By Cindy Shone
Imagine looking at the world through ice cubes. That's what my vision is like. And as the years go by, those ice cubes become more and more opaque. Everything in my world is very blurry. I can see shapes and figures, but not much else. And that makes it hard for me to get around safely.
Before I got my guide dog, Barney, things were getting tough for me.
My sight has worsened over the last few years, and it was getting more and more difficult to travel on my own. I used a white cane, but I found it took a lot of concentration for me to get from point A to Point B. Sometimes it felt like there were hazards and dangers everywhere I turned.
And I'll tell you…I've had more than a few close calls.
I've broken my foot twice over the last few years from stumbles. And five years ago, I was hit by a bus while crossing the street. Although I had the right of way, the bus proceeded. I couldn't see him coming at me and I was hit. I was lucky to survive.
All this has made me reluctant to go out alone. I found myself turning down invitations to spend time with friends because I didn't want to travel on my own. Unless someone in my family was there to drive me or guide me to my destination, the danger just didn't seem worth it… not after all I'd been through.
And then Barney came along, and everything changed.
Meeting my partner in mobility
Even though I'm a lifelong animal lover and proud pet mom, I wasn't sure if Barney and I would gel the way we were supposed to. I'd never had a guide dog before. It was hard to imagine this dog would be in tune with me… that we'd be right for each other.
But the CNIB Guide Dogs trainers thought Barney and I would make a good match and I trusted them. Turns out, they were right.
The moment I laid my hand on his furry little head, it was love. I could tell this little creature was not only an incredibly skilled animal, but a sweetheart – MY sweetheart.
Don't get me wrong. It wasn't all sunshine and roses. Finding our way as a team was no easy task. Barney had to get used to my stride and my pace and I had to do the same with him. I also had to get comfortable walking with a cane in one hand and Barney's harness in the other, which took some adjusting. And although we're working incredibly well together already, they say it takes six months to a year before a guide dog and his handler truly become a smooth working team.
But I'll tell you what: It's all worth it.
Since starting to work with Barney, I feel safe again when I'm out in the community… without worrying that I'll walk into an obstacle, twist my ankle or, even worse, be hit by a car again. Suddenly I have my freedom back. My life doesn't feel limited anymore. It feels like it's mine to live again.
What's more, Barney is an amazing guide. He loves his job and is so enthusiastic. He's always eager to get in his harness when he sees me getting ready to go out. He makes me smile every day.
So thank you, Barney. My sweetheart. My guide. Thank you for being there by my side, through thick and thin… through ice and sleet… through potholes and subways and crowded busses and everything in between.
And thank you, CNIB Guide Dogs, for bringing Barney to me.
Did you know?
Including Barney, six dogs have now graduated from CNIB Guide Dogs, and another 50-plus are currently in training. In the coming months, we'll be reaching out to our participants to tell them how they can apply to receive a guide dog. In the meantime, you can learn more about the program at cnib.ca/guidedogs.