By Chad Nelson
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on October 13, 2014 on “Vision View Point,” the predecessor to The Outlook From Here and has been edited to reflect updated content.
About seven years ago, I had to put Pete, my first Seeing Eye dog, to sleep because of medical complications. I had been without a “friend” for several years at that point. After a long personal struggle to get some diabetic lab work under control, I was finally re-accepted into the Seeing Eye program in Morristown, New Jersey, to train with my second dog.
The first time I traveled to New Jersey, I was dropped off at the gate by my then wife, who was blind, and her mother. This time around, I was traveling all by myself and had to ask for sighted assistance from the check-in counter to the gate. I was a little nervous as to how I would get this help, but airport staff were very helpful in every regard.
When I arrived at the Seeing Eye, I was met by a trainer at the baggage claim area and then taken to the campus. Once there, I was met by everyone– from graduate services representatives, to trainers and other students.
During the first few days, not much happened except for working with the trainer around the campus and then in Morristown. The main thing we did the first two days was to go on what is called a Juno walk. This is where the trainer has one end of the harness, and the student has the other. The trainer simulates a dog. My particular trainer was walking down the street, and then she turned sideways and started sniffing, to simulate a dog that sniffs the grass or some other scent. The other reason the trainer took me on this walk was to judge my walking speed and determine the amount of pull the dog would put on the harness.
On the second full day in New Jersey, I received a beautiful two-year-old female Golden Retriever named Laura. She was very affectionate and she knew her job.
The first few days with Laura actually worked out well. I had to get used to working with a dog, since I had not worked with this type of dog for seven years. I made a few mistakes, and I had to relearn some techniques, but for the most part, the first week went very well. I was not used to walking two to three miles a day, so I had to deal with feeling very stiff for a while.
On Saturday, (five days after being on the Seeing Eye campus), we had the afternoon off to just hang out, play with the dogs, do laundry, or anything else we wanted to do.
In my next blog entry, I will describe more of what the Seeing Eye has to offer– as far as recreation and fitness facilities.
Being at The Seeing Eye wasn’t all work, although it was quite a bit of working with the dog to make her listen to me and start to bond with me. In the beginning, she was really focused on the instructor and didn’t really know who I was, but it didn’t take long to get her to listen and start to obey.