5 years ago today, I arrived in Smithtown, NY to attend team training at the Guide Dog Foundation for guide dog number 2. At that time the Foundation’s traditional program was on campus for 26 days for first time recipients. My first guide dog I had owner trained, so as this was to be my first program trained guide, traditionally I would have needed to attend that month long training. But due to my disabilities and training background, I had been permitted entrance into their Combo Training program. Meaning 14 days on campus and 7 days of at home training after. (1)
Now in their traditional program, clients don’t receive their guide dog match until the 3rd day of training. The 1st few days are spent giving the instructors and trainers a chance to get to know the client, how they walk, their demeanor, their experience level to then match them with an appropriate dog. Since, just like people, all dogs, including guide dogs, are individuals. But, because I arrived for the Combo program which began 5 days after the traditional length program, I got to learn about my match right away. Which I didn’t expect, and was totally amazing.
When my on class trainer, G, picked me up at the ferry dock and we are driving back to the facility campus, I learned I was to receive a male, black lab x golden retriever cross named Tommy. And I was thrilled. I had prepared myself that I would probably be getting a full lab, but a cross was my 1st choice. And a male was even better. I do love my boy dogs. There is always something about when I ask them to do something and they go, “Ok mum absolutely, I’m on it!” that is endearing.
As G is telling me a bit about this dog, he starts to chuckle. Apparently he was amused that this big dog who walked incredibly fast was going to a short little lady from Boston. Tom had been originally assigned to G’s wife (who is also a guide dog trainer with the program) to train, but he had been too fast and big so was switched to G’s string of dogs. G had envisioned Tom being matched with a tall business man with a big long stride. Really, G had envisioned Tom sitting there in the kennel for months waiting for a match because fast people who had a lifestyle that would fit Tom’s weren’t all that common apparently. Instead, Tom had finished training just a few weeks earlier when G came across my application in the files. And he knew we’d be a perfect match (2).
He was right.
5 years later, Tom and I are still going strong. From the moment he came into my life at age 19 months to now, he has been the most perfect guide dog I could ever imagine. He has impeccable house manners, his social skills are fantastic, he is as bomb proof as they come. I trust this dog daily with my life. He has traveled all over with me, he curls up nicely under an airplane seat, and he thrives on trips into the city. He can find the ladies room anywhere. He’s adjusted to the changes in our life, routine, dogs coming in an out, getting married, house construction, changes to our walking routes, my health, and so much more.
Tom is so good, he sometimes gets taken for granted. Which is easy to happen with others are demanding more attention or feedback, and there is quiet old soul Tom going, “OK I can see you are kind of busy, it’s ok, you can do this with me later…” but not today. Today is a day dedicated to Tommy Tomato Dog. The best guide dog I could ever dream of. Thank you for being my dog Thomas and thank you to the Foundation for such a perfect match.
- The Foundation has since revamped all of their programs and the standard team training program is now 10-14 days.
- Since for a short little lady from Boston, I do indeed walk very fast.