Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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What's the value of a guide dog anyway?

A couple of articles were posted to the Seeing Eye email list that have prompted me to rant. The articles themselves didn't upset me--they were about uncontrolled pet dogs attacking guide dogs and the need for leash laws. I have no disagreement with this at all.

What bothered me was the discussion of the impact of the attacks and the inclusion of the supposed cost of training a dog. This is a common practice: anytime an article discusses the premature loss of a dog due to someone else's actions or negligence, the training cost is brought in as if that somehow makes a point about how serious the problem is. I've seen figures ranging from $20,000 to $70,000!

I strongly dislike the use of the purse string to make sighted people feel sorry for a blind person who has lost his/her dog! For one thing, these figures are misleading in a number of ways. The schools are going to shell out that much money to train the next dog whether this person gets that dog or someone else gets that dog.

Schools spend a significant amount of money on operating costs that are not directly related to the training of dogs. They are related to keeping the building open, housing graduates during graduate training, providing follow-up services, educating the public about the work of the organization, breeding dogs, fund-raising... I doubt these things can rightly be considered as elements in the cost of training a dog.

Furthermore, the applicant doesn't bear the full cost of the dog's training or even a major portion of the cost. The schools are nonprofit organizations, supported by people's tax dollars. In some cases the applicant pays a reasonable fee for the dog: I paid $150 for my first dog and pay $50 for each subsequent dog. In other cases the applicant pays nothing! It is very misleading to imply that the person has lost something of monetary value. The person certainly has lost something of value, but the value is not monetary at all!

My dog's life and work is not something that I can value in money. I mean no disrespect to the school or to people who donate when I say this. She would not be here without them. But her value to me is in terms of time, confidence, and ease of travel. Perhaps those are things that people who travel easily and never have to take time off for retraining can't relate to, but they're things that I think should stand on their own merits and not be overshadowed by emphasizing the dollar value of a dog's training. I have retired a dog very prematurely. It cost me six to eight years of my life emotionally. It caused me to put everything I was doing on hold while I made arrangements for her placement and my training, went away to training, etc. It is something I will never "get over." Meghan is almost six years old. Dori is eight. Dori should still be working! Meghan is a wonderful dog, but I will always wonder whether our bond has suffered at all and how much stronger it would be if it had not been overshadowed by my grief about Dori. Premature retirement has no closure. It is something I relieve over and over. Even if it becomes less intense, it never really stops impacting me emotionally.

I know I'm not going to change the world. Most of what I'm upset about is journalistic style, and I won't be changing that. But I wish I could.


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