38, No. 9 October
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 38, No. 9 October 1995
REFLECTIONS ON TRAVEL, INDEPENDENCE,
by Kenneth Jernigan
FUNDRAISING MATERIAL FROM THE GUIDE DOG FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND, INC.
THE PROBLEMS PEOPLE ARE
AFRAID TO DISCUSS
by Doug Elliott
BILL ISAACS RESPONDS TO DOUG ELLIOTT
PAUL GABIAS RESPONDS TO DOUG ELLIOTT
ON CANES, CANINES, AND THE
by Ed and Toni Eames
GUIDE DOGS AND NFB CONVENTIONS
by Bill J. Isaacs
AN OPEN LETTER TO PAUL GABIAS
AND BILL ISAACS
by Doug Elliott
BATTLE OF THE DOGS, OR GOTTA
QUIT KICKIN' MY DOG AROUND
by Dr. Elizabeth J. Browne
THE NATURE OF THE CHOICE
by Floyd Matson
THE TRUE NATURE OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
by Scott LaBarre
REFLECTIONS ON INDEPENDENCE AND MY DOG GUIDE
by Richard Fox
INDEPENDENCE AND DOGS
by Ramona Walhof
WHY I USE A GUIDE DOG
by Ed Meskys
ABOUT THE GUIDE DOG ISSUE
by Diane McGeorge
DOG GUIDE AGREEMENT?
by Eugenia Firth
PERSPECTIVES ON DOG GUIDES
by Bill Reif
WHERE IS THE MAGIC?
by Steve Benson
DOGS TOURING BREWERY
by Paul Gabias
PRINCE, A DOG'S TALE
by Bill J. Isaacs
IN SEARCH OF INDEPENDENT
by Gary Wunder
Copyright 1995 National Federation of the Blind
by Kenneth Jernigan
As will be seen from the table of contents, this month's Monitor is taken up entirely with questions concerning mobility--and, for the most part, questions concerning guide dogs and canes. Very rarely do we devote an entire issue of the Monitor to a single topic. When we do, the subject has to merit it, and this one does.
In fact, it is of such lively and current interest that I have come out of mothballs to resume the editor's chair to deal with it. I hasten to add that I am here for only one month and that I may never do it again. On the other hand, of course, I might--but certainly not very often.
It is not that Barbara Pierce has come short as Editor. Far from it. She has done, and continues to do, an excellent job; but as Federationists know, I often find myself (some say I like it) dealing with touchy issues. Perhaps that would be sufficient explanation for my brief return to the Editor's chair, or maybe the reason is that so many Federationists have talked with me about the subject of canes and dogs that I want to bring the opinions together into a meaningful picture. Regardless of the reason, here I am in the Editor's chair again--so let's get to it and talk about the subject at hand.
You will observe that this issue of the Monitor contains twenty-one articles and that some of them are lengthy. This follows our long-standing practice of letting the needs of the subject decide the number of pages instead of the other way around. No question that we have ever discussed has had more far-reaching and subtle implications than this one, and none has ever been more emotionally charged or more likely to cause controversy. Therefore, we are printing every article we have received, and with very little editing. I profoundly disagree with some of the views expressed, and I have mixed feelings about others--but I have included them all. The reason is simple. We are not just talking about methods of travel but about basic philosophy. Moreover, even though we didn't plan it that way, we have, by discussing this issue in these circumstances, arrived at a crossroads in our organization's development. Whatever the appearance or trappings, we are not here just (or even primarily) talking about canes and dogs. We are considering self-image, concepts of independence, equal participation in society, and the very notion of first-class citizenship.
The timeliness and importance of this topic can be seen from the range and number of people who have written about it for this issue of the Monitor. They come from every part of the country and every level of the Federation. There are National Board Members, presidents of divisions, state presidents, former state presidents, state and local officers, and rank-and-file members. There are college professors, writers, people working in various professions and callings, and those who have moved from one job to another. Ordinarily we give biographical and other identifying data about our authors, but in the present case we are changing the rule. The authors are identified only by name and by what they say, nothing more. Whether you know some or all of them shouldn't matter. What they say is what counts, not who they are or what credentials they have.
Although these authors are writing individually, they are doing much more than that. They are representing differing shades of Federation opinion, widely held views. Each of them in his or her own way is an archetype, not just a person. Each contributes to the final blend and the ultimate premise. This is the Federation in symposium--speaking with its collective voice: to the world at large, to the rest of the blindness community, to each other, and to itself. And when the day is done, the body of the Federation (the great rank and file of the membership) will give the decision. The decision will not be formally made or reduced to writing, but it will be nonetheless far-reaching and determinative. It will be manifest in mind and heart, in act and deed. This is the monumental task we have set for ourselves--to sort out our feelings about mobility and self-worth and to test those feelings against our philosophy--to decide what we believe, what we want to do, and how we should do it.
Before I talk about my own views about mobility, I have to clear up a misunderstanding. In his first article (he has three in this issue) Bill Isaacs says: "I have heard Dr. Jernigan say that the model blind person is the person who uses a white cane." I don't remember saying this, and certainly it does not represent my opinion. I don't know that there is a "model blind person" since each of us is an individual with hundreds of characteristics. My views about travel are more complicated than that alleged statement implies.
As I see it, there are seven ways in which a blind person may deal with travel:
1. Don't do it at all
2. Use a cane
3. Use a dog
4. Use a sighted person's arm
5. Use one or another of the new electronic devices that are being developed
6. Travel without using any of the foregoing methods
7. Use a combination of the foregoing methods
Each of these approaches has both advantages and drawbacks. In fact, any form of travel by anybody (blind and sighted alike) poses problems. If the sighted person wants to go from New York to California, or even three blocks down the street, he or she faces inconvenience--the expense of buying a ticket, the time spent, traffic noise, weather conditions, and disruption of schedule. The fact that we don't think of it that way shows how universal the problem is. Most of us don't spend much time thinking about dying either, but it certainly is an inconvenience.
As to the blind, there are added problems in travel. The most convenient way to do it, of course, would be to have perfect eyesight, but for most of us that is impossible. Therefore, we find alternative techniques, and manage quite nicely--but this does not mean that we should pretend that sight would not be helpful. It would.
Let me move to the next level of the subject and discuss the seven methods of dealing with travel that I have identified:
1. Don't do it at all. Some people try as hard as they can to follow this practice, but it is the least effective way to handle the matter. I can think of no advantages to it. It isn't even safe, and you certainly can't claim that it doesn't inconvenience others. Forget it. It won't work.
2. Use a cane. It has both advantages and disadvantages. (Incidentally, when I use the word "advantage," I don't necessarily mean perfect but simply better than something else.) When you are walking somewhere using a cane, low-hanging branches or protruding objects at shoulder-height or above cannot be detected, and you may bump your head. This is a distinct disadvantage. I am told that a guide dog will help you avoid such objects, and certainly an observant sighted person will. The cane has the advantage of being inexpensive, not requiring ongoing maintenance, not causing embarrassment or inconvenience to others, not requiring so much of your time and attention that it becomes a major focus of your emotions and life, and of being a thoroughly workable and efficient travel tool. It cannot tell you where you are going, cannot talk to you, and cannot read signs for you.
3. Use a dog. As I see it, the dog has a few advantages and many disadvantages, some so overwhelming as to create almost insurmountable obstacles to equal participation and first-class citizenship in society. As I have already said, the dog can help you avoid overhanging objects. When you are crossing a large and unfamiliar room, the dog may be able to help you find a door on the other side more quickly than a cane, and it may help you retrace your steps on a familiar route more easily than a cane--or (depending on the person and the circumstances) it may not.
As to the claim that the guide dog allows the blind person to walk more quickly than if he or she were using a cane, my observation is that this is generally not the case. Sometimes yes--sometimes no. It depends on the person, the dog, and the length of the cane. With respect to the notion that the dog is a social "ice breaker," that it provides companionship, and that it meets emotional needs, I find these to be distinct disadvantages, not pluses.
But the real disadvantage in using a dog is the inconvenience and expense it causes to others. If you use a cane, you may travel poorly or well, but you are not harming or causing expense to your friends and associates. This cannot be said of the dog. There is no way that the dog user can help causing problems to other people.
Since the dog user's friends and even chance acquaintances engage in an unspoken conspiracy of silence (no, worse--effusive lies) to save the dog user's feelings, I am convinced that almost no dog user fully understands the social consequences of using a dog--the discomfort to others, the damaged property, and the feelings of pity. Let me give you an example.
I have firsthand knowledge of a situation in which a blind person using a dog visited the home of a close friend, where there were highly polished wooden floors. The dog's toenails caused deep scratches, and the floors had to be refinished at a cost of several hundred dollars. The dog user was never told by his friend, nor did the friend let others know or complain. Yet, consider the implications.
I hope that no one reading this will try to duck the issue by suggesting that what I have said didn't happen. It did. I also hope that no one will say that the homeowner in question doesn't like dogs or doesn't like the person who used the dog. Neither is the truth. In fact, the homeowner is extremely fond of the dog user, was more concerned that the dog user might learn of the situation and be embarrassed than that the floors had to be refinished at considerable cost, and would undoubtedly have vehemently denied that the situation occurred if cornered and questioned about it.
Here is another instance. At a recent NFB convention, a guide-dog user was sitting at a table near the platform during the banquet. He is competent and controls his dog well, but the dog (whether because of the stress of the crowd, or for some other reason) became sick just as the banquet was getting started. The people at the table had to get up; the table had to be moved; the smell, as it mingled with the odor of the banquet food, was (to use the mildest possible term) unappetizing; and everybody in the vicinity was, to say the least, inconvenienced. Even if one assumes (and this is certainly debatable) that the dog enabled the blind person to travel more efficiently than a cane would have, the question of price and cost/benefit ratio must still be dealt with.
Regardless of what view one may hold, it simply does no good to deny that these situations exist or to deal with them with anger. The problem is complex. It has a life of its own, and the only way to handle it is with kindness and compassion but also with honesty and candor. It is not just the dog user or the cane user who is affected. All of us are.
There is still more. As indicated in the article by Ed and Toni Eames, the blind person who uses a dog chooses (whether knowingly or not) to take on fights and overcome obstacles which would not otherwise be encountered. Jobs are harder to get; restaurants object; and various businesses and places of entertainment don't want to permit the dog to enter. The list is endless. As I see it, I am forced to take on the battles necessitated by my blindness. Otherwise, I will be denied the rights of full citizenship and equal participation in society. But I do not have to take on the extra battles and controversies occasioned by using a dog since I can easily avoid them by using another travel method--one that I think is superior in the first place. I don't see any point in fighting just because I can, or for the abstract principle or pleasure of it.
Some of the arguments made by the advocates of guide-dog use strike me as unpersuasive. Consider, for instance, the letter (reprinted later in this issue) by Paul Gabias to the brewery. In it he says as an argument as to why the brewery should not exclude guide dogs from touring its facilities:
A couple of weeks ago, my two-year-old son threw up all over me and the restaurant booth. Do we exclude children from restaurants because of these occasional misadventures? No, we certainly do not because we are not willing to endure the price of excluding our children. As a society, we are more than willing to deal with the occasional inconveniences posed by our children.
I think this is a faulty analogy. Children are humans. Restaurants operate for the benefit of humans and, in fact, cannot exist unless humans visit them. Dogs are not human, and breweries do not exist for dogs. Breweries can exist quite well if no dogs ever visit them--and, for that matter, maybe even if no humans ever visit them for the purpose of taking tours. If we can't avoid it, we are willing to permit our children to vomit on us because they are our children. We are even willing (again, if we can't avoid it) for other people's children to vomit on us occasionally because they are human. But dogs are not human, and most of us (including me) are not willing for a dog to vomit on us.
This brings me to something else. One of the arguments made for using a dog is the centrality which the dog has in the life of its owner, the almost- mystical emotional bond between them. I am personally fond of dogs. I had a dog when I was growing up, and I loved it dearly--but our relationship was not mystical, nor was it the central focus of my life. My dog was a dog, a pet.
While we are on the subject of such things, there is nothing mystical or emotionally satisfying about my cane. It is a straightforward travel tool, and I like it that way. When I want companionship, I prefer to have a choice about it, and to be able to make that choice on an immediate and a changing basis. Sometimes I prefer not to have companionship at all. All of these alternatives are open to me if I use a cane. They are not if I use a dog.
I fully understand and thoroughly respect the fact that others may feel differently, but the mystical and emotional bond with the dog is not for me. I refer to such things as the following comments in the second article by Bill Isaacs. He says:
No matter how close a member of the family or a friend might be to your guide dog, that person cannot possibly understand all the little nuances which pass back and forth between the owner and his dog. Regarding a trip which he took without his dog, he says: By the end of the first week she had stopped eating. By the end of the second week she was becoming ill. By the end of the third week I had to give up my trip and return home early.
While we are on the subject of this second article by Bill Isaacs, let me say that some of his statements about NFB conventions require comment. He says that he has heard that some frustrated dogs have torn up beds at the convention, and he mentions certain accidents which have occurred. He says:
At a recent convention my wife noticed three or four dogs had relieved themselves on the carpet while their owners were in a breakfast line-up.
This is what Bill Isaacs says, and I ask you to think about it carefully. The fact that neither he nor the rest of us finds such a situation absolutely shocking and unacceptable shows, as perhaps nothing else can, how far we have strayed from the reality of present-day society's accepted norms. It is almost unbelievable that anyone would seriously argue that three or four piles of dog mess on the carpet in a breakfast line is anything other than totally intolerable, something that would ordinarily occasion strong and immediate corrective action--unless, of course, the perpetrator is regarded with pity and felt to be unable to function as a fully responsible and equal adult.
Let me be perfectly clear about what I am saying. Mr. Isaacs does not sanction this behavior, but he says that it happened and that the dog owners in question may not even have known about it. He goes on to argue that those who bring their dogs to conventions should not have to pay any of the costs of clean-up. If dogs are really like children and if parents are expected to pay for child care, surely the expenses of the dog (which are greater than those of child care) might reasonably be expected to be borne by the owner. In arguing that the hotel should be willing to pay these costs, Mr. Isaacs says:
After all, I would guesstimate that the hotel makes a million dollars or so from one of our conventions. They could afford it.
This is not the way it is. If we use between seven and eight thousand room-nights during an NFB convention (and we do), and if the hotel receives an average of fifty dollars per room-night (usually they get less), this would mean that the hotel would get a maximum of $400,000 from the sale of hotel rooms. From this amount, expenses of maids and other staff, as well as soap and cleaning supplies and laundry and other things, must be deducted. If the hotel gets fifty thousand dollars for the banquet, it must deduct the cost of food and servers and preparation and clean-up. Then there is the question of how much food we buy at the hotel restaurants or from room service or special events. Many people eat most of their meals outside of the hotel. Others eat snacks or bring food from home to eat in their rooms. Many eat on a very low budget when they do buy from the hotel. My best estimates are that we spend not more than $150,000 on food from the hotel. From this amount the hotel must pay the cost of food, the cost of servers, the cost of linen and dishes and silverware, and the cost of clean-up.
I have negotiated our convention contracts with hotels since 1952, and I think I am in a position to know what profit the hotels make. Taking into account all of the costs I have mentioned (plus overhead, mortgages, real-estate taxes, management, security, renovation, new furniture, and other things), I think the hotels often do little better than break even on our business.
The question then arises as to why they do it. The answer is part of the regular argument I use in negotiating. We book our conventions when the hotels have low occupancy. It costs a hotel a great deal of money to be empty. There are ongoing, fixed expenses. If you were a hotel manager, and if I offered you a deal whereby you could fill almost every room but you would lose a dollar a day on each room, would you prefer to do that or to have your hotel more than half empty and lose ten dollars a day on each room? Negotiating for hotels is a game of chicken. If I am negotiating two years prior to a convention, the hotel may get much more profitable business (something closer to its regular rates) if it turns down my offer and waits. On the other hand, if nothing comes, then it would have done better to say yes. The same is true of me. If I do not accept what the hotel offers, I may find something better a little later. But as the time for the convention draws closer, the pressure on me increases. If I misjudge and wait too long, the consequences will be disastrous, not just for me but for everybody else who goes to the convention. Yes, I know what the hotels make, and it isn't a million dollars.
Along this same line, Ed and Toni Eames describe an incident which occurred after our 1993 Convention in Dallas. They were at the airport on their way home. Here is how they tell it:
We ran into one of the Hyatt managers and discussed the hotel's reaction to the presence of a large number of guide dogs. He recalled one or two incidents of dogs defecating in the hotel but indicated the dogs did not create an undue burden for hotel staff. Comparing NFB conventions with those of psychiatrists, surgeons, and some fraternal organizations, the manager said these other groups are much more destructive of hotel property and taxing to hotel personnel. People who spill wine on carpets, smokers who burn holes in furniture, and children who draw pictures on hotel walls are far more of a problem than dogs who have occasional indiscretions on carpets.
This is what Ed and Toni Eames say, and I would respond by asking: What would you expect a hotel manager to say in such circumstances? The convention is over; the Eameses are not negotiating a contract; and of course the hotel manager will make friendly comments and get as much good will as he can. When it comes to the hard-boiled, cold-blooded process of negotiating the next contract, the situation will be different. Do you really think that our people do not spill wine on carpets, burn holes in furniture, or have children who draw pictures on hotel walls? I have no wish to be argumentative, but the time has come when we absolutely must be realistic and stop pretending and playing games.
But enough of this item. Let us go to the next. So far, we have discussed three ways a blind person can deal with travel:
1. Don't do it at all
2. Use a cane
3. Use a dog
So we continue:
4. Use a sighted person's arm. This one is complex. It has distinct advantages if the sighted person is available when wanted, willing, observant, and cooperative--but it also has rather strong disadvantages. Some people regard you as looking helpless and dependent if you are holding the arm of a sighted person. In certain situations this may certainly have an element of truth about it, but I must confess that I have difficulty seeing why you look more dependent being led by a sighted person than by a dog. The blind person who uses a sighted guide on a constant basis is deprived of privacy, and there are times when some of the arguments (but only some) made about the dog can also be made about the sighted guide. The blind person, for instance, may be invited to a meeting or have a conversation when it is inappropriate for the sighted guide to be present--or, for that matter, when the other party distinctly does not want someone else present. This would not apply to a cane, and it would not likely apply to a dog. The dog might not be wanted for other reasons, but not because of matters of privacy. Unless the sighted guide is used sparingly and appropriately, the quality of life for the blind person suffers, and the inconvenience to others (namely, the sighted guide) is considerable.
When a blind person relies on a sighted guide as a primary means of mobility, there will be real problems unless special circumstances exist. What if a sighted guide is not available on a regular basis? What if a sighted guide (even a spouse) is available but unwilling--or (worse) willing but domineering and custodial? In such cases the blind person is likely to be bored, marooned, humiliated, and/or limited in activities. Moreover, in such circumstances the blind person loses at least some status, risks being regarded as an inferior, and is likely to be pitied. If I were to find myself in such circumstances, I would make a strong effort to devise some other way of mobility. I experienced some of this when I was a child, and it isn't pleasant.
5. Use one or another of the new electronic devices that are being developed. The day may come when this will be the preferred technique, but not yet. I have experimented with most of the electronic technology that purports to offer independent mobility to the blind, and I think it is one of the least satisfactory alternatives available. As far as I am concerned, the problem with it is that it won't work. As I have said, maybe the time will come, but meanwhile I will use something else.
6. Travel without using any of the foregoing methods. This is the technique preferred by many blind people who have one degree or another of residual eyesight. Although it was used extensively by totally blind people prior to the 1950's and 60's (I being one of them), it is rapidly falling out of favor--and I think rightly so. If the blind person travels much at all, this method has more danger associated with it than the others I have listed--with, perhaps, the exception of electronic devices. It tends to promote rationalization on the part of blind persons, who tell themselves (and especially others) that they really don't want to go to this place when the truth is that they are afraid they can't get there or that they will be embarrassed in the attempt. Except for blind persons with a good deal of remaining eyesight, I think this is a totally unsatisfactory method of mobility.
7. Use a combination of the foregoing methods. For me this is the one that makes the most sense. I use a combination of cane, sighted person's arm, and no travel aid at all. When I move about my home, in my office, or other restricted areas, I feel no need to use any assistive device. In fact, it would be a hindrance.
When I walk through the halls or other places at the National Center for the Blind, or when I walk alone on the street or in hotels or other such places, I use a cane. When I hold a sighted person's arm, I also use a cane to tell me when I am coming to steps, posts, curbs, or other objects. When I am walking somewhere with a sighted person, I find it easier for both me and my companion if I take an arm instead of just using the cane and walking by the person's side.
Federationists will remember that I summed up my feelings about canes and sighted persons' arms in my speech on the nature of independence at the 1993 NFB Convention in Dallas. Here is one paragraph that I think is particularly pertinent:
. . . I contend that there are times when refusing to take an arm that is offered may constitute the very opposite of independence. If, for instance, you are a blind person accompanying a sighted person through a busy restaurant closely packed with tables and chairs, do you create a better image of independence by trying to get through the maze alone, with the sighted person going in front and constantly calling back, "This way! This way!" or by simply taking the sighted person's arm and going to the table? What is better about following a voice than following an arm?
From what I have said, I presume it is clear which method I favor. Of course, if no arm is conveniently available, you should be prepared to use another method, regardless of how crowded the restaurant or how labyrinthine the path. In either case you should do it without losing your cool. But I'll tell you what alternative is not acceptable in such circumstances--pretending that you don't want anything to eat and not going at all. That's not acceptable.
That is what I said in Dallas in 1993, and those who want an elaboration of my views on the nature of independence can refer to the September/October, 1993, Braille Monitor for the whole speech. Meanwhile, here are the four paragraphs from it that seem most relevant to what we are discussing:
As to travel, independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others. Probably none of us (blind or sighted) ever fully achieves that goal all of the time--and almost all of us achieve at least some of it some of the time. Usually we are on a continuum.
If I could not travel by myself without discomfort or great expense, there are times when it would be a real problem. What about the trip I made to Kansas City in May of this year to meet with local Federationists and speak at a JOB seminar? My wife had other things to do, and it would have been inconvenient to take someone else. I went alone. Did I have any assistance during the trip? Yes. At times--when it was convenient for me and not inconvenient to others.
What about the time last month when I was called for jury duty? It would have been very difficult for a guide to have accompanied me to the jury box or the jury room--so, of course, I went by myself. Does that mean that nobody showed me where the jury box was or gave other assistance? No. It means that I went where I needed to go without inconvenience to me or those around me. That is what I call independence. Just as with the sighted, there are times when you as a blind person want privacy-- want to go somewhere (to see a boyfriend or girlfriend, for instance) without being accompanied by your daily associates, want to buy a present for a friend or a loved one, or just feel like following a whim. In such cases, a dog or a cane is helpful. On the other hand, there are times when the assistance of a sighted person is extremely beneficial.
Taken by itself, the use or lack of use of a sighted guide has very little, if anything at all, to do with real independence. In fact, the whole notion of independence (not just in mobility but also in everything else) involves the concept of doing what you want when you want, and doing it without paying such a heavy price (either monetarily or otherwise) that the thing is hardly worth having once you get it or do it.
That is what I said in Dallas, and that is what I deeply and truly believe. There are different combinations of mobility techniques from those that I use. For example, some blind people prefer to use a combination of dog and cane-- the dog at one time and the cane at another. I know one blind person who says that he got a guide dog because he wanted to do a lot of running for exercise and felt that the dog was superior to the cane for that particular activity. He may well have been right. He went on to say that he felt that the cane was a better form of mobility during almost every other part of his daily routine.
If he truly uses the dog in the limited way that he says, most of the disadvantages I have mentioned would be reduced or eliminated. On the other hand, I wonder what he would do with the dog during the rest of the day--where he would keep it, and what its reactions would be. Ultimately, of course, each of us must make a personal decision as to what technique or combination of techniques we will use, but we should do it responsibly, recognizing that our choices do not just affect us. They affect other blind people as well, and they also affect our sighted associates and chance acquaintances.
The problem is not simple. Neither is the solution. Above all, what I have said must be kept in perspective and seen in proper context. The Federation as an organization and I personally have fought for the rights of guide-dog users, and that will continue. As I have already said, I use a cane. The fact that there are disadvantages to the cane should not mean that I cannot use it if I choose to do so or that my fellow Federationists should not defend my right to do it. The same is true of the use of a sighted person's arm, or of a dog. As I see it, there are real disadvantages to using a dog, but others may see it differently. Regardless of that, we have to be able to discuss our opinions freely, but when the discussion is finished, we must join ranks and defend each other's right to choose--and we must do it with understanding and good will.
It has not been easy to say some of the things I have said in this article because I know they will cause a certain amount of pain and anger. But they need saying. In fact, they have to be said if we are to be honest with ourselves and keep faith with our principles. Moreover, I cannot hide from the issue but must stand up and be counted, regardless of the consequences.
I repeat that what I have said must be seen in context. What is a blind person to do if he or she does not have access to good cane-travel teaching? In that case I might use a dog, but I hope I would recognize the consequences. Suppose no arm of a sighted person is available. Of course, it often isn't. Again, I would do the best I could, and I would hope that other blind people (those who might have had better opportunities) would treat me with respect and not as an inferior. We need to be honest with each other, but we also need to be long on understanding and mutual support and short on criticism. We are brothers and sisters in a movement, and we should act that way. Society has given us a heavy dose of conditioning, and there is not one of us who has fully lived up to our philosophy all of the time.
In this article I have spoken from the heart, with as much sensitivity as I possess. From my fellow Federationists I hope for understanding and rational consideration of the issues. I do not hope for the same treatment from the guide-dog schools. It would be more than human to expect them to treat what I have said dispassionately. The concept of the centrality of the dog in mobility for the blind is the essence of their existence. It means jobs, prestige, and (especially for the volunteer board members) a heavy emotional investment and commitment. They will undoubtedly regard my statements as a personal attack. They are not meant that way.
If we who are blind are to go the rest of the way to independence and equality, we must find our own way and do what we believe is in our best interest. We cannot be primarily what others want us to be and do what others want us to do. We must be and do for ourselves--accepting our responsibility as first-class citizens, working to improve our lives, bearing our share of the common load, and trying to help make the world a better place for all. Yes, this is a hard goal to reach, but the struggle to get there is what makes life worth living. It is the essence of humanity.
From the Editor Emeritus: While we were in the process of deciding whether to run this issue of the Braille Monitor dealing with travel techniques, an interesting and relevant letter appeared on my desk. It came from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind of Smithtown, New York, and it was one of the factors that convinced us that the topic had to be discussed.
Aside from the tear-jerking nature of the letter, it contains such exaggerated claims and overblown implications that it symbolizes one of the major aspects of the problem. Regardless of the need for funds and no matter how important guide dogs may be, they are not the whole focus of a blind person's life. They do not, for instance, make the difference in whether a blind person can go to college, go to graduate school, have a successful career, get married, have a family, get promotions in a job, reach out in compassion to people who are in trouble, make friends, or lead a full life. It is certainly not typical for people who use canes to fall down stairs and risk serious injury because they don't have a guide dog to give them freedom.
If a non-guide-dog organization were to try to raise funds by claiming that the use of a dog would rob blind persons of freedom and endanger their lives, if it said that dogs would keep people away from you but that canes would draw them to you and make friends for you, guide-dog schools and guide-dog users alike would be outraged and vocally furious--and rightly so. Yet, the letter you are about to read does all of these things, and more. Do I misrepresent what it says? Read, and judge for yourself:
Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
Smithtown, New York
March 23, 1995
To Mr. Kenneth Jernigan
The Braille Monitor
Dear Mr. Jernigan:
It's my pleasure to introduce myself to you as the Guide Dog Foundation's new President. My name is Heidi VandeWinckel, and I am blind.
I graduated from the Guide Dog Foundation's training program with my first dog in 1972. I was just thirteen--two years under the usual minimum age for receiving a guide dog.
The Foundation folks weren't sure whether I could handle the responsibility of a guide dog. But I told them I wanted to do more than I could do with a cane. I knew a guide dog would give me freedom. And after the Guide Dog Foundation folks talked with me, they gave me a chance.
I'll always be grateful for that opportunity, because my first guide dog--a male Labrador retriever named Garth--changed my life. With a cane, I couldn't be fully independent. But with Garth, I could do everything I wanted to do.
And with the excellent training Garth and I received from the Guide Dog Foundation, I really went places. To college. To graduate school. And on to a successful career, marriage, and family.
Today, I am a Section Chief in Social Work at a Veterans Administration Hospital. Thanks to the freedom my guide dog gives me, I can move confidently around the Hospital's huge campus. And I can thrive in this demanding profession, reaching out in compassion to veterans undergoing medical and surgical rehabilitation or coping with their own disabilities.
After 22 years and three guide dogs, I know how much I owe my guide dogs--and the Guide Dog Foundation. That's why I was eager to serve as the Foundation's Board of Directors President. It's my way of giving back some of what has been given to me.
Not long ago, I was "between dogs." Frisco, my second guide dog, had retired, and I was waiting for Murphy, my current dog. I was forced to use a cane again, and I fell down a flight of stairs. Fortunately, I wasn't seriously injured. But the fall made me think about the many ways my guide dogs have protected me--without my even knowing it!
That's why it's so important for every blind person who wants a guide dog to have one. For me, a guide dog made the difference between fear and confidence. Between hesitation and courage. (And they're also terrific friends, not just to me but to my husband and my four-year-old son, Drew!)
I'm grateful for all the help you've given the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in the past. Your contributions make the Foundation's vital work possible. Today, won't you consider renewing your support by returning the enclosed contribution form with your generous, tax-deductible gift?
Raising and training guide dogs is an expensive process. But it's worth every penny. And it's especially important that every blind person who wants a dog be matched with one and thoroughly trained. Your gift of $25, $50, $100, or even more will enable us to reach out...to train more dogs...to give the gift of independence, safety, and confidence to others like me.
I know my guide dogs have saved my life in the past. But they've done even more: They've given me freedom. Please help the Guide Dog Foundation continue giving people Second Sightū with your contribution today.
Heidi VandeWinckel, President
Board of Directors
P.S. When you're blind, a cane keeps people away. But dogs draw people to you, they make friends for you, while guiding and protecting, too! Please help the Guide Dog Foundation pay the expenses of raising guide dog puppies and training the dogs and their new masters. Your gift would mean so much! Thank you.
by Doug Elliott
From the Editor Emeritus: Harness Up is the publication of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, which is a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Under date of February 28, 1995, Doug Elliott sent the following article to Bill Isaacs, the Editor of Harness Up, with a copy to Paul Gabias. Here is what he said:
To the Editor:
I have been a dog user for almost ten years and a member of the National Federation of the Blind for seven. Recent talk about dog use, including Divisional (National Association of Guide Dog Users) meetings and the Division's newsletter, have started me thinking. I've got some things to say.
Some people may not agree with what I have to say. That's part of my point in saying these things. The whole topic of dog use has become sacrosanct. We in the Federation insist that agencies speak honestly, and we describe them honestly even when they won't. We cut through blather to the hard core of fact. We talk openly and honestly about blindness even though it makes some people uncomfortable. But we have slowly drifted into a position of not talking openly and honestly about dog use. Every other subject is fair game for straight talk. But if anybody raises doubts or questions about dog use or the approach of the Guide Dog Division, that person is labeled as a dog-hater, an insensitive bigot, or something worse. Well, it's time the Federation's honesty extended to the subject of dog use. So here goes:
1. Role of the Division. The Division is slowly drifting away from the Federation. This isn't intentional, I think. It's an unrecognized consequence of choices made by Division members. The choices over the past several years have been very strongly toward advocacy of dog use. You may say: What's wrong with that? One thing that's wrong with it is, with one exception, the Federation is not an organization advocating particular choices for blind persons. We advocate choosing independence. Beyond that, the methods are up to the blind person.
However, the Division more and more advocates for one method, dog use. In newsletters and meetings, Division members discuss the good things about using dogs. This has always struck me as odd since I would have assumed that all the people in the Division already knew the good things, having chosen themselves to use dogs. The constant and growing insistence on focusing on the value of dog use almost makes me wonder if Division members are trying to convince themselves that the right choice was made.More importantly, focus on dog use removes our focus from blindness. The more talk about dogs, the less room for talk about blindness. And I see the trend continuing. Let's get back to blindness, the reason we were founded in the first place. Lawyers talk about blindness as it affects their profession, as do teachers and the human service professionals. In the general convention sessions, the whole Federation talks about blindness and how we can make positive changes regarding it. I urge the dog users' Division to do the same.
Here is an example: Dog users often talk about how their dog is very important in their professional life, in their personal life, and in their activities of daily living. A listener could often get the idea that without the dog these people would be unable to do the things they now do. Blind people who use either canes or dogs go to work daily, develop significant relationships, and take care of the routine business of life.
However, we dog users need to start exploring the problems that occur when we repeatedly hear "What a beautiful dog!," "What is your dog's name?," "How old is your dog?," and "Doesn't that dog take good care of you!" While using my dog, I have tried to carry on important conversations with others at work, on public transportation, and in restaurants. Time after time, I have had my privacy invaded by members of the public who feel that, because I have a dog, the dog transforms me into some kind of display that anyone can talk to or about, regardless of my own personal wishes. It's worst when the dog is the one who is addressed on the subject of his "taking care of me."
Of course, all of us deal with these occurrences. But in the Division's newsletter or in Divisional meetings I have not seen positive suggestions from fellow dog users about how to deal with these problems. In fact, I have heard some dog users who don't think this is a problem at all. Rather, they think this public interaction is a benefit. For example, I have heard dog users talk about their dog's being an "ice breaker" because the blind user can respond to a member of the public who first addresses the dog. I think we must weigh whether the intrusive behavior of the sighted public is worth the alleged ice breaking. Moreover, I don't believe that I would seek out or want a relationship with someone who wants to be buddies with my dog. I prefer to make relationships, whether casual or long-lasting, based on me, not my dog.
