September 5, 2023

The decision to become a guide dog user is very individual and it’s not for every blind or visually impaired person. Dogs come with a lot of responsibilities and need to be worked on a regular basis to keep up their skills. They have to relieve themselves regularly, they shed, they drool, they need to be groomed and their care can be very expensive. For me though, the benefits far outweigh the responsibilities.

I have been legally blind since birth, with my vision gradually decreasing over time. I did not start using a white cane until I was 20. It was hard to admit that I needed a white cane for my own safety. But I also knew that I needed good orientation and mobility skills because it was no longer safe for me to travel without some type of mobility aid. But, who am I kidding? The main reason I started to use a cane was because I knew it was necessary in order to qualify for a guide dog. At the age of 23, I received my first guide dog, a black Labrador retriever named Pascal. He showed me what it felt like to confidently travel independently. The first time you pick up your guide dog’s harness and tell them to go “forward” it’s such a wonderful feeling – it’s so amazing and indescribable. Even after 14 years and three guide dogs (Pascal, Mambo and now Martin) I am still amazed! I have regained the freedom and self-confidence that I had in my youth. I feel as though guide dog travel is comparable to a teenager who just gets their driver’s license. It brings a lot of freedom and independence. They can now soar along the open roads, and never look back.

I feel safer knowing that I have an extra pair of eyes watching out for me; my dog can show me upcoming obstacles and protect us from traffic encounters. With my dog, I am never alone, so I am not afraid to explore new areas and worry less about getting lost. I don’t have to constantly stare down at the ground when walking; worried about tripping on curbs, stairs, trash cans and other obstacles. I can take a walk on a nature trail and enjoy my surroundings more. I no longer constantly worry about the unknown, as I know my guide dog will keep me safe.

Generally, guide dogs are a great conversation starter, they can help bridge the gap in communication between all of us. People can learn more about the guide dog, as well as, their blind handler. Conversations about my dogs have helped open doors to better communication and new friendships. My guide dog makes me feel more welcome and involved in the community.

I feel that guide dog travel is smoother and more graceful for me; I can hold my head high and live life to the fullest!

A cane helps me travel safely, but having a guide dog makes the journey fun!

-Deanna Lewis, Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired Bindery Associate

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