With a confident stride, Randy took me down the long hall at Rogers Elementary School in College Place.
I had been asked by fourth-grade teacher Carol Cosaert to come talk to the students about being blind. Reaching the classroom, my wife Dorothy knocked and we waited for Mrs. Cosaert to open the door.
The classroom was quiet as we entered and I found my place, choosing to sit in a chair to be more the height of the students than to remain standing.
Randy immediately lay beside my chair and hardly moved as the students quietly filed in, most sitting in a semi circle on the carpet in front of me.
I understood the students had been reading the story about Helen Keller and the teacher told me they were now reading about Buddy, the first Seeing Eye dog that sparked the guide dog revolution. I have talked to other groups of students in the past and I always gain a big blessing from them.
I introduced myself and Randy, now stretched out on the carpet as if he had not a care in the world. I told them a little of my walk with blindness; I explained a little of my training with my guide dog and some of the training that makes a dog into a great guide.
Then I opened it up for questions, and as before I found that fourth-graders do a lot of deep thinking when it comes to asking about blindness. A sampling of questions included:
“Did you train with your guide dog at your own home area or did you train at the guide dog school?” (I trained at the guide dog school in Boring, Ore., but Randy’s training is never really over.)
“How do you find your way in a strange city?” (I need to know just how many blocks it is to my next destination; then while I count blocks, Randy guides me down the sidewalk. It is his job to keep me safe.)
“How old was Randy when you got him and what happens when he can no longer guide you? Will you get to keep him or will he have to go to another place?” (Randy was just under 2 years old when I got him, and when he can no longer work as a guide dog I will keep him as a pet.)
One question I had no real answer for was, “What would you do if you were both blind and also deaf?” I’ve thought a lot about that and I can only say I am thankful I am not also deaf.
The students were quiet, never interrupting one another, and waited for their turn to ask a question. Time flew by and it seemed to me I had just arrived when the teacher said it was time to close the class.
I gave Randy the command to sit and then I removed his harness, holding him by his leash, then told the children they could pet him. Well, teachers and other adults also petted him and he loved it. I am sure more than one student got his face washed by Randy, and though there was much laughter and talking, there was no shoving or pushing.
After about five minutes Randy started leaning towards me, letting me know he was ready to go. Mrs. Cosaert had the students take their seats and I put Randy’s harness on him, fearing he was now so distracted that letting him guide would be difficult.
But still I knew everyone would want to see him at work. Thus, standing up, I bid the class farewell and gave Randy the forward command and then said “door.”
He guided me straight to the door, acting as if we were the only ones in the room. He then guided me down the hall and out the building to our car.
I hope the children learned a little more about blindness; I know I was blessed. This is one task I really enjoy and I look forward to the next opportunity. After all, the more the children learn of blindness, the better they will be as adults when it comes to relating to someone who is blind.
I will add that it is the children who almost always ask before reaching out to pet Randy when we are walking; many adults don’t ask but just start petting him.
Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.