A lot of people have asked me what it was like to apply for a guide dog. The process goes a little something like this:
Applying for a guide dog was extremely nerve-racking for me. The first part of the application process was easy: name, date of birth, email address, amount of sight, cause of blindness, travel environment. The second part wasn’t too terribly scary either. It was just a phone interview. They asked me to elaborate on where I travel and how frequently, and what my home/work/school environment was like. Are there lighted intersections? How many? Are there a lot of residential street crossings? How many miles do you walk per day?Although those parts were not too difficult, I still felt so much relief when I made it to the next step.
This next step was the one that kept me up at night. It was a home visit. For this part, a representative from the school came to observe my travel skills, my environment, and even my personality. I wasn’t nervous because I had little confidence in my abilities. I was nervous because there was going to be someone following me and watching my every move. I get very self conscious when people watch me. It makes me nervous, and then I make mistakes that I wouldn’t typically make.
When the day finally came for the representative to observe me, I was unbelievably nervous and panicked. I felt like it was an audition for a musical or something. I think I was more nervous for this than I was my college auditions. He arrived at my dorm building, as the interview was taking place at school. After talking for a while, the person from the school finally said, “Okay Gabriella, where would you like to take me today?” So many thoughts went through my mind in that moment. I knew the answer earlier. Why can’t I think of it? What will best represent my travel skills? What if I give him the wrong answer? Stop it! There’s no wrong answer. Its not a test. What if it is a test? I remember! “How about the library? There’s a lighted intersection.” And we were off.
We conversed as we walked, and my nerves calmed a little. I could do this. Of course things still went wrong. I crossed a street very crookedly. I crossed that street every day and never had a problem. But I did not cross it correctly that day. He was very understanding though. I backtracked and redid the crossing. Everything else went quite well.
After I showed him my route, we did something called a Juno walk. A juno walk is when an instructor holds the part of the harness that would typically be on the guide dog, while a student holds the other end. It’s purpose is to simulate what it would be like to work with a guide dog. Don’t worry, no one pretends to be a dog, thank goodness. I actually was a little embarrassed by it. He took my cane and we proceeded to walk, each holding our respective harness ends. I had to act as if I were with a real dog. This was so that I could experience what it was like to command, direct and praise a guide dog. Saying things such as, “Forward!”
“Left!” “Right!” And, “Good boy!” I can only imagine what students thought when they passed us.
Finally, the juno walk was over. We talked a while about when the best time would be for me to come in to training. He then told me that he would be recommending me for training some time after school let out for summer. I did not know how nervous I was until that moment. I felt so much relief that I had made it. There was one more part of the application process, but I was not worried. The next part required me to submit forms from my doctors to confirm that I was healthy. After that, my application would go to a final committee, that would decide my fate.
And finally, about eight weeks later, I found out that I was accepted. I will leave on May 17, and return on June first with my new partner. I couldn’t be more excited if I met Ellen DeGeneres… well probably.
I will leave you with this question: Do you think that you could have a dog with you at all times and resist the temptation to pet it and hug it? That is exactly what I will have to do. But don’t worry, when my guide dog is not working, it gets to be a dog, and then I can pet it and play with