Editor’s note: With White Cane Day fast approaching on October 15, we thought that this post would be timely.
Why I Am Using a Cane and Not a Guide Dog Today
by Lynda Jones
Although I should have learned to use a mobility cane many years before I did, it took getting lost in the women’s bathroom of a large airport to make me call my local rehabilitation agency as soon as I returned home. For the next 15 months, I had orientation and mobility lessons almost weekly. I remember vividly the freedom I felt the first time I went for a walk alone in my neighborhood. From then on, I wanted to learn to go everywhere using my cane!
Here I must pause and tell you about my instructor. Not only was she an outstanding teacher, but she was tough. The first business she asked me to find was located on the corner of Main and College. I proudly crossed Main, stepped up onto the curb, and panicked. I had no idea which street the business faced. "Where do you think it is," my instructor asked. "I don’t know," I answered. In spite of the cold and wind, she let me figure it out myself. I did some problem solving and decided it probably faced Main. Fortunately, I located the door rather quickly.
That experience taught me a huge lesson. From then on, I had all of the information I needed to get to my destination. At the end of the 15 months, my instructor could drop me off at a place I’d never been, tell me to meet her at a place I’d never been, and I could get there. I was very good at using a mobility cane and not interested in getting a dog guide.
When I moved to Florida 13 years later and began teaching at a large university with wide open spaces, I decided to get a dog guide. For the next 16 years, I traveled using a dog. At that time, using a dog guide was the right choice. I could get around campus more easily and travel through airports independently. I felt more comfortable traveling alone on the streets of large cities like New York where the sidewalks are always filled with pedestrians.
In 2013, I retired my third dog. My lifestyle also changed. Professionally, I no longer travel frequently, and I do most of my work from my home office. Much of my routine now is spent socializing with friends. It’s easier to go to a friend’s beach house on the weekend without packing for me and my dog or bathe him when he’s been swimming in the sea.
Dog guides are not pets. They work hard for months to eventually graduate from dog guide school! Their reward is getting their owner safely to his or her destination. I no longer need that level of assistance and could not deprive my dog of his greatest reward. Traveling with a dog is quite different than using a cane, but I am well on my way to being a good mobility cane user again.
Life Circumstances Make Having a Guide Dog Complicated
Even for those of us who prefer using a guide dog, there are times when we choose to use a cane. When I joined the Peace Corps, I was sent to Western Samoa which had a quarantine, and I didn’t believe my guide dog would have been able to handle a six-month separation and still be able to guide. She was already eight years old. I wouldn’t have access to commercial dog food or modern veterinary care for her. As it happened, she died before my return to the U.S. I waited to train with a new dog after my return because I was a breastfeeding mother. After my fifth guide dog retired, I chose to take a year off while I moved, learned my new community, refreshed my cane skills, and allowed some problems with my left shoulder to heal. Sometimes, circumstances don’t allow a person the right combination of conditions to make training with or using a guide dog a reasonable choice.
In my post Guide Dog or White Cane? Mobility Tools for Individuals with Vision Loss, I cover more aspects of this discussion that may be helpful to you in making a good decision based on your life circumstances.