How a Guide Dog has Changed My Life
Written by Katie Cuppy
My guide dog Gabrielle and I have been a team for a year now. It is hard to believe that just over 12 months ago, I was anxiously waiting at the airport for my flight to California to meet my first guide dog! In the year Gabrielle and I have been together, my life has completely transformed in every way.
Getting ready in the morning looks very different than it did a year ago. I wake up everyday to a wagging tail and perky ears telling me it’s breakfast time! While I used to absolutely loathe waking up at 7 am or earlier, I now climb out of bed with a smile on my face as my adorable black Lab tells me good morning. I dish out Gabrielle’s food and take her outside, and from there we start our day. When I’m lucky, that means crawling back into bed for a few more hours, but usually, Gabrielle and I have to get ready for school or work.
“Every day, our bond grows stronger. After a year together, I can say that I have never felt so close or so bonded to another being before. Gabrielle is my life.”
Before stepping out the door, instead of being filled with worry and anxiety about my upcoming commute, I simply strap on Gabrielle’s harness, and tell her, “Forward.” Just like that, we are on our way! The anxiety and fear that used to fill my brain doesn’t even cross my mind anymore. For me, the main difference between using a cane versus using a guide dog is the way I interact with my surroundings.
With a cane, I come into contact with every little crack in the pavement, or obstacle in my way, and use that feedback to navigate around those barriers. With a guide dog, those obstacles seem minuscule, as it is the dog’s job to navigate around them. If Gabrielle deviates from our path slightly, I may never know what she is taking me around, and that’s okay! I don’t need to know about every pole or every trash can that is in our path. The only time I physically come into contact with obstacles is if Gabrielle decides they are significant enough to show me, or decides she cannot safely navigate around them.
As you can imagine, I travel much faster with Gabrielle, because the time I took finding and negotiating obstacles with my cane is gone. With Gabrielle guiding me, I am not anticipating every crack in the pavement or bump in the road, so my pace is much faster. I can close my eyes and listen to the birds, or feel the sun on my face, without having to worry about missing something.
Another huge difference Gabrielle has made in my life is her ability to find objects. If I am searching for a seat in class, I can tell Gabrielle, “Find the chair,” and she will take me right to an open seat! If I am searching for a place to throw away my empty water bottle or wrapper, I can tell Gabrielle, “Find the trash,” and sure enough, my trusty black Lab will take me right to the trash can with a spring in her step! She can also find things like elevators, escalators, stairs, doors, and various other everyday objects. I can also teach her how to find things that I frequently wish to seek out, like water fountains, restrooms, or specific landmarks. No matter where I am in a building, I can tell Gabrielle to find any of the objects mentioned above, and she’ll take me right to them, which is pretty amazing if you ask me!
Another huge difference I have noticed as a guide dog handler is how the public interacts with me. People come up to us everyday, asking about Gabrielle. “Is your dog a boy or a girl?” “What kind of dog is she?” “How old is she?” While some people view this aspect of having a service dog as a negative thing, I am usually more than happy to educate people, within reason!
The only time this gets on my nerves is when Gabrielle and I are clearly in a hurry or actively walking together. For example, when Gabrielle and I are walking to class, we are walking fast, in our zone, and focused on getting to the classroom. Then, if someone stops us and says, “Excuse me, are you training that dog?” I usually make a quick response so we can be on our way again. And, if I can tell someone is being downright rude, I obviously don’t make an effort to maintain a conversation. With that being said, I have met some incredible people thanks to Gabrielle: from people who are curious about service dogs, to puppy raisers, to relatives of people with visual impairments.
During this past year, Gabrielle and I have been through so much together. Every day, our bond grows stronger. After a year together, I can say that I have never felt so close or so bonded to another being before. Gabrielle is my life. She truly is my other half. I know her inside and out, and she knows me better than I know myself sometimes. I cannot believe how strong our bond is. It is really a beautiful thing that I never want to take for granted. I am so grateful that Gabrielle is in my life. If I didn’t have her by my side this past year, I don’t know where I would be, but I can assure you, my days wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilled or filled with joy as they are with her in them.