Jog for Guide Dogs

Last year today was the day I first met Gilbert! The program from which I received Gilbert was an extremely new program, and I was only the second student to receive a dog from them. Last year, this program held its first annual Jog for Guide Dogs fundraiser to raise money for Gilbert’s training. For any readers who may be unfamiliar with the process of training a guide dog, training one guide dog costs over $20,000, and since my program was not well-known like say, Seeing Eye, raising this kind of money required lots of publicity and fundraisers. Since I desperately wanted a guide dog, and since my teacher and I were amazed that a newly established in-home training program, the solution to my dilemma of not being able to travel far away for a whole month had the perfect dog for me just in time for college, I was happy to help this program in their fundraising efforts. I wrote a letter about what a guide dog would mean to me, and how an in-home training program was necessary for me. I wrote thank you notes to some extremely generous donors, and last year at the first Jog for Guide Dogs, I was asked to speak to everyone in attendance and encourage them to donate to the cause. But meeting Gilbert made this event so much more than just a fundraiser.
     Right when I got to the park where the fundraiser was being held, I could tell that everyone who cared for, and trained the dogs were extremely compassionate, and full of love for their dogs. In fact, it struck me as kind of funny when one of Gilbert’s puppy raisers came up to me and introduced herself as one of Gilbert’s “foster parents”. It made me wonder is she talking about a child or a dog? (smile). But like I said in an earlier entry, I believe that a dog must know they are loved to bond with humans, and referring to herself as Gilbert’s foster parent showed me that there was definitely not a lack of love in Gilbert’s life. Everyone had nothing but praise for how sweet and mellow he was.
     My vision teacher accompanied me to this event, and we walked the two mile trail using sighted guide. I brought my cane, and I was surprised she didn’t make me use it on the trail. But I suppose that like me, she had a gut feeling that Gilbert would work out, and that I wouldn’t be using my cane for much longer anyway (smile). After the walk, I ate a brat, and waited in eager anticipation through a presentation by the American Kennel Club. Then, I was called up to speak, and meet Gilbert! I remember being nervous and excited, and I am not a great speaker, but I think I gave a strong testimony about how much I loved dogs, and how a dog would give me so much more dignity and independence than a stick. I got to hold Gilbert on his leash during my speech, and I was amazed about how calmly he sat at my side while I spoke. That day, I am sure he was nervous too, thinking who is this stranger they have given me to? But over the past nine months, I can tell he has bonded with me, by simple things like nuzzling me with his nose when he is sitting by my side in public, or wagging his tail when I talk to him. For the most part, he is exactly the way he was that day when I met him, a well-mannered, sweet angel who follows me and sits calmly at my side in public.
     Then, the trainer took me to an empty sidewalk, where I walked with Gilbert for the first time. I had done a few Juno walks with my vision teacher, but not even a Juno walk can compare to walking with a guide dog. Juno walks may get your body used to holding on to a harness handle, which is much lower than the arm for sighted guide, but only by walking with a real dog do you learn to trust a dog. I was honestly very apprehensive on my first walk with Gilbert. Despite the inspiration my friend’s guide dog had given me two days before, I still felt strange trusting a dog with keeping me safe. On top of that, I exercised new muscles in my arm pulling on the harness handle, so I was tired after only a short distance. But considering that I had not been trained at all, and Gilbert had not yet finished training, we did a great job. I left this event even more excited than before. I instinctively knew that even though Gilbert and I were both nervous, with training and practice, we would become a wonderful working team.
     On Saturday, Gilbert and I went to the second Jog for Guide Dogs event. Since this was the event where I first met Gilbert, I wanted to come back and relive the experience with Gilbert, and tell everyone how wonderfully we both bonded, and how much independence he gave me in college. Also, since my graduation with Gilbert, two other people were placed with guide dogs, and I got to talk with one of them about our experiences.
     It was kind of ironic and funny that when we arrived at the park, he was far different from the mellow angel of last year. I guess I cannot blame him. Since we graduated, he hardly ever comes in to contact with other dogs because he is our only dog, so I am sure that seeing so many dogs he used to play with was like a family reunion for him (smile). Despite repeated corrections for lunging at dogs to sniff them, only after walking the trail did he start to settle down! His naughty behavior has prompted me to look in to obedience classes to teach him to obey me when there are other dogs around. But this year, there was no apprehention when he guided me through the trail. We walked quickly and confidently through long grass and down steep hills, when only a year ago, trusting a dog to walk me across a flat sidewalk scared me to death. Though we still have a few minor behavior issues to work out, after only nine months, we have become a confident working team, and I believe that based on how far we have come in nine months, over the many years I hope to spend with Gilbert, I am sure we will only get better.


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