’m sensitive enough to listen to what he was trying to tell me without causing him undue stress. I know he would have been a great fit for sure.
And there’s Lewis, even though I was always a bit indifferent about him during the outdoor adventure activities. He just seemed so young. I kept thinking he was still a puppy. And you know what? He still is. But I know now that this is his personality. Lewis just loves to make people laugh. Whether it’s his ear kisses or toe nips, or the way he’ll perform a headstand to get your attention, it’s all quite delightful. He really knows how to put a smile on my face, and it’s the same with the rest of my family.
To everyone’s surprise, I think, it was Lewis that leaped from the CNIB van and straight into my heart.
It’s hard to express how very nice it is to have a guide dog again. But of course, this is just the start of the story. Now we have to actually learn to work together as a team. The trial and error phase is over. Fun and games aside, its now time to get down to the serious business of guiding. This means it’s going to be all city work for the next few weeks.
Lewis is going to have to work hard as I slowly build up the pressure by increasing the difficulty level of each day’s adventure until Lewis’s trainer feels we have reached the point where Andrew and Karen can finally assess our skill level and determine that we meet the standards set out for certification as a guide dog team.
But, before any of this can happen, I need a harness for Lewis please…