Written By: Lee Hartline

Photo of Lee walking with his guide dog TexBeing independent became a challenge 30 years ago when I became visually and hearing impaired due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). I was unemployed for 20 years because people saw my disability as a risk.  Seven years ago, IFB Solutions hired me as a trainee in the optical lab.  I earned a promotion to lab tech. Then I took advantage of more job training opportunities. I currently work in the Advanced Combat Shirt department as a sewing machine operator where I make products for the U.S. Military. Having a guide dog has been a step closer to living an independent life!

Qualifying For My Guide Dog

It was essential for me to feel independent, so I decided to acquire a specially trained dog to serve as a guide. There are several schools that train the dogs and pair you with the right one. I chose Guiding Eye Dogs in New York.

The first step was to apply to the school of my choice. Once I was accepted, they sent an instructor from the school to evaluate me and make sure I was a good candidate to receive a dog. The following criteria were evaluated:

-Cane skills

-Knowledge of Cardinal directions

-Speed/ stride

-My health/physical shape


Guide Dog Training

Once I qualified to receive a guide dog, I was trained for four weeks. They evaluated where I would be needed the dog. I live in the country and work in the city. The guide dog training school has dogs of different breeds, sizes, and behaviors. They determine which dog best suits you. In my case, I have an 80-pound moderate gait German Shepherd that works with my stride and height. There are hypoallergenic options like poodles.

Benefits of having a Guide Dog

There are a lot of responsibilities that come with having a guide dog like taking the dog to the vet regularly, making sure the vaccinations are up to date and having a feeding routine. There are also many benefits. The guide dog learns to look for doors, walk on sidewalks, stop in front of stairs that go up or down, avoids obstacles, among other things. Your guide dog becomes your eyes. You learn to trust each other. If you interact with a guide dog while it is working, there could be danger involved for the handler.

Tips to Interacting with guide dogs:

-Dogs are fed only by their owner

-Ignore a working Guide dog

-Do not pet the dog without the owner’s permission

-Speak directly to the guide dog handler and not the guide dog

Guide Dogs: Work and Play

-The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that the guide dog is allowed to enter wherever its owner goes. They can also board airplanes and sit in front of their owner without incurring any additional expense. The same applies to parks, taxis, hotels, etc.

-Guide dogs are great companions. When they are not wearing a harness, they can play like any pet. On the other hand, they must behave very well so that their owner does not lose the right to enter any place with their guide dog.

-Guide dogs have a career life just like adults.  Like us, puppies age and their productivity declines. We must be compassionate and give them the opportunity to enjoy being full-time pets.

My first puppy started working when she was two years old and retired after nine years. Then she became the pet of the people who raised her, and I acquired Tex, my current guide dog. I am very satisfied with the work they do and the independence they provide. Thanks to my guide dog Tex, I recommend a guide dog one hundred and ten percent! Having a guide dog by my side has been another step closer to living an independent life!