PS

For some reason, my last post was cut off, so if you get these by email, you probably missed the end. I went back and edited the post, so if you go on the website you can read the whole thing. Sorry for the inconvenience. Not sure what happened there.

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See you Soon, Sweet Sashy!

It is said that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Unfortunately, animals come into your life for not long enough. I have struggled to write about this for weeks, and am finally sitting down to finish and post this. I thought it would be best to start with the email I wrote to my coworkers my first day back, as it summarizes things nicely. After that, I will share in more detail about the experience. Feel free to read as little or as much as you’d like.

From: Judy Mathews
Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2017 11:42 AM
Subject: Sachet

Good morning,

Many of you knew my retired guide dog, Sachet, as she was an honorary LCF staff member for almost nine years. I wanted you to know that she passed peacefully over the rainbow bridge on Saturday afternoon (July 1st). She had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in her back left leg. It all happened pretty quickly. When I saw her on Friday, she was in a lot of pain and could not support her weight at all so had to be carried outside to relieve. Both my parents and I were in agreement that it was the right decision, but as we all know, it does not make it any easier. For almost nine years, she was such a part of me, my faithful companion and guide, and as I have said many times, she gave me new wings. With her, I experienced for the first time the freedom of walking with a guide dog. I learned how to be a supportive and effective handler, and how to trust her to guide me safely. Once she retired from being a guide dog, she became a therapy dog for my parents, unofficially but undoubtedly so. I will miss her terribly, but she was their constant companion for the last three years, so it will be especially hard on them. I know the house will be very empty without her.

We are comforted that she is no longer in pain, and as her puppy raiser reminded me, she is probably up in heaven arranging a beanbag just the way she wants it. It would have been stressful and traumatic for her to have to be taken anywhere, so being able to have it happen at home, in her own bed, was the last gift we could give her. We spent lots of time with her, which if you knew Sachet, you know it had to include some yummy treats in addition to all the TLC. My mom and I even provided some music therapy, singing to her to help ease the pain a little. I can’t say enough about Marie McInerney from Compassionate Home Vets who came to my parents’ house on Saturday to help Sachet on the next stage of her journey. She was caring, competent, empathetic, and certainly our answer to prayer. She even brought some clay to make paw prints for us, and we also made one for her puppy raiser which we will mail to her once it is completely dry.

Special thanks to my wonderful friends here who have been very supportive during this tough time. I so appreciate the kind words, hugs, and Starbucks, which have all made the sadness just a little easier to bear.

With love,

Judy and Keats

The outpouring of supportive messages was incredible, most from people who knew Sachet, whose lives were in some way touched by her, but also from people who did not have the pleasure of meeting her. This I know for sure, Sachet touched many lives and was special to a lot of people. Some knew her just as an incredibly smart, well-behaved and well-trained guide dog. Others were fortunate enough to also know her fun, playful, and sassy personality. I was glad to be able to share her with my family, friends, and coworkers.

I had at least one person ask me about in-home euthanasia services in this area. I am sharing a link for anyone who feels it is the right decision. For us, there is no question that it was, and if you are having to consider making this tough decision for your beloved furry friend, I would recommend that you consider it. I will include two links below. The first is a directory of this type of service by state, and the second is an organization in California that provides lots of great information on this topic. Disclaimer: the interactive map on the first link is not accessible with a screen reader at the moment, but I have an email in to them and am hoping this will change soon. Here are the links:

inhomepeteuthanasia.com

homepeteuthanasia.com

I have tried to capture the whole experience, and it has taken me some time to write about the details, but I would like to share some of it here on this blog that was started in Sachet’s honor. Feel free to come along with me on part or all of this journey.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

As I try to start this entry, I’m having trouble figuring out how to begin and exactly what to say, but I feel I need to write, so I’m going to just see what comes.

Where to begin? I guess the first conversation I had with my parents about Sachet’s visit to the vet is as good a place as any. On the evening of Monday, June 19th, my parents casually mentioned that Sachet hadn’t been doing so well. They had taken her to the vet on Saturday the 17th, because she was having trouble walking. She was dragging her left hind leg and was unable to put any weight on it. She had x-rays done, and according to my parents, the vet said she would be a model student for a class on arthritis because it was so bad. However, as my vet later pointed out, arthritis does not cause weakness, just pain and discomfort. Sachet did start to show some improvement at first, just not for long.

In the next week or so, she continued to have difficulty getting up, and my parents would have to carry her outside to relieve. When I spoke to my mom on Friday the 23rd and she told me there was no improvement, I suggested we consult our vet here, who had seen Sachet for almost nine years, as well as the vets at GDB, where she was trained. The next morning, she was not any better, so my parents called their vet, and at her suggestion, made an appointment with the neurologist for Tuesday the 27th.

At the neurology appointment, they took more x-rays, and in addition to the arthritis, they found a suspicious spot on her left back leg, on the bone. They said they would be in touch that night or the next day, as soon as the x-rays were read by the radiologist. My parents said Sashy was really nervous, and that she peed on the bed while they were trying to examine her. Poor girl!

That night, I saw an email from Dr. Porter, pretty much saying that the x-rays he saw, the ones from the general vet, did not have any diagnostic information that he could see. He recommended Prednisone instead of the Rimadyl, and the next day, when my mom talked with her vet, she recommended the same thing. One of my parents’ neighbors who Sachet was crazy about, because she regularly brought her treats, mentioned to my mom that her friend’s dog had been treated for this same condition. However, the dog was much younger, around seven or eight. The friend wrote my mom a nice email of support, asking her to call or write with any questions. As much as we wanted to hold on to any little bit of hope, we both knew that the most important thing was quality of life. That would guide our decisions.

Case and I decided I would go down to Miami on Friday to see my girl. Whatever happened, we knew I needed to see her now. We had planned to go to Mount Dora to celebrate our 13th anniversary, but that could wait. This was important. I checked with my parents the following morning, just to make sure, and bought my bus ticket that afternoon. I wasn’t sure what would happen, just that I would be there and we would take it one day at a time.

Wednesday night, my mom received the results from the neurologist. It appeared the spot was Osteosarcoma, cancer of the bone. It had not spread at that point, but had caused a bone fracture in that leg. Of course, Thursday when I looked at the results, I didn’t quite understand all the vet speak. I sent the images and the report to Dr. Porter. He had sent me back another email before viewing the results, saying that if it turned out to be Osteosarcoma, he did not know whether we should go through with the amputation surgery, as even with the surgery, average life expectancy would be six months. There would be chemo and/or radiation involved as well, and never mind the idea of an almost 14-year-old dog going under general anesthesia. We were not unrealistic, but how does one just accept the fact that there are no other good options?

Friday morning, Casey and I went to breakfast at Toojay’s, and then to Petco to pick up some treats for Sashy. I didn’t know Petco had a treat bar. I had fun choosing a couple of types, some that are heart-shaped with glucosamine and chondroitin, and some carob training treats that supposedly are like chocolate for dogs. I couldn’t resist a couple of toys as well, one for a friend whose guide’s birthday is this month, a couple for Keats, and one for Sachet, even though she was not really paying attention to any toys, but one never knew. Hers was a little plush squeaky elephant, so I figured it would mean something to my mom if nothing else—she collects elephants.

On the way down to Miami, I got a call from Dr. Conover, a vet from GDB. I had sent all x-ray’s and vet reports to them as well. She started out by saying that Sachet’s condition was very serious. She pointed out the fact that the bone cancer was so aggressive that it had broken her leg, and that she was in a lot of pain. She said, several times, how the best thing would be to put her to sleep, and that’s what she would do if it was her dog. I told her she didn’t need to convince me. She also asked if I would let my parents know.

Naturally, I was devastated when I hung up with her. I called Casey and had a good cry. A couple of friends were very supportive as well, one of which has lost two guides. Who better to give support than someone who has been there? Somewhere in that foggy hour after talking to Dr. Conover, I began considering the idea of having someone come to the house for the procedure.

When I got to my parents’ house, they brought Sashy out to relieve, and I got to see what a struggle it was for her to move, and for them to support her. I also noticed how uncomfortable she was—she kept panting. All I could think about was her broken leg, and how much pain she must be in. I was able to spend some time with her, just petting her and giving her some of the treats I got her. She would not eat her regular meal out of her bowl, so I fed her out of my hand like my mom did many times, hiding some of her new treats in her regular food. In this way, she did manage to eat all of her meal.

I had wondered whether to bring Keats on this trip. Part of me wanted to just focus on her, and part of me wanted him there too, for support, and because he is part of the family. I am glad I decided to bring him along. It somehow seemed right having him there with Sashy and my parents. He was great, of course, and I was glad he was there for my parents the whole weekend, especially afterwards.

Eventually, the conversation got around to my talk with the GDB vet, and I explained to them what they had said, minus the putting her to sleep part. Call me a coward, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it just yet. I knew I had to. I randomly asked my mom what time the vet closed. She said she thought 4 PM, and why was I asking. I tried to say I was just curious and there was no reason, but she wasn’t buying my lame excuses. She asked if I wanted to go to the vet, and I said no, that I just wanted to know when they closed. Thankfully she let it go—perhaps some part of her knew—and eventually the conversation came back around to the next steps. I said it had to be their decision, but that she was suffering a lot and we needed to think about it. Then it clicked for her why I was asking about the vet. She asked me if I wanted to be present, and I said I did. My dad said he did not. I asked her what she thought about having it done at home. Would it be too hard afterwards, to have to be in the place where it happened? Would the reminder be too painful? Tomorrow was my mom’s birthday! Shouldn’t we wait? She said it would be ok, that she was more concerned about doing the best thing for Sashy. We asked my dad, whose response was something like, “She’s not at that point yet. She’s still ok.” We both reminded him how much she must be hurting, but I knew he needed a little time to take it all in.

That night, I gave Sachet a little bit of my steak, rice, and beans. She licked that bowl clean, and enjoyed it so much! Later, I wrote her puppy raiser the following note:

Dear Miriam, I am writing because I wanted you to be aware that our princess is not doing so well. I came down to Miami to spend some time with her, because I am not sure how long she will be with us. She is not able to walk without support from us. She cannot put weight on either one of her back legs. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her left hind leg, and she is definitely not very comfortable. It is not an easy time, which is kind of the understatement of the year. My parents, like me, do not want her to suffer. Please know that we will do what is best for her and her quality-of-life. I also want you to know that my parents have given her so much love and care during these three years or so. They love her to pieces and are doing everything they can to make her comfortable. She has been a God send for them, especially for my mom. I think my dad is probably the one struggling most with the next steps. This house will be very empty without her. Miriam, I am so so sorry to have to write these things to you. I wanted you to know though, because I know you would want to. Please keep us in your prayers, all of us. Thank you, and I will keep you informed.

Jun 30, 11:40pm

That night, we all drifted off to sleep in the same room. When I awoke around 2 in the morning, both Sashy and my mom were snoring. Keats and I snuck back to our room and fell asleep for a few hours. I did not sleep well, and I found out later neither did my mom or Sachet. She was pretty uncomfortable the whole night. My mom had told me how she had sung to her in the past few days when she was most uncomfortable. I told her how glad I was that she was using music therapy on our baby girl!

I was up by a little after 6 AM. I thought it might be a good idea to search online for vets who performed in-home euthanasia. This was the first time I could bring myself to say or write the words. I prayed that the Lord would guide me and help me find the right person. After browsing for about half an hour, I wrote the following email to Marie McInerney from Compassionate Home Vets:

Hello Dr. Mac,

My retired guide dog, who lives in Miami with my parents, has been diagnosed with ostiosarcoma. She is very uncomfortable and cannot support her weight using either of her back legs. Of course we don’t want her to continue to suffer, and it would be our preference to say goodbye to her here in her home where she is most comfortable and has had over three very happy years. This is new territory for us, and needless to say it is so tough. I was wondering if you speak any Spanish. My parents do not speak English, so if the person spoke Spanish, it would be great. I would like to be present and could interpret if needed. Also, would you service the area near FIU, and do you have availability for today? I would love to chat further and will attempt to call after 8. Thanks.,

Judy

Jul 1, 2017, 7:06 AM

Somehow, when things are written down, or spoken out loud, they become more real. This was really happening, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The best I could do now was try to help make things as smooth and comfortable for everyone, especially our Sashy.

I couldn’t believe how quickly Marie got back to me—it was less than 15 minutes!

Good morning Judy.

I am so sorry about your dog. I don’t speak Spanish, but I have a colleague who lives in Miami who does. Her name is Dr. Hilda Amoros and her phone number is …

If this doesn’t work out I might be able to help. Let me know.

Warm regards, Marie

Sent from my iPhone
Jul 1, 2017, 7:19 AM

The thing that jumped out at me was the first line after the greeting, “I am so sorry about your dog.” Those seven simple words meant the world. So many people are so focused on the business aspect that the empathy is just not there. For instance, my mom called her regular vet that morning, and after they informed her they do not come to the house, they proceeded to say that if she intended to bring her in, she’d better let them know soon to allow for enough time to plan for the appointment. NO comments.

I did leave a message for Hilda around 8 o’clock, but by around 9 AM I still had not heard back, so I called Marie. I liked her from the start. She reminded me of Bonnie, my voice teacher from over 25 years ago. She seemed compassionate and professional. My conversation with her was also a pretty difficult one, just like the one I had with the GDB vet the day before. Basically, she said she would be able to come in the early afternoon, around 1:30 or so, though she didn’t know the exact time, as she had another appointment at 11. I was glad it wasn’t earlier, but at the same time, part of me was sorry it was not later. She said she would text when she was on her way. I let her know I’d be calling back in the next 15-20 minutes if for some reason my parents said no—I couldn’t imagine that happening, but I didn’t want to assume anything. After all, they should have the final say. We spoke about all of the logistics, and she explained how the procedure would take place. She would administer a sedative, and after 15-20 minutes, the other injection, through an IV. She asked if we wanted her to take Sachet’s body, and whether we wanted the ashes. I let her know we did, on both counts.

I hung up with Marie, and had another mini melt-down. How could I face them? How would I tell them? I called Casey and we talked for a few minutes until I could calm down enough to go talk with my mom. I let her tell my dad—I guess I took the easier way out. I was really trying to be strong for them. I did not want to break down. I knew it was hard enough. Although, not showing emotion does not help the situation either. I wanted them to also know how much I was hurting with them, though I knew they understood. When I first came out to the kitchen that morning, can’t remember how the conversation went exactly, but my mom said she was going to miss her so much, and then she broke down. I couldn’t hold the tears back, nor did I want to at that point. We just stood there and hugged, just being together in our pain. There is nothing like crying together when you are hurting and the other person is hurting just as much. It is healing somehow.

That morning, Sachet did not want to eat. We fed her by hand outside, and she did eat her meal, but then proceeded to throw up a few minutes later. My mom did manage to feed her again and she was able to keep it down this time. She was so uncomfortable most of that morning, panting for long periods of time, then drifting off to sleep for short little whiles. I did not want to wake her when she was sleeping, because I didn’t want her to hurt. I got a shower, and then the three of us just sat with her. My mom and I took turns singing to her. For some reason, the song that came to my mind to sing to her was Do Your Ears Hang Low. How crazy is that? My mom had taken some nice pictures of me with both dogs the day before, and that morning, Facebook had made a slideshow of them. How fitting it was. I did not want to post anything on social media about what was happening, so I just posted the nice slideshow. I was not ready. I also wanted the puppy raisers to hear it from me directly, not from a general Facebook post.

