Eight Things I Will Miss About Being A Full-Time White Cane User

I admit it. Me and the white stick have a bit of a rough history. Stories of losing them in rivers and storm drains aside, the canes of my youth were mostly abused in the fact that they were neglected.  I did not often use it as a child and teenager, and when I did it was only in preparation for getting a guide dog as soon as I turned 16. I hated the cane in those days… in fact, I can honestly say I had a healthy disdain for it until quite recently. Throughout my college years, I grew to accept my cane as a useful piece of equipment, but it was still one that I preferred never to use unless forced by circumstance.

Over the last several months though, since I essentially hung up the harness in the spring, my grudging respect for my cane has developed into an all out appreciation, even love.  Yes, I know. People who know me will be falling on the floor in shock at this, but there are things I will actually miss about being a full time white cane user.  Here are a few of them.

1. Sprinting everywhere I go

As a cane user, I get to choose exactly how fast I walk and the fashion in which I walk. I don’t need to worry about paws being stepped on or convince my guide dog that it is more fun to run everywhere. I love being able to grab my cane and take off at high speeds, all while hopping, skipping, dancing, and generally doing something relatively” productive with my sometimes excessive amounts of energy. If you are concerned that this is not safe you are probably correct and will be happy to know that I am picking up the harness handle again in one day’s time. (although when I get that urge to burn off some Shea craziness, the cane is coming out)

2. My Cane Doesn’t Get Distracted

Guide dogs are amazing creatures, but at the end of the day, they are dogs, and they sometimes get sidetracked on the job (squirrel!). My cane, on the other hand, never barks at dogs, lunges after a cat, or goes for food on the ground, and I’ve gotta say, that makes a walk in the park much more like a walk in the park, and less like a rollercoaster ride.

3. My Cane is A Cheap Date

I don’t have to feed, groom, pick-up after, buy toys for, or pay the medical expenses of my cane.  Of course, I am absolutely willing and love to do those things for my guide dog, because it is the least I can do to repay her for the work and affection she gives me, but it *has* been an inexpensive several weeks.  Thanks cane.

4. No dog hair

Man I love having a guide dog, and I love having a dog in general, but it is awfully nice not to have to constantly lint roll and swiffer every inch of my existence to keep myself and my living space looking presentable… my clothes will be covered in yellow or black hair again in a matter of days though, so I obviously don’t care all *THAT* much.

5. No Muddy Paws

My dog goes everywhere with me in all sorts of weather and all sorts of environments… that means muddy paws in wet weather, and paws full of cement dust when we walk through construction sites… neither of which I love when tracked into my apartment.  Easily solved with a damp towel at the door, but not something I have to fool with at all with my cane.

6. Not having to worry about being denied from restaurants and ubers because of my guide dog

Our society has made a great deal of progress with public access for guide and service dog users, but it is still not uncommon for me to experience discrimination because of the presence of my guide dog. That, for me, is not something that outweighs the benefits of having a guide, but it is nice to travel without that worry in the back of my mind. No one is going to stop me from entering a business or Lyft with the proclamation that “no white canes” are allowed, or that they are “deathly afraid” of white canes… at least, it hasn’t happened to me yet.

7. If My Cane Get’s Stepped On, It’s Okay

Public transit, restaurants, concerts, church services, crowded, narrow spaces often mean that paws, tail, and nose are in danger of being stepped on.  Fortunately this only happened a couple of times to Oleta, mostly her paws, but the only reason it didn’t happen more often than that was because I was always hovering over her with my feet and sometimes hands strategically placed to guard her from harm.  My cane doesn’t have nerve endings, so as long as it doesn’t get actually snapped in half, we’re good.

8. Hitting things

Honestly, it’s kind of satisfying to hit things with a 58 inch pole all day.  The tapping and occasional clanging of a cane used to bother me a great deal, but I’ve learned to embrace the aggression and the noise, and sometimes be a bit more noisy and aggressive than strictly necessary, just because:

A. it’s fun,

B. I was a music major and find different sounds interesting, and

C. It makes a particular person in my life really mad, which is hilarious. 🙂

Good news is I don’t have to kiss every one of these things goodbye forever on Wednesday.  The cane, like the dog guide, is a tool in a tool box, and if I feel the need to hang up the harness for a few hours and pick up the cane, I get to do that, and I am glad I appreciate that option now.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 1

So, let’s start with the basics.  I am blind, and as a blind person, I use a cane, but I, for many reasons, choose to live my life with a guide dog in addition to having the option of my white cane.

If you are curious about some of my reasons for choosing to be a guide dog user, see

this post.

A guide dog is a live animal.  They are not machines.  They go through two years of training before ever laying eyes on their blind partner, and then 2 weeks to a month of training with their human.  At Guiding Eyes, the standard training program is 21 days.  During this period of time, the student learns verbal commands, hand signals, and training techniques in order to work effectively with their trained dog.  The dog and human both have to become familiar with one another’s body language, and learn how to work with one another in a variety of different environments, including indoor and outdoor, urban, suburban, and rural areas, as well as public transit.  This is what I will be doing for the next 21 days at the Guiding Eyes campus in Yorktown Heights, New York.

So, without further introduction, (drumroll please!) I have arrived in New York!  The trip to and through the airport was a breeze.  Our flight went incredibly quickly, as we arrived 30 minutes early.  I met two Guiding Eyes staff near baggage claim and met some of my classmates as they arrived.  As we waited and later as we traveled to guiding eyes in the vans, we chatted about our guide dog experiences, blindness, canes, and our home lives.  It’s funny how an experience like this draws a group of people together so quickly.  My classmates are already teasing me for being hyper, giggly, and speedy.  I even had someone tell me they could hear my southern accent, which surprises me since I did not think Tennessee had affected my accent at all.  We have representatives in our class of 13 students from at least 8 states, according to my research thus far.

When we arrived to campus, we found our rooms and met our instructors.  We have three instructors, as well as a class supervisor (who happens to be the same person that trained Oleta and myself in 2011), a special needs instructor, and two instructor assistants.  The last time I came, there were only two main instructors, a class supervisor, a special needs instructor, and one instructor assistant, so the trainer to student ratio has improved.

I first went to lunch, because I was starving, and got to see and converse with some people I remember from July 2011.  I took the 30 minutes or so after that to explore my room.  There is an empty crate, hooks on the door for a harness, and a container with dog food, two bowls, a measuring cup, and a bone.  There will be a puppy after all!  I cannot believe it!

At 3:00 Pm, we had building orientation, followed by dinner at 5:15 and evening lecture.  The building has changed a bit since I was last here, but I was happy to find the baby grand piano still in it’s corner in Alumni Hall.  That, I think, will be the way I distract myself from the waiting Tuesday evening.  Lecture covered GEB expectations for student conduct, the general daily schedule and other house keeping info, and equipment.  We received orientation to the harness, martingale collar, training collar, and leash.  I will explain equipment for y’all more in detail in another post.  We also received our very own new leashes!  They are shiny and much stiffer even than I remember.  Soon I will be clipping that leash to an actual real live dog!!!  I wonder who it will be!