Okay, my new canine partner isn’t actually named Dignity. But she should be.
When I began my journey toward better mobility skills, I really didn’t associate mobility with dignity. Sure, being able to navigate around my neighborhood and elsewhere is tied up with my sense of independence. Of course my confidence would be boosted by strengthening my ability to use a white cane more efficiently. I would be able to go where I wanted to go without assistance from anyone. I would be able to interact with people, and pursue interests in a meaningful way to me. To me. Not based upon someone else’s level of interest, or time restraints, or measure of commitment.
But dignity? Isn’t dignity all about my value as a human being? How can independent travel possibly be intertwined with human dignity?
Since coming to know the history and practices of The Seeing Eye, I now understand.
In the same way that I am what I think, I am what I do. The places I go, the people I engage with, the activities I support and defend are all expressive of who I am.
And if I am not able to express those aspects of myself, if I cannot attend an event, or even leave my seat without help, I feel squashed. Or rather, unseen. Unrecognized as equally valued, as human.
But I didn’t learn all this from my white cane. Nobody cares if you bring a white cane into their car, or their house, or their place of worship. A white cane doesn’t shed or jingle during meetings, or take up space on the floor. A white cane can be folded up and put away, silent and uncomplaining.
But a guide dog is a living breathing being. A guide dog has personality and needs and, sorry folks, hair that sometimes wafts away from its body. A guide dog is also an extension of the human at the other end of the harness handle–in ways a white cane can never ever be.
These are the lessons I am learning from my beautiful new canine teammate, Aries. If you care about me, you will not focus on Aries. Yes, she’s gorgeous and talented and a bit of a flirt, but she has a job to do. A job for me, helping me get around with dignity and even a bit of grace. She is not in the room to make you smile. Or to keep your feet warm. She may do these things without your asking, but please do not ask. She is part of me. And if you respect me as a person, you will not grab me or my partner. If you wish to interact with me, don’t make eye contact with her. And if you want to spend time with me, accept her presence as part of the deal.
Because we are a team now. Aries and me. We were paired based on a mysterious mix of physical and emotional attributes according to The Seeing Eye’s 90 plus years of experience. And while we may still be forming our bond, we are off to a good start. Love and trust keep us together. Love and trust. The foundation of every meaningful relationship for partners living in dignity.