This guest post comes from Brianna Murray. She originally made this post on her Facebook page after participating in a focus group about guide dogs. While not originally created for this blog, I think it will inform and entertain our readers.
Brianna Murray lives in NJ with her active Seeing Eye dog Quebec and her retired guide dog Hopps. She leads a biweekly Mental Health and Wellness Support Group for Guide Dog handlers all over the world and has held a number of leadership positions in the guide dog space. She is currently working with a large male golden retriever named Quebec from the Seeing Eye. You can find her on Facebook here.
“Why do you choose to work with a guide dog?” This is a question I was asked tonight, and one that comes up often as I navigate the world day to day. It’s funny because that question has both the simplest answer, and also the most complex answer in the world. Simply, I work with a guide because it makes me happy, confident, and complete. But there’s so much more to it.
About a year and a half before I received my first guide, I went to a conference with friends. One friend had a retired guide who was also attending, and she gave me the task of looking out for him and taking him out to use the bathroom, as she knew I wanted to learn more about guide dogs. As a child, I didn’t want one. I thought I could be independent all by myself. That night though, when I took her dog outside, even though he was too old to work any longer, Zach intuitively sensed that I could not see and guided me only using a leash with no harness, out to the bathroom area in pitch black darkness. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to understand how these amazing animals could read their humans so well, and why even once they were retired their selflessness and love of their work always won in the end.
That dog was very very seasoned, and when I got my first dog a year and a half later, it simply was not like that. My dog stole ice cream from a baby, instigated play time with the other dogs in the class, cried when she met me, and cried even more the day she saw her puppy raiser again and realized she was stuck with me now. She moped when I didn’t give her all the space on my twin dorm room bed, or when we walked to class in the rain, or when we stayed in the library studying too late for the 14th night in a row. She got way too excited when someone on campus called her name, and one time she accidentally got the zoomies in harness when leaves blew past her face. She was anxious, shed impossible amounts, and took a lot of effort and care that I didn’t always know how to give as a teenager. But from the moment I held her harness in my hand for the first time, my life was changed. Traveling was always a burden for me, and when it became a team activity it wasn’t as stressful. When people talked about me on my college campus, it wasn’t about blindness or disability any more, but instead it was about that cute dog. Having a guide broke the barrier between disability and “normality” and made me an active part of things for the first time in my life. Instead of avoiding every social situation, I made friends and thrived. Instead of traveling being a daunting guessing game, it was an adventure in teamwork.
When Lacey caught a disease from the hospital I was interning at, it was expensive, painful for her, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched. When my second dog Daisy was deemed unsafe after two weeks together, I wondered if I was ever meant to work with a guide again. When Hopps’s experience was also cut short, due to a bad hip, I wondered why I was cursed. When Belle retired after just 6 months due to kidney disease, I honestly doubted I had the strength to carry on as a handler. Having a guide dog is expensive. It’s emotional. It’s hard. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever been through. It’s the most painful thing I could possibly imagine. It’s raw, and it’s real, and it breaks your heart over and over and over. It tests you every single day, and half the time you make the wrong choice. It’s daunting, challenging, terrifying, exhausting, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But, in contrast it’s the one thing that truly makes my life complete.
Having a guide is watching Quebec choose to lie on the hard kitchen floor right by my side as I work every day. He knows if he lies that close, he’ll have to move every time I get up, and that there is a softer dog bed nearby, but he prefers to be able to touch me every so often and remind me that he’s there. Having a guide is watching Hopps fight through a car accident, a tumor, a bad hip, two dog attacks, and various other things because she loves me, work, and has a positive spirit. Having a guide is having 4 dogs literally push me out of the way of cars that would have otherwise hit us. Having a guide is enjoying taking walks and hikes for the first time in my life with Quebec. Having a guide is having someone to snuggle with on the bad days, and someone to wake up with every time you have insomnia. It’s having a partner to problem solve on every route. It’s Quebec forcing you to stop and play fetch when work gets too stressful. Hopss forcing herself on your lap when you thought you wanted to be alone. Belle finally connecting to you after months of testing you. Daisy, teaching you how to advocate. And Lacey, helping you grow up into the adult you were always meant to be. Having guides is like building a family. It’s hard, and takes effort and work on everyone’s part. But life just wouldn’t be the same without it. Having a guide is freedom, joy, independence, love, selflessness, connection, strength, teamwork, and partnership. It’s the strongest love you’ll ever feel, the tightest bond, and the most intense connectedness. It’s the ability to fly, with nothing holding you back for the first time in your life. Yes, it is a roller-coaster sometimes, but there is literally not a single day that I regret getting on the ride. To me, having a guide is definitely challenging, but the experiences I’ve had outweigh the challenges every time. Lacey, Daisy, Hopps, Belle, and Quebec are all a part of me every day. They’ve helped me grow, learn, and trust. Being a guide dog handler is full of obstacles, but to me it’s the truest form of independence.