As a blind person people ask me this question often, “Empish, why don’t you have a guide dog?” Followed up by more inquiries of, “wouldn’t a guide dog be better to use than a white cane?” and “Wouldn’t a guide dog provide companionship and protection?” These are fair and valid questions. I answer them by explaining that when considering a guide dog, a blind person needs to really think it through and be sure it is the very best option. There is time, energy and training to contemplate. Plus, one must look at their home and work environment to be sure that a guide dog would fit in that space. Another thing to consider is one’s overall physical and mental health. This is by no means a negative post on guide dog use but an honest and thoughtful approach to my reasons why; and in recognition of National Guide Dog Awareness Month.
The main reason I don’t have a guide dog is very basic-I don’t care for animals that much. Although I grew up with a dog as a pet when I was a child, having a guide dog is a totally different situation. I realized that after losing my vision I was no longer interested in animals. See, my hands are my eyes. Constantly touching something furry and living in addition to other surfaces was too much. Being mindful of my hands and keeping them clean was a lot to think about.
Additionally, I learned that a guide dog is a “working animal” and not a pet. Since that is the case, I knew that my lifestyle didn’t fit. Most of the day I am sitting in front of a computer working and not out and about. When I do get out, I am in a car or taking public transportation. So, this leaves little opportunity for a dog to get needed exercise and physical activity. This is important so that the dog’s weight is regulated.
In order to get a guide dog, there are weeks of training involved. Following a special diet, feeding schedule and daily grooming that must be done. And of course, that all-time favorite activity-picking up the poop!
Although guide dogs are covered under the ADA people that use them still struggle with their acceptance. I have had friends share about challenges entering buildings, restaurants, hotels, and Uber/Lyft cars. Listening to their stories I quickly understood that I would have to be a fierce advocate for using a guide dog too. since I am already advocating for so many other things, I just couldn’t see adding another thing to the list. The thought of it was overwhelming to me.
So, after doing my research on guide dogs, I decided this was not a feasible option for me. I knew the work involved and I was just not interested and didn’t want to do it. Still people around me would encourage me to reconsider. But it is about knowing who you are as a person and knowing what you can take on in your life. It is about not allowing yourself to be pressured into a decision that you don’t feel comfortable with even though society, friends or family says it is a good thing for you. At the end of the day you will be the one solely responsible. You really have to take all these factors into play and be sure it is really what you want and desire.
Now don’t get me wrong, a guide dog can be an excellent mobility aid. My friends that have a dog share about the benefits of increase socialization, companionship, mobility and well-being. But using one is a personal decision not a requirement for blindness. I hope that my transparency has help you to understand more about why I don’t have a guide dog.