A Sad Reality About Guide Dog vs White Cane

 I first noticed something extraordinary when I  started appearing in shops and on buses with Opal, my Guide dog; people had a totally different response to me….they were friendlier, more helpful, more apt to interact,  and more cognizant of my blindness.  This sad reality left me with mixed feelings. I was conflicted; I loved my new independence and confidence with Opal by my side, yet I felt awkward (guilty)  that my friends who continue to navigate with white canes, were experiencing what I had left behind. This all became crystal clear on the first day I went into my community with Opal.  We went into the local pharmacy at the shopping centre, where I had been shopping for several years. In the past, the experience was, ah…less than pleasant. I would stand around near the counter, and try to get the clerk’s attention so that customer service could be summoned to help me find things in the store. Sometimes I would wait upwards of 15 minutes.  I was left with the feeling that I was imposing on their time.  The very SECOND I entered the store that day with Opal, before I could even open my mouth to request assistance, I heard a clerk exclaim, “Hi, how are you today? I’ll get someone to help you right away. What a beautiful dog you have!”.  I thought that this might be some aberrant experience. Not so. I soon learned that the world is much kinder to me with Opal by my side. Sure, some people remain eternal a-holes, but overall,  I am treated (by default, because of the interest in Opal) so much better than when I travelled with a white cane.  I would like to create a greater awareness of this in the public mind. Do they realize that the person using a white cane is entitled to the same interest, assistance and  interaction as the person with a Guide dog?  I hope to get some comments on this. 

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14 responses to “A Sad Reality About Guide Dog vs White Cane

  1. Hi Helen –

    Disability (or differing ability) makes many (most?) people uncomfortable, and in our increasingly populated world, where there are more strangers than known friends and acquaintances, it’s easy to ignore anyone, and in particular someone who is blind, wheelchair-bound, missing a limb, or who has some other external attribute that makes them “different”.

    A dog, however, accompanying anyone, blind or not, gives many people a point of common ground to initiate a conversation that they might otherwise avoid.

    It’s sad that our society is so stranger-phobic, and that this phobia is increased when applied to someone who is blind, etc. Perhaps the experience of striking up a conversation with a blind person because of their guide dog will take some of the fear away from future contacts for that particular person, opening them to the understanding that you are a person with a dog, not a blind person with a dog; and that they will be able to apply that lesson to future encounters.

    As a breast cancer survivor, I discovered that some coworkers completely avoided me as soon as they found out I had cancer. As I progressed through my treatment, I walked around with a bald head for months – as part of my personal “therapy” I got a henna tattoo of a dragon painted on my scalp. Several of the people who had avoided me found this irresistable, and were able to approach me to ask about the tattoo, and we were able to go back to our previous relationship.

    Although I had been hurt by their avoidance, I came to have compassion for their fear, and thankful that my dragon became the tool for helping us reconnect. My dog also helps me connect with strangers, sometimes only in passing, and that makes the world a warmer place for me (as he does for me simply by “being”). Maybe someday we won’t need “tools” to help us connect, but until then, I’ll take whatever help I can get.

    Best regards to you and Opal,

    Julie

  2. Thanks Julie. We will hope for the best. Talking about this human condition (avoidance of ‘imperfect’ or disabled people) might change some people’s ideas and help them loose their irrational fears which drive them into it.

  3. I experienced the same thing when I started using a dog instead of a cane. People were so much friendlier when I had my dog with me. A couple of times I’ve gone out with my cane when my dog was unable to work, and I noticed the difference even then. It felt almost as if I was a totally different person. I think people tend to be afraid of anyone a bit different, and unfortunately we are different. Our dogs make us seem more approachable.

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one experiencing this. Thanks, Helen

  5. I’d have to agree with what’s been said. People just don’t know how to interact with those who are disabled. Especially the blind and deaf. I can’t separate myself from that group too much, because before I got involved with raising guide dog puppies, I was just like the rest.

    Having a service dog makes anyone approachable. I get a lot of interest from people, too, when I’m out with my pups.

  6. Interesting observations.

  7. visionsdenied

    A sad reflection of some in society and their wish to avoid (at all costs) any connection with such an individual with a white cane, or wheelchair etc.

    A disturbing analysis but one in which is indeed so very true.

    As I am someone embarking on such a road with a white cane – perhaps it will make feel less distressed and a wee touch of humour – wonder if I have sprayed deoderant on that day 🙂

  8. Thanks for all that. You’ll find your way, I am certain. Sure link me up to your blog roll. Keep reading!

  9. My son and I raise puppies for The Seeing Eye. I stumbled on your website while doing some research. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to develop and maintain this site. I really enjoy reading your blogs. It has opened up a new way of thinking for me as well as get an understanding of the end result of what we do as puppy raisers.

    Though I realize that there are many dog guide organizations, the puppy raisers generally perform the same functions in raising future guide dogs. We always want to know what we can do better. Through your blog, I am beginning to see things from a different perspective.

    Thank you and God bless you.

  10. I am so blown away by the response to this blog. I had no idea what I was doing when I started in January. I like the positive feedback, though really, I just relay the information and occasionally express my opinions and ideas the best way I can. It is an outlet for ME and a device by which I can practice my meager writing skills. As for puppy raisers? sheesh! you guys rock!

  11. I’m sighted, just adopted my second guide dog. The first was a “dropout”, this one’s retired, 10.5 years old. Both black Labs. What you wrote about cane use was an eye-opener. I’ll certainly keep it in mind on the rare occasion I see a cane user. Anyone who knows of a forum / community for retired guide dog adopters, please contact me. I could use some advice on certain matters. TIA.

  12. I will keep my ears open. There is a forum for service dog owners/handlers. I will put the link up when I find it again.

  13. Wow, I have worked with both deaf and deaf-blind. Any time your door opens up for more people in the world to come in this is great. I am glad you shared your story. I have always done my best to help anyone out that was different. I have taught my children the same thing. Always ask if you can help out in anyway. That usually opens doors for us to have a great conversation. But as for animals. I just bet more folks will just fall right into expanding their knowledge base without even trying.
    You go!!! God bless ya.

  14. I’m glad people are still finding and reading this blog which I wrote quite some time ago.

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