Crista Earl standing in front of the Seeing Eye school sign The author at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, NJ

What's it like to get a dog guide?

I arrived yesterday at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey and will leave here, if all goes well, with my first dog guide. I'm beside myself with excitement — I took a long time deciding that a dog was right for me and then choosing the school. Then, there was the application and admissions process. Now I'm finally here.

I'll share at least the big events with you, since you may have the same questions I've had. What's the training like? What's the school like? How is traveling with a dog different from traveling with a cane? What can I do while I'm at the school when I'm not training? Can I work? Can I check e-mail? Join teleconference calls? Go shopping? Go for a run? What kind of dog will I get? How will that decision be made? What if the dog and I don't click?

A group of my running friends offered to give me a ride to the school. We loaded my suitcase and bags in the van, piled in, and got stuck in Manhattan traffic. But, we arrived at the school by 12:30, and had lots of time to get oriented.

I met my trainer, Ralph, who gave the group of us, my friends and me, a thorough orientation of the main building. He showed us the grooming area, dining room, dorms, office area, and park area (probably not what you think it is). He included the numerous lounges and waiting areas. Apparently sitting is a big part of the training. One lounge includes a piano and guitar, a television and DVDs, books in braille, a microwave, refrigerator, and sink. Maybe I'll just stay.

Each of the twenty-four students has a private room. There's a private bath, a desk, a bed, and two closets in mine, and plenty of room for a very large dog. I haven't actually seen any dogs yet, but I've heard them barking in the next building.

After unpacking, eating dinner, meeting a few of my classmates, and getting a couple of laptops connected to the Internet, the training started. Ralph is training four of us. He took us out, one at a time, for a Juno walk. This is where you walk holding the harness and leash, but the trainer is holding the other end of the harness. I still haven't seen a dog.

Although Ralph said this walk was for him to learn my pace and some other details about my way of walking, I learned a great deal. We practiced applying the right amount of resistance to the pull between us and I practiced matching my pace to his. He swerved around real or imaginary obstacles and I practiced moving with him. He explained 143 things, which I won't itemize now, but my head is full.

What's in store for us today? I'm starting with a jog on the treadmill — did I mention the very nice gym and computer areas they have on the lower level? I'll get a run in, take a shower, eat breakfast, meet more classmates (many people were delayed because of thunderstorms in the area), and we'll go for another Juno walk, this time on the streets of Morristown. What else?

Read Getting a Dog, Day 2!