For some blind people, the decision to travel with a cane or guide dog comes very natural, leaving no room for debate in their minds. Then, there are those who make a choice, but the internal tug-of-war never grants them the absolute conviction about their decision. The third and final group, used both a cane and guide dog for a substantial amount of time, and they are extremely satisfied with their final choice, even if that means alternating between the two. In order to provide legitimate perspective on both sides of the spectrum, only people who have used a cane and guide dog were interviewed for this article.
One person who goes back and forth utilizing both is 43-year-old Daniella Robinson. Ms. Robinson, who is employed full-time as a switchboard operator, lives in New Jersey and commutes to work in New York by train. Currently a cane user, Ms. Robinson has had several guide dogs throughout her life for a total of 18 years, while using a cane for approximately half that time. She pointed out some of the differences in treatment she receives when traveling with a cane or dog. Ms. Robinson said, “Sometimes when I would travel to the store with my dog while I was living in Florida, they would stop me periodically upon entry. Once I confirmed that my dog was a service animal, however, they would apologize immediately and proceed to be very helpful.”
Ms. Robinson went on to discuss some of her experiences when it comes to shopping with a dog in New Jersey, which she stated was nothing like those in the sunshine state. She said, “Forget about checking to see if the dog was legitimate, they would just say he’s not coming in. When they realize I’m not going to back down, it still does not phase them. Then they sometimes threaten to call the police, which I then tell them I would be glad if they did.”
Encountering ignorance from store employees, who refuse to allow dogs, is somewhat unfamiliar to other dog handlers however. Life-long California resident Ron Holmes, a computer instructor who has used dogs for 30 years and a cane for 10, said his problems arose when he would go shopping with a cane. Currently a dog user, Mr. Holmes recalled the offensive mumbles he sometimes heard when he entered a store. He said, “They would say oh no, what is he doing here? What does he want?” With his dog however, Mr. Holmes said it is the complete opposite from the moment he walks in. “They are very pleasant when I have a dog and even state they are glad to see me”, he said, “And we usually have a nice conversation as we shop.” Mr. Holmes wanted to clarify that he still uses his cane sporadically, but he said it is usually for situations that involve large crowds where the dog is more likely to be stepped on.
No matter what 51-year-old New York City Attorney Ray Wayne is doing, he uses his cane all the time and never plans on going back to a dog. He was a dog handler for 7 years and has used a cane for nearly 28 years. He used a dog during college and law school and said it was perfect for him at that time in his life. “When I was attending Harvard, I was in an unfamiliar city,” said Wayne, “And my dog helped me get acclimated much quicker than I ever would have with a cane.” He added that besides just getting around, people in class enjoyed having a dog there because it reminded them of their own pets. “Even now that I work full time, I know many people would appreciate having a dog in the office,” said Mr. Wayne, “But I just don’t want the responsibility anymore. He said that despite the fact that the dog has to be accepted in the workplace, if another employee was allergic to dogs he or she would have rights too. Mr. Wayne also stated that he is not saying that would be anyone’s fault, but he just wants to minimize any dilemmas that are connected to his blindness. Besides the issues that may come up involving others, Mr. Wayne gave some insight about his relief on a personal level. He spoke about one freezing cold day last winter when he thought to himself, “Thank God I don’t have a dog that needs to go for several walks.” He concluded his thought when he said, “Maybe I’ll reconsider when they learn to use the toilet.”
Although Ms. Robinson agrees with Mr. Wayne about the extra responsibility of having a dog, she certainly plans on using one again someday. She becomes extremely attached to her dogs and needs time when transitioning from one dog to another. “I would say after I had to stop working each one of my dogs it took about 4 years before I was ready for another one,” said Robinson. “I need sometime to grieve and then to have a break from the responsibility.”
One aspect of using a dog Ms. Robinson certainly does not miss is the assumption that the dog is taking care of her. “People think the dog is your spouse and best friend too,” said Robinson. “I’ve even been asked who bathes and feeds the dog.” Mr. Holmes chimed in and said he can sympathize with some of the negative attitudes that are directed towards dog users, but he maintained that he will never need a break from using a dog. “It drives me crazy when cabs won’t pick me up,” said Holmes, “But then on the other hand I can go running independently which I can’t do as efficiently with a cane.”
If there is one thing Mr. Holmes, Ms. Robinson, and Mr. Wayne agree on it is that the decision to use a dog or cane is totally up to the individual. Situations vary based on factors such as location, age, gender, and health. They all wanted to reiterate that sharing their personal experiences was only for the purpose of expressing their opinions. Nothing was said with an attempt to persuade anyone in one way or another. Ms. Robinson had the last word and summed it up this way. “Both are equally viable methods of travel, it just comes down to circumstances and personal preference.”
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind