"For we walk by faith, not by sight."
That idea became real to me on Monday, when I visited Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Oregon (guidedogs.com). My eyes covered by a mask, I waited to receive my dog. Finally, I heard the instructor come out. Something brushed against my knee. My new dog.
"Pat her head," M. said.
I bent down and patted- truly blindly – and after a second realized I was patting Ida's hind end. I moved up to her head. M. handed me the harness and talked me through putting it on. When I slipped it over Ida's head, I was afraid I would hurt her. When M. had me fasten the harness on by looping a chain between her legs and into a D ring, I was afraid I would hurt her. As soon as we started walking, I was afraid I was going to be the one who got hurt.
Ida was raring to go. She pulled me along. For the first few minutes I could not get past the feeling that I was going to run smack into a telephone pole. I knew it wasn't logical, but I kept flinching, kept feeling that reflex that will sometimes stop you in the split second before you hurt yourself.
Earlier, I had watched the real blind people (one of whom probably got Ida two days after she walked me) practicing with their instructors. For the first two days, the instructors play the part of the dogs. They crouch or kneel, with a sheep fleece wrapped around their arm, wearing the harness over that. The third day is "dog day." Each blind person spends 28 days learning how to be a guide dog owner.
With M. talking to me steadily and calmly, alternately praising me and praising Ida and telling me to praise Ida, I finally got past my fear. To me, it seemed we walked swiftly. Later, M. said I did "above average."
It was the kind of experience I never could have gotten from reading books, surfing the Internet, or talking to people (although I am also doing all three). I'm just lucky enough to have a guide dog school 30 miles away.
Was it overkill-since my character will not have her dog with her for the course of my book? No, for a couple of reasons. One is that the bond between a blind person and their dog is vital to them. My character will think a lot about her dog even when they are separated. Another is that my blind character will bond with a junk yard dog after she has been kidnapped (an idea that the lovely M. had lots of good tips on). And the third is that I got to meet blind people, watch them, talked to them, and talk to M., who is a huge mystery fan and who has worked around blind people for 20 years.
Even though this will be something like my 8th book, I still felt kind of like a fraud doing the research. I felt like I was pulling something over on these people to get them to spend half a day with me. It's funny that the self-doubt never really ends.