When people think of braille, they assume all blind and visually impaired people read it. But that is not the case all the time because some people with vision loss might read large print with magnification or use an audio format. The same logic is sometimes applied with guide dogs. If a person is blind or visually impaired, they should travel with a guide dog for the blind. The assumption is that these well-trained animals will provide the best mode of travel and mobility.
Last year, we published a previous post about beginning the process of using a guide dog. This experience can be very rewarding for blind and visually impaired guide dog users.
However, before you commit to a guide dog, it is important to carefully consider your options. Guide dogs for the blind make great companions and guides, but they do require time, energy and training. Plus, one must look at their home and work environment to be sure a guide dog would fit in that space. Another thing to consider is one’s overall physical and mental health. In honor of National Guide Dog Month, let’s look at some reasons why guide dogs might not be a good fit for you.
A working animal, not a pet.
The first thing to understand about guide dogs is they are working animals, not pets. Guide dog users go through weeks of training. Dogs must follow a special diet, feeding schedule and daily grooming regiment. Regular exercise of the dog must be managed for weight stabilization. Your furry guide and companion will give you additional daily responsibilities.
Here are some questions that need to be answered before even thinking about guide dog training.
Would I use a dog enough to keep its skills up?
Am I willing to rearrange my schedule to care for a dog?
Do I have the patience and energy required to be responsible for a guide dog?
The bottom line: Choosing to use a guide dog is a commitment and sacrifice.
Unfavorable home environment
The home environment must be evaluated. Do you share a home with family or friends? Although guide dogs for the blind are trained to be around people, it is not guaranteed they will fit smoothly into that living space. Also, other animals in the home might not get along with a guide dog. An additional thing to ponder is your lifestyle. Are you an active or sedentary type person? Guide dogs have undergone training to assist their owners with travel and mobility. If the dog is not active enough, they can lose some of that training.
Your physical health
If you are disabled or have medical/health issues limiting your mobility, then a guide dog might not work. Guide dogs typically move at a faster pace and if there is a physical disability or health concern, this can be difficult. Additionally, if you are providing care for a disabled or medically ill relative in your home, a guide dog might not be a good fit. Your family and their health must be taken into consideration.
There are additional expenses to using a guide dog. Purchasing food, pet supplies, toys and veterinarian care can influence having a dog. There might be assistance and/or tax deductions to curb cost but consider the financial impact to your budget.
Must be a self-advocate
Although the ADA protects those using guide dogs, people with vision loss still have to advocate for themselves. Hotels, local small businesses, restaurants, and ride share services are examples where guide dog users have been denied services. You will need to know your legal rights and be willing to stand up for yourself when these situations arise.
A guide dog can be an excellent mobility aid and travel companion. However, it is important to consider all options carefully before committing. Guide dogs are one of many tools that can enhance independence. White canes and technology can also be great mobility aids.
Outlook Enrichment can help you determine the best plan for achieving your goals with vision loss. Though we do not train guide dogs, we can connect you to guide dog schools. We can also teach you about adaptive technology and other techniques that can make traveling easier. We can work with you to make sure your decisions work best for you, with or without a guide dog. Contact us today to get started.