Around 12:30, Marie texted that she would be there around 1:15. My mom went to get a shower, and my dad went to move the cars to make parking more convenient for Marie. I was glad to have a few minutes alone with my girl. I told her I loved her and was going to miss her so much! I thanked her for showing me what it was like to fly with a guide dog, for giving me so many years of love and loyalty. I would like to think she understood the sentiment. I hope she could feel how much I love her. I really do think she felt our love during this whole process.

Marie came right on time. She met Keats first, and raved about how healthy he looked, what a nice coat he had, etc. It always makes me proud when people make such comments. I put Keats in the room, because I wanted to focus entirely on Sachet. We went over to the Florida room where Sachet was laying in her bed. My mom sat on one side of her and I on the other. We made conversation while Marie prepared everything. Part of me wanted to say, “Wait, don’t we have paperwork to fill out? Don’t you have other stuff you have to do? This is happening too fast!”

Marie administered the sedative, and it happened to be on Sachet’s bad side, so I’m sure it was uncomfortable. I should’ve told her initially. While we waited, my dad came with some of the treats I had brought her, the ones that were like doggie chocolate. She sat up and ate from our hands. She was panting, but would still take the treats, food driven to the very end. The bag was near her, and my mom was commenting how she would never go for the bag. Marie was impressed. We shared funny Sashy stories, about her early days and antics with food.

After a few minutes, I could tell she was getting droopy, so I helped her lie down. Her body was so heavy, as the sedative was definitely starting to take effect. Then came the snoring. It reminded me of the time I went for my sleep study, and how the tech said Sachet needed her own CPAP machine. She was deeply asleep. Marie squeezed her paw to see whether she was still conscious, and she pulled back a bit. We waited 5-10 more minutes and she repeated the process with the same results, so she gave her a bit more of the sedative. After a few minutes, she squeezed her paw again, and this time there was no response. She was totally out. She said it was like she was under general anesthesia for a procedure. She was snoring really loud, like she did when she was sleeping deeply. She explained how you don’t hear them snoring during surgery because they are usually intubated. During this whole time, my dad came in a couple of times, looked at her and had to walk out. Seeing him cry was so hard! He does not usually show emotion that way.

At this point, Marie shaved a spot on her front leg for the IV. She was so great about telling us what she was doing every step of the process. She began administering the euthanasia medication. She explained that she would do this gradually, and would give her too much, so her body functions would shut down. She mentioned that her eyes may not fully close, and that there may be some, I can’t remember how she put it, but basically, she was saying that her reflexes might kick in, even though she was not conscious or aware, it was just the body. For example, she may urinate or defecate, vocalize or gasp a little. Thankfully none of these happened. Seems the sedative helps the process go more smoothly. Marie told us as she was giving the medication, how much of it she had given: a quarter, half, three quarters, and when it was all done. That part took about 30 seconds to a minute in total. Right after she said she was all done, Sashy took a breath, let it out, and then she didn’t anymore. It was very peaceful. Marie listened to her heart with a stethoscope for a good long time, about a minute, and then confirmed what we already suspected, that she was gone. My mom and I held hands and pet her through the entire process. Even after she was gone, she just seemed like she was sleeping and would wake up any time. Her ears were still velvety soft, and she was still warm. It was around 1:45 PM. Wish I had written down the exact time.

Marie had told me she was going to bring some clay so we could make some paw prints. We did one for my parents that said Sachi, and one for me that said Sachet. One was also made for Sachet’s raisers that said Princess Sachet. At this point, I brought Keats out, who by the way did not even look at Sachet, sniff her, or anything. Wonder what he was thinking. Maybe he knew she was no longer in her body. I can only wonder. We did a Keats paw print with his name as well. Oh yes, and when Marie had shaved that little spot on Sachet’s leg, she put the hair in a little baggie for us. We have since then realized we don’t have that little bag, and we don’t know what happened exactly, but my mom has picked up some of Sashy’s hair from all over the house and washed it. Hopefully it’ll be enough to share.

We did paperwork at this point. Then, Marie brought in her folding stretcher, and she slid Sachet’s body onto it. She wrapped her up, all except her head, and she promised to be gentle. My dad helped her carry it out. We thanked her, and then she was gone. The whole thing had taken right around an hour.

My mom will keep her paw print and her collar with the tags. I will keep the other paw print, her ashes, and the leash that was our connection for almost 9 years. The house seemed different somehow already.

I sat down to write the following message to Sachet’s raiser:

Hi again, Miriam,
Just wanted to let you know that our girl passed very peacefully at home, around 145 this afternoon. She was comfortable, and though of course it was heartbreaking, it was the right time. Sachet was in a lot of pain, and she is not hurting anymore. This is a first for me, And I am so glad we did it this way. The princess was in her bed and just sleeping peacefully. I did not want her to go through any more pain or stress than necessary, and taking her in somewhere would have been really hard on her. The vet was wonderful, and she really took her time. I just wanted you to know.
Jul 1 at 3:02pm

Miriam responded a couple of days later:

Judy, thank you so much for your messages. I’m sorry I haven’t responded sooner. Molly has just returned from a very long trip and I have finished moving classrooms at school. I am very saddened to hear about our Sachet, but I know you and your parents did everything to make her comfortable. It’s a great comfort to know she was loved by all who knew her. She worked hard during her time with you, but she loved every minute! It is fitting that she be spoiled in her retirement and go peacefully to heaven. I’m sure there’s a great big bean bag waiting to be arranged just so!

Thank you so much Judy for staying in touch and letting me know about our Princess.

Love, Miriam
Jul 3, 11:11am

My last reply to her:

Oh so true about the beanbag to arrange in heaven. Such sweet memories of her arranging her beds just so, and also of Casey picking the bed up with her in it and putting it back where it belonged.
Jul 3, 12:38pm

The day ended with a family gathering—it was my mom’s birthday after all, though she said she didn’t want to celebrate. I completely understood. None of us were really in that mood, but I still wanted to do something special for her. I managed to order a cake at Publix last minute, and the bakery staff were super accommodating. They even decorated it with paw prints and bones. We wrote: Felicidades Mami. Te queremos mucho! We also bought her flowers. Even though it was a sad day, we wanted my mom to know she was loved. I know she appreciated it. My brother wrote me a very sweet text right after, expressing his condolences. He meant to say she was resting, but instead he wrote “she’s texting now.” Gotta love those texting guide dogs! I appreciated the laugh.

As hard as this experience has been, I know in my heart that we did the best we could for our Sashy. I am thankful to god for putting Marie McInerney in our path. She was truly an answer to prayer. She was the perfect balance of empathy and efficiency, very professional and so compassionate. I am grateful I was able to be there for everything, that my parents and I could say goodbye together, and that it was done in such a peaceful way. We all agree it could not have gone any better, that it was the right decision, and the right time. We will miss her, but we know she is in a much better place, and no longer suffering. I’m thinking she is romping around with her buddies who have gone before her and were waiting to give her a warm welcome—Nexus, Bettina, and Little Delsey.

The day after my parents received her ashes, a couple of friends and I had a doggie celebration of life, to honor and remember our dogs that had passed over the rainbow bridge. We each had our guides there, too. We shared stories, laughed, shed a few tears, and even played some audio and video recordings. It was special, and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to share memories together.

If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me, and for sharing in this deeply personal experience. I am posting this almost a month later. It has taken me this long to process and write about it all. I am including four pictures:

1. From Sashy’s last birthday party, October 22, 2016. We had a Publix cake made in the shape of a bone, with pull-apart cupcakes. It says Happy Birthday Sachi. In this pic, the cake is in front of her. She did get to eat her very own cupcake of course. Happy times!
2. Sashy laying in her bed, a week or so after she got sick. She was wearing a strap under her back legs that was used to help support her weight.
3. Sashy laying in her bed and me next to her on the floor petting her. Our heads are both on her little pillow.
4. Me sitting next to Sashy holding and petting her

Happy Anniversary, My Sweet Boy!

Can you believe it? Two years already! I sure can’t. I am in Miami, visiting my family for Mother’s Day weekend. Keats is zonked out on his bed next to mine. He had a fun day today, enjoying all the attention from my family, visiting one of my grandmothers, working like a champ at the very busy and crowded International Mall where he met a future puppy raiser, relaxing here at my parents’, doing his best to find at least one lizard to chase, and playing with the neighbor’s five month old Lab Golden Retriever puppy. Early May is an important time for him, for not only is May sixth our anniversary of becoming a team, but his birthday is also two days before that, on the fourth. I’ve decided he is my Star Wars dog. I didn’t even know May fourth was Star Wars Day, or why it was so, until this year. But, last year, I gave him an Ewok for his birthday, not even knowing the significance of the day. This year he got a nice big antler, which, of course, we brought along on our trip. I wanted to write more of a reflective post, but I’m running out of time and battery. Plus, I’m tired and not in that frame of mind. That will have to happen another day in the near future hopefully. I just want to say, yet again, because I know I just haven’t said it enough in this blog, how much I love my Keats. He is smart, funny, lovable, charming, handsome, obedient, so in tune with me, and one awesome guide! I look forward to many more years of sharing life’s adventures together.

A fascinating Blog

Today, I stumbled upon a blog written by a guide dog trainer from Leader Dogs. She has been a puppy raiser, and has worked at three different schools. I have been reading her posts and enjoying every one. I love her writing style and the way she explains things. I would definitely consider myself a guide dog nerd, and just love reading about all aspects of guide dog training. If you are in the same boat, check out her blog at:
http://www.christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog.html

Thanks Shanna for posting this on your FB page. I’m loving it! It also came at a most appropriate time. I’m sure Casey was so grateful I had something else to keep me entertained, so I would stay out of his hair while he was trying to solve my latest computer problem! LOL

Grammar Frustrations

Sooooo, I just happened to go look at my last post, and was dismayed to find that the apostrophes and dashes had mysteriously been omitted. For someone who is such a stickler for correct grammar, this is particularly frustrating!! I am posting this because for those of you who get my posts by e-mail, you will probably not see the edited copy. I did go back and repost it, hopefully with all apostrophes and dashes included. Not sure what happened there, but I’m sending this message to let you all know, and also as a test to see if the same thing happens again–I think I’ll scream!! I’m crossing my fingers …

A Memorable Trip

Disclaimer: this might be the longest post yet. It is the account of our North Carolina trip, and was written throughout the entire week. It is also not, in its entirety, as dog-related as my usual posts, though of course there is dog talk sprinkled throughout. I realized after this posted that for some reason it did not include apostrophes and dashes. I have gone back and tried editing this, so if you see any typos, just pretend you didn’t. *smile*

Monday, 5/18/2015

Wow! I can’t believe we’re actually on our way. Casey and I have been counting months, weeks, and finally days. We are headed to North Carolina, to the outer Banks. We are flying into Norfolk, VA, and hopefully taking Uber to Hatteras Island, to the Inn on Pamlico Sound. Keats is sleeping contentedly at my feet. This is our first flight together since that flight from NY last year. Oh wait, that’s not true. I flew back from Miami one time last year. He does great on flights, and guiding around the airport. I love that he just goes with the flow, not getting flustered by all the craziness of security or some of the confusion that is almost inevitable when someone is giving me directions, turning a little too early, too late, too much, not enough—you get the idea. He just regroups and continues on like everything is just fine. I think the bag I packed for him added at least 5 lbs to our suitcase—not that I ever spoil him. I packed a few bones, a couple of toys, his food of course, foldable bowls, his little boots, and his grooming tools—I was going to groom him this morning but things got a little too crazy with last minute packing, which those of you who know us will be very surprised by. *wink wink* I brushed him just a few days ago, so he’s not bad. I just want him to be extra pretty for our trip. I was going to bathe him, but then Case reminded me we were going to be around sand and salt water, so I thought it would be smarter to hold off and bathe him when we get back. He doesn’t have a bit of doggie smell even though it’s been months since his last bath. Continuous brushing helps with that.

This is our first trip together without Andy. I miss him. I jokingly told Casey today that I’ll bet he really missed Andy going through security. That, is one of the things he won’t miss. Many other things, of course, are greatly missed, but most of all, he is. I don’t think I’ve talked about his retirement here. Rather than rewriting everything, I’ll include a message we wrote to Lighthouse staff, with a few minor edits:

**********

Sent: Monday, January 19, 2015 9:21 PM

Subject: From Andy

Woof woof everyone,

As of last Thursday morning, I am officially retired. I am writing to tell you all this because it is hard for my dad to talk about right now. I know you will wonder when you do not see me around the office, wagging and being my happy self. I am writing this from the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. A nice lady came on Thursday to pick me up, and I hear that I will probably be going to my first family,   my puppy raisers. My dad knows me better than anyone, and he has been noticing how I have not been so excited to work. I feel bad that I have been walking pretty slow these days, and making mistakes more often than usual. Sometimes he gets frustrated, but I have just been getting more tired. It has nothing to do with my old age–God knows I am not old! I am just a hippie at heart, and just want to chill and relax. The other day on our way back from our last walk together, I missed our house. In a way I was glad it happened, because it confirmed to us both that this is indeed the right time. This has been hard for me too. I love my dad, and I am going to miss him. But, I know, as he knows, that this is the best thing and the right time. I also know that we will remember each other forever! Do me a favor and don’t ask him questions about me right now. He is a guy and does not like to show his feelings–these humans are so complicated! If you really want to say something to him about me, it’s better to send an e-mail. Thanks for the favor. Stay warm everybody, And be glad you’re not in Oregon. *wink*

Peace,

Andy

**********

So, that first weekend was extremely hard for Case. We both took Thursday off. Alison Halverson (sp?), from the GDB Oregon campus, came to take Andy back with her. He stayed on campus for a week or two, and then his raiser Cheryl came to get him. She tells us he remembered her right away and got really excited. When they got home, the first thing he did was run in and jump up on the bed where he used to sleep. These dogs have pretty darn good memories!! We know he is happy and much loved, and that helped us deal with the sadness of seeing him go. Case is not getting another dog for now. He does great with his cane—he is a much better cane user than I am. I’m not bad with the cane, just don’t feel very coordinated with it these days. I’m sure it’s the lack of practice. I try to keep my skills up, though, because one never knows when the cane will be needed.

I will probably post this later tonight. I wonder if Keats has been to the beach before. Can’t wait to see what he does.

Thursday, 5/21/2015

We are now on the flight back home, and as usual, the time went way too fast. It was great to be able to disconnect from the real world for a few days. We had some much needed R&R, as well as lots of quality time. Let me tell you a little about our trip.

We arrived in Norfolk right on time, and decided to find a local place to have lunch. I wanted to be able to add Virginia to the list of states I’ve visited, so we needed to make it count. Just setting foot in the airport doesn’t qualify as visiting the state in my book. The lady who sat next to me on the plane recommended a place called The Leapin’ Lizard—keats’s kind of place, though as far as I know there weren’t any actual lizards. *wink* We took Uber there and had a nice lunch. We then requested Uber once again, and contacted the driver to let her know of our destination, to make sure she wanted to take such a long trip—it was about 3 and a half hours. She said she was cool with it, and off we went. The fare ended up being much less than a cab or shuttle would’ve been. The same driver was willing to come back for us for our return trip. They don’t have Uber there, so she just did it on her own and we paid her cash.

I really enjoyed our drive there. I was giddy with excitement, the ride was comfortable, the conversation was good, it was kind of fun looking at all the city names on the GPS, and to top it all off, we went by a Sonic drive-in—we’d had a small lunch and were starting to get hungry for a snack. Their fries were soooo yummy! Not sure if I was just hungry, was craving fries, or both. Since I couldn’t decide what shake to get, I got two minis—coconut cream pie and banana cream pie. Though they were small, they were pretty filling. Case got an Oreo cheesecake shake.

