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Interview with Guide Dog Owner: Judi Jasek MAG
Judi Jasek is a blind woman who has a guide dog named Ean. She works for the Catholic Guild for the Blind, an organization that supplies blind people with items unavailable in stores.
How many guide dogs have you had?
Ean is my third guide dog.
How long have you had him?
I've had Ean for six and a half years. He was a year and a half when I got him.
How are the dogs trained?
I got him from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a school that breeds and trains puppies to be guide dogs. They are tested when they're eight weeks old, which 20 percent don't pass, usually because they are afraid of sudden noises.
Those that pass are placed in puppy raiser homes for a year, where they are taught basic obedience, and not to bark. When they are six months old they get a cape that says "Guiding Eyes For the Blind: Guide Dog Puppy in Training. " The trainers have permission to take the dogs into stores and other places to get them used to being in public. During this year of training, the dogs are evaluated monthly. Some do very well and others are dismissed because of problems like being carsick or too wild.
After the year with the puppy raiser, they go back to the school and are evaluated again. If they pass, they go into a five-month training program where professional dog trainers teach them to guide, lead and make traffic judgments and decisions.
The last month of training is when the owner steps in. For a first dog, an owner goes to school for four weeks, for subsequent dogs, three weeks. The whole process takes a year and a half.
How much do the dogs cost, and how valuable are they?
There is no cost to me as the recipient; I am not charged for the school, the airfare to New York, the room and board, or the training. The value of the dog from the time it is bred to when an owner receives him or her is$30, 000.
Can you tell me any interesting stories about Ean?
Ean is a very quiet dog. He instantly felt at home when we moved. He has discovered that in summer he can push the door latch up with his Frisbee and go outside. For a long time he was the only guide dog at my office, but now there is another one. He is very submissive, but has exerted his dominance as top dog in the office.
He is extremely bright. He has incredible route memory. I have a subscription to the Chicago Symphony, and even if I don't go for six months, he still remembers the seats. We go to one of our favorite hotels once a year and try to get the same room every time. When we get there, he goes right to that room.
A lot of people think that with a guide dog you can say 'Take me to the bank!' and he'll lead you there, but it's not true. The dogs are trained to walk in a straight line and not to walk on the grass or check out the neighbor's cat. They are trained to avoid obstacles and to stop at a down curb. I have to give him verbal directions, like "forward" or"right. " He gets me from point A to point B, then I tell him where to go from there. I always have a map inside my head of where I am going.
If there is a problem, he'll disobey my command. For example, if it snows or rains, the alley behind my office floods. Once, we were leaving when it had rained the day before. I forgot about the flooding and told Ean to go right, but he wouldn't. I told him again and he sat down. So, when the light changed he moved across the street and to the side. Then I realized why he wouldn't go through the alley. He tries to avoid things like patches of ice when he can, and slows down in the snow.
Another misconception about guide dogs is that they read traffic lights, which isn't true at all. I am trained to listen for traffic and move with parallel traffic, so I am the one who decides when to cross the street, not Ean.
Before you can get a guide dog, you are trained to listen for that. You have to know where you are and be able to create a map inside your head for the orientation part of the training. You have to be able to use a cane properly before you can get a dog. The trainer at the school says that if you can't use a cane, a guide dog is only a faster way to get lost.
Are there places that won't let you in with your dog?
No, all 50 states have a law that allows guide dogs access to any place that you or I can go, like stores, movie theaters, restaurants, public transportation - anywhere. People are pretty much aware of the law so they don't have a problem with it.
You work for the Catholic Guild for the Blind. What does it do?
It is a private nonprofit organization. We have a consumer product center where blind people can buy items they need but can't find at a regular store, like Braille wall calendars and magnifiers and other things like that. We also have a computer center where we teach people to use computers. We have a tape-lending library with over 500 books, we have seminars and do service presentations, and we have a children's education center and a senior services center. It is a walk-in store, but you have to know we're there. My job is to coordinate the products.
How does Ean's harness work?
When I hold the leash, I control him; when I hold the handle, he controls me. I am supposed to stand so that he is a step in front of me. Guide dogs work for praise not food, so I have to talk constantly to Ean and tell him what a good job he is doing.
What kind of dogs are usually used as guide dogs?
Ninety-five percent of guide dogs are Labradors. Years ago, they used German shepherds, but they're a lot more temperamental than Labradors. All of mine have been Labradors. I have been using guide dogs for 20years.
Is there any other interesting information you have about guide dogs or about your disability?
One interesting thing is that 80 percent of people who are considered blind have some degree of residual sight. Some have light perception, some have shape and shadow perception, some people who are legally blind can even read large print. If your vision is 20/200 or worse, you are legally blind.
Another thing is that when Ean is not working, he's just a dog. He has more toys than my grandson.