Vic Pereira – Seeing the Light
There was no epiphany that prompted Vic Pereira to get a guide dog, no long-suppressed desire to walk with a dog by his side. Generally, he was content to use a cane to help him navigate the world.
“During the years of my life of using a mobility cane, many people insisted the cane allowed us to be more familiar with our environment,” he says. “Whether this is true or not, all I know is that one day while leaving a meeting, I was walking and my cane struck a pole. I adjusted and continued to walk. The next obstacle my cane hit was a fire hydrant.”
It made him wonder: was he better off because his cane had alerted him to these things along this sidewalk? No, he determined. “I then made the decision that knowing about those specific obstacles was not enhancing my life experience in any way, shape, or form.”
That evening, he discussed getting a guide dog with his family. “The children were excited,” he recalls. “They thought getting a dog would be cool. I didn’t have to worry about them thinking the guide dog was a pet, because they quickly grasped the concept that it is a working dog.” In fact, he adds, his children, now 18 and 16, were the ones who stopped people from distracting and petting his guide dog.
A Man on the Move
Pereira, 53, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has been blind since birth, although he is able to perceive light. While many parents sent their blind children to a residential school for blind students, his did not.
The local school district provided teacher who would visit with him to help with such things as having an exam read to him. In junior high and high school, his teachers enlisted fellow students to read the materials he needed. “Sometimes this didn’t work out,” Pereira says, “but when it did, those students became my closest friends.”
Most of his school materials were on audio tape, but when Pereira was in 12th grade, he got a new itinerant teacher who taught him braille. “This helped me get through college and university much better,” he says. He still uses braille when making presentations and teaching classes.
In addition to academic pursuits, Pereira’s teachers, fellow students, and friends also made sure he was included in extracurricular activities. “They were very creative,” he recalls. “I learned how to downhill, cross-country, and water ski,” as well as ice skating and roller skating.
With the confidence gained from these activities, he joined the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind where he competed in wrestling, field, and goal ball. “Those experiences motivated me to become a volunteer with ASRAB to help others experience all the great opportunities that were made available to me,” he says, and infused him with a spirit of volunteerism that continues through today: Pereira volunteers his time to work with a variety of organizations and causes.
But his love of adventure extends beyond organized sports. In his younger days, he shares, Pereira drove cars, go-carts, golf carts, and dirt bikes. On a vacation to Cozumel, he and a friend rented a 28-foot sailboat. The owner came along to describe the instruments and instruct them, and Pereira and his friend each took turns working the sails and handling the tiller.
A love of technology
Pereira began his university days in in the business program at the University of Calgary. However, “I realized it was going to take twice as long as any other student to finish the program,” because the materials he needed were not always available in a timely manner in accessible format.
This prompted a transfer to the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and computer programming and applications development. “I was always interested in technology from an end-user perspective,” he says.
Today, Pereira works in the network operations services and engineering branch for Shared Services Canada, which was created by the Canadian federal government to consolidate and streamline its IT infrastructure.
“I have been fortunate in my career in that there have been lots of variety,” he says. “I have had several opportunities to teach people, work with students, and lead many exciting and innovative projects.”
Although Pereira’s job does not directly entail working with assistive technology for employees with disabilities, his managers have always been supportive when he serves on various committees related to workplace diversity and work/life balance, as well as working with organizations that provide programs and services for people with disabilities.
The difference a guide dog makes
When Pereira decided it was time for a guide dog, he did his research. “After calling some schools, talking to handlers, and performing a lot of research on the Internet, the Guide Dog Foundation rose to the top,” he says.
He liked the different commands and techniques trainers taught, including leash guiding. “This is handy in an office environment. It is not necessary to harness up my dog every time I need to go somewhere away from my desk.”
In addition, he appreciated that the Foundation respected its students’ opinions and personal space, and varied its training depending on the person. “Trainers recognize each dog is as individual as all of us. This plays a very important role in training, especially while on class.”
It was also important that charity watchdogs continually give the Foundation high ratings.
Pereira trained with his first guide dog in 2003, when his children were younger, and found that having a guide dog helped with family outings. “Using a guide dog when the four of us went anywhere made traveling much easier,” he says. He no longer had to worry about where everyone was while also being on the alert for obstacles.
“Another thing I noticed immediately was that I was able to get around much more quickly,” he adds. “A guide dog guides me throughout my environment continuously without the constant stopping and adjusting” that was required when he used his mobility cane.
Pereira also credits his guide dog to improving his level of fitness. “I used to be active in a variety of sports, but as I became older, I discontinued most activities,” he says. Since getting a guide dog, “I am walking more, and I also walk routes where I would have used public transportation or taxis.”
These days, Pereira and his guide dog are anything but inactive. With his guide dog, “it is not uncommon for us to get on six or seven buses in one day to attend meetings, classes, or run errands.”
They go out to lunch frequently, and Pereira jokes that they are known in several restaurants. “After work, I may run a technology learning event at the public library, attend a play or concert with a member of my family. Late in the evening, I will take the two dogs for a walk or just hang around the house or yard.”
Transitioning between guides
In 2010, Pereira decided it was time to retire his first guide dog and apply for his next. He stopped working Hanna when he received his invitation to class to give her time to adjust to retirement. When he returned home with his new guide, he says, “My first challenge was teaching Hanna how to heel on the right-hand side.” (Except in certain circumstances, guide dogs are taught to walk on a handler’s left.) Retired guide dog and new guide dog get along well, he adds, each respecting the other’s space.
Pereira has embraced the “guide dog lifestyle,” and says he would not go back to using a mobility cane. Minor injuries – cuts, bumps, scrapes, and bruises – were commonplace when he used a cane. “Now they are rare if they even happen. And when they do, it is not because I was being guided by a dog from the Foundation.”