by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
It was deep winter when I decided to get a guide dog in 1992, and it was deep winter when I had to retire my third guide dog in 2020. The season of cold and darkness gave me the gift of freedom, and the same season has taken that gift away, at least for a time.
I’d wanted a guide dog since I’d started going places on my own when I was eleven or twelve years old, but actually applying for training at one of the certified schools was nothing more than a vague notion in the back of my mind.
Then I set out one morning with my trusty white cane, which had always served me reasonably well, from the trailer park where I lived. I needed to catch the bus to go to my eight o’clock college class. I’d left early because there were several inches of new snow on the ground to contend with.
Once I made it out of the run-down trailer court with its familiar potholes and rickety chicken wire fences, I found myself in an alien world with no landmarks. There were no sidewalks. No streets. No open fields. All was silent and empty.
It seemed as if I walked forever. My feet and fingers started to tingle, then really hurt; finally they slowly grew so numb I could no longer feel them. At first I tried to travel in the direction I thought would take me to the bus stop. Eventually I just focused on moving till I could keep warm and find another human being who would tell me where I was.
At long last I heard a car pulling up behind me. What bliss!
The door opened, and a man’s voice boomed in the frigid air. “Hey! Do you know you’re in the middle of the street?”
“Yeah. Who else would I be talking to?”
“Uh … no, not so much … there’s no sidewalk.”
“I’m a city police officer. Now that you know, do you think that’s a safe place to be?”
Okay, I was getting annoyed. “There’s no sidewalk. I can’t tell where anything is because of the snow. Can you help me find the bus stop, please?”
“It’s a hundred yards to the north. I could throw a rock and hit it from here.”
“So which way do I need to go? I’m kind of struggling, you know, with the snow covering everything.”
“Turn a little… no, the other way… now step forward, there. You’re on the sidewalk. Keep going. And stay out of the street.”
And with that, the car was gone. The police officer left me in the snow. I was dismayed, to say the least. I had thought he would settle me in his warm car and drive me to the bus stop, or at least get out and walk there with me. But there I was, alone again in the silent, alien world.
I never did make it to the bus stop. A few hours later, thankfully, I found the entrance to the trailer park and staggered home. I took off my wet boots and socks, put on warm clothes, wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a cup of steaming coffee, and called Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Never again would I be stranded alone, and never again would I be at the mercy of those unwilling to help me.
A little more than a year later, in the winter of 1993, I was matched with my sweet, stubborn golden girl, Tova. For the next twenty-seven years, I had faithful guide dogs by my side. The independence they gave me to gracefully navigate college campuses, shopping malls, airports, city buses, and the streets of my home town was priceless. Then, just as the Coronavirus knocked the world off its axis in the winter of 2020, I had to unexpectedly retire my third guide, Anlyn, right before her seventh birthday. My world shrank very quickly, and it wasn’t only because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. For the first time in my adult life, there was no dog in my world.
Once the pandemic is under control, I hope to be matched with another intrepid guide and companion. Based on the rate training is happening at the dog schools and the number of blind people who need dogs, it may be deep winter next year before my new partner enters my life. I’ll be patient. Experience has taught me that some of the best relationships are worth waiting for.
About the Author
Jo Elizabeth Pinto was among the first blind students to integrate the public schools in the 1970’s. In 1992, she received a degree in Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. While teaching students how to use adaptive technology, she earned a second degree in 2004 from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Nonprofit Management. She freelances as an editor and a braille proofreader. As an author, Pinto entertains her readers while giving them food for thought. In her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she draws on personal experience to illustrate that hope is always an action away. Pinto lives in Colorado with her husband, her preteen daughter, and their pets. Visit her website at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.