Saskatchewan·Point of View

'Rick was more than a pet': A passerby's impatience cost me my guide dog and my independence

What probably seemed to him like a small mistake caused me and my family a lot of pain and made my life much more difficult.

Rick had to be retired after cyclist ran over his foot

Ashley Nemeth's guide dog Rick was no longer able to do his job after a cyclist ran over his foot. (Ashley Nemeth)

A chance run-in I had with a cyclist showed how much effect a small accident can have. What probably seemed to him like a small mistake caused me and my family a lot of pain and made my life much more difficult.

One evening in the beginning of May, my daughter and I went to the mall to do some shopping, something we had not been able to do before a recent move to Regina from Indian Head. We decided to make a quick stop at Starbucks just down the street. 

As we rounded the corner from the mall, I gave my guide dog Rick the command, "Forward Starbucks." He took off confidently, guiding me toward the coffee shop. 

But when we were only a few feet from the entrance, Rick jumped and yelped. 

A bike had tried to come between him and the wall to get around us. There was not enough room, and the bike hit Rick in the side then ran over his paw. The cyclist yelled, "Oh sorry," and kept going. 

It happened so fast. Little did I know how much those few seconds would change my life. 

Rick's confidence never returned after his paw was run over by a cyclist. (Ashley Nemeth)

'Rick never did recover'

Afterward, Rick would not work and we had a hard time convincing him to move. My 14-year-old daughter guided us to the Starbucks, where we were able to call a friend to come get us. 

Rick was in shock. I got him checked out. Physically he was okay, but emotionally he was not. 

For the next couple of months, I worked for hours with Rick to help him to gain his confidence back. It was hard both emotionally and physically. 

I thought if I worked hard enough and did everything I could, I would be able to continue having Rick guide me. I worked with the school he came from, Guide Dogs for the Blind in California, very closely. The school sent out a trainer to Regina to work with us. We tried everything we could think of. 

Rick never did recover. When I would go downtown, he would be too scared to work. 

His stress level was so high, he would hesitate crossing the street and walk too slowly. He was not able to guide and be as attentive as he needed to be. 

This became a safety concern for both myself and him. I need my guide dog to be focused and he was not able to do that anymore. Rick was always looking behind him and did not trust that he would not get hit again. 

'I felt like I could not breathe'

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, I hung up Ricks harness for the last time. Guide Dogs for the blind came and picked him up on June 28.

When those four paws walked out of my front door, it was like my confidence and independence walked out the door with him. My whole family was in tears. 

Rick was more than a pet, he was part of the family. 

I felt like I could not breathe. The stress and fear that came with him leaving was too much to handle. 

Ashley Nemeth is now working to build up her confidence with a cane. (Ashley Nemeth)

Now I need to learn how to use a cane. I am working with the orientation and mobility specialist at CNIB to help me to get my skills to where they need to be in order for me to be able to travel independently and not feel so anxious when doing it. 

Before I felt like I could take on the world with Rick by my side. Now I am re-learning to live without him. This has been a very hard time for me and my family, as now I need to rely on them a little more to get around. 

Will I get another dog? At this point, I have decided yes. But, I am giving myself some time to grieve the loss of Rick. 

Right now, no dog will ever live up to the standard that Rick set.

'I'm scared'

I will start the application process for a guide dog again, but that can take up to a year. 

The many months until I get matched with another dog will be hard. I prefer to work a guide dog over using a cane because Rick kept me safer and I could navigate more effectively. Now that has been taken away.

I'm scared. 

I am honestly terrified of the first snowflakes that fall, as everything is covered by snow and I can't feel the landmarks that are my navigation points as easily with my cane. Winter navigation with a guide dog is hard enough, doing it with a cane by yourself is sometimes next to impossible.

Aspects of my independence left with Rick. I now have to rely on people again, more than I did before. But most of all I lost a friend, who was always by my side, whom I had built a level of trust for.

There are no words to explain what that was like.

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Ashley Nemeth is a blind mother to three, a blogger, advocate, and employee for CNIB. She works hard to break down the barriers that those with vision loss face.