By: Jim Price
She's never seen a single thing and she wouldn't have it any other way.
What about that morning sunrise? "Sighted people see it, but I hear the birds and other morning sounds. I smell the plants and feel the sun. And yes, we may have to work harder sometimes to get what we want, but that just makes us appreciate it more.
"And if I were sighted, I wouldn't have Braille," she added, her excitement obvious. "I love reading, and there is just something about reading with my fingers that I don't think I would get reading sighted. I'm a writer and I need to write in Braille. And if I were sighted I would miss the partnership of a guide dog. They become part of who you are. Having a dog is very freeing. You walk a lot faster. Even by blind standards I'm a huge klutz and a dog helps keep me from tripping over everything."
As her new partner talked, Valeria sat comfortable but alert at her side, taking in every word. "It's only been a week and half and we are already bonding," said Diaz as she stroked Valeria’s head. "She is the dog I have always wanted. She's conscientious, focused, happy, and she loves to please. When she makes a mistake and I show her how to do it right, she is attentive and she gets it right away. I already feel a strong bond and it gets better every day."
Diaz graduated last winter from California State University, Fullerton, with a major in English and a French minor. She plans to attend graduate school and hopes to become a, "translator of little-known French literature into English, and vice versa. I just love the French language," she gushed, "ever since I was a little girl. I got that from my aunt. More than half the music at our house is in French." Her family is originally from the Dominican Republic. "I grew up speaking English and Spanish but I think I'm more comfortable now speaking French than Spanish."
She lives with her "sisters," two other blind young women to which she has grown very close. To Diaz, being around other blind people comes naturally. "I was really lucky in that I grew up living close to the Braille Institute. My mom was our driver and she took my friends and me to just about every event. She was great. She even learned Braille so she could help me." At the institute, Diaz took part in tap dance, choir, skiing, rock climbing and, "just hanging with my friends."
It was with one of those friends, Christina Jones, who she went with to get her first dog at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. In 2007 she received and trained with yellow female Lab Binny. She said Binny was a wonderful dog but even after five years she never felt the bond she expected. "I was too young to get a dog," she admitted. "It was like going to summer camp – way too much socializing and I wasn't as focused on my dog as I should have been." After the training she let the GDB standards slip and before long her relationship with Binny was more like having a pet.
"Not this time," she vowed. "When we get home, Valeria will not be allowed to play with my roommate's dog, for example." She said that for the first few months Valeria will be allowed little interaction with other dogs and people so they can concentrate on bonding with each other. "I will be the one who feeds her, plays tug with her, works her. When the time is right to loosen up and let her play off-leash, I will."
When she was a child, her family raised a puppy for Guide Dogs of America. “I’ve wanted a guide dog all my life and when it came to picking the right company, I had heard so many good things about GDB that it was an easy decision. They are really good at matching people with just the right dog. And here is living proof,” she grinned, giving Valeria a hug.