I believe the Division has a responsibility to encourage dog users to place themselves in priority and to help dog users untangle how public attitudes about their dogs affect them. Blindness affects us all. But for dog users, the choice to use a dog adds one more complication. When the public keeps telling us that our dogs are taking care of us, some of us may come secretly to agree or partially agree with them. The dog becomes a way of avoiding dealing directly with our blindness when we over-focus on the dog and yet secretly believe that the dog, because it can see, can do things to make us independent that we can't do for ourselves and that, in fact, simply because it can see it is in many ways superior to us even though we are human beings and it is a dog.
The Federation teaches honestly about blindness and honestly about the value of alternative techniques. The Division should be helping its members sort out their feelings about blindness in the face of the sighted public's attitude about dogs. This would be much more useful than joking during Divisional votes that there is a rule that only people's hands can be raised and not dogs' tails.
2. Drawbacks. One marked trend in recent years is a growing insistence on the good things about dogs. Oddly missing from any such discussion are the drawbacks of using a dog. Oh, yes. There are drawbacks. But from reading the newsletter or attending Divisional meetings, you don't learn much about that. Again, I say that we pride ourselves on honesty when it comes to quality of rehabilitation, employment opportunities, and freedom to travel. Only where dogs are concerned is there a taboo on discussing drawbacks. But there are drawbacks to dog use.
One is the constant care a dog deserves. When you make the choice to get a dog, you know this in general. And once you have the dog, the commitment is already made and has to be carried out. If you don't, you're simply cruel. But if you do, you pay a price. The price includes going out at all hours and in all forms of weather. It's cold in the winter where I live, and I'm out there four to six times a day, no matter what. Some of you may say that you let your dogs out by themselves. To that, I say that you're not keeping your dog under trained conditions at all times. I found that, when I let my dog out by himself instead of leash-relieving him he would refuse to leash-relieve when I was traveling, causing both me and him much discomfort and extra effort. After I started leash-relieving consistently, he settled down and now keeps to schedule wherever we are. It's a price you pay.
Another drawback is scheduling. The dog must be relieved at pretty consistent times. When you work, you must go to your employer and state that you must take the dog out several times during the working day. No employer is going to refuse you permission to do this. That's not the problem. Rather, the problem is that you are as a Federationist maintaining that you are equal to others, able to pull your own weight, ready to do your part. And then you are saying: Oh, but there's one exception. I'm not able to do that when my dog needs to be relieved. You can't demand equality and inequality at the same time. You also can't stay on the production line, or in the mixing booth, or on the job running group therapy, or wherever you work, as flexibly as others. Your schedule is dependent on your dog's, and you have to have slack from employers and co-workers, not due to blindness but due to the dog. It's a price you pay.
Another drawback is informational. Many dog users praise dog use because the dog goes sailing past obstacles cane users would run into. Well, I know from experience that cane users know a very great deal more about what's around them than I do. And cane users don't have the option of ignoring what's going on around them. They encounter it with their canes, no matter what. Dog users can get into the habit of not encountering the world to their detriment. I saw an example of this at a state convention recently. There was only one way out of the elevator lobby, with elevators on both sides. As you left the elevator lobby, the outside door was straight ahead and right there if you turned left, and the front desk was straight ahead if you turned right. Cane users sailed in and out of the lobby, to the door, and to the desk. Their canes forced them to learn the terrain to get around in it. I stepped off the elevator nearest the door with my rolling luggage and immediately became entangled in a dog's leash. The owner was standing there, two feet from the mouth of the elevator lobby and five feet from the front door, which could be heard and felt by temperature. The owner was saying repeatedly to his dog: "Find the counter. Find the counter." No cane user would do that, and I hope most dog users wouldn't either. But here was a dog user, in possession of all the information cane users had--terrain, corners, audible front door, temperature from front door--and completely baffled about where the front desk was. Moreover, he didn't think he had to know. He thought that his dog was the one who should know and find it. Now, I don't know any dog schools that train dogs to "find the counter." That's the blind person's job to know and to give the simple directional commands the dog is trained to execute. But that owner had slipped into the belief that his dog was supposed to know English and be able to interpret and apply it. You couldn't see the desk from where the dog was even if the dog knew what "counter" meant. And the dog was confused and frightened. I am sure that the next time that same elevator off which I stepped opened again, the poor dog shot onto it. My dog has done the same thing. When feeling confused and unable to execute a command, he takes the only step he can think of, rushing onto an elevator or into any door at hand just to do something in the hope that it's what is wanted. All that dogs want to do is please and follow commands. But they don't know English beyond a few simple commands, and they aren't responsible for knowing where we are going and how to get there. That's our job. Asking the dog to do it is impossible and unkind. Yet I am afraid that all too many users fall into the trap of thinking that, because their dog can see and they can't, the dog can get and use information and, by the way, do it better than cane users can. I feel sorry for those dogs and, I guess, in a different way, sorry for the owners who feel that way. Dog use is at its optimum when the user goes to a very limited number of places and goes there regularly. That's a price you pay.
I am not saying that dog use is bad. I've used my dog for nearly ten years and gone all over the country safely and efficiently. But I am saying that these drawbacks were not described to me when I was considering a dog. To be fair to ourselves and to other blind people, we must consider all sides of this issue just as we insist on considering all sides of every other issue. What are the prices? Have I listed them all? What is the real cost to the user and to blind people? We haven't yet begun to discuss these questions.
3. Saying Canes Don't Work. While I'm on the subject of honesty, I want to mention one theme I constantly hear in the newsletter and in Division meetings, the theme that canes don't work. It's never quite said that way. Rather, it's said like this: I'm not very good with a cane. After I got my dog, I became much more mobile, and now I think everyone should get a dog.
Let's unpack that set of statements a little. In the first place, the speaker always states some form of not being good with a cane. Now, we all know that all dog schools insist that their students must be good cane users before getting a dog. Yet, every dog user I've ever heard comment on the subject states that he or she is not very good with a cane. Which is true? Do the schools insist on good cane use, or are all the dog users bad cane users? I would guess from personal experience that mediocre cane use is common and that the schools' claims to screen for good cane use are false. I know I was a mediocre cane user when I went to get my dog.
And that's part of my point. Implied but not actually stated by all such self-described inadequate cane users is the conclusion that cane use itself is inadequate, not just their particular practice of it. I have three responses. One is that people who are not very good at something often assume that the skill itself is not worth having or that the skill can only be attained by the rarely gifted. If I'm bad at something, I'm not likely to put much effort into praising that skill. Second, I do know, and so does every dog user, people who use the cane efficiently and well. It's about time we stopped pretending that our own inadequate cane skills set the standard. Just because we can't do something well doesn't mean that others also cannot. And third, I'm sick and tired of hearing dog users trash cane use and at the same time hearing the same dog users react with anger and bitterness if a cane user raises any question about the efficiency of dog use. The choice of a travel tool is just that--a choice, not a religion. And it's a choice, not a battle to put one another down. Why can't we discuss this one issue civilly when all other issues are open for fair and honest talk? Canes do work. It's time dog users got that straight. Dogs can work for some people. It's time dog users quit defending dog use by attacking someone else and started thinking through blindness issues. It's much more fruitful.
4. Avoidance. I sincerely mean what I just said. It's time dog users started thinking through blindness issues instead of attacking cane use. In all too many instances, what I hear in Division meetings and read in the newsletter strikes me as avoidance tactics. This is a very common psychological pattern, and I think we should recognize and deal with it.
In the Federation, we all know about avoidance. Most of us have engaged in various forms of it throughout our lives. In one way or another, we have shied away from talking openly and honestly about blindness. Some of us avoid blindness by throwing ourselves into a profession and pretending that our blindness doesn't exist, working to be the very best professional we can while secretly hoping that our sighted professional colleagues will forget we are blind. Others of us withdraw, working quietly and going home as soon as we can, pretending to ourselves that we aren't very social when we really just have a hard time dealing with the public's attitudes about blindness. There are hundreds of ways of avoiding dealing directly with our own feelings about our blindness and then avoiding dealing with the attitudes of others around us.
Another way of avoidance is specific to dog users. They become extra-super-strong on the subject of dogs, insist on the superiority of dogs, insist that opposing opinions or choices are wrong. This can all be a way of avoiding the dog user's own feelings of inadequacy based on blindness. Every blind person needs to work on his or her attitudes and to work in the Federation to change the public's. Every blind person has hundreds of ways of avoiding both these jobs. Dog use has come to be one way for some people.
5. Propaganda. Another concern I have is that, when we pick up the Divisional newsletter, we are inundated with articles reprinted exactly from guide-dog training school newsletters or other releases. Why?
Guide-dog schools have their own ways of communicating their views to blind people. We of the Federation should not be re-distributing their propaganda. This goes for meetings as well as newsletters. We should be shaping the issues and discussions, not letting them do it.
6. Mythologizing Dogs. There's one last bit I want to say. In talking about dogs, we all need to be careful not to mythologize dogs. Some in the Division have glorified dogs, regarding them as supernaturally bright and capable. Some blind people over the years have demonized dog use as wrong and bad. Neither is true. But I think dog users bear the burden of responsibility in this area since they are consistent violators and are the ones who should set the proper tone.
Here's an example of what I mean. In a recent newsletter, one dog user was saying that she often thinks about all the dangers her dog has protected her from that she doesn't even know about. Now, think about that. In the first place, the dog user is saying that the dog knows more about what's going on in the world around it and her than she does. If she really thinks that, then she's genuinely unsafe to move about in the world, dog or not. She is the one with the human brain, the ability to assess information and make decisions. She is also the one who is supposed to be making decisions based on information she gets from the dog. The dog is not supposed to be making decisions. And if the dog is actually protecting her from uncounted dangers she doesn't even know about, what's going to happen to her one day when the dog's attention lapses or its mortality catches up with it? My dog doesn't protect me from dangers. I protect myself, using the information I get from him. But a person who actually believes that her dog is protecting her from dangers she doesn't even know about is also a person who still has to learn a great deal about her own abilities and competence. Yet, I hear a lot of that in the Division--the supernatural quality of the dog making life easier for the blind person. If you really buy into that, really believe that the dog is so smart that it can take care of you, then what do you believe about the level of your own capabilities? It's not very flattering. Learning that the dog is a tool, a living breathing tool, that loves you and that you love but nonetheless a tool in your human hands, a tool providing you with information you need to make decisions and take responsibility--all this can be very liberating because it places blindness into perspective. Without it, mythologizing is just another fiction about blindness.
As I said at the beginning of this letter, I don't expect everyone who reads this immediately to agree with what I have to say. My purpose in writing this letter is to challenge the Federation, both dog users and non-users, to begin to think through these issues calmly and openly and using our human ability to reason. Our Federation constitution says we are a vehicle for change, and that includes our changing and improving our own understanding of the world around us and how we can best live in it. Please join me in using our Federation vehicle for change to improve our understanding in this area as we do in so many others.
Yours in Federationism,
March 27, 1995
I want to respond to your letter of February 28, and the accompanying article which you sent along with it. I thought about printing your article along with my response to you because I think there is a major misunderstanding on your part about what Paul and I have been attempting to do. I might add that I think I feel a little bit more strongly about my position on certain things than does Paul. Paul suggested that I not print your article in Harness Up, and that he would be contacting you directly about your concerns from his viewpoint.
Well, Doug, I do agree with you at certain points here and there along the course of your article; but, on the other hand, starting from some of the same premises that you propose, I arrive at quite different conclusions.
The sacrosanct position on guide dogs and taking a firm stand on blindness when it comes to working with agencies are two examples of our differences. I see the sacrosanct position is that of the hierarchy above rather than from below. Since when have you heard a positive presentation on guide dogs coming from the convention floor? Since when have you seen a positive article on guide dogs in the Braille Monitor as being a viable mobility tool for the blind? In looking over the Monitor for the past twelve months, you will find a positive article or picture about white cane use in practically every one. During that same time span you will find Paul Gabias's announcement about the Guide Dog Division's annual meeting, but almost nothing else. I think there were two negative uses of guide dogs in regard to resolutions dealing with clean-up by guide-dog schools. Furthermore, I cannot see how you can separate the use of guide dogs from the theme of standing up for blindness. Personally, I think every blind person with proper physical agility should be encouraged to give the guide dog a try. I used a cane for twelve or fourteen years or more before trying a guide dog. I had no idea what I was missing until I really learned to trust my dog and got properly in sync with it. I believe that is true for all blind guide-dog users who believe that the guide dog is preferable to a cane for them. From my experience, the general public views the blind people using canes with greater pity than they do persons using guide dogs.
From my viewpoint, the Guide Dog Division is not trying to undermine the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. We are trying to enlighten the rest of the blind community of what they might be missing. This task is very difficult. No one is allowed to give a presentation before the mass audience at the convention. Harness Up goes chiefly to those who already have the dogs and perhaps know the pros and cons concerning them. I have always had the feeling around the National Convention and from observing the materials in the Monitor that the leadership of the Federation frowns upon the use of guide dogs. For persons who have never used guide dogs, how can they take that position when they really do not know what it is like to walk with a guide dog with competence? I get the feeling that guide-dog users are looked upon as second-class models as blind persons. Should we just be "Uncle Toms" and accept this meekly?
I agree with you that independence is the primary emphasis of the Federation philosophy, and I have no quarrel with that. However, I think for some blind persons they would have greater independence with a guide dog than with a cane. To compare the use of a guide dog because he has eyes with a sighted guide is a bunch of baloney. In many instances a guide dog can get you to where you want to go with much more grace and poise than using a cane. I know from experience, for I have used both. I can walk confidently with a cane, but I cannot state that it is an exhilarating experience just because I can do it. It's much more fun and relaxing to do it with a guide dog. Why take a hard road when there's an easier one? Why would an acrobat want to walk a tightrope without a balancer? Just to prove the point that he can do it, even though the other way would be safer and more comfortably achieved?
Doug, you stated that you admit that you were not the best cane user. Have you ever pondered the thought that you might not use a guide dog to the highest degree as well? I'm not trying to sell the guide dog to any and every blind person. I just think the dog ought to be given proper consideration. To my knowledge I have only influenced two or three people to get guide dogs, and that was done indirectly. I think the National Federation of the Blind as an organization could do much in working in harmony with the guide-dog schools to greatly upgrade the performance of guide dogs as well as teaching proper responsibility to the guide-dog user in caring for his/her dog. The guide-dog training schools are beginning to respond to the clean-up problem, to proper training for subways, and outright ownership of one's guide dog. I think the guide-dog schools can help us too with some of our problems at a National Convention. You've been at a training school. You know that it does not stink where they take proper precautions in keeping things clean around the kennels and the dorm. By attending our conventions, they can see the problems which one has with a guide dog in a convention setting. Dogs have not been trained to meet those kinds of situations in times past.
You imply that we are too positive about the guide dog as a functional mobility tool for the blind. You state that guide-dog users already know this. I would make a conjecture that they already know the negatives as well. Why should we emphasize the negatives if we really believe that a guide dog is a perfectly good and viable alternative method? Do the Teachers Division and the Computer Division spend much time emphasizing the negatives? Do white-cane instructors emphasize the negatives linked with the use of the white cane? The whole purpose of a support group or sub-support group is to be uplifting and give a sense of direction. I believe that a guide dog and a cane both have their places in a blind community. If you read my article, "My Guide Dog, My White Cane," in one of the 1994 issues of Harness Up, you know I said positive things about both dog and cane as useful tools. The February, 1995, Braille Monitor included a positive article about the white cane which I had written some years ago. I still use both. Of course, right now I am without a dog until April 16. Even when I have a dog, I always find certain occasions where the cane is more functional, but for primary everyday routine, I find the guide dog a superior tool for me.
My joy in walking with my guide dog is so great that I personally look upon the expense and time involved in maintaining my dog to be of little consequence. I believe that if one feels otherwise, then he/she should not be a guide-dog user. There have been many articles of late proving the point that a pet can be a great benefit as therapy for its owner. A dog is one of the more favorable pets that can bring this about. If an ordinary pet can have this effect on its owner, how much greater would this effect be from a guide dog where the bond is so much stronger?
For the past ten months or so I have been without a dog. Except for a week and a half or so following my back surgery on January 10, I have walked two or three miles a day. I have a long cane which comes up to my nose. I wear out the metal tip about every ten to twelve weeks, even in zero or below weather. I prefer walking outside with the cane or the dog to walking in the mall. I have broken one cane which got caught in the wheel of a car that was parked about two feet out from the curb. I have to walk in the street in most places since there are only a few sidewalks in this suburban area. I bumped my nose and forehead on some kind of lift sticking out on the front of a dump truck that was parked for a weekend at our neighbor's house. I found, after using a dog, I tended to walk too fast with a cane since as you know, dogs walk three to five miles an hour, and pedestrians walk about two or three miles an hour. Resulting from this, I have bumped the front of two cars and skinned up my knee and shin on bolts sticking out from the license plate holder. On one sidewalk I have bumped several times a big sign sticking out over the walk from about waist level up to the top of my head. Over the fourteen years I have used a guide dog I have never bumped signs or run into cars or trucks. It just hasn't happened. Furthermore, I do not find it very exciting to swing the white cane about ninety to 100 times per block. With a guide dog I can spend much more of my time listening to bird songs and paying more attention to what's going on around me, knowing that he will stop if there's something on the sidewalk or when we get to the crossing. If I want to double check to make sure that the curb is just on the other side of the dog, I can always stop him and reach over and touch it with my foot. It takes a lot more concentration and trial-and-error when using the white cane than when using a guide dog. If a partially sighted person should try both large print and Braille and decide which works best for him/her, I think it is also true in using the white cane and the guide dog, but I do not hear this from our leadership.
It is true that some persons over-exaggerate the perfection of the guide dog, implying that it has magical qualities perhaps. I have heard the "ice breaker" statement many times also. I suppose it depends on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert as to whether the "ice breaker" idea might be helpful. I do not remember anyone's stopping to ask me anything about the cane over the years that I used the cane except maybe another blind person. Personally, I use the interruption of persons attracted to my dog to talk about blindness and to make it a public awareness occasion. One very seldom has this opening with a cane.
I smiled a bit when I read your remarks about having to interrupt your work schedule to take your dog out for parking. I noticed at the seminars in Baltimore when I was there with my dog that it usually took the smokers longer to get their smoking done than it did for me to take the dog out and get back. As a college professor I have never had to interrupt my classes to take my dog out. It is true that when you get a new dog, you do have to synchronize its parking habits with your time zone and your occupational break slots. I think that is one reason why the guide-dog schools do not like to give guide dogs to blind persons under sixteen because they do not believe they are disciplined enough to accept some of these responsibilities. One does have to be disciplined in working on these schedules. I did have an article about taking a guide dog to a National Convention dealing with many of these problems that you mentioned. It was published in three or four copies of Harness Up over the years.
Your scenario of a guide-dog user trying to force his dog to find a counter when cane users appeared to be more effective at your Iowa state convention left me with some questions. I would like to know if this guide-dog user was at his first state convention, or was this the first time that the guide dog had been at a convention? Or are the two both new at this job of forming a team? It is true that guide dogs are only taught a few commands. If Canine Companion dogs can learn up to ninety commands, it seems to me that guide dogs could learn quite a few more commands than they do. One has to start somewhere in teaching a guide dog a new command. This is where I think sighted persons on the spot need to give definite directions to guide-dog users. If you go wandering around with a guide dog to find something, he's going to wander around every time you look for that same thing if you don't go directly to it. Once the dog has been shown the counter and had it pointed out in a specific way, he should be able to find it the next time around.
Fortunately, I have a sighted spouse who can help me with this problem when I go to a new facility. After the first day or so, the dog and I have worked out most of the wrinkles, and we can do these things on our own easily. Persons who have no useful sight have to do this alone and no doubt find these new situations very challenging. Those blind persons with a hearing problem would find it an even greater challenge. I had trained my last guide dog to find the elevator button, to find the stairwell, and to know the difference between up and down when approaching steps. Of course, you can't teach these dogs in a single day to do things of this sort.
To my knowledge, I have never printed an article in Harness Up "putting down" cane users or people who prefer the cane to the dog. Dialogue is necessary, but as I have mentioned above, the only dialogue is from the white cane users in all the forms available except Harness Up. There seems to be no way of getting the dialogue going the other way through public forums of our organization. With approximately only 100 guide-dog users out of 2,000 or more cane users or persons who are sighted at a given National Convention, who do you think gets the most flak? It appears that we who are sold on guide dogs never talk about them unless we talk about the white cane on an equal basis. I never see the white cane articles being apologetic toward the guide-dog users when they write about the white cane. I want cane users to understand where I am coming from as a guide-dog user. They have no good basis for many of their snide remarks concerning dog users. I did not know anything about guide dogs when I used a cane for many years before 1981, when I got my first dog.
How can you really believe, Doug, that guide-dog users follow the avoidance position concerning blindness? A guide-dog user sticks out in the public eye much more so as a blind person than one with a cane. It is much more difficult to hide your guide dog than it is to hide a folding or telescoping cane. In our small community of 40,000 or so people in Kankakeeland, the three most prominent blind persons in this county are those who have guide dogs. One is a public school teacher, another is a judge, and myself as a blind college professor. All three of us have found the dog more suitable for our needs than the white cane, but this does not mean that we are against white canes or people who use them. I have heard Dr. Jernigan say that the model blind person is the person who uses a white cane. I have heard Fred Schroeder say that the person who uses a guide dog is no different from one who uses a sighted guide. In my estimation neither of these statements is true. Since neither of these men, as far as my knowledge goes, has ever used a guide dog, what right do they have in making such statements?
Your statement concerning the place of guide-dog school and information from their newsletters is beyond the pale of the National Federation of the Blind. It is hard for me to fathom that. The computer people bring in computer experts to explain what they are doing in the area of computers and computer programs. If it weren't for the guide-dog schools, not very many of us would have guide dogs. When I set out to get my first guide dog, I knew almost nothing about guide dogs or guide-dog training schools. I just happened to have an older student in my class who had a guide dog. After she had been around two or three semesters, I began to ask her questions about the guide dog. I ended up going to the same guide-dog school as she because that's the only one that I had any information on. I think it's ridiculous to think that we ought not to have personnel from the guide-dog schools at our Division meeting. The more we know about guide dogs and the guide-dog schools, the better off we are in selecting the next school of our choice. Until Ed and Toni Eames came out with their book on guide-dog schools, there was nothing collating material about guide-dog training schools. Having persons in flesh and blood from these schools gives us greater insight into what guide-dog schools are all about. Next month I will be going to my third guide-dog school, Leader Dog, to get my white standard poodle. Had it not been for my contact with Brad Scott and his crew at our Divisional meetings, I would not have known that this training of a poodle would have been possible. In fact, the article I had in Harness Up concerning poodles has helped create a demand for them, and Leader Dog is beginning to listen. If you were planning on going to a different school to get a guide dog, would it not be to your advantage to know somebody in person from that institution even before you got there?
As far as using articles from guide-dog training school newsletters and placing them in Harness Up, have you ever been an editor of a newsletter and found how difficult it is to get information through print? Many persons have told me that Harness Up is getting better and better and that they find the information helpful. The old Indian adage states something like this: "You can't say anything much about this unless you have walked in my moccasins." William James, a philosopher about century ago, made the statement in his pragmatic philosophy, "If a thing works for you for good, definite, assignable reasons, then this is truth." I have found that reading materials from guide-dog school newsletters and using the guide dog both fit these criteria. Furthermore, I have found that those few people who have complained about the newsletter never send me anything to put in it. Except for your letter and article and those things sent by Paul Gabias, I have received nothing since last October to put in the newsletter. If one pays $10 to become a member of the Guide Dog Division, and the newsletter is the primary link between the members and the Division, it seems to me that something worthwhile ought to be put in the newsletter. Of course, it is left up to the editor as to what he might include if he is given full responsibility for that office. I did not want to monopolize the materials in Harness Up with my own input.
Mythologizing, I think, is another one of those things that works two ways. I think, like several other terms used in this article, for you to say that a guide dog doesn't make decisions I find unbelievable. When you cross a busy street, I was instructed that once you step from the curb, it is up to the dog to get you across, and he makes the decision whether to stop, go, or pull you back. As I mentioned above concerning the dump truck, a good guide dog would make the decision to walk around that overhanging contraption, and I would not know what it was he was walking around, except perhaps that I would be aware there was a vehicle of some sort there. If something is in the walkway, the dog has to make a decision whether or not there is enough space to walk around it without stopping to show it to you first. Personally, I would not want the dog to stop at everything for me to inspect it first. It would be too time-consuming, at times at least. I think there are too many myths out there from sighted persons and cane users concerning guide dogs that have no validity. Besides, what's wrong with a little propaganda? We hear it all the time from many other sources. I would admit that some phrases here and there in various articles would state things in a way that I would not. I did not want to cause any offense to any guide-dog school or author of an article by tampering with their material. Some schools require that you publish the whole thing as is if you use it at all.
In some ways I would agree with you that change is necessary. Change usually involves compromise, and compromise comes from dialogue. You can't just pump out information to the guide-dog users and not touch the rest of the blind population. I would propose that your article and my response to it be published in the Braille Monitor to create a national forum. I did suggest to Dr. Jernigan that there ought to be a segment in the Monitor dealing with the pros and cons of guide-dog use. I would rise to the challenge. I believe we have enough reasonable persons on both sides who could deal with this in a way that would not hurt the image of the overall purposes of the National Federation of the Blind. I think somewhere along the way it will have to be done if it's ever to be settled in a realistic manner. Doug, if you think I have been a little hard on you in my responses, I think the same thing is true in your letter and article about what I have been doing as newsletter editor.
For your information, I am resigning as editor after pulling the spring/summer Harness Up issue together and sending it off to press. I told Paul Gabias a couple of months ago that I wanted to resign. He accepted my resignation, and he and Mary Ellen are going to become the new editors.
Thank you for your very thought-provoking epistle. Perhaps we can talk about our different positions on this subject at the National Convention in Chicago or any other time that might be convenient.
Bill J. Isaacs, Editor
P.S. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the summer of 1975. I am a firm believer in most of the positions that the Federation takes on blind subjects. However, from my own personal experience, having used both the white cane and the guide dog for approximately fourteen years each, I know that I shall use a guide dog as long as I am physically able to do so as a matter of choice. I think that there is a viable mobility tool besides a cane which ought to be made plain to every blind person.
Kelowna, British Columbia May 30, 1995
It is always good to hear from a friend, even though the letter is somewhat tempestuous. I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to you. This does not mean that your letter has not been in my thoughts. However, I wanted to wait until the pressures of teaching and grading were largely over before I turned my attention to more interesting matters. I did get to you as soon as I absolutely could. You may not believe it, but I finished grading my last paper not five minutes ago!
Our lives have changed significantly since our days in Reno, back in 1987. Despite these changes, some memories are never forgotten. I remember in the spring of 1988, when I was threatened with unemployment, you offered to make place for me and my mother in your home. We were glad that this unemployment never came to pass, but we knew that your hospitality would have made us feel right at home. A friend like you is never forgotten, and I am glad to have had you as a friend. I hope our friendship will continue for many years.
I asked Bill Isaacs not to publish your letter because I found it very disturbing. It was full of anger, not like you at all. The immediate question that came to my mind was: What the heck is going on with him? The object of his anger seems to be dogs! This is a guy who used to live with three dogs--Kita, Trevor, and Little Zak! The anger generated seems to be directed at guide dogs or people who use guide dogs. This is so unbelievable! I remember the many walks we took with our dogs! We both marveled at the freedom, speed, and versatility which was afforded to us by the dogs. We felt that there was nothing like it!
Anyway, be that as it may, you have sent me this letter, and I must deal with it. I will try to do so to the best of my capacity.
You worry that the topic of "dog use"--for some reason you avoid the term guide dog throughout your letter--has become sacrosanct. Well, some topics are sacrosanct. You don't complain about people's children without getting into serious trouble with them. You don't complain about people's families without treading fairly carefully. People's guide dogs fall into that arena whether we like it or not. Even people's pets become part of people's families. I don't have to tell you about pet wars and how intense they can get. It is not surprising that the guide dog is sacrosanct to its owner.
People spend a difficult month training with the dogs. People spend a year adjusting to the dog. People go through old age indirectly each time a dog grows old. People go through the pain of loss each time their guide dog dies, and they go through periods of readjustment each time they acquire a new guide dog. People deal with discrimination against their use of a guide dog and learn to battle it out, if necessary, to make sure that their rights are upheld, and you wonder why this topic is sacrosanct? Take it from me, it will always be that way, and to deal with it indelicately will cause harm to the Federation. I don't want that to happen.
Your letter contains six areas of concentration. They are: 1. "Role of the Division"; 2. "Drawbacks"; 3. "Saying Canes Don't Work"; 4. "Avoidance"; 5. "Propaganda"; 6. "Mythologizing Dogs." I will try to deal with each one separately.
The Role of the Division
According to the constitution of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, the purpose of the association is to promote understanding through education of the general public; to establish and maintain a forum through which discussion about guide dogs--their training, their care, their behavior--may be shared among guide-dog users; to work cooperatively with and provide consultation to guide-dog schools; and to work constructively within the framework of the National Federation of the Blind to strengthen equality, opportunity, and security for all blind persons.
You write that "The Division is slowly drifting away from the Federation." You bolster this contention by writing that the drifting away from the Federation has something to do with the choices made by Division members. You imply that these choices are negative because they involve behavior which advocates for the use of guide dogs for independent mobility. You write that this is wrong because "the Federation is not an organization advocating particular choices for blind persons." If it is not an organization advocating for particular choices for blind persons, then it is an organization which advocates for a variety of choices for blind persons, provided that these choices lead to independence.
I do not believe that all divisions are required to advocate for all techniques of independence. If that were the situation, the role of the Divisions would simply be one of dividing people into convenient clusters for management purposes. The Divisions are not equivalent clusters of people, all playing the same role in the Federation. Divisions were intended to have very distinct roles. The overarching principles in all the divisions are that (a) it is respectable to be blind; (b) with training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance; (c) blindness can be thought of as a characteristic; and (d) given opportunity and training, blind people can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
If the Divisions hold to their principles in their respective activities, they cannot stray from the founding principles of the Federation. In the National Association of Guide Dog Users, we have been given a mandate to promote an understanding of guide-dog usage to the general public. As far as I'm concerned the general public includes the people who do not use guide dogs. Most of these people are sighted, but some are blind.
One objective of the Division is to help people understand all that is required in using and caring for a guide dog. The responsibilities cannot be underestimated. The fact that the dog exists as a living animal, which thinks and feels, must also always be taken into account at all times. These requirements and responsibilities can seem daunting for those who are exploring the possibility of using a guide dog or for those who are new guide-dog handlers. This is why one of the roles of the Division is "to establish and maintain a forum through which discussion about guide dogs--their training, their care, their behavior--may be shared among guide-dog users."
It would be self-defeating for the Division to talk only about responsibilities, animal management, and discrimination problems. It is perfectly proper for the Division to discuss the benefits of using a guide dog. Those of us who use guide dogs do believe that there are benefits. Otherwise, we would not be working with a guide dog. It is our responsibility to share these benefits with those who are interested.
You suggest that in our publications and Division meetings there is more discussion about using dogs than about blindness. Well, there are lots of ways to use dogs. There are police dogs, rescue dogs, narcotics dogs, tracking dogs, hunting dogs, sled dogs, racing dogs, guard dogs, and probably other uses for dogs which I can't think of. We do not discuss these uses at our Division meetings or in our publications. We discuss dogs in terms of their use as guide dogs because guide dogs are used by only one class of people--namely, blind people. Surely there is a relation to blindness here. Again, our mandate requires that we "establish and maintain a forum through which discussion about guide dogs--their training, their care, their behavior--may be shared among guide-dog users." Is there something more that you wanted to say here? Did you want the Division to discuss guide dogs in terms of the image of blindness created by the "guiding dog?" This would be a welcome topic, and I urge you to write about it. It could be contentious because we are dealing with much more than a tool here, but this type of discussion could be very fruitful, if handled with delicacy.
You write that "the Division should be helping its members sort out their feelings about blindness in the face of the sighted public's attitude about dogs." I couldn't agree with you more! With respect to misguided statements by the public which unwittingly infantilize guide-dog handlers, you write: "Of course, all of us deal with these occurrences. But I have not seen positive suggestions from fellow dog users about how to deal with these problems in the Division's newsletter or in Divisional meetings." Perhaps you could write a single-purpose article about this particular issue. Or, if you like, I am quite prepared to reprint the portions of your letter that deal with this issue. It is a very important issue. I tried to deal with it in the Spring issue of the latest Harness Up. A whole lot more needs to be done with it. It is a problem that is not likely ever to go away until there is a significant improvement in public information about the capabilities of blind people and how blind people interact with guide dogs. The Division can certainly work to improve the public's understanding of blindness and guide dogs, and you can help us do it.
Your section on drawbacks could be an article on its own. It certainly provides material for debate in Harness Up. But of course, given the nature of the publication and its audience, the tone of such a discussion and its purpose must be kept in mind. I'm not sure what you're trying to do here. Are you suggesting that people who do not use guide dogs should think very seriously about using one because they are a lot of trouble and not worth the price? Are you suggesting that people who use guide dogs now abandon that visual aid in favor of the cane because the cane is more convenient and efficient? Are you suggesting that people who use guide dogs and find them convenient would become more aware of their drawbacks if they were better cane travelers and were freer to choose between the two types of travel?
There are all kinds of travel methods that have serious drawbacks. Yet, we use them anyway because we believe that their advantages outweigh their drawbacks. Drivers in automobiles cause traffic accidents and pollution. Planes sometimes crash. They cause noise pollution, and now we hear that breathing inside the cabin is hazardous to your health because the ventilation is poor. But of course, the alternative is the horse and buggy or the bicycle or even walking. I remember when I used to complain about my mother's driving. She used to say, "You can always get out and walk." I never did. Mobility methods must be weighed in terms of their alternatives.
