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Winter 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Together We See

By Michael Beukenkamp, Student, Amarillo, Texas

My name is Michael Beukenkamp. I am in the eleventh grade at Amarillo High School. I am seventeen years old and I have a Seeing Eye Dog. His name is Sporty. He is a Golden Retriever/Black Lab cross. He is two years old, weighs seventy-five pounds and is twenty-four inches at the shoulder. Sporty was specially trained to lead me around obstacles in the middle of a sidewalk or a hall or wherever I might be walking. Sporty was born at the Seeing Eye's campus, and stayed there for the first six weeks of his life. After that he went to live with a 4-H family. The 4-H family taught him to do basic things like sit and stay. They also housebroke him. While Sporty was with the 4-H family he went to different social events to get exposure to people and other common noises that he would come in contact within his work. He stayed with the family for about a year and a half.

SportyWhen Sporty was sixteen or seventeen months old he went back to the Seeing Eye's campus and lived in the kennel. He went back there to start learning to be a Seeing Eye dog. He learned to stop at curbs and stairs. He also learned to watch traffic. Another thing he was taught was to watch for overhead obstacles. He went through four months of rigorous training to get to the point he is at now.

During Sporty's fifth month of training, I went to the Seeing Eye to train with him. I stayed at the school for twenty-seven days. I spent all of those days learning as much as I could about Sporty's training and how to take care of him. Sporty stayed with me twenty-four hours a day while I was at the school. I was in charge of feeding and grooming him. While I was there I went on a walk twice a day and went to lectures at night.

Many people have asked me if Sporty is really beneficial to me. Definitely. He gives me a lot of confidence. When we are walking down a sidewalk and we come to a curb, Sporty will stop. I reach out with my foot to see what he stopped for. He also does the same for stairs or rough places in the sidewalk. After I know what he stopped for, I tell him "Forward." He goes over the curb or whatever it might be. Sporty also watches traffic. It is my responsibility to make the first call when it comes to starting across the street. If he doesn't think it is safe he will not go. He might even turn in front of me to stop me. If we are already in the street and someone runs a red light or turns right on red, Sporty will stop, slowdown, speed up or even backup. If I follow what Sporty is telling me, chances are very good that I will be safe. Traffic work is one of the most important things he does. I have full confidence in what Sporty does. I know if he is trying to tell me to move to the side of the sidewalk, there is a reason.

Often, I get asked what a command means that I give to Sporty. "Forward" means to go forward and also to go past the obstacle he stopped for. "Hupup" means move up closer to the obstacle he stopped for. For instance, Sporty might have stopped a foot back from a tree branch, so I say "Sporty, Hupup." Then he moves a little bit closer. "Left," and "Right," basically means go left or right. If I am walking with a group, I can tell Sporty to "Follow." He will follow whomever I am with but just a few feet back. That works well in restaurants when you are being seated. "Rest," means stay. I use that a lot in airports. When I am getting ready to go through security, I put him at sit and tell him to "Rest." I make his leash longer and back through the doorway. Then I call him through. I can also tell him to "Leave it." If there is a dog barking up ahead, I say "Sporty, leave it," and he will not pay attention to it.

Daily life with Sporty is a routine. He gets fed at a certain time. He goes outside at a certain time. He also comes to expect the routine. When I take Sporty outside I tell him "Park time." "Park time" means it is time for him to go to the bathroom. He knows when I give the command that he only has a few minutes. I bring Sporty out four times a day. In the morning I bring him out for park time and feed him three cups of water and two cups of food. In the afternoon it's park time again and only three cups of water. At five o'clock I bring him out and I give Sporty three cups of water and two cups of food. I bring him out again at bedtime and give him three cups of water. Every morning after the first park time I groom Sporty. Grooming makes his coat look better. It also keeps the dog smell down. I use two brushes, a wirehaired brush and a soft brush. I was taught to brush his teeth. There are different flavors of dog toothpaste. I have used chicken and liver flavors. I also bathe Sporty when I think he needs it. One of the most important things I do on a daily basis is obedience. During obedience I make him sit, lay down, rest or stay, and come to me. During obedience I can tell how he is going to listen to me that day. The obedience keeps up with his training.

When you go to the Seeing Eye you go alone. I changed planes in Dallas/Fort Worth and then went to Newark, NJ. I met a limousine company in baggage claim. Then we drove for a half-hour to get to Morristown where the Seeing Eye is located. At the Seeing Eye you have your own room and your own phone. The people are very friendly. You get your dog a few days after you arrive. The instructors try to match you up with the perfect dog that will match your school, work and home situation. I was given Sporty because he calms down fast for school.

New students stay at the Seeing Eye for twenty-seven days. During those days you encounter just about every situation you would come in contact with in your everyday life. In the first half of training you walk preplanned routes. They go from very easy to very hard. You learn how to listen for traffic, how to give commands, how to handle your dog around other dogs, and anything you would need to know about travel with a dog guide.

In the second half of training the Seeing Eye instructors do more specific things for each person. I went to restaurants, department stores, groceries stores, office buildings, rode trains and buses, and walked nature trails. I also went on a day trip into New York City, where we rode the subway. We also walked the streets of Manhattan. The subway was a very good learning experience. The platform was very crowded. There were trains going by on both sides and you had to trust that your dog was not going to lead you off the platform. Sporty would not go close to the ledge.

I have had quite a few experiences in the short time I have had Sporty. A couple of days ago I was out walking around my neighborhood and as I was walking along, I heard another dog come up behind me. Sporty turned to look, and I told him to leave it. Sporty turned back around, and we went on. The other dog kept following me. It even crossed a few streets behind me. It followed me all the way to my house. When I got home I found out it was a big pitbull. Sporty acted like he didn't know it was there.

The law states that service animals can go anywhere the public is able to go. That includes schools, airports, stores of all kinds, restaurants and everywhere else you would go. I carry a book that has all of the laws for the United States and Canada. Canada has the same laws as the United States. Going to other countries can be hard sometimes. England is a good example. If you go there with a guide dog it will have to be quarantined for six months. Australia has one month of quarantine. Hawaii had quarantine, but that was recently abolished.

Getting a dog guide is one of the best choices I have ever made. I was not sure what to expect from having a dog guide. Having always had a family dog, there were some adjustments to make. Dog guides might not be the right choice for everyone, but it is a good advancement in my life. Sporty gives me more independence than I ever thought I would get from him. He and I do things that I never imagined we could do.


From American Council for the Blind Website - http://www.acb.org/resources/guidedogs.html 

A Guide to Guide Dog Schools, 2nd Edition, 1994, by Toni and Ed Eames, is available through the National Library Service in braille or cassette, or for sale for $10 in print or computer disk from:

Disabled on the Go
3376 N. Wishon
Fresno, CA 93704

Guide Dog Users, Inc. is a peer support network and membership organization which promotes acceptance of blind people and their dogs, works for enforcement, expansion and standardization of laws admitting guide dogs into public places, advocates for quality training and follow-up services, publishes a quarterly cassette newsletter called Pawtracks, and has a catalog of items available for sale in braille, large print, cassette and IBM disk.

Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI)

14311 Astrodome Dr.
Silver Spring, MD 20906-2245
Phone: (301) 598-5771 and (888) 858-1008
E-mail: jcsheehan@smart.net 
Website: http://www.gdui.org/ 

From National Federation of the Blind Website - http://www.nfb.org/guidedog.htm 

National Association of Guide Dog Users
National Federation of the Blind President - Suzanne Whalen
9407 Mixon Drive, Apartment 216
Dallas, TX 75220-5004
Phone: (214) 358-5002

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002