To keep this dog-related, my boy was, as usual, a wonderful travel companion. He settled right down everywhere and guided expertly. He was also his usual finicky reliever self, so he hadn’t gone since around 6 in the morning. I had given him several opportunities, but he didn’t end up going until we actually got to our place, almost 11 hours later. Talk about a steel bladder!!

Meredith, one of the employees who checked us in, gave us a nice tour of the place. To our disappointment, especially Casey’s, we soon learned that The AC was centrally controlled, so we did not have a thermostat in our room. AC is veeeeeery important to him! Thankfully it was not really hot in the room, but had it not been for the ceiling fan, it might have been. We could’ve called the office to turn it down, but it was manageable. We went to our room to unpack, get settled, and grab a shower. We had dinner reservations at 7, and we enjoyed our first meal there. We had some kind of mozzarella and fennel salad as an appetizer. Casey had a steak, and I had a dish with cheese grits and shrimp. It was really good, and kind of a specialty of theirs, so I was glad I tried it. We had three little mini desserts, including a little chocolate cake type dessert with a name that I can’t remember. Since it was Casey’s birthday, that was his treat. We relieved Keats and practically fell into bed—we were exhausted! We hadn’t slept much the night before and it had been a long day.

Tuesday morning, we had breakfast at the same restaurant. There was nothing really convenient to get to for meals, so it’s a good thing we liked the restaurant. There was no sidewalk and the Inn is on a Highway—not conducive to walking. Case had the Country Breakfast, which consisted of biscuits and gravy, potatoes, and eggs (he left the eggs out). He raved about those biscuits and gravy the entire time, and all 3 days he had that same breakfast. I, on the other hand, had to vary it up. That morning I had an omelet and an English muffin, Wednesday I had French Toast and a fried egg, and this morning I had a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top—all delicious! I discovered that I really like mixing pineapple and orange juice. Oh, and they had homemade muffins that were out of this world! The coffee was ok, and come to find out, the nearest Starbucks was 70 miles away. They have an agreement that there cannot be any franchises–everything is locally owned, which is kind of cool actually–even in spite of the Starbucks deprivation. *wink*

After breakfast, we headed over to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where they have the tallest Lighthouse in the country. Casey had contacted the visitors Center and requested accommodations. We were to meet Dexter, one of the rangers, at 9 that morning, and he would be with us for the next few hours. Chris, the supervisor with whom Case had spoken, was also there to meet us. They presented us with a braille booklet about the cape, which was a nice touch. We proceeded to climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, all 257 steps, 198 feet. I am including a couple of nice pictures of us up there, one with our new friend Dexter. Keats was a trooper. He did great guiding me up, showing me each set of stairs, and being careful where needed. There were 9 steps initially, and then 8 sets of 31 steps each. It was a good thing they had those landings so we could take breaks. Casey wanted to know if the gift shop had anything that said, instead of “I climbed the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse,” “I almost passed out while climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.” *wink* Once we made it to the top, it was nice and breezy. Keats seemed to enjoy looking out and around. I took his harness off and the rangers got to love on him. A couple of people even asked to take a picture with him or of him. One cute thing he did was that when one of the rangers called his name to get his attention so she could take a picture, she told me he looked at me for confirmation. That’s my boy! On the way down, he was being reeeeeally cautious. The stairs were steep and kind of narrow. So, I decided to heel him instead of working him down.

Believe it or not, our legs did not give out, and we still found the energy to go on a nature walk. It was nice to be in nature, with the birds and the trees—but not the bugs! We encountered a snake, but were able to pass by quickly without him noticing us. Keats definitely noticed him though, but he just kept on going like the good little worker he is. We also saw a frog, and no, he did not try to chase it. He did chase the flies though. I don’t blame him—they were annoying! One other thing we encountered along the way, which we weren’t warned about, were the infamous ticks. Boy, they were everywhere! They got on Keats, on us, and somehow managed to crawl in through my jeans–I found some on my legs later on. Yuck!! I really did not want to identify with my dog this much, Ok? Thankfully, the Nexgard Keats is on seems to be doing its job, because the ones that had started attaching to him were dead. There were many on him though, so we had to check him when we were done. In conversation with Dexter, we discovered he had a degree in animal science and had worked at a vet clinic. After our nature walk, he graciously volunteered to put that knowledge and training to use, checking Keats for ticks several times, very thoroughly I might add. This was way beyond the call of duty. WE were so very thankful for that act of kindness, especially Keats. How amazingly God provides for us. What are the chances of that happening?! Oh yes, and he made several comments about how well cared for Keats is. Made me feel like a proud mama.

We went to the gift shop and spent way too much on souvenirs. We did not, in fact, find anything that said we had almost passed out while climbing the Lighthouse, to Casey’s disappointment. *smile* We took the Island Hopper Shuttle back to the inn, and relaxed on the dock by the water, which, by the way, has no railings. Can we say trust your dog?!

Let me take a moment to tell you about another one of those angels we encountered on our trip. His name is Mitch and he is 13 years old. When we arrived on Monday, he offered to help take our bag to the room. He came along on our tour and guided Casey. He seemed to be a natural at human guide, and was great at giving all kinds of helpful cues. He offered to take us out on a kayak, which sounded like much fun. While we were sitting at the dock the next day, he came over and we chatted for a while. I asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a few nice pictures of the scenery, and he was happy to do that for us. He told us he lived a couple of houses away and that he came after school to help pull weeds and help around the place. We thought it was great of his mom to encourage that kind of responsibility so early on.

Case and I had talked about watching a movie that night. They have a 14-seat theater with surround sound. The idea of going to the movies for free was too good to pass up—at least for me—and I have an amazing husband who does things like that just to make me happy. *smile* So, we were told there was a book with all the movies they had available, and we were going to have to scan the pages to look through it. I mean, we could have asked someone at the office to help us go through it, but we have KNFB Reader, so we thought we’d give it a shot. However, Mitch offered to help us, and we took him up on it. We also agreed that he would meet us the next day around 3:15 to go kayaking.

I fed Keats and took him out, then decided to give him a little practice staying by himself in the room. He does not like to stay by himself, and to be honest, I rarely do it. I think it’s good for him to know that it’s ok, and that I’ll be back. Of course, since the restaurant was literally next door to our room, it was easy for me to check in on him every so often. A couple of times I went by and just stood at the door. He seemed to do ok. The two times I went in, he was right at the door and got so happy to see me. I tried not to make a big deal, just matter-of-factly told him I’d be back and to be good. I also gave him a treat one of the times I came back and thanked him for being quiet. There were a couple of times at the school that he barked and carried on when I left him alone. A couple of times at work, he has gone out looking for me when left in the office for more than a few minutes alone, and once or twice he has whined a little for me. Most of the time this is not the case. I will sometimes leave him in the office if I’m teaching in the kitchen and it’s hectic. The kitchen is just a few feet from my office, so he can still hear me. Anyhow, all this to say it’s not something he loves, but its something we need to make sure he is ok with.

For dinner that night, I had mahi with some veggies—it was the catch of the day and was delicious! Case tried something called pig cheeks, which were super tender. We did not have dessert that night, to save room for popcorn and soda. I took a shower and then we headed to the theater. We had let the office know we wanted to watch Miss Congeniality, so they set it up in there. We grabbed popcorn from our room–they had provided us with a little basket with snacks. There was also soda in the community fridge. So, off to the movies we went, well-supplied with movie food, trying to keep the popcorn bag from getting wet and soggy–it was raining. Somehow we managed. We were the only ones in the theater. It, along with the rain showers, was a nice end to the day.

Monday, 5/25/2015

The rest of this account was written from the comfort of our own couch.

Wednesday was a pretty relaxing day. We hung around the Inn, relaxed, played cards, wrote a nice e-mail to compliment the staff at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and in the afternoon, went kayaking. We ended up at the pool, and surprisingly enough, the water was pretty warm, even though a mild cold front had come through that morning.

We decided to splurge a little for our last dinner there. We each had a salad for an appetizer. We tried some sort of curry carrot soup which I thought was pretty good but Case wasn’t too crazy about. We both had steak, and tried some sort of interesting dessert that I’m not sure how to describe or what it’s called. TO me, it’s like really thin butter cookies layered with some type of custard and some raspberries. Casey liked the part that didn’t have the raspberries. *wink* We also had a couple of celebratory drinks. I had never had melon liquor before, and when mixed with pineapple juice and coconut rum, it’s delicious! Casey said they make a darn good Manhattan. I’ll take his word for it—not my kind of drink. We slept with the windows open that night, as the temperature was in the 60’s.

Our last morning there, we actually woke up around 5. For Case, that’s not anything out of the ordinary. For me, it’s pretty surprising. But, I wanted to see the sunrise on our balcony. For those who don’t know, we do have light perception, so though we can’t see the sun itself, we can see its light. We had breakfast out there, listening to the birds, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Sometimes, it was just nice to stop and listen to the quiet.

We loved our little balcony, which looked out onto the Pamlico Sound. There was just a chain between the balconies, and I hadn’t noticed that initially. My little boy just hung out with us out there and never tried to go exploring to the other balconies—well, that is, until that very last day when there was another dog out there and he decided it would be interesting to go check him out. I let him sniff around for a minute or two, and as soon as I called him back, he came bounding over. He always sat at the door and waited for the ok before going outside—he’s the best! During that last morning, I groomed him and trimmed his nails. I am always thankful for his trust in me while doing this, and don’t ever take it for granted. He behaves beautifully!

After breakfast, we went out to the dock and read out there for a while. This is when we decided to leave a little piece of our technology in the Pamlico Sound. I had my BookSense in my pocket, and it slipped out, landing on the deck. Thankfully it did not slip between the wooden  planks … but the impact caused the SD card to shoot out and it was not seen again. Thank God I had backed it up before I left. Some fish down there got really smart reading all those books from the SD card. *wink*

We packed, checked out, and waited for our Uber driver, with whom we had been in contact by text messages. Our ride back was uneventful. We grabbed a quick bite on the way, and made it to the airport with plenty of time. The temperature had dropped to 61 degrees, and the wind made it feel a lot cooler. It was also raining. Too bad we couldn’t bring the cool weather down with us!

We flew Southwest both ways, and both were direct flights. Go Case for finding great ones! On the flight up, the lady who sat next to us told us about a coworker who also has a service dog. She said she was going to give her the link to this blog. I was so glad to see she has already visited and left a comment. Yay for new connections! *smile*

After we landed at OIA, we walked to baggage claim with our neighbor from the flight. She said her fiancé was picking her up and offered to give us a ride home when she found out how close we live to the airport—another unexpected kindness for which we were very appreciative. After traipsing around the airport trying to locate where he had parked, we were on our way back home. It seemed hard to believe that we were coming back already! ON the plane, our new friend had mentioned that she was looking for a good pair of headphones. So, when we pulled up in our driveway, rather than trying to give her gas money, I gave her my headphones. We encountered so many giving and helpful people on this trip. The least thing we could do was pay it forward a little. She was super appreciative, and I could tell it meant a lot. They are nice headphones and they will serve her well on the plane ride home and beyond.

Exactly one week ago, I began writing this entry. It’s gone on long enough so I will post it now, just as soon as I finish this paragraph. *smile* Though we were a bit sad to leave the Outer Banks behind, with its natural beauty, nice weather, and most of all, the opportunity to disconnect for a few days, as the saying goes, there is no place like home. We were glad to get home at last and sleep in our own bed, with AC that we could control! *wink* We were also very happy to leave behind the mosquitoes and ticks. After finding one more tick on Keats Friday morning (guess it wanted free passage to Orlando), I called the vet, and they said that in the event that there were any left, they would shrivel up and fall off because the Nexgard would kill them. I did not see anymore and think we’re home free. I brushed him again and also bathed him this weekend. I just love the way he feels right after a bath—all squeaky clean, silky and fluffy. If you’re still with us, thanks for coming along on our journey. Until next time, be well, and don’t ever underestimate the need for getting away from the routine. It can do wonders for your mental health!

One Year Milestone

Wow! I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I met my awesome little (or not so little) boy. I remember so clearly the excitement of waking up on Dog Day, wondering who my partner was going to be. I kept hearing music with words that mirrored my emotions, or maybe I was just relating everything to how I was feeling. In any case, I have a few songs that came on that morning, in a folder called Dog Day, and they will forever remind me of May 6th, 2014, when Keats came into my life. We were both uncertain, not knowing what to make of each other, but here we are a year later, and our bond is strong, because of the love and trust we have for one another. He has been so easy to love. the trust, on the other hand, took a little more time, as is to be expected.

My boy turned three on Monday. He got one of those little Frosty Paws doggie ice creams, which he thoroughly enjoyed–I thought he’d never quit licking the bowl. He also got a squeaky Ewok. I’m attaching two pictures of him with his new toy at the office. That morning when I gave it to him, he went nuts, running around the house and squeaking it like there was no tomorrow. He loves squeaky toys! Our friend Norma also got him a rubber bone that crackles; it has some kind of material inside like that of a water bottle. He is not a bit spoiled as you can see! 🙂

This past weekend we had a few friends over. Two of them just graduated with new guide dogs. We had 6 people and 4 dogs in this small house, but it went fine. We even got to hang out with some friends on Saturday who have a fenced back yard, so the dogs had a blast! It was great to see them having such a good time, romping around with each other. Thank God for good friends who are willing to open their home to us, feed us, let the dogs go nuts in the back yard, give us a ride home, and just be great company. I think it’s safe to say that a wonderful time was had by all pups and humans. So, Keats has had an extended celebration of his birthday and guide dog anniversary, starting last Friday. Right now he is curled up in his bed next to mine, sleeping soundly, with one toy on his bed and one next to the bed. Poor doggie–he is so deprived and never has any fun! 😉

Keats is an amazing little boy. He is so darn cute, sweet, smart, loveable, such a focused worker, so eager to please, and so in tune with me. A good friend commented how she could see that he draws his energy from me. That made me feel good, and I agree with her. I just love the way he checks in with me all the time, and how he is so attached to me. He is always aware of me, no matter how much excitement is going on around him. Saturday when he was running with the other dogs, I started to go in the house for a minute, and guess who followed me in? I fully expected him to stay outside with his new friends, yet he wanted to follow me inside. That really touched my heart.

It is so refreshing to have a dog who barely gets distracted. Even the lizards, which he absolutely loves to chase, don’t really get him off track anymore. He’ll give them a look and continue on his way. When he is working, other dogs don’t even phase him. I didn’t think that was possible in a dog! He is friendly with other people, but I have no doubt who his person is. I love how he can go greet someone, then get back to work without missing a beat. His in and out of harness personalities are almost like night and day. When he is guiding, he is all business. He is awesome at targeting. He regularly finds trash cans, empty seats, doors, stairs, and my husband. He gets so proud of himself when he does a good job. His recall is flawless, and I have been able to trust him in all kinds of situations.

As we all know, it takes a village. Keats received a wonderful foundation and lots of love from his amazing puppy raisers, the Knapiks. His trainer, Megan Crowley, gave him the skills to become a stellar guide dog, and much love as well. Both Gerald Brenninkmeyer and Dave Hagemann gave us the fantastic training we needed to start off on the right foot, and put up with my seemingly incessant questions. I am so grateful to them all, for the role they have played in our partnership. Lastly, I am thankful to Guiding Eyes for giving me this amazing guide dog, the training and support. I am truly blessed.

I love this boy so much! He does me proud every day, and I am so thankful to be partnered with him. I feel that with consistency, patience, love, and trust, we have already become such an awesome team, and it can only get better and better.

Happy Retirement Anniversary!

