What better way to start your day than being woken up by a cold, wet nose prodding you in the face at 7 a.m.? That’s how my day starts every morning.
Frasier, a burly black lab and golden retriever mix, barrels down the stairs of our apartment and patiently waits at our back door before I can even roll out of bed. He wasn’t up late studying.
After taking him outside, I give him breakfast and get ready for the day. This semester my earliest class is at 10 a.m., so I have plenty of time to enjoy my breakfast and get some work done. Meanwhile, Frasier is enjoying his post-breakfast nap.
As the clock inches closer to 10 a.m., I start putting my shoes on and stuffing what I need for the day in my backpack. Frasier lazily watches me from my bed, with his groggy, half-opened eyes. I head downstairs and he takes a flying leap off my bed and beats me to the kitchen. He watches me as I come down the stairs, his tongue lolling and tail wagging.
Frasier keeps close behind me as I grab a snack or five for class. Then trots up to the front door, his tail wagging faster. He perks up even more when he sees me grab his harness and leash. He is way more excited to go to class than I’ll ever be.
As you can tell, Frasier isn’t just an ordinary pet dog. He is my guide dog. You may have seen us walking around campus. A blonde girl with a miniature bear isn’t hard to miss on our compact campus.
I’ve had Frasier for four years now. I received him the summer before my senior year of high school, which is quite a rarity in the guide dog community.
Now let me back up. The reason I have a guide dog is because I have an eye condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa. This means I have night blindness, no peripheral vision and little depth perception, just to name a few vision issues. I used to travel with a white cane before I got Frasier, which was not the lifestyle for me. I knew going into college I needed a guide dog to match my active lifestyle.
As I said earlier, receiving a guide dog as a high school student isn’t common. This isn’t because of the individual, but because of the other students typically. I had previously attended Leader Dogs for the Blind’s summer camp for blind and visually impaired teenagers and an accelerated orientation and mobility course (traveling with a white cane), so I was quite well-known there. I went to a small high school in rural Door County, where everyone in my graduating class knew about my visual impairment and were very willing to accommodate a guide dog.
I received Frasier on July 8, 2014. I knew from the first walk we took on harness that he was perfect. We trained at Leader Dog’s facility, located in Rochester Hills, Michigan, for 28 days. There we trained at a variety of locations such as shopping malls, college campuses and in a number of downtown environments, such as Detroit and Rochester Hills.
Frasier is quite a smart pupper. He knows the UW-Stevens Point campus extremely well and can take me anywhere. From the door of our apartment I simply say, “Frasier, let’s go to the TNR (Trainer Natural Resources Building),” and he’ll safely guide us down the sidewalk, across streets (including busy Division Street) and to the door of the TNR. From there, I tell him to find the stairs and once we get to our floor, I say our classroom number and he weaves us through the crowded hallway to our classroom and finally maneuvers us through the maze of desks to where we sit.
I can teach Frasier to find anything for me. He will either place his head on or point his nose in the direction of what I’m requesting him to find. Chairs, buttons, store counters and doors are just a few things he can find. Currently, I am training him to certain areas of the grocery store. Once he knows where the produce section is, for example, I can start teaching him where certain fruits and vegetables are located.
Every day is a new experience with Frasier, and there is never a dull moment with him. From snoring or dreaming obnoxiously during a lecture, to crashing me into a terrarium in the TNR so he can observe the lizards, he makes my days a bit more interesting.
So what does it feel like to be the center of attention almost everywhere I go? I’m used to it. I can’t help that I have the cutest dog guiding me around. At first, the stares, whispers and constant distractions from people cooing at Frasier were overwhelming. Over time, it just became a daily occurrence that I don’t really care about anymore. Now it’s just second nature to break a little girl’s heart by saying she can’t pet the cute doggy because he’s working.
I’ve also gotten used to integrating Frasier’s “bathroom” and feeding schedule into my schedule, as well as carrying a number of things he may need throughout the day. I always have bags for poo, dog treats, baby wipes, a collapsible bowl and, occasionally, a dog bone on my person at all times when I’m with Frasier. I’m just a typical dog mom.
Now Frasier may seem calm and collected when he’s working because that’s how he’s trained to behave while on harness. However, take the harness off and he transforms into a wild animal. Frasier loves doing “zoomies,” chasing his tail and, of course, trashing my place with all his toys. He’s a big, lumbering goof when he’s off harness. His powerful tail can break things, and he’s quite clumsy when it comes to bumping his head and running into things. When Frasier isn’t flailing around on his back, obnoxiously squeaking his stuffed puffer fish toy, he is sprawled out on my bed, passed out. He is just a typical dog when he’s off duty.
I could write an entire book about how much Frasier has changed my life. But I’ll try to keep it short and only a little sappy. He has changed my life for the better. Having Frasier by my side gives me the confidence I need to pursue my goals. He has made me a more confident, outgoing and happier person, and I am who I am today because of the doors he’s opened for me.
I don’t have to be scared about leaving my house, because he makes sure I’m safe and watches out for cars and obstacles. I don’t have to spend extra time feeling around for chairs or door handles, because Frasier brings me right to them. Life is simpler with Frasier. The bond between a guide dog team is simply unexplainable because it is so unbelievably strong. I put my life in his paws and he will do anything to make sure I get to where I need to be safely. And for all the diligent work he does for me, all he asks for are treats, cuddles and playtime.
If you see Frasier and I on campus or in the community, feel free to say hello! All I ask is that you don’t pet him unless I give you permission. All service dog handlers are different, so don’t expect to pet every service dog you see. Please be respectful of service dog teams like Frasier and I, and ignore the dog who is doing a vital job and cannot be distracted.