Amie’s words from our graduation still echo in my head occasionally as we are walking on campus, because they are so true. In just four short months, Gabrielle and I have formed an incredible relationship. Our bond only gets stronger as the days go by, and we conquer more miles together. What we have is not easy to explain. All I can say is, I feel honored to have Gabrielle. I cherish every day because I know in my heart that what we have is the kind of relationship between dogs and humans that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime. She has changed my life. And to think, only six months ago, I didn’t even know her. After my last blog for Growing Up Guide Pup, I decided I should introduce myself a little bit, and talk about how exactly Gabrielle came into my life, or more relevantly, how I came into her’s.
My name is Katie. I am a 21 year-old college student from Arizona, studying Special Education and Elementary Education. My goal is to become a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, because I want to help kids like me. I was born 11 weeks premature, weighing only two pounds, and as a result, my optic nerves were underdeveloped. I was also born with a rare genetic condition called Albinism, meaning I have no pigment in my hair, skin, and eyes, also affecting my vision. I have some usable vision, which varies depending on lighting conditions. In best possible conditions, I can see colors, shapes, and a tiny amount of detail if I look very closely at something. However, my field of vision is very limited, and can be compared to looking through a straw. Other times, I can only see white, and if I’m lucky, some shadows and movement. Even though I have a small amount of usable vision, I generally prefer to rely on my other senses, as my eyes fatigue quickly, my extreme lightsensitivity causes headaches, and my vision is usually pretty unreliable to begin with.
I had been using a cane since I was 14 years old, and I loved it! But, in high school, I began really considering the idea of applying for a guide dog. I had horrible anxiety in crowds, mainly due to the fear of running into people, getting hurt, or not being able to find my way out. With college approaching, I made the decision that a guide dog would be beneficial to me when I was a senior in high school. However, due to various circumstances, I was unable to apply. But the thought and hope never escaped my mind. I dreamed of the day where I would be able to walk confidently with a guide dog, giving commands, and feeling the pull of the harness. My freshman year in college was bittersweet. I enjoyed the independence I had with good mobility skills and my cane, and managed to get where I needed to go. But I still felt like something was missing. Navigating University crowds was exhausting, and my anxiety made walking on campus a constant struggle.
In the beginning of my sophomore year, with support and encouragement from friends, I decided to apply for a guide dog. From that moment on, all of my spare thoughts centered around my future guide dog. I became rather obsessed, actually. Because I had no preference on breed or sex, everything was up in the air. I daydreamed about what my dog’s name would be, what color it would be, how big it would be, or if it would be a boy or a girl. I imagined thousands of names, and scenarios. I thought about what my future guide dog was doing at any particular moment. September—‘I bet the puppy is almost full grown.’ November—‘Puppy could be a year old today.’ January—‘Puppy is still with the puppy raisers…’ I was consumed by my excitement. The simple thought that there was a dog out there, who was born, and training, and just waiting to be matched with me was magical. That dog was already my everything, and I hadn’t even met her yet!
In January, I received a phone call that would change my life forever. It was the admissions department from Guide Dogs for the Blind, telling me that they had accepted my application, and had assigned me a class date! I was over the moon! They originally gave me a date in June, but I couldn’t go then because I had my summer job, so, we rescheduled for August. I finally had a date! It was real, this was happening! The months from then on dragged by even more slowly. Some days, waiting seemed almost unbearable. February—‘I wonder how old the puppy is today.’ April—‘Maybe today is the first day of the puppy’s formal training.’ June—‘ This is it, the final stretch, puppy’s definitely in formal training by now.’ July—‘Time to start counting down the days…’ August. A beautiful black Lab came to my door at GDB, excited and full of energy. Gabrielle. There she was. All I could do was cry and say, “You have no idea how long I have been waiting to meet you.”
Everything I had been dreaming of for the past four years was finally here: 58 pounds of pure enthusiasm, intelligence, love, and loyalty. It seemed too good to be true for a while, and to be honest, sometimes it still does. Every day with her, every walk, is an adventure. And, even on the few hard days, when I think I could do something better, or when Gabrielle doesn’t cooperate (which is VERY rare), I know I made the right decision. Since meeting Gabrielle, I have never once doubted my decision to get a guide dog, because my life is so much richer with her in it. I am also thankful that I applied to GDB when I did. Even though waiting was so difficult, if I had applied sooner or later, I wouldn’t have my Gabby girl, and now, that’s all that matters to me!