Sometimes members of the public do not understand how to behave when they encounter a person with a guide dog. They do not always know how to treat the handler, or what to do with the dog. The first thing you should remember is that a guide dog is a working dog, not a family pet.
A friend of mine, another Chatham resident, asked me about how I got my guide dog and how people should act. As I answered his questions, I could hear his enthusiasm building. "You should write about this and let other people know," he said.
So I did.
Question: How does one get a guide dog (or dog guide, as some prefer to call them)?
Answer: Getting a guide dog is serious business and requires that an applicant go through a lengthy process of filling out forms, getting letters of reference and going through phone and in-person interviews, all of this to help determine your eligibility. One cannot simply show up at an institute such as The Seeing Eye and ask for a guide dog.
Once one is accepted, there usually follows a waiting period of several months before one is notified about a class date to begin training.
Training usually lasts for about a little under a month. First-time students are continually assessed on how well they acquire and use the skills necessary to traveling with their new partner. For those who already have one dog and need another “successor dog,” training lasts approximately 2.5 weeks.
Question: Do you have to be totally blind to qualify for a guide dog?
Answer: No. Partially-sighted persons whose vision cannot be restored by lenses or surgery can qualify for a dog guide, if they successfully get through the application process and have the necessary skills.
Question: How old does a person have to be in order to qualify for a guide dog?
Answer: One must be ready to assume the responsibility of undergoing the training and that of properly caring for their dog once it arrives. Usually the minimal age requirement is 16.
Our guide dogs have huge responsibilities, those of guiding us well and guiding us safely. In my next article, I will discuss the partnership between a guide dog and a handler.