By: GDB Graduate Laura Bratton
Can receiving your first guide dog be a life-changing experience? Can receiving your first guide dog have a significant impact on your life? I asked both of these questions and many more when deciding whether a guide dog was right for me. Guide dog users had shared countless stories about how their guide dog changed their life. So was that going to be true for me as well?
At the age of nine I was diagnosed with a retinal disease. Over the next few years I lost most of my sight. As a teenager in high school, I was overwhelmed as I learned to adjust to life without sight. I was also overwhelmed as I thought about the future. I had lost so much confidence and independence as I became blind. When thinking about college, one of the decisions I needed to make was regarding a guide dog. Would I choose to receive a guide dog or would I use a cane? Through much research I decided to receive my first guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. People had shared with me how receiving a guide dog would be life-changing. They shared with me that I would gain back the confidence and independence I had lost. I can honestly say that I doubted what each person said. I knew that a guide dog would be helpful and I knew that I was making the right decision but I never believed that a guide dog would truly change my life. Well, I was wrong! My answer to the first two questions about making the decision to get a guide dog is: Absolutely! Receiving my first guide dog was indeed a life-changing experience and significantly changed my life.
I cannot adequately put into words the powerful experience of receiving my first guide dog and working with her for ten years. The time spent at GDB in class was a wonderful experience. Was it hard and exhausting? Yes! The time was also empowering and energizing as I learned to work with a guide dog. Of course it felt strange at first to walk with a guide dog. Then over the time spent in class I became comfortable and confident. In the years that followed my guide dog, Jira, gave me the ability to safely navigate while I was in college, graduate school, residency, and two years of my career.
In my book, Harnessing Courage, I share the amazing experience of the healing transformation that I received from Jira. I share the ways that she literally gave me the courage to move forward in life. For the gift of confidence and independence Jira gave me I am grateful. For the puppy raisers, staff, and trainers at GDB I am grateful.
Laura Bratton is a United Methodist pastor in South Carolina and founder of Ubi Global LLC. She is the author of Harnessing Courage.