Why We Decided to Not Use a Guide Dog

Compiled by Empish Thomas

September is National Guide Dog Month and is a celebration of guide dogs throughout North America. According to Wikipedia, National Guide Dog Month offers a way to raise awareness, appreciation, and support for guide dog schools across the United States.

Yellow lab dog guide, winking at you.

Since I lost my vision many years ago, a constant question always comes up, "Empish, why don’t you use a guide dog?" This is a very fair and valid question. As I was talking to my fellow VisionAware peer advisors about National Guide Dog Awareness Month, I brought up the question again. I asked them instead of writing posts on the benefits and reasons for having a guide dog, why not flip the script and share about why we don’t. This is by no means a negative post on guide dog use but an honest and thoughtful approach to the various reasons why sometimes a guide dog is not the best option in the life of a person who is blind or visually impaired. When considering a guide dog, a person needs to really think it through and be sure it is the very best option. There is time, energy, and training to contemplate. Plus, it is important to look at one’s home and work environment to be sure that a guide dog would fit in that space. Another consideration is one’s overall physical and mental health.

So, we are sharing our thoughts on why we decided to not use a guide dog. We hope that our decision to be transparent will help you to understand more about using a guide dog, to increase your education, and to ultimately make the best decision for either having or not obtaining a guide dog.

Former Guide Dog User Speaks: Jeannie Johnson

woman sitting in chair holding 2 dogs

While I love dogs, after five years’ experience, I decided that I didn’t necessarily want or need a dog at my side most of the time for all my waking hours. At work, my breaks were often not my breaks, as they involved taking my dog out to park. Although I groomed him every day, I got dog hair on my clothes, very noticeable because he was a yellow lab, and I often wore darker clothes. People equated dog hair with being dirty. Then, living for a time in a somewhat rural area, having to depend on others for rides, there were those who said they would be glad to give me a ride, but they didn’t allow dogs in their car. On the other hand, it seemed my dog guide was an ice breaker; some people were all about the dog, and I just happened to be with him. Don’t get me wrong. Elijah was an excellent dog guide from what I think is a great school. However, because I travel well with a cane, after having had a dog guide, I determined that for me, a cane is much more practical. Also, when I lost Elijah, at that time, I didn’t really have the time or ability to be gone from my job for three to four weeks to get another dog.

Work and Home Environment Not Conducive to a Guide Dog: Trina Bassak

My friends who are blind and I are often asked, "why don’t you use a guide dog?" This inquiry even comes from other curious white cane users as guide dogs seemingly are a more socially acceptable mobility method for the visually impaired. Numerous answers come to mind, but I thought I would give you mine. I asked myself a few questions to come to my decision.

Trina Bassak, DPT, working with a patient

Would I use a dog enough to keep his skills? As a home health physical therapist, I am hands-on with my patients all day and on the road a lot. This means only using the guide dog to and from the car. The guide dog may even have to be left if the patient is allergic, has dogs that are aggressive to other dogs, afraid, or does not want the dog in their home. I doubt this question has been raised in this aspect of the healthcare industry! I also did not have to worry about getting to and from work as that was one of the duties of my technician driver.

Do I have the time needed? My hours are long, and when not working, I spend time at home with my husband. Regular use would be rather minimal, and I would need to make more time for his care and playing. A very difficult task as those hours are spent in documenting, volunteer work, and fitness activities that would not be compatible to guide dog use. Yoga, roller-skating, and fitness equipment don’t allow much interaction with a guide dog. It may be interesting to attempt at a skating rink though!

Physical Health of Family Members: Lenore J. Dillon

Lenore Dillon standing outside, white cane in hand

I have only one reason why I do not use a dog guide. My husband is sighted and has a disability which limits his mobility. He would not be able to keep up with a dog. Guide dogs can usually move at a quicker pace, and if there is a physical disability or health concern, this can be a real challenge. When considering a guide dog, you have to take your family and their health into consideration. Guide dogs are trained to interact with other people, but that does not mean that it will be an automatic well-adjusted fit.

Not Much of an Animal Lover: Empish J. Thomas

The reason I don’t use a guide dog is very basic—I don’t care for animals that much. Although I grew up with a pet dog when I was a child, it is a completely different situation than having a guide dog. A guide dog is a "working animal" and not a pet. There are weeks of training involved. Following a special diet, feeding schedule, and daily grooming that must be done. Regular exercise of your dog must be managed so that the dog’s weight is stable. And of course, that all-time favorite activity, picking up the poop! Realizing that after losing my vision I was no longer interested in animals and doing my research on guide dogs, I decided that this was not a feasible option for me. I knew the work involved, and I was just not interested and didn’t want to do it. Still, people around me would encourage me to reconsider. But it is about knowing who you are as a person and knowing what you can take on in your life. It is about not allowing yourself to be pressured into a decision that you don’t feel comfortable with, even though society, friends, or family say that it is a good thing for you. At the end of the day, you will be the one solely responsible, so you really have to take all these factors into play and be sure it is really what you want and desire to do.

Empish standing at a street corner, white cane in hand

Making Your Own Decision

A guide dog can be an excellent mobility aid and using one is totally your decision. We wanted to highlight some reasons why it might not always be a good fit because everyone’s situation is different. We hope that we have given you some things to consider and that you will make the best decision for you and your family. As we move into October and White Cane Safety Day, this discussion becomes even more meaningful as, from the comments you have read, the answer to how you travel safely as a person with vision loss is multifaceted and dependent on your own life circumstances. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series.

For those readers who also have decided to not use a guide dog, are there reasons that we didn’t mention in our post? Are there reasons that you decided to not use a guide dog that you would like to share? Please do so in the comment section below.