I can think of drawbacks to using a guide dog that are much more serious than the ones you mentioned. The worst one is that guide dogs get old and need to be replaced. The replacement process is time-consuming and emotionally difficult. For those who are not able to train their own guide dogs, there is another serious drawback. You must rely on somebody else to train the animal, and if something goes wrong, oftentimes you're not in a position to fix it yourself. Many car owners have experienced similar kinds of situations dealing with their mechanics. We hear of many people who spend thousands of dollars to get a car fixed, to no avail. At some point, they have to accept the fact that they got a lemon or that the mechanic was incompetent. Every guide-dog school sometimes produces a "lemon" dog. The problem is that without experience, there is no way of knowing in advance that the dog which will be assigned to you is a lemon, until you are well into the training program or until you've gone home with the dog. Even people who train their own dogs and who are experienced at selecting puppies can make mistakes. I am sure that it is not pleasant to have to give up on a puppy. How about dogs who must retire early in their careers because they get sick? That's a serious drawback. You know that I know all about that one with Viva! Losing a dog like Viva is no picnic--let me tell you!
So, given all of the potential pitfalls, why do people use guide dogs? To me, it's kind of like asking why people get married or have children, given all the potential problems associated with spouses and children. I suppose it's like this: When it's good, the interaction can be very, very good--but when it's bad, it can be awful! People who use guide dogs, given their own particular circumstances, find it generally advantageous to work with dogs in most mobility situations. If they didn't, they wouldn't be willing to deal with all the potential problems.
On an individual basis, the day-to-day requirements of leash-relieving and scheduling are routine. Almost everybody in any job has a lunch break at some point. Guide dogs can be conveniently leash-relieved during that lunch break. I can't see that a guide dog's bathroom habits need interfere with the person's work schedule at all unless the dog is sick. Almost every working situation has provisions for sick leave, and taking a dog out a few extra times isn't going to cause anybody any significant problems. In all my years of teaching, I've had to take a dog out during class maybe two or three times. It related to a particular problem with the dog food we were using.
You talk about guide-dog problems as being unrelated to blindness problems. That is a false dichotomy. It implies that those who use guide dogs wouldn't have to if they all knew how to use canes and were comfortable with them. But that's not true. There are people who are very comfortable using the white cane who still prefer to use a guide dog, with all the problems associated with it. I am one of them. People like me believe that there are definite mobility advantages to using a visual aid such as a guide dog. This is not a put-down of the cane or of people who use canes. It is not a put-down of their competence in mobility. There are some very specific skills associated with good cane travel in all situations. They are valuable skills to have, and ideally every blind person should possess them. Working with a guide dog also involves very specific skills. I am very glad I have those skills, and I believe that those skills are worth having, for those who wish to learn them. Those skills buy you canine vision to use at your disposal. Canine vision is useful to work with because it provides the dog with information about layout. You can use the information about layout that the dog picks up quickly if you know how to interact with the dog.
You write that "Dog users can get into the habit of not encountering the world to their detriment." Well, in principle there is nothing that would prevent a guide-dog user from using a cane to make contact with objects as he or she walked along. Of course, most people use guide dogs because they want to be able to walk without having to make contact with objects. For myself, through echo location I hear a stream of auditory information as I walk along. When I am outside, buildings, openings, hedges, parked cars, traffic patterns, poles, trees, and fences are all evident to me as I walk along. When I am inside, walls, openings, and the presence of display counters are also evident to me. When my dog goes around things, I usually know why he is doing it. I can tell that there are things there that need to be avoided. People who don't have enough echo-locating skills to understand why the dog is doing what it's doing, will feel less in control and will be less able to keep the dog on track. Your suggestion that people who are not able to take advantage of the information around them would be better served by canes is correct. My opinion is that in order to handle a dog correctly you must be aware of the information around you.
You mention about getting entangled in a leash. Your tone suggests that if there weren't a leash there, attached to a dog being used by a person, you wouldn't have gotten entangled. The world is full of pitfalls, and it's up to you to keep out of them!
You write that guide dogs "aren't responsible for where we are going and how to get there." In a sense, guide dogs are not responsible for anything. People are responsible for maintaining, applying, and enhancing the training inculcated in the dogs. However, most bright guide dogs can be expected to do more than obey directional commands. If that's all they could learn to do beyond avoiding obstacles, their value would be considerably diminished. Guide dogs recognize places and remember routes taken within large expanses. Some dogs are so good that one or two exposures are sufficient for learning. This skill is valuable in a large hotel, particularly if you're going to be there for a week. If you have a good guide dog, and if you can get the dog on the general right track to an area, the dog can work out the particulars if it figures out that you're going to a place that it's been to before, even if it's been only once or twice. People vary considerably in how much they are willing to experiment with their dogs, but I like to do it a lot because I am fascinated by how much dogs can learn. My experience has been that good dogs can see the detail in layout that I often forget. I come to know the detail after we've been in a particular area several times, but the dog sees it and recognizes it, often the second time around. That's what's great about good guide dogs! They don't all do it as well as the best, but when you're good at working with the best, it's terrific!
Therefore, I must disagree with you when you write that "Dog use is at its optimum when the user goes to a very limited number of places and goes there regularly." If anything, it's the other way around. Bright dogs get bored with familiar routines. Some of them become lackadaisical in their work and need breaks from the routine in order for the work to remain challenging. I would say that cane use is easiest in familiar areas. Therefore, around my office building, unless I'm going to class, I always use my cane, unless I've forgotten it at home. It's simply too much work trying to get my dog to work quickly inside the building. It's much faster with my cane. Schubert doesn't find the campus too stimulating, either. He's at his best when we're traveling.
Canes Don't Work
You write "I want to mention one theme I constantly hear in the newsletter, and in Division meetings, the theme that canes don't work." I find this sentence peculiar, given that for the last two years we have invited people from the centers as speakers at our Division meetings. Last year Arlene Hill, an expert blind teacher of cane travel, was invited to discuss how she does her work safely and competently. You write that people have said, "I'm not very good with a cane. After I got my dog, I became much more mobile, and now I think everyone should get a dog." I can't recall anyone's saying or writing "I think everyone should get a dog." It is too personal a choice. You write further that "every dog user I've ever heard comment on the subject states that he or she is not very good with a cane." I don't think you've ever heard me say that. I may have said that I prefer the dog over the cane, but I have never said that I'm not very good with it. It is not true that just because someone chooses to use a guide dog, it is necessarily the case that that person was not an excellent cane user. It is also the case that an excellent guide-dog user could conceivably choose to be a cane user. I have done it on several occasions and will probably do it again in the next few years. Many considerations go into choosing a primary travel method for a given period of time.
You write that "It's about time we stopped pretending that our own inadequate cane skills set the standard." I don't think that the Division as a whole does that, and if some people do, our complaints should really be addressed to the general level of rehabilitation available to people rather than to a small sample of guide-dog users. The tragedy is that, apart from our own NFB training centers, there are no places where people can go to develop excellent cane and travel skills and positive attitudes toward using the white cane. These attitudes need not exclude positive attitudes toward using guide dogs.
You write, "I'm sick and tired of hearing dog users trash cane use and at the same time hearing the same dog users react with anger and bitterness if a cane user raises any question about the efficiency of dog use." You write, "Canes do work. It's time dog users got that straight. It's time dog users quit defending dog use by attacking someone else and started thinking through blindness issues. It's much more fruitful."
These phrases are very antagonistic. They suggest that because guide-dog users still use guide dogs despite the problems associated with them, they necessarily have not thought through the negative impact that guide-dog use may have on blindness. Your words also suggest that guide-dog users defend the use of guide dogs by attacking cane users for their mode of travel. I don't feel that happening within the Division. If anything, because of the accidents we've had at convention, it's the other way around. You write, "Why can't we discuss this one issue civilly when all other issues are open for fair and honest talk?" You won't get a civil discussion of an issue when you accuse people of attacking other people. The issue of travel techniques is a very emotional issue for people. Any fruitful discussion will have to be done with care and sensitivity. Those who will succeed at it will be those who are confident enough to put their emotions aside. If emotions are part of the discussion, then we are dealing with something much deeper, mainly the persona projected by people using various travel techniques. That is a very intense topic and very hot because it addresses people's projection to the world. Telling somebody you don't like how they present themselves to the world is not going to gain you their favor. Any time we deal with issues of presentation to the world, be it to do with people's appearance or clothes or travel method, in the case of blind people, we must tread very delicately. People are very sensitive in these areas, and it will always be that way until people gain confidence within.
This section deals with what you call "Avoidance", a shying away from dealing with and talking openly and honestly about blindness. You suggest that people who write for Harness Up and the people who organize and attend Division meetings have been avoiding dealing with blindness. Again, you cannot dichotomize guide dogs and blindness. Discrimination against people who use guide dogs is directly related to blindness. The training and use of guide dogs is directly related to blindness. If there are other issues you wish to write about or wish to discuss at the Division meetings, you are free to do so. You will not get very far with people if you tell them that they are avoiding things and accuse them of being obtuse, narrow-minded, and repressors. If you want to discuss other issues, bring them up, or write about them. Don't bring them up by simply accusing people of not doing what you think should be done. You will not win friends in the Division that way. Your tone does not show respect for the people you would change. People do not change for people they feel don't respect them.
In my opinion, using a guide dog can offer some protection against people's negative attitudes toward blindness. They think the dog is in charge, and they're more likely to leave you alone. It's no great comfort, but at least it keeps them away. I believe that it takes extra strength to deal with public attitudes toward blindness in the raw. Using a cane puts you in direct contact with these attitudes, and it takes a good deal of strength and self-confidence to deal with them. A guide dog can be used as a shield, and I don't mind telling you that that's one of the reasons I use one. There's nothing wrong with it, provided you know what you're doing. There can be a lot right with it, too; on an emotional level, it can make the day more enjoyable. Whether we use canes or guide dogs, it is important that we improve public attitudes toward blindness.
You suggest that in order to deal with feelings of inadequacy about blindness directly, guide-dog users "become extra-super-strong on the subject of dogs, insist on the superiority of dogs, and insist that opposing opinions or choices are wrong." There may be an element of truth in what you say for some people, but it is certainly not the whole story for most people. There are generic merits in using a guide dog, and these merits must be highlighted by the Division. We must not allow them to be dissolved in psychodynamic processes related to repression about blindness.
There is an interesting assumption in what you write. The assumption is that if you are dealing with mobility through the use of a guide dog, you are not dealing with your feelings about blindness directly. On the other hand, the assumption is that if you are dealing with mobility through the use of a white cane, you are dealing with your feelings about blindness more directly. It is not the technique that matters here. It is easy enough to learn to walk with a white cane, and even to cross streets with it. It is much more difficult to learn to deal with the public's attitude toward the white cane. If the idea is that if you learn to survive that, then you can learn to survive anything, then I suppose that learning to be comfortable with the white cane is the acid test for testing one's positive attitudes toward blindness. But is that the only route to positive attitudes toward blindness? If that were the case, then we would have to suggest that older people who find it more convenient to travel with sighted spouses could never really attain positive attitudes toward blindness. I don't think that that's fair to the many people who have contributed in significant ways to the Federation and yet, left on their own, would not have the confidence to travel independently. They see a variety of travel techniques available to people; they respect each one of them; and they choose the one that suits them best. For the time being, they choose to travel with their spouses because that is what they find most convenient for them. Later on, should things change, they know that other options are available.
Of course, ideally everyone should be able to travel with a white cane. This is so because this means that the person can move freely through the world without any extra being. It is very important to have that kind of confidence.
However, it is not necessarily the case that people who use guide dogs do not have a thorough understanding of blindness and the public's attitude toward it. Further, just because you champion the merits of using a guide dog, that doesn't mean that your image of blindness and your understanding of it is flawed. People are at various stages and at various levels in their evolution on their blindness journey. My own opinion is that feeling comfortable and solid about the white cane is important, but for some people the opportunity of working with a guide dog may be a beneficial option, as well. To thwart that opportunity, or any other opportunity with positive value to it, is wrong.
The term propaganda has very negative connotations. Guide-dog schools have a product to sell--namely, guide dogs. In the Federation we have a philosophy of blindness to sell. Each organization has a right to distribute the kind of information that best suits its product. The product produced by guide- dog schools is not inimical to blind people. For most blind people who use guide dogs, the product from the guide-dog schools has been very helpful. Therefore, given the needs of our membership in the Division, and the general good quality of guide dogs produced by the guide-dog schools, the term propaganda is out of place in this context.
It seems so strange to find this tone in your communications given that you received an excellent guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Is there any sense of gratitude left in you for the amount of work which was put into that dog and the amount of work which was put into teaching you how to use him? Becoming more aware of one's capacities as a blind person should not breed ingratitude. It is extremely distasteful to see this in an old friend.
Of course, it is true that the guide dog schools have their own slant on blindness, which is somewhat different from ours. They tend to emphasize blind people's dependence on the dogs much more than we do. I agree with you that our publication should set the tone about blindness which is best suited to our purposes. However, Bill Isaacs did not always receive material to publish from our own Division members. Often he published what he could get his hands on. As you know, Mary Ellen and I are the new editors of Harness Up. We hope to receive more material from you which will illustrate the way you feel about your blindness and your guide dog.
This section of your letter is the trickiest and the most challenging to write about. It relates to the public's tendency to overestimate the dog's importance and the tendency on the part of some blind people to underestimate their own importance in the interaction between the guide dog and the blind handler.
It is impossible to dictate to people the feelings they should have about their guide dogs. Most of us value our dogs very much, and we all have our own ways of expressing that. You take issue with the lady who wrote that "she often thinks about all the dangers her dog has protected her from that she doesn't even know about." Maybe the lady's choice of words was a little melodramatic. For the most part, the world is not all that dangerous. There are steps and obstacles and the very occasional excavation, and then there's traffic. Traffic is usually easy to deal with, particularly in an urban setting. We normally do not have to deal with dangers such as hurricanes and tornadoes, attacks by savage people or animals, lightning strikes, or sudden explosions. Some of us are faced with some of these dangers occasionally, but they are not the norm. So for this lady, steps and obstacles and occasional excavations and traffic are all dangers. It is too bad that she perceives the world as such a dangerous place, but you can't tell her not to; and it is easy to understand how she would value her dog, given that the dog helps her deal with changes in layout and traffic that she perceives as dangerous.
I don't know how you instill in a person a sense of confidence in being able to deal with the everyday clutter and changes which occur in the average environment. Maybe extensive training in the use of the white cane is the best approach here. After all, the cane is such a basic tool, and it is under the complete control of the user. Maybe mastering this form of mobility can bring about a feeling that the environment is not a dangerous place.
However, guide dogs do get us through a lot of clutter of which we are not always completely aware. Often you know you're avoiding things, but you don't know quite what they are. Maybe this is what the lady was marveling about, as well. I find it marvelous, too! I don't need to make contact with the cane with every wheelbarrow or bicycle or garbage can or pole along the way to make my life interesting. I can do without these encumbrances as I walk along, and my guide dog helps me do that. I am sure I am not aware of many of the obstructions we have avoided. It doesn't make me any less aware of where I am and where I am going.
You write that she is "the one who is supposed to be making decisions, based on information she gets from the dog. The dog is not supposed to be making decisions." Maybe your definition of a decision is different from mine; but when a dog steps to the left so that you don't bump into a tree, that's a decision, and it is a decision that the dog has made first. That's what the dog is supposed to do. You feel the effect of the dog's decision, and you say to yourself, "We're avoiding something." Now, of course, if the swerves seem inappropriate to you, you step in and say to yourself, "This dog is distracted. The decisions it's making don't make any sense." You tell the dog to "Cut it out! Stop it! No!" Most of the time you're right, but have you ever been wrong? Have you ever had to swallow humble pie? We've all been wrong occasionally, and the great thing about dogs is that most of them don't hold grudges. I guess they're not smart enough for that, or is it something else?
You end your letter by stating that "My purpose in writing this letter is to challenge the Federation, both dog users and non-users, to begin to think through these issues calmly and openly and using our human ability to reason." This is a little ostentatious, don't you think? Do you mean to suggest that people have not even begun to think through some of these issues? I urge you to deal with issues, one or two at a time per article. Relate them to your own life. Help people learn from your own experiences. People do not learn very well if they are made to believe that the experiences they value are wrong, inadequate, or misperceived.
I am sure that there is no gentle way to end this letter. It hasn't been a gentle letter, but neither was yours. This is not tit-for-tat. I did the best I could.
Yours in friendship,
by Ed and Toni Eames
You have just been informed by your ophthalmologist that your sight loss is permanent and irreversible. As you deal with the emotional distress of coming to terms with blindness, you begin to plan for the future. In coping with blindness you will need to master techniques that will provide independence and improve the quality of your life. Among these techniques are those dealing with daily living, Braille, and mobility.
As a dog lover, the thought of working with a guide dog is appealing. However, members of the local blind support group you've just joined believe there is little value in working with a canine assistant. In addition, your cane-mobility instructor has little knowledge about guide dogs and is obviously biased toward the use of a white cane.
Is this scenario as familiar to you as it is to us?
As a congenitally blind person, Toni was discouraged by school and rehabilitation authorities from considering training with a guide dog. A constantly heard theme was that only the most dependent blind people used this form of mobility. Adelphi University, where she did her undergraduate work, refused to permit blind students with guide dogs to live in the dormitories. Toni did not challenge this discriminatory policy since she did not realize the advantages of working with a guide dog.
Only after meeting a competent guide-dog user did Toni's thoughts turn toward the benefits and advantages of working with this alternative to the white cane. Her dual conversion to guide dog partner and advocate occurred in March, 1967, when she trained with Charm, her first guide dog. She refers to this transition as B.C., before Charm, and A.D., after Dog. Before Charm, she lacked confidence and had difficulty advocating on her own behalf. After Dog, Toni became self-assured and began to speak out for her rights. She refused to allow school authorities, restaurant owners, theater managers, and taxi drivers to deny access to her well-behaved, well-trained canine companion.
Toni's first major A.D. battle came when Hunter College authorities put her on notice that she would not be permitted to register for graduate school classes if accompanied by her guide dog. With the collusion of the chairman of the rehabilitation counseling department, she followed the letter of the edict and left Charm in the chairman's office during registration. Although Charm accompanied her to class for the next two years, Toni remained wary of the phantom administrative official who might suddenly appear and challenge her right to attend classes.
Despite Charm's exemplary behavior in class and Toni's growing feeling of confidence, two professors in the rehabilitation counseling program continued to proclaim the widely held belief that competent blind people did not use guide dogs. Such attitudes and beliefs die hard. People who hold these views do not understand how a guide dog works. They view the situation as one of helplessness in which the blind person is totally dependent upon the guiding capabilities of the dog. They do not recognize that it is an interdependent relationship based upon teamwork.
As part of her graduate work, Toni had to serve a one-year internship. The professor in charge of the intern program, one of the two mentioned above, was committed to the belief that blind students could only be placed in agencies serving a blind clientele. When Toni and the other blind interns objected to this narrow-minded view, the professor's defense was that the program did not see its mission as one of crusading on behalf of disabled students. As a result, Toni did her internship at the Queens Lighthouse.
Lighthouse policy on guide dogs was extremely restrictive at that time. Only staff members with private offices could keep their dogs with them. Therefore, Toni was required to house Charm in the basement kennel. Toni decided to challenge this archaic policy. Advocating for change, she appealed to Lighthouse administrators and board members. Learning of Toni's campaign, the professor supervising the interns was furious and labeled Toni as uncooperative and incapable of working within the established system. Threatened with expulsion from the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, Toni submitted to a series of psychological tests and evaluations. The threat of expulsion was withdrawn when the external evaluators found no personality abnormalities. Throughout this ordeal, Toni never wavered from her position that Lighthouse policy was discriminatory and needed to be changed. Although her advocacy efforts did not save Charm from unnecessary kenneling, the policy was changed shortly after the completion of Toni's internship.
For Toni, who is a people person, Charm became a social ice breaker. When she was using a cane at Adelphi, Toni felt socially isolated. It was difficult to initiate conversation with people she could not see. At Hunter, with Charm as her alter ego, social interaction became easier. Toni did not have to initiate conversation; other people did. She never felt alone again with Charm at her side, or later with Charm's successor. Standing on a subway platform or waiting for a bus, she could touch or talk to her constant companion.
Toni graduated in 1970 with a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling. Now she faced the next hurdle in her assault on life, finding a job. For nine months Toni interviewed for jobs, without success. Primary concerns of potential employers centered around how a blind person could function in the job setting and how the disabled clientele would respond to the presence of a guide dog. Underlying these concerns was the assumption that a blind person could not be independent or adequately perform on the job.
Her painful job search ended at Kings Park Psychiatric Center on Long island. Rather than being asked about how she would negotiate a flight of stairs in the building, Toni was asked about her theories of counseling and how she would work with a psychiatric population. Toni was so pleasantly surprised at the non-patronizing direction of the interview, she felt confident she had the job.
Unlike other employers, her new supervisor saw the presence of a dog on his staff as an asset in working with the mentally ill. Thus, Charm added a new dimension to her career as guide. She now became a pet therapist. Under Toni's direction, patients had the opportunity to benefit from the soothing effect of interacting with a dog. For many patients this provided an opportunity to reduce stress and feel more comfortable in counseling sessions.
Realizing that working with a canine teammate opened many avenues beyond mobility, Toni used her love of dogs to extend her friendship network. She joined the Long Island Golden Retriever Club and, 25 years later, remains in contact with several fellow club members. She began studying dog behavior and became involved in the hobby of competing in American Kennel Club obedience competition.
Toni's commitment to guide dog partnership led her to establish a local support group advocating for greater access and educating other blind people about the benefits of this form of mobility. Working for these goals, she visited many guide-dog schools, got to know many trainers, and acquired considerable knowledge about the guide-dog movement. Little did she know this avocation would lead to marriage and a change of career.
At the age of forty-two Ed was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and told by his ophthalmologist to prepare for eventual blindness. Rehabilitation services provided cane mobility lessons prior to a year-long field trip to India, where he would carry out anthropological research. However, travel conditions in India were not conducive to independent mobility by a newly trained cane user. Feeling inadequate and insecure, Ed looked forward to returning to the United States. Although Ed never owned a pet and did not consider himself a dog lover, he felt a guide dog might help restore his lost travel confidence. In the course of rehabilitation he had met several guide-dog users and was impressed with their confidence and ability to get around.
In 1981 a black Labrador named Perrier entered Ed's life. Ed thought he was simply going to train with a more effective mobility aid and had no inkling of the impact this dog would have on his future. Perrier handled his job of guiding Ed on trains, subways, and buses with ease as they traveled from their home in Philadelphia to Ed's office at Baruch College in Manhattan. Ed marveled at the ease with which they avoided obstacles and negotiated the crowded streets of the city. Before Perrier, traveling this route was nerve-wracking and stressful. As the cane came in contact with obstacles, Ed had to figure out what they were and how to get around them. Although key obstacles can be important landmarks for blind travelers, a route full of barriers can provide an overload of unnecessary information. Trying to move safely through noisy railroad stations and construction sites can be disorienting. Having a dependable, sighted guide dog who could locate an open train door in a noisy station and, despite the noise of drilling crews, pick out the safest path through an area under construction, converted potentially dangerous situations into mere nuisances.
Professors are always seeking new areas of interest for research and publication, and Ed was no exception. As the relationship with Perrier blossomed, Ed increasingly identified the advantages of partnership with a guide dog. Questions began churning around in his mind. Why do some people opt for working with guide dogs? On what basis do people select particular training programs? Does having a guide dog help or hinder employment prospects? How do training programs select canine and student applicants? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a guide dog?
Obviously, these burning issues required immediate research and could only be adequately addressed in a book! Ed's research brought him face to face with a variety of blindness-related issues that pushed him toward the assumption of an advocacy role.For many people who become blind in middle age, life may seem to be a never-ending tragedy. However, most of us get past that stage and, with proper training in the techniques of coping with blindness, resume active and productive lives. For Ed, blindness was a turning point. It led to getting Perrier, researching the book on guide dogs, and ultimately meeting Toni. Initially she was a consultant on the book, then co- author, and eventually his wife. At their wedding in June, 1987, Perrier was ring bearer, and Toni's guide Ivy was maid of honor.
After marriage Ed took early retirement and Toni left her position at Kings Park. We moved to Fresno, California, where we created an entirely new lifestyle. Living and working with dogs became the impetus for the development of new careers. We also became active members of the NFB at the national, state, and local levels.
In an earlier article originally published in the JOB Bulletin, we described the impact of an NFB Writers Division seminar on the promotion of our careers as professional writers. For the past five years we have been writing a monthly column, Partners in Independence, for Dog World magazine, the largest circulation dog magazine in the country. In writing this column, we have expanded our field of interest to include hearing dogs for deaf and hard-of- hearing people, and service dogs for people with physical disabilities.
Through the dog connection, we have become involved in several animal- related organizations. We have presented seminars at the Delta Society, Assistance Dogs International, the World Congress of Kennel Clubs, and the England-based Circle of Guide Dog Owners. In 1993, seeing the need for an organization empowering disabled people who work with canine assistants, we helped create the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.
Another facet of our emerging dog-related career has been the education of veterinarians. Our lecture tours have brought us to ten of the 27 American veterinary schools and several professional veterinary conferences. We have been asked to inaugurate a new feature in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association dealing with the human/animal bond. We were instrumental in working with the AVMA in the writing of a brochure concerning the needs of disabled clients.
In 1994 we completed the revision of our book, A Guide to Guide Dog Schools. Our goal was to update information contained in the 1986 version and to expand the coverage by including Canadian and newly established American schools. Although we are committed to the advantages of guide-dog partnership, we describe the less attractive aspects of living and working with dogs. Dog partnership is a major responsibility which should not be undertaken lightly. Caring for dogs takes time and costs money. Attending conferences, traveling, and scheduling daily activities require consideration of the dog's physical and emotional needs. The cost of dog food and veterinary care can take a significant bite out of a limited income. For us, none of these issues outweighs the benefits derived from living and working with canine assistants. Guide dogs provide love and companionship, as well as the security of stress- free mobility.
The NFB and Guide Dogs
Since moving to Fresno eight years ago and becoming active in NFB (Toni is President and Ed is Treasurer of the Fresno chapter), we have frequently heard that the leadership of the national organization is anti-guide dog. This prejudice is most apparent at our national conventions and at our rehabilitation centers.
We are told that NFB's attractive hotel room rates are being jeopardized by members who travel to conventions with guide dogs. Although some dog users are careless or unaware of their dogs' behavior, the problems generated by these few seem to be blown way out of proportion. Shortly after the Dallas Convention we spent several hours at the Dallas airport during a long layover. We ran into one of the Hyatt managers and discussed the hotel's reaction to the presence of a large number of guide dogs. He recalled one or two incidents of dogs defecating in the hotel but indicated the dogs did not create an undue burden for hotel staff. Comparing NFB conventions with those of psychiatrists, surgeons, and some fraternal organizations, the manager said these other groups are much more destructive of hotel property and taxing to hotel personnel. People who spill wine on carpets, smokers who burn holes in furniture, and children who draw pictures on hotel walls are far more of a problem than dogs who have occasional indiscretions on carpets. This manager would gladly welcome another NFB convention at his hotel.
Could it be when one dog has an accident it may be observed by 20 different people? Could it also be these 20 people tell others about what they have seen or stepped in and a single incident gets translated into 20 separate incidents? Further, could it be that inflation, rather than the behavior of our guide dogs, has caused room rates to rise?
Although we support the NFB view that blind people should be independently mobile, we do not support the position that the only avenue toward this independence is the use of the long cane. There is general agreement that the essential elements in independent mobility are the ability to go where you want, when you want. Despite this agreement, it is apparent that NFB does not view use of a guide dog as an equivalent alternative. We are dismayed that our NFB rehabilitation centers define independent travel exclusively as the competent use of the long cane. Previously acquired skill in working with a guide dog is totally discounted. By denying competent guide-dog users their choice of mobility, NFB centers are discriminating against those who have already acquired specific mobility skills. The emphasis on independence through mastering cane skills combined with the denial of the significance of mastering guide-dog skills restricts the range of choice open to students in these programs.Another example of the way in which NFB devalues guide dogs is the lack of equivalence accorded to this form of mobility in proclamations. Each year we are encouraged to request white cane safety day proclamations from local and state officials. For years we, as co-chairs of the NFB of California Guide Dog Committee, have advocated for inclusion of guide dogs in these public pronouncements. Although a model proclamation giving equal weight to guide dogs and canes was published several years ago in the Monitor, the NFB Board has not chosen to incorporate this change as policy.
The NFB, Guide Dogs, and Us
Shortly after we joined the NFB, Sharon Gold, President of NFB of California, asked us to co-chair the California Guide Dog Committee. For the last five years we have been working with her on a variety of legislative matters.
One of our earliest legislative victories was changing the legal definition of "guide dog" to include dogs trained outside the State of California as well as privately trained guide dogs. In 1993 we were able to secure passage of a bill that tripled the penalty for denying access to a blind person accompanied by a guide dog to any public accommodation. Minimum penalties were increased from $250 to $750. This law also provides greater protection for our dogs from injury caused by a person or a dog that is supposed to be under the control of a person. Although we have not been able to eliminate the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind (see Braille Monitor, January 1991), we have been able to eliminate the state funds which financed its operation. Now the Board is financed by the three guide dog training programs in the state, and its pretense of being a consumer protection agency has been shattered.
In fact, Ed's former guide, Kirby, was instrumental in getting one of our pieces of legislation out of committee and onto the assembly floor. Ed was having breakfast in the Capitol when a man approached and began talking about Golden Retrievers. Ed invited him to take a seat as they drank their coffee. During the course of conversation and introductions, Ed learned he was speaking with the very assemblyman who could carry the vote for NFB in the judiciary committee. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Ed advocated for our bill and gained his support.
At National Conventions we have fostered several resolutions putting NFB on record as opposed to certain paternalistic policies practiced by many guide- dog schools. When our resolution on ownership of guide dogs was endorsed by NFB, only the Seeing Eye provided real ownership to its graduates. Now, half the schools have followed the Seeing Eye's and NFB's lead. Although our resolution on the prohibition of begging in guide-dog school contracts was somewhat divisive, we were pleased the NFB endorsed our recommendation. No one wants to foster the image of the blind beggar, but it was recognized that prohibiting the use of a guide dog while begging was an intrusion into the employment rights of blind people.
As a recruiter of Members-at-large (Associates), Toni's successful fund raising is closely linked to working with guide dogs. Strangers often approach us wanting to talk about dogs, theirs and ours. Some guide-dog users resent these approaches as intrusive. We see them as attempts to make contact with us. Guide dogs, as we all know, are social ice breakers. As guide-dog users, we have learned to control our dogs and the social situation. If we are not in a hurry and someone wants to chat or pet our dogs, we put our dogs at a sit/stay, and they have to remain still while getting petted or while we engage in conversation. These transitory social encounters provide the opportunity to educate people about blindness and, in the process, about the National Federation of the Blind. These casual encounters precipitated by the presence of the dogs has enabled Toni to be one of the top ten Associate recruiters for the NFB.
From the preceding discussion it might be concluded that our primary focus is on guide-dog rather than blindness issues. From our perspective the two are inextricably intertwined. Only blind people are partnered with guide dogs. Like the white cane, the guide dog is an overt symbol of blindness. It might even be suggested that guide dogs are more obvious representations of blindness since canes are more easily stowed away out of sight.
For us, advocating for the rights of guide dog users is advocating for the rights of all blind people. We join our brothers and sisters in fighting for their rights to maintain SSI and SSDI, to profit from their vending operations, to have their children adequately educated, and to obtain access to new technology. All these subgroups or divisions are special-interest groups, but their battles, their problems, their fight against discrimination are the fights of all of us. In the same vein we see our fight for the rights of guide-dog users as a fight on behalf of all blind people.
by Bill J. Isaacs
This article is written primarily for guide-dog users. It is important, however, for white-cane users and sighted persons to understand the mechanics and problems that guide-dog users are confronted with when they bring their dogs to a convention. Some would say, "Why don't you leave your dog at home?"
Others say, "I would not allow my dog to undergo the rigors and punishment of a week-long convention."
I would submit that a guide dog and his master are a working unit. If they work out regularly, they become essentially one as a team. Neither the dog nor its master feels complete without the other, at least for any extended period of time. No one can take the place of the master in understanding the needs of a guide dog. The two, in verbal or body language, communicate constantly one to the other. No matter how close a member of the family or a friend might be to your guide dog, that person cannot possibly understand all the little nuances which pass back and forth between the owner and his dog. After all, a trained guide dog worth thousands of dollars is very much a precision instrument which becomes even more finely tuned and valuable with age and miles of useful service.
For instance, while taking an extended trip to museums and old historical sites in New England, I left my guide dog, Cliqo, in Toledo, Ohio, with the family which had raised her as a puppy. I thought that would be the most suitable arrangement that could possibly be made. By the end of the first week she had stopped eating. By the end of the second week she was becoming ill. By the end of third week I had to give up my trip and return home early. For several weeks thereafter Cliqo was very listless. The spark had gone from her eyes, and her constant playfulness of former days was not there. Furthermore, the morning we left her at the puppy-raiser home, it was thundering and lightning and was a horrible rainy day. Somehow at three and a half years of age, she became terribly frightened of thunder. For the rest of her eleven and one-half years, she became emotionally hysterical at the first sound of distant thunder. I believe with all my heart that she associated thunder with abandonment. This made it difficult for me to use Cliqo during stormy weather.
Here is a very recent example where one member of my family, who knew all of my three guide dogs well, did not fully comprehend my relationship with my new guide dog, Prince. Prince, of course, is my new Leader dog, a standard white poodle, who was the talk of the NFB Convention in Chicago. This individual kept wanting to tell me, "Go to the right," or "Go to the left," because there was a cart or a potted tree just ahead. I had to remind that person more than once that it was the dog's duty to maneuver around those obstacles. If the master tells the dog too many things like that to do, he would begin to suspect that you did not need him to guide you. After all, how would I know those things were in the way if I were alone with my dog? The guide dog's training can be broken down if too much of his initiative is superseded by his master or mistress. Despite the fact that perhaps a thousand persons touched Prince during the convention, he did a fine job. He had no accidents. He did bark occasionally at first when strange dogs approached him. He never did bark while guiding, but only while heeling or in a stationary position. The barking is still a nuisance, which I would like to eliminate.
