By Sara Utecht, Guide Dog Handler, British Columbia
Several months ago, I applied to CNIB Guide Dogs for my third guide dog. In June, I got a call from Rob, a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, telling me he had a potential dog for me – Daisy. The thought of having another guide dog was a relief. But there were nerves. Would it work out? I had met my previous dogs before starting training, but that wasn't the case this time. And, I'd never trained at home before, so I wasn't sure how it would work. Where would we go? What would we do? What if I hated the instructor?
Several days later, Rob and Daisy arrived in Vancouver for two weeks of training. It quickly became clear that I worried for nothing. Daisy made herself right at home. As soon as we did our first training route, I realized how great she is. And, obviously, I didn’t hate the instructor either.
Training was an adjustment. I'd become used to walking slowly with a white cane. Daisy was having none of it – it was 100 miles/hour or nothing with her! She was full of enthusiasm and seemingly endless energy. It felt like being in control of a small, but powerful, sports car. Great to drive, but hard to control.
It didn't take long to learn how smart Daisy is. Obstacles? No problem. Local routes were too easy! She nailed simple trails and thrived in downtown Vancouver's busiest tourist area. Buses, SkyTrain, and even a boat, were quickly ticked off the training list. She memorized the routes instantly, but she outdid herself when she found a way into our housing complex that she’d never been shown before.
But no guide dog is perfect…not even Daisy. There was a problem. She took a dislike to our yard, and she promptly went on toilet strike! One morning, we had to abandon our plans because she refused to go. I even threatened to put her on the plane back to Ottawa! With the great toilet strike aside, she flew through training. We were so far ahead of schedule that we had a day to spare. How could we test her and calm her boundless energy?
Bring on the Grouse Grind, of course. Nature's stair master is a 2.9km mountain trail with 2830 stairs at 853m of elevation. It was one of the best things I've ever done. The terrain is rough, and the word “step” is used somewhat loosely, but Daisy tackled it like a mountain goat. We had to use sighted guide for stretches of the trail as Rob had to describe where to put my feet, but Daisy was able to work through stretches where the stairs were more like stairs. With Daisy and Rob's guiding skills, some fancy footwork on my part, shear bloody-minded stubbornness and the lure of a cold beer, we made it all the way to the top, and felt pretty proud of ourselves afterwards. I was exhausted, but I think Daisy could have done the trail at least three more times. The final test was the gondola ride to get down, but this was no problem – she just went to sleep.
And, just like that, our class was over. It was a fun, and exhausting, two weeks. The beginning of a guide dog partnership is mentally exhausting as you learn to trust each other. I'm so glad I was able to train at home. Being able to customize the class is exactly what I needed, and it made the process so much easier. My thanks go to CNIB Guide Dogs, Daisy’s puppy raiser and Rob – Daisy rocks!