Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do You Prefer A Guide Dog or Cane?

One thing people often ask me is; if I prefer my guide dog or would I prefer to use a cane?

Bearing in mind that this answer is a personal answer, my own personal view  and if you are blind or know a blind or visually impaired person, they have their own opinions on the matter.

I used a cane for about four years, it worked for me as I no longer fell off sidewalks or walked into trees. As a tool it was useful and still is. In the recent hot weather I have fallen back to use the cane when temperatures soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I hate being out in those temperatures so I feel Leif my Guide Dog would hate working in those temperatures.

Eight Months On

It is now just over eight months since I met Leif for the first time and we did get off to a sticky start. I was nervous of a strange dog, not wanting to spouil or break him. But that fear soon disappeared as he showed me just how clever he was. He did this by guiding me around several obstacles, but choosing a route which gave him  much to the laughter of our instructors at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). I definitely have to say this dog is smart. Way smartewr than me.

Guide dogs are much more work than a cane, I have to say. You don't just get to a destination and fold them away and forget them. A guide dog must be groomed several times per week. A guide dog which appears dirty can be refused entry to public places, restaurants, buses or taxis. They also need to be fed carefully. Leif gets three cups of dry food per day, two cups in the morning from which his treat bag is filled and a third cup at night with any kibble remaining in his treat bag. I also have to make sure he is allowed lots of opportunity to pee and poop. As a caring  guide dog partner I also make sure I clean up his poop in public places too. You need a regular supply of good poop bags when you are out and about together.

Work though is pretty boring stuff, so we love lots of playtime together. Leif loves a game of tug of war, either with his rope or a Go-Nut toy. I recently bought him a new Go-Nut ttoy shaped like the number 8. He loves that as much as his rope and will bring them both to playtime. So there is a lot of fun time to having a guide dog.

Having a guide dog is also more social than having a cane. People rarely interacted with me when I used my cane. Now with a guide dog people comment on how nice Leif is, they ask to say hello and pet him. Life definitely becomes less solitary with one of these beautiful animals at your side.


Having a guide dog from GDB also brings with it a great support team. GDB in San Rafael have a support team of instructors, an alumni association and a call center on campus operated by trained instructors and vetinarians who can help with a myriad of problems. If needs be, they can even send an instructor to your home to help with particular problems. This service was much needed in the few weeks after returning home after graduation.


Having a guide dog is a constant learning process. Once you master a cane it is easy to just walk and almost forget about it. Working together with your dog is very different, it is hard work, your guide dog guides you across streets, around obstacles and you hjave to give your dog the trust he or she needs to go with them. But all the time you are the one guiding your dog to and from place to place. You have to work on knowing where you are at all times that is hard.

Something Special

In the end, a cane is a great tool. It's simple and it works just fine. But there is a magical feeling to working with a dog, which a cane never gives you. A dog is much more than a tool, it is a living breathing creature which a lot of people have put a lot of effort into training and raising and it just makes you feel that bit more independent and free to be given the chance to work with them,.

Cane or dog?

It's a dog for me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Time to Get Rude?

I have to say, that I have never met with outright rudeness on the part of sighted people until yesterday. Ignorance can cause a myriad of sins. Ignorance can even cover up rudeness and most of the rudeness I have encountered from sighted people over recent years has been the kind that is fostered by ignorance. The kid, usually a teenage boy who sees me in a crowded shopping mall and decides to test my eyesight, and for his pains gets bumped when I don't peel off to one side. The motorist who decides the crosswalk is the stop line not the mark for his back wheels. Those I attribute to ignorance.

Yesterday, I encountered the basest form of ignorance, the willful kind. The "I know that I want to make life hard for you, but you are blind so it's ok."

My wife, Leif, my guide dog and I, had traveled out of town on the train to meet my wife's parents for a nice day, and it was a nice day.

The return journey was delayed because the train was running nearly two hours late. Not a problem if you are used to Amtrak, it is par for the course and time at the railway station let us stay in cool air conditioned comfort.

When the train arrived in the station one of the conductors directed us towards the front of the train saying there were disabled seats available there. Boarding the train was pretty difficult because it was pretty full.

For those unfamiliar with trains here in the U.S. most passenger trains are on two levels, the main seating area is upstairs with lower level seating for those who have real difficulty with stairs such as the disabled and elderly. There is extensive labelling of disabled seating asking able bodied people to give up  the seat upon request by a disabled person. In the past I have had assistance from conductors who have told people to vacate a seat for me.

We moved into the lower level of the carriage the first seats were occupied by one young woman with her purse and an overnight bag on the seat opposite. My wife asked if the seat was taken and the woman said no but that we should sit upstairs. She was not obviously disabled, but when my wife said that it is not easy to get a guide dog  upstairs the woman waived her hand and said "whatever."

My wife and I made our way upstairs, the only way to do this is in single file, my wife, Leif then me. At the top the train was crowded, a couple of people gave up their seats for Leif and I but poor Leif was still partway out in the aisle, a tripping hazard for people going back and too from the food service car next door.

I decided then to make my way back down to the lower level to go to the bathroom. The only safe way was to sit on the stairs and shuffle down from step to step as by now the train was moving.