I am certain there are some dog users who would prefer to stay at home with their dog rather than to leave it behind while they attend a convention. I, for one, certainly would not want to leave my dog for any extended period of time again. Some persons, I am sure, have taken their guide dog to a convention and had a bad experience; either the dog had an accident or someone poked it with a cane or stepped on it in a crowded elevator. These things do happen, but there are several precautionary steps which one can take to keep these incidents to a minimum. My first two guide dogs, Clyde and Cliqo, have been to a total of fourteen conventions. Each of these dogs has had at least one mishap and has been punched with a cane or been stepped on a time or two. My third dog, Prince, got punched with a cane at the 1995 Chicago Convention. These dogs are rather tough and bounce back fairly quickly from a slight mishap. In fact, once a guide dog has been punched or hit by a cane, it will become more alert the next time it sees a cane approaching. I think the dog's emotional turmoil over being left at home does more harm to your dog's psyche than the few bumps and bruises he might receive at a convention. The emotional harm of being abandoned or being separated would be of much more lasting damage, I think. Learn from your dog's mishaps to be more understanding of its needs at a crowded convention. Note when and under what circumstances the mishaps take place, and don't be caught off guard the next time. Each dog has its own little built-in computer and is apt to behave in pretty much the same way under similar circumstances the next day or at the next convention. Each dog is different, and one has to learn to make adjustments accordingly.
The Illinois affiliate of the NFB did its best in the summer of 1988 to make it convenient for relieving guide dogs without leaving the block on which the hotel was located. In fact, providing you were in the East Tower of the Hyatt Regency, you had only to walk forty or fifty feet outside the appropriate exit to reach the necessary spot. I think this has been a good model for other conventions to follow. In fact, all the National Conventions since that date have had guide-dog relief stations within the same block as the hotel. In my estimation this should always be so. It can be a bit scary to take your dog out at midnight or at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning in an unfamiliar downtown area, with strange people lying across the walks or on park benches. I have had this happen more than once. Most guide-dog schools have their parking station for their dogs very close to the students' rooms, and I rather imagine that most of us who have guide dogs take them only thirty or forty feet out the back door or to the street in front, depending on the dog's training. Longer walks to nearby parks or grassy places might be all right for the bold of heart and physically strong, but it can be rather time-consuming when one needs to take the dog out at least six times a day. One can miss much of the convention if he doesn't succumb to sunstroke during the hot July weather, and, besides, many dogs cannot wait for lengthy periods of time to reach distant locations to relieve themselves. Masters must tell their dogs which directions to go. In times past, some locations were almost impossible to find because there were no sidewalks directly to the spot or the street crossings were unduly difficult to manipulate. Dogs usually follow lines along a sidewalk, or grassy edges, or curbs. Where one finds there is no grass, all paved parks, or zigzag crosswalks, it can be quite a chore to walk three or four blocks and return to a hotel. It might seem logical to a non-guide-dog user that a large grassy park would be an ideal place to relieve dogs. Without identifiable landmarks, a park can become a labyrinth of confusion. I have gotten lost or turned around on more than one occasion. When you have a guide dog, you have to move around more than others. Dogs not only have to be taken to relief spots, but they need much exercise in order to be able to lie quietly for hours. For many dogs the relief stations need to be used before the walking takes place. It is exceedingly helpful to have sighted help when you first arrive at a new station. Exact directions are so essential in getting your guide dog oriented quickly to its new surroundings. Blind persons who are thoroughly oriented to the area can serve as mentors too.
Here is a list of helpful hints that I have picked up along the way which I would like to share with you:
1. Carry two or three plastic baggies and Wash 'N' Dry packets on your person at all times. You then will be basically prepared for any accident that your dog might have anywhere. Always plan to clean up after your dog, even though you pay a fee for relief arrangements.
2. Upon arrival at the hotel, immediately seek out the relief spot for guide dogs. It is well to take your dog there even before going to your room. The very fact that the dog knows where its parking station is relieves some of its anxieties.
3. After entering your hotel room and acclimating yourself to its environment, take off the dog's harness and allow the dog to relax a little. I take a tennis ball and nylon bone along for this purpose. Then show the dog where its feeding station will be and perhaps give it some food and water. In some hotels bathrooms may be carpeted, so I would take some newspaper along or a piece of plastic to put under the dog's feeding dish. I use the same dish for both feeding and watering my dog. This saves a little space in your luggage. Then find an out-of-the-way place in the room which will serve as the dog's resting spot. All three of my guide dogs seemed to be restless and anxious in a new living environment until they felt assured there was a proper place for them in it. Again, this removes a little bit of tension.
4. If your dog is accustomed to having water at its disposal at all times, I would suggest that you ration your dog's water for the first few days at a convention. Pressures of a convention, change of water, time changes, and the like can all upset your dog's regular relief pattern. When a dog is uptight and has drunk a lot of water, especially in the later afternoon or early evening, take it out within an hour no matter what its pattern has been earlier. The old saying "A stitch in time saves nine," is applicable here. I would rather take the few extra trips out than face the embarrassment of a wet carpet. Within a day or two the dog's regular pattern will probably be re-established.
5. If your dog is used to running free around the house or in the office, I would suggest that you start tying it down more frequently a week or so before the convention. This will help to get your dog in shape for the long convention sessions, or crowded restaurants or hotel rooms.
6. Anticipate your dog's needs ahead of time. Don't wait until it is prancing or panting heavily before arranging to take it out. You may have to walk half a block to the elevator and wait some more to get the elevator. I personally would much prefer taking my dog out ahead of schedule rather than risking an accident along the way because of my own tardiness. The same holds true in the convention hall. Don't wait until the last minute to leave during the great rush when there's no possible way of getting through the crowd quickly. Find a convenient lull in the convention to take the dog out an hour before a morning or afternoon session adjourns. On crowded elevators I try to protect my dog with my body by placing it against the back or on either side. I also try to keep tab of his nose so that he does not pester anyone without my noticing it.
7. In the convention hall I try to protect my dog from cane poking by sheltering it with my feet when I am aware that canes are coming its way. Carpeted floors sometimes make it difficult to hear canes coming.
8. I take my dog out very early in the morning, at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Then I groom and feed it. By the time I shower and shave and go out to eat breakfast, my dog is ready for another relief stop before the 9:00 convention hour starts. Are you accustomed to eating breakfast before taking your dog out? If so, don't do it at a National Convention. At a recent convention my wife noticed three or four dogs had relieved themselves on the carpet while their owners were in a breakfast line-up. We were not sure their owners even knew what their dogs were doing. One dog's mishap sometimes serves as a signal for other dogs to go and do likewise. Water your dog immediately upon the noon break, if not earlier. A plastic, folding watering dish or a makeshift bowl made from a folded back baggie can allow watering at any time. If it drinks heavily, then it is perhaps ready for another relief stop before the 2:00 session begins. Once the swing of the convention falls in place, you can pick out a rhythm which works for you.
9. Do you find National Conventions totally exhausting? Well, your dog does too. Your dog would thank you if you would relieve, feed and water, and let it rest while you go out with your cane for your evening meal if you are sure your dog can handle being alone. Then your dog is in good shape for the rest of the evening. Leave the TV or radio on in the hotel room to distract it from outside noises. Tiptoe away and return in two or three minutes the first time or two to see if all is well. It is better to leash it or use a tiedown by a desk or bureau leg rather than by a bed. July is a hot month, and the dogs shed a lot and get needless hair in the bedding. Some frustrated dogs have torn up beds, I have heard.
10. Don't forget your grooming supplies. Shampoo your dog and perhaps dip it for fleas just before the convention. You'll save the hotel maids a lot of trouble if you will groom your dog two or three times a day.
11. To cut back on elimination problems of your dog and to save packing space in your luggage, you might consider some brand of scientific dog food. Some of these high-powered foods take up half the space in your suitcase since a little bit goes a long way in meeting your dog's diet needs. Since their bodies consume most of the food, there is very little to eliminate. You should experiment with any new dog food you might use a week or two before the convention so the dog will adjust to the new diet ahead of time. And you can also see how its bowel habits are going to be affected. You will find these special diets rather expensive. You either need to take ample food along with you or at least enough to get you through a couple of days if you plan to purchase dog food at the convention site.
12. If you cross time lines in attending a National Convention, remember that your dog is apt to remain on its home schedule. For at least the first two days, I keep my Braille watch or talking clock on the home time so I won't forget the dog's needs. The dog will gradually adjust to a new situation just as you do, but it does take some forethought not to overlook this time difference.
13. If your dog has special medical needs, such as chronic ear infections, bring your medical supplies along. You will be given the name of a local vet if you attend the Guide Dog Division meeting the first afternoon of the convention. Or you could obtain it from Dr. Paul Gabias, President of the Guide Dog Division. This information can also be obtained from the NFB information desk in the main lobby.
In summing up, ideally, any person with a new guide dog would do well to attend a short state convention before attempting a national one. Sometimes, such as in my case, you get your dog on the eve of the National Convention, and the state one comes later. State conventions, however, will have fewer dogs, fewer people, and are apt to be in a much less complicated hotel. I have never had a problem in a state setting or at a large historical convention where all who attend are sighted. If you should have problems in this mini-convention, you might think twice before taking your dog to a National Convention. I also think it would be a good idea for each state affiliate to designate a person to serve as a mentor or contact person for guide-dog users from that state. At least, if you are not certain of your skills as a guide-dog user in a convention setting, seek out a person to assist you until you get your bearings during the first day or two.
Personally, I do not think that problems with guide dogs at a national convention are insurmountable. Problems of guide-dog users need to be studied carefully, and much forethought should go into the planning of future conventions. For example, sandboxes (or something equivalent) should be conveniently located. Pick-up should be mandatory for all those guide-dog owners who are physically able. If there is a small amount of sand, it should be changed daily. If there is a substantial amount of sand, it should be changed about every three days. The sandbox should be large enough to accommodate several dogs at one time. An ideal size would be twelve feet by thirty feet. All sides of this rectangle should be available for use. This relief station should be under a canopy or other covering for inclement weather.
Persons who really know where the sandbox is should be available to take dog users there. Regrettably, blind persons giving directions quite often are no better than a sighted person giving them. If possible, the sandbox should be away from the mainline of traffic. This takes pressure off the dog and his master as well as making it easier to clean up if there is an accident. The cost of maintaining the sandbox should be the responsibility of the hotel or the NFB National Office. It is a plus factor to the whole blind community when the dog mishaps are kept to a minimum. A tip is in order, but a $25 tip, I am sure, is paid by very few others. After all, I would guesstimate that the hotel makes a million dollars or so from one of our conventions. They could afford it. Furthermore, a guide dog is an acceptable, valuable mobility tool, and they should not be treated as a luxury or fall into the same category as child care.
I have discovered over the years that guide dogs like to relieve themselves in the same general vicinity where they have gone before. Consequently, from my observations, conventions held in one big hotel work better for the dogs rather than four or five scattered facilities where each has its own relief area. The more familiar the dog is with his environment, the more relaxed he becomes. The more relaxed he is, the easier it is for him to relieve himself. All of this leads to fewer accidents.
When a person gets a new guide dog, the guide dog might be likened to a roughly hewn piece of granite. The final masterpiece is slowly chiseled out over several months by constant practice on improving teamwork techniques. I know we guide-dog users irritate some people when we brush by them or sideswipe them in crowded situations. Nature has built dogs to walk faster than people. Sometimes the dog is going to misjudge the space required for passage for himself and his master. I am sure that we try to slow down our dogs, but they are excited and nervous, and this might have some effect on their otherwise normal behavior. Dogs are taught to pull ahead a bit to let you know they are trying to do their job. Dogs are eager to get their masters to desired destinations as quickly as possible. Therefore, these minor brushings are bound to happen from time to time. Our guide dogs do not get a lot of practice working around great crowds of blind persons. It quite often is a new experience for them, but experience improves as conventions come and go. Better days will tend to await the annual conventioneer who is accompanied by a guide dog.
If you have had concerns about taking a guide dog to a National Convention, I trust that you will find some of the suggestions printed here helpful. Out of the fifteen National Conventions I have attended with my guide dogs, I think I have had three accidents. Accidents are more likely to happen with a new guide dog. Had I known about the above hints, and had proper preparations been made for relief areas, these incidents would not have happened. If there is proper dissemination of information and proper convention planning, there should be almost no problems with guide dogs at a convention. I have been to many historical conventions and state conventions, and there was never an embarrassing mishap. Any reasonable person with an obedient and regularly worked guide dog should be able to handle a convention. If there are any doubts on either side of this equation, a dog sitter might be the best solution.
by Doug Elliott
July 27, 1995
Dear Bill and Paul,
You have both written me at length in response to my letter. I do not object to the length. Rather, I think it is symptomatic of the fact that these issues are virtually undiscussed in the public arena. As I am sure you expect, my response will also be somewhat lengthy for the same reason. I'll go through each letter, one at a time, starting with Bill's.
Bill, you deal with so very much in your letter that answering it is a challenge. I will do my best, hoping I don't miss anything. Let me note at the outset that I completely agree with you when you say that we have substantial disagreements.
Separating Effects. You tell me that you don't know how I can separate use of guide dogs from the theme of standing up for blindness. Let me try to be more clear. Dogs shed. Dogs must relieve themselves. Dogs bark. Dogs eat, sometimes when we don't want them to. Dogs generate allergens in some people. Dogs create phobias in some people. Dogs occupy space, sometimes inconveniently. All these social effects occur whenever a dog is around people, regardless of whether it is a highly trained guide dog or a beloved pet.
As blind people, when we use a guide dog, we are implicitly asking the public around us to overlook these effects because of our choice of travel tool. But this does not eliminate the effects. Our highly trained animals do these dog-like things in as inconspicuous a manner as their human handlers instruct them to do, but they do them. None of these effects has anything to do with blindness. But they all exist and become part of any interaction we have with other people. That's why we must separate the effects of using a dog from the effects of being a blind person.
Blind people who don't use any travel tool and blind people who use canes do not have these same effects. All three types (non-users, cane users, dog users) have the effects of blindness. Only we dog users have these additional effects created by the fact that we are accompanied by a dog. Pretending that these additional effects do not exist or pretending that they have to do with blindness are both errors I suggest we identify and discuss. Using a dog is a choice some blind people make. The effects of using that dog are dog effects, not blindness effects--and we must be honest about this with ourselves, and then with the world around us.
I know that you know this even if you are unwilling to deal directly with it. Why else would you have gone to all the trouble of getting your white standard poodle, a breed not customarily trained to guide? You got the dog because it does not shed. Remove one effect; the others are still there. Honesty commands us to perceive clearly and to reason from that clarity, not to deny what we would wish away. Honesty commands us to say that using a dog has social effects that have nothing to do with blindness.
Everyone Should Try One. You compare the need for having both large print and Braille available with having canes and dogs available. You go on to say that you do not hear this insistence on choices from the NFB leadership. To you, the key is choice. Yes, we may sometimes sell the concept of Braille literacy as choice, but that is not what we are really doing. Bill, we are not trying to get Braille instruction in order to give us choices. We are trying to get Braille taught to give us literacy. In some cases a blind person will be able to use both. In many instances, without Braille the blind person has no means of reading and writing and of doing the two interactively. The point is to achieve literacy, not to achieve choices.
Now, let's apply this reasoning to the use of dogs and canes. As with literacy, let us begin by defining what we are trying to achieve. In the case of travel tools, we are trying to achieve safe and proficient travel. It's not a question of whether you have choices. It's a question of getting the skills as a blind person to do efficiently what sighted persons do with sight. Everyone agrees that people should be good cane users before they get dogs. I don't believe this is enforced; I know I was not a good cane user even though I used a cane when I got my dog. But everyone agrees on this principle. If everyone learns safe and proficient travel with a cane, then the goal has been achieved. You would probably say the goal would also be achieved if everyone used dogs, but that leaves out the requirement of good cane use. My point here is that choice is not the goal; travel is. Let's stay focused on that point and not create a smokescreen by insisting that we should have choices.
You suggest that dogs and canes are interchangeable as large print and Braille are for some people. The skills and mindset used for dogs and for canes are different. Information comes in in different ways. A person can learn both, as you and I have done. But one will always clearly be the primary skill. When a person gets a dog, the dog demands that it be the first choice. Young dogs are energetic, and you have to take them out for walks, or they will drive you crazy. The daily care must be performed whether you feel like it or not. It is important to keep up the training the dog has received and begin to add training that you specifically want. For all these reasons, when you get a dog, you use the dog. That's just the way things are. You can't switch back and forth. And if you end up not liking the dog, you can't just leave it in the corner.
I think it's downright cruel for you to say that every able- bodied blind person should try a dog. You end up loving the dog (unless it's been poorly trained or has masked some bad traits in training that come out when you arrive home). You care about the dog. You can't just junk it if you decide you don't like dog use. You've taken on a responsibility to care for this animal, and you have to do it. They want to work. They like to work. They're crushed when they don't get to go. Dogs aren't throwaway items, and you shouldn't be suggesting that large numbers of blind people try them with the understanding of interchanging or changing their minds in six months. It's not right, and it's usually not doable. And if thousands of blind people took your suggestion and, as much as they loved the dog, found they disliked traveling with a dog, there would be thousands of trained dogs not being used. They would be confused and unhappy because they were not doing what they were trained to do. That is why I say cruel--cruel to these trained animals that cannot just be cast aside if you change your mind.
Moreover, your argument is based on the belief that a person can't know what something is like unless the person tries it. Well, Bill, I think that I know enough about what heroin is like to know that I don't want to try it. I can think of many other examples--self-mutilation, serial murder, child abuse, cannibalism--the practice of which I can reject through the use of human reasoning without trying them myself. I realize these sound like extreme examples, but they make my point, that a person doesn't have to experience something to understand whether he or she wants to do it.
Let me focus more specifically on dogs. I can think of numerous reasons why a person would know without using one that he or she did not want to get a dog. One reason is the care, including the daily relief schedule. Eight or ten years of that can be a sound basis for deciding not to get a dog. Another reason is the social effects I mentioned earlier. A person can know about and assess these effects on his or her life without actually getting a dog and proving that the effects really do exist. Yet another reason is satisfaction with the person's current travel method. If a person is getting around safely and comfortably now, why would the person want to change? You say that it takes six months (I think it's more like a year) to come to trust your dog and be in sync with your dog. If a person is traveling comfortably and efficiently with a cane now, why should the person devote a year to learning a new skill that will get him or her back exactly to where the traveler is right now?
You indicate that your own personal feelings of pleasure in walking with the dog make that decision for you. But, Bill, not everybody has a wish to make the act of walking paramount with all the attendant responsibilities it entails. Many people just want to get around. If they are traveling efficiently now without a dog, I see no reason why they should try one. They've met the only real test: Are they getting what they want?
It is my guess that most blind people secretly think they don't get around very well and are a little embarrassed by it. I also suspect that most of us secretly watch others and think to ourselves that we wish we could get around as well as this person or that. And it is my observation after having these feelings myself and discussing them with others that most of us do get around pretty well. Sure, we can always use tips, brush up our skills, pay attention. But this secret belief that we are not quite as good at getting around as other people are is a wellspring for both good and bad. Some of us try to improve, try to learn more, try to practice. Others of us go to one of our centers to get the process accelerated. Still others continue secretly to worry that we aren't living up to what we could be doing.
To these worriers I'd like to say: You can. Observe the techniques of others. Ask questions. Go to a center. But under no circumstances conclude that you cannot get around and that a dog will do it for you. That's the only recipe I know for being sure that you won't get around as efficiently as you should. The dog doesn't do the thinking. You have to. Whether using a cane or a dog, you are the one responsible for path and decisions and safety. So work on your skills. But don't make the mistake of thinking the dog will do this for you. Get the skills first and then, if you like, get a dog. It doesn't work the other way around.
Dog Relief. You can smile about my mentioning dog relief as an interruption to work schedules if you like, but college professors do have their schedules very much more under their control than most other people who work. I know people who have been required to leave their dogs in pens at the edge of the work site and who are required to use their break times for relief, meaning that coffee and breaks are not available. Dog relief may not have been a problem for you; for most of us it is a necessary extra from our employers. I recall dog users at seminars and National Center for the Blind meetings usually being the last ones back or, as I mentioned before, skipping personal comforts to relieve the dog. Sure, it's their choice, but it's a choice with consequences for eight or ten years that most people don't think through when they decide to get a dog. They should.
Let me mention here my disagreement with your implication that the NFB convention does not do a good job with dog relief areas. You make this point by saying we could learn from the schools, whose relief areas do not stink. Bill, I am astonished. Any area in which sixteen to twenty-four dogs relieve themselves day after day is going to stink. No matter what you do, it will. And where clean-up is not taught, the smell is further enhanced. Yes, the schools spend a lot of time and money on cleansing the relief areas. But these areas still tell the malodorous story of their use. You say that the NFB could have non-smelling areas if we would take the "proper precautions." Well, I suppose, if the NFB spent thousands and thousands of dollars on replacing relief area material every four to six hours and used chemicals for odor suppression, that might be true.
But there is another way. First, dog handlers could clean up after themselves. Next, they could take advantage of the areas nearby, like the whole of Grant Park in Chicago. It was right across the street. Yet many dog users there declined to cross the street, causing stress on the clean-up area placed there for people with genuine walking problems. I do not understand why people who are so insistent on bringing their dogs and emphasizing their utility would be unwilling to walk a block and cross one street to provide their animals with a comfortable area in which to relieve.
Finally, I reject the notion that the NFB itself should be responsible for dog-relief areas. This is a choice some of us have made to use dogs, and a second choice we have made to bring them to convention. I think we should be responsible, both for cleaning up cleanable material, and for paying the cost of areas that must be constructed and cleaned by others. I personally resent the notion that we dog users should be able to bring our dogs, relieve them wherever we want, and put the responsibility and cost onto others. I think my choice to use a dog carries these additional responsibilities, and I urge all other dog users to adopt the same view.
Conventions. You express a lot of emotion about snide remarks of cane users at conventions. I have heard dog users do the same. I think this all rests on our mutual pact not to discuss these topics openly, leading to build-ups of resentment and misunderstanding. If a cane user is acting inappropriately, then others should tell him. Likewise, if a dog user is acting inappropriately, then others should tell her as well. It should not be a cane versus dog issue. We all should understand what is appropriate for use of either travel tool, because courteous behavior toward others is always what is appropriate.
I saw people--dog and cane users--rushing for elevators and not observing the rules of courtesy. Would you say the cane users are rude and the dog users cannot help it because the dog is making the decisions? At convention many dogs are baffled by the crowds and the fact that blind people do not automatically step out of their way as sighted people back home do. When dog users at conventions do not remain aware of their surroundings or permit their dogs to make decisions, you get situations in which dogs become pushy to obey forward commands that cannot be obeyed, or start pressing their noses between people's legs in an effort to open a path for users. Would you say that someone stepping in front of a dog trying to find a way around a crowded area is rude? Would you say the dog is rude for trying to do its best? Or would you say the dog handler should be controlling the dog in such crowds? In these instances, I think the handler is not in control and is at fault. But I have heard plenty of snide remarks about cane users, and some of them are justified. I have heard snide remarks about dog users, and some of them are justified, too.
Instead of pointing fingers and calling names, let us talk together about what is appropriate behavior for these crowded areas. Everyone will benefit. But it does none of us any good to say that the cane users oppress the dog users by numbers and that dog users are long-suffering, overly fair, and put upon. Cane users could say the same, and we would still be right where we are: resenting each other's behavior instead of working together to resolve this. Will you join me in encouraging all convention delegates to be courteously firm with each other while we work on practices of courtesy common to all?
Sighted Guides. I disagree with Fred Schroeder if he really said that using a guide dog is no different from using a sighted guide. I doubt whether Fred actually said this, but I will deal with the concept anyway. I disagree because I think there are differences, but they may not be the same ones you think of. I got my dog, as I say, for increased independence. I now know this is not a good reason. But it seemed like it at the time. I was a cane user, going out every day with my cane to work but not going out otherwise unless I was with a sighted person. I told myself that I could; I may even have believed it. But the fact remained that I didn't. So when the idea of a dog occurred, I acted upon it.
I think that most of us who get dogs think that we can then dispense with our dependence on sighted guides. But our thought process is often skewed. We can say to ourselves: When I have a dog, I don't always have to be with a sighted person. Sighted people are usually in control when I am walking with them, or they think they are. More often than I should, I have gone along, permitting this. They see. They make the navigational decisions. They watch out for my safety. Now I'll get rid of that. I'll have my dog to do that. But it will be different. I'm the human being, and I will be the one in control.
You can see the flaw in this logic. The dog is going to do all the things the sighted person did, but the blind person will be in control. That little "but" means a lot. Is the blind person who thinks this way really in control? Or have we just shifted our reliance on sight from a person to a dog? I think there is a great deal of this. I know that I have gone out with my dog, not really paying attention to where I was going, believing that the dog could get me back home. That's wrong. I should at all times know where I am, give the dog directional commands, use him to provide information about the path rather than letting him set the path.
I also know that I have used that easy excuse when I get lost of blaming my dog for getting lost. Anyone can get lost, cane user or dog user. But we dog users can blame the dog and vent emotion (though, I hope, not physically) on the dog rather than blaming ourselves and learning better the next time. We can also order the dog to "take us home." Have you ever done that? I certainly have, gritting my teeth that the dumb dog got us lost. Now, looking back, I know who got us lost. I did it. The dog merely did what I told him, and the instructions were wrong. But for a long time I didn't figure out that I had to figure things out. I now stay very tightly in control of the directional commands, and the dog follows the path I set. How many dog users make this distinction and follow it? How many do what I used to do--expect the dog to navigate, but blame the dog for a poor job? All too many, I fear. It goes back to why we got the dog. It's a variant of using a sighted guide, and it's not the same thing. That's why I disagree with the concept of equating dogs and sighted guides. Done incorrectly, using a dog is worse.
Hierarchy. I object very strongly to your characterizing the Federation as having a "hierarchy above" and a "below." I see the Federation as a true grassroots movement, made up of blind people who volunteer their time to make the world better for themselves and others. Some of these people hold elective leadership, and they got elected by being eloquent or hard-working or representative or very much in touch with their fellow blind men and women, and often all of these. Elective leadership means more work for the same pay--nothing except the satisfaction of a job well done. We should be trying to work together, work hard, work effectively to achieve our goals.
Instead, you set up a category of the "higher" and the "lower" and put yourself in the "lower" as one not in elected leadership. You then take shots at the leadership. If you want to change the attitude of the current leadership or the leadership itself, then work on that. Don't call names and set up categories. Convince people. Present arguments. Network. That is how change is made by human beings, whether in the Federation or out of it. But do not, if you wish to be effective, choose the path of criticism without solutions. We Federationists do not believe in that. It gets you nowhere except right where you are.
You accuse the Monitor of being unfair to dogs. You try to prove this charge by saying that there has been a positive article or picture about white canes in every Monitor for the past year. Bill, if this is the test--a picture of a white cane--then the Monitor is certainly guilty. Most blind people who are photographed will be photographed with their travel tool handy, and as you yourself say, there are more canes (2,000) than dogs (100) at a national convention, where many pictures are taken. Assuming this is representative of the blind population, there will be more canes than dogs. Why anyone would conclude that picturing a cane is somehow propaganda for the cane and against the dog is beyond me. People mention their travel tools in articles about them, and I remember numerous passing references over the years to both cane use and dog use. Once again, if the proportion runs true, there will be far more mentions of canes than dogs. I do not think as you do that this is intentional suppression of dogs; it is merely a result of the statistics.
You cap your argument by saying there were two negative references to dogs, both in resolutions urging dog schools to teach clean-up. Bill, these resolutions were adopted first by the Guide Dog Division and proposed by Division leaders to the national convention. They were not denigrating to dogs. Like all our resolutions, they were recognitions of fact and calls to action. Perhaps you yourself did not agree with the resolutions. Many of your fellow dog users did. If you don't agree with the resolutions, please say so. That would be a better way of making your position known than to say that the resolutions represented negative references to dogs. By the way, I flipped open my Monitor index covering the years 1978-1984, and I found two full pages of indexed references to articles about dogs while there is less than one page indexed under "canes" and "white canes" combined.
2. Pet Therapy
I am startled anew every time I read your point that pets are great therapy, that dogs are among the best in providing good pet therapy results, and that you think this is all the more true when the dog is not only a pet but also a trained guide with that added bond. What on earth does this prove? That blind people are all in need of therapy and that only dog users are getting it? That dog users are better people than cane users or sighted people because they have constant canine therapists? Please, Bill. I don't feel in need of therapy. I feel in need of a travel tool to get around. The one I use is a dog. Please don't infer from this that I am a nut or, conversely, that I am not and that all cane users are. It's a travel tool, Bill, not a lay person's self-therapy. The public in general already thinks enough odd things about us. Don't add to it that we are all in constant need of therapy on the spot and that Spot or some other guide dog, in addition to doing the thinking for us, is also curing us at the same time. I might add that, in my profession of licensed clinical social worker, I have worked with pet therapists and have been invited to give several lectures on what pet therapy is and how it works. Your ideas about pet therapy bear no relationship to the professional use of the concept.
Perhaps I did not make myself clear when I discussed the theory of avoidance, a psychological concept I applied to dog use. You indicate that you cannot be avoiding blindness because your dog is a much larger, more conspicuous travel tool than a cane, which in some cases can actually be hidden when not in use. Please understand when I discuss this and other topics that I am not suggesting that you personally exemplify any of the matters I discuss. I am listing tendencies and feelings that I personally have and that I have observed in others. Taking this discussion personally only leads to resentment; thinking objectively about it may lead to new views of truth.
The theory of avoidance involves the rigorous dodging of some topic and can include focusing to the point of over-focus on another concept to help mask the avoided topic. I think use of a dog can create the context for over-focus on the dog as a means of avoiding dealing with the painful subject of blindness. It works like this: A dog user following the extreme version of avoidance will be very insistent on that dog's rights, so to speak--introducing the dog as though it were another person in the conversation, focusing on the dog as an important topic of conversation to the exclusion of the usual range of human topics, insisting on attention for the dog, talking baby-talk to the dog when in company with other people or when walking along, magnifying the talents and skills of the dog in the user's mind and in conversation with others to the point that the dog is a truly wondrous being, and on and on.
While this over-focus on the dog is going on, the blind person can at the same time have feelings of inferiority about blindness, feelings of resentment at not being able to see, feelings of lack of competence in that whole range of human activities in which we blind people are consistently and subtly told we are second-class. Pushing the dog in all interactions, insisting on its near-humanity, can be a way of trying to cover up and deny these feelings of inferiority. In the case of cane users, there is no being behind which the person can push these difficult feelings. They either exist raw or are repressed when not dealt with. In the case of dog users, the dog provides a way of covering up one set of feelings with another.
I am not implying that you personally do this. I felt tendencies like this myself before I joined the Federation, which helped me to work past both the avoidance and the blindness-related feelings by its positive emphasis on honesty and capability. What I am saying is that I know this possibility, this tendency, exists in humans. I have worked a long time as a therapist and counselor, and I have dealt with avoidance of many things (pain, loss, drastic change of circumstances, harm from others) in clients who first and foremost needed honesty about their situations and second needed a therapist or guide to work through the avoided feelings as well as the feelings on which they had come to focus. It's human. I've done it. Dogs make it easy. Let's admit this and work through the consequences.
I do not think it matters whether you are an extrovert or an introvert when considering the dog as an ice breaker. I think, rather, that all of us need to consider, whoever we are, whether we want people to pay attention to us for ourselves or for our dogs. The interaction you get with other people is very different in the two instances.
I have heard many dog users say that, when they used canes, they were left out of social situations and that no sighted people would talk to them. Then they got a dog, and everything changed. Suddenly sighted people were talking to them. This is a graphic example of what I am talking about when I say that avoidance is underway here. Blind people who call themselves shy or introverted may very well have those feelings of inferiority due to blindness and, when they get a dog, can cover up the inferior feelings by focusing on the dog. Many people love dogs, and the sighted public becomes an inadvertent conspirator in focusing on the dog along with the blind person. This suits everybody in the equation; the only thing it leaves out or, more accurately, leaves in, is those feelings of inferiority, which are never brought out into the open for examination, rejection, and replacement with the positive attitudes about blindness the Federation teaches.
4. Canes and Dogs
Who is pitied more? You say that your experience leads you to believe that the public views blind persons using canes with greater pity than those using dogs. However, you give no examples or explanations for your belief. I deal with this in the section devoted to Paul's letter because he raises a related point. Let me add a few comments here.
My belief is the opposite of yours, and I will give examples. When my wife as a cane user and I as a dog user walk together in airports or cities other than the one in which we live, I am the one approached with offers of help far more often than she is. You say in your letter that you suspect I do not use my dog to its fullest potential, and I would guess you would make that answer to this example. Not so. At the school where I trained and ever since, I have always been told and observed for myself that I use my dog much more flexibly, much more fully, much more effectively than most of the dog users I have encountered. I think this is so for a reason I will deal with later. Let's examine why I might be approached rather than my wife though both of us are proceeding purposefully to our destination.
Might it be, as I describe more fully in the portion addressed to Paul, that the public thinks she must know where she's going because she is using a cane while I must not since I have a dog? That is certainly the way it feels. When we have talked about this, both she and I have perceived no difference between our paths, our knowledge, our carriage, our focus. The only difference is the travel tool.
To me, you set up incorrect categories when you ask, "Who is more greatly pitied?" All blind people get enough of that to start with as blind people. Our task is to identify and eliminate that feeling about us. My goal in dealing with the topic of dogs is to separate those effects specific to dogs and examine them so that we can reach a new understanding about them. It's not a question of who is pitied more or less. It's a question of what effects are attributable to blindness and what to use of dogs. I think they are separable.
While we're on the subject of comparisons, I don't think it's useful to make comparisons between dog users and cane users that emotionally characterizes one or the other as better or worse. In my response to Paul, I have drawn a comparison, but its purpose is not to conclude which is better or worse. Rather, its purpose is to isolate the effects of dog use for separate consideration. You, on the other hand, published a lengthy, two-part piece in Harness Up about a year ago in which you went into great detail about how you felt dog use was superior and cane use inferior. There are echoes of that piece in your letter to me. You concluded your piece by saying to persons who do not use dogs and do not wish to: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Aside from the inappropriate translation of this quotation from its original Biblical context to this one, your conclusion was the strongest possible statement of dog user superiority and cane user inferiority to the point of almost calling cane users ignorant.
