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Juno, Heal: Health Benefits and Guide Dogs

The New York Times ran a blog post on
The Healing Power of Dogs
and given my personal experiences with dogs, I thought it was something I would do well to address here. This could get involved, so grab some coffee, soda or whatever it is you prefer to drink and we'll dive in.

First, I should explain something for those who don't have Guide Dogs or who blew past this post's title without envoking their screen reader's spell feature. Juno is the fictitious name used for the fictitious guide dog who helps many of guide dog users learn the basics of guide work. This includes everything from "Sit" to "Forward" to "right" to "No". At
Guide Dogs for the Blind
we spent about two and a half days with Juno before we ever touched the fuzzy softness of our real guides. If you're trying to picture this, it works with the instructor holding an empty guide dog harness and leash at waist level and pulling it to simulate the dog's movementss. After the first five minutes or so, I got used to the fact that I was talking to an instructor like she was a dog and I figured out that I could correct the fake dog without hurting the instructor. Sighted people might find a picture somewhere on the Guide Dogs for the Blind site which shows this, but I don't know where. Now, for those using screen readers, just know that heal wasn't spelled with two e's.

Okay, back to the article. I first need to address the parts that bothered me. Guide Dogs are not "four-legged healthcare workers." The only health benefits I got Julio to provide were the health benefits of having one more way of keeping from ending up flat under a car. He wasn't trained to provide any medical support. One thing that is frequently overlooked is that a lot of us with disabilities don't consider our needs to be medical. Sure, I need help avoiding obstacles, but that's not a medical need perse. Someone who uses a hearing dog probably doesn't consider the need to be notified of sounds to be medical either. This all goes back to that medical model of disability. If you ask me, most of the time I won't even list blindness as a medical condition because I don't feel it is one.

That said, I think this article has some interesting merrits. I really do think the health benefits of having Julio are there. Having Julio helps me with movement (I walk more relaxed with him than with a white cane) Julio provides a barrier near my left side, people can't touch my leg quite so easily with him laying on my left side, and I consider that a benefit. When my pain is bad or my heart is racing, I can reach down and pet him or play with him to distract myself. He takes away a lot of the distress of pain, even though he can't necessarily take away the pain itself. And he provides the reassurance I need to go out there and walk with pride.

I can't say enough about the emotional benefits Julio has provided. When I feel horrible, it's Julio who cuddles with me until I can get past the worst of the pain. It's Julio who keeps me laughing at his anticks and allows me to reep the benefits of laughter. The benefits of having someone to care for are pretty well documented, and I appreciate them. I know I have to get out of bed because Julio needs to go outside and he needs to eat. Even when I don't want to go to class, I know he needs to work and that he's bored. I've often wondered if that inscentive to get up and get moving has helped me do better longer with the RSD. Yes, things aren't going well with my pain, but consider that I've had RSD for five years and am still going to schoool. I'm not sure how common that is, I know that those who do go struggle. I just wonder if I'd be where I am right now without Julio. I honestly don't think I would be here, at school, with a blog and
a book
if Julio weren't here.

Well, it's about 5 PM here and I'm getting hungry. So is Julio. He'll need some food, a trip outside and maybe a walk over to the cafeteria where I can practice upper body strength to keep him from eating off the floor. The last one will wait for tomorrow, but I think it's play time for the puppy.

Questions for you: What of what I just wrote do you agree with? What don't you agree with? What surprised you? Is there something you're wondering about that I didn't address? What are your experiences?

Comments

(Deleted comment)
puppybraille
Jan. 15th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
Yeah, petting a fuzzy puppy or kitten does take stress down. I've never tried this, but it would be interesting to see how petting Julio affected my blood pressure readings if I wanted to use some objective sign.

I think it's cool that you volunteer, I've always secretly wished that I could volunteer at the guide dog school and pet the guide dog puppies.

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