Last Friday I received a visit from a Viking. As far as I could tell he was pretty well behaved – no reports of pillaging or plundering amongst my colleagues at work. In fact, the nearest we came to a crime that day was my own brief consideration of kidnapping said Viking and keeping him for myself. That’s because he is a handsome, six-year old guide dog who came, with his owner, to show me some new I.T. equipment. However, I reckoned it may have been a tad suspicious, me turning up with a new dog on the same day as a blind visitor is found unconscious at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Of course, I could have claimed diminished responsibility. After all, I had only the previous day, spoken with the Guide Dogs Association and been told that they still haven’t found a dog for me. Now, I understand that they have to go through a careful matching process to make sure you get a compatible dog, but you’d think they would have realised by now that such a clever, gorgeous, hard-working mutt might be hard to find, and they may have to lower their sights a little.
It’s over a year now since my last dog, Ellis, took ill and as previous postings have illustrated, a long cane is a very poor substitute. Apart from being a well-trained rudder (not to mention a little engine when it comes to steep hills, I admit), my previous two dogs have had other top-pooch qualities which I had not anticipated. Perhaps the biggest of these is the social appeal that only dogs seem able to generate. People young and old adore guide dogs and that has a big effect on how they interact with me. Before owning Glen I used a white cane, which did have certain advantages – it didn’t eat as much as a dog, and subsequently crapped less, but in some ways I may as well have had a sign on my head saying ‘Leper – Kiss Me Quick’. It could be that people just weren’t sure what my cane was – was I about to do a Fred Astaire routine or beat them over the head with it? A dog, on the other paw, is like a social magnet, pulling people into his path. Once they’ve made contact with him, most people notice that he’s brought his ugly friend along, and feel duty bound to offer a courteous social nicety. It’s nice not to be the main focus of attention – the guide dog is the distracting third party who makes it easy to start a conversation – “He’s gorgeous isn’t he” or “How long have you had him?” And of course, particularly important to the male VIP is the guide dog’s pulling power when it comes to the ladies. Not only does he attract them better than your best aftershave, but also offers endless opportunities for outrageous flirting...I mean, who can resist when a woman comes up and asks if she can have a stroke...there’s only one answer isn’t there?
This attention, however, does have its downsides. At 6’4” I’m not the sort to blend into a crowd, but even less so with a guide dog. So slipping out incognito is virtually impossible, and my wife often receives reports of where I’ve been seen (This puts a dampener on the afore-mentioned flirting). It also means that on trips to public places, especially attractions designed for children, you do end up feeling rather like part of the attraction yourself – stand still too long and a queue of kids forms.
A guide dog takes a fair bit of looking after too –exercise, grooming, feeding and the obligatory picking up of jobbies are all additional chores to fit in around raising a career and holding down two kids. And of course, some of their habits leave a little to be desired. Glen was prone to suffering from irritable anal glands, and got some light relief from dragging them along the office floor, or the living room carpet. Suffice to say he was a dog who left his mark.