Exactly one year ago today, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life so far. in truth, the decision had been made months before, over a year before, in fact, yet as we all know, planning for something does not make it final. You know it will happen soon, but for just a little while longer, you can pretend. On Sunday, April 20th, 2014, I was forced to come to terms with the reality that a wonderful chapter in my life was coming to a close. I was retiring my beloved guide dog of almost nine years, and though I was totally at peace with the decision, it was heart-breaking. It was not until that moment when my parents drove away, taking my girl with them, that it hit me. This is it. She is not coming back. The next time I see her, it will be under very different circumstances. We would never again walk confidently together down our city streets, with her in the lead, keeping us safe, finding me that empty seat on the bus, carefully weaving through crowds and obstacles, locating any number of items she was trained to find, and making me proud every step of the way. We would see each other again, but the person she would be looking to for approval would be my mom, not me. As much as I knew in my head that this was just part of the process, my heart was having trouble catching up. I was so not ready! But, are we ever ready for drastic change, even when it is best?

In the same way that this day was the end of a chapter, it was also the beginning of the next one. How fitting that it was also Easter Sunday, a day of new beginnings. In exactly two weeks, I would embark on the journey that would lead me to my next four-legged companion. And here I am, exactly a year later, with Keats by my side, and together we are writing the next chapter. I think of my girl often, and I love her just as much, though our relationship is different now. We occasionally see each other, but I get to hear about her life almost every day. It makes my heart glad to know how much she is loved, and how much love she gives my parents. She is happy, and this is the next chapter in her life. Retiring a guide dog is never easy, but after the first one, it can’t get any harder, can it?

In honor of my girl and of our time together, I would like to share with all of you a post I wrote about her on an e-mail list a few years ago. Come join me down memory lane and reminisce with me.

Sent: Friday, January 15, 2010 3:37 PM

Ok, here are some Sachetisms. Great topic!!

I’m convinced Sachet is part cat because she:
1. Doesn’t like water
2. Likes her space and is kind of independent though still affectionate, and
3. Loves to weave between your legs–And boy does she weave! She will go in one direction, turn around and come back the other way. I guess she likes to feel rubbed all over. She also loves to burrow, sometimes burying her head in blankets or the side of the couch, or she’ll just put her head down on the carpet and her butt up in the air while she snorts and burrows some more. When she’s feeling playful, she roles around on her back and makes cute snorting noises!

When it’s dinner time, she will definitely let you know it. The dog has a darned internal clock! She will come and start milling around, occasionally nudging me as if to say, “Hey mom, it’s that time. You ready yet? Come on mom, hurry up!” She definitely knows the word “dinner,” and when I ask if she’s ready for it, she’ll get so excited and start doing loops. Most of the times the loops are around me, like she’s herding me into the kitchen. It’s so darn cute! Sometimes she’ll even get vocal if she’s particularly excited. Like most labs, she scarfs her food as though she hasn’t eaten in a week! When she’s done, she’ll sometimes let out a big satisfied burp. Andy does this too, although he scarfs even faster than she does.

Another cute thing Sachet does is that she likes to nest, and will arrange her rug just the way she wants it. God forbid anyone try to help, ’cause she’ll start all over again. Sometimes she’ll even flip it over with the rubber side up. Perhaps she is feeling warm on those particular times. 🙂 She also likes to drag her bed around the living room, placing it in just the right spot–the right spot for her anyway. What does she care if it’s right in the middle of the floor where we’re likely to trip over it. After all, this is all her space, right? We’ve gotten used to it and tread carefully. She’s not spoiled one bit of course.

If you sit on the floor and Sachet is up and about, you’re likely to get a sweet lil’ labbie girl sitting on your lap. She doesn’t usually lay, just sits there and lets you pet her. She loves to get her lower back scratched, right by her tail. She loves ear rubs too, and makes these funny noises in the back of her throat. She is sometimes allowed up on the bed, but only if her blanket is down, and she knows, because as soon as she sees the blanket she gets ready. She’ll just get on and lay right down in a comfy position.

One last funny thing she does is that if someone bumps her, or even gets what she considers too close when she’s lying in a comfy spot, she’ll grumble to let you know.. she isn’t aggressive about it and never snaps of course, but she makes her displeasure known for sure. It’s like she’s saying, “Hey, watch it, I’m here and ya better not step on me.” She’ll sometimes grumble, turn her back and leave in disgust because someone dared to invade her space. Oh, did I say she likes her space? LOL Early on she decided that the rug right in front of the sink was her spot, which of course makes it really convenient when we need to do dishes. She now knows we can share her space and she can continue to lie there, but in the beginning she would get all huffy when we would get into her space. Casey’s too funny. He talks a good game and tells her she better move or he’ll move her, which he has done before (not so much on the kitchen rug, but he’s literally picked up her bed with her in it and put it back in the corner). I won’t mention, though, how one day I found him doing dishes with his feet spread wide apart so as not to disturb her. Like I said, she’s not a bit spoiled around here. 🙂 She’s definitely a very cautious little girl too. She’ll get right out of your way if she even suspects she’s going to be bumped or stepped on. I really like that.

thanks for reading this looooong message. I Love my girl and enjoy sharing
her fun personality with others.

Judy and Sachet

*****

I am smiling as I read this. Happy one year retirement anniversary, little Sashy, and keep enjoying your carefree life! I love you!

Tech-Dogs, What the Heck Is That?

Written on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015

Tech-Dogs is the name of the Guide Dogs for the Blind technology alumni chapter. It is made up of guide dog handlers who love and use technology. As we were going about our normal day, that name popped into my head, and I was reminded of how fitting it is. Technology and guide dogs have made travel so much more effortless than it used to be. This is not to say that it is effortless in the least, so maybe effortless is not the right word. I still have to seek out and use the necessary information and technological tools, effectively communicate with and give directions to my dog, use safe orientation and mobility techniques, and put all these together to get where I need to go. However, this can be accomplished much more smoothly, efficiently, and independently than it might have been without help from both my technology and my trusty guide dog.

This morning, Case and I went to breakfast at IHOP. We took the bus, using our GPS to locate our designated stop. We crossed the street at a busy intersection, and walked down the sidewalk in search of the IHOP that the GPS said was only about 100 feet or so ahead. After we had walked for a minute or so, I noticed that we were getting further away from our destination. I also remembered walking here before, but it had been a while, and I knew we had to turn in at the first driveway. I seemed to remember the driveway was closer to the corner. We turned back around and looked for the next opening on our left. I kept asking my dog to go left, knowing he would as soon as he could. Sure enough, a little ways down, Keats made the left as requested, and I noticed how there was really no indication that there was a driveway there, which explained why we walked right past it. Let me say that this is Keats’s first time guiding me here. To his credit, he did slow down at that driveway the first time, but I didn’t think much of it. Next time, we will both know better. So, we turned into the driveway, and Keats quickly found the door inside, carefully guiding around a railing and through a narrow sidewalk. He continued his awesome work in the restaurant, being careful to slow down for narrow spaces. He backed right in in front of my feet at our booth, and laid there quietly the entire time.

We began walking home, and then we decided to go run an errand because we remembered the place was really close, except in the opposite direction. I had marked the door with my GPS last time we were there, so I targeted it and off we went back the other way, or tried to anyway. My boy is too smart for his own good sometimes, and he just didn’t understand why the heck we were walking the opposite direction and backtracking. I had to really encourage him to move, as he kept stopping and looking up at me as if to say, “Really Mom? Why are we going this way? We were walking the other way.” He might have also been thinking we were going to rework an error, in which case we would have turned around, walked a few feet, then turned back around to head in the direction of the error, to give him a chance to do it successfully. If this had been a rework, I would’ve pointed out the error. Still, he might have figured he would help me out by trying to stop and get ready to turn back around. I don’t really know what goes through his head when we have to turn around and go back the way we came, but I do know he is usually not too happy about it. I finally convinced him we were indeed going this way and he started walking at normal speed. Casey had pulled the location up on his iPhone GPS using the Blindsquare app, and I was tracking it using Sendero GPS on my Braille Note. We weren’t sure if it was before or after the closest intersection. The GPS reported that the intersection was closer than the place we were headed, by about 100 feet, which told us we had to cross the intersection. We also realized the address of the place was on the side street, so we turn right at it, then I started suggesting a left to Keats. He confidently walked up to the intersecting sidewalk, turn left, then after I asked him to find the door, we went right to it. We found the restroom after getting some directions from the staff person and reading the braille sign to determine the correct door. After exiting the restroom, I asked Keats to find Casey, who was already sitting down in the waiting area. He began wagging excitedly, walked right up to Casey and put his nose on Casey’s lap. Then he proceeded to find me an empty seat after I asked him. What a good boy! I try to take advantage of opportunities for him to practice his commands. It makes him all the much more confident and reliable.

So, would all this have been possible without the aid of technology or my guide dog? Yes indeed, but would we have been as efficient or independent? Absolutely not. I am so thankful to God for my guide dog, my technology, and for giving us resources and opportunities beyond what we could have ever imagined years ago.

Wow!! – 11/3/2014

In three more days, Keats and I will reach our 6 month milestone. As I sit here pondering how we’ve grown as a team, I can’t help but get a little emotional. He continues to earn my trust more and more. Just today, we had one of those moments that reminds me of just how thankful to God I am for my guide dog. We were at Lynx Central Station, our main Orlando bus terminal. We had gone inside to purchase Access Lynx tickets. This requires two crossings, in an environment that is very noisy and where reading traffic is quite a challenge. I am always a bit hesitant to cross, because I’ve had a couple of close calls in the 11 years I’ve been riding buses. If I’m hesitant with a dog, imagine with a cane, which I did for about two years. Anyhow, we were on our way out of the terminal, headed toward our designated bus bay. We crossed the first busway which is the more narrow one. Keats stopped at the edge of the crossing for the 2nd one. I took a few moments to listen. It was almost quarter after the hour, one of the higher traffic times, when buses are moving in and out of the station. When I thought it was safe, I gave Keats a forward. Off we went across the first lane of buses … and then he began to slow down. I started to wonder what the deal was, and then he stopped, very deliberately. Next thing I hear, a bus rolled right along in front of us, no hesitation. I praised my boy, trying to remain calm so as not to get him excited in the middle of the street, but inside I wanted to pick him up and hug him right there. I commanded him forward again, and we completed the crossing. Casey and Andy were right behind us, and Andy stopped very suddenly too. Of course, lots of praise and a nice treat after crossing the up curb. This was a first for us. He had done a traffic check at a driveway, but not in the middle of a crossing. I have seen him do traffic checks during training, but we weren’t on our own then. It’s different somehow. All I can say is that today’s experience definitely increased our trust factor.

It’s hard to imagine that an exuberant young dog can do things like this, but he is an amazing worker! One of my friends who is an orientation and mobility instructor was commenting the other day that Keats is a very focused worker. I love that about him, and how tuned into me he is. Whenever I call his name, no matter what he’s doing, he looks up at me. Last week, I let him loose in one of the classrooms with the door closed, to play with a friend’s dog who was visiting. Boy did they play, running loops around the room and chasing each other. But, when I stepped out for a minute to get water for them, he sat in front of the closed door until I came back. I never asked him to stay. It just melts my heart when he does things like that, letting me know how attached to me he is.

A few weeks ago we visited a friend. I wish I knew what about that house was different. Perhaps it was all the animal smells—they have two dogs, a cat, chickens, and there are cows next door. Perhaps it’s all the nature smells—they have at least an acre of land around their house, maybe more. I don’t know, but whatever it was made Keats whine. He had not done that anywhere else. It wasn’t a constant thing, just a few little whines here and there. They were so pitiful!

I think I have the goofiest dog on the planet. One morning we had put the food down, and Keats was in the room with a bone in his mouth. He usually has some kind of toy in his mouth most of the time. So, I gave him the ok to eat, and he took off with the bone. I guess he forgot to drop it until he got to the food bowl, at which point he probably remembered he had a bone in his mouth, and dropped it right in the middle of the food! The week after, he did that at work, only this time into the water bowl. What a goofball!

On a more guide-work related note, Keats is doing fantastic with a variety of targeting tasks—seats, trash cans, stairs, doors, Casey—I think that’s about it. He picks up things very quickly, and does good at generalizing. I was wondering the other day about how dogs generalize. Do they actually think, “This is a trash, and this is another trash?” Or is it more like, “This is something mom has me find, and this is something else she has me find?” Sure would be nice to know what they are thinking.

The 1st picture with this entry was taken at work today. He is sitting in my office and he has one of those water buffalo horns in his mouth—thanks Kevin! The 2nd one is of Keats and Andy by the fridge, Keats with his head on Andy. The other day they were soooo cute laying curled up side by side in the same bed. I tried taking a picture, but I never have claimed to be a photographer. Plus, it was 3 in the morning and I had just woken up, and I was trying not to move so as not to disturb them and make them break their cute pose. It was adorable! Hopefully they’ll do it again some day and I’ll actually get a decent picture of them.

I think today will be the day I post all of the entries I’ve had living in my Braille Note for a while. I also think that very soon, I will create a Keats sound for my voicemail on my cell. Yes, Sachet is still on there. It’s just that my boy isn’t vocal, so it’s not as easy to get him to participate. I’ll get creative though. I often think about how special Keats is. Last week, it was brought home by the reactions of a friend who is not even a dog person, but she was clearly impressed with him. I so love this dog!

Making up for Lost Time – 9/11/14

I’m making up for all the writing I haven’t done these last 2 months. We are on the bus headed to Red Lobster. I’m dreaming of endless shrimp!! So, I think Keats can read, which is no surprise since he’s quite the poet. He knew I was writing about his little escapades, sneaking out of the house, so he thought he would do something to show off how well he’s doing since. That same day I posted, my parents and I walked outside to say goodbye to friends. They always have the gate closed because of Sachet, so there was no danger of dogs getting out, which is why we weren’t too attentive to the door. We said our goodbyes, and Sashy had come out with us. I realized what an opportunity I’d given my boy to just wander out, and how I should’ve been more attentive to him on the way out the door, to keep reinforcing the concept of not darting out without permission. After scolding myself inwardly, I asked my mom where Keats was, as we were headed inside. “He’s at the door looking right at you,” she said. Sure enough, when I got to the door, my little boy was sitting just inside the door, wagging his tail proudly. “You see, Mom? I’m doing what I’m supposed to! Wag wag!” I was so very proud of him. That definitely called for a high value treat.

My parents commented that they both noticed a difference in Keats’s work from the last time we were there two months earlier. I guess we look like a more seasoned team. I still marvel at how comfortable I feel with him in only four months. He really is such an easy dog to work with, and such a love! He certainly stole the hearts of all my family, and the fact that he was always carrying a toy in his mouth just adds to the cuteness factor. We flew back to Orlando on Monday, and as expected, Keats just slept the entire flight. We navigated the airport smoothly and efficiently. I also had an eye doc appt. that morning, and he guided me expertly around the large Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. His work was phenomenal all the way around that weekend.

Remember how I said Sachet ignored the toy I brought her? Well, I got a text from my mom yesterday morning, and it so brightened my day. She said Sashy had been playing with the toy the night before, squeaking and bringing it around to them off and on the whole evening. I had left a Kong for her, so my parents could do frozen Kongs for her. She usually didn’t play with Kongs. However, yesterday, she was repeatedly taking the Kong and dropping it at my mom’s feet. After a few times, she decided Sachet might have been trying to tell her something like, “Ok Mom, here it is. Fill it up please!”

The 1st pic here is one of Keats looking for lizards in front of my parents’ house. The 2nd is of Keats and Sachet lying to either side of me on a staircase where I was sitting. Keats has his head on my lap.

Frozen Kongs and Yumminess for All – 9/7/2014

First of all, for those of you who get posts by e-mail, the date on the last one should’ve been 9/6, not 8/6. I fixed it online.

