I work at a non-profit organization that trains guide dogs for the visually impaired.
As a “puppy Kindergarten manager,” I coordinate with dedicated volunteers and staff members to create a good foundation for our puppies who will grow up to be companions and guides. We expose them to body handling, different surfaces, and different noises in order to prepare them for the world outside the kennel environment. Then, at about 12 weeks old, our puppies go home with volunteer puppy-raisers for just over a year to be exposed to a home setting, learn basic commands, and start visiting airports, grocery stores, restaurants, and anywhere else a person wants to go. At 14 to 16 months old, they return to our facility for formal harness training before they are matched with their “forever human.”
Seven years ago, when I was in college, I met a blind person for the first time. He was a marine who had lost both eyes due to an IED striking his Humvee. He also introduced me to my first guide dog.
It’s interesting to think about those memories now – at the time, I had no idea how to interact with him. Should I offer to help, or would that be rude? He had a guide dog, but what exactly did that mean?
There are more than 21 million American adults with vision loss, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I had ever learned about visual impairments.
So, when I think about how blindness impacts my world now, well… it’s what I’ve made my career out of. I get to do my part helping to create highly trained dogs that will give a visually impaired individual their personal freedom and independence. For some, it will be the first time in their entire life they will be able to walk at night, just because they feel like it. For others, it will be the first time in many years they have been able to grocery shop without their spouse.
I get to meet and hear the stories of the individuals who come to be matched with one of our dogs.
I am proud to tell people what I do for a living – and I’m proud to help educate others.
Andrea Inman works to develop the foundation for puppies who will grow up to become guide dogs for those who are visually impaired at a guide dog school in the United States.