I have begun the process of applying for a seeing eye dog. It could be up to a 12 month wait before I receive my guide dog. A lot of work goes into training behind the scenes to ensure the dogs are ready to work. It is very important that the dogs are matched to their owner to aim for a great bond and working relationship. You don’t just receive a dog and be on your merry way, it takes a lot of commitment and hard work.
My application for a seeing eye dog from Seeing Eye Dogs Australia was about a month ago. I was referred to them from Vision Australia and received a phone call to give me more information about what a seeing-eye dog entails and the commitment I will have to give to the dog. I was then sent a bunch of forms to fill out. This included a form for my doctor to fill out and to grant them access to my information. I also needed to send my eye report from the opthalmolgist.
A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from Seeing Eye Dogs Australia to organise an assessment. I was visited by two seeing eye dogs instructors for this assessment. They asked me lots and lots of questions. This was so they could create a picture of the way we live. They asked questions about how much I get out and about by myself, with Archer, my fitness, my goals in returning to work, travelling, leisure activities, about pets we have already and about training. They also gave me lots and lots of information about what it is like to have a guide dog in your home and answered any questions I had. There was so much I didn’t know about guide dogs and I am so excited to share and educate people along this journey.
The instructors came for a walk with me. They took a video of how I walked, how fast I walked and the locations I was likely to go. I also got to hold a harness to get a feel for what it might be like to hold a guide dog. The instructors collated all this information together and took my case back to a meeting with other instructors. I received a phone call this week to say that I was successful in my application and I am now put on the waiting list. I don’t know when I will receive a guide dog. It will be up to a 12 month wait or possibly longer. The fact that I am not fussy on what type of dog I receive, for example if it is a black, brown dog, male or female, Labrador or Retriever. This could speed up the process. They will be looking for a dog that can walk slowly for when I am walking with Archer and can also walk quite quickly for when I am on my own or going for a slow jog. A dog that can do both might take some waiting for.
Once I receive my guide dog, a seeing-eye dog trainer will come and stay in Bendigo for two or three weeks to train with me every day on how to work with my dog. The dog will be matched with me based on my assessment.
Now that I’ve been accepted, I am feeling a little bit less anxious about being out and about. Even though I do have a little bit of vision which is very helpful. I still am very anxious when I am out and about, especially when I have Archer with me. It is important to remember that a seeing-eye dog is not responsible for my safety. At the end of the day when I have to cross the road it is me that makes the call not the dog. They are taught to disobey, however you cannot 100% put all your trust into the dog. A dog is just an aid, just like the long cane. It will help guide me around obstacles that the cane would not pick up otherwise.
Here are a few things I have found out so far:
- When we go away, there are carers that can take in a working dog to care for your dog for the amount of time you are away for. These carers have received some training. A dog cannot go in to a dog boarding kennel when you go away. You can leave the dog with a friend or a family member, however they would have to receive some training from Seeing Eye Dogs Australia.
The dog must sleep indoors. They are trained to sleep in their crate.
- If I need to go interstate the dog can come on the plane with me. I just need to notify the airline that I will have a seeing eye dog on board with me. I will probably be given a seat with extra legroom.
- It is important that I educate people not to pat the dog or feed the dog when it is working. For example, if you feed the dog a chip when it is working if it smells a chip on the side of the road two days later, it can get distracted and veer off the road/path. This could be dangerous. And it is for safety. It is the same when you pat the dog when it is working. It may get distracted and want affection rather than to work. By all means once the coat is off and the dog is just playing at home. It can get as many pats as it likes.
- When going for a family walk with the dog and our pet dog Misha, even though the dog will have its coat on, Misha could distract it – it will probably not be working at its optimum. I will always have to walk the dog on family walks. Cameron will have to take Misha.
- Once the dog needs to retire from work you have the option of keeping the dog for a pet or offering it to family or friends. If this is impossible, Seeing Eye Dogs Australia will rehome them. Knowing my track record with dogs, I will most likely be keep the dog as a pet. I am at bit of a sucker for dogs!
- I will need to go to training days every now and again to make sure the dog is up to scratch and refresh skills.
- The dog will need to be vet checked every six months.