On April 1, 2012 I boarded a plane bound for San Francisco, California to enter into a 2-week training program to be paired with my very first guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. I had been thinking about becoming a guide dog handler for a few years prior to that day and I arrived with excitement, anticipation and an abundance of nerves. “What if I mess up?”, “What if I can’t transition to the guide dog lifestyle?”, “What if my dog and I don’t bond?”; these were just a few of the questions I had running through my mind prior to meeting my handsome yellow Labrador retriever Weston.
Fast forward to 7.5 years later and the time has come for me to begin the transition to a successor guide dog. I started thinking about this almost a year ago when I noticed that Weston began to slow down in situations that he previously was very comfortable in. He continues to be an extremely solid worker and he is very hard on himself when he makes a mistake, but I know in my heart that the best thing for both of us will be to retire him next summer.
Last month I officially submitted my application to Guide Dogs for the Blind for my next guide dog and today I received the official call that I have been accepted to the program. After speaking with the representative from GDB it hit me pretty hard that Weston’s working days are limited. She asked me about preferences for my next dog and timelines for training and it’s honestly quite the bittersweet feeling. On one hand I am extremely sad to retire my very first guide dog and I worry about how he will adjust to his new lifestyle as one of our family pets as opposed to a working dog, but on the other hand I know that in his senior years he deserves to have a nice retirement and some much needed lazy days.
Ironically, I have some of the same questions and worries that I had on April 1, 2012; I am extremely nervous about transitioning to a new guide dog. Weston is all I have ever known, and I worry that I will compare the new dog to him day after day. I worry that the new dog won’t bond with me as Weston has over the years and that we won’t be able to establish what sometimes feels like ESP when we are in our routine or walking through downtown Denver.
I am sure that these are common feelings amongst guide dog handlers and I know that these are things that the amazing team at GDB will assist me with working through, and at the end of the day I know I am making the right decision. The really nice thing as that I am electing to attend training in the summer of 2020, so I have plenty of time to prepare myself, Weston and my family and friends for the transition.
Tomorrow GDB will be contacting me to give me more detailed information and potential training dates. As I embark on this new journey I plan on keeping you all up to date and I welcome any tips from all of the wonderful guide dog handlers out there. I would love to hear your tips and advice for moving through this transition and I welcome your comments. Thanks for giving this a read and I appreciate all of your support.