Thank you for giving me my life back

Dear Makiko,

Four years and two weeks ago today, I laid my eyes upon you with your gorgeous brown eyes and black fur. We went through very rigorous training and exactly four years ago today, we walked across that stage at Guide Dogs for the Blind and officially became a team. Little did I know at that point just how much you would change my life. You’ve wagged, cuddled, and kissed your way into the hearts of so many people.

Makiko, you’ve enabled me to do what I love to do. My job as a transition counselor is incredibly busy and we travel A LOT. I don’t think I would have been able to keep doing this position, or I don’t know that i would have even applied to it, without you sweet girl. You give me the confidence to be okay with going new places independently and venture into the high schools which look like colleges. This confidence can be seen in many areas of my life – I am spending less time at home and more time out and about, socializing, volunteering, participating in community events, and being me.

I may be a bit biased but I think you are one of the best looking guide dogs out there and your sweet face just melts everybody’s heart. People want to come up to me and ask me about you and of course, I love to tell everybody about how amazing and beautiful you are! This has led to many new friendships and connections… relationships I know I wouldn’t have made as a cane user. You have opened many doors for me.

Because you have been such an life-changing guide dog, I have wanted to continue to give back to Guide Dogs for the Blind and become more and more involved in this selfless community. Because of you, I have the opportunity to travel and meet people, sharing about Guide Dogs for the Blind. I have the opportunity to help raise funds and introduce the guide dog lifestyle to many other individuals with visual impairments. My public speaking skills are steadily improving and I’m becoming more confident in this area, an area that I have struggled in for many years. I have co-founded and become the Co-President of “The Eyes of Texas”, the Texas Alumni Chapter for Guide Dogs for the Blind, where I have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible graduates with guide dogs across the state. I founded “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a Facebook social support group for guide dog handlers from all over the world and we have had the opportunity to be there for each other and brighten each other’s lives. Because of you, I have a new amazing community that I have the honor of being a part of.

Because of you, my gorgeous girl, my wanderlust is back in full swing and I want to travel with you by my side because it is SO much fun and I feel totally free when traveling with you.

I am much safer with you by my side, leading the way with me holding onto that harness handle. I’ve had many surgeries and casts through the years due to falls or accidents due to my vision loss. One of the worst ones was when I didn’t see a particularly icy patch in Tulsa when I was going to school there and fell on it, unable to get up. One torn meniscus surgery and a lot of therapy later, I am doing just fine. I am proud to say that while working you, I have not had one vision related accident. That is HUGE. You’re a star at “intelligent disobedience.” If I tell you to go and you think it’s not safe, you will do everything in your power to tell me, “No, Mom.. really.. NO,” and will show me the safer route. You can be quite stubborn and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

You’ve helped me become much more physically fit and active. 5 years ago, I would have never dreamed about wanting to exercise. However now it’s a definite goal and I WILL make it happen. Through walking at your speedy pace, you have made me a much faster walker, even when you’re not guiding me. You understand my busy lifestyle and help me navigate crowds like a ninja. Sometimes, my sighted friends even let you just lead the way because you’re just that brilliant at what you do.

I continue to lose my vision. Just when I think I’ve lost a lot and it will stabilize, BAM.. I lose more vision. You, smart girl, are able to adapt to my vision loss more than the closet humans in my life can. You learn what Mama can’t see anymore or what she’s likely to miss, that she may have been just fine with 6 months ago. Not all guide dogs can adapt that well.

They say dogs are a man’s best friend, but you, sweet Makiko, are much more than that. When I’m having a particularly rough day or struggling with depressive symptoms, you are right there to stick your head in my lap and ask for permission to come cuddle, or lay right beside me. You make me keep going as I will never let your exercise, food, water, and relieving needs go unmet.

As we embark upon year five, sweet girl, I promise to show you daily how much I love you and am grateful for you as we have the time of our lives on this journey called “life.” Thank you for giving me my life back, after vision loss. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.



Fake Service Dogs — Read this person’s blog

This picture features a dog in the feet area of the bulkhead seating on an airplane. Photo from the website:
This picture features a dog in the feet area of the bulkhead seating on an airplane. Photo from the website:

I was casually looking at other blogs tonight of service dog handlers and I happened to come across this one blog post that I wanted to share with you. Keep in mind this individual is not disabled, or doesn’t appear to be by the way she writes and describes things, just a dog lover.