I’ll post a few pictures and a couple of videos here. I may have to use Dropbox for the videos (Yep, I do, unless I want to upgrade), so you’ll have to click on the links to access them. The two videos are of the dogs enjoying their frozen Kongs.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/521g9xb6arx8ga1/2014-09-07%2010.30.55.mov?dl=0
https://www.dropbox.com/s/hkt6q1g6mi4p8az/2014-09-07%2010.42.22.mov?dl=0

The three pics are: one of the two dogs looking up at their frozen Kongs, one of Keats and I curled up on the floor in my parents’ living room, and one of Keats and Sachet by my parents’ pool. I think I’ll use that picture for an iPhone case one of these days. *smile*

Today we gave the dogs the frozen Kongs. At first, we had to convince Sashy that it was a worthwhile task. She was ignoring it at first, in true Sachet fashion, but once she got into it, she went to town. Keats was very focused the entire time. At one point, I called him over so he could bring the Kong in the room where Sashy was. He did come, but left the kong where it was, so I had to go get it. I was so proud of him for coming to me, even though he was fully engaged in the awesomeness of the frozen Kong. I expected him to bring it, so the fact that he was willing to come without it deserves big kudos. Sachet got smart, and at a certain point she started throwing it around to dislodge the kibble. Keats did that a little at the very end, but most of the time he just kept at it. It took them close to an hour to get everything out of the Kongs. It was entertaining to watch, and fun/yummy for them.

We all know dogs often test us to see what they can get away with. Keats’s testing has been so minor. To be honest, I am still amazed how much freedom I can give this boy, even in other people’s houses. My boy does have a bit of a sneaky side though. One morning a few weeks ago, we were pouring dog food into the bins. We walked away to attend to something, closing the lids but failing to latch them. A couple of minutes went by and we got distracted. Next thing I hear, the latch for one of the bins is moving up and down. Somebody had decided to try to open it with his nose. He was being very gentle about it, too. All it took, though, was a stern “Keats, no, out!” He darted right out of the kitchen. I must say my little sassy Sashy would not have listened to a no, stern or not. She also would have been much more forceful about it. Another night within a week or two of that incident, I was taking Andy out to relieve—I had already taken Keats. We were walking down the path to the street, and I tripped over a dog. I stopped, and Andy looked like he was at a nice heel. “Well,” I thought, “Andy probably wanted to go sniff the grass or something.” There was no dog in front of me when I reached down to check. So, we kept going. I kept hearing some jingling that didn’t sound like Andy’s, so I reached over to the right, and guess who was there, happy as a clam, not trying to run off or anything, just hanging out with us. So, I took him by the collar, went back to the door, and told him “no, inside.” I didn’t make much of it though, because at least he wasn’t trying to run off. What I have done since is to make much more of a point of stopping at doors and having him wait until I say ok to proceed. Initially I would have him sit at doors, but he was so good that I had kind of let my guard down about it. He has snuck out one or two other times with Casey, so we really have to watch him.

Cruising with Keats and Sachet update – 9/6/2014

How can it be that my boy and I have worked together for four months today? Where have the days, weeks, and months gone? There is so much I want to say and I just don’t know where to start. I’ll just mention things as I think of them, and hope this won’t be too all over the place. No promises though. * smile *

Last month, I ventured to Florida Mall with Keats. It was his first time there, and he made me very proud, so much so that I just had to go a second time a couple of weeks later. Of course it had nothing to do with the fact that Macys was having a big sale, or that I was craving California Pizza Kitchen. *smile* I have to say that navigating Florida Mall with Keats was unexpectedly easy. I honestly have never found Starbucks that effortlessly. I don’t know why that is exactly, whether it’s the fact that I’m feeling more comfortable with the layout, or the fact that Keats has a very nice straight line of travel, or a combination. I did not notice any left tendency while we walked the mall. It was very easy to walk along the right side when looking for a right turn or a store on the right. We navigated the crowds very nicely. He was quite careful. One time, the first time we went, I ran smack dab into somebody. It was not a brush. He didn’t do that before or since, so I think it might have been partly the other person’s fault. Maybe he or she stopped suddenly, or the person might have just walked in front of us, and in either case Keats might not have had enough time to react. Of course he could’ve simply made a mistake. As much as we might think so sometimes, they’re not perfect. They are dogs, not robots, but that’s the beauty of it too. We just have to be diligent in reworking the errors so he knows he made it and that it’s not acceptable.

As I write, I have Keats on my right, and Sashy in front of me, all sprawled out on the floor. I am so blessed to be able to spend time with both my kids. Yesterday we traveled to Miami on Amtrak. I had my Sachet shirt on, so I felt that I was traveling with both of them somehow. Maybe Sachet was sending Keats good vibes, but more likely, Keats is just one awesome dog. I was super impressed with his work, both yesterday and Thursday.

Let me talk about Thursday first. It was Keats’s first field trip with me. I took the independent living skills class to the Lynx Central Station, to get their AdvantAge IDs, then to have lunch and bowl. Keats was a trooper, and his work was beautiful. There were a couple of students who had lots of questions because they’re interested in getting a guide dog. Keats was a great ambassador. His curb work was flawless, as were his crossings. His trainer was so right when she said he is awesome at targeting. He does a super job at finding empty seats on the bus, even when they’re a little ways back. When we went to the vet Thursday afternoon to pick up Andy’s medicine, we took the bus there, which I hadn’t done with him yet. We got off the bus, navigating the parking lot, and he took me straight to the steps leading up to the doors. Yes, they will often show you places you have been before, but I never take it for granted. I love it when he shows that kind of initiative. It’s just what I wanted in a dog.

Keats had been on Amtrak with me once before, on the way back home from here when I visited in June, but that day, we pretty much stayed in our seat and didn’t wander off to get anything to eat, etc. Yesterday we ventured to the snack cart, and he guided nicely, not bothered in the least by the occasional rocking motion. He slept quietly under the table there, as well as by my feet at our seat. We arrived at the Miami station almost an hour early. While standing there waiting to get off, I overheard one employee say to another, “Now that is a real service dog!” It’s always nice to hear people acknowledge your dog’s excellent training and behavior. So, we got off the train, got our suitcase, asked the conductor which direction to head for the station, and off we went. I failed to ask how far down it would be, so I had no idea when to start encouraging him to find the door. So, I just told him “left to the door,” and without hesitation, he walk to it, turned left, and when I asked him, proceeded to find me an empty seat. What a boy! My parents came to pick us up, and they brought Sachet. She was excited to see us. We relieved them both, and then my dad asked me if Keats knew how to find trash cans. “Well,” I said, “we’re working on it. Is there one close?” He said there was, and so I headed in the direction and asked him to find it. My dad started to tell me we were approaching, but there was no need. Keats was already swerving to the right and went straight for it. It was a different kind of trash than we’ve encountered before, and yet he knew. He certainly impressed my parents.

A little side note about our last trip to Miami, which I realize I neglected to write about. Oh gosh! I’m such an English nerd. I can’t ignore that I ended a sentence with a preposition, but this is more like a conversation than a literary work, so I will not change it and make it sound too stuffy. So, Sashy was super happy to see me. I left Keats with my dad outside, so I could spend those first few minutes with just her. She was wagging like mad, trying to get between my legs, snuffling and spinning around. I did not cry. I just felt immensely happy to see her, and after seeing her in her new environment, at peace that she is happy. After the initial greeting, I came outside and grabbed Keats, and my mom brought Sachet out so they could meet. At first she didn’t know what to make of him, and did her usual little “back off” woofing when he got too up close and personal with his sniffing. But, it didn’t take her long to get comfortable with him. In fact, that same night, just an hour or two after we arrived, the dogs were tugging together. This time when they met again, there was no woofing, just sniffs and happy wags.

A couple of little side notes, Keats has had no further problems with his ears. I’m using a more gentle ear cleaner, and I think it works better for him, and for Andy too. Andy had a little minor ear trouble recently, so both our boys now use the Epiotic (sp?) ear cleaner. Last weekend, I cut the boys’ nails. It was the first time I did Keats’s, because the only other time I had them do it at the vet. I was worried that he might be antsy and move around, but he behaved beautifully. I gave him treats after I was done with each paw, because though he behaved, I know he was not super excited about it. Oh yes, and I bathed him at the beginning of August. He was also very tolerant of his bath, though not thrilled.

I probably won’t see Sachet before her birthday next month, so I brought her a present or two. I bought her a squeaky plush toy with a water bottle inside, so it also makes crackly noises. She wasn’t too excited about that one, or at least not yet. My girl sometimes takes time to warm up to stuff, and she has very definite opinions of what she wants when. I actually bought two of those, one for each of them, and Keats has been running around with both. I also brought some Old Mother Hubbard peanut butter treats, which they have both already sampled and loved of course. I know I can’t go wrong with food for my girl. Last but not least, I brought two kongs which we froze with kibble and water. Sashy used to love her frozen kongs, so hopefully she will still enjoy it just as much. It will be the first time I give Keats one, so we’ll see what he does.

Today we went to see my uncle in the hospital, and I know my boy put a smile on his face. A couple of my family members hadn’t met him the last time we came, including my uncle. One of my little cousins got to see us work, probably more than ever before, and I know we educated him. My mom and I went to get mani-pedis, and Keats impressed some more people there. When we were leaving, the owner said, “You have such a beautiful dog, very well-behaved, and so clean!” They are Vietnamese, and often times they don’t seem to be very familiar with dogs. I’m glad Keats gave them a good impression, of guide dogs, and dogs in general.

The picture with this post is one we took on our first Miami trip, me with both the dogs in my parents’ kitchen. I’m hugging Sashy and I think maybe Keats too? Can’t remember the exact positions of everyone, just that they were both there and looking pretty!

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun – 8/12/2014

Last week, we reached our three month milestone. Wow! Where has the time gone? We are doing well, bonding more and more as a team. I’m getting to the point where working familiar routes is effortless. My boy is a great little worker, and he loves to please! The other day we were walking home and stopped at 711 to pick up a slurpy for Casey, an iced coffee for me, a couple of little snack items, and last but best of all, a 711 pizza. Did you all know they have pizza now? I think they’ve probably had it for about a year or so, but we’d never tried it. It wasn’t half bad. So, we ventured forth with our goodies. This is how we know we are definitely not a new guide dog/handler team any more. I had 2 bags hanging from my arm, one of which had a drink holder with our two drinks. With that same hand, I was holding the pizza box, making sure to keep it upright. Thankfully our house was just around the corner. Once we entered our subdivision and crossed over to our side of the street, my poor boy started trying to walk really fast. Thankfully, I caught on right away this time, and had him walk on the grass. It was so hot and his poor lil paws were hurting. So, we did the Judy sidewalkless technique for the heat, which involves having him walk on the grass and me on the street. By the way, this was a very newly developed technique, as new as last week. * wink * We made it home without dropping or spilling anything, miracle of miracles. For any current or potential guide dog users, I did this knowing full well what could happen, but also trusting that my boy would do fine. Yes, things can happen, but as people who don’t drive and need to be as resourceful as possible, we sometimes need to think outside the box and do things a bit unconventionally to get done what we need to, as long as there isn’t a safety issue (i.e., carrying a full hot cup of coffee with no lid while your dog is guiding you)—bad idea, mostly because you could burn yourself and your dog. Bottom line, this experience has shown me how I have begun to trust my dog more, and how far we’ve come as a team in a very short time.

Returning at Last

Dear readers,

I know … you all probably thought I fell off the face of the planet, or that I was done writing for a while. Believe it or not, I’ve been writing things to post, just haven’t posted them. So, I will post a few separate entries now. The titles will also contain the dates on which they were written, and I will post chronologically. I think being that in approximately 12 hours, we will have our 6-month milestone, this is a fitting day to post all these. Oh yes, and yesterday my little boy turned two and a half. Where does the time go?!!

Learning to Dance

Hi everyone! First of all, thanks to all of you who have made nice comments about the blog. I am certainly enjoying writing here, and sharing with all of you about our journey is half the fun. Like most journeys, there have been high and low points, but the good news is that the highs definitely outweigh the lows. This last week, I have begun to feel that Keats and I are communicating on a new level, that as someone wisely pointed out, we are learning to dance, and we are starting to be more and more in step together. Believe me, it has not been easy, nor is it completely smooth sailing from here I know. During some of the toughest days, I have reminded myself that I knew this would not be easy. What Sachet and I built took a lot of time and hard work, and it did not happen over night. There were many challenges and frustrations, but oh how sweet the successes. So it is with Keats and me. Though it has not been easy, I am trying hard to heed the advice of a good friend, to enjoy watching Keats grow into a seasoned guide dog. Sometimes we can be so focused on the end product that we forget to stop and just enjoy the ride. My heart swells with pride at each little success, each realization, each time I see the light bulb go on—it’s magical! There is just no other way to describe it.

As I write, my boy is comfortably settled under the seat on the bus on the way home from work. He gets right into position on buses and paratransit vehicles now, where before he was a bit hesitant to back up. He is consistently showing me the bus stop pole at work, and empty seats on the bus. He is becoming much more reliable with the posts at Lynx Central Station that indicate the bay letter. We have worked on finding a particular trash can at work, out in the back where he relieves. He is about 90% consistent with it, sometimes with some encouragement to work past a certain tree. Who knows? There may be a lizard crawling up the tree at that particular moment. 🙂 Speaking of lizards, this boy really likes to chase them! I have been using it as a reward for when he relieves. However, a trainer advised against that, because he could be fixating too much on them and it might be why he’s taking forever to relieve. I’m pretty sure he’s right, so for now we’re not chasing on leash at all. The relieving (or parking) is going better for the most part. There are still those days when it takes him 15-20 minutes, but they are getting less and less it seems. This morning I was in a big rush, so I had a little chat with him, literally, before we went outside. I told him how much I would appreciate it if he could go really quickly this morning. And, guess what? I was back inside in 2 or 3 minutes at the most. Who says dogs can’t understand us? I am loving this dog more and more every day!

That was written on Tuesday, and today, 5 days later, I will finally finish and post this. I’ll fill you in on some of the ways my boy makes me laugh. As I think I’ve mentioned before, he likes to lay by the fridge, but my smart boy figured out quickly that if he sits or lays curled up right up against the back wall, in front of the freezer door, I can still get into the fridge without making him move. So, when he sees me walking toward the fridge, he’ll usually sit up and scoot back to the wall. Since 9 times out of 10 I don’t need to get in the freezer, this works beautifully!

In the morning, as soon as I even start moving, he is up, and if there is not a bone or toy in sight, he goes to find one. It is absolutely imperative that there be something in his mouth when he is excitedly prancing around. I think it’s hilarious that he thinks of that even before he thinks about having breakfast or going outside. This is how he got one of his nicknames, which Casey gave him—dangler. Something is usually dangling out of his mouth. I call him slurpy from time to time, because he will sometimes slurp right after he’s done drinking water, or just before he starts eating. Oh, one of our volunteers at Lighthouse calls him Longfellow. Another well-known poet—I love it! He figures this way he can talk about him and not say his name so as not to distract him. His wife warned him that Keats will figure that out soon enough. So far he hasn’t. 🙂

We all know how much he likes to chase. So, the other day, my mom dropped a plastic grocery bag. I don’t know what was going through Keats’s mind, but he would inch toward it, then move back really fast, like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. He finally got up close enough to sniff it, and I think the wind moved it, so he started darting around to chase it. We caught it on video! I will write a separate post about my Miami trip.