I am not saying that either tool is superior or inferior. As a dog user myself, I am focusing on the effects of dog use which I think are ignored, overlooked, or pretended away. They exist. And I think they should be known and discussed. If you or I choose to use a dog, that is our choice. But I maintain that we are not free to pretend that our choice has no consequences. You are welcome to say that dog use is superior for you. In my view, you are not welcome to say that dog use is superior for everyone. And particularly you are not welcome to say it without challenge, discussion, and reflection on the subject in public if the topic is one that affects all blind people as dog use does.
Grace and Exhilaration. You say that a dog usually gets you there with much more grace and poise than a cane. You then say that using a cane is not an exhilarating experience, implying that using a dog is. You characterize using a dog as fun and relaxing and then compare canes and dogs by calling cane use the "hard road" and dog use the "easier road." You then compare cane use to walking a tightrope without a balancing pole and dog use to walking a tightrope with one, asking why anyone would want to leave the balancing pole behind when it is safer and more comfortable to use one.
Once again, these comparisons seem very emotional to me. We have a very basic disagreement since you say the dog "gets you there," and I say I "get me there," using a dog as a travel tool. Moreover, I don't want exhilaration, fun, joy, or relaxation when I'm going somewhere. I want to get there. The medium strikes me as a secondary consideration while it seems paramount to you. While this is a difference between us that can be attributed to style, I must add that I don't know any sighted people who worry about exhilaration or relaxation when walking. They're doing it for exercise, to get there, or because the car is broken- -because they like the scenery, not because the medium itself is the point. Why should blind people be different and focus on the medium for information? It seems a skewed view to choose a method of travel because of some emotional attachment to the method itself.
But this is not our basic disagreement. No, I do not think that the dog gets the person there with more grace and poise. I think some dog users working with their dogs are graceful and poised. I think some cane users are. And I think some dog users and some cane users are clumsy, awkward, and graceless. I think it is the person and the person's training, not the method that makes the difference.
Furthermore, I am offended by your use of the acrobat analogy. Here is why. Your use of the easier and harder comparison and the acrobat image states in no uncertain terms that you think canes are unsafe as well as uncomfortable. Applying the analogy you have chosen to the actual discussion, here is what you have said: Walking anywhere as a blind person is like walking on a tightrope, a situation fraught with danger. Cane use is like walking a tightrope without any safety equipment because the use of a cane itself is not safe, leading to a deep feeling of discomfort. Dog use, on the other hand, is like walking a tightrope with safety equipment, making you safe and giving a feeling of ease. Nonsense. Nonsense. Nonsense.
In the first place, I do not think that walking around as a blind person is like walking a tightrope. I think it's like walking around. If you think that walking around as a blind person is inherently unsafe, symbolized by your tightrope picture, then you and I have a profound disagreement which we may not be able to resolve. In the second place, cane use may not be safe or comfortable for you. Maybe, even though you used a cane for a number of years, you were not able to receive the kind of cane training now available in our centers, the kind that teaches the skills to the level of instinctual reaction while linking those skills to self-confidence. I have not had our kind of cane training either, and I think the lack of good cane training is largely why people get dogs. When we got dogs, our level of mobility was increased over what it was, as is our safety, to use your analogy.
But, Bill, our level of cane use is not the level that can be achieved. Watch people who come from the centers. Watch people who have taken the time to observe good cane users at Federation conventions and have taken the opportunity to ask questions and request helpful hints to improve their own technique. These cane users do move with grace and poise. They do move safely. They do move with comfort. You may not, but how can you say that no one can with all that evidence before you? Please stop this trashing of cane use, this implying that cane use is not safe or effective or comfortable. It's fine if cane use is none of those things for you; it's not fine to say that your experience sets the standard.
"Tightrope," my foot. I know thousands of people who move safely and efficiently and gracefully every day in situations much more challenging than the small-town context you and I traverse. "Acrobats," my foot. They're people, people who happen to be blind and who happen to make the cane work for them. Perhaps it is you and I who should try a new method. We may be the ones who don't know ease and comfort. Whether that's true or not, we both know walking with a cane is not like walking on a tightrope without safety equipment. So please stop saying it.
Speed and Proficiency. You say that dogs (and the people they are guiding) walk faster than pedestrians without dogs, whether blind or sighted. You say this is a well-known fact. Not to me. My dog walks at the speed of some people, faster than some, slower than some. It depends on his mood, my mood, the temperature, the conditions (high humidity and snow or ice can slow us down). To think that dog users always go faster than other people is, I think, another myth.
You mention several accidents you have had while using a cane that you would not have had if using a dog. One involved a protrusion from a truck. I have observed my wife, a cane user, deviating around things parked across the sidewalk without ever touching them with the cane. She is listening for cues that alert her to the presence of objects, and she bypasses them. You say that you encountered an overhanging sign several times. I have observed my wife encountering something once, like the table in the center of the corridor to Kitty O'Shea's in the Chicago Hilton. After she encounters it once, she adds it to her mental map and deviates around it in the future. You say that you broke a cane on one badly parked car and cut your leg on another's license plate bolt. Where I live, we also have areas without sidewalks, and I have never seen my wife come even close to doing what you describe.
And I know that, when my dog is sick or in for grooming and I pick up my cane, I do slow down. I know I do not have the same skills and techniques at the instinctual level that people who routinely use canes do, so I slow down to accommodate to this. However, from this I do not conclude that dogs are faster; rather, I conclude that my skills are rusty. You mention that you can listen to birds or pay attention to what's going on when you use your dog, implying that you cannot when using your cane. My wife listens to birds and has her own creative names for them. She pays attention to what's going on, comments as we walk, turns around to talk to me or others, all in the confidence that her instinctual-level skills will tell her when she has arrived at a street or something obstructs her path. Her confidence is justified. In other words, Bill, she does, with a cane, just what you say you do using a dog. The problem is that you imply that you cannot do this and therefore no one else can with a cane.
And what about this tiresome swinging of canes? I asked my wife how many times she swings a cane in a block. She replied that she swings it as many times as she needs to. It never occurred to her to count. Focusing on number of swings seems to me to be over-focusing on process and not focusing on the objective: getting there safely and efficiently.
Navigating. Concerning my example of a man instructing his dog to "find the counter," you asked if the user was a new user, the dog was a new dog, the team was a new team, and so on. None of this is relevant to the problem I identified. The problem is dog users' thinking that the dog can do their thinking for them. The dog cannot; the blind person must know where the counter is and give directional commands.
Any person walking into a new place will not immediately know where things are. But we all have the responsibility of finding out. What is to the left of the door? What is on the right at the top of the stairs? My point is that cane users do this. They have to. They have no alternative. Dog users all too often fall into thinking that the dog will find things for them and do not themselves make mental maps, keeping track of where they are, and learning new parts to the map as they go. They rely on the dog to do this, and the reliance is misplaced. The dog cannot "find the counter." But the dog can go "right" out of the elevator lobby and then "forward" to the desk. There's quite a difference in the two methods. By the way, the incident I described did not happen at an Iowa state convention.
Also, it does no good to blame sighted people for giving imprecise directions. Sighted people should never be relied on to give precise directions and then be accused of being insensitive if they do not. Instead, we have to take the responsibility of learning the techniques of getting precise directions from them. And if we dog users all need a sighted person for a day or two to orient us to a new place, then we are indeed very far behind the cane users who walk in, start exploring, fit spaces and routes together, and make their mental maps of the places they are in by asking questions, walking around, and figuring out spatial relationships. You say that we dog users need a sighted person to explain and show to us and the dog all these things for a day or two. That's not my experience, but if you're right, then we should all be looking at getting canes.
Who Succeeds? You say the most prominent people in your community use dogs, implying that there is a hierarchy of blind people and that the best ones, the ones with the best jobs, the most professional ones, the most responsible ones, use dogs. The very same statement about many other communities could be made regarding cane users. Once again, you are creating a set of categories that is false. Do you really believe that the choice of a travel tool leads to more or to less success? You may, but I do not. It's the blind person who makes the success, not the travel tool he or she chooses.
"Model Blind Person?" I don't know if you quoted Dr. Jernigan accurately. I doubt it, but, if he said some version of these words, I would guess they were repeated out of context. I know that Dr. Jernigan does not go around lightly defining the "model blind person." He knows there is no such thing. Each blind person is a set of skills and abilities and potentials yet undeveloped just as every sighted person is. Dr. Jernigan may have been referring to the deeply-held belief of many (which I share) that no one should get a dog until he or she is truly proficient in using a cane. Most of us today are not. We're just starting to be able to offer to numerous blind people through our centers the kind of training Dr. Jernigan pioneered. Some of us have learned the same thing at conventions of the Federation by persistence and hard work. But many of us have neither attended centers nor taken advantage of the Federation's convention contexts to learn. We know it can be done; we haven't learned it yet ourselves.
Once good cane skills are learned with all that this implies for instinctual information gathering and processing, strong self-reliance on our ability to reason and protect our own safety, good navigational skills, and positive feelings about ourselves as blind persons, then getting a dog or continuing to use a cane is irrelevant. Either will work. The schools even say this; they just don't enforce it. They pretend to require good cane skills; we all know they don't. They may do a minimal test--like walking one block and crossing one street--but they make no serious effort to test skills and are really just interested in establishing that the potential student is ambulatory. And the minute you get to a dog school, at least the one I attended, they require you to put your cane away. No more cane on their grounds. Why, if cane skills are required? The point I'm making is that Dr. Jernigan may have been discussing the need for a blind person to learn the basic blindness skills. I can think of no other reason for him to mention a "model blind person" because there is no such thing.
5. The Division
Your definition of the Division's purpose is to enlighten the rest of the blind community about what it might be missing. I emphatically disagree. That may be your purpose, but it should not be the purpose of the Division if the Division wishes to function as a part of the Federation.
To me, the purpose of any division is twofold. First, the division can interest blind persons in some shared trait--use of dogs, teaching, writing--to draw the person toward the Federation. Divisions can be doors of entry for new members who have not yet understood the importance of the Federation to the entirety of their lives. Second, divisions work on applying Federation philosophy to that shared trait. Teachers will do a better job of fashioning answers to classroom problems for blind teachers than will the whole convention, though the overall purpose of the Teachers Division and the convention is the same one.
The Guide Dog Division meetings and the newsletter, in your view, should proselytize. I can think of no other word for it. There isn't problem identifying. There isn't pooling of knowledge to forge new solutions. There's discussion of dog care, discussion of the value of dogs, discussion of and by dog schools in general with very little critical thinking or substantive interaction. Yes, I think you are correct when you describe the Division as trying to tell someone how wonderful dogs are. But that is not the same thing that other divisions are doing. Proselytizing about the capabilities of blind persons is one thing, whether it's stated positively or framed negatively as the identification of a problem needing solution. Proselytizing about the capabilities of dogs is quite another. My suggestion was and remains that the Guide Dog Division should work on blindness, not on dogs.
You tell me that the Guide Dog Division need not emphasize negative aspects of dog use and suggest that neither teachers nor computer users do so in their meetings. Divisions apply Federation philosophy to their shared trait. Teachers most certainly do emphasize the negative effects blindness has on their practice of their profession. They discuss combating misconceptions about the ability of blind teachers to teach subjects using the blackboard or to keep class discipline or to protect the safety of children. They don't bring up these items to emphasize the negative. They bring them up as real factors in the lives of practicing and aspiring teachers for the purpose of understanding them and shaping responses and refutations for them. Likewise, computer users discuss (at great length) that nasty problem of the graphical screens that makes them less able or unable to use software or work effectively for employers. I can't think of anything more negative than that. But they discuss this to understand it and to forge solutions to this difficult problem as responsible blind people and employees.
You ask why the Guide Dog Division should be asked to emphasize negatives that are already known by dog users and state that you don't think cane instructors emphasize the negatives of using a cane. You conclude by saying that the purpose of a support group is to uplift and give direction. Part of my point in raising these topics is that I think some of what you call the negatives about guide-dog use are actually not well known. I have certainly never heard them discussed at a Division meeting, or read about them in the newsletter. Dog users and potential dog users are without this information and a place to discuss it.
Perhaps my point can be made more clearly by discussing sighted travel and cane training. Any travel tool will have its disadvantages. Sighted people have peripheral vision only to a degree, and they can be what is called "blind-sided," having things come at them from a side they are not able to see or not paying attention to. Likewise, cane use only tells the users certain things. In learning to use a cane, the student learns what the limits of cane-gathered information are, what reasonable assumptions can be made, how those assumptions can be in error, and how to protect oneself in all cases. In other words, if a cane instructor does not teach what you would call the negatives, the limits and consequences of use of this particular tool, as a part of the course of instruction, then the cane trainer is failing his or her students.
I think dog trainers fail according to this test. I think that the negatives of dog use are not taught, are not well-understood, and are usually not even discussed. There are negatives, Bill, even if you think they are minor or wish not to discuss them. We should be discussing them. We should be forging our own views of them. We should be proselytizing, but the proselytizing should be to the dog schools and to current dog users to set a higher standard. But please let us not pretend that there are not negatives, and please let us not pretend that there is no point in discussing them because everyone who needs to know already does. Not so.
Looked at one way, everything has negatives. Looked at another, the job of human beings is to identify limitations and drawbacks and learn how to overcome them. From your letter, I get the idea that you are so committed to proselytizing for dog use that you are unwilling to concede that there may be limitations and drawbacks to using a dog and unwilling to discuss how these can be handled. That's not the approach I take to life, and it's not the approach I take to the use of my dog. Further, it's not the approach I would have the Division take.
No, I don't think the job of the Division is to be uplifting. As I said before, I think the job is to apply the Federation approach to the shared trait. In the case of dog use, this means discussing the things that are problems, the things that need changing, and the things that can be improved. Dr. Jernigan says that intelligence is number one, the ability to change the world to suit your wishes and needs; number two, the ability to change yourself to accommodate to the world when you cannot do number one; and number three, the ability to know when to do which. Under this test, the Division is only doing number two, accommodating to the world as it is, and adding proselytizing as a side benefit.
6. Dog Schools
Let me try to be clearer about my point concerning dog-guide schools at conventions since you say that you do not understand. I don't object to our inviting the schools to convention. What I do object to is our treatment of them, exemplified by your letter. You give as reasons to have the schools present that we blind people can learn from them and that we can make personal contacts with staff members which will help when we attend the schools. I disagree with both points.
We don't bring other people (you mention computer experts) to convention to learn from them except for very specific factual data like operating a Braille 'n Speak. Mostly we have already decided what we think, what direction we would like to go. We bring the so-called experts to convention either to teach them what we have already decided or to cement working relationships with them for problem-solving in the future. We most emphatically do not bring people to convention to learn from them about blindness or blindness-related skills. What good would a convention be if we all showed up, thinking we didn't know what we think and that we were there to learn from outside experts? If we had done that for the past fifty-five years, we would still have rehab from the forties, library service without any best-sellers, large print as king in literacy for the blind, and a dozen other examples. But we don't do it that way. Instead, we decide what we think. Then we try to spread our ideas. We are the experts on blindness.
In the case of the dog schools, this summer's Division meeting was a perfect example. There was a panel with all the dog schools and one of our own members, Rick Fox. The topic was: "Who is in charge in crossing the street, the dog or the blind person?" Rick began with a detailed description of how he had been taught that the dog was to make the decisions in the street after he, Rick, had given the command "forward." Rick described how he learned that he had to be in control at all times, alert to information and dangers, giving commands in the street as well as on the sidewalk. Then representatives of each dog school spoke. Each one said, in effect, that Rick was right. Now, Bill, you say in your letter that you were taught that the dog is in control when crossing a street. You also say that you believe it. I was taught the same thing, and I believe what Rick believes. I believe I am in control or that I should be. Yet every dog school, including the ones from which Rick, you, and I got our dogs, said that they believe the blind person is in control.
I know that's not true. They don't believe it. They think the street is the most dangerous place a blind person can be, and they think that blind people aren't up to handling the challenge. So they train the dog to look for oncoming cars and to avoid them, and they teach the blind person to yield control to the dog. I don't, and as I said at the convention, it's a good thing. Dogs try hard, but they're not people. They can't understand physics and can't see 360 degrees. If the blind person does not remain alert and in control, a car from an unexpected direction or at an unexpected speed can fool the dog. It's happened to me, and I was the one who got us both out of the way. I sort of threw my dog and then leaped after him. The car missed us, but it would have hit us if I had not acted. I'm not saying dogs are a bad travel tool or that my dog misbehaved. The car came from a funny angle and at an unexpected speed, the kind of situation our human brains can understand and react to.
Yet no one at the convention was given an opportunity to challenge the dog schools because the panel moderator said there was no time. Almost everyone in the room had been trained the opposite of what the school representatives from the podium were saying. No one had a chance to stand up and say that the school people were not accurately representing what happens in training and that the training should be that the blind person is in control. To me, this was the most important topic on the agenda, and I wish we had devoted more time to this and less to other, less important things.
I want to take this concept one step further. As I mentioned before, I think the schools have a falsely limited view of blind people, believing that we can do very little efficiently by ourselves. Let me add here that there's absolutely no difference between this limited view of our capabilities in dog schools and that in most orientation centers that train people to use canes. That's probably why most of us have never learned cane use to the optimum. People who have a limited view of the blind and who are teaching cane use will teach limited skills and limited confidence, and they will limit and condition the blind person to feel the same way. The same is true with dogs.
But there's an added wrinkle. The dog trainers with this limited view of blind people train the dogs to that standard. We all know that most schools still do not train dogs to use escalators even though most of us do so ourselves once we leave the school. The trainers have bizarre, ballet-like ways of getting a dog and blind person turned around in an elevator. You have to learn it to graduate. Once we leave, most of us drop it. Good dog training includes positive reinforcement, and dog schools apply this by teaching their students to talk baby-talk and give constant, positive reinforcement while walking and after executing commands correctly. I hear blind dog users doing this all the time, and it strikes me as a very isolating technique, preserving dog training at the price of making one seem a little odd when uttering that baby-talk. There are other equally effective ways of preserving training and providing positive reinforcement that do not require the blind person to keep up a constant patter to the dog in that syrupy voice usually reserved for babies and pets.
The trainers, and this is especially offensive, train both the dog and the blind person that the dog may never be relieved while the harness is on. Most of us dispense with this stupid restriction once we leave. I guess the idea is that, when the dog is in harness, it's working. And if you insist it not relieve itself while in harness, it won't do it while in public. Then accidents won't occur. This is pure nonsense.
In the first place, we should be aware enough of our dog's schedule to plan for relief at the usual times in an appropriate place. We should be reinforcing the training all the time about relieving only on command. We shouldn't need that special training of never relieving while in harness, and we shouldn't have to go through the trouble of undressing the dog as a cue to relieve.
But the worst of it is the implication that we can't do all this, so the dog will be trained to hold it until we undress it. Instead of this silly restriction, the dog schools should teach strong responsibility for scheduling by the blind person. Moreover, they should require their students to learn the skill of finding relief areas for every situation and should demand that all students live up to the standard of cleaning up after their dogs. No student should be graduated from a dog school and allowed to take a dog home if the student has refused to learn cleanup and if it is clear that the student will leave dog droppings for the rest of the public to see, smell, and step in. That's part of the responsibility we as dog users accept, and most dog schools do not do what I suggest, relying on the "relieve-when-undressed routine" and not requiring cleanup. They are wrong, and we should tell them so until we change it.
I think it's because they think we can't or won't do it. Perhaps it is because of this low image of blind people that the schools condescend to blind people in a thousand small and inappropriate ways while they are in training: train the blind person that he or she and the dog should sit in the bulkhead on airplanes; ask that the dog be seen once a year throughout the dog's working life by a school trainer; and decline to transfer ownership of the dog to the blind handler. It all fits together.
My point here is that the dog schools under-train and mis- train according to their skewed view of blind people. When we bring the schools to convention "to learn from them" as you advise, we will learn this. Instead, we should be bringing the schools to convention to teach them: teach them what we can really do, teach them what we really want, teach them to be more respectful of blind persons. We're not doing any of that.
When we reprint their news releases, we fall into the same error. I've never read a release from a dog school in the newsletter that I thought did anything other than brag about the school and/or denigrate blind people. So I wouldn't have printed a one of them. But we periodically print material from outsiders in our publications for the purpose of teaching why the material is wrong. You can print the whole thing if you like; in fact, it's more effective to show the blind community what someone erroneously thinks if you reprint the person's own words. But you don't just reprint. You analyze. You explain the errors. You provide context. You teach. That's the Federation. We are the experts on blindness, and we teach our understandings to others, not the other way around.
You ask if I have ever been a newsletter editor and imply that, since I have not, I should not criticize you for using whatever solutions you can think of to fill the newsletter. Bill, I have edited newsletters, and I know it is not always easy to find material. That is really the biggest part of any editor's job, not production or mailing. But that does not change the nature of the publication. Are we going to be a mouthpiece for the dog schools, or are we going to develop through the newsletter and other means our own understanding of dog use and what it means to blind people?
Another example of this low expectation by dog schools of blind persons is their fund raising. Have you ever seen a video from one of the dog schools? I have. It is a degrading experience. The tapes are fund-raising tools, and the theme is to show how helpless a blind person is without a dog and how happy he or she is with one. One dimension of this is that, in order to raise money, the schools have to dramatize a problem. However, they dramatize it in a way that is demeaning to blind persons. Another dimension is that blind dog users themselves are some of the participants, describing their feelings of helplessness without a dog and of security with one.
This again makes a point I have previously made. Our own views of ourselves are the most important things we have when dealing with the public. If we believe we cannot do normal things without a dog and can do them once the dog is there to do them for us, then our own self-image is pretty low. In addition, what kind of public image of blind people is being purveyed by these video tapes? And the fund-raising letters I have seen from dog schools are just as bad.
Those of us who use our dogs extensively, flexibly, and effectively do not buy the dog-school view of blind persons. We get the training and go home with a dog trained very, very well to obedience and the desire to work with a human being. From there we move on to what we ourselves want. As I mentioned before, flexible, competent dog users not only dispense with the nonsense that the dog is in charge. They go on to add specific points of training that the schools do not think of or that they reject. If the schools opened their minds to the idea that they may be the experts on dogs but that we are the experts on blindness, then much more training could be done at the school and much less nonsense given out.
Most schools employ very good dog trainers. The problem is that the trainers are experts on dogs, not blindness. Why on earth would we blind people listen to experts on dogs expounding on the issue of blindness? They should be listening to us as the experts on blindness because they should be training the dogs for us, not training us for the dogs.
I don't think there's all that much difference between schools. I know that each school has a devoted group of loyal graduates and that most people satisfied with one dog go back to the same school for new ones. But I still don't see much essential difference other than geographical distribution. There may be small differences in length of program, treatment of people getting second dogs, and rooming arrangements. But the essential things--good breeding, good puppy-raising, limited view of blind persons, limited training of dogs--are shared by most schools. I don't think it matters if you know someone before you go. What matters is if you know yourself as a blind person, know really good cane skills, and know that you will be trained in a limited way with a dog trained likewise. If you have all these things behind you, then you can use the dog as it should be used and train it yourself when you leave the school to do the things you really want it to do, not just what the schools tell you.
We are the experts on blindness. We should decide what we want from travel tools. We have done this with cane travel. I think we should get busy and do the same thing for dogs. We should set the standard.
7. Differing Philosophies
Let me note how startled I was to read you quoting the pragmatist William James's definition of truth. Yes, I agree. There is a sense in which whatever works is true. But there are different levels of working, different levels of freedom and competence for blind people. It also worked to sit in a rocking chair. Families with blind people who did so usually fed and cared for them. But would you want that kind of life? It's not just what works. It's also what is possible, and that's where the Federation comes in. From its founding, the Federation refused to accept what works as the only test. Blind people began to dream, to imagine what was possible, and to work to make what was possible into what was real. The founders would be surprised and pleased at how quickly we have made the possible into the real for so many. Yet there is still a long way to go. I suggest that we not declare dogs as they are currently trained and used to be perfect. Instead, let's think about ways to make them and ourselves better. That would be another important part of truth that James wasn't thinking about when he equated what works with what's true. For us, what is true should be what is possible, and that is a great deal more than we now have.
Now let me turn to your letter, Paul. I have worked for over twenty years as a social worker, mostly in hospital settings. I have worked in emergency rooms; in crisis intervention, including potential suicides; and in group and individual counseling for substance abusers and patients with head trauma, to name only a few of my assignments. I thought I couldn't be surprised by anything, because I've experienced so much in my working life. But your letter surprised me.
You characterize my letter to you as angry and filled with emotion. While I recognize that it is hard to judge one's own work, I know the effort I put into trying to deal with a very difficult subject with a minimum of characterization and emotion. I think I achieved that goal.
Before answering your letter, I want to deal directly with your statement that I am angry. While we spent a lot of time together in the late 1980's, I don't recall speaking to you between the 1992 Convention in Charlotte and the 1995 Convention in Chicago. As you know, I was married in 1993, and I can emphatically assure you that I have never been happier in my life.
I find myself at a loss in answering your letter. As you take up each of my points, you first seem to be disagreeing and starting to refute each of them. However, reading on in your letter in each subsection, it became clear to me that you basically agreed with each of the points I made. While we may differ on detail or method of expression, our views seem to be largely overlapping. Therefore, I will concentrate on the five areas about which I thought our disagreement was the most apparent.
Taboo. You begin the substance of your letter by affirming that the topic of guide dogs is largely sacrosanct. I, of course think it is not. You base your opinion on the need to protect the feelings of the people who have chosen to use dogs. Please remember that I have also made that choice. I have had a dog guide since 1985 and still use him every day. But you actually make my point for me. You say that, because of the feelings of individuals, this topic cannot be discussed openly and honestly. I disagree.
In the Federation we talk openly and honestly about the failures of rehabilitation professionals even though the feelings of those workers are very deep and strong. In the Federation we talk about the high illiteracy rate among blind people even though some people in the discussion are themselves unable to read, and many people who stay out of the discussion lack the same skill. Feelings about one's ability to read are very strong. Yet, we think the topic so important that we insist on discussing it, making change for the future even when individuals failed by the system may personally feel uncomfortable with the topic. Likewise, we talk about acquiring personal skills, personal self-confidence, and mobility skills--all areas in which some blind people have been failed by the system and about which some may feel uncomfortable. You have not demonstrated that there is any reason to treat attitudes about and use of a guide dog differently from any of these other subjects. You have merely asserted that there is a difference. I don't think so. And by extensively discussing it yourself, you have implicitly conceded my point even to the degree that you suggest I write in more detail about a number of subjects.
Dog Schools. Again, on the topic of dog schools you astonished me. I remember lengthy discussions we had when we both lived in Reno. You were very firm and clear in your views then. You thought as I did that the dog schools have a very false, very demeaning image of blind people. That's one of the reasons you train your own dogs. You personally prefer not to attend any of those schools. We both thought then, and I still think, that the dog schools imagine blind people as helpless without dogs, and this specifically includes blind people using canes. I remember seeing a film put out by a dog school in which every blind person testifying about the dogs explained how helpless he or she was before getting a dog, how unsafe and frightened he or she felt whenever using a cane. I remember thinking that the film was really aimed at making the sighted public feel sorry for the blind so they would donate generously to the dog school. I also remember thinking how very limited the dog school's image of blind people was.
You and I used to agree that the dog schools imagine the blind dog user as not likely to go very many places, encounter very many challenges, or need much more than the ability to walk down a simple street sidewalk. You and I used to agree that the dog schools under-train dogs to this low standard when dogs can be trained to do much more, and that most good dog users provide lots of additional training after leaving the school. As a matter of fact, you helped me to do some of that additional training. You and I used to agree on all this. I still believe it. And I think you do, too, even though your letter is ambivalent.
Ingratitude. I was startled by your repeated assertion that I am ungrateful for my dog. I was not aware that gratitude was a part of the equation. That's the kind of talk rehabilitation professionals engage in when they are among themselves and are fussing about their blind clients. They complain that we're not grateful to them for all the things they do for us. That's the kind of thinking that has led to so much lack of opportunity for blind people.
I don't think gratitude has anything to do with dogs. The dog schools are well paid for what they do, and I think they do only part of the job they could. Most importantly, I don't think the dog is an occasion for gratitude. It's one of the methods I use to get around. Imposing on me and every dog user a requirement that we be grateful to the schools for our dogs suggests that we should not think about the quality of dogs, the quality of training, or the quality of treatment. We should not analyze. We should not criticize. We should not suggest improvements. We should be grateful for what we have and accept it in silent thanks. If that's what you really think, then you certainly have changed your views. I have not.
My dog Trevor is a good dog. He was well bred, well cared for, and well trained up to a point by his school. He has become better trained in order to meet my needs. However, I don't think any of this calls for a lifetime of gratitude to the school on my part. The school's job was finished when I left.
Guide Dogs as a Shield. You say that your guide dog provides you with a shield against the public and their attitudes toward blindness. You go on to say that this is one of the reasons that you use a dog. You have made my point for me.
When I talk about avoidance, Bill says that he isn't avoiding anything because his dog makes him quite conspicuous to the public. He says that, when the public talks to his dog, he can stop and tell them about issues concerning blindness. You, on the contrary, say that the public sees the dog as being in charge of the blind person; therefore, you don't have to be bothered by interference from the public at all. Aside from these two concepts being inconsistent, I want to agree with you to a point. It is my experience, as it is your experience, that the public tends to leave me alone when I am traveling with my dog. (Oddly enough, when I use my cane in this friendly little town, passing strangers greet me casually, something they don't usually do when I have my dog.) I think this public leaving us alone is because they think the dog is taking care of me, leading me where I want to go, making decisions to protect my safety. I do not find this to be the same liberating experience that you describe. Rather, I feel that a burden is being added.
The public attitudes we are both talking about are those that assume I cannot take care of myself, find the places I want to go for myself, or protect my safety by myself. My first reaction in reading your "dog as a shield" response to these public attitudes is that I have done the same thing myself. My second reaction is to say to myself that cane users feel exactly the same way about avoiding public interference. They don't want to be pestered, bothered, and interfered with. Cane users and dog users want the same thing: respect from the public instead of assumptions by the public about their inability. The difficulty arises not from the travel tool itself, but from the public's reaction to it, and then from our reaction to the public reaction.
When a cane user walks down the street, the public's assumptions that blind people cannot take care of themselves, find destinations, and protect their own safety, are necessarily affected. Whether the public thinks consciously about it or not, the blind person is alone, proceeding purposefully, having gotten there safely somehow. By seeing a blind person by himself or herself and in control, the public's erroneous assumptions are necessarily eroded, weakened, and changed by one such experience. The more times it happens, the more changing of attitudes occurs. Contrast this with the same blind person walking down the street with a dog. In this case the public attitudes are buttressed, reinforced, strengthened.
This is true because the public has two choices to explain the blind person's presence: either the blind person is in charge or the dog is in charge. Given public attitudes (and you and I have often discussed this very point), many members of the public will choose to believe that the dog is in charge. You know what I mean. How many times have you and I both heard comments from the public as we walk by with our dogs such as: "Oh, look. That dog is taking him where he wants to go." "Oh, you have a good friend there, who is taking good care of you." "You take good care of him now" (addressed directly to the dog).
When I give these examples, I am not saying that cane use is better than dog use. What I am saying is that the benefit you state of being left alone is a benefit you pay for by the price of leaving the impression that the dog is in charge. Bill deals indirectly with this when he states that cane users are objects of pity to the public while dog users get friendly comments about the dog, giving the opportunity to teach about blindness. I specifically and completely disagree with Bill on this point. I think the negative effect is greater when using a dog.
Another example of this comes from my former employment in a 320-bed general medical/surgical hospital, where my duties took me throughout the facility on a daily basis. I used my dog about half the time and my cane the other half. People with whom I worked for years were often astonished to see me in wards and corridors far from my office and without my dog. Invariably someone would comment that he or she did not know I could find my way around without my dog.
In other words, we may shield ourselves from the public's overtly pestering us, but we do it at the price of slightly reinforcing negative attitudes every time we are seen. We must oppose this myth that the dog is in charge--a myth believed by much of the public; the dog schools; and, I think, all too many blind dog users. The first step in opposing this myth is to stop pretending it does not exist and tell the truth: it does.
There are two basic assumptions here: blind people cannot get around safely, and blind people need dogs to lead them around safely. To respond to the first assumption, I can join with other people in the National Federation of the Blind and work to eliminate the assumption that we cannot get around. The second assumption, that we need dogs, is much deeper and harder to eliminate. This is true for three reasons.
First, if my incapacity to get around due to blindness can be fixed, so to speak, by a dog, the fix brings me to the level of a dog, not of a human being. That is not very flattering to me. Second, if my choice of travel tool is partly based on my unwillingness to interact directly with the public, then I have given up many opportunities to change public attitudes. I might mention here that you and I agree that most of the interaction we dog users have with the public is of the "what a beautiful dog" variety, which does not lend itself to teaching about blindness despite what Bill says. You cannot just start talking about equality and opportunity and the National Federation of the Blind when someone is condescending to you and being patronizing to your dog. Oh, sure. You can utter any words you like, but the condescender is simply not going to hear you or understand your message.
I am not saying that use of dogs is bad. I am saying that use of dogs has specific effects on public attitudes. Knowing these effects, I have chosen to work as hard as I can to help the National Federation of the Blind change public attitudes in other ways, and I urge all blind persons, regardless of choice of travel tool, to do the same.
Third, the very great danger in using a dog as a shield between the blind person and public attitudes is that the blind person will come to believe, whether consciously or unconsciously, more than a little of the public attitudes--believe that the dog is taking care of him or her, is finding destinations, is assuring safety. The dog is an information-gathering aid, through which we learn vital information about the environment. If a dog user comes to believe, even a little, that the dog is in charge, making the decisions, providing the safety, then that blind person to that extent has accepted the erroneous notion that blind people cannot do the job for themselves. To that extent the blind person is no different from the public against whom he or she has chosen to use the dog as a shield.
