After two canceled flights and a long day's journey I arrived back at Guiding Eyes for the Blind last evening. I'm embarking on a fabulous adventure, training with a brand new guide dog. In twenty minutes I'll be heading to my first full day of training--a humbling process for although I've had two previous guide dogs, the training has evolved and the dogs nowadays are trained to follow some new commands. Can an old blind guy learn new tricks? We shall most certainly find out.
Guiding Eyes is one of the nation's premier guide dog training schools and my wife Connie and I used to work here before we moved to Ohio and then westward to Iowa City. The school has undergone some significant changes since Con and I were last here in 2000, most notably there's a brand new student residence and a fabulous new dining hall and a beautiful new multi-purpose room for classes and events.
There's also the "march of time" because of course the new guide dog trainers are ever younger. And they have new training techniques and I already feel like a slightly disreputable uncle whose manners need to be seriously improved.
As always, the other students come from every corner of the United States and they are made up of new guide dog users and old timers; young folks and those of us who are middling old. There's a nice camaraderie and I know I'll be hearing all kinds of disability related stories over the next 10 days. I'm immediately reminded that disability is entirely democratic in its discriminations: we are a diverse group from all kinds of backgrounds and we have only blindness in common. And soon we shall have dogs in common and that's a beautiful fact. We will get our new guide dogs on Wednesday.
I got my first dog "Corky" when I was 39 and now I'm 52 and the veteran staff keep telling me that I look good and haven't changed and aside from the decency of that premise, maybe in a small way I'm lucky to have had two good dogs to work with and travel alongside as a principle means both of being safe and staying young. Dogs after all are important for human physical and emotional well being.
I must go now into the busy day with its lessons and unimagined astonishments. Here's to the good dogs and their human pals.
Photo description: Black & white of Steve and yellow Labrador "Corky". This is the photo that was used on the cover of Steve's memoir: Planet of the Blind. While we only see this "headshot", Steve is actually lying on his left side with his face propped against his left hand. He's wearing tinted glasses. Corky is sitting next to him in such a way that we see her profile, and because her head is higher than Steve's because of their positioning, it almost looks as if she could be resting her head on top of Steve's. Many have said that Steve looks like a young Paul McCartney in this photo. Photo Credit: Marion Ettlinger