In Feb. 2009, my second guide dog Zorro went back to Seeing Eye to be rematched with another handler. After that, I finished a semester, traveled some, and signed up to go to Urbana, a student global missions meeting in St. Louis starting the day after Christmas. I got Dee, my third guide dog, Nov. 16, 2009. She did an amazing job during our two-week training, better than either of my previous two guides. When applying for and being matched with a guide dog, it can sometimes take up to a year or more till the school finds one for you, so I thought I'd be attending with my cane. After I got Dee, I was a little nervous about how such a new guide would do there. I'd been to conventions with the National Federation of the Blind where 3,000 blind people gather to discuss important issues, but I had never been to a conference with over 20,000 college students.
We started our trip by riding 26 hours on greyhound with 3 bus transfers. I was exhausted by the time we got there, but Dee had boundless energy since she spent most of that time curled up under the seat sleeping. After dropping off my bags at the hotel and meeting one of my roommates, I think we took a local bus to register at the dome center. Travel in unfamiliar places was, and still is to some extent, difficult for me, especially when it is crowded. Dee was hesitant at first, not sure which paths to choose through the sea of people. After a quick dinner, we went to the welcome plenary session. The first event was worship with a live band and vocalists. This stressed Dee out; I could tell because she started continuously licking her paws and the floor. She settled down afterwards during the Native American dances and speeches. After the session ended, I followed some random people outside and asked for help finding the correct bus that went back to my hotel. On the way, Dee had an accident, again because of the stress. I was relieved to reach my room and go to bed, and I prayed the next day would be easier for Dee and me.
We started the next day by oversleeping, quickly running outside to relieve, grabbed granola bars from the buffet, and caught the bus 30 seconds before it pulled out. Since I was hanging out with my roommates, I had people to follow and ask for directions to all of the sessions. This time, and the other four days of the conference, Dee acted as if she guided in crowds every day. From the moment we got off the bus, her ears were forward and her whole butt was wagging. She did excellent obstacle clearance, and I only bumped into one person the whole time when she got distracted by someone with a peanutbutter sandwich.
Besides the week of guide dog training in Portland, I hadn't spent time in a city since 2005, so I wasn't used to that form of travel. All of my time was spent on campus paths or residential streets in my college town. Dee stopped for all of the curbs, traffic checked when necessary, and didn't sniff or eat food from the ground in restaurants or in the grocery store. She was also good during the evening meal when we got in line for the buffet.
By the end of the second day, the music, and people clapping, jumping, and singing didn't bother her, and she napped through the sessions. My roommates and random people commented on what a good dog I had, and I couldn't agree more. She showed me her best on New Year's Eve. We started at 7:30 AM as usual, and we didn't return to the hotel till 1:30 the next morning. We probably walked 4 miles that day between running from one end to the other of the two-block long building, wandering St. Louis looking for lunch and dinner, and stopping at the grocery store for snacks for the road. Dee was so excited as we were exiting the conference at 1 am because everyone was in a good mood, yelling happy new year, singing/jumping up and down, and blowing kazoos. She wiggled her whole body as she guided at a fast pace. At one point I had to have her sit, because she was trying to guide too quickly and was having trouble keeping her traction on the slippery tile floor. When we got back to the hotel, as she did every previous time we returned, she enthusiastically ran to each of us for pets and belly rubs before picking up her kong and running fast circles for two minutes before sighing and flopping down on the floor for a well-deserved few hours of rest.
This is just one of many times we have traveled together. She loved her guiding, played as hard as she worked, and again showed me what it was like to be part of a happy and effective guide dog team.
This is my contribution for The Fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival