Blind since birth, he was an accomplished cane traveler and proud of it. At 30, college was behind him, he had a great government job, and his loving wife was expecting his second son. Life was good.
He was still in a bit of shock by the time he made it home that night. Some jerk had blown a stop sign and the near-miss had him rattled. Bob Bosken's wife could tell something was wrong. "Once I told her what had happened, she was adamant," he remembered. "She said she knew I was really great with a cane but it was time. 'It's not just you anymore,' she said. ' It's also me, and our kids, too. I would really like you to look into getting a guide dog.'"
That was nine years ago and Bosken was recently back at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to get his second dog, male Yellow Lab Perez. As Bosken told his story, Perez took only a few seconds to fall fast asleep on the pad next to his chair. "I really, really like this guy," he grinned. "He's fun, really good on routes, learns really fast. He's amazing at finding curbs - he's dead on just about 100 percent of the time."
That first dog, Lab/Golden Cross Pastel, was back at the family home in Columbus, Ohio, where she was patiently waiting to meet her new roommate. Also waiting were Bosken's two boys and their mother. He had already sent photos of Perez and even posted some on Facebook. "I'm sure the boys don't remember not having a guide dog around," he said. "When we are out in public they are the first ones to enforce the rules, telling strangers they have to ask permission before petting the dog." And the boys know they will have to treat this new dog differently until Dad gets him totally focused on himself and work. "Once I know I can get him refocused quickly, I can loosen up a bit."
Helping with that focus are the newest training methods at GDB. "Sure, these dogs get distracted sometimes," explained Bosken. "But GDB has come up with some interesting techniques to get them refocused quickly. And the new food reward is really cool for the dog and the handler. Everyone wants to treat their dog once in a while and now I have, right here on my hip, a perfectly acceptable system to do that. It's not going to make him heavy, and it's going to make him respond to me much quicker than without it. A lot of this is about trusting your dog and I can already tell, after just 10 days, that I am feeling more of a connection than I did with Pastel after five or six months. That's a really good feeling."
As a youngster, Bosken's parents fought to have him mainstreamed, as opposed to finding him a school for the blind. "They reasoned that I was going to have to adapt to the world, the world wasn't going to adapt to me," he said. He was the first child who was blind in Hamilton County schools.
Back home, Bosken has adapted well, successful at his management job at the Social Security Administration. He analyzes accessibility of such things as SSA websites and other programs, for both employees and the public. He also does management analyses, creating, for example, supplemental training plans for various positions, and even working on a union contract.
"I don't mean to dis cane travel," summed up Bosken. "But a dog is so much more freeing. You don't have to concentrate on every little bit of sensory feedback to get yourself home safely. You have to concentrate on the dog, but you also can focus on your other senses. I find I can think more clearly when I can hear the birds singing or smell the air on a crisp morning. I really enjoy traveling with a dog."
With a low "let's go," Perez was instantly wide awake and on his feet, ready to head out into the crisp morning air.