It was a week ago yesterday afternoon that Paige's leash was handed to me. I can't believe how much I've learned. I can't believe how much I have yet to learn.
A friend of mine who is a cane user came to visit last Sunday. He asked me the same question I've been asked a hundred times: "Does it make much difference walking with a dog instead of a cane?"
In the past, all I could say was, "I hope so. That's the plan."
This time, I gave my friend the one-week dog-guide-user answer. I hope some of you experienced dog users will chime in and help me answer the question.
After a week, do I think it's different? For me, vastly different. I'm walking faster, I'm hunting around to find my way less, actually not at all, I'm gliding past people in the hallway. A surprise bonus: my right hand is free.
When I first started running, I went out to Central Park and joined the Saturday workout of the Achilles Track Club. Someone handed me a tether, a string or rope or something to hang onto and a sighted volunteer took the other end. I had said I wanted to run three miles, but now I was looking at the park full of skateboarders and an unfamiliar road and doubted the wisdom of charging at top speed into the unknown. We did the three miles, and we ran together regularly many, many times, but it was a long time before I felt brave enough to really run my fastest.
Walking with Paige is very much like walking with a running partner. I wonder if it's unnerving for new dog users who haven't run at top speed with a sighted guide before. You put your cane away, take hold of a harness handle, and you're guided into the unknown. It isn't scary at all for me, but I think it might be for someone who hasn't tried some of these things before.
There is one thing I do on a regular basis that I might do more easily with a cane. I currently have trouble walking up to things that I want to interact with. Paige is great at avoiding things. I have trouble letting her know when I want to go right up to something like a table, a sink, or a treadmill. I'm sure I'll learn, but I do miss the close-range exploration you can do with a cane. I haven't had the least wish to get my cane out again, though. I hung it on the hook on the back of my door last Monday and it hasn't moved since.
An update on what's been going on around here? We've graduated to a new route. We have angled intersections, outdoor cafes, construction, parking lots, busier streets, and lots of little things in the route. Of course, Ralph and others are adding obstacles and distractions to what's already there. Today there was pizza on the ground and Paige had to ignore it. Ralph picked it up and tried to coax her to take it from him, while I told her to leave it alone. She did pretty well. Later, a dog really pestered us. It came right up to Paige, sniffed her face, walked beside her, and generally made a huge nuisance of itself. Paige had to keep walking. I had to practice telling her to "leave it" and correcting her when she slowed and turned to look at the other dog.
Ralph set up a barricade that Paige could walk under but that I couldn't. It was complicated, the way a construction barricade might be. She had to size it up an figure out what to do. We had to turn all the way around, walk a few steps, then go out into the street to get by. I was surprised when she turned around. I really didn't think that could be right. Then, she walked over and showed me the curb. Here's that charging-into-the-unknown thing again. I told her to go left, which put us in the direction we had been going, and she walked along in the street for a short way, cars whizzing by, then turned up and back onto the sidewalk.
I can't wait to work her in New York, where we find obstacles like that every day! The first day home we'll probably come across a construction site on the sidewalk with pizza on the ground and a loose dog.