This post is in honor of National Dog Guide Month.
Sophie Is Amazing
My dog guide Sophie is amazing. As we trained together to become a team, she wowed and captivated me with her sharp skills, attentive gaze, and beautiful face. I was certain she was the right dog for me from the very start. And I was so excited to begin my life with her. I had no idea what it took to become a good team. As I learned the intricacies of being a dog handler from Sophie and the instructors, I began to realize the complexities of this new relationship.
Sophie was born to be a dog guide. She has been expertly trained and she is an excellent guide dog. But first and foremost, she is a dog! She has all of the wonderful and natural instincts of a regular dog, even though they tried to breed them down and train them out of her! It is what I love the most about her…she knows who she is. However, she also has this incredible drive to obey and please me and the discipline to do so…most of the time! You see, she is not a perfect guide dog all of the time. Nor am I the perfect owner/dog handler all of the time.
We Make a Great Team
We make a great team in our imperfect ways. I adore her, she adores me. She leads me, I follow her. I feed and brush her and she repays me with warm snuggles and wet kisses. She loves to be rubbed and I love rubbing her. She keeps me safe and I keep her healthy. She is my eyes and I am her world. I discipline her and she listens. She understands me and I understand her. She needs me and I need her. She is not a perfect dog but she is perfect for me. And I am not a perfect handler, but I am perfect for her. Together, we move through life basking in the glow of our mutual love for each other
Walking With Sophie
Since I have retinitis pigmentosa and my vision is getting worse, I no longer take for granted the ability to walk out my door, unafraid and confident, into the bright and blinding sun to go for a walk in my neighborhood. It is still summer and temperatures will be in the 90’s today, so I try to go early. I don my sunglasses and hat and call to Sophie. “Let’s go for our walk girl,I coo.” She stretches and eagerly comes forward. “Get dressed,” I say with the harness out and she slips her head in gracefully.
And We’re Off!
With one fluid motion, clipping the leash and harness, we are off. We have been a bit off schedule with a recent vacation and extra hot days of late. We both need this walk today to maintain our girlish figures. We have several routes to choose from and will walk two-three miles in all. As we leave the driveway, Sophie demonstrates a strong preference for the route that will take us directly to the ball field where she likes to romp. “Not today girl. We need to get in a couple of miles.” I coax her in the opposite direction and she obediently but ploddingly complies. I think she is feeling a bit lazy today and I can certainly relate.
“Hup up girl!” I sing to her. And then I feel it…the spring in her step. Her head is up and she is moving jauntily now. That’s my girl! I have pocketed a couple of treats in case she needs additional motivation today.
Sophie Knows Our Routes
Since she knows our routes, she anticipates my commands. We are doing country travel at first. She takes me around several parked cars and trash cans, gliding along. The sun is so painful that I close my eyes as she expertly guides me. She slows when our first turn comes up and angles her body slightly toward the turn.
“Good girl, Sophie! Right!”, I praise her as I sweep my arm sideways. We cross the road and enter the wooded path. Immediately, we both appreciate the shade of the leafy trees and take note of the bird sounds. Sophie’s ears and nose twitch and she is alert. We are walking at a good exercise pace now, stretching out our stride. Suddenly, she stops abruptly and I wonder why. There is debris on the path; fallen tree branches after a storm which I discover with my feet. Ahhh, that’s my girl.
Saved From Tripping
“Good girl, Sophie-that’s it! Good job!” I exclaim and rub her ears. She saved me from tripping and kissing the asphalt, which I have done many times in the past before I had Sophie. And she earns herself a piece of kibble just because I appreciate her skills. Off we go again. Along the way, we encounter the neighbor’s squawking tropical bird, a barking dog or two, and people on bicycles who whiz past me before I even realize they are there. Sophie takes it all in but remains focused, only needing an occasional reminder to “leave it” as we move as one.
Crossing the Street
The walking path leaves the woods and we are at a crosswalk, in full sun again. It feels good but is definitely heating up. Sophie stands at the crossing, waiting my command. I survey the street; look, listen, and look again. “Sophie, forward,” I say and we step out into the road and then “find the curb” when we are midway.
Depending on Sophie to Do Her Job
There is no fear and no hesitation any more on my part…I am enjoying our morning walk, able to attend to my surroundings and walk with my head up. Because I am not anxious and I can depend on Sophie to do her job, it is a pleasant daily excursion. We cross another road expertly and pick up the path again. Sophie picks up her pace as she knows we are nearing the ball field at the end of our route. A golf cart appears out of nowhere and Sophie angles me to the side of the path, just out of the way of this passing vehicle. She always sees them and hears them coming before I do and is ready to make way. We top the hill and the recreation complex appears. Sophie is excited. “Yes, girl, we will go play for a while.” “Sophie, right,” I motion and say and she quickly turns on a dime.
At the Ball Field
We enter the ball field, close all the gates and I release Sophie from her harness. It is like a giant playpen for her and her favorite place. She takes off in a fit of zig-zags, circles and figure eights which I call her “zoomies.” When she tuckers out, she leisurely wanders the field, taking in its intoxicating scents. She could sniff forever; one of her greatest pleasures as a golden retriever. I walk the fence line, listening for the jingle of her collar and keep in touch with her. “Sophie, touch!” I call to her.
Enjoying the Freedom and the Relationship
She runs to me and puts her wet nose in the palm of my hand, never very far away. Sometimes, we lie in the sun on the grass together, enjoying the freedom, the exercise, the ease of our relationship and the beauty of the day. It is no small thing to be able to enjoy a walk by yourself with your guide dog. I am blessed and I am grateful for Sophie.