After nearly 30 years working multiple management jobs for the Toronto Public Library, she wanted her retirement to be a whole new phase. She wanted to get out from behind her desk and travel. She wanted her life to be exciting and busy, and there were so many things she was passionate about that she finally had the time to explore.
Joan Robinson had been legally blind since college and she had used a cane that whole time. But with her new plans, a cane just wouldn't do. At 60, it was finally time for a guide dog.
Helping her make that important decision was a woman she met last year on a department store elevator. The doors were about to close when suddenly a woman rushed on with her guide dog. "I could hear the jingle of the harness so I knew it was a blind person with a guide dog," she said. "She asked me to push the button for the mezzanine but I told her I wasn't sure which one it was." To which the woman joked, "What are you, blind?" They have been fast friends ever since.
The woman, Maya Jonas, and her Guide Dog Holly are graduates of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Watching them work together was all Joan needed to finally make that call. Within months she was on schedule to attend the two-week course at the Oregon campus to get her own dog. We spoke with her while she was half-way through her training.
"I asked for a small, affectionate dog and GDB delivered," she said, beaming with pride as she showed off her new partner, Tallulah, who wiggled with happiness as Joan scratched her ears. "She's very friendly, just 56 pounds, and exactly what I wanted. Very obedient and good-natured, and she knows exactly what she's doing when we are working. Unfortunately, it's taken me quite a while to learn to let her do her job."
"Last night we were on a night run and it was really fun. I was finally at the point where I was letting her lead me. I was letting her make the decisions she has to make. After all, she can see and I can't," she said.
Giving up her cane after all those years has not been easy, but the rewards are worth it. "Traveling with Tallulah is so much more fluid," she said. "I don't have to constantly anticipate what's out there; she is doing that for me. I don't have to worry about veering off this way or that, she takes care of that. In many ways it's a much safer way to travel."
Now, back in Toronto, Tallulah is a busy girl. Joan travels to Paris, to the New York Opera and makes frequent trips to Connecticut, where Joan and her sister look after the family business left to them by their father. Since retirement in January she's a frequent visitor to the local gym. She takes voice lessons and is a member of a community choir. She loves baroque and renaissance music, lunch with friends, and dinner out.
"It's a big, busy city and Tallulah and I aren't spending much time at home," she grinned. Or behind a desk.