About Pilot Dogs: And My First Two weeks
Pilot Dogs was right in my backyard in Franklinton and I had no idea. They have been open since the 1950’s assisting people with visually impairment and blindness to obtain, become certified with a guide dog. They have a day kennel next door and a later kennel located elsewhere in Columbus for the time being. They are working to being that larger kennel on their campus with a price tag of around 8.2 million dollars. I pray they get every dime and can build that dream. This organization is truly nonprofit. Every dime of donations goes in to their programs and running the business. Students come from all around the nation and even from different countries. If you live more than 200 miles away nationwide they will pay from your transportation to and from the facility!!!!! If you are overseas, you have to get stateside, but once you do they again will pay for your transportation to and from the facility. Last year they had about 13-14 classes that included return students for retraining and brand new students becoming certified for the first time. Once students get there, the campus includes a dormitory, many living areas and dining room. The certification course for a guide dog is usually 4 weeks where you stay on the premises to become bonded with your guide dog and learn all the ins and outs of having a successful relationship of having a working dog that will be your eyes. The four week stay, the food provided (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the certification as well as the dog, all paperwork, training, the supplies for the dog (harness, leash, food bowls and brush) are all covered with pilot dogs. There are no fees to their students at all!!!!
The dogs they train for this unique job are: Labs, Boxers, Poodles, to name a few breeds. Each student applies by competing an application, your eye doctor and your medical provider also needs to complete a form and you are required to supply four references that are not related to you. You must be legally blind or totally blind to even be considered. Once the application process is complete, you will receive a call from one of their representatives. Classes usually start the first Sunday of every month.
I realized I had absolutely no skills going into this and was recommended to start with O&M training first. O&M training means Orientation and Mobility and it is a two week course. It extended my certification time by six weeks total but I am glad that I did. I was diagnosed with my eye disease since 2012. My latest eye exam in December showed my eyes with the following: right 20/800 and left 20/1400. Legal blindness is 20/200. I lived in the dormitory for those two weeks and left with invaluable knowledge and freedom. The first thing I learned is that I had the wrong sized cane and that I was not using it correctly. A cane should be measured to be no taller than a person’s arm pit. I did not know that. I was not walking correctly with my cane. It is a rhythm and an art and the first week was just learning those basic skills. We moved outside to learn how to become a human compass, to mental map your area, and learn the importance of cardinal direction. The first attempt of me walking around the block with my trainer took 45 minutes. During my achievement test it took me 9 minutesJ I also learned how to cross the street safety and call traffic that have a stop sign and simple lights and complex light systems. It is nothing like how the sighted crosses the street and I plan on making a YouTube video showing this instead of trying to explain it in text. My last day of my &M training I got to work with a lab by the name of BuckeyeJ The difference between a cane and a god was huge (and awesome). After passing my achievement test in O&M my O&M trainer become one of my biggest advocates. He advised I am highly motivate, positive and a hard worker. This is my life and I knew I could not half ass it. I work so six weeks off seems impossible but in the big scheme of things this is a micro small amount of my life to make my life better. The first two weeks I took a leave of absence and the last four weeks I will have enough vacation to take that time off. (Thank you VSP)
So the next step is completing my four week course of getting a guide dog that I will be starting in February. They have to match you with the right partner (dog) with your personalities and needs. I am excited to complete this journey. It was a lot of hard work, and I shredded tears of frustration and expectation but I made the first part and with the same go to attitude I have I will enter in the ADA certification for my guide dog.
A typical day I had:
Alarm for everyone to wake up is 6amm, breakfast served at 7am. Classes throughout the day from 8am-430pm. Dinner at 6pm and evening lecture at 7pm. I walked about at least 3-4 miles daily, in a residential area, business/downtown, learned for the first time to go into a store by myself and navigate it by myself (that was anxiety overload for sure but happy that I did it).
My class included myself in O&M, 4 people for retraining and 4 for new dogs. I person did not make it and had to go home early. So just because you start this journey if you do not pass the certification you cannot go home with a dog. It is a huge responsibility and a lot of work you have to be willing to do. Sometimes, the dogs themselves cannot be an eye and eye dog and have to be placed in a career change. There are many different types of working dogs other than see and eye dogs such has dogs for the deaf, for people who have diabetes or seizures to name a few. I will never forget my classmates and we have exchanged information to stay in touch. They want to celebrate with me once I graduate with my dog.
Pilot Dogs understand with this type of disability, money is not what is important….helping people “see” is. I have a new mission now….they gave me fuel to build up my passion again. I was feeling depressed, down and no longer a key component in what I do for a living. That has changed. They gave me my independence where I can walk by myself, go to the store by myself, and rebuild my confidence. I am important and I will make a difference.
Expect more Blogs on this topic. To much information I want to share to put into one Blog post:)
(Originally written December 29, 2015 before I got Roxy)