Shortly after the initial shock of my vision loss began to subside, my husband and I discussed things we could do to potentially make my transition into blindness easier. My greatest fear during those early moments was becoming completely dependent on him for everything, from basic transportation to shopping. Since I was not born congenitally blind, I was naïve to many of the things I was actually capable of doing simply by learning and interjecting some adaptive techniques. Of all the things we spoke about during those first few months of blindness, there was one thing I was absolutely sure of; I wanted a guide dog.
Throughout our 14-year marriage, my husband and I have had numerous dogs. Bloodhounds, Dachshunds, Mutts, German Shepherds, you name it; if it was four legged and furry it probably has slept in my bed. Together, we have trained schutzhund dogs, man-trailers, and service dogs for both physical and emotional disabilities. I also attended the American Academy of Pet Grooming in New York City, graduating with my certificate in dog and cat grooming. I’m fairly certain I am the only alumni of Columbia University who also happens to have graduated top of her class in dog grooming school. What can I say, I have some diverse interests.
My pets have been my surrogate family because no matter what I was going through they were always there. My fur-babies warmed my body after painful radiation treatments and licked my bald head after countless rounds of chemo. They’ve celebrated every single milestone “Mostly Wonderful” and I have had together within our lives. Our first German Shepherd, Samson, who was trained as a service dog, was even in our wedding at Walt Disney World! Neither of us grew up with dogs, but we certainly made up for that lack of childhood canine companionship!
A Blind Grandfather
My love of dogs wasn’t the only reason I wanted a guide dog. I grew up with my maternal grandfather, “Pop”, who was also legally blind. A combination of a bad heart and macular degeneration rendered Pop blind when I was just a little girl. Pop and I were two peas in a pod and I remember feeling very confused as a child watching him adapt to his vision loss. A very proud man, Pop never accepted any kind of social services or training relating to his vision. His method of coping with his vision loss was intense isolation. He sat in a recliner in his living room listening to the television he could not see. Occasionally, he would venture out onto our front porch, sit on the front stairs and listen to traffic or chat with a passerby.
Pop loved his morning coffee from a small bodega located just across the street from our house. Even without sight, he would cross the busy intersection to get his morning cup of Joe. No orientation and mobility training. No cane. No dog. Most days, he made it across without incident, but there were several times he fell in the street and was clipped by cars. Back in those days, I would come home for lunch from my grammar school. Seeing Pop with Band-Aids covering his hands and visible bruises from these accidents both saddened and frightened me.
In the third grade, my school librarian, Ms. Levy, read us the story of Buddy, the first seeing eye dog. I remember being so excited after I had heard the story of this remarkable German Shepherd who had helped Morris Frank, regain some of his independence after becoming blind. I felt like I had found the solution my Pop needed. We would simply get him a guide dog! I ran home from school that day to tell my grandparents what I had learned about “Buddy.” Although they listened, my grandmother was not too keen on the idea of having a large, hairy dog in her house. My grandfather also dismissed the idea. “I don’t need a dog. I’m fine.” he said. But the truth was; he wasn’t fine. Pop just didn’t know how to ask or accept help from anyone.
Before he died, my grandfather lost the ability to speak. I remember asking for a moment alone with him while he was in hospice care. I’ve never told anyone what I said to him that day, not even my husband. I don’t even think I could even type the words. However, at some point during our private conversation I said something like, “I don’t know if you’ll ever be proud of me.” In that moment, I felt his finger on my hand. Just one finger. He mouthed the words “proud” to me. He died two days later. I had cancer when my grandfather passed away in June 2006 and I was devastated by his loss. Absolutely devastated.
When you’re a kid; you think you are invincible. You’ll never get old. Life is made up of infinite possibilities. Good always defeats evil and things like cancer and blindness will never touch your life. I can say with no uncertainty, the relationship I had with my blind grandfather, helped prepare me for my life as a blind woman. I often reflect on the life he had after losing his eyesight. As both a granddaughter and a mental health professional, I know it could have been so much better if Pop had just been open to accepting a little bit of help.
Pop is a big part of the reason I wanted to apply for a guide dog. I know and respect the love and working relationship provided by these amazing animals. In 2012, shortly after completing my Orientation and Mobility training I submitted applications to “3” different guide dog schools in the tristate area. I was accepted by “2” schools who offered to match and train me with a guide dog. Fast forward 4 years and two babies later; I am about to formally start this journey.
4 Paws To Be My Guide
Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York has matched me with my first guide dog, Frances! For the next 15 days, I will be completing their in home training program.
Follow Blind Motherhood over the next few weeks as I share blogs and videos about going through this process. I want to tell you everything, from explaining how to apply to guide dog schools, to how I considered the needs of two toddlers before getting my dog. You’ll also get to know Frances and hear how she and I are developing our partnership (BTW she’s fricken’ adorable)! I’ll be giving you plenty of information, and like always their will be lots of laughs along the way!
We’re adding four paws to the family and we’re so elated and grateful to Guiding Eyes for the Blind! Stay tuned!