I knew I couldn't get back upstairs again in safety so after visiting the bathroom I made my way to the seat that was still only occupied by the young woman's bags. I asked if she would move them, but she ignored my request. So I sat down on the seat, at which point she began complaining to the others in the carriage that a  blind man was being rude and invading her space.

She scrambled her bags from around me and got on her cell phone. Complaining to someone on the other end of the call that a blind man and his ugly guide dog were acosting her on the train.

I noticed the conductor coming into the compartment and asked him if the young woman was ok. She obviously seemed in distress that I had sat there and was complaining about my dog. She told the conductor that I never asked her I just sat down on her stuff.

She then produced a tale of woe. Which included a story that she had a broken back and was disabled. A nearby passenger then commented on her wearing high heels and how that must be uncomfortable with a broken back.

By now she had her legs drawn up over the arm of the seat and resting her back against the wall of the train. Other passengers also began telling me how she had made several trips to the food car without much need for assistance. Another told me how she had told him that she loved jet-skiing and para-sailing as hobbies, so a much less disabled picture was appearing.

She was by this time, even to my blind eyes, appearing less and less  comfortable. Luckily for her she was getting off the  train  one stop before me and as we approached Fresno, she picked up her things to walk towards the doors. Sadly for her however, our train was pulled into another passing place for half an hour to wait for a passing freight train.

After she disembarked the train. I thanked all the other passengers for their patience with me and giving me some insights to the appearance of this rude, spoiled brat of a woman.

Next time I travel on Amtrak though, I am getting a conductor to take me to my seat. Just to save myself the hassle.

Friday, July 18, 2014

I Left My Paw Prints in San Francisco

As you may recall, last week was very hot here in the Central Valley. So I planned a little trip for Leif, my wife and I to the Bay area for some cool time and also to visit the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus for their Funday Celebrations on July 19, 2014.

Guide Dog Leif, sits beside Williamn on Pier 14, San Francisco California, the Bay Bridge can be seen in the background.
Leif and William stand on Pier 14 in San Francisco, with the Bay Bridge behind them.

On Saturday we went to San Rafael, to enjoy a full day at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus. We met many puppy raisers, including some people who knew Leif as a puppy in training.

We also had a great time watching the latest graduates receiving their dogs. Personally, I would have found graduating with several hundred people in the audience terrifying,  but this group of graduates did very well.

Also there was a special presentation of puppies for a group of Future Farmers of America, FFA students from the High School in Lemoore, CA , who were receiving puppies for training on behalf of students in New Mexico who will raise the puppies in the Fall.

On Sunday we took a ferry trip from near San Rafael to San Francisco. The trip took about forty minutes  each way. We got to walk along the Embarkcadero and out onto Pier 14, now a breakwater for the Ferry Terminal. We had lunch at a sandwich bar and Leif also received a well  deserved drink of water from one of the waitresses, for which she received a great big Labrador kiss.

Altogether we had a great week-end break. Sadly we had to return home, just in time for the final spike in high temperatures on Monday night.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Like Leif on Facebook- An AppealHello Everyone,

Hello Everyone,

I am asking you to Like me on Facebook. My page is Guide Dog Leif.

Guide Dog Leif, a black Labrador, sits in harness looking appealingly into the camera wearing a white bow tie around his neck.
Guide Dog Leif, wearing a White Bow tie.
My Facebook page is full of lots of fun and chat with people who live with, work with and raise guide dogs like me.

The conversations are generally fun and informative. Come along and like my page at Guide Dog Leif's Facebook Page  even if you are only a dog lover. Dog lovers are my people too.

Enough of the Hot Already

Leif , my guide dog and I are suffering.

Leif is hot and bored and I am just too hot.

This past couple of weeks has seen temperatures here in the 100' Fahrenheit. That is too hot for Guide Dogs to work even in their boots. So poor Leif is bored.

Guide dog Leif sits patiently on a porch as the late afternoon sun marks checker board patterns over the dog and floor on a hot day.
Leif sits on the porch as the temperature passes 100 F.

It is the normal temperature for this time of year here, but I never had it have so much impact on my life before.

In the past I would take out my cane and go. You cannot do that with a dog. You cannot think of going outside between 11am and about 7pm on such hot days. Stay inside and chill with a poor air conditioner that is flogging itself to death to keep a room in the house below 90 F.

I have a little plan that might cheer Leif and me up though. But more of that in a post later.

Till then we will bear the heat and press on. Doggedly.  (I can't believe I just said that LOL).

Friday, July 4, 2014

4th July

This will be Leif' and my first 4th July together.

We will try to keep quiet today, guide dogs are special but they are not immune to fear. So tonights fireworks are something to be avoided. Besides I am not a fan of fireworks myself.

Back in England, the big night for fireworks is 5th November.

Towards the end of the 1990's I worked at a local sports stadium. One 5th November I was helping with crowd control at the town firework display. It was a very windy night and I remember watching one rocket soar into the sky, bursting into dozens of stars.

To me the rocket seemed to burst a little early, and as I watched one of the stars seemed to get closer and closer. I pushed the portion of the crowd beside me back a little and the star came closer.

It landed with a hiss still burning on the toe of my right boot.

If we had not moved back it may have hit someone in the crowd, or  at least hit me in the chest.

Since then I have not really liked to attend any firework displays.

So for those of you celebrating the 4th July have a safe day. Keep pets indoors and safe.