Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Path With a Guide Dog

Larry in rocking chair with his arm around yellow Lab Galleon
by Larry Marcum --a tribute to his retired guide Galleon

Two months ago I retired my first Guide Dog Galleon after more than nine incredible years of him guiding me. Since retiring him I have had to go back to using the white cane, which I rarely used since receiving Galleon in January of 2002. Going back to the cane has been frustrating to say the least, but more than anything I have realized that I again feel like a blind man. That may sound strange, but I had not totally realized over the nine years with Galleon that he took so much stress out of my travels, how much he was truly guiding me, how there must have been so many obstacles that he effortlessly took me around that I did not know were there, that I now find with my cane. Now the tired shoulder muscles, headaches, and hunched back have returned. I now realize that while Galleon guided me I was able to walk standing straight up with confidence and being able to forget, at least during the time that we were walking, about my blindness and really allow my other senses to take in and enjoy our surroundings.

Galleon became such a part of me that I now realize how much we became one - a team. Although I always had my left hand holding a harness handle, it became so natural that I did not feel blind while out in public. Over the years we became so attuned to each other, it got to where I rarely needed to give him commands, he just seemed to know where I wanted to go.

Galleon and I flew over 20,000 miles together. On one trip we flew to Washington D.C., where Galleon guided me to stand at the Lincoln Memorial, which was a lifelong dream of mine. Galleon guided me up the steps of our nation’s Capitol, and to stand at the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. As Galleon guided me to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, because of my small tunnel of vision, all that I first saw was a wall just a few inches tall. But as he guided further along, the wall was soon looming way over my head, with so many names on it that boggles the mind. Galleon guided me around the World War II Memorial where I was privileged to see our veterans reminisce together about that war. With my limited vision I got to see the never-ending hills of Arlington Cemetery that hold our freedom fighters of past wars.

We traveled together on planes, trains, buses, taxis, and boats. We walked on beaches, trails, cities and parks. He was at my wedding, several funerals, parties, church and meetings. We won awards together, played in the snow, walked in the rain, and sweated in the heat. He has come and sat at my side when I cried, and danced with me in joyous times. For more than 3,000 nights he has been at my bedside all night, every night, never once getting up and wandering until my feet hit the floor in the morning.

My greatest realization about guide dogs is that a guide dog does more than guide; a guide dog helps a person to live their dreams. Thank you, my Galleon for helping me to live so many of my dreams!

Galleon continues to live with my wife Ida and I, enjoying retirement here at our mountain home, and oh, how he will enjoy the company of my new guide in October! You see, because of so many caring, giving and dedicated people associated with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I am blessed to get to return there September 25th to begin the path with my next Guide Dog.

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