Visual Aids. The last point I want to make in response to your letter is your introduction of the term "visual aid" to describe your dog. I think this is a misuse of English. A visual aid is a device that augments one's own vision such as a magnifier or a closed-circuit television. You are not using the term "visual aid" in this sense. Rather, you are using it to signify that the dog is a source of vision, trained to walk in certain ways by your side so that you can gather information from its use of its vision. That may be one way of describing use of a guide dog. But it's not a visual aid.
I object to your use of the term "visual aid" for a second reason. As I said in my first letter, it is all too easy for persons using dogs or thinking of getting them to fall into the trap of thinking the dog is replacement vision for the sight one has lost. It's not. Misleading people by calling a dog a "visual aid" into thinking that they are getting sight in the same sense that people have sight is inappropriate. As you say, the dog can be distracted, giving false signals when it's just interested in some good-smelling grass or the traces of a dog that passed by earlier. Pretending that using a dog is almost like being sighted is going to get any dog user into trouble. It is unsafe and can lead the user to rely on and act on the dog's reasoning instead of relying on and acting on the user's own human ability to reason.
As you can see, I do not think the discussion of topics concerning dogs is sacrosanct. Neither, I think, do you. I will look forward to hearing from you and others on this subject. It's open, honest discussion that will strengthen all blind people as it will improve our understanding of who we are and how we interact with the world around us.
Paul, you say I have changed and that I won't make any friends by raising these subjects. I didn't raise them to make friends. Rather, I raised them because I don't think anyone is now talking publicly about them and because I think public discussion about them will help all of us come to a better understanding about blindness and ourselves.
On the subject of who has changed, I think it is you. We used to discuss many of these topics as friends and fellow dog users when we both lived in Reno. I have been surprised that you did not raise these subjects after you were elected president of the Division. I have learned some important things from you, and I think you should be teaching those same things to other dog users.
You say I have attacked people's use of their dogs. I disagree. The topics I raise are general, and if someone feels attacked, I am sorry for that and would ask the person to think again about what I have said. I am a dog user myself, and these are thoughts from personal experience, upon which I have reflected long and hard. If we live by myths, then reality can come as a cold shock. I suggest we would be better to live by truth and to put our efforts into learning what that truth is by discussing these topics together. That's what the Federation is all about.
Both you and Bill say you have treated me harshly. I disagree with that, too. I invited discussion, and you both entered into the discussion with me. We are far from agreement, but at least there is now a chance to work on that. Instead of attacking or accusing of attack, instead of speaking harshly or accusing of anger, instead of claiming we already know all we need to know, why don't we try honesty and discussion? It's the best way.
by Dr. Elizabeth J. Browne
Every time I go downtown
The boys keep kickin' my dog around.
Ain't no difference if she is a hound
Gotta quit kickin' my dog around!
Me and my dog and Mr. Browne
Thought we'd take ourselves to town.
When we got there, we soon found
Somebody kickin' my dog around!
Those are not quite the precise words of the old song, but I'm sure, you get the idea. Somebody, perhaps a monster from outer space, has very cleverly descended upon our fair Federation and solemnly declared that there is an argument brewing, a veritable competition among users of dogs and white canes and sighted guides.
I choose not to enter such a tempest, but would rather lay out my tale (spelled t-a-l-e) for the interested combatants engaged in this mighty tournament. For me, it is simply a non-argument.
The whole affair reminds me of an episode in Henry David Thoreau's Walden, in which he cleverly describes a battle he once witnessed in his own backyard--the only battlefield he ever trod. Briefly, one morning, Thoreau noticed out in his yard on his woodpile a colony of ants, black ones and red ones, busily engaged in their ant-like chores: tidying up things, laying in supplies for the winter, whatever these busy little critters do to earn them the title of "busy as ants." (Pardon me, I guess that was supposed to be "busy as bees." Well, you get the point.)
This episode in the daily life of Thoreau then turns into a mock epic--an extended metaphor, a clever analogy of the futility of internecine warfare, a foolish battling among men--when the red ants go to war with the black ants.
Thoreau begins describing the ants in insect terminology, but soon slips into anthropomorphic usage, thus turning his little scene from ant fighting against ant into man contending against man, making clear his underlying theme of the futility of war.
He notices that the black ants, far larger than the red ones, engage in a violent struggle to the death, and I paraphrase for you:
As I looked on, one of the much smaller red ants was engaged mightily in a struggle to the death with one of the much larger black ants. They locked onto each other's forelegs, and one ant ripped off one of the other ant's legs at the joint. The other, enraged, was assiduously gnawing at the feelers of his opponent. Then it became two against one, locked fearlessly to the death. The trio fought on as valiantly as any human soldier at the battle of Bull Run or the beaches of Normandy.
Eventually, Thoreau carried the little warriors, mightily battling upon a wood chip, into his house to set them upon his window sill under a "tumbler" in order to witness the ultimate issue of the struggle. ("Tumbler." I must tell you about that word "tumbler" later on. It has significant connotations, but not here.) He noticed the following:
They fought on, probably charged by their mothers to return "with their shields or upon them." One probably went off to Hotel des Invalides; whereas, the other less victorious ant tottered off, legless, eyeless to probably another futile battle.
Well, I find this non-debate about guide dogs versus white canes as pointless as the boys downtown kickin' my dog around, or Thoreau likening human warfare to that of little ants, ripping and slashing at each other on his wood pile, or, I suppose, in the words of the great immortal Shakespeare, "Much ado about nothing."
If we continue wasting our time debating this, or spinning our white canes to determine which is better, we are losing time with real substantive issues. We must return all our energies to helping each other achieve good education, good training, and good jobs rather than this quibbling of cane against dog against walking with a sighted guide.
Let me clearly and boldly state my thesis: Blindness as beauty in the eye of the beholder, our public, is blindness pure and simple, with all its fears and misunderstandings and stereotypes. Nobody is going to change that, whether a full professor, or a well-known statesman, or a simple, humble citizen. We are still seen by anyone who can see as blind. We are blind, and no means of mobility we choose to use will ever camouflage that condition. What does it matter what we use: guide dog, cane or walking with a sighted guide! These are personal decisions and must not, must never, sidetrack us, booby trap us, into arguing over personal tastes for fear that we will overlook the real problems we face.
I boldly, here and now, dare to state that the real problem, the real enemy, is the stereotype of blindness, and not whether we use a guide dog, use a white cane, or walk along with a sighted guide. If someone chooses to walk with a sighted guide all the time, always choosing the convenience of walking with one's spouse or secretary or whoever is available, guess what, fellow Federationists! The onlookers see us as that blind man or that blind woman or that blind child.
Let nobody fool us. We are blind, and it is not the cane or the dog or sighted guide that turns people off. It is first and last and always just blindness. Until we cease this foolish non-argument and face the fact that blindness is the thing wherein we catch the conscience of the public, and focus all our effort on changing laws which restrict us from obtaining our rightful share in society, we are like Thoreau's warring ants, engaged in a battle which goes nowhere, and creates unnecessary tension, ill will, and a bad public image.
If we waste our time debating this issue, waste our time claiming that if you use a long white cane or a sighted guide you will be more accepted by the public, we have lost the real war. It is our blindness that the others who are not blind have a hard time accepting and understanding. If we wander into a meeting, the grocery store, a theater, a classroom, a court room, wherever, with a cane, a dog, or a sighted guide, they still see us as we are, blind, partially sighted, visually impaired--BLIND!
I'd rather go with that marvelous dictum of the singer Eartha Kitt:
de gustibus non disputandum est
Is what I learned in school.
Which simply means,
You should do what you like to do best!
It's really up to you!
by Floyd Matson
As most Federationists know, I am not blind, nor do I have any great knowledge about the intricacies of mobility for the blind. Yet, I have other credentials. For almost fifty years I have been closely associated with blind people and the organized blind movement.
My first introduction to blindness came in the late forties at the University of California at Berkeley when I met and began to work with Dr. tenBroek. Initially I was his student. Then, as I moved into graduate studies and began to do research, we worked as colleagues and co-authors. Later, I edited the Monitor and did extensive writing for it.
During the course of these activities I met and became well-acquainted with an increasing number of blind persons. I visited in their homes; they visited in mine; and we interacted in the community--going together to restaurants, meetings of various kinds, state conventions, and NFB conventions.
My first NFB convention was in Milwaukee in 1953, and with notable gaps here and there, I have attended most of the conventions since. I serve as an officer in the NFB of Hawaii, and have done so for more than a decade. In the 1970's I was asked by the Federation to go to Mississippi to help with the survey of programs for the blind in that state, and I also played a principal part in the Hawaii survey. In short, although I am (and have been for many years) a university professor, working mostly with sighted students and colleagues, my main focus has centered on blindness and matters concerning the blind. My closest associates and most intimate friends are blind, and this has been the case for almost fifty years.
Besides all of this, I suppose I don't need to mention the fact that I am the author of Walking Alone and Marching Together. The research for that 1,200-page tome involved not only extensive reading but also lengthy and intense observation and reflection. It was certainly one of the major research efforts of my life, and it symbolizes and underlines my commitment to the struggle of the blind to achieve full citizenship and first-class status in society.
With all of this background it is surely no exaggeration to say that I have had what might conservatively be characterized as ample opportunity to observe in a wide variety of settings the interplay of blind people with each other, with their dogs and canes, with sighted people accustomed to being with blind people, and with sighted people not accustomed to being with blind people. From this base of observation I have come to believe that most of the talk I have heard through the years regarding dogs and canes fails to deal with the central philosophical question.
To clear away the clutter, I begin by presenting thirteen statements which summarize what I have heard most often. I stipulate that I believe each and every one of these statements to be true--and mostly irrelevant:
1. Some blind people who use dogs have excellent mobility skills.
2. Some blind people who use canes have excellent mobility skills.
3. Some blind people who use dogs have exceedingly poor mobility skills.
4. Some blind people who use canes have exceedingly poor mobility skills.
5. Some blind people strongly believe that it is inherently impossible to travel as well using a cane as using a dog.
6. Some blind people strongly believe that it is inherently impossible to travel as well using a dog as using a cane.
7. Some blind people believe an advantage in using a dog is that the dog serves as a social "ice breaker," making it easier to meet new people.
8. Some blind people believe that a disadvantage in using a dog is that in meeting new people attention is often focused on the dog.
9. Some blind people have tried both cane and dog and strongly prefer to use a dog.
10. Some blind people have tried both cane and dog and strongly prefer to use a cane.
11. Some blind people have tried both cane and dog and like to use the dog in some circumstances and the cane in others.
12. Some blind people find the responsibilities associated with using a dog intolerably burdensome.
13. Some blind people find the responsibilities associated with using a dog a small price to pay for the return they feel they receive.
If these thirteen statements are true, it follows that the average blind person (given the opportunity for training) can probably travel adequately using either cane or dog, and the choice of which to use is largely a matter of personal preference. If there were nothing more to it than that, then we as a Federation not only could but should leave it right there: choose what suits you best, and be done with it.
But we do not leave it there, and I believe that the reason we do not is that there is a question that goes far beyond a personal choice between two adequate methods of mobility. That question is one of very basic philosophy and, as such, one that we as a Federation should deal with in the same way that we have dealt with virtually every other significant issue affecting how blind people function in the world and how they are perceived by themselves and the broader society--that is, with rigorous and unemotional analysis.
Before I can pose the question, I must lay the foundation for it. Society requires from each of its fully participating adult members a pattern of conduct, customs, responsibilities, and manners that cannot be violated without penalty. Those who stray significantly from that pattern are either incarcerated (jail or mental institution), ostracized, shunned, or treated as inferiors or children. The question I ask is this: Does the blind person who uses a dog necessarily have to violate the pattern of accepted social norms to such a degree that full, first-class membership in society on a basis of equality with others cannot be achieved or maintained?
If the answer to that question is yes, the inescapable conclusion that has to follow is that using a dog is a dead end and philosophically wrong. The fact that some will find the question unpleasant is a large part of the reason that we in the Federation have shied away from it. Undoubtedly it is the reason for the undercurrent of tension which increasingly exists when the dog versus cane subject is raised. I believe that we will do our movement a tremendous disservice if collectively we find that we are unable to put aside our emotions and consider this matter with the same reason and objectivity that we expect others to use in dealing with blindness and every other issue connected with it.
I do not here wish to suggest how the question I have posed should ultimately be answered. However, the fact that I have raised it at all must mean that I think there is no doubt that special allowances and departures from accepted social norms are currently being asked for, rationalized, and made. The further question is how many, how major, and to what effect. Here are some that I have observed, and this is how I feel about them. I list them not as complaints but as part of the reality that must be faced and dealt with.
First and most obvious is simply the presence of the dog. It is not a customarily accepted social pattern for a guest to arrive at your home, an employee to show up at work, a traveling companion to occupy the seat beside you, a dinner guest to join you at a restaurant, or a fellow car-pooler to enter your car with an uninvited dog. The presence of the dog is imposed upon the willing and the unwilling alike. The law requires and politeness dictates toleration, but neither means that a price is not paid.
The situation in many ways is not unlike that of an adult who shows up with an uninvited child. In our society it is not acceptable for a guest with good manners to do this. But if one does, good manners require that the host smile and beam and say, "Oh, how cute." Our society prescribes a different set of rules for this situation in the employer/employee relationship. An employee with good sense won't try it. But if one does, the employer speaks firmly and puts a stop to it. In either case the offending adult pays a price--and, unless the individual is totally lacking in perception, knows that a price has been paid.
Moving beyond the mere uninvited presence of the dog, we come to the circumstances which make the situation worse than they would be in the case of the uninvited child. We come to the dog's needs. The notion that it curls up compactly and keeps itself out of the way, stowed neatly under its owner's chair, is a complete myth. No, it is worse than that. It is a painful conspiracy of pretense to keep from hurting the feelings of the dog's owner. In a crowded car, at a restaurant table, or on an airplane, the dog is on everyone's feet. And as often as not, it drools, licks, sheds, and smells. One's clothes, car, carpet, furniture, and person are violated. The law requires and politeness dictates--but one grits one's teeth and smiles and lies, and feels pity. And (unpleasant and painful though it is to say) one hopes that the blind person with the dog will take some other seat, not the one next to you--that an occasion will not arise that compels the offer of a ride in your car, an invitation to your home for dinner, or the necessity of everyday contact in the work place.
These are the ordinary, the everyday problems in best case situations when all goes well--when the dog is healthy, is not under stress, is well- groomed, and is under control of a well-trained, competent and responsible owner--when it is not raining and not unbearably hot--when there are not other dogs or animals around--and when the nearest relief area is not far away. When these perfect circumstances don't exist (and they often don't), the unpleasantness imposed upon the associates of the dog user increases dramatically. There are wet fur and muddy paws, more smell, vomit, urine, feces, disruption. Usually not all of these things occur at once, of course. But anyone who has been around blind people using guide dogs on more than an occasional basis has endured them all, and has endured them more than once. The law requires and politeness dictates--but one grits one's teeth harder; smiles less; and, above all, feels more pity. And one hopes more fervently that the blind person with the dog will find some other seat, be offered a ride in somebody else's car, and be invited to another home for dinner.
There is a generally accepted pattern of manners and responsibilities that society requires of its fully participating adults. Guide-dog users not only ask for and expect an exemption from this pattern of manners and responsibilities but must have that exemption if they are to continue to use a dog for mobility. But what does this do to the blind person? What does it do to acquaintances, associates, and friends? Is it simply a matter between owner and dog--and nobody else's business as long as the owner is willing to assume the responsibility and pay the price? Not really--for others are forced to pay the price as well: sighted associates and, even more important, all other blind people.
Again, the analogy of the small child has relevance. Both the child and the dog require reassurance. They are told, "good girl" or "good boy." They are patted and told to be still, to hush, not to squirm. They distract the adult responsible for their behavior and well-being, and they insure that his or her attention is divided between child or dog and other matters at hand.
This, of course, is why there are many situations in our society when it is not appropriate or advantageous to take a child. The distraction and divided attention that are required extract a price. Does anyone seriously consider taking his or her young child to a job interview, to make a sales presentation to an important customer, to deliver a critical speech, to appear on a television program, or to any other event where one wants to create the very best impression possible? The person who does is not regarded as having good judgment. In extenuating circumstances, on a very occasional basis, perhaps it can be gotten away with. But can it be done all the time, every day, everywhere? Such a person simply will not be competitive with his or her peers.
And the analogy with the child has permutations and must be clearly understood--for the very time when the dog user needs the dog most is the time that would be least appropriate for the child--job, formal social occasion, critical interview, large crowd, or complicated circumstances. The dog user may never know why this or that opportunity didn't come or why a promotion was not achieved or a situation didn't work out better than it did--may fully believe that all went as well as it could have gone. After all, if one is not even aware that one is breaking society's code of acceptable conduct, how can one possibly know that a price is being paid or understand the consequences? And as I have said, it is not just the individual using the dog who pays. It is all of his or her associates, and it is other blind people.
These are some of the observations I have made during my lifetime of association with blind people, and why I do not believe that the issue can merely be considered as something involving two competing mobility methods. And I hope that those who find my comments painful will not try to avoid the issue by making rationalizations and accusations. For instance, it will do no good to say that my comments can be explained on the simple ground that I am a dog-hater. Not so. I have owned dogs for the greater part of my life. One of my closest companions when I was a small boy was my dog, and I only stopped having dogs as pets and as friends in my home when I moved into an apartment and didn't have the space. No, I have never been a dog-hater. On the other hand, I have never taken my dog with me to work or to critical interviews or the homes of other people. In other words I have not only lived by the accepted norms on the subject, but I think they are reasonable and necessary for the pleasant and efficient functioning of society. I support them.
While I'm at it, let me block one more line of rationalization. I am not hostile to guide dogs. My record on that subject is very clear. I have vocally and persistently fought to change Hawaii's quarantine laws concerning guide dogs and have defended guide-dog users from criticism. My comments are not meant to be a personal attack but a plea for self-examination and organizational honesty.
Yes, cane and dog are two different methods of travel for the blind. But in choosing one or the other, an individual may be choosing much more than a mere travel method. Perhaps he or she may also be choosing exclusion from the possibility of achieving real equality in society--and not just for himself or herself but, at least to some extent, for all other blind people as well. This is the philosophical question I pose, and I feel absolutely certain that it will not go away or permit itself to be ignored. In fact, I believe we dishonor our heritage and do damage to the blind of the generations ahead if (regardless of how painful, how sensitive, or how raw the nerve) we do not summon the courage to deal with the issue at this basic level.
by Scott LaBarre
I became blind at age ten. At that time, my parents and I were stricken with an overwhelming sense of tragedy and utter desperation. To this day, one moment remains chillingly clear in my memory. When I realized that I would always be blind, I went running into the living room of our home screaming in sheer panic. Even though I was only ten, I felt as if my life was over. All my confidence in myself and hope for my future were shattered.
While I was in high school and before I met the Federation, I wondered if I would ever find the source of true self-confidence. More accurately, I thought I never would. My school and the state agency thought they had the answer. The St. Paul School District, in cooperation with Minnesota State Services for the Blind, ran a program called SWEP, Summer Work Experience Program. The first few weeks of the program were spent in a residential setting, where our blindness skills were allegedly evaluated. There were several local attractions which we liked to frequent such as pizza places, fast food restaurants, and the like. In order to travel to these locations independently, each student had to obtain clearance from the mobility instructors working in the program. Each student was required to demonstrate to an instructor that he or she could travel the route safely and independently. Those of us who were totally blind or nearly so had to demonstrate perfect command of the route. Any mistake meant that our clearance would be denied. A veer of a foot or two out of a street crosswalk spelled failure. On the other hand, students with partial vision were given clearance without testing or with very casual testing. Most of the time a student with residual vision would merely have to describe to the instructor the location of the pizza place or whatever it was.
This program sent the very clear message that totally blind people were more dependent than those with a little residual vision. Less was expected of the totally blind. More sight led directly to greater opportunity. According to the program, self-confidence had nothing to do with a positive belief about blindness. Rather, it was a result of how much sight an individual was lucky enough to possess. In these circumstances I concluded that I would have to depend on something or someone else in order to travel independently. That is why I thought that a guide dog was the only real answer. I thought the dog would help me get to places that I could not have reached on my own.
Right after high school I fortunately found the National Federation of the Blind, or (more precisely) the Federation found me when it gave me a national scholarship. At my very first convention, I witnessed hundreds of blind persons traveling confidently with their canes and their dogs in places unfamiliar to them. It had never occurred to me that this was possible. All these individuals exhibited a solid self-confidence, which was both admirable and contagious. For the first time I understood that true self-confidence comes from within.
The most dramatic personal growth I have experienced has come directly from my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind. Since age ten, my attitudes about myself have evolved, starting with the belief that my life would be unbridled misery and changing to the belief that blindness is nothing more than another physical characteristic. The Federation encouraged me to grow and to reflect on the true source of self-confidence as part of that growth. Today I am better able than ever before in my life to identify the elements of self-confidence and to understand how to achieve it.
To grow effectively, we who are blind must confront our own fears about blindness. One of the most daunting fears is traveling independently. In fact, of all of the classes offered at our training centers, travel is feared the most. Because of the negative attitudes that have been drummed into our heads since we were young, we have often bought into the notion that it is difficult--if not impossible--for the blind to travel.
That is why it can be so easy to fall prey, as I did, to the belief that a guide dog delivers freedom to the blind. This belief is corrosive to any fragile self-confidence not deeply grounded in the understanding that we can compete successfully as blind people. If we are going to be first-class citizens in our society, we must not mistake who is primarily responsible for our lives. We are. To be free, we must understand that our success on the job or walking down the street is not tied to dogs, or to other humans. If a guide dog gets sick or has an emergency, the blind person still must be able to travel confidently. However, if the blind person believes that he or she must rely on another person or a guide dog to do so, then the blind person has not acquired self-confidence. A guide dog is another tool available to blind persons. Guide dogs are no different from reading machines or speech synthesizers. All three are vehicles that we can use to access information.
It seems to me that many blind persons try to substitute use of a guide dog for the work required to gain self-confidence. In doing so, they have missed the important truth that self-confidence can only come from one source--from within yourself. The importance of gaining self-confidence is why it is crucial that we all learn to travel safely and efficiently with a cane. When you use a cane, there can be no mistake about the true source of self-belief. When you cross a busy intersection for the first time, you realize that only one person accomplished that feat: you yourself did it. If a guide dog is your first tool, then it becomes all too tempting to believe that the dog crossed the street for you.
I have worked in and spent a great deal of time around several of our NFB training centers. As a result, I have personally observed many students, including guide-dog users, struggle with the true source of self-confidence. The way people--and this applies to students, too--learn to believe in themselves is by placing themselves in situations in which they learn to depend on their own abilities. At our training centers, we create experiences that are designed to help blind persons learn self-confidence.
The job of confronting attitudes about blindness and learning self- confidence is a challenging task for anyone. It is hard work to set aside years and years of negative attitudes and damaging misconceptions. When a student attends one of our centers, his or her mind needs to be free from as many distractions as possible. The student must focus energy on one task--learning to accept on a fundamental level that blindness is nothing more than a characteristic. Any additional responsibility or distraction that saps energy or blurs focus can render the training unsuccessful for a student. When guide-dog users attend our centers and bring their dogs with them, the training can be affected. It is far too easy for dog users to believe that an important part of their independence is tied directly to the dog. When dog users take independent cane travel, they generally do not learn to trust themselves with a cane. They do not attach significance to learning cane travel. When learning self-confidence at a center, using the cane as opposed to using the dog is not the issue. Understanding what successful cane travel means is the key. When a person learns to travel with confidence while using the cane, there is no doubt that the success comes from the person and from no other source.
On the other hand, I have seen many students attribute successful travel with their dog to the dog and not to their own ability to problem solve. This misplaced belief often affects other areas of a student's program. If the student does not believe that he or she can travel independently except with the dog, then the student will find it hard to believe that he or she can cook a hamburger or complete a woodworking project without sighted help.
A few years ago, a young man named Kevan attended one of our centers. His struggle illustrates my point. The plan was that he would bring the dog to the Center but use his cane throughout the day. The dog would remain tied down, either in a central location or with Kevan in his classes. Kevan intended to learn the basic skills of blindness without using the dog while still providing care for the dog.
However, things did not go according to plan. Kevan remained dependent on the dog. The dog also remained dependent on Kevan. The dog could not be away from Kevan for more than a couple of minutes without barking or howling incessantly. Kevan would then begin to feel guilty because he had left his dog behind. At the same time, Kevan was struggling with his own beliefs about independence. He did not believe that it was possible for him to travel to places without using the dog. He also doubted himself in all other ares of the program.
This student reached a point where his training had stalled. He realized that he was far too dependent on the dog. He knew he had to find a way to continue his growth and expand his horizons. He made a decision that was very hard. His dog was nearing retirement age anyway, so he decided to retire her.
Instructors and fellow students immediately noticed a significant improvement in Kevan's progress even though it was difficult for him to part with his companion of several years. He was now free to confront blindness on his own terms. No longer could he divert any emotions or attention to his dog. He learned that he could travel just as effectively with his cane and slowly began to understand that true self-confidence came from within himself and not from his dog. Kevan not only learned to meet any challenge posed by his blindness, but he also dramatically increased his confidence about his abilities in general.
When he graduated from the program, he did not know whether he would acquire another guide dog. He knew that he could be successful with or without a dog. If he got another dog, he would do it knowing that he alone controlled his level of independence. Unfortunately I have lost touch with Kevan, and I do not know if he retrained with another dog. I know that Kevan became a much more confident individual after he dove fully into adjustment training without the dog's being present to confuse his focus on self-confidence.
The subject of dogs came up again recently when I was on a ten-kilometer fundraising walk for the Denver Chapter. As the walk proceeded, people divided into different groups, based on their walking speed. I happen to be a very fast walker, and in my little group, there was a woman with a dog and another man with a cane. The woman told us that she was amazed that we could walk so fast. She further informed us that if she used a cane, she could not walk as fast as we were walking.
Her comment both troubled me and prompted me to think. I agree with her that she could not have walked as fast if she had used a cane. It is not that I believe that you can walk faster with a dog as opposed to a cane. Rather, I believe that this person could not walk as fast with a cane because she believed that she could not. It is not the cane or the dog which limits us. Only we can do that to ourselves.
My experience at our training centers and my overall encounters with blind people have taught me a great deal about the true nature of self- confidence. There is only one person in the world who can control your confidence, and that person is you. As blind people, our confidence and our belief in ourselves is constantly challenged. When we travel about the world, we are perpetually being confronted. Most people assume that we are not aware of our environment and could not possibly possess a clue about our destination. Therefore, we must be confident in our belief that we can travel from point to point successfully. We must also possess enough belief in ourselves to convince others that we are competent.
The blind are closer to true freedom in our society than we have ever been. That has not happened because of technology or the use of guide dogs. That has happened because we have organized in the National Federation of the Blind with a purpose and a belief. Our freedom collectively and our confidence individually come from a positive belief in the abilities of the blind. There is no other source for our self-confidence. If we do not recognize this fact at a fundamental level, then we will never take the remaining steps to achieve real freedom.
by Richard Fox
In the fall of 1983, at the age of 31, I decided to get a dog guide. I enjoyed traveling with a cane and was good at it. Midtown Manhattan had been my home and my travel training ground for the last six years. However, a friendship with a dog user during college had awakened within me a quiet resolve to try his method of travel some day. The ease and grace with which he traveled and the bond he shared with his dog made a big impression on me.
As I prepared to go to the Seeing Eye for training, I worried that I was about to throw away my hard-won independence. Hadn't a half dozen blind people told me over the years that the most difficult thing they had to learn as new dog users was to let go and trust their dogs?
During my second training trip with my new dog Visa, these fears were emphatically put to rest. I was cruising down a tree-lined street when Visa pulled me firmly to the left away from traffic. Remembering all the talk about trust, I obediently followed her down a gentle incline. It turned out that she guided me into a gas station because she wanted to say hello to the attendant. My instructor, Miss Campbell, said Visa was testing me.
"Well," I reflected, "I guess I'll have to think after all."
About five minutes and two blocks later, I felt the same firm pull to the left. Not wanting to play the fool again, I stubbornly kept my line of direction and smacked into a tree.
"That time she was doing her job trying to guide you around the obstacle," Miss Campbell teased as I brushed the bark from my shirt.
"How will I be able to tell when Visa's doing her job and when she's goofing off?" I asked.
Miss Campbell couldn't answer my question with a short sentence or two. She required three and a half weeks of training (two trips a day) to teach me how to combine the old orientation and alertness skills developed through years of cane travel with newly acquired abilities to detect and interpret my dog's behavior.
For example, Visa's foray into that gas station was probably accompanied by a sharper pull on the harness, a wagging tail, and a more rapid breathing than usual (not to mention the ping ping I probably heard as cars entered and exited the station). If I had allowed my dog to guide me successfully around that tree, she would have shown none of those signs of distraction, and I would have heard the tree's echo as I passed it by. Instead of losing my independence, I was gaining skills involving attentiveness, leadership, intuition, patience, and maturity.
It occurred to me later that my fears about independence were just another manifestation of the old stereotype concerning the helpless blind person. Most people appreciate the skill of a good horsewoman, or the teamwork between the hunting dog and its master. The prevailing view of a blind person and his dog is quite different; the dog takes the blind person where he wants to go and makes all the decisions, while the blind person hangs on to the harness with thanksgiving in his heart and a tear of gratitude in his eyes. I am always taken aback when I catch myself believing the old stereotype yet again. The Federation helps us think clearly about ourselves. The learning process never stops.
by Ramona Walhof
I do not want a guide dog. If dogs kept their feet on the ground and their tongues in their mouths, it would help. If there were a good-quality doggie deodorant, that would help. There are some days when I do not have an extra hour or two to walk with, play with, feed, and groom a dog. I do not want to have to clean my house, my office, my clothes, and my car more often than I now do. Even then, it would be a struggle to keep the dog hair down. I do not want to make emergency trips to the vet (such trips are never convenient). I do not want to go down the street talking to a dog. I do not feel the need for an ice breaker when dealing with passersby or other people on a bus or an airplane. I do not want to have to worry about how other people are reacting to me and my dog, and I think these reactions are very significant. In fact, I think far too few dog users take into account the negative impact their dogs have on their friends and associates and on the public at large.
I am not complaining about dogs. Rather, I am putting in perspective other things that I have to say. When I was a child, we had several dogs as family pets, and I loved them. I understand the bond that can develop between a dog and a person, and this can be extremely pleasant. Still, it is not enough in my opinion to compensate for the negatives associated with having a dog that must accompany me most of the time.
Nevertheless, if I thought I could not travel independently without a dog, and could travel effectively with one, I would probably get one and use it enthusiastically even with all of its disadvantages. Learning independent travel was a very liberating thing for me, and I want it to be possible for every blind person. I want blind people to be able to go alone if they choose--into heavy traffic, into the wilderness, through large and complicated buildings, and to other countries. In other words, I want blind people to be able really to be independent.
If guide dogs were the only technique available for independent travel for the blind, then the negatives associated with dogs would automatically become negatives associated with blindness, and they would have to be dealt with as such. But for most blind people, this need not be the case.
When I went to college in Washington, D. C., in the 1960's, I took a course which included forty other blind persons. A few traveled well with the cane. One or two traveled well with dogs. A few more traveled with dogs and got where they needed to go. A few with partial sight traveled with no aid. Many cane users did not travel independently. These people had never had the opportunity to receive good-quality cane-travel instruction. The contrast between traveling independently and not doing so is far-reaching. It is worth some inconvenience to be able to go where you need to go when you want to.
We must consider: Have independent travel opportunities changed sufficiently in the last thirty years that blind persons really have enough knowledge and experience to choose to use a dog or a cane when they are first developing travel skills? I am afraid not.
I was lucky to be in a place where cane-travel instruction was excellent. We must work to make this opportunity available to all blind persons throughout the country. Confidence in oneself is essential before confidence in one's travel skills can be attained. The best place to develop confidence in oneself is at an NFB center. Yet, I know many excellent travelers who are largely self-taught. This is most likely to be true when a blind person is in touch with others who are competent at traveling with the white cane.
There are more dog schools today than ever before, so many that they are apparently much less demanding of blind persons who apply for dogs than they formerly were. This is not progress. I cannot comment on the quality of the various schools. I simply do not know which ones are best. I do know that I hear more and more reports today of problems with guide dogs. Whether this is simply because there are more guide dogs now or whether it is because the quality of training for some of them is poorer, I do not know. I do know that there are more problems, and the more problems there are, the more it affects blind people generally. Problems are compounded when there are several guide dogs in a group. Three dogs seem like a dozen if there is an accident or barking or other discipline problems. Admired as they are, dogs tend to hurt the image of the blind generally. Although I could elaborate on this further, it is not really mysterious or hard to understand. It is the factor that is usually left out of the equation in discussions like this.
I have fought for the rights of dog users and will continue to do so as other Federationists have and will, and the NFB as an organization will do likewise. Yet, our goal should be to work for more and better training programs in general competence and cane travel for the blind. This training needs to be available to blind persons as young as possible, or immediately after the onset of blindness. Most blind people do not feel trapped into getting guide dogs, but if they do not readily find a path to truly independent cane travel, and if dog use is not carefully analyzed ahead of time, it is possible gradually to move into a pattern which can be rationalized to be wonderful, but which in fact is a trap.
We must be honest with each other about the fact that there are disadvantages associated with guide-dog use, not only for the user but also for all other blind people. We have tended for a generation to glorify dog use. Although there are times when this may be appropriate, it is not honest if we never look at the other side of the coin.
It is in the best interest of the blind generally, and of dog users in particular, if the number of guide dogs decreases and if they are seldom gathered in groups, even small groups. This is the best way to maintain good reception for those who really cannot travel independently without them. It is time that we who are blind confront this reality.
Dog schools structure their environment especially for dogs. The rest of the world cannot and will not do this. We must keep this in mind when we decide what kind of travel technique to use, and when to use or not to use a guide dog.
