Above and Beyond Her Guiding Duties

I wanted to share an incredible event that occurred one year ago today. Now that it was pretty certain that I would be getting a guide dog, this incident proved to me firsthand the intelligence and sensitivity that guide dogs possess.
     Every year, the vision teachers organize a picnic for all of the visually impaired students from sixth grade through twelfth grade in the county. A friend of mine who was in college, and who had a guide dog was also invited. After going to the grocery store to buy food for the picnic, we went to a nearby park, and had some time to socialize before we grilled the food. When we got to the park, I wanted to sit with my friend and catch up with her since I don’t see her very often. But with my cane, I was a slow walker, nervous about walking on the uneven terrain of grass, and with her guide dog, she walked fast and with confidence. In previous years, by the time I made my way from the parking lot to the picnic area, she was long gone, and had already found a spot to sit. I sometimes felt so embarrassed with my slowness and lack of confidence that I ended up sitting somewhere else. Last year however, I got to the picnic area, and I could still hear her talking to people and she had not found a place to sit yet. So I decided to lightly hold on to her shoulder so that when she walked, I could match her pace and not lose track of her. I still used my cane because I thought that since the guide dog was technically only responsible for her, the dog would not get me around any obsticles. It turns out I was wrong.
     As we were walking, we came to a tree, but my cane never hit the tree, and my face did not come in to contact with a single tree branch. My friend reported with amazement that the dog had guided both of us effortlessly around the tree! I always knew that guide dogs forged strong bonds with their handlers: this bond was definitely evident with my friend and her dog. But that day, I learned that guide dogs are not only loyal, but sensitive to others. My friend’s dog knew that I was also blind, and was holding on to her handler, and went out of her way to guide both of us, even though she didn’t have to.
     I have not yet had a blind person hold on to my shoulder while I walk with Gilbert, but given his gentle, sensitive personality, and his care and caution when he guides me, something tells me he would do the same thing.

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