FORTY YEARS AGO
On august 17, 1975, I took my first steps to true independence, my first steps to a new life. I walked into the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I was never the same again.
I was young and innocent, just out of high school, two months from my eighteenth birthday. I’d never been away from home more than an overnight at a friend’s house, and there I was planning to be away for a whole month. I was shy. I was nervous, but oh was I ever excited. This was my dream, had been my dream for ten years. I was finally there, finally getting my first guide dog after waiting so very long.
When I was seven, I read a book about a guide dog. I didn’t understand mobility for blind people then, but I did understand that there were dogs just for blind people. I vowed right then and there that someday I would get one of those guide dogs, no matter how long it took. I loved dogs, and I wanted my own dog. Dad had hunting dogs, but they weren’t my dogs, and I so wanted my own. I wanted a dog that would sleep by my bed, cuddle with me, share my life, be my companion. When I got old enough to understand about mobility,then I wanted a dog for all those other reasons, but also for excellent and safe mobility.
Over the next ten years, I had to fight a lot of battles to achieve my dream, but then, should a dream be an easy conquest. Shouldn’t we have to work for it a bit? During high school, a person in authority, tried all he could to talk first me out of getting a dog, and when that didn’t work, tried talking my parents out of letting me get a dog. Just before high school graduation I broke my leg and had to put off training. I did everything the doctors said to get my strength back after the break. Nothing was going to keep me from getting my dog.
Finally I was there, settled in my room. Long before the era of computers and cell phones, I had my Perkins brailler, a binder full of blank paper, about a hundred cassettes with all my favorite music, taped off the radio of course. I had a ton of cute clothes and comfortable shoes. I was ready, so ready to meet my dog. I was nervous about the other students. I was one of sixteen students in that class, and my shyness threatened to choke me that first day. But it would be worth it all in three days when I would finally meet my dog!
I did get over the shyness, and I made friends. I fell in love with my dog, and I fell in love with a boy. Neither the boy nor the dog were part of my life forever, but the dog set me on a new path of freedom, first of seven, and special for being the first. I learned many things, not all related to interacting with and caring for a dog.
Was it all worth it? The ups and downs, the hard lessons and the good lessons? Today, as I look back forty years, and as I no longer feel that young innocent girl inside me, yeah, I know without a doubt, yes, it was worth every bit of it!