Editor’s note: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a touching story by Maribel Steel.
Graduation From Guide Dog School
When I was fifteen months old I graduated from the Guide Dog Victoria. It was a very proud moment in my puppy dog life. My family was there at my Graduation and they were so proud of me. We couldn’t believe that I had passed my twelve months of socializing, five months of intense training and an endless week of exams. I was now a fully fledged guide dog!
It hadn’t been easy, passing delicious food smells from café sidewalks, ignoring feline provocation from cats along our route and having to keep my composure when a persistent Jack Russell yapped at me while we were waiting at the traffic lights. I knew how important it was to stay focused and I was rewarded with an affectionate pat. After graduating, I moved back to the Guide Dog kennels where I was born. It was comforting to smell all those wonderful aromas from my puppyhood days while I was waiting to be matched to my new owner.
Match Made in Heaven
One morning, I overheard the trainers talking about my new family. She was legally blind and she had a small boy-child. Good grief, he’d better not pull my fur with his sticky fingers. Paws crossed, let’s hope he is as well trained as me. I knew it was a special morning because my trainer groomed me from head to tail. “Hey laddy, you’re going to a new home soon. Got to make you look smart for your new lady friend.”
I was so excited. I had a quick drink from the silver bowl outside the kennels and tried not to run around in circles. Suddenly I felt like a puppy again, the fresh morning air tickled my whiskers. I sniffed the ground looking for clues, I puffed and panted, in need of another drink. The door of her guestroom opened and there she was, my new human companion, sitting awkwardly on the tiled floor waiting to greet me. I tossed my head proudly as I walked closer to her. She smelt like the sweet flowers by her door, and I gave her a polite kiss on the cheek. My trainer handed her my new leash, suggesting we spend a little quiet time to get to know each other.
Love at First Sight
I looked around for her boy-child as she unclipped my leash. She held out her hand, right up to my nose if you please, her palm dotted with tiny biscuits. My taste buds went into overdrive as I ate all of them and I failed my first test as I dived under her bed to hunt down the secret stash. Maybe over here, under the chair? Or over there? Or under the dresser?
Her sudden harsh tone startled me. “Okay, no need to growl. Keep your fur on.” She seemed happier when I sat by her side, and began to massage my back with gentle hands. We peered into each other’s eyes for the first time and I knew I could love her. Her blue eyes radiated so brightly, I wondered if she was really blind?
At Home Several Months Later
I am now living in a comfortable home with my new family. The boy-child is tolerable, although he has an annoying habit of grabbing my collar when I am off duty, to pull me about like one of his toy cars. He’s three years old and hasn’t even started school – can you believe that?
Working Hard for My Lady
My duty of care for my blind owner involves guiding her safely around, crossing roads, navigating our way to the main street, avoiding obstacles and locating the places she needs to get to. I have to really concentrate and listen for her instructions and so far, we are working well as a team. My favourite destination is the supermarket! The aromas of meats and treats is a hound’s paradise!
Some days we travel on the train to the city. I can’t believe how silly humans can be.they walk right in front of us and make my work very difficult. People try and get my attention by whistling, talking to me, giving me eye contact or patting me on the head. Don’t they know that a guide dog’s got to do what a guide dog’s got to do?
My human tries to tell them politely not to pat me when I’m working, but some people just don’t listen.
Sometimes, after an exhausting guiding day in the city, I return home completely brain-dead. I unwind with a delightful bowl of dog food and a cuddle with my lady-companion. The boy-child comes to watch tv, and lies right on top of me as if I am his royal cushion. I drift off to sleep, dreaming of hotdogs and where I might have buried my last smelly bone.
Retired From Work But Still in Love
I’m a little older these days and my waistline isn’t what it used to be. You see, I retired two years ago. Guide-work just got a bit too much, the walking was killing my paws and I couldn’t keep up the pace.but I did give my beloved human companion the best part of eight working years of my life!
I still live with her and the boy-child. But we have a new member to our family, a man-guide. He’s pretty cool too, and now they take me for a walk, sometimes not even with my leash and I am free to be myself, running around with the other dogs in the park. My life is still rewarding, it’s just different now. Like they say, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but the boy-child is showing me how to chase after balls and other playful stuff. But the best part of my retired life is that I finally have time to smell the trees!
Let’s Share the Love
Having a guide dog is a special kind of loving relationship between dog and owner that can last many years. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th share in the comment section below any special memories or thoughts about your guide dog or special person in your life.
And find out about some suggested Valentine gifts for someone special.