Junior psychology major Brianna Murray has just one rule before anyone can touch her beloved guide dog, Lacey.
“You can’t pet Lacey when she’s in her harness,” Murray said.
Murray is also quick to explain that Lacey is not a seeing-eye dog because she wasn’t trained at an elite seeing-eye dog school. Lacey went to a guide dog foundation in New York for her training.
“Picking a guide dog school was harder than picking a college,” Murray said. “I applied to five guide dog schools and only one college.”
Now four years old, Lacey spent the first two years of her life with a puppy raiser who taught her basic obedience and exposed her to everyday life. Lacey then went to the guide dog foundation to learn the necessary skills to be a guide dog.
This is where Murray found Lacey. However, it took time for Murray and Lacey to be able to work together. Murray had to meet a few qualifications before she could even consider getting a seeing-eye dog. She had to be at least 18 years old, legally blind, and able to use a cane.
“I was basically overqualified for a dog from the prestigious seeing-eye school,” Murray said.
Senior year of high school, Murray applied for a guide dog through the foundation. It was over a year before she was actually matched with Lacey.
The whole process was “like eHarmony for dogs and people,” Murray said.
Murray had to go through an intense application process including interviews, paperwork, personality research and physical tests. Murray had to prove she could be responsible for a guide dog. After a yearlong process, Murray was accepted into the foundation and spent a month living in New York to train with Lacey.
“It was the most intense but best month of my life,” Murray said.
Murray explains that many people don’t understand how qualified Lacey is to do her job. Lacey went through extensive training in order to assist Murray in everyday life and it is crucial that people don’t interfere with her work.
“It’s not a casual thing,” Murray said. “Dogs can lose their training and then I would have to return her.”
Murray doesn’t mind taking Lacey’s harness off so people can pet her, but anything that distracts Lacey from her duties directly affects Murray too.
Lacey’s job isn’t to chauffer Murray everywhere. Lacey only looks for obstacles and can find some basic things like trash cans and bathrooms. Murray still has to know where she is going and be able to give Lacey the right commands.
“Lacey actually loves the smell of coffee so she can easily find the nearest Starbuck’s,” Murray said.
Murray’s relationship with Lacey is unique. Murray describes Lacey as more than her best friend or family.
“Lacey is a part of me when her harness is on,” Murray said. “We can feel each other.”
Murray plans to keep Lacey as her guide dog for the rest of her college career, including graduate school.
“She’ll always be special to me,” Murray said.