Thursday we went to the NFB convention, to the exhibits, and to one of the evening meetings. We also got to spend some time with a couple of friends from out of state. My boy did beautifully in that very challenging environment. Because I know he is pretty laid back, and that other dogs are not a major distraction for him, I figured we would be ok. He took everything in stride, navigating around the people with their long canes and dogs, waiting patiently at the exhibit booths while I examined items and chatted with the exhibitors. Occasionally he tried to go say high to another dog, but he would get right back on track with barely a “no.” I think the most distracting thing for him was at one of the booths. They were selling these little stuffed birds that peeped when you squeezed them. I was holding one, and Keats purked right up and tried to get it. Funny boy! When coming back inside from relieving, I thought I would ask him to find the trash, since it was right on the way in, to the left of the door. He wagged his tail and took me right up to it. I’ve showed him a couple of trash cans at work this week, too, and he is starting to make the connection. At one point I was trying to find Casey who had waited for us in the lobby downstairs while I went to part of a meeting. When we got off the elevator, Keats got really waggie. I thought there was another dog or something. I made a turn and walked off in what I thought was the direction of Casey. After a couple of minutes, I decided we should probably turn back around because the lobby was no where in sight. I had come down a different elevator so I wasn’t exactly sure. We were winging it. As we were getting near those elevators again, the tail started wagging, and then I heard Casey calling my name. I told him to find Casey, and he went right to him. Should’ve done that from the get go, huh? 🙂

Ups and Downs

Yesterday and today were pretty opposite days. Thank God for the good days to help out way the bad ones, and it’s extra nice when they are close together. I’ll write a little about yesterday first. It started out ok. We walked to the bus stop and took the bus about a mile down the road. We got off at our Publix/Walmart plaza, and worked to a couple of stores there. Keats’s work was fine in the plaza and the stores. We walked through the Publix to cool off, and I weighed him again after almost two weeks. He is 61 lbs, so I’ll need to up his food a bit. We will be using more consistent food reward for a bit, so that should work out well. So, we walked out of Publix and across the parking lot out to the main road. We got a little turned around in the parking lot, and didn’t quite do it the way our trainer showed us. I think we just veered some. We’ll try it again soon, but at least we made it to the sidewalk without too much wandering around. We were walking to Steak ‘N Shake, and at one of the street crossings, we veered quite a bit. It was very scary. Cars were honking, and at one point, a guy rolled down his window and said something like, “You guys need to go back to training!” Could’ve smacked him! Really? We’re in the street and instead of being helpful you have to make a smart comment like that? Anyway, a really sweet and helpful lady came over and helped us find the curb. Keats wasn’t going that way–we were both disoriented. I know after asking a couple of questions that we veered. I wonder if we didn’t cross at the correct curb, if we weren’t lined up properly, or if we just veered. Regardless, thank God we were ok. After that, everything went down hill. I can tell you that I’m absolutely sure I wasn’t being a very supportive handler at that point, which contributed to everything. Keats was not liking the heat, and he might’ve been a bit upset about what happened with that crossing, I don’t know. All I know is he wasn’t pulling into the harness at all, and no matter how much I encouraged he just wouldn’t go, at least not at a reasonable pace. We just kept creeping down the sidewalk–I didn’t want to push or over-walk him, so I was trying to let him pull, but he wouldn’t. He would just stop. He wasn’t being very accurate with curbs either, stopping past them or just before. Honestly, at that point, I should’ve just taken out a cane and heeled him while I used my cane … but wait, I didn’t have a cane! Aaaaaah! I was hot and tired and just had a big scare. He was probably hot and tired and just had a big scare too. We weren’t a good combo at that point. 🙂 WE did make it to Steak ‘N Shake, and he did find the stairs after a bit of back and forth to find the sidewalk we needed. On the way back, there was more of the same, but we took the bus most of the way. I had planned to go to the grocery store on the way back, but I figured we’d both just needed a break at that point. Casey and Andy were with us and I was so glad for his support! When we got home, I groomed him and we both unwound a bit. I got enough hair off of him to make a brand-new dog! I hadn’t seen him shed this much before. The heat is probably not helping either.

This morning, the four of us took the bus to Colonial Plaza and went to breakfast at Toojay’s. Last night, I had decided I was going to start using food reward at every curb for a bit, to reinforce and motivate him. I found it really did help a lot. He was right on, about 95% of the time, much improved from yesterday. I will do this until he is 100% consistent for a bit before slowly backing off of the food. So, Mr. Picky reliever did not go here or at the bus stop at Colonial Plaza, even though I gave him a good 10-15 minutes. But, less than 10 minutes into our walk, he went in harness. That was the worst thing that happened all day really. He has done this a few times, and I will continue to watch and monitor this. He hadn’t done it for over a week and a half now, and the schedule is way more regular than it was, so there is definitely improvement.

His pull was much better today. It wasn’t as hot either. He did great in the restaurant as usual. We headed to Starbucks, and he drank almost an entire bowl of water. He did awesome working around Starbucks, to the restroom, the line, finding Casey with some encouragement, etc. He is being more careful, though he still needs reminding once in a while. We walked over to Walgreens to get a couple of pictures printed, and to get a gift card for a friend’s birthday. His work was great, stopping at down and up curbs, targeting the sidewalk we needed for Walgreens, working around the store, and finding the door outside. As we were leaving, we worked to the down curb, and he was right on targeting the ramp to the sidewalk we needed. It was starting to rain, but he didn’t seem sulky or anything. He still worked beautifully. The rain is probably the lesser of two evils for him. 🙂

We worked back to Starbucks where Casey and Andy awaited us. I got a drink and did some work for a while. I realized that I was running very low on Charlee Bears, which are the treats I’ve been using with him. There is a Petco in that plaza, so I decided to head over there to get some treats to hold us over. We still had to work to the bus stop and then home. He had been doing so well with the treats, and I definitely wanted to continue that. I had three left, and they got us to the Petco. We found these treats by Crazy Dog called Train-Me. I bought the bacon flavored ones. They are tiny, but they do the trick. Each one is about half a calorie. Lower than the Charlee Bears which are three, but also smaller. They are soft and meaty, and I think he likes those better.

In the pet store, there were two poodles that barked and growled at him, and he didn’t even react. What a good boy! At Starbucks, he comforted a lady who had just lost her yellow lab. She came over and asked to pet him, so I took off his harness, and I know it made her day. In contrast, there were a couple of people throughout the day who really annoyed me. One lady on the bus kept trying to talk to him and get his attention, even after I told her to please not distract him because he was working, and even thanked her. For what? I don’t know, because it didn’t seem to mean anything to her. She tried again a couple of times. I repeated myself. Then she stopped. Maybe she didn’t speak English? Or maybe she gave up since he was pretty much ignoring her. Another one was ahead of us while we were walking back to our subdivision. She had a yappy dog, and she was telling the dog to leave him alone because he was working, as she proceeded to distract him by making eye contact and telling him what a good boy he was. Aaaaaaaai! Brings to mind one of my favorite lines in a country song, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy!”

I was really proud of him today. He did great work and I told him so all day. When we got home, I gave him some squeaky toy time. He loves those!! Right now he is pretty much zonked out in front of me on the floor. It’s about feeding time, so I’m off to do that. I am looking forward to introducing him to my church family tomorrow. I will let them know that after the initial intros, I’ll be really limiting his interaction with people, since we are still in the process of bonding as a team. People at work are doing great with that. I appreciate their understanding and respect for our team. Oh yes, and this week he did great around the office and taking the bus home. We worked on targeting the bus bay posts again, and I think he is starting to get it. I may be wrong, but I was getting the sense that he was misunderstanding and thought he had to avoid them. I did target them and feed him there, so not sure why, but he kept passing them and trying to take me around them. We’ll work on it. He is doing much better staying in his bed in my office while we’re there, and not popping up to try to greet everyone who comes through my door, with his bone of course. 🙂 Though in theory this sounds cute, in practice it is not a good idea, because not everyone likes dogs, nor wants to be greeted constantly. Also, it means he’s getting out of his bed and getting excited, so then I have to tell him to go back. And, what if I happen not to be in the office? I wouldn’t want him popping up to greet someone and then wandering right out the door. Initially I am keeping him on tiedown to avoid this. He is already doing way better.

Everyone enjoy the rest of your weekend, and we’ll check in again soon. So long!

A Long Overdue Sachet Update

I thought I would take a couple of minutes to write about the Princess in her new home. One of these pictures was taken very recently, and the other was from a couple of months ago when we were there for my dad’s surprise 60th birthday party. I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to be able to hear about how she is doing on a regular basis, and how happy she is. My parents are so funny! They remind me of a couple with a new baby. He tells her she puts too much water in the food. She tells him he is walking too fast for Sachet … and on it goes. My dad doesn’t pronounce English very well, so he has his very own special commands and praise for her, which she of course understands. 🙂 I told them she’d start understanding Spanish too, but I guess they have kept the English words for now. Sachet goes for walks with my dad almost every night, and she knows the routine already. In case he is having second thoughts about going, she goes over and lets him know she is ready to go, wagging furiously and looking toward the door. They don’t dare disappoint her! She follows him after dinner, waiting patiently while he brushes his teeth and puts on his sneakers, wagging all the time. The other day I was on the phone with my mom when they were leaving, and she said Sachet was so intent on looking at the door that she wouldn’t even turn around to say goodbye. She was ready! I actually got to hear her bark a couple of times the other day. It was so awesome to hear her lil voice again! Several times they’ve told me about how they’ve dropped a treat, and she will not go for it. She stands there like a statue, looking intently at it, but will not get it until someone picks it up and gives it to her. That’s my girl! She follows my mom around the house all the time, and when they get to a step, she still stops for it. My dad says she stops at curbs, and of course they encourage this. It was part of her routine for so long! She takes turns sleeping in the different beds all over the house. The other day they had to leave her alone for a few hours, and they were a little worried about her, since this would be the first time she stayed alone for a long period of time. She did fine of course. She has gone to my dad’s job and to run errands with my mom. Everyone is so impressed with her, but how could they not be? She’s the Super Sashy Dog!

Some of you are probably wondering when I’ll see her again. I want to do what’s best for everyone, and I think my plan is a good one. IN a few weeks we will go to Miami to see her. I plan to go in and see her first, while Mom or Dad hold Keats outside. I want to have a couple of minutes with her first. Then I’ll come back out, get Keats, and have one of them bring Sachet outside to introduce them. Then we can all go in together. I’m sure it will go well. I want her to see me first in her home. I think it will be best for her that way. Then next time, they can come visit here, but she’ll be even more established in her home. Last night I had a dream I had both dogs, and I was working both of them. We were all at Guiding Eyes. Crazy dreams! I do miss my girl of course, but I feel so happy for her, that she has so much love and attention. Life is all about stages, and this is the next one for her, and for me. I often wonder if it isn’t more difficult to trust your second dog than your first. It seemed that I trusted Sachet more easily, perhaps because she showed me what was possible, and I embraced it with care free abandon. I am slowly but surely beginning to trust Keats. The journey will be different, but precious all the same.

Settling In

Hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. Let’s all take a moment today to reflect and be thankful for those who have given up their lives for the sake of this country. We are blessed beyond belief here in the US, and it’s in great part thanks to our brave men and women who have been willing to fight for our freedom.

It has been an eventful few days here in the Mathews household, as Keats gets used to our routines and we to his. Thursday we had some time just the two of us, because I worked from home. At one point I gave him a squeaky toy–he really likes those. He is so funny and cute with them, squeaking them and carrying them around, then laying with them. The squeaky kept him busy for some time. I can’t give him those toys when Andy is here, because he would destroy them. In a matter of two minutes the other day, he ripped off the feat on this squeaky ball. That was with the trainer there watching, and he didn’t even notice it. Andy is a big chomper, and Keats will chomp his bones, but he will also carry them around a lot, like he does with any toy, just showing them off. Not sure if I mentioned we got them deer antlers, and both dogs absolutely love them! They are really hard though, like the sterilized bones. If one lands on someone’s foot, it would really hurt! Every time I hear one land on the floor, I pray that never happens. 🙂

Keats is really such a lovely dog, with excellent house manners and very obedient. I am amazed at how much freedom I have been able to give him in the house so soon. Last Saturday, I fell asleep on the floor with him out in the living room. When I got up to go to bed, he was so comfy on this bed by the couch that I didn’t have the heart to wake him up to come to the bed in the room. besides, Andy was already in that other bed, and Keats was on tiedown here, so he would be fine. Well, when I woke up the next morning, I heard a jingling, a dog pick up a bone and bring it over. I was like, “Wow! I thought he was on tiedown!” Andy doesn’t run around with bones in the morning, but that’s the first thing Keats does, so I knew it had to be him. He had slept out here the whole night it seemed, and only came in when I woke up. This was only our third night here, and even if unintentionally, he had not been on tiedown the entire night. I have kept him on tiedown most nights, but last night, I decided I’d try him again without the tiedown, and as expected, he was just fine. Honestly, he has been loose around the house most of the time almost from day one, except if I was going in the shower, going to sleep, and those are pretty much the only times he’s been on tiedown. He is just so good.

The high temperature on Friday was about 94, but I’m sure the heat index was more. We left early in the morning to avoid the stifling heat. The four of us took the bus to a Super Target. This involved two major street crossings and quite a few driveways. We were walking along and Keats stopped just before a driveway. He wouldn’t have ordinarily stopped there because there was no curb. Just after he stopped, I heard a car exiting the driveway. It was definitely a traffic check! I was so proud of him. 🙂 Then when we were grocery shopping, he refused to turn into an isle, and then I heard a cart come around the corner. Another traffic check! I know this is part of his training, but I will never, ever take that for granted. We were in the Target for quite some time, walking all over the store, and we didn’t have one clearance error. A couple of times I had to get back to where my husband was sitting, and when we were in the general vicinity, I told him to find Casey, just to see what would happen. We haven’t worked on this at all. he wagged his tale and went right to him. He’s naturally doing this for me and I’m so impressed! Our suggested turns are so much better. He did such fantastic work all around and I was so proud of my boy!! I came home and e-mailed his trainer and the two instructors who worked with us. I thought some bragging and some words of gratitude were certainly in order. We are well on our way to becoming an excellent team.

Saturday was even hotter than Friday, and we did not venture out other than to relieve the dogs. It was a perfect day for staying in the AC. We watched the Guiding Eyes graduation live on YouTube. They made a really nice slideshow with pictures of us all working with our dogs. If anyone would like to check it out, you can go to:

www.Youtube.com/guidingeyesguidedogs
They say it will be up there after Wednesday. Click on Guiding Eyes May 2014 Graduation.

Yesterday morning we took the dogs to the tennis courts to play. We did this last week too and they seemed to enjoy it. We don’t really want them getting crazy in the house, so this gives them an opportunity to run and blow off some steam. Yesterday we took a couple of toys, and our challenge was being able to find the one we threw out there for them. Neither dog played with it much and they just wouldn’t bring it back, no matter how much we encouraged them, so we had to go track it down ourselves. Not fun! 😉 IN the afternoon we went out to eat at an Italian steakhouse. It was Casey’s late birthday dinner, since we were right in the middle of training on his birthday and we decided to wait till the following weekend. Keats worked right up to the van door and kept right on going. We can’t say this boy’s not eager to go! We reworked that so he’d stop at the door, and on the way back, he did it perfectly. IN the restaurant, he settled right down as expected. He also did really well guiding around the restaurant. Someone had shown us the restroom in the beginning, and when we went back later, we found it perfectly. It’s such a great feeling when things come together like that. My directions were good and he knew what I wanted so he showed me. He seems to do well with finding areas we’ve been to before, although several times he did try to head toward the outside door. He was probably ready for a nice walk! We are still working on being more careful, because he does tend to brush me against stuff if it’s narrow, rather than stopping or slowing to show me. We are getting there. He is young and he’ll learn. He is such a serious worker. He doesn’t really wag in harness much, even when I praise him, but out of harness, he’s always wagging!

