When I mistook my sweatshirt for our pet dog, I knew it was time to get my vision checked. A visit to the ophthalmologist's office confirmed my fears—I was losing my vision. I was devastated. I would not know until much later, that the worst day of my life would one day lead to the best—the day I met my Guide Dog, Marlette.
On a Friday evening in July, 2002, I told my husband that I was going to resign from my job. He very casually said, "Why don't you get a Guide Dog? You know how much you love dogs. Just think how cool it would be to take your dog with you everywhere".
The idea of getting a Guide Dog gave me something very special and exciting to look forward to. Since my vision appeared to be declining rapidly, I had intense fear that I would go totally blind and not be prepared to cope with it. I felt that it was important to take the time to find the resources that I needed to teach me how to deal with being severely visually impaired.
Adapting to blindness requires learning different ways of doing things. I learned to do daily tasks and use a white cane by going to an independent living center in our community. Getting familiar with my home area by traveling independently with my cane prepared me for getting a Guide Dog.
But nothing really prepared me for the joy that is part of the package that came with Marlette, my 65 pound yellow Labrador retriever. In guide dog school, I asked the instructors for a light colored dog and a dog with a pretty face. I am lucky that I have maintained some peripheral vision, so I wanted to be able to "sort of" see my dog's face in the sunlight. I was anxiously waiting, sitting on the couch in the instructor's office when they presented Marlette to me. She pranced out, full of energy, jumping up and down in excitement like a puppy.
Little did I know that Marlette would provide me with newly gained confidence, freedom, independence and be an indescribable companion. I call her my "human" dog. Where I go, Marlette goes.
Steve and I are amazed at how well she travels in shopping areas, airports and other crowded places. He cannot maintain our pace so Marlette and I usually go ahead of him. She takes off and "parts the waters" and finds an opening in the crowd to get me to where I need to go. Interestingly, although I am giving her the directions, she exudes a personality that says "I'm in charge now. This is fun and what I was bred to do."
During our years together, Steve, Marlette and I have stayed very busy. We've attended about six weddings, a funeral, went to the beach numerous times and had two trips to Mexico. We also visit "Camp Sunshine" every year. This is a camp for kids with cancer where we have volunteered our time for many years. At the camp, they present "friendship" bracelets to the visitors, so now, Marlette has three bracelets attached to her harness. They make her look more feminine.
Today, it's off to the mall to shop and have lunch with one of our special friends. Having Marlette with me for any type of shopping is a huge advantage. How can I say it, except to say, I get better service. Sales people usually approach me to ask about my Guide Dog. Needless to say, my interaction with the public is much more positive and interesting.
Steve and I have taught a martial arts program for over 16 years as a hobby. One might ask, how can an extremely visually impaired lady practice martial arts? My answer would be: very carefully. As you may know, martial arts is a contact sport, so the first time Marlette saw me clad in full sparring gear, she seemed a bit uncomfortable. Of course, I worked on desensitizing her to seeing me in this situation by reassuring her with petting and kibble, which is a treat to her. Now, she snoozes during the classes and waits until the end of class so she can be petted.
As you may be able to tell, Marlette and I are very active together. We enjoy our daily walks in the neighborhood. To us there is nothing as invigorating as a great workout. However, we also enjoy some quiet days at home.
When I first learned I was losing my sight, Steve said to me, "Honey, you've been given lemons and now we need to make lemonade. You're going to love having a dog with you all of the time." We sure have!
At night, as I hear Marlette gently snoring beside my bed, I feel very comforted. When I reach down to pet her, she'll contentedly groan and roll over for me to rub her tummy. I lie there thinking how lucky I am to have her and to have found an organization like Guide Dogs for the Blind. They have provided us with a very special friend!