Ashley and Fuller: A Guide Dog Story

Ashley and Fuller navigating a pedestrian path made in the midst of heavy construction in Washington DC; an orange barricade is on their right with a concrete barricade on the left; buildings are in view beyond the barriers on the right and in the distance.

Ashley and Fuller: A Guide Dog Story

High school was when I knew that I wanted to have a guide dog someday.

I had seen a presentation about them and had a chance to walk with one. I loved walking down the sidewalk maneuvering around obstacles, breezing my way through an intersection. Having the harness in my hand and walking with a dog felt amazing to me.

In July 2014, I went to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I counted down the days until June 28, when I would be flying up to New York and eagerly awaiting the day that all students wait for: Dog Day. This is where, after finding out the gender and name of the dog, students go to their rooms on campus, and the trainer brings in the dog that has been selected for them. A dog is chosen for a person based on their lifestyle, such as being a city traveler or country traveler. And they also match based on pace. Three days later, on July 1, I was matched with a handsome yellow Labrador named Fuller. That day just also happens to be his birthday.

When receiving your dog, you have to put a lot of hard work and devotion into building a bond, but it is so worth it. Patience and consistency are key when starting out building the team. The more consistent you are in the beginning, the better off things will be down the road. Patience is important because, after all, it is a dog, not a robot.

When I first got Fuller, he put the brakes on really quickly at curbs; and any new place we would go, he would almost run with excitement. My trainer and I had to work on slowing him down and showing him what pace I needed him to be at. About a week into our training, he started to understand what I wanted from him. It takes six months to a year to build a bond.

Fast forward to a year later, we finally had a rhythm, and Fuller loved his job. Any new place we would go, he knew what pace he needed to be at for me, and he did not pull my arm off like he did in the beginning. He would love it when I would teach him to target things such as a specific door. As I would say, “Fuller, to the door.” or whatever I wanted him to find, he would head toward it with enthusiasm, wagging his tail in the process as if to say, “I got this!”

I trusted him with my life. If we were crossing a street and a car came out of nowhere, I knew that he would pull me out of harm’s way. Quite a few traffic checks did happen over our years of partnership.

For me, having a guide dog is truly rewarding! Fuller was so much more than my eyes. He was my best friend, and I loved having him by my side, his eyes guiding me all over this world: from France, to Spain, to Portugal, and back. We wandered as one.

Shortly after we celebrated our five years together and his birthday, Fuller let me know that he was ready to retire and hang up his uniform. His way of showing me was by not wanting to work in unfamiliar areas and not wanting to cross streets, even though I knew we had the right of way.

Retiring a dog is never easy. He is my first. It comes with a lot of emotions for many reasons. One is that I simply miss working with him. I also wondered whether I could possibly love and work with another dog? The answer to that is yes. My heart does have room to love and build a bond to work with another one.

For five years Fuller gave his all and loved every second working. Now it is time for me to do something for him in return, and that is to retire him. He deserves it. He deserves to be a dog full time now and not just when the harness is off for the day. So, I have done just that.

At this time I am not able to take care of two dogs when I get my second one. So, soon Fuller will be returning to his puppy raiser. And, while it is the hardest thing that I have had to do, it’s important to do what is right for the dog. And, in the meantime, I will use my long white cane to navigate the world.

Fuller is going to where he will be loved and taken care of just like I want him to be. That is what gives me peace and joy through my time of sadness. My heart is full. Happy National Guide Dog Month to those who have one. A bond between a handler and dog is like no other!    

—Ashley Alvey