Sunday, July 10, 2011

different beginnings

When I was younger, I didn't have a dog or any other pet. We couldn't afford one, but even if we could, my mother said she didn't know how to take care of a dog and she didn't like cats. When I went for my first guide, I was excited and nervous. I couldn't wait to travel differently, but I also had no idea what I was getting into on the journey. When I sat in the room and Jessie brought me Valerie, I put her on leash and brought her back to my room. I remember thinking, OMG, what am I supposed to do; she is bigger than I expected; why is she sniffing me and why doesn't she wag her tail? When we walked, I was surprised how fast we could move. I also never wanted to cry more, especially when we got completely turned around in the middle of an intersection in the pouring rain.
When I got Zorro, I was feeling horrible. Valerie had retired four months earlier, but I had just given her to her new family the day before. I was at peace with that decision, but I was so numb and apathetic; I didn't know it then, but it was the start of my depression. Looking back, I should have waited to get another guide, but I missed the fast-paced, obstacle-avoiding that I had with Valerie during the times she was working well. I really don't remember much from that class, but I know I was very anti-social and I wanted to go home.
When I got Dee, I was in a recovery period of the depression cycle, and I was getting physical therapy, which lessened my back and hip pain for the first time in at least four years. This time, I was anticipating the dog; I went nine months without a guide, and while I was an ok cane user then, I missed the smoothness of walking together down the sidewalk or in a crowd. After the first three days, I knew she was the best dog I've ever had, and I told the trainers so. We had an evaluation at the end of the first week to make sure I felt I had the right dog, since it was only a two-week class. I was feeling wonderful, but I was also anxious. My other two guides didn't work out for me because of Valerie's health issues and my health issues as well as behavioral ones on Zorro's end. I had been rejected from seeing eye, so I was anxious about doing well at Guide Dogs for the Blind because I wanted to show that I was a good handler who could take care of my dog. I was relieved when the trainer and supervisor assured me again and again that I was doing fine, and that I should trust my instincts when working with my dog and not second-guess every decision I needed to make.

my first dog

This is a post I wrote in 2006 about my first guide Valerie.

I love my dog Valerie. The first time I really realized this was when we had our first solo route at Seeing Eye. We'd been there for a week, learning this route on five walks and learning all of the dog skills, forward, left, right, follow the harness handle, feel head turns through the leash, tone of voice for praise vs. correction, ETC. This seems simple in theory, but it was hard. One of my issues the first week was body language, which means a lot to the dog. Jess always told me, point your nose where you want to go and relax your right arm; the dog can feel the tention and will get confused and thinkyou want to turn if you aren't aligned correctly. She also said, nice and steady in the street. As a cane user, you walk as fast as you can to get across, but with a dog, there needs to be reaction time for traffic checks. During these walks, Jess would talk to us the whole time; during the solo, she walked a block back and had no contact with us during the route.
I was sooo nervous because mine was a total solo; Zanda and Cliff got to go in a pair. Now, I can walk and have a conversation or think about other things, classes, stuff I need to do ETC, gbut during that walk, I was totally concentrating on, did i just cross the second street or third and do i turn left after the first block or second. It was one of the first times that I didn't get lost while walking somewhere by myself. We had good street crossings; I was a little worried about that because the trainers would just tell us when to go, so I didn't really listen to traffic while walking with them. Blind people cross the street by listening ot traffic patterns, parallel vs. perpendicular traffic, near lane-far lane, near side of the street-other side, residential-lighted ETC. We made it through dog distraction with correction all the way, and I made it through the set up construction zone with cones I felt like I had been out there for a long time, but it was actually only 29 minutes. We had a bet with Jess; if all four of us finished by 10:30, she had to buy us starbucks, and we finished just after 10. All of us, Zanda, Cliff, Mike, and I were soooooooo happy after that walk!!! Jess said, How do you feel? I was like, I made it; that was awesome!!!!
Another great trip was New York City. It is crazy, lots of people, objects, interesting smells for the dog. We rode to NYC in Seeing Eye vans and walked awhile. We went to the Empire state Building, and that was really cool!! We got to practice going through security with our dogs, and we went up to the 86 floor, where we had an audio tour of the surroundings. Later, we took the subway and went to eat lunch, yay!!! We got to put four dogs and six people in a booth. When the waiter came over, because everyone watched us as we walked in with the dogs, asked, "where did your dogs go?. We laughed, and pointed under the table. Melissa, another trainer, was like, I guess he thought we were going to let them run around the restaurant stealing dood." Our longest part was walking from somewhere in Time Square to where the van was parked. It was amazing to walk through all of the people and objects at fast speed without running into them. I really loved that day, and I can't wait to go back to NYC to work with Valerie and do something fun again.
Then, there is just everyday stuff. I like getting up and seeing a really excited, playful dog. After I get out of bed, the first thing Valerie does is flop on me for a belly rub; then, she runs in a circle and wants to play with me. She is sooooo cute!! I love being able to miss all of the construction, trees, and holes in the sidewalk that you find with a cane. It is nice to just have a dog because I never had pets growing up. She loves my friends and anyone else who comes over to the room, even if they aren't visiting me, LOL. When she stops for me as a car turns quickly in front of us, when she stops at stairs and doesn't go forward till I realize why she stopped, when it is crowded and we walk through it without finding all of the people in it, when there is always a happy tail wag if you just say Valerie in a happy voice, when she gets really excited when we stop at a building she remembers: these are the times when I know that all the work of getting a dog is worth it, and our relationship will only get stronger as the years progress.