As I mentiponed in my last post, I applied for a guide dog last month. The process is long, at least six months, and is comprised of getting a lot of forms filled out by doctors (along with the necessary appointments), having a home interview, and a whole lot of waiting.
Wednesday was my home interview. I was warned in advance that the appointment may last 2 to 3 hours, so I took a half day from work. I knew there would be some amount of embarrassment, as I had been told over the phone that I would have to walk a route with my interviewer. I had also read somewhere that the interviewer would bring a harness and have me try it out. So, as I waited for my appointed time, I grew increasingly nervous.
K (I shall use only her first initial) arrived at around 8:30 in the morning. Adam was getting ready to leave, but was able to meet her and ask a few questions of his own about what owning a guide dog would be like. After a couple minutes, he had to be off, and K and I were left to begin the interview process. The whole point of the home interview is to determine whether or not the applicant will be well suited for a guide dog and if the environment is one that would be healthy for the dog. It costs an average of $48,000 to train one of these creatures; so in essence, getting a guide dog is like being given a Mercedes and taught how to drive it.
The first portion of the interview was long, but pleasant. I was asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle, where I go, what I like to do in my spare time, work and more. I also had to answer some of the same questions I filled out on my original application and medical form. At this time, I mentioned that I am allergic…to animals. *slaps forehead* When K heard this she asked “you understand that you are applying for a dog, right?” Of course I understand. I’m allergic to my cat, and I still got her… I tried to explain that I controlled my allergies generally, but she still recommended that I see an Allergist and wrote that in her report. Dang. More doctors. Did I mention I hate going to any kind of doctor? What is going to an Allergist going to tell me that I don’t know already? Wash your sheets, vacuum, air purifier, I’ve heard it all. Maybe they’ll recommend allergy shots. I’ve always wanted to try those…but, I digress. Oh well, if I have to see another doctor and spend a little to get a new Mercedes, it’s worth it. Although I am still kicking myself for mentioning my allergies to animals, K and I found common ground when I informed her that I am gluten intolerant, and what do you know, she is too! We talked all about living without wheat, alternatives, and I recommended some great places to eat whenever she is in the city.
After the questions about me were over, I was told about the school, how the dogs are raised, and how people get in. The school is located about an hour from the city, and students stay on the premises for the 21 day training period. Training is a bit like boot camp, but everyone has a great time and bonds over the mutual learning process. You don’t pick your own dog. Instead, the guide dog trainers pair you based on temperament and activity levels. The process on how dogs are trained is equally interesting. The school raises 98% black, chocolate, or yellow Labs, with the other 2% being German Shepherds that are spoken for years in advance. There is a special lab where the genetics of the dogs are tested, and the most intelligent and well mannered are picked carefully to be bred. Once these special dogs are born, the are trained in the basics by volunteer puppy raisers, who take the dogs into their houses, socialize them, and teach them to behave. At some point during their puppy life, the dogs are given a temperament test. Only about 50% of the already specially bred dogs are accepted into being trained to be a guide. The other half become police dogs, airport security dogs, or therapeutic dogs for children with Autism. Wow, this is the cream of the crop! Somewhere between the ages of 12-18 months, the dogs are taken back to the school grounds for four months of guide dog training. After that, students are brought to the school and trained with the dog.
Acceptance into the program is determined by a committee and is similar to the process of getting into a desirable college. The committee reviews all the material from the forms submitted, the home interview, and whether or not the applicant is recommended for acceptance by the interviewer, and makes a decision on who is best for the program. Then the wait begins. Right now, the wait is 6-7 months from the time of acceptance, and I don’t even have all my forms in yet.
After being informed of the process, it was my turn to ask some questions. Once my curiosity was satisfied, it was time to hit the pavement. Before going outside, I had to sign a video waiver. Yes folks, I was about to be videotaped for the committee. Oh, boy. We journeyed outside. It had begun to drizzle. At least it’s not snowing, I thought. Locking my door, I turned around. Let the embarrassment begin!
First, I had to introduce myself. Wishing this could’ve been done inside, I swallowed my embarrassment and introduced myself and the ol’ Bob to the committee, and then it was time to walk. I traveled down to the subway entrance, then turned and crossed the thoroughfare that runs past my house, then walked a couple blocks down the other direction, all the time being filmed by K. Now, the real “fun” begins.
To preface this next portion, I live in the busiest part of my neighborhood. My apartment is on the main road through the neighborhood, and perpendicular to that is the busiest shopping district in the area. It had begun to rain harder as I finished walking with Bob. At that time, K told me to put away my stick because it was time to pull out the harness. NOOOOOOOOO! With everything inside me, I wished that this examination and familiarization process could’ve taken place inside, but it wasn’t, and I had to go through this in front of hundreds of folks milling around on foot or in cars. To top it off, we were almost directly across the street from my landlords’s store, and I hoped to goodness I didn’t have to explain this behavior later.
K pulled out the harness, which was void of dog, and had me examine the leash and handle. After I had checked it all out, it was time to go for a walk. I dealt with this uncomfortable situation as I deal with all others, by cracking lots of jokes and laughing through the humiliation. I was instructed on the commands I was to give the nonexistent dog, the name Juno that I was to call the oxygen filling the harness, and the hand motions I was to use. Once this was sorted, we were off. “Juno, forward.” I said, and K pulled the harness along, down the thoroughfare, in front of my daily surroundings. We made it to the curb. “Now, praise the dog,” K instructed. Am I really doing this? I thought as I bent over and pretended to scratch the ears of the nonexistent dog. Now, turn to the right. “Juno, right.” I was led right, then across the road, and then down the street near my house, which just happened to have one of the busiest stores in Brooklyn. And, now it gets more interesting. I have to reprimand the dog. K jerks the harness down “No!” I yell and jerk the leash. I wonder what the passersby are thinking when this woman jerks a harness without a dog filling it downward and the holder of the harness reprimands it? Oh well, nothing I can do about it. The harness jerks again. “No!” This happens about three more times. We rounded the block and eventually made it to the front door of my house, where I had to learn the other way of reprimanding a dog, directly in front of the neighboring business. But, then it was over.
K told me that pending I see an allergist, I would be a great fit for a guide dog and she was going to recommend to the committee that I be accepted. After a hug and a thank you, I went upstairs to dry off and get ready for work.
This was probably one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, but as I look back, I think to myself about the amount of embarrassing things people do on game shows to win $40k, and then I think, this interview was like my non-TV version of a game show. If I end up being accepted, the embarrassment will be worth it anyway.
Here’s hoping I do!