Read this post, then come back to my post after you’ve formed your opinions. Let me know what you think in the comments. Here is the hyperlink: Nicole Marie Richardson’s blog. 

Here’s what I said in the comments, but it is still “awaiting moderation.” :

“As a truly disabled individual who has a service dog that was trained for a year and a half to do her job right, people whose dogs don’t perform essential functions and aren’t super well trained hurt the disabled community, especially service dog handlers. I understand that you would like a cheaper way to travel with your beloved dog, but if that dog DOES act out and is labelled a “service dog” that puts a bad taste in many people’s mouths and makes it even harder for the next person who does have a legitimate disability and service dog. I urge you and all of your readers to consider this when thinking about doing this on your next trip. It may not be illegal, but it is seriously unethical. Last, but not least, an Emotional Support Assistance Dog is an assistance animal, not a service animal and does not have the legal rights they do as they are not covered under the ADA. They are not task trained. Thank you for reading this and I sincerely hope you take into consideration what I had to say.”

I generally don’t like to badmouth other people on my blog as I want this to be a very positive and honest atmosphere, but this just really does put a bad taste in my mouth and for her to publish it. Hmm…  I have been wanting to post something on fake service dogs as this is a topic that REALLY pushes my buttons but haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. I will try to get one written this week.

As I said in my comment, this really does hurt service dog handlers who do have a disability. Many fake service dogs are not as well trained and will go to the restroom indoors, make a lot of noise, jump on other people, eat food off the floor, etc. They do not have the training nor skills that real service dogs have. Therefore, whether it be on a bus, train, inside a restaurant, wherever, when a fake service dog acts out but others on board identify that dog as being a service dog, that puts a bad taste in their mouth. Then the next time when a real service dog is onboard or in the vicinity, the individual(s) may not be as accommodating or friendly, at no fault to the service dog handler or service dog themselves. It’s a really unfortunate situation.

Now, I want to clarify that I am not putting down Emotional Support Assistance Dogs. I think for individuals with some emotional issues, they are wonderful. And if this individual really did have an anxiety issue, I would have an ENTIRELY different outlook on this, even though Emotional Support Assistance Dogs aren’t covered under the ADA. But the truth is she obviously didn’t and was posting this to all her viewers to read and take advantage of. Look in the comments, there are others who think this is a brilliant idea and are therefore going to take advantage of it, adding several more fake service dogs to the world. Ugh.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you on this.

Anticipation is building…

I just can’t wait to get a Guide Dog. There are so many situations nowadays where I was like “See, I wouldn’t have to deal with this frustration” or “This would be SO much easier” with a Guide dog. One of my friends, Skylar, is in a wheelchair. She has been working with a therapy dog to expose him to wheelchairs and get him used to working around them because he is a Camp dog for Camp Craig Allen. With the dog being around us for the next several days, it just increases my desire and longing to get a guide dog. It also shows me how so much friendlier people are when you have a dog around, especially if you have a disability. I am definitely looking forward to that.

I’ve been reading the lectures that Guide Dogs for the Blind sent me over email. It’s a lot of stuff, but it’s awesome because I am already learning a lot and it just makes this whole thing more real. American Airlines Special Assistance to tell me that they usually have individuals with guide dogs in the bulkhead if they are okay with it so the dog will have more space. They made sure to tell me that I am required to keep my dog within the confines of my normal space in front of me. I was like “yeah, sure.. of course.” Haha. This is just becoming so much more real and I am so excited. But I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little nervous too. This is such a big change that is about to happen, so that’s normal, right?

Everybody back in Denton is onboard with my decision to get a guide dog. Not that they CAN say anything legally, but it’s nice that they are all so supportive. All my professors and department know that I am going to get a dog, my apartment complex knows. It will be good.

The big packet is supposed to come today with the packing list, what to expect with Oregon climate, etc. These are things that did not come in the email. I am away at school and I have everything sent home to my parent’s address so I’m hoping when Mom gets home from work she’ll find it and read it to me. I want to know what to expect!