I thought we were done with the ear meds, but I noticed on Saturday that he still has some wax and some dirt, especially in the right ear. I will do the meds a few more days, but if it doesn’t get better here soon, I’m taking him in to see the vet. I brushed his teeth the other day, and he behaves really well too, not fighting me at all. I couldn’t believe how good he was when we were doing eye medication. He’s probably the only dog that would wag for meds. 🙂 He lies still for me to groom him, but will absolutely not let me role him over. He does fight me on that. I finally got him to lie the other way, but it took some encouraging. Of course during this time, we don’t really want to get firm or anything. I want him to like grooming. 🙂

I wanted to share a couple of cute/funny Keats and Andy stories. The picture I’m attaching was taken Friday night just before dinner. Both dogs had come to lie down on the same rug, in front of the fridge. They looked so cute laying together, one in front of the other. They really do get along nicely. When we are in the kitchen, one will lay by the fridge, and the other by the sink. If we need to get in the fridge, and the rug by the sink is free, Keats will move over to it, but usually as soon as we’re done in the fridge, he’ll come right back and lay there. Silly dog! He also knows that when it’s feeding time, he goes to that rug in front of the fridge, except now he is sitting in the back, waiting nicely for his food. He never comes over until I say ok. Yesterday, however, Casey was getting Andy’s food ready, and when he put it down, Keats thought he would come over and have seconds. We had a little chat about that one. When Sashy was here, she and Andy had this little routine. When we went to bed, one would be in the room with us, usually Andy, and one would be out in the living room on one of the beds, usually Sachet. Some time in the middle of the night, and this was a very coordinated effort, they would switch. I had the pleasure of witnessing this a few times when I happened to be awake. They would get up at the exact same time, pass by each other, and switch places. It was hilarious! Last night, Keats was sleeping out here and Andy in the room when we went to bed. We woke up around 4:45, and the dogs had switched beds. So, the legacy lives on!

Before I tell you this next story, I need to give you some background. A few years ago, a friend gave me a tag silencer for Sachet. It’s this little fabric holder that you can Velcro around tags to keep them from jingling. I personally like when they jingle, because then I can hear where the dog is, but I had two pairs of tags, so I figured I’d put it on one of the pairs. The thing was securely Velcroed on, but soon I found it somewhere on the rug. I thought to myself, “I didn’t notice it was loose at all.” So, I tried it again,with the same results. After a couple of times of this back and forth, we realized it wasn’t coming off on its own, but someone was taking it off. Andy must have thought it didn’t belong, because he took it off every single time, so we just gave up the notion of it altogether. Fast-forward to the present. Yesterday I decided to put a couple of bells on Keats. He was wearing his half-check collar, so no tags were on it. I put a key ring with a couple of bells on it and attached it to the collar. Some time that day, I noticed one of the bells was missing. I figured maybe it wasn’t all the way on and it had just come off. I found it and put it away, leaving him with just one jingle bell on a key ring. He had it on last night when we went to sleep. This morning, I realized Keats wasn’t jingling, so I reached over to see what had happened. I couldn’t believe it! The key ring was completely stretched out–not sure how to describe it. It was no longer round. And, there was no bell on it! At first I wondered if one of the dogs had eaten it–scary thought! Would that pass automatically or would we have to go to the vet? I didn’t think Keats could get to it, but wasn’t sure. So, we looked and looked, and finally, Casey found the bell, right by the bed in the room. It was intact. When we woke up at first, Casey said he thought Andy and Keats were laying together in that bed, because he had heard them both. When I checked, they weren’t, but he said he heard them both there at one point, so it must have been when Andy was working on taking the bell off. Crazy boy! He hasn’t tried to take off the tags from Keats’s training collar. Guess he figures those belong, but not the bells. That key ring was hard to open. I had a hard time putting the bells on yesterday. How the heck did Andy do it?!

Well, off to do some pleasure reading. Later tonight, when it isn’t nearly 100 degrees, we will go for a walk around the neighborhood. This week some time, we’ll go to Steak ‘N Shake. Our instructor gave us a great way to get in, through a sidewalk and some stairs I never new existed! We always went through the parking lot, and usually got lost on the way out. This should make it much easier.

Ready or not …

I can’t believe yesterday was our last day of training. How time flies! I do feel we are ready, though a little part of me wonders of course, but that’s to be expected. We have done a lot of work around here, and I feel like we can handle almost anything. I am still working on the trust factor, but I know that will come in time. I am so glad I was able to participate in the Action training program. I can’t say enough what a confidence builder that is. I’m also glad to have been able to be around for work stuff this week, even if I was still training and was not really in the office a lot. There were things I couldn’t have done from NY, like conduct new driver disability awareness training, or attend the Independent Living Skills (ILS) graduation.

Tuesday night, as mentioned, we did a night route. It was a familiar one and not very long. Keats worked like a champ. Sometimes things look different to dogs at night, but he seemed to take everything in stride. I love his “go with the flow” attitude. I really wanted that in a dog. Yesterday we decided to have him work in his booties, and he surprised both of us. Other than the very occasional tripping over his feet, he did extremely well, almost as though he didn’t have them on. Since he worked so well in them, I will probably use them more, because his poor lil feet aren’t used to this Florida heat.

Oh my gosh! He is majorly dreaming right now, not saying a word, but his paws are moving a lot. He’s sprawled out on his back, and his paws were moving against the couch. He must have been running in his dream! I have heard him dream a couple of times, making little growling barking sounds. It’s so cute!

After our last training route, we came home and I changed into more appropriate clothes for graduation. Our independent living skills classes 143 and 144 were graduating yesterday afternoon. I got to do a couple of things around the office before heading to graduation. Keats did well, sleeping through practically the whole thing. In fact, he was so asleep that when it was time for me to come up to the podium to introduce volunteers and present graduate certificates, I had to tell him “let’s go” around 3-4 times before he got moving. I think he was definitely enjoying the tile floor and would’ve preferred that I left him under the chair sleeping. He got lots of compliments on how cute he is, and several people commented on how affectionate he is toward me. He is a sweet boy and I love that about him!

After graduation, we attended a transit advisory committee meeting at Lynx Central Station. We had worked there the day before, so Keats had an idea of what we were doing. He does a great job of finding elevators, and he really likes to show me seats. We worked on seats almost since day one, and he’s so cute about pointing them out to me. At the end of the meeting, we snuck out just before it adjourned, so we wouldn’t have to wait another whole hour for our next bus. We had five minutes to get to our bus stop. Aside from reworking a minor clearance error heading out of the boardroom, it was all smooth sailing. Keats went right to the elevator without hesitation. We walked out of the building, turned left and walked a little ways to find the main station doors, walked through the station and out the bus bay doors, made two crossings and walked to the left, three bays down to bus # 3. We had at least a minute to spare. He pointed out a seat on the bus, and settled right under it for the duration of our 45 minute ride home. What a good boy! He is doing really well at targeting our driveway from across the street. He learns quickly.

Best friends

26 years ago today, a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old pledged to be best friends. Today, we are still in touch pretty regularly, and when we talk, it’s almost like old times. It’s awesome and a true blessing to have that kind of friendship with someone, to share that kind of understanding, to laugh and cry together, and even when you’re not close in distance or don’t talk every week, that special bond is still there. So, what does this have to do with guide dogs? I was just sitting here reflecting on how today is the first day in a journey with Keats, just the two of us. We met 16 days ago, and have a good training foundation. As of today, we will move forward together, using those skills we worked on, and most especially, the bond we already share, young though it might be. We will go far together, and we, too, will be best friends, as Sachet and I were for almost 9 years. Our bond is still there, just different now. I am not her person anymore, but I know we both carry each other in our hearts. I am so glad I will get to see her from time to time, and that I get to hear about her antics almost every day. That to me is a gift. By the way, I will write a Sashy update very soon. She deserves her own post. 🙂

Update

Hi everyone! First off, thanks to all of you who have been following our journey. I appreciate all the e-mails, comments and support. It sure is nice to know you have people in your corner. This has been a great experience, but it has been challenging at the same time. Starting over with a new dog is certainly an adventure, with all its ups and downs.

My boy is zonked out on the floor a couple of feet away from me. We have had a great few days here at home so far. It’s been great to have some training here in the area. I have discovered that his two major distractions at the moment are squirrels and lizards. He is doing better every day at not losing his mind every time he sees one. Our trainer here says they don’t have lizards in NY, and that the squirrels are smaller here. I thought birds were going to be his worst distraction, but not so. He does absolutely fine with other dogs, kids, and people in general. Not sure about cats yet. He is not thrilled with the Florida heat, but is getting used to it. We will need to take it easy at first.

Saturday was our first training day, and we pretty much stayed around our neighborhood and the shopping center around the corner. In the evening, we tried the rout on our own, and other than not targeting the sidewalk to the shopping center and having to rework, he did great! He is awesome at right shoreline, which I was hesitant to do with him, because they train them to shoreline on the left. So, if there is no sidewalk, the dogs are taught to work on the left, so the traffic closest to you is coming toward you and can see you better. Our trainer said to go ahead and try the right shoreline, or right sidewalkless, because that’s what we are used to doing when leaving the neighborhood, and though we could’ve done it the other way, it would’ve added distance or crossings to our route. So, with his encouragement, I tried it, and I was so pleased with how Keats handled it. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he’s done this before. He stayed right on the edge and turned when appropriate, with very little influence from us.

Sunday we worked to a shopping center about a mile away, and to a couple of other destinations in this area. Yesterday we did traffic checks in the morning, and Keats handled them like a pro, stopping when appropriate and with plenty of distance. We went to another plaza we frequent, which we usually take the bus to. Of course we went to Starbucks there–how could we not! He brushed me a little too close to a rack that held coffee mugs, and a couple of them fell, luckily plastic ones. We are working on being a little more careful through narrow areas. He settles very nicely in cars and anywhere really. We’ve been to a few restaurants and he does fantastic, just laying quietly and not fidgety or trying to scavenge. IN the afternoon we went to work to introduce him, and walked to the bus stop we use. We did the bus work today because it was just getting too hot. Instead, we went to Petco and bought him a bed for work, which I can’t believe I had forgotten to buy. Mr. Keats will have maximum comfort when in the office–the bed even has Memory Foam. Nothing but the best for my boy! We also picked up some dear antlers and both dogs love them!

This morning we drove to work and took the bus to Lynx Central Station, the main bus terminal. We worked on targeting the posts that have the bay letter in print and braille. We made a really good start, and Keats is already starting to target them. We’ll continue to work on it. We took the bus back to work and walked to a nearby Greek restaurant where we had lunch. In the afternoon, I had to do some training for new Paratransit drivers, and Keats was a great assistant. He also stayed put very well, even when I left the room during the human guide activity. He is a real trooper.

Warning, if you don’t care about dog relieving habits, skip the following paragraph. LOL We are still trying to figure out relieving, but I think we are getting closer. He did relieve in harness, but we have not gotten a set schedule for relieving because he is so finicky. There is also the food switch happening, so lots of transition still. We’ll keep an eye on it. I told our trainer this morning that I think my dog is going to be the best split parker on the planet. 🙂 For anyone who doesn’t know, GEB calls it parking when the dogs go to the bathroom. It’s funny, because they refer to it as Park time” or “parking your dog,” but they tell the dogs to “get busy,” not park. So, what I meant by split parking is peeing on the grass and pooping on the concrete. He is actually doing that for the most part, and in some ways that’s the best of both. I like the dog to poop on the concrete because it’s way easier to pick up, but if he wants to pee on the grass, I’m good with that. I mean, I would’ve rather he do both on concrete, because it makes it easier to find places to relieve, whether we have grass or not, but on the other hand, the mail dogs tend to splash a little when they pee on concrete, so if he does it on grass, he won’t splash his front legs. See, there’s always a positive. 🙂 Yeah, he’s not too fond of peeing on concrete, but he poops just fine on it, so that’s what we’ll do. End of relieving talk!

I think we will go take a walk to the Dunkin Doughnuts and buy some coffee for our trainer, and maybe a travel coffee mug to go along with it–he’s always on the road. I have really enjoyed working with him. He is good with the dogs and the people, very motivating for both. He is honest, but gives feedback in a way that isn’t critical. He acknowledges your skills, and tells you when you’re doing well. He has been doing this a long time and I can tell he really enjoys it. I’ll leave you with the picture I was going to post last time, with my boy in his boots. I’ll check in again soon, ciao!

We’re home!

Good morning everyone,

We are home at last. The trip yesterday went very well. let me tell you a little about it and our last couple of days at GEB.

Tuesday morning we worked to CVS to print out some pictures. I had gotten a nice frame for his raisers, and I didn’t think I’d be able to put in a picture before I saw them, but on Monday, they were taking photos of us and our dogs, with a message for the raisers written on a board. I wrote something like, “Thank you for doing such a great job raising my boy.” Then, it occurred to me to ask if we could do another picture and change “raising” to “training” so I could give it to his trainer. The IA (instructor assistant) who was doing the pictures was super awesome and put both the photos for me on a flash drive. So, when we went to CVS on Tuesday, I printed out both photos, and also got a pretty frame for his trainer. I cant remember what it said, but it did have a nice quote about memories. Oh, by the way, the CVS was on the same block as the Starbucks, only a couple of stores down, so it would’ve been a waste of a perfectly convenient opportunity if we had not gone. 🙂

IN the afternoon we had a traffic check. Someone pulled into a driveway while we were crossing, and my boy reacted accordingly by slowing down and stopping. My trainer says he is very aware of traffic. I would’ve liked some more traffic check opportunities, but I guess they don’t do as much of it with the students, or maybe it’s because we were in the action program. The dogs do receive, I think they said three phases of traffic training. We had a natural traffic check (one that wasn’t set up) a few days before, and the situation was similar.

Tuesday afternoon we went back to the campus early because the raisers were coming at 3. They were already there when we arrived. I really enjoyed meeting them and sharing Keats stories. It was so sweet to watch them together–I got a little choked up. He definitely remembered them. He also came back and checked in with me several times. That was cool. The dad is an English teacher and Mom works in IT. Keats went to work with Mom. They gave me a very cute album with pictures of him growing up. We looked through them and Mom described them for me. They loved their frame with our picture. I could tell it meant a lot to them. At one point I heard the man say, “Keats, Miranda,” and Keats went down. I asked what that was about, and they explained that the dad had taught him that just for fun. It’s from a sci-fi movie. He was super excited that Keats remembered this code word he had taught him. It was funny and sweet! We talked about some of the commands he knows. Another cute one they did was “better heel.” He actually does tuck in when you say that. 🙂 The dad is also writing a fiction book about Keats. He said it should be done in the summer and he’s going to send me a copy. The mom sings at church, and she said when they asked her to sing on May 4th, she said she felt better about doing it because it was Keats’s birthday. They really love him and did a great job raising him. I so admire puppy raisers for their dedication and selflessness. I get teary-eyed thinking about how much they pour their hearts into these pups and then choose to let them go so we can have them. Thank God for these dear people!

