Guide Dog Chronicles IV: Coming Home
I intended to do five initial articles in this series, the arrival, the rules, the people, the staff and coming home. I decided to forego the article about the staff as I’ve spent a lot of time lately working on projects for my day job and preparing for the fall academic semester. Thus, writing a lot of code, dealing with a ton of little things, a bout with depression, having a dental disaster and trying to instigate a revolution of the blind, for the blind and by the blind has kept me away from Blind Confidential lately.
Thus, I will skip an article entirely on the staff at Southeastern. I will, however, point out that, in previous articles in this series, I have referred to the trainers and others who work at Southeastern as a bunch of saints. I wrote a letter to the Pope about Kate and Katie, the two trainers with whom I worked most closely, asking him to sanctify, transmophograte or do whatever Catholics do to officially raise an individual to the level of near deity and, for Darleen, our house mother, I will bring a letter to the Dalai Lama when I visit him later this month to suggest that she might actually be the 98th human incarnation of some great Buddhist from earlier in history. About these three tremendous women, I can only say that they demonstrate personalities that can only come from divine intervention.
Now, to the specific topic of this article, coming home with my dog.
On July 1, my wife Susan drove down to Southeastern and we loaded the X-Dog in the Toyota and drove home. We introduced the dogs to each other and then went to Pet Smart to buy a bunch of stuff, including a fold up kennel for the X-Dog. The instructions we left the school with included keeping your guide dog tethered to you for two full months in order to build a very strong relationship. Thus, unfolding the origami cage turned into a much more interesting experience than I expected. My favorite part occurred when the back wall of the thing came crashing down on my forehead while the dog, leash attached to my ankle, pulled toward a toy.
We didn’t do much else that first day but introduce the guide dog to Baby, our 20 pound Corgie/Yorki mix. After a little apprehension, I can happily report, that the two guys get along terrifically. They share toys and play in the yard together, the big Labrador seemingly cautious and gentle with the much smaller guy.
The following day, we went on our first training walk around the neighborhood. Susan had Baby on a leash and I had X in his harness. It seemed that, overnight, I forgot all of the commands, I lost track of my left and right and the walk turned into a somewhat frustrating stroll about the local streets.
The following day I felt a bit nervous (valium would have helped that pass) but Susan, Baby, the X-Dog and I set out for another walk. I did a better job of keeping my left and right straight and Xcelerator seemed a bit more confident. Thus, the walk went nicely and my confidence grew. Actually, the confidence grew too much.
Day three started with my decision to try a solo walk on the route we took the previous day. This resulted in me getting somewhere and calling Susan on my MSP enabled iPAQ PDA phone for help. She found us and we came home.
Not to be deterred, I tried a few more solo walks. Sometimes, I found my way home. The last of these solo attempts found me walking east on 30 the St. but thinking we were walking south on 9th St., I knew I had lost my coordinates and, once again, called Susan. She drove up and down 9th St. and I walked back and forth 30 Ave, we obviously didn’t find each other. Fortunately, a neighbor asked me if I was lost. “Yes, where am I?”
“You’re on the corner of 30th and Grove,” he said.
Thus, I stood less than a block from my back door. I called Susan and told her of my whereabouts, thanked the kind neighbor and started in the direction of our house.
The following week, Kate, one of the saintly trainers mentioned above, came to my home to help a bit with some additional training. She seemed surprised that I would even attempt a solo walk so soon after getting home. “Nobody told me not to…” I mumbled humbly. “Well, don’t,” she replied.
Kate and I worked a route to our local diner and back. She showed me a number of refinements to my dog skills and, when she returned two weeks later, seemed quite pleased with my progress. Susan and I go to the diner for breakfast pretty often and the X-Dog has grown quite confident with the route.
Kate will return at least once more to help me with a few other problem areas. Xcelerator and I have done a few solo walks and, surprisingly, I find that the extra training and practice has really helped.
Our house, however, now has a patina of dog hair. It seems that no matter how often we brush the dogs or vacuum the rugs, the dogs will have a new layer of hair over them within two hours. It’s a good thing that my allergies don’t include dogs.
As our relationship and bond has grown stronger, both the X-Dog and I have grown much more confident with each other. Our travels go much faster and I’m gradually growing accustom to walking so fast without a safety net.