87: Creating a Guide Dog

87: Creating a Guide Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Creating a Guide Dog

Fun fact: The use of guide dogs for the blind increased when World War II veterans began looking into their use. Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. was founded in 1942.

When you see a blind person being guided by a dog, do you ever wonder how that helpful canine came to be a service animal? Well, I raise puppies that grow up to become guide dogs. They live with me from about eight weeks old until age two. During that time, my responsibility is to get these untrained dogs socialized to the world.

At that point, the pups return to the Guide Dogs for the Blind school campus. There they spend several months being formally trained and thoroughly tested. Only then are the dogs matched up with a blind person. By then, these service animals have been totally prepared for anything and everything when teamed up with their human companions.

My most recent pup was Leo. I took him many different places to practice good behavior. We went to buffets and restaurants with all those wonderful, distracting food aromas, attended parties, and visited libraries, stores, and amusement parks. My pup accompanied me to historic events where he heard cannons shooting off, and he even rode along with me in my 1926 Model T Ford that rumbled and shook as we drove. Leo went everywhere people buzzed about their business.

My very good dog and I participated in charity walks and city disaster drills, greeted people for special events, and visited people in hospitals and rest homes. Everywhere I took him, Leo was the perfect dog. If I gave the command, “Leo, let’s go,” he was ready and willing. He never resisted, nor was he afraid to do anything I asked of him.

However, there was one time that Leo “had a mind of his own” and shocked me while making others laugh. I had been nominated for an award for my volunteer service work, and I was invited to attend the awards banquet.

When Leo and I arrived, we entered a room full of people from all over the city. I was dressed up in a long, shiny, silver dress and high heels. This was not my normal attire when out with Leo, so he was already a little surprised. Dressed in his usual green guide-dog training vest, my puppy sat patiently and obediently under the table, and was well behaved during both the dinner and the awards ceremony. In fact, most of the attendees did not even know a dog was present.

After two hours, much to my surprise, they announced that I had won the Volunteer of the Year award. Leo and I were seated at a table way in the back, and I was expected to come all the way up on stage. Since guide dogs in training need to accompany their owners everywhere, I quickly pulled Leo from under the table to maneuver through the crowded room to go up front with me.

Music was blaring and balloons were waving around, while the audience was clapping and cheering loudly. I was in shock and Leo could sense how tense I was. When the two of us finally reached the stage steps, flashbulbs were going off, and the large trophy up on the stage was reflecting bright light about the room. Amidst this blaring music, thunderous clapping, cheering, and a flurry of camera flashes, I sensed Leo’s tense mood. In the back of my mind, I realized I had not prepared him for this moment.

For the first time ever, Leo put on the skids! It was like he was saying, “No way am I going up on those steps with you!” So I said, “Okay, SIT and STAY!” Leo obeyed.

I continued up the stage steps alone, almost tripping on my dress, but my obedient companion remained in place. He was focused on me, as he was taught. I was proud of him. Then the Master of Ceremonies said, “Will you say a few words?” He handed me the microphone, and in agreement, I said a nice and loud, “Okay!” Besides meaning “yes,” this word also happens to be the “release word” for dogs to break from their last command. In the excitement of the moment, I forgot that detail.

Leo looked up at me, and I realized my mistake. He still was not going to come up on the stage. It was the worst, most confusing command for poor Leo. He turned and ran to the mayor and the chief of police in the front row! Everyone in the room exploded with laughter, and the photographers were taking his photo. I began my speech by saying, “I was going to compliment Leo for being so good here tonight, but now…,” and everyone burst into laughter again.

When I walked back down from the stage, Leo was once again the perfect, well-behaved dog, posing in the photos with me and the other nominees.

But for that one moment, when he forgot his manners, I had to remember that he was just a puppy in training. Perhaps he thought that if we went on those narrow steps together, with me in my outfit, we could trip. Or maybe he wanted me to have all the attention for myself. His reaction certainly did get me all sorts of attention. For the next several months, people teased the mayor and me about the event. It became the talk of the town and was on all the social-media pages, as well as the local newspaper.

Most of the time, I feel I can read a dog’s mind, but not this time. It was a moment I will always remember. In April 2015, I even ended up sharing that story at his graduation ceremony, when Leo did indeed become an official Guide Dog for the Blind.

~Marcia Lee Harris

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