Yesterday (2012.10.13) I was the sole hack in the room for the Guide Dog Users of Canada annual conference. The penthouse ballroom of a second-rate hotel with no discernible wheelchair entrance played host to the whole shebang, save for group outings to Sambuca’s and Hair of the Dog (!) on Church St. (With about 23 hounds in attendance, first of all that was more customers than Sambuca’s has ever seen before, and second of all that’s a lot of dogs inside Hair of the Dog.)
It was a reminder that, at blind events, you can easily seat everyone at circular tables without the slightest inconvenience – nobody will be craning their necks to watch whoever’s at the podium. There were other reminders, as of how easy it is to spot lifelong blinks just by body language, posture, facial expression or lack of it, and ticcing.
I was there only for the presentation on GPS apps and gadgets that elite blinks use to get around town. Then again, broadly speaking it is only elite blinks who have guide dogs. (And jobs. And iPhones, of which I saw four, along with a single iPad and two Braille displays.) Now, at this point a black Labrador guide dog is coin of the realm. Seen one black-Lab guide dog, you’ve seen ’em all. (Except for that one lovely specimen with the glossy short coat.) Instead, I chatted up the owners of the two exceptional hounds in the group.
Fergus the flat-coated retriever. I have some kind of mental block about the name of this variety. The owner and a dog trainer recited it to my face four times and I still had to jot it down. (I had to double-check it just now.) They’re an uncommon breed for guide-dog use. Unlike poodles, which are often assigned to owners who are allergic to dog fur, flat-coated retrievers’ flat coats are of no particular advantage. They’re high-energy dogs who suit similar owners. Fergus is a mere 16 months old and indeed has a lot of verve. But, in perfect guide-dog style, he never once acknowledged my presence.
Dobry the German shepherd. In another era, practically all guide dogs were German shepherds. This is one dog I liked on sight, and not just because of his unusual colouration. The owner insists on shepherds because Labs are “too playful.” German shepherds enjoy having a mission and, it was implied, basically can’t function without one. They have unbeatable focus and they’re workaholics: Dobry “roams the house” when he’s off duty. Three years old. He’s from Leader Dog in Michigan.
Dobry sort of looked up at me in that heart-rending way dogs have. To that point I liked only dachshunds.
I wanted to drop in on the hounds and their masters at Hair of the Dog but basically couldn’t get my act together. Maybe next year.