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Dog Or Cane?

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Mike Yale is Chairperson of Huntsville's Advisory Committee for Disabled People. He is co-author of "No Dogs Allowed," and currently lives in Huntsville, Ontario with his wife Doreen and their dog guides.

I stepped across a 3-inch gap, which I felt with the tip of my long white cane, and stepped into a very shaky birdcage type elevator. It was very hot in Rome, I spoke no Italian, but was here to visit a high official at the Communist Party headquarters. I already feared this might not be a useful visit, but since I spoke some Spanish and the Communist official also spoke Spanish, we decided to attempt to have a chat.

I was a wandering graduate student, first time in Europe, and first time traveling without my dog, who had been retired the year before. Another blind friend and I took our canes in hand and spent three months in Europe that summer of 1965. Both being radical students out of Berkeley, where else would you find us sightseeing than at Communist Party headquarters in the fabled city of Seven Hills?

As I tried in vain to find the buttons, let alone figure out which represented the fifth floor, I somehow let loose my grip on my long white cane and it disappeared, like a mouse down a hole, into that 3-inch gap and plummeted, banging and clattering all the way, into some distant subterranean dungeon--or maybe only a basement--all the same to me at that instant.

This is the first difference between traveling with the help of a cane or dog guide. I have never dropped my dog, nor do I think it is possible, down an elevator shaft.

To make a long story short, with really messed up Spanish, gestures, and searches for anyone who might know a few real English words, my cane was returned to me next morning at my hotel. The meeting went off well, and in fact I learned a lot about the Party, which was part of a coalition Italian government at that time, and about their work on behalf of disabled people.

The most obvious point to be made is that whether one uses a dog or a cane is a most personal choice. To travel and live with a dog successfully, one must love the responsibilities of caring for an animal. Not everyone can cope with necessary schedules for feeding, relieving, grooming, and so on. It is onerous, yet rewarding for those of us using a dog. There are also costs related to the proper care of a dog.

When traveling away from home, there are considerations that a cane user never has to consider. While there is legislation protecting the rights of dog guide users in many jurisdictions, the dog handler still must give thought to where to stay; where to walk your dog; and must occasionally cope with refusals and sometimes downright meanness, while in a strange city or faced with inadequate legislative protection.

When traveling outside your own country, therefore, the dog guide user must carefully check these points out in advance. You must find out if there is protective legislation and what it says. You must find a hotel that will accept your dog. If possible, it is helpful to locate relieving areas near your hotel. But of course, this is often difficult to do, especially if you do not speak the local language. The best advice is to ask a friend to has been there before.

For me personally, living in rural Ontario as I do, I much prefer using a dog. The reasons are perhaps somewhat obvious. First, there are often no sidewalks at all, or streets with occasional sidewalks, here and there. Second, when using country roads, few landmarks are available; you know, the kind of cues I mean, the kind of thing a cane loves to help you get around--curbs, posts, mailboxes, and so on. My dog will find her way back to a cottage or hotel, after arriving and being there only once for a few minutes. While with a cane, it would take a few excursions to learn the terrain and find my way home again after a long walk.

Many would argue that if you live in a big city, a cane is preferable. There are many landmarks that a cane enjoys encountering. The terrain is more regular. There are often few relieving areas in a city. There is stress on a dog not to mention exhaust fumes constantly hitting the dog at head level. On the other hand, dog guides have been finely tuned to handle big cities and most are trained there.

I guess the bottom line is that while a cane is often more convenient, can be stood in a corner when not working, my white cane has never licked my face and brought great joy into my life. Canes are fabulous tools; dogs are living sentient beings, needing your time and attention.

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