24 January 2011

Seeing Life Through Thane's Eyes

My life outside my home is experienced through the eyes and ears of my guide Thane, just as it was through Chimette, his predecessor. Sometimes our outings are simple errands, grocery shopping or the like- the mundane responsibilities anyone is accustomed to performing. For us, even these excursions are far from mundane. Nothing is ever the same twice especially for a team consisting of a wheelchair user and a Border Collie guide.  

As a wheelchair guide team, we not only require more space to work, but more often than not people treat me as sighted despite being told I am blind or seeing the harness sign on Thane's guide handle stating he is a working guide dog. Thane has quite the job to keep me safe as a result of this. People have come to recognize individuals in wheelchairs are partnered with service dogs, so when one is partnered with a guide dog, they just can't wrap their heads around it all. This stereotypical view can often lead to more intense obstacle clearance work in Thane's job due to another misconception people have- that wheelchairs can stop instantaneously. There's nothing instantaneous about a wheelchairs stopping ability.

Most of the routes we take I could do in my sleep, but I'd certainly not try that in real life! With Thane at the helm, my lack of peripheral vision is no problem at all. He knows when a driver is too impatient to wait for us- blocking my path so I don't become a casualty of them getting up too late. The world to most is in a 3-D view, for me its as flat as a picture in a coloring book- devoid of depth. With the spotty vision I have, I can't tell you if what I am seeing is one inch in front of me or three feet ahead, let alone what the item I am seeing actually is. With a visual disease on a progressive path that has the appearance of a puzzle with mostly missing pieces, I'm very grateful to have a dog with Thane's skills as I head out the door each day.

It was not always easy with him. Issues of transplanting from the country to a small town but with obligations in larger cities played its toll. Several times we had to take a step back. In weaker moments, I wondered if either of us were meant to create this partnership. When the fog lifted though, I saw a sidekick at the helm that was every bit as capable as Met had been and then some. His ability to safely guide me through life left Met's pawprints in the dust long ago. Its really great to experience life through my Border Collies eyes.

You might be asking yourself what it's like to see through a guide's eyes. Imagine being on an agility course all day long consisting mostly of weave poles that angle this way and that combined with abrupt pauses with no previous knowledge of the course layout as it is forever changing. That's what Thane's job entails. For Thane, he sees the changes taking place, for me it can be disorienting in the best of times. 

Every person who stops abruptly or cuts us off so closely that its a wonder they don't get run over, every garbage can dumped across the sidewalk by the collectors, every yard maintenance crew that opts to place their yard debris on the sidewalk of all places, every child's toy not properly put away, every congregating group of people awaiting a bus or ride that seem to think we can squeeze through in half the space we actually need, every cart abandoned across the sidewalk or left in the middle of a store aisle, every person that stops right past the doorway leaving Thane to block me so we do not get caught by the electric doors- all of these and more create obstacles in our life. You may say, well all of those are obstacles for me as well. Can you imagine then the task for Thane and myself working as a team to navigate life where so many are lets put it frankly, thoughtless in how their actions can affect others. Without Thane its a constant game of bumper cars for sure! 

Sometimes, Thane is able to move so gracefully this way and that around the obstacles that lay before us that it truly feels like we are dancing through life. These are the memorial moments of life and our partnership- the breeze brushing through our hair on a beautiful spring day- feeling stress free and a sense of perfection in the cadence we move with each other. This for sure, takes time, bonding, and working past the *green* phase of a new partnership- but just as it happened in my partnership with Met, so has it with Thane. There were times when I doubted I would ever get this with Thane. There were times when I forgot just how tumultuous the early partnership with Met had been. It actually took friends to remind me that there were rough patches before the seasoned days of working as though our minds were interconnected. But now I am able to see life once more through the eyes of my guide and I don't want this dance to ever end.

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