Betty Edge recently acquired a guide dog. I had the privilege of meeting him on a typical hot Dallas day at Starbucks. His name is Nero and he’s a young and alert yellow Labrador Retriever. He’s Betty’s right arm despite only having owned him for three months. Betty spent four weeks developing their relationship at his guide dog training school in New Jersey. She had never in her life owned a dog. She felt like a fish out of water as she tried to command this large beast to work for her without the use of her sight. But they got through it. He had a set of skills and she learned how to command them from him. At the end of the four weeks they returned home to Dallas.
What I know of guide dogs from working with a short list of them is that in many ways they are just like any of our own dogs. They are distracted by food, other dogs and people. However, they have a very important job to do and so they must learn to ignore the distractions. This became apparent as Nero’s natural inclination toward food kicked in when he saw that I had brought him a gift from my store in exchange for granting me an interview. It is for these reasons Betty works every day to hone Nero’s skills as she walks The Katy Trail and the streets of Highland Park. I commended her for her diligence in working with her dog every day. Betty explained, “This is a commitment that requires discipline. Something I’ve always had”. I wanted to know what Betty’s biggest challenges were regarding Nero maintaining his focus on her.
She told me that in the beginning, once returned home to Dallas, Nero’s desire to socialize with other dogs was an enormous challenge for her as she tried to navigate Nero through the streets. Even more difficult to handle than Nero simply seeing another dog is the folks that would allow their dog to approach Nero on-leash or off. She wasn’t sure how she would overcome this distraction but she persevered until she got the help she needed. After some work with a guide dog trainer who had traveled to Dallas to help her she made tremendous improvements in tempering his reaction to other dogs.
Another challenge she faces is dealing with people that attempt to interact with Nero. She detailed that some people will try to touch him or allow their children to touch him. Others might try to command him and a few might try to take his harness or leash and move him. She tries to politely explain to people who might try to touch him that she doesn’t want him distracted. And for those that might try to command him or move him she asserts that she will be the only person to move or command the dog. However, Betty told me that almost everyone she comes in contact with while out with Nero are nice, friendly and helpful. Some just don’t realize the importance of not distracting a working guide dog. Even as we were leaving Starbucks together a gentleman made kissing noises to Nero which, of course, distracted him from his job but only for a moment. Betty quickly had his focus back on her and off we went.
As we left Starbucks I struggled with my urge to help Betty and Nero make their way but they didn’t need my help. They just needed me to stay out of their way. Nero was focused as he briskly led her west on Knox, a path he led with familiarity. I was impressed as they traversed the curbs and the people with bags of food from nearby restaurants. I said goodbye to the dynamic duo as the two of them marched home with confidence and relative ease. I know that Betty’s world will only expand as she continues to work every day with her companion. I look forward to watching their progress as I see them around town.