I do not suppose my comments will be popular among some dog users. I have good friends who are dog users, and most of the time I like their dogs. I hope my honesty about dog use does not affect these relationships. Dog users and dogs are welcome in my home, and I would not be destroyed by dog hair or even an accident. It is a nuisance when there is only one dog at a time, but very much worth accommodating if it substantially increases the independence of the blind person in question. When there is poor discipline, and when the number of dogs is multiplied, the nuisance becomes a substantial and definite negative. This is the world we live in. The time has come to deal with the issue openly and honestly.
by Ed Meskys
When I lost my sight completely and suddenly in 1971, my family was supportive in the right way, assuming that the condition would not change my life or work. They immediately learned about a residential rehab center and arranged for me to attend and for me to get a guide dog immediately on finishing. In the meantime I resumed teaching until the start of the next class at the Carroll Center three months later.
I had never had a dog as a pet and was not a dog lover, though I didn't dislike them either. I went with the flow as my family made the arrangements. I found that I liked working with a dog, and by the time you read this, I will be training with my third dog. I worked my first dog for twelve years and my second for ten. I waited a year to get a third so I would not have the quarantine hassles at the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow in August.
I had excellent training in cane technique and in orientation. I learned to use sun, wind, sound shadows, other audible cues, sense of turn, facial vision, building a mental map of the territory I was learning, etc. When I returned to teaching at the start of the next semester, I was very glad I had the dog. The campus was a converted farm, and the paths between buildings had potholes every few feet. I could rarely get more than three strides before my cane tip would get caught in a pothole and break my stride. Though that school is long gone, and I rarely have that problem when using a cane today, I have still come to prefer working with a dog.
There are drawbacks. A dog involves expenses--food, vet, and other care. Feeding, grooming, discipline exercises, play, etc., take at least an hour a day. You have to take the dog outdoors for relief at least four times a day even if there are two feet of snow on the ground or you have had freezing rain for an hour and your driveway is a skating rink. No matter how frequently you groom your dog, it will still shed, making you unwelcome in some friends' cars and homes. You cannot hang up your dog next to the door when you are ill or on vacation, and a cane will never have diarrhea on your living room rug. My wife has to consider space for the dog when buying a new car, and when a friend does give me a ride, the dog frequently takes the space another person would have occupied. Finally, there is the emotional loss when the dog passes on. Still I have found a dog guide rewarding enough to go for replacements when the decision was totally my own.
Neither dog had been trained to follow others, but it is something they quickly learned in use. Thus in a crowded store, restaurant, or terminal I had no trouble staying with family members, hostess, or airline person to the correct luggage carousel.
Of course I do not relegate authority to the dog when traveling, but must remain fully aware of my surroundings and path. I am the navigator, and the dog is the pilot, safely getting me around local obstacles on the way. In 1976 I was in a hurry to catch a bus at the Port Authority Terminal in New York and wasn't paying enough attention. As a result I fell down a flight of stairs at a subway entrance when I thought I was about to cross Eighth Avenue. I attend many conventions each year--NFB, science fiction, and Lions. When I want to leave a crowded hospitality suite or meeting room, I can ask the dog to find the door and can make my way out with little difficulty. At science fiction conventions I usually have a table in the "huckster room," where I sell subscriptions to my magazine. By the third time I go into the room the dog has learned where I am going and takes me straight to my table, no matter which entrance door I use. I enjoy the ease of movement on crowded sidewalks and subway passages in large cities, which I frequently visit. I live on two acres of land in the country 300 feet from the nearest neighbor and three miles away from my village center, and my village has a population of about two or three thousand.
My wife feels more secure when I travel alone with a dog. She knows a dog is not protective, but she still feels I am safer from others who might not know that, especially when I am going back to my room on the subway at 2:00 a. m.
The dog is a tool to be used properly, and one must not let it get away with improper behavior, or it will become useless. The dog is on display at all times and represents ALL guide dogs to the public, so it must look well-groomed and clean at all times. Your dog's misbehavior in public will make it harder for the next dog user to gain acceptance or admission. Not only does my dog help me travel rapidly and conveniently, but is also a warm, loving animal.
There is one additional benefit of having a dog that is a help for a person like me who lacks social confidence. People you encounter on a plane or in a restaurant or on the street might be curious about you and want to strike up a conversation, but they do not know how to approach you without being boorish. They find asking about the dog a good hook to start a conversation, which I appreciate very much. I know that this is an improper use of a dog as a social crutch, but I still enjoy it.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
by Diane McGeorge
When I learned that there were going to be a number of articles printed in the Braille Monitor concerning guide dogs, I thought I might as well put in my views on the subject, so here they are.
Most Monitor readers know that I am a long-time guide-dog user, and so my thoughts are not just off-the-wall comments. I first started using a guide dog for all the wrong reasons. I had practically no training using a white cane. I had no confidence in my skills, and I should not have had any because I had practically no travel skills. I thought a dog would make me more independent and more confident. I also thought that if I had a dog, people would start conversations with me about the dog, and then I wouldn't get some of the weird questions about my blindness which I was tired of hearing and answering. All of these reasons proved to be wrong, and it took me some time to realize it. However, I love dogs. I always had a dog for a pet as a child growing up. My parents had said to me whenever travel was discussed, which wasn't very often, "You can get a seeing-eye dog when you grow up and go to college." So, of course, I never thought about anything else, and I had no role models who used canes--so what did I know?
So much for all of that. I continued to use a dog, and I think have been a competent user. I quickly learned that to be competent I had to take control of travel situations. My dog couldn't do it. I had to make the right decisions in using a dog in order for the dog to be an effective guide. I had received no cane training during many years using guide dogs.
Then I started seeing blind people at NFB Conventions using white canes very well. They were traveling anywhere they wanted to go and doing it well. I started wondering if I could do the same thing. There were times I really didn't want to take my dog, but I didn't think I could manage without one. And I really think this is the determining factor in making a wise choice about what technique you choose to use.
In other words, I don't care what anybody uses to be independent. I don't care what I use as long as I know I am comfortable with the choice. I also want to feel competent in using a cane or using a dog. As the director of a rehabilitation training center, I have sometimes been told that I shouldn't use a dog, that it sends the wrong message to a student. I think that's nonsense. But I am jumping ahead of my own story of my personal independent travel.
In 1984, my dog Pony died very suddenly during the Washington seminar. I had very minimal cane travel skills. I decided then that this was the time to get some good training, and I made the effort to do so. Mrs. Jernigan, then Mrs. Anderson, worked with me intensely for about a week to ten days at the National Center for the Blind. She is a wonderful cane travel teacher. She is tough, and she took no excuses from me about cold weather or anything else. I worked hard and have been rewarded for her patience and hard work.
I came back to Denver and used a white cane exclusively for about the next year and a half. Then I decided I wanted to get a new dog. Why? Did I feel a dog was better? Did I feel more relaxed with a dog? Did I feel that I would let Mrs. Jernigan down if I got a new dog? Did I feel I was a better dog user than cane user?
I asked myself all of these questions and was honest with myself in all of the answers. I discussed with Mrs. Jernigan the fact that I was thinking of getting another dog. I told her I felt very comfortable using the cane, which I did and still do. I thanked her for giving me the choice she had given me, to use a cane when I wanted to and to use a dog when I wanted to do that. I had never had that freedom. And in my mind it is a true freedom of choice. For me personally, I like using a dog for long walks. Now that doesn't mean to say that cane users don't take long walks. I don't want to be misunderstood. Some do. I didn't. I love to walk for exercise, and having a guide dog and keeping that dog in good training habits demands a lot of walking. It's good for the dog, and it's good for me. The exercise is truly the reason I got Dusty, my present dog, who is now retired.
At least for me, there are advantages in using a cane, and I have named the principal advantage in using a dog. Please remember that I said "for me." That doesn't mean that this is true for anyone else. I can name the disadvantages of using a dog. I can name some of the disadvantages in using a cane.
One of the disadvantages in using a cane is that a cane does not come when you call it. You may laugh, but I have spent lots of time looking for my cane because I was tired when I came home and was careless about laying it down somewhere. I laugh about my cane's not coming when I call it. Dogs require a great deal of care, and there are places I just don't want to take a dog. Let me give you a perfect example of why I think dogs are like children.
Ray and I have raised two sons and have helped raise our two grandchildren. So I think we have some experience, and I also think we have been good parents. There were places we chose not to take our children, and that doesn't mean we didn't love them. I feel the same way about guide dogs. Some of you may turn pale at that comparison, but that's how I feel.
And now my examples. I attended a wedding reception when I had Pony. He was a well-behaved dog, lying under my chair. I was visiting with guests when suddenly a lady said, "Oh, how cute. I set my eggnog on the floor under my chair, and your dog is drinking it. He must like eggnog with brandy." That was not my idea of cute. However, there was no way for me to know he was drinking a cup of eggnog since he never moved except to stretch out his neck to reach the ill-placed cup. It must have smelled good to him. Now I had to worry about whether or not the alcohol would hurt him. Would he be sick from the rich eggnog? That was not a good place for a dog to be. Yet, at that time I did not have the freedom of choice to leave him at home.
I think there are also places you don't want to take your small children. For example, taking a young child into a shop that exhibits a great deal of beautifully colored glass objects is not my idea of fun in shopping. But that doesn't mean I don't love children, my own and others.
And so what does all of this mean? I tell my students always to be honest with themselves. We do not teach them to use guide dogs. We're not a dog training site. Do I care if they go off and get dogs? Why should I? I'm not living their lives. I'm very happy the Colorado Center gives students good cane travel skills so that they can make a wise choice. I also tell them that I think it is wise to use a cane for a time before deciding about a dog. I discuss with all the students my experiences of getting a dog for the wrong reasons, and I'm glad they don't have to do that. However, I certainly do not tell them that they should use a cane or a dog. That is an individual choice. As I have already said I feel very fortunate that I can happily use either or both. For many years this was not the case.
I do not choose to take my dogs to conventions. I think that I have enough things to do without adding the responsibility of taking care of my dog--and dogs do require a lot of care. I think National Conventions are terribly difficult for dogs to handle. They are asked to work well in the most unusual circumstances imaginable. I feel sorry for the dogs in crowded elevators. How would you feel if all those canes were coming toward you, and then you were squashed in an elevator about 25 inches off the floor? Now that's not to say that some people don't do very well using their dogs. I'm only saying what I think about my dog, and I think it is terribly unfair to submit my dog to those circumstances. I did it for years because I didn't think I could do well using a cane. Now I know differently. And I love that freedom of cane travel in many circumstances.
Using a cane, a dog, or a sighted guide is an individual decision. I have used (and will probably continue to use) all three, depending on the circumstances. The most important thing is that we respect each other's choices.
Well, those are my thoughts for whatever they may be worth. The key to successful travel is to be in control of your travel regardless of the circumstances. Feeling competent and confident is important to me. So as I say to my students, always be honest with yourself about why you are making the choice you make. You don't have to tell anyone else, but learn to be honest with yourself.
by Eugenia Firth
When I got my first dog from the Seeing Eye in 1969, I was newly graduated from high school. I had made the decision to get a dog several years before I actually went for training. At the time I did go, my decision was not based on mobility considerations. I simply wanted one of those dogs.
However, as time has shown, it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made before or since. Now that I have been working dogs for twenty-six years, I can see that my personality would not be conducive to full-time cane use. Since many readers of this publication do not possess the personal experience or background to understand this statement, let me explain dog-guide use as it truly exists.
Seldom is the choice to use either a cane or a dog an equal choice for an individual. Few people I have known over the years are equally skilled in both. Of course, a few are. However, the decision of most people in this matter is of a highly personal nature, and certain factors tend to push one toward using either a cane or a dog. Although one's personality is not the only factor, it is probably the biggest.
Some people believe that a dog-guide user gives the dogs every left and right command. Many people view the dog as a furry cane that obeys commands without question. In practice, a dog- guide team that functions this way never achieves the advantages a blind person can gain from working with a dog. If you allow your dog to show you things or places that you have wanted in the past, in many cases you can avoid asking for directions in a strange environment. For example, if you consistently have your dog show you to a chair in a waiting room, most dogs will learn to do this for you. Some dogs can become so good at showing you things that it's almost like having a sighted guide. Let me illustrate.
My second dog, Gert, became incredibly good at remembering previous locations. She could reverse any route. When I first went to the University of Texas at Austin, I needed to register for classes immediately upon arrival. Gert and I had been together for six years, so she was an experienced dog. I had no idea where registration was taking place, but I got directions, and we proceeded to get our business done. I am terrible at remembering detailed directions, and by the time we finished I had no idea where the dormitory was located in relation to the registration room. Because I had encouraged Gert to develop her abilities, I knew that all I had to do was to start her in the right direction and say nothing. By this time, we had worked out a system. If I gave her the"Forward" command and said nothing except "Forward" at curbs, she took me back to our previous location. However, if I wanted to go somewhere else, I gave her "Left" and "Right" commands to get there. If we passed something familiar along the way, she would indicate it to me so that I could decide whether I wished to go there or not.
As living beings, dogs are like people. They vary in their abilities although there are standards which every dog guide should meet. Not all dogs are capable of learning to perform to the degree Gert did. But I feel that, if I can encourage my dogs to learn as much as possible, I will benefit more in the long run. My current dog, Bianca, does not have Gert's confidence. However, she is very good at showing me things. I doubt if she would have reversed our route back to the dormitory the first time the way Gert did. If we were put in that same situation again, I would then have to take responsibility either to ask for directions again or do my best to remember the way back. When I go to conventions, Bianca may not remember something the first time she is shown. Once she is asked the second time to go back to a particular location, she remembers it. This ability is very handy for finding meeting rooms, restaurants, etc.
At this point, I wish to clarify something in case I have given the wrong impression. People using dog guides are not limited to routes. Reversing routes, however, is valuable as a friend of mine and I discovered in Detroit last year. Her dog, Jesse, who is now about to retire, remembered the way back to our room, even though we (the human beings) hadn't the foggiest clue how to get there from where we were. Those of you who were in Detroit can appreciate this dog's ability when I tell you that we had been shown a very roundabout way to get to a restaurant. The person showing us didn't know exactly where it was either. She did not stay to eat with us, so we knew we were on our own coming back. Knowing Jesse's abilities, we put him in the lead. His mistress then told him to "Find the elevator." I cannot begin to tell you the twists and turns we made to get there, but we made it without having to ask or without having to falter around.
My Bianca, although she knows "Find the elevator," has so far not demonstrated that she can locate it from as far away as Jesse did. However, we have developed our own methods. I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that all you have to do is hang on to your harness, and your dog magically takes you where you want to go. However, it's not as simplistic a process as having your dog obey your lefts, rights, and forwards without any input either. Jesse became as good as he is for two reasons. His mistress taught him beyond his original training to the best of his ability, and he had the natural ability to learn as much as he did. However, if she had not been capable of teaching him, he would have been extremely good anyway. By making this statement, I would like to shoot down another misconception. Cane users and sighted people tend to think either one of two ways about dog-guide travel. They either think that only incompetent and lazy travelers should have dogs, or they think only the topnotch cane users should get dogs. Neither of these statements is true.
Mobility is like any other skill in this world. Some people learn it to the highest degree whether using dog or cane. Others, despite their best efforts, need extra assistance, whether they use a cane or not. A very competent cane traveler may not necessarily make a very competent dog-guide traveler. If you are a person who must always have complete control without reassigning anything to another living being, then you are unlikely to benefit from working with a dog guide.
Now let's talk about the person who, despite tons of training and lots of work, has not been successful with the cane. It is possible, if that person chooses a dog-guide school with a good follow-up program, for them to become a successful dog-guide user. If this statement describes you, you may not become a world traveler, but it is possible for dogs to receive additional training which would enable them to improve your lifestyle. This improvement, however, will only happen if you recognize your need for additional assistance and if the dog-guide school is willing to help.
There are other personality factors to consider when making a choice. If you are a person who has a great deal of difficulty concentrating on exactly where you are at all times, then perhaps dog-guide use is for you. If your dog-guide school is careful to match you with a dog that tends to remind you of things rather than getting into trouble when your attention momentarily wanders, then your dog-guide use will be enhanced.
If you are a person who has, despite your best efforts, consistent veering problems on street crossings, you may also benefit from using a dog. This is a problem that I have. Every one of my dogs has had to learn not to allow me to push or pull her in the wrong direction. This problem is sometimes one which requires a great deal of work when coming home with a new dog, but it's worth it in the end.
A dog-guide user must also be able to discipline or praise his or her dog. Children and dogs have several things in common, and one of them is their need for discipline and praise. Some people have a great deal of difficulty learning consistently either to praise or discipline their dog according to the circumstances. The owner must learn the proper amount of both praise and correction to give, and this depends a great deal on your dog's personality and temperament. Some dogs need very little discipline and thrive a great deal on praise. Other dogs need more stern discipline. My Bianca is one which thrives on praise and requires very little discipline. Many times a voice correction is enough for her. When I returned to Seeing Eye to get her, I needed a dog like that because I have some arthritis in both my wrists.
I was never a full-time cane user anyway, but now using a cane constantly would not be comfortable for me. My current dog, in addition to requiring very little discipline, is also a very light puller. It took me some adjustment to get used to it, but I really need a light puller now because of my hands.
I believe that many times blind people make a mobility choice which is not always based on sound knowledge of both primary methods. I know I did. I got lucky. Getting a dog turned out to be the right decision for me. In many cases, you cannot know until you actually experience it yourself whether or not a dog is for you. In some cases, finding out a great deal of information from those who have used dogs successfully will help you avoid the heartache and frustration involved in sending a dog back. Remember that it's not just you, but also your family, the dog, and the school that will experience the unhappiness of a mismatched situation.
You cannot completely avoid the risk of a mismatch because that possibility always exists, especially when going for your first dog. Most of the time, proper matchings of the correct dog to the person are done, but human errors can cause mismatching. You can minimize this emotionally harrowing experience by making sure that your chosen dog-guide school knows as much about you, your family living situation, your work situation, and your travel needs as possible. For example, if you are single with no children, have an active social life, and work in an office, your dog will need to have a very flexible personality and be ready for anything at all times. If you are married, have five children, and do a few errands, but mostly go to and from work, your dog may need to be able to tolerate a lot of repetition without becoming bored. Most people do not understand these factors when going for their first dog, and sometimes this creates a situation where poor performance can increase. Therefore, if you decide a dog guide is for you, pick your school carefully by talking to others that have been there if possible. Then be sure to write the application information carefully so that your school has the vital information about you.
I would like to say one last thing. No one method of mobility is in and of itself better than the other. We as Federationists are always trying to help each other to improve the quality of our lives. All of us should be careful about judging the mobility performance of our fellow blind until we know all the facts. Since we are all individuals and since mobility is a highly individualized skill, let's all allow each other to make our own choices in peace.
by Bill Reif
It is difficult to compare the relative merits of using a dog guide versus using a cane. I know many competent travelers that use either technique; and many people, including me, have effectively used both. Since the average working life span of a dog guide is approximately eight years, a decision for or against using a dog guide is not a life-long choice. Below are some of the reasons I have chosen as I have, and some observations you may find helpful in considering the matter.
The question "Will you use a dog or a cane when you grow up?" was asked of me early and often, mostly by people having no understanding of blindness or the alternative techniques we use. I was "mainstreamed" in a suburban Chicago school system and so had little contact with other blind people or with those with experience in teaching the blind. I suppose the reason people so persistently asked me whether I intended to use a cane or a dog when I grew up related either to their curiosity about blindness or their love of dogs generally. I recall an Industrial Arts teacher in eighth grade who, upon my replying that I planned to use a cane when it became time to learn an alternative technique, quipped that I'd be cheating myself out of a lot of companionship unless they developed a "face-licking cane." That was almost twenty-five years ago, in a time when mainstreamed blind children were not taught any alternative travel techniques until high school.
In my senior year, I was exposed for the first time to the "long" white cane by an itinerant mobility instructor, who worked with me one (and sometimes two) days a week. This happened first at my high school, and later in my neighborhood during the early summer. At that time, "long" meant a length of about forty-eight inches, which came up to somewhere below my breastbone. This state-issue cane was heavy and had a large crook at the top similar to that which would be useful on a support cane. It had a spiraled rubber-strip grip, white tape which continued to within eight inches of the bottom, and allegedly mandatory red tape to the tip, which had to be replaced as it wore off on curb or step edges. Otherwise, as I was told, the cane would not be "legal." My sighted instructor assured me that as long as I kept my arm fully extended and my hand centered in front of me a few inches below belt level and made sure my cane tapped each side of an appropriately-spaced arc at the exact instant the foot on the opposite side of the arc hit the ground, nothing bad would happen to me because my canetip would land exactly where my next footstep would land. If that sounds easy to you, you are either a sighted mobility instructor who doesn't use a cane, or you are a person who has learned to walk slowly enough that you have time to take meaningful evasive action when your canetip touches that object or hole toward which a person walking at normal speed would already be in the process of stepping. I will gladly admit that this was not easy for me, that traveling independently and relatively quickly was important enough for me to persevere, shortening my reaction time and developing my ability to interrupt a step in progress. Things got easier for me when I left home for law school, got rid of my state-issue cane, and bought a folding cane at least six inches longer. Yet, I believe my attitude toward the use of the cane and my confidence in traveling independently had been shaped by that early experience.
After losing a job that I held briefly in Springfield, Illinois, I reconsidered the question of whether a dog or a cane was best. I believed a dog guide would be helpful in my travels through unfamiliar cities in search of employment and would be a great help in locating doors, subway stairs, or other items not included in my limited mobility instruction. I imagined that a long brisk walk with a dog guide could be relaxing, not requiring me to attend to the details of what might happen at every step. I thought this period between jobs would be a good opportunity to train with a dog guide without having to schedule time off. Finally, I had always liked dogs, and I thought the companionship would be nice, though I recognized that the dog's primary purpose would be to serve as a mobility aid and that such a relationship would demand treatment different from that given to a pet.
I attended Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where I received a yellow Labrador named Yaz, after Carl Yastremsky of the Boston Red Sox. My greatest apprehension in switching from a cane to a dog guide was to drop the concentration I had developed, and to trust that the dog would not walk me into a sign or other object that I had no independent way of detecting. I discovered that using a dog guide does cut you off from tactile cues, particularly those that would be adjacent to the sidewalk intersections. Although one learns to trust the dog to stop for curbs or low objects, walking with a dog guide is by no means like walking with a sighted guide, who knows your destination and has planned the route for you. (I suppose an exception might be when one really has no idea what direction that might be.) The fact that I had already had independent travel experience made it possible for me effectively to use a dog guide, and to be immediately aware when the dog wants to make decisions for you (eg., when returning home, Yaz sometimes would try to avoid crossing two streets by attempting to veer across the intersection during the first crossing).
I traveled extensively with Yaz during the over twelve years I worked with him; and I discovered that my confidence in traveling independently increased considerably during this time. I found walking to be much more relaxing with Yaz than it had been with a cane; and I traveled in areas and situations I wouldn't have attempted alone without him. Perhaps my biggest surprise in using a guide dog was the degree to which I could use non-tactile cues in recognizing areas, evaluating the angle at which streets intersect, locating a likely building entrance, etc. These were not things taught by the mobility professionals. I learned them through my growing association with Federationists and other blind people, and through the increased travel experience I was getting with Yaz.
My travel experiences have helped me considerably in the now three years since I have retired Yaz; and I believe I am a much better cane traveler now than I was when I got him. I think using a sixty-one-inch cane has made travel a lot easier too.
Three years after I've quit using Yaz, people who remember me with a dog continue to ask me when or whether I will get another. I've even had strangers attempt to make conversation by saying: "I can see where, for a blind person, losing your dog would be so traumatic you probably would never want to go through that again." While anyone, blind or sighted, hates losing an animal to which he/she has developed an attachment, such things are no more traumatic for the blind than for the sighted dog- lover. I recently heard a girl remark that she "used to have a crush on me when I had that neat-looking dog." I have also had people comment, upon observing me using a cane, that "That dog did such a good job of taking you around I expected you'd be lost without him; but you seem to get where you're going just as if you're still using him."
While I miss some aspects of working with a dog, I am happy with my present situation. My circumstances are quite different now from what they were when I made the decision to use a dog guide. I now work full-time in an office that demands almost no travel, have married, and have a seven-year-old boy to whom I give much of my non-work time. Though I walk or go by bus to and from work or other places to which I take Bruce, my son, my situation is such that a dog guide would not get the attention or exercise I was able to give to Yaz. This is not to say that a person in my situation shouldn't have a dog or can't give the right amount of attention. I am confident in both methods of travel, and so have the option of choosing not to have a dog . . . well, maybe a pet would be nice.
I believe that the decision whether to use a dog or cane depends less on the relative merits of each technique than on a person's love of dogs, their strengths, weaknesses, and confidence as a traveler, the environment (urban, suburban, or rural) in which he/she will normally be traveling, the way in which a dog guide will affect other family members or pets, and whatever considerations may be important to you. Feel free to consider all these factors, knowing that either choice, given a manageable degree of ongoing dedication and use, will provide you the option of traveling independently with confidence.
by Steve Benson
Jenny is six and a half years old. Sometimes her behavior falls short of perfect. Then she, and occasionally the rest of the household, must endure the consequences, especially when she ingests things she shouldn't.
Jenny is a ninety-pound German shepherd. She serves faithfully and well as a watch dog; companion; and catcher of sticks, tennis balls and rubber dog toys. She is a genuine presence, a bona fide member of our family. She is first and foremost a dog, and no matter what or how much training she may receive, she will never be anything other than a dog.
Jenny is not the first dog to have received my attention, affection, and treasure. Tippy, a black lab, shared my bedroom when I was about nine years old. Bridy, a terrior mix, and Sarah, another shepherd, shared our house, and shared the essence of dog.
Each of our dogs required training, discipline, affection, and maintenance. They were praised when it was appropriate and scolded when that was appropriate. Spring and fall shedding necessitated extra cleaning, as did summer and winter shedding. Whenever Jenny is transported by car, she leaves tell-tale evidence of her presence--hair, paw marks, nose prints on the windows, and sometimes odor--All of which require extra cleaning.
Visits to the vet are standard for bathing, nail clipping, teeth cleaning, and routine compulsory shots--not to mention diagnosis and treatment of any number of things.
We built a relief area of timbers and filled it with river rocks. Frequent grooming and long walks help keep Jenny healthy. If, while on those walks, she should relieve herself on someone else's property, it is essential that we clean it up. On top of all that, conventions and vacations mean finding a dog sitter because, unfortunately, Jenny does not board well.
These are responsibilities my family and I take willingly and seriously. Owning a dog (whether a show dog, a hunter, a pet, or a guide dog) requires the readiness and commitment to assume at least the aforementioned responsibilities. In many ways, having a pet is very much like having a child. One of the major differences is, of course, that children's behavior changes as they mature. They assume increasing responsibility for their own actions. Dogs are just dogs, and cannot be anything more.
My first interaction with guide dogs occurred in my freshman year at college. My peers and I were exposed to two very different shepherds. Our reactions are interesting to reflect upon.
Dina was young and full of puppy playfulness. When greeted by name she would stand on her hind legs, no matter where she was. She was cute, so people talked to her, although not always her master. If she stood up and shook in class, some--thankfully not all--professors would respond something like, "Well, Dina is up, so it must be time to go," even though there might be as much as fifteen minutes left in the hour. Occasionally Dina's master encouraged her to stand up and shake to precipitate early dismissal. At that time I regarded some of her behavior as amusing. Clearly it wasn't and did dog users and all blind people harm.
Jack, weighing probably 130 pounds, was one of the biggest shepherds I have ever seen. He was also one of the best behaved dogs I have ever met. Mostly you didn't know he was around. His master, Fred, kept him under control without making a big fuss about it.
People greeted Jack, but seldom greeted his master. Fred responded with, "Hello" or "How are you?" or "Have a nice day." I thought it pretty peculiar, but Fred and some of his classmates thought it funny.
They ran Jack for class officer. Campaign posters were designed and distributed on campus. The posters read, "Vote for Jack Shepherd," or "Jack Shepherd, good leader!" The dog finished third or fourth in the balloting.
It would be easy to chalk this incident up as a silly college prank, but considering the attitudes about blindness then, and now, I find this anecdote as disturbing today as I did almost thirty-five years ago.
My walks with Jenny are instructive. I am amazed by the number of people who think Jenny is a guide dog despite the fact that I use a long cane and have the dog on leash and at heal, and that she does not wear a harness. All of that serves as a reminder as why I find the previous anecdotes so disturbing after so long a time. People think Jenny is a guide dog because she is a German shepherd. Come to think of it, when I walked the terrier mix ten years ago, there were those who asked whether she was a guide dog. It is clear to me that there are plenty of people in today's society who seem to think that a blind person can't make it in the world without a dog.
The Federation is in the business of changing attitudes about blindness and blind people, and of course that includes blind people who own and use guide dogs. Changing attitudes, it seems to me, is made more complex when the public believes that guide dogs can read street signs and addresses, or that a guide dog can take a blind person to any given address on command. Dogs cannot think in the way we do, interpret sophisticated symbols, or make decisions for us any more than a tiny child can, but there are still people in this country who think that this is the case--all of which brings me to the planning for the 1995 National Convention.
Of all the convention-related issues I managed, none commanded more time and effort in discussion and preparation than guide-dog accommodations. Early on, we arranged for a crew to clean up in a large grassy section of Grant Park, across Michigan Avenue from the Hilton and Towers. I thought that would be more than adequate, considering the size of the park area and the number of dogs anticipated. But, I was told, Michigan Avenue is too wide, too busy, and the pedestrian lights too short to permit safe crossing by guide-dog users.
I must confess I was more than a little puzzled by these assertions since I had long been led to believe that use of guide dogs allowed the user to cross a street straighter and more quickly than the use of a cane. Be that as it may, I consulted a City engineer to determine whether the pedestrian light could be lengthened. I was told that the City would be very reluctant to make any adjustments since they would adversely affect traffic flow in the entire downtown area. I consulted with the Chicago Police Department about getting additional coverage at Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive. They agreed to provide extra coverage during hours when it seemed most likely that guide-dog users would need to get to Grant Park.
Then people began to insist that we provide an auxiliary relief area on the hotel side of Michigan Avenue. There was no suitable place outside the hotel. Finally arrangements were made with the hotel to construct a sand box in the executive parking space and fill it with six or seven cubic yards of sand.
On the surface this would seem to be a simple, straightforward task. Appearances can be deceiving. Because the Hilton is a union shop, it was necessary to hunt for a lawn service that would not only deliver the sand, but spread it--and, after the Convention, pick it up, haul it away, and dispose of it. When I finally identified a lawn service that would do these things, I also explored the prospects of having them pick up and replace the sand mid-week if that was necessary. They could not do it. And besides, it was assumed that the amount of sand would be sufficient, since it was an auxiliary site and since we had people to maintain the area and turn the sand over. That was wishful thinking.
By Tuesday, July 4, it was very clear that we would have to replace the sand. We found another source for sand, but they would not remove the used material, and they could not deliver until Thursday, July 6. After more searching by more people, we found someone to remove the dirty sand. It was necessary to scoop it with a Bobcat tractor and load it onto a dump truck for removal. In the process, the sand box was destroyed and the hotel had to replace it.
There are more details regarding the difficulty and inconvenience and the coordinating several organizations upon short notice, but suffice it to say that several Illinoisans had to do more than a little scurrying around to get the task completed. The total cost to our affiliate was in the neighborhood of $3,000.
On more than one occasion, prior to and during Convention, I wondered why people bring guide dogs to convention. Three thousand people in a concentrated place must be pretty stressful to the dogs who are inevitably being stepped on and being touched by canes. The water is different; the food may be different; and the lifestyle is probably quite different from what most dogs routinely experience. But of course the answer is that the dog is the principal means of independent travel for many people and that they certainly are entitled to take the dog wherever they go. We have fought for the right of blind people to use dogs, but I should note that I know a number of people who did not bring their dogs because of the stresses imposed by Convention. I also know of some people who did not bring their dogs because they believe that the Federation is anti-dog. This is not the case. But a number of very serious questions about guide dogs must be raised and examined honestly, thoroughly, and unemotionally. I realize that for some this latter is difficult because the dog takes on identity that goes beyond the animal's nature and function.
I am biased. I do not use a guide dog, and at this point in my life, I consider the prospect of becoming a guide-dog user extremely unlikely. As a matter of fact, my wife and I have given serious consideration as to whether or not we will replace Jenny when she, inevitably, passes away. As long as I am able to voice any position regarding the independence of blind people, I will defend the right of owning and using a guide dog. That having been said, I must also say several other things. Guide-dog users do not have the right to allow their dogs to relieve themselves anywhere and then walk away leaving the mess behind. I don't have that right as the owner of a pet. Cleaning up after a dog is not the most pleasant thing in the world, but it must be done. If the dog-guide schools don't teach people to pick up after their dogs, then they are doing as grave a disservice to all blind people as those who shirk that responsibility.
At this year's National Convention, I am aware of only six accidents. But I can tell you that all of the Illinois Affiliate who participated in marshalling or in any other function of the Convention, were acutely aware of the prospect that we would have to stand over or place a chair over a dog deposit. But I pointed out to the Illinois delegation that if a child became ill, we would be sensitive to that and that we should be equally sensitive to a dog that became ill. We did everything within our power to avoid the problems we encountered in 1988. We knew that if we could not control dog behavior, future convention planning could be adversely affected.
We regarded the Hilton as our home, and we felt justified in being offended by those irresponsible dog users who did not manage their time and who were not sensitive to the dogs' expressions of their needs. I might add that I know guide-dog users who have expressed to me that irresponsible dog users offend them as well. Guide-dog users who believe that they have the right to do whatever they wish with regard to their dogs are as harmful to all of us as cane users who behave with equal irresponsibility.
I have travelled in thirty-five states. I have probably met fifteen thousand or more blind people. None of us, whether guide- dog users or not, can use blindness as an excuse for not meeting our responsibilities as citizens of this country. All of us who travel independently must do so only after making the commitment that we will be responsible for ourselves, for our canes, and/or for our dogs.
