Sandra feels it takes her longer to trust a dog because of the accident, even though she knows it was not the dog's fault. Today she applauds Avalon's guide work and "excellent memory"—"the second time, she's got it." She says that Avalon is very sound, a good match. "I can also trust her when I leave her—I can come home to a house that is not torn apart."
When there is an obstacle in Sandra's path, the dog stops her. She then tells Avalon to "hup up" and the dog brings her slowly toward the object so she can identify it. This, too, helps her feel secure. "I don't worry going to an unfamiliar area with her." Which is clear in Sandra's practice of taking different routes home from work. "I take the bus halfway and walk the rest of it. One day I got off the bus and heard jackhammers up ahead. But I went up to the intersection; I stayed there until a supervisor told them to stop and said, 'You can cross.' I didn't know if there were holes in the street, but I knew Avalon would do her job."
Brian Moore, who works for a computer company in Toronto, also got one of the A-litter. Five months after he received his guide, Arizona, the dog walked him down the aisle of a church at his wedding. Brian's fiancée's guide dog, Rory, walked her down the aisle. Living with two guide dogs requires one accommodation, Brian told me—he and his wife, Melanie, need to let the dogs take turns guiding. "They're a bit competitive," Brian said. "Arizona wants to lead all the time." The 70-pound guide dog often flies with Brian on business, sleeping at his feet on the plane. And he accompanied Brian to the musical We Will Rock You. "Had I known it would be that loud, I wouldn't have brought him," Brian said. "But he was fine." In October, Brian and Arizona will participate in the annual Guiding Eyes Walkathon in New York to raise money for the guide dog training school. It will be Arizona's first time, Brian's seventh.
I asked Sandra Furtado how she and Avalon unwind after a day at the hospital. "At the beginning, I'd find one of her toys and say, 'You performed an autopsy on this one too.' Now she actually plays with them. I bought her a toy with legs and red horns. I say, 'Go get the devil!' and when she brings it, I tap her on the nose and sing 'Devil with a Red Dress On.'"
I was happy to hear that these noble dogs get time to be silly. Their mother, my Wanita, is deeply silly. For Halloween, she went trick-or-treating as a slice of pizza (made of foam, acquired on eBay). She reveled in it. I asked her how she could be such a good mother when she was so very silly.
"You'll just have to trust me on this," she seemed to say.
The cost of preparing a dog for guide work is about $45,000, yet there is no charge to the people who receive them. Donations may be made at GuidingEyes.org.