By Brian Fischler
What follows is the first in a series of my thoughts and memories of going through guide dog school for the first time. Having never been a dog owner, this experience was not only unique, it was intimidating, but, looking back, it was the best decision I ever made.
Getting a guide dog is not an overnight process. It takes about a year. First there is the application, and submission of letters from your doctor. Then there is an in-home interview where trainers from the guide dog school come out and meet with you. This consists of an in person interview, making sure the home is a good environment for a dog, and an analysis of how mobile you are.
After all of this has taken place, there is a waiting period when your case goes before a review board. Once you have been approved, you are given a date to head off to guide dog school. You have to live at the school for a month of training. Unfortunately, it’s not like summer camp, it’s more like boot camp. Your days start at 6 a.m. and you train six days a week. The school provides room and board. The school that I went to, Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, is a not-for-profit organization. They are completely publicly funded, so all of these services were provided to me at no cost.
The first day at guide dog school is a lot like the first day of college. You get to the school, you head off to your dormitory room, unpack and get settled, then head off to meet your fellow classmates. Oh yeah and just like college’s “freshman fifteen” there is a lot of eating. You are provided with three meals a day, and will probably eat more than you ever do at home.
My class had fourteen students, a mixture of those who had guide dogs previously, and some like me who were first-timers. Even though the school was in New York, I was the only New Yorker in the class. The class was made up of people of all races, religions, and backgrounds. The one thing we all had in common was we are blind.
The first day of training at guide dog school is all about the trainers learning your walking speed and about your lifestyle. There is no dog, since the trainers need to determine which dog is best for you. Guiding Eyes for the Blind uses mostly Labradors due to their temperament and trainability. Wow, I hope I can get a dog that loves to sleep in, loves the Yankees and Gators, and can run to Ray’s Pizza to pick me up a slice.
The second day started out with obedience training and learning how to discipline the dog, and the trainers first start introducing you to the verbal commands and hand signals you will use to communicate with the dog. We still weren’t training with our dogs, rather the harnesses and leashes were attached to our trainer’s arm.
We were taught two obedience commands. The first is a right arm pull on the leash to tell our dogs to stop sniffing, stop window shopping and focus, and to generally just get the dog back on track. The second is a left hand leash pull, which would be used to correct our dogs’ more serious mistakes, like walking us into something, blowing past a curb, or just an overall lack of focus.
I wasn’t that great at the left arm correction, as I guess I was a little apprehensive to be pulling on the dog’s neck. Like I said, I never had a dog before, and didn’t realize that a dog’s neck is the strongest part of his body.
We were then off to the metropolis of White Plains, New York, where Guiding Eyes has a facility at which we would do most of our training. I guess the good people of White Plains are nicer to train around than the people of New York City.
We walked around with our trainers having the dog’s harness and leash attached to their arm. We were learning basic hand signals to tell our dogs to move forward, go right, and go left. Of course some idiot yelled out, “You forgot the dog!” I guess he must have been from New York City.
At this point, tomorrow afternoon will be the big day, when we will be introduced to our dogs for the first time. It should be a really interesting and exciting day, and at least we won’t have to pick up their poop for the first few days. That is one lesson I am not looking forward to learning!
Sam Simon is a multi-millionaire Hollywood television writer, director and producer who has contributed significantly to enduring television favorites like Taxi, Cheers, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The George Carlin Show, The Drew Carey Show, and most notable of all The Simpsons.
The 58-year-old vegan philanthropist was recently diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer and given a grim prognosis of three to six months. Sam responded by pledging to leave all his fortune to charity.
The Sam Simon Foundation provides:
Service dogs trained for veterans diagnosed with PTSD as a result of serving in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, as well as trained dogs for assistance with hearing loss, TBI (traumatic brain injury), and moderate physical limitations due to injury. Sam Simon Foundation service dogs are trained to perform the following:
• Cover Me: Dogs are trained to move from a “left side position” to a “front side position” in order to create a spatial boundary between the veteran and public.
• Watch my back: Dogs are taught to turn, sit and face the opposing direction from the veteran, creating a sense of security and reducing stress.
• Balance: Where balance might be affected by medication used in treatment for PTSD and/or TBI, our dogs are taught to stand still in position when they feel a moderate weight applied to their shoulder and back. A veteran with balance challenges is taught how to use their dog properly to regain balance again.
Hearing dogs specially trained to alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing to common household sounds such as door knocks, telephones, and smoke alarms.
Typically dogs trained by the Sam Simon Foundation are rescued from the Ventura County Animal Services shelter. Dogs that don’t work out as service dogs, are adopted into loving families through the Foundation.
NannyDog.info offers our public THANK YOU! to big-hearted Sam Simon who is helping people and animals have better lives together. God Bless You Sam!!!