I fear that many guide-dog users receive training in the use of a guide dog because they believe that they cannot travel with a cane or because good instruction in independent travel with a white cane is either wretchedly poor or non-existent. There is no magic in a cane. Independent travel with a cane requires attention, sharp wit, patience, self-confidence, alertness, and determination. Equally there is no magic in the use of a guide dog. A dog cannot make an individual a good independent traveler. The same skill and alertness must be possessed by a guide-dog user as by a cane user. I recognize that some blind people, because of hearing loss, balance problems, or other conditions, may benefit immensely from proper use of a well-trained, well- disciplined guide dog. But I cannot conceive of how a person can expect to be an effective, independent traveler with a guide dog if he or she is not first skilled in orientation and in the use of a white cane.
Kelowna, British Columbia
August 14, 1995
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
Attached is a copy of a letter I sent to Geoffrey Courtney, the attorney defending Franklin Johnson in his case against Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery. The letter is self-explanatory. A copy was sent to Mr. Maurer.
I think that this letter can serve as a warning to those of us who would undermine the value of the guide dog as a respectable, useful and efficient visual aid for blind people. If we are not strong in our defense of the right of blind people to work with guide dogs in all establishments frequented by the public, and all modes of transportation, there are plenty of forces outside our movement impelled by ignorance which will be put to work to destroy the respectability of the guide dog as a useful and efficient visual aid for many blind people.
Some have argued that the Federation has always defended the right of blind people to use guide dogs. This is true. However, sometimes I have heard mixed messages about the usefulness and efficiency of the guide dog. A person who is an efficient cane traveler should not be discouraged from obtaining a guide dog. There is nothing wrong with wanting to supplement one's travel skills through the use of canine vision. The Federation, as a whole, ought to support the National Association of Guide Dog Users in its mandate to inform people about the usefulness of guide dogs. It would be best if this support were wholehearted. I can understand reservations based on negative and obstructive behaviors on the part of dogs and handlers which we sometimes come across at conventions. I think these behaviors are largely due to insufficient training of the handlers. However, in principle, the concept of using canine vision as a supplementary travel tool is sound and should be supported.
I offer these comments and the attached letter for the October Monitor.
Paul Gabias, Ph.D.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GUIDE DOG USERS
Paul Gabias, Ph.D.
July 27, 1995
Mr. Geoffrey N. Courtney ADA National Backup Center Austin, Texas
Dear Mr. Courtney:
This is a letter in support of Franklin Johnson, the Plaintiff, in the action against Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery. I am the President of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. The National Association of Guide Dog Users is the dominant organization of people who use guide dogs in the United States. It is a Division of the National Federation of the Blind, the most influential movement of organized blind people in the United States. The National Federation of the Blind has a membership of 50,000. The membership is primarily composed of blind people along with sighted friends who support the work of the Federation.
According to the constitution of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, the purpose of the association is: To promote understanding through education of the general public; to establish and maintain a forum through which discussion about guide dogs, their training--their care--their behavior--may be shared among guide-dog users; to work cooperatively with and provide consultation to guide-dog schools; and to work constructively within the framework of the National Federation of the Blind to strengthen equality, opportunity and security for all blind persons.
Because one of our mandates is to strengthen security, equality and opportunity for all blind persons, I feel particularly compelled to offer support to Mr. Johnson in his action against Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery.
I understand that the brewery wishes to deny Mr. Johnson access to tours of its premises, which are otherwise open to the public. The reason the brewery wishes to deny Mr. Johnson access to its facilities is because Mr. Johnson uses a guide dog. The brewery claims that it would be happy to welcome Mr. Johnson on its tours without the guide dog. Of course, Mr. Johnson uses a guide dog as a visual aid for purposes of safe and efficient mobility. Asking him to take the tour without a dog is tantamount to asking a sighted person who requires corrective eyeware to take the tour without glasses or contact lenses.
Of course, the brewery's refusal to accommodate Mr. Johnson with his guide dog is discriminatory under provisions specified by the ADA, the Texas Human Resources Code, and the FDA. Regulations under the FDA do not supersede provisions of the ADA and the Texas Human Resources Code. The FDA regulations support provisions of non-discrimination contained in the ADA and the Texas Human Resources Code. The FDA regulations state that "Guard or guide dogs may be allowed in some areas of a plant if the presence of the dogs is unlikely to result in contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials." Obviously, the Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery believes that the presence of guise dogs in its plant is likely to result in the contamination of food, food-contact surfaces or food- packaging materials! Otherwise, the company would not be invoking provisions under the FDA to defend its discriminatory practices.
Of course, this kind of defense is absurd. What makes this plant any different from the thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, self-service bulk food stores, butcher shops, bakeries, confectionery shops where candy is made on the premises, farmers' markets, fish markets, sidewalk stands, fruit stores and fruit stands, cafeterias and buffets which are visited every day by the public? In these types of establishments, where food is prepared and served, blind people with their guide dogs can be found either as customers or service providers. There are ample daily precedents to suggest that guide dogs do not pose any greater health hazard than humans.
Because humans are social creatures, there is always some risk of communicable disease related to human interactions. For example, people freely transmit flu viruses to one another. Children transmit measles, chicken pox, and mumps to one another. Yet, because we live in a social world, we do not exclude adults and children from frequenting and working in establishments where food is served. Young children are known to be particularly at risk for picking up and transmitting head lice. Do we bar children from restaurants because a small percentage of them might be carrying head lice? No, we take the small risk of being exposed to head lice because we do not wish to exclude our children from social interactions. Young children are not always models of etiquette when eating in restaurants. By the time they are finished, food is often smeared all over the highchair, the table, and the floor. A couple of weeks ago, my two-year-old son threw up all over me and the restaurant booth. Do we exclude children from restaurants because of these occasional misadventures? No, we certainly do not because we are not willing to endure the price of excluding our children. As a society, we are more than willing to deal with the occasional inconveniences posed by our children.
But children are not always the only ones to get sick in public. One can imagine an adult getting sick on a tour of the brewery. Is the Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery prepared to exclude the public from its tours because somebody might get sick and render the facility unsanitary? Its policy of opening its tours to the public suggests otherwise.
What the Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery must understand is that federal and state legislation has been enacted to ensure that guide dogs accompanied by their owners must be integrated into the social fabric of society on a par with human beings. The dogs, by dint of their training and grooming, do not pose any greater health hazard than human beings. Guide dogs have achieved this level of stature in our society because of the vital functions they perform for their blind handlers. It is illegal to discriminate against blind people because of their use of guide dogs for safe and efficient mobility. I respectfully request that the judge in this case apply the law of the land so that the Gambrinus Company/Spoetzl Brewery be made to conform to the social standards which are now customary in our society.
Paul Gabias, Ph.D.
by Bill J. Isaacs
Hello, my name is Prince. I am a white Standard Poodle. I was born on January 16, 1994, at Darlington, Wisconsin. My original mistress, a vet, Mary Skog, donated me to Leader Dog last December to be trained as a guide dog. She had heard through the Poodle grapevine that Bill Isaacs, a local blind gentleman, wanted to have a dog trained for him as his guide that would reduce allergy problems that come from having dogs around. Poodles, you know, have hair and not fur. We do not have dandruff or shed hair if we are kept groomed regularly.
I am a Leader dog, even though most people refer to me as a Seeing Eye dog. Seeing Eye dogs are trained at Morristown, New Jersey. I was trained at Rochester, Michigan. For your information, each of the seventeen guide-dog training schools in the United States have their own distinctive brand name for their dogs. These guide-dog schools are very proud of their brand name, and to call a Leader dog a Seeing Eye dog would be like calling a Ford a Chevy. Perhaps the best generic term would be "dog guide."
You know this job of guiding a blind person around at any hour, both day and night, places a great responsibility upon me. I was not sure if I was cut out to be a guide dog. As a guide dog I have to stop for every set of steps, pause for curbs, find door handles, and keep quiet in church and at restaurants. I have to make sure there is enough room for two when walking down a sidewalk. I have to watch for garbage cans, parked and moving cars, and even overhead branches.
You might say that it is pretty much a dog's life. Even during the first month of my three-month training session, my trainer, Greg, thought I would not make it. However, he decided to work with me for another week or so. I at first showed so little aptitude for the job that he nearly culled me out of the program. In the meantime my love for him increased, and I knew that I wanted very much to please him. You see, I do not make friends right off the bat. I find it difficult to switch from one master to another. When I give my allegiance to a master, I want it to be forever.
However, my life has not always been a bed of roses. When I was a young pup, Mary Skog sold me to a groomer. When I became a little ill, I was dumped back at her doorstep. Mary nursed me back to health, and I was as good as new. Another family bought me, and I was whisked off to New York City. For some unknown reason, I was abandoned there. Maybe I was too noisy, or perhaps I chewed up too many things. Maybe I did not have the proper characteristics for a top show dog even though both my parents were show dogs. Regardless of the reason, Mary heard of my plight, and I was returned to Darlington, Wisconsin, a second time. It was at this point that the wheels began to turn that led me down the path toward becoming a guide dog.
Being trained as a guide dog during a Michigan winter was not exactly a bowl of cherries. Come rain, sleet, or snow (fair or foul weather), this little house plant dog had to go with my trainer for some new experience and to refresh my memory about earlier feats. My future employment depended on my perfecting my skills. Even before my daily training, my eyes were examined, and my hips were x-rayed. Perfect sight and sound hips are a must for all guide dogs. Once these preliminaries were out of the way, my trainer took me around this block, down these stairs, up this elevator, down these escalators, on this bus or train, through the mall, through revolving doors, etc., etc. We repeated many of these activities day after day and week after week. My trainer was always adding new experiences for me to add to my repertoire so that I might be prepared for any type of an experience that any blind person might face.
After awhile, you know I thought this occupation as a guide dog might not be too bad after all, as long as I could continue to work with Greg. I loved him, and he loved me. We were really getting to understand each other. In fact, we were fast becoming a working team. I also learned to work with other dogs who were learning the same things I was. Greg belonged to a group of four trainers, where he served as captain. They each trained eight to ten dogs. We dogs had to learn to get along with each other. After our trainers had polished our skills, they began to work each other's dogs. I did not like this swapping around of masters. I wanted to stick with the one I had learned to trust and love. They told me it was for my own good, for it was certain that an unknown master was in the making somewhere in the near future. I did not care about the future; I was one unhappy dog. Sometimes I refused to work for the other trainers. They became concerned about my future. In fact, the head trainer told Bill that it was only about a fifty/fifty chance that I would turn out to be a successful guide dog.
Suddenly Greg disappeared from the picture for two weeks. About the time he returned from his Florida vacation, a class of twenty-four blind persons came to Leader Dog's campus. I felt very sad. I overheard the head trainer tell Bill that I was the saddest looking dog that he had ever seen. I did not realize that my feelings showed so much. Without Greg, my world seemed to be collapsing again. And now I was about to be hitched up with somebody I did not know. Greg and I had become pals. We understood each other. Oh, why did this arrangement have to be broken? I had become vulnerable by placing my complete loyalty with Greg.
About the time Greg returned from Florida, the new class of blind students were in great anticipation as to what their new guide dogs would be like. We guide dogs knew something was in the air, but we knew not what. We were scrubbed, fluffed, and made to look our very best. Then, one by one, we were marched into a dorm room to meet our new masters or mistresses. After my clean-up spree, I was carted off to a dorm room to meet my master-to-be. I was quite nervous and anxious about the whole business. When Greg left the room, I was alone with this blind stranger. I felt the bottom falling out of my heart. Bill tried to cheer me up by playing with me, but I gave him a cold shoulder. My eyes followed Greg out of the room, and I was uncertain as to what was going to happen to me. My stomach churned, and I lost my appetite. After a couple of days, I at least discovered that Bill was not out to harm me. Bill groomed me, cleaned out my eyes, fed me, took me for little walks, and kept trying to play with me. I finally decided that he must be a pretty good guy, so I touched his cheek with my nose. My nose touch serves as my stamp of approval. I think it is sissy stuff to gush over humans much. I have to live up to my rank you know! Do you know what my new master did? He treated me like a prince. He held my food in his hand each day to encourage me to eat a little more. He even brought a tennis ball along to see if I would play with it. A ball is a no-no in most guide schools you know. I did so much like chasing it down and would then jump smack in the middle of his bed, which was another no-no. Because this pastime was about the only thing that would make me happy enough to wag my tail, the director let us get away with it. Some trainers think ball playing breaks down obedience training, but it did not interfere with my obedience. That was one thing I was good at.
Little by little I began to find that Bill was not such a bad fellow after all. I think maybe I was beginning to love him a bit. But, then, I began to have anxieties when Greg was around. Was I cheating him by showing too much attention to Bill? What would he think of me? I needed a sedative because I felt so "stressed out." Dogs, you know, instinctively select one person or dog to head their pack. Greg always reminded me of the good old days when we hiked all over the place so happily. It is very hard for me to concentrate on anything else when I think about him. Greg drove the bus, ate dinner at my master's table, and walked with us around town, but was ignoring me more and more. I wondered what was getting into him to treat me that way. Does he not care for me any longer? I could not understand this. What had become of our strong bond of friendship? Slowly it dawned upon me that he was doing all of this for my benefit. He wanted me to find it easier to shift my loyalty to Bill without feeling guilty about it. I suspect that it hurt Greg down inside about as much as it did me when he began to act the way he did. Sure enough, I soon found myself even growling occasionally when I thought anybody was trespassing too closely on the territory I thought belonged to my new master. Even so, I could not quite give up trying to win back the old relationship with my former trainer.
Four weeks after Bill and I came to Bourbonnais, Illinois, Greg came to check up on us. The old bond between us caused me to shower him with my affection. About this time, however, I began to love Bill more and not just tolerate him. My longing for Greg has begun to fade out now. Bill and I are beginning to read each other's body language in ways that make life more meaningful to each of us. I believe that we are really becoming a viable team that will only grow stronger with the months and years ahead.
While still in training with Bill at Leader Dog, Bill took care of all my basic needs. That still did not take away that longing in my heart for Greg. I tried to lead Bill down the sidewalk, but my heart was not in it. If Greg were riding around on a bike, driving a van, or just out of sight, I refused to work. I would sit down and have to be dragged to get me moving. I would not find the curbs, nor would I lead Bill across the street. I just wanted to get Greg's attention, and hopefully Bill would just give me back to him. On one occasion when Bill was so disappointed with me, I heard him say that if I were not a Poodle, he would have swapped me for another Lab. I think now that it was lucky for me that there were no more Poodles available. Bill was a persistent fellow, I must admit. He would try to coax me into guiding. When that did not work (and it usually did not), he would just take out his telescopic cane and start leading or dragging me around. After two weeks of this torn allegiance between two masters, the school decided that Bill should take me home with him and see what he could do with me away from Greg, the school, and all the other dogs. It was hoped that distance would allow me to become fonder of Bill. I was a stubborn cuss, however. For three and a half weeks or so I behaved the same way in Bourbonnais as I did at Rochester. It was thought that if Bill could win my complete allegiance, maybe I would work for him as well as I did for Greg.
Bill and I flew from Detroit to Chicago
on April 30, 1995 to start our new life away from familiar surroundings. I love
to ride! I will ride in anything, whether it be an auto, bus, van, airplane,
or train. They all make me sleepy, but it is nice anyway. I knew that Bill thought
I would really get with it when we got to Bourbonnais. Greg was still in my
mind, and I was as slow as a turtle in changing my disposition about matters.
Bill still had to drag me out of the house. I wouldn't even consider any guiding
work. I did not think he was my boss. I would walk in the middle of the street
if I wanted. I refused to take him across streets, so he had to lead or drag
me. After nearly two and a half weeks of this tomfoolery, my master began to
use his telescopic cane again and forced me to follow behind him. After a few
days of this, I thought it would appear ridiculous for everybody seeing a blind
man guiding his guide dog. I decided that that was not very apropos, so I began
to straighten up and do my job as I was taught. I wanted Bill and Greg both
to be proud of me. I began to walk along the curb and take my chances in crossing
the street with a person who depended upon me with his life. Little by little
our teamship began to click, and you might find us now walking anywhere in Kankakeeland,
but especially in the Bourbonnais area. Bill trusts me enough now that he no
longer brings his cane along. I still get a little spooked once in awhile and
cannot quite figure out what I should do in a ticklish situation. Bill is patient
and takes his time in working out these problems with me. Sudden commotions,
quick movements, certain strangers, or if I get my toes stepped on--I can act
pretty crazily. These little distractions do not last very long, and Bill is
learning to accommodate me when I have these weird moments. On the whole, I
think I am getting pretty good, and I hope Bill thinks so too.
Bill is going to find out just how much I have learned and how much I have matured when he takes me to the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, to be held in Chicago during the first week of July. We will be staying in the Hilton and Towers for a week. There will be 2,500 to 3,000 blind persons in attendance there, many of whom will have guide dogs. Both people and dogs will be strangers to me. We will have to cross Michigan Avenue to exercise in Grant Park several times a day. Bill has been trying to get me ready for this big event by walking me along Main Street, where there is much traffic, and letting me lead him across Illinois Highway 102 and U. S. Highway 45-52. I think we are doing pretty well, even if I say so myself! I hope that I have my lessons down pat when Bill takes me to Chicago. I do not want to goof up in that crowd. After all, a Poodle must show his stuff before all those people and those Shepherds, Labs, and Golden Retrievers. I want you to know that this Poodle is no "powder puff," no matter what some people might think. You believe I can do it, do you not?
Remember, when you see me with my harness on, I am in my working mode. It is a no-no to pet or talk to a guide dog while he or she is in harness. Distraction of this sort causes me to lose my concentration, and that leads to mistakes--and you would not want me to be scolded, would you? If people pay too much attention to me, sometimes I want to jump up and run around wildly, or I will take my master to you the next time we see you rather than doing what I am supposed to do. It is never a good idea to feed a guide dog anything without its owner's permission. You will hear or see my master talking to me when walking along noisy sidewalks or in big crowds. I like to hear him say, "That's a good boy! Very good, Prince, very good! That's okay." His voice makes me feel good inside and helps me with my concentration and keeps me focused on what I am doing at the moment. I hope to be seeing you around one of these days.
by Gary Wunder
As any blind person will tell you, the most frustrating problem for the untrained blind pedestrian is mobility; and the greatest freedom one is likely to experience is when he or she can travel independently to wherever he wants to go. Because travel is so important, it is often an issue about which we feel very emotional. The technique which gives independence to us personally is one we are eager to sell, and it is all too easy to seek converts, just as those who are devoutly religious seek converts.
For the ten years of my life before I got a cane, my travel was always the responsibility of somebody with sight. Not only were my sighted friends and family expected to keep me safe by guiding me around objects and warning me of curbs and stairs, but additionally it was their job to plan my routes and to navigate them for me. I came to think of travel as a passive experience, and so I felt quite put upon when I began to venture out on my own and realized that it required both planning and concentration.
I didn't begin to find real independence in travel until age eleven when I was given a cane and enough instruction to travel through the crowded streets of St. Louis. For the first time I could go by myself to the store for candy, walk to church on Sunday morning, or visit a ham radio friend on the pretense I was going to church.
As liberating as this new freedom was, there were still problems which made travel difficult. The cane I was given came just below where my breast bones converged, and the result was that often I would learn of a curb or a pole just before I stepped off of or into it. What I wanted, of course, was enough warning to stop or to alter my course. Because my cane was short, I traveled with my elbow held rigidly to get as much advance notice as I could. I also learned to shorten my stride and reduce my speed to lessen the pain when I came in contact with a bicycle, a sign, or a telephone pole. Because I knew I would have so little time in which to react, travel caused me to become very tense, and the thought that it could ever become easy and enjoyable seemed remote.
Lastly, because I had for so long viewed travel as a passive experience, I had the bad habit of wanting to walk first and think later. This often left me confused about where I was and what I had done to get there.
Shortly before I graduated from high school, I watched a Disney feature about the Seeing Eye. The story was quite moving and presented the use of a dog guide in a very positive light. As I began to learn more about dog guides through brochures from the schools and by making contact with Federationists who used dogs, I was excited by many things the dog could do which the cane could not. I was told, and in some cases could observe for myself, that dog-guide users traveled more rapidly down crowded sidewalks, that their dogs could maneuver them around obstacles without breaking pace, and that there was a real kinship between man and dog when united in a common goal. I had always found a certain romance in the idea that the police dog would work with the policeman and the husky with the musher, so the experience of teaming with a dog seemed a good way to solve some real problems and at the same time add a new dimension to my life.
Friends with dog guides told me how their dogs could learn a route in no time at all and how much easier this made their daily travel. They said the dog was also a real ice breaker with people and that never did they stand as silent observers while others conversed around them as though they were not there. The dog made the public ask questions, and the questions gave those of us who were blind a way to initiate conversations and convince the public of our normality.
As I made application to various schools in preparation for getting a dog, the animal I would get came to look less and less like the work animals and house pets I had known, and ever more like a human being which simply occupied a non-human body. The extent to which this transformation changed what I thought I would be getting cannot be overstated. Some of this transformation came from the positive literature generated by the schools and from the glowing reports printed in newspapers and magazines. Some no doubt came from the fact that I wanted what I wanted and would do whatever I could to rationalize when legitimate concerns about what I was doing would arise.
Normal house pets would shed hair which many found objectionable, but the dog guide, so said the literature, would not shed if properly washed and groomed. Dogs, whether inside or outside pets, all had a certain odor associated with them. Again, bathing and grooming were the answer as long as the dog-guide owner was conscientious. House pets would sometimes chew and destroy clothing and other household items, but dog guides were trained from six weeks of age and so would not. House pets would sometimes steal food from counter tops or raid the kitchen trash, but again we were talking about highly trained animals which had evolved beyond these base animal behaviors and understood that this was not acceptable conduct in the world of the human being. House pets sometimes embarrassed their owners by licking or nuzzling visitors in inappropriate places, but the dog guide had lived with humans from birth and its training ensured that such behavior was limited to their non-working relatives. House pets sometimes had accidents in the homes of their owners, but this issue had little relevance to the dog guide user who (1) would always ensure that his dog had plenty of time outside to "Do His Business," and (2) was keenly in tune with his dog's wants and needs and could sense the need before an accident would occur.
As I dreamed about and made plans to get such a wonderful guide, many of my family and friends were relieved and excited at the prospect and said that they had always believed I would someday get a helper. The excitement and relief were not, however, universal. Some were gentle in voicing a concern about my always being accompanied by a dog and the limitations that this might impose. Others were quite firm in saying that realism demanded taking account of those who did not like dogs in their cars, in their homes, and in their businesses, and that it seemed doubtful at best and foolish at worst for me to create another impediment to my acceptance.
In my excitement to do what I had already decided to do, I sought out those who supported what I believed and told myself that those who disagreed were being narrow-minded and foolish. I had a right to the mobility aid of my choice; those who objected didn't know what I knew about these wonderful animals; and I was arrogant enough to believe that I could convert anyone who lacked proper information about my almost-human companion. If there were to be some occasional problems like a dog hair here or there or my dog's relieving himself in someone's yard, wasn't that almost insignificant given how important the dog would be to me? The price others were asked to pay was so small compared to the benefit I would derive that I easily dismissed the reservations and objections.
When I came home with a beautiful golden retriever who was both well-trained and almost universally admired, I was quite proud of the decision I had made. Much of what I had heard and read was wonderfully coming true for me. It was true that I could walk more rapidly than I had with a cane. It was true that the dog could see the fountain in my path and gently guide me around it without my ever slowing or bothering to acknowledge the barrier. My gait was again normal, and I did not shuffle or proceed hesitantly. The tension which came from my extended arm and the need to react immediately to any information from the cane was gone, and I felt that independent travel was easier than at any time in my life.
The dog did indeed act as an ice breaker around strangers and started many conversations where previously there had been silence. Like many blind friends who had encouraged me to get a dog, I very much enjoyed being part of a man/dog team and felt that my handling of the dog gave me claim to some coveted expertise in the training and use of dogs. The loyalty and affection of this fine animal was exceedingly pleasant, and I worked diligently on his obedience and grooming to see that we were a team which would command respect and admiration. I knew that his appearance and reputation were closely tied to mine, and both were exceedingly important to me.
Over time the newness and the glamour of having this wonderfully trained animal gave way to the needs of being a college student and living independently in my own apartment. When I came to the large campus at the University of Missouri at Columbia, I found that learning it posed a very different challenge from what I had experienced with the cane and had expected to experience with the dog. Landmarks I once located with my cane were no longer apparent to me. The trash can or the sign pole on the corner were invisible because the dog's job was to see that I was not bothered by them. To know where I was, I had to rely less on observable, touchable landmarks and more on having an accurate map in my head and knowing my position on that map.
Counting sidewalks so that I could take the fourth one on the right also became a challenge. As a cane traveler I would look for each sidewalk by swinging the cane into the grass until I touched concrete and would then keep traveling straight until I came to the sidewalk I wanted. With the dog a different strategy was required. The most awkward way to find the fourth sidewalk was to ask the dog to take the first possible right, stop and praise him when he found it, and then to have him continue straight, repeating the action for the second walk, the third walk, and eventually turning when I reached the walk I wanted.
Other alternatives were also sometimes possible. Learning how long it took to walk to the fourth walk could sometimes solve the problem so that I didn't ask the dog to look for the next available right until I had passed the three walks preceding it. Using sound cues or the shade from overhanging trees could also tell me where I was in relation to the turn I wanted to make. While the technique is sometimes ridiculed, I found that I could also count the steps between where I started and where I wanted to turn and could do so while still daydreaming or carrying on a conversation or doing any number of other things one does to enjoy a stroll. This latter technique became impractical, of course, if the distance was long, but even here it could be employed if the count could begin following one of the cues I mentioned above.
While the dog could certainly learn a route, rewarding him for doing so had its own set of problems. Confusion ensued when sometimes I took the third walk on the left and sometimes I wanted to travel beyond it. The very notion that the dog could and would do my thinking for me also proved to be costly when I would realize that I hadn't a clue as to where we were and that the dog was similarly confused and looking to me for direction. Over time I came to rely less and less on the dog's knowing where we wanted to go and eventually came actively to discourage his guesses. He soon learned that he got more praise for following my specific instructions than he did for trying to anticipate our next turn.
The point in discussing the changes I found in moving from a cane to a dog is that I traded one set of problems and solutions for another. Some requirements of travel were easier with my dog, and some were easier with my cane.
My greatest frustration in getting about was that orientation, which had been my biggest travel problem as a cane user, was still my number one problem when using my dog. If I insisted on traveling first and thinking later, I only got lost more rapidly and at greater distances from home. No matter which travel aid I used, I still had to take responsibility for knowing where I was, where I wanted to go, and where those two points were in relation to each other.
More disturbing than any of my misconceptions about what the dog would do for my mobility was the realization that a noble mission, a willing partner, and an emotional title (seeing eye dog, pilot dog, guiding eyes dog) could not transform my wonderful animal into a creature ideally suited to the life of a human. Similarly disconcerting was the realization that I could not, by my attention to his training and care, make him as acceptable as a human in human society. My dog, for all of his virtues and exemplary qualities, was still a dog with all the failings and difficulties such a creature has when living in the environment of man and when judged by the standards of man. A dog, no matter how well-groomed, will still smell like a dog and will still shed hair. My dog, no matter how well trained or disciplined, would still, on occasion, eat an unguarded chocolate cake, steal meat from the counter top, or tear up my trash in search of bones and other dog delicacies.
Careful attention to feeding and relieving my animal was strictly observed, but this provided no guarantee against embarrassing gas, the need for unscheduled relief, and even accidents both at home and in public. I cannot overstate the impact these realizations had on me as I came down from cloud nine and realized that I had indeed been given a dog.
Never in my guide-dog fantasy trips had I been confronted by an angry woman when my dog sniffed her bottom or touched her leg with his nose. It matters very little in terms of the reaction one gets whether the dog is guilty of the acts attributed to him or not. In some cases my dog's contact with those who found it objectionable was caused by his nature and proclivities as a dog. In many other cases he was not to blame, as when we would be traveling in a crowd and the person ahead of us would stop abruptly. More than once I remember standing on an elevator with my dog's head placed firmly against my leg, only to find that a woman would walk into the car, turn to face the door, and gradually back toward me until she quite literally backed into the cold nose she so despised. The dog's innocence or guilt made little difference to the woman so touched, and I doubt that it made much difference to those within hearing distance either.
I had no preparation for the reaction I found when I first took my dog to a dinner party. Whereas, he was admired when he skillfully maneuvered us through crowds on a downtown sidewalk, the reaction was very different in a room where we passed by a crowd with food on their laps at dog level. I never once observed him taking something from a guest's plate, but each turn of his head would cause nervous shifting and shouts of "Not my food, honey," or "Don't put your nose in my plate, Mr. Dog." If what I relate had been limited only to a particularly nervous guest or two, or even if it had been limited to the guests of one particular party, I wouldn't bother to mention the problem, but the reaction at such events was very nearly universal and eventually led me to abandon taking my dog to such parties.
The literature had never prepared me for the possibility that my dog might make a mess in a classroom building or for what it would feel like to watch while the manager of a store ordered his young employee to get paper towels and a trash can. If my dog-guide school had encouraged me to carry a baggy for such eventualities, my reaction might have been less traumatic, but these possibilities simply didn't exist in the romanticized world portrayed in the publicity generated by the film industry, the press, and the schools. The fact that my dog, throughout his six- year work career, had several such accidents, and that never could I attribute them to negligence on my part, did much to undermine my confidence. After the first of such accidents, each trip I took into a large building caused me to worry about how my dog was feeling, how long we would be in there, and how far we would be from an exit. The problem of accidents in large buildings is made more likely because the act of walking is one form of stimulation used by the dog to induce relief.
It certainly must occur to the unbiased reader that perhaps the incidents I relate came about either because I was not a competent and conscientious dog-guide user, or perhaps that I just had a dog lacking in training or physical ability. To argue about the first point would be fruitless since of course I believe I did what I had been instructed to do by the school. The second point I can more objectively argue, based on long observation of other dog guides. My dog was among the best trained and well-mannered dogs I have ever seen in guide-dog work, and lengthy conversations confirm that my experiences are ones which have been shared by most of my friends and colleagues who use guide dogs. The difference seems not to be in our experiences but in how we have reacted to them.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the discussions we normally have about canes and dogs is that they too often focus on which is the best mobility aid. When I was actively working my dog, there was no need to choose which was better. I could use either and let the choice depend on what I wanted to do. When I wanted a rapid walk, there was my dog. When I wanted to ride in a sports car to the stadium to take in a football game, there was my cane. If I went to visit a friend in the hospital, I used my cane. If that friend asked me out to his farm, I'd take the dog.
After I used Ely for about three years, a routine examination found a cancerous tumor on his eyelid. The tumor was removed, but three years later we found he had lost most of the vision in that eye because of scar tissue, which had rubbed against the cornea and caused irreversible damage. I retired him from active work at that point and began full-time to use a cane. By this time in my life I was very active in the Federation and knew more about what proper cane length for me should be. A cane which came up to my shoulder was a big improvement. One that came up to my nose was even better. With the added length I no longer traveled with a shortened stride, with a tense and extended arm, or with tension in every part of my body. I now had sufficient time to travel at a normal rate of speed, knowing I could stop when my cane indicated a curb, a set of stairs, or an open manhole. Finally, understanding that orientation was my responsibility, I no longer felt put upon by the requirement that I think and plan before darting off on an errand.
My travel now is exclusively with a cane, Ely having died of cancer in 1983. Walking is one of my most enjoyable pastimes, and there is nothing I find more relaxing after a long day at work. Nothing is more therapeutic when I need to make a decision. Sometimes I walk for the pleasure of feeling the sun's warmth, taking in the fresh air, listening to the birds, or saying hello to the neighbors. Sometimes I carry my cassette player and enjoy Dickens or Asimov while getting some much needed exercise. Orientation still remains my biggest travel challenge. While I am much better at planning and in taking an active role in my own travel, there are still times when I am confused by strange angles, wide open spaces, and buildings with very wide corridors and high ceilings. If, in learning a new place, I am trying to get from point X to point Y, and in that travel I make a few wrong turns and must backtrack a time or two, it is possible and even probable I will complete my trek without the vaguest notion of where X and Y are in relation to each other. No mobility aid yet developed will solve this problem, and while a solution would be quite beneficial, not having one hasn't kept me from traveling to any place I really want to go.
Where does all of this leave me in the discussion about dog and cane? My use of both has led me to conclude that my travel needs are better served by the cane and that I am just too anxious about inescapable dog behaviors to travel comfortably day in and day out in all kinds of situations accompanied by an animal. My conclusions are shared hesitantly and even reluctantly, for I think there are many pleasurable experiences one can have with a well-trained guide dog, and I in no way wish to diminish these. I do feel an obligation to share my experiences and reactions, however, when I find those considering a dog drifting off into Never Never Land as I did when my desire for a mobility aid evolved into a desire for something a dog just could not be.
And what are my feelings about the cane? Does it meet all of the needs I confront as a blind traveler? The answer, unfortunately, is no, and the bump on my head which I acquired last week at a hotel with a fancy rock arch compels me to be honest about those areas of the body the cane just doesn't cover. Might I consider a device to supplement the information I get from the cane? The answer is a definite YES if that supplement were (1) useful, (2) easily carried, and (3) affordable. A good compass might be a helpful travel tool. The global positioning system linked with a good audible map might be another. It doesn't take much imagination to conceive of other devices one might find helpful, but again we get back to the question of how useful each device will be and how many devices a person would want to carry on a regular basis.
It seems to me that my independent travel experiences bring me once again to the wisdom echoed by Federationists when we talk about tools and aids. The real issue in successful travel is our personal competence and how we feel about the alternative techniques which we who are blind use in lieu of sight. Because independent travel is so very important in leading a full life, it is critical that we talk openly and honestly about the options we have and that we freely discuss what each brings to us and its cost. Our desire should not be to convert all of the blind to our way of thinking once we have made a decision about our mobility, but to provide our brothers and sisters in the movement with the kind of information which will let them find the techniques which bring optimum independence for them.