Me and My Guide Dog
Divya's guide dog Gus in his working uniform
Our columnist, Divya Babbar, a local 20 year old wheelchair user, introduces us to Gus, her canine assistant
This month I want to introduce you to someone very special to me. His name is Gus and he’s a golden retriever. Now, don’t be fooled, Gus isn’t your average pet. You see, normal pets can play dead, but my dog can open drawers and doors. Cool, huh? And that’s not even the beginning.
Let’s rewind thirteen years, when Gus and I met in the USA where I was living. We were introduced through a non-profit organisation called Canine Assistants which trains dogs to help people in wheelchairs with physical tasks. I was placed in a training programme that lasted 2 weeks with 9 other people and 15 dogs. Each day I worked with a different dog, delivering various commands to see which animal responded best to me.
I met Gus on the fourth day, and he was a complete sweetie who responded to all my commands. However, the next day I met Lindsay, who also responded well - plus, she was a girl. At the age of seven, it seemed important to me to have a girl dog rather then a boy dog because, you know, boys have cooties*.
So I chose to work with Lindsay. We were just beginning our training when, out of nowhere, I heard a loud bark aimed at Lindsay. I turned to see Gus, who was supposed to be working with someone else. He wouldn’t stop growling at Lindsay and inching towards me - a clear sign of possessiveness. And just like that, I had to have him.
Ever since then, Gus has been my partner in crime. He turns lights on and off, picks up objects and delivers them to my lap, carries things for me, and even pulls my wheelchair when I use a manual one. But he is getting on now and, like any veteran, he doesn't work as well as he once did. Some days he doesn't feel like helping me out anymore, but hey, in dog years he's 91, so I'm willing to forgive the grumpy old man in him.
There is however one thing that doesn't change. Not only are guide dogs plain old smart, they are also emotionally intelligent. Gus is a super companion and, if I do leave the house without him, he waits by the door for me to come back. Just like the sprightly pup I met all those years ago, his loyalty and love are unwavering. Gus, you're a champ.
* an imaginary childhood affliction all members of the opposite sex suffer from by default