Wednesday we got booties for the dogs. I will post a picture of him with his on. He sounds so funny walking with them, like he has sneakers on, which is what they are essentially. He lifts his feet really high, and you just hear “Clop clop clop” as he is walking along. They will be nice for when it gets so hot here. We also got a halti or head collar. It can be used if there’s a situation where you think the dog will be sniffing a lot or trying to pull. It gives you more control over the dog’s head and allows you to gently pull him back very easily. I’m not a big fan of these and don’t plan on using it a lot, because I feel that the dog should learn to behave, not be made to do so. However, with Sachet, especially in the beginning, if I knew I was going to be in a situation that was especially distracting or challenging, where I might have to correct her a lot, I did use it; I just made it the exception. One example the trainer gave was going to a fancy dinner party. If you know your dog will be trying to scavenge, in that instance you might want to have him wear it so you don’t have to manage as much. It does not keep the dog from opening his mouth of course, so you still have to pay attention to what he’s doing, but it’s just very easy to redirect him. By the way, GEB issues a Halti and GDB issues a Gentle Leader–same idea, different brand and a little different collar. The Halti has more parts and it’s a little more complicated to fit, but it has a padded nose strap so it’s more comfortable for the dog. With the Gentle Leader, you clip the leash both to the collar and the ring that hangs down under the dog’s chin. You put the collar behind the dog’s ears and clip it shut. The Halti has more of a regular collar, which sits high on the dog’s neck. You clip the leash only to the Halti, also to a ring that hangs down. However, the Halti has another piece with a clip like the leash has, which you clip to the collar for safety. If the dog manages to get the Halti off, the leash is attached to it and it’s attached to the collar. I hope this made some sense, but it was probably confusing. I will tell you the GL is easier to put on. That might of course be because I’m so used to it, but it also has less parts.

We worked through a shopping center and to a Barnes and Nobles. I was soooo excited to find out that Starbucks has the caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino back. Woohoo!! The lady at Barnes and Nobles insisted that I could only get it in a frap and not in a latte. I have done it lots of times here, so God only knows why she didn’t do it or insisted it was just for fraps. It’s only toppings after all, which can go on a latte as well as a frap. But, I was with my instructor and didn’t want to make a big deal about it. The frappuccino was amazing too! In case anyone cares, I replace the caramel syrup with vanilla, because I don’t particularly like their caramel syrup. The sauce or drizzle is another story! 😉

Ok, so now I have to brag on my boy, because he was awesome! while I waited for the trainer to come back with the other Action student, I decided to work on targeting my seat. I wanted to go up to the counter to get some water but wanted to get back to the seat easily. So, out came the clicker and we worked on it for a minute or so. Then, I thought I would just give it a try. I went to the counter and got a cup of water. Of course, as soon as I got it, I realized it was going to be very difficult to find the seat and click/reward while carrying a water cup. Darned details! So, my instructor happened to come up at that point and I handed the water to him. I told him I’d been working with Keats and wanted to have him target my seat. I could picture the skeptical look on his face. We weren’t that close to the seat, and there were many others, with people in them. 🙂 I told Keats to go forward and made the turn toward the seats. Then I said, “ok boy, to the seat.” I vaguely heard my instructor telling me to slow down, but I was too excited. I know he was afraid we’d take out someone or run into a table–it was a bit tight, but Keats worked like a pro. We walked right up to my table and his nose went right to the seat! I was beaming, and I think Keats was too. We had a party of course!

We had lunch at an Italian place that many of the GEB staff frequent–I forgot the name. The food was fantastic! I had a tomato mozzarella salad, and the other student and I shared some tortellini which was delicious! I keep wanting to refer to her as my partner, but I might refer to Keats as my partner so don’t want to muddy up the waters. Names would be easier but I’ve purposely left those out to protect the innocent. 🙂

We did pictures in the afternoon, formal portraits of us and our dogs, and then of just our dogs. We had the opportunity to shop for a few dog supplies we might need, such as an extra tiedown or leash, bowls, Frontline, Heartguard, etc. I got some Frontline–they gave me Heartguard in my take-home packet. I also got a CD of the pictures we took. That will be mailed to us when the pictures are ready. The night before, after the development lecture, we got to shop for souvenirs. I got a couple of bone shaped key chains, a couple of mugs with lab puppies cuddling, a red bandana for my dog, and a frame. Some of these things will be gifts, but one mug and one keychain is mine. Like I need any more mugs or key chains! 🙂

My boy is on ear meds for 7 days. Just when he finished his eye meds, and we thought we were done, we noticed his left ear was a bit gunky, and it kept getting that way after we cleaned it. So, he’s on Otomax until Wednesday–much easier to administer than eye meds! I think he sulks though–he doesn’t like it. How can he like his eye meds more than this? 😉

I can’t believe how fast the time flew. Yesterday as I was packing–why would I ever pack the day before or anything–I was thinking how it seemed only a day or two before I was getting ready for guide dog school, and here I was, getting ready to go back home. The class supervisor announced that I was leaving and for everyone to come to the lobby to say goodbye. It was so sweet and unexpected. I also didn’t expect to get so emotional! After all, it had only been a short time, but in that time, we shared a lot and learned a lot. When I hugged Keats’s trainer, we both got emotional. She told me to please take good care of him. I know he was so special to her! I had given her the frame with our picture the night before, and she loved it! My instructor was there too–he came and helped me gather my stuff and look through the room to make sure there wasn’t anything I had overlooked. Oh, I forgot to mention that the other Action student and I decided to get our instructor a care package full of snacks that he liked–mint fudge Oreos, Keblers grasshopper cookies, Snyders onion and mustard pretzels, Twizzlers, and sunflower seeds. We really wanted to get Thin Mints, but those would’ve been hard to get a hold of, so we opted for a couple of cookies that tasted sort of like thin mints. We got him the snacks and a nice card. We gave it to him the day before, and he was really appreciative. Anyway, he was the last person I hugged. I learned a lot from him, and I thanked him for answering my unending questions. He said it was no problem and that it kept him on his toes. He also said I had to give my home trainer a hard time too. So, when I talked to him later on, I told him the general (that’s what he calls him) said I had to give him a hard time. Therefore, when I give him a hard time, it won’t be my fault but the general’s. We laughed.

Two IAs took us to the airport. The other student was leaving in the afternoon–her daughter would be picking her up. She lives a couple of hours away. We made it to the airport on time, but parking was horrible! The traffic was pretty congested at some points, so glad we left early. Keats was a trooper guiding around the airports, even with me rolling a suitcase behind me. I really like his go with the flow attitude. He did wonderfully during the flight. His trainer had told me he had flown before, so I expected he would, but I was so pleased with how well he did. He sat up once at takeoff, looked around a little, and laid back down. He curled up at my feet and stayed there the entire time. After a while, I did notice him start to go off to the right as though trying to get something. I brought him back and he tried a couple more times without success. 🙂 So, I thought I’d ask the people next to me to make sure they weren’t trying to feed him. They said they weren’t, but that someone had dropped a cookie or something–that must’ve been what he was trying to get. The sneak! 🙂

We landed just before a pretty intense thunderstorm, so just in time. They announced that it wasn’t safe for the workers to be outside, so we had to wait a while for the luggage. I tried to park Keats at the airport but he would have none of it. He had peed around 6 that morning, and didn’t go until almost 6 when we got home, then not again until about 5:30 this morning. He is not too eager to relieve here yet, but hopefully that will change soon.

We had a quick dinner at Panera Bread before going home, with a good friend who picked us up from the airport. Keats did well guiding there too. throughout the day, we had a couple of clearance errors, but he always does it right the second time. When we were leaving Panera, there was a sign by the door, and it was super narrow. He tried to go around it but there wasn’t enough room, so I showed it to him, and when we reworked it, he hesitated so I would find it–what a smart boy. He picks up things very quickly. 🙂

Keats and Andy are doing well together. We introduced them outside, and after they were done sniffing each other and telling each other a couple of things, they were good. We kept the excitement under control–we will let them play in a couple of days, outside on the tennis court, which is of course fenced in. They are contentedly laying in their respective beds right now. I will have to get them a couple of those water buffalo horns–Keats was absolutely loving it! The thing is it’s gotten kind of small and it fits all the way in their mouths, so to be on the safe side I threw it away. I tried not to let him see me throw it away–he was not happy I took it. 😉

Now the fun begins. The trainer comes on Saturday and we will work around our area, at work, and a few other places we go frequently. We will take the bus, and I also want to work with the little shopping cart so he starts getting used to it. It’s one of those that you pull behind you, and I use it to walk home from the grocery store. I am looking forward to introducing him to our area. Today I think we will just take it easy and let him settle in. I’ll write again soon!

Slumber party and other happenings

Last night the heat was unbearable in my room. They are on this crazy system with chillers that has to be switched completely from heat to cool and vice versa. I think they are in the process of switching it now, but they say it takes two days to switch over. Crazy! They didn’t want to switch it too early because once it’s switched to cool, if it gets cold, they wouldn’t be able to use the heat. They gave me a fan, and I opened the window, but it was still stifling hot in here. Also, different parts of the building are on a different system. So, the dining room has AC, and guess where I slept last night? Yep, the dining room floor. I took my comforter, my pillow, and my dog, who by the way cuddles very nicely. The dining room is upstairs, and of course last night I had to get up to go to the bathroom twice, so down to my room and back up to the dining room. Oh what fun! I was up by quarter of 5, and had gone to bed around midnight. Sounds a lot like how much sleep I got the night before and the night before that. I will probably be trying to squeeze in a nap at some point.

I have two more days of work here, and Thursday morning I go home. I heard from my instructor who will be doing the home portion of the training, and he will be coming on Saturday. We will work together five days, on routes that are important to us. My boy is doing well. A couple of things I need to do better at are:
1. Making sure I have enough tension in the harness–if he doesn’t go at the pace I want, I need to not move up by his front legs, because it confuses him. I just need to try to motivate him with my voice or a leash cue.
2. Make sure when I feed, I don’t say “good boy” before, but after. They use the word “yes” as a marker, just before you feed. It tells them food is coming. Then you praise them. I’m doing it backwards. Their thinking is that if you praise and feed, they will be expecting food when they hear “good boy.” I wish they’d use a word other than “yes.” It’s just too common. Even something like “nice” would be better.
3. Slowing us down a bit before giving suggested turns.

Yesterday I had the vet consult. My boy is very healthy. He is on eye meds until tomorrow. He said some dogs’ eyes react to the pollens in the air, so it causes a bit of a discharge which stains their fur. He doesn’t have much at all at this point. I am learning to put in his eye meds–I asked that they show me, in the event that he needs them again, I don’t have to ask someone to do it. It’s a bit tricky, so if there are any guide dog users who are reading this who have ever had to do eye drops, tips are welcome. Keats weighs 62 lbs. His target weight is 64 lbs, and they said a good rule of thumb is for him to be within two lbs of the target weight.

At long last, we worked to a Starbucks yesterday morning. Woohoo! We also did a bit of sidewalkless travel and he did well with that. He is a very picky reliever, so there have been a couple of times where he’s tried to go while working. One time he did, another we caught him. I really think once he gets home with me and things settle down, he will become more comfortable relieving. I’m not worried about the going on route at this point. I think it’s all part of the process of adjusting to one another.

It’s later on in the day, and I had a chance to meet his raisers. They are dear people! I can tell he was raised with a lot of love. I look forward to keeping in touch with them. They drove all the way from Ohio to see us today. I’m so glad I got to meet them!

Tonight we ordered pizza, so I will get to have NY pizza before I leave. We ordered from a place called Pizza Pizzazz. Off to go collect money! Write more soon.

Our weekend

Hi everyone! It’s been a nice, productive yet relaxing weekend here at Guiding Eyes. Yesterday we went to White Plains and worked to the City Center, which has a supermarket, a movie theater, and other shops. We worked escalators again and it’s feeling a lot more comfortable. I have to work on keeping my arm low at the end when we walk off. I’m giving him enough leash but then raising my arm so not giving him the full length. Knowing what to work on is half the battle. 🙂 I bought my husband’s birthday present while out and about. I’m so excited! I think he’ll love it. 🙂 After the shopping we worked to a bar and grill called the Brazen Fox. I had a fantabulous burger with bacon and Jack Daniels sauce, along with sweet potato fries. My classmate who is also doing the action program also came and the three of us had a nice lunch and good conversation. Then we worked back to the White Plains lounge and drove back to the dorm in Yorktown Heights. We got our grooming tools yesterday–a comb where one side has the teeth close together and the other has them further apart, and a slicker brush. The instructor talked about the correct way to use the comb, more slanted than I thought, which I appreciated because I never really used it on Sachet. The purpose of the comb for me until now has been to clean the slicker brush, but at least until I get the Furminator, I will use this one, and it’s a nice one.

Keats did awesome work all the way around. He worked nicely past distractions and located doors, escalators, and seats. Speaking of seats, one thing I keep meaning to mention is a command they use here at GEB that I think is super handy. The command is “close,” while tapping your right knee on the inside, and it means for the dog to come sit close between your knees.

Today we worked at another shopping center (notice a theme here?) and I got to stop in at K-Mart to get my puppy raiser a gift. I got them a pretty wooden frame for a 4×6 picture. It would be great if I could put a picture of us in there, but don’t think I’ll be able to by Tuesday afternoon when they’ll be coming. I’m so looking forward to meeting them!! In the afternoon we did a little walk through the Sensory Garden, and then my dog had a chance to play with another classmate’s dog in an enclosed dog run area. They didn’t run all that much, mainly sniffed and walked around. I have a couple of videos I’ll try to post tomorrow that the instructor took. Tonight’s lecture was really good and interactive–on different dog handling techniques such as cues versus corrections, counter conditioning, how to handle distractions, etc. Now I’m off to play cards with a classmate. I’ll check in again soon. Ta ta!

I hope you dance

Feeling inspired! Started working on this late last night. Many of you know I love country music, and this is one of my favorite songs. I’ll include the original at the end, particularly for those who might not know the song.

This is dedicated especially to my Keats, but also to all our amazing guide dog partners.

I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack

Words modified by Judy Mathews

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,

That you build confidence but always trust your partner.

May you never take one single step for granted,

With your guide dog by your side, not empty handed.

I hope you give your all to that faithful friend beside you.

Together navigate through life with pride inside you.

Promise me you’ll give your dog a guiding chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

I hope you dance.

I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,

Never settle for the path of least resistance.

Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’.

Know there will be some mistakes you will be makin’.

Don’t let insecurity be the winner.

If you come close to givin’ up, reconsider.

Keep that trust and love in every circumstance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

I hope you dance.

I hope you dance.

(Time, it takes time to learn to dance together, to feel that you belong.

I hope you dance.

I hope you dance.

Remember love, patience, kindness and consistency will make your bond so strong!

I hope you give your all to that faithful friend beside you.

Together navigate through life with pride inside you.

Promise me you’ll give your dog a guiding chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

Dance!

(Time, it takes time to learn to dance together, to feel that you belong.

I hope you dance.

I hope you dance.

Remember love, patience, kindness and consistency will make your bond so strong!

********************

I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack

Original Lyrics

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’

Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’

Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter

When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

Dance

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)

I hope you dance

I hope you dance

(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

Milestones

One of the coolest things about a new relationship is experiencing all the little and not so little milestones. By the way, my dog is majorly snoring in his crate. Wow! He almost sounds like me without my CPAP machine! LOL Sorry Case! You thought you were done with all the snoring, but maybe not completely. 😉 So, milestones. For the first time, we went out to park and Keats peed right away, no hesitation. He is definitely a fussy reliever. He is starting to come up and nudge me now. He did it today around dinner time, and a couple of other times today when he wanted play or pets. I fed him today without putting him on tiedown, because he is so good at staying and waiting for me to get his food ready. He is a gentleman. Oh yes, and I found out this morning how much my dog hates water. It was raining pretty hard when we went out to relieve, and he refused to move or do anything. We came in and I had a feeling he had to go, because he wasn’t his usual happy prancy self. He kept standing close to the doors. I waited until the rain stopped and took him out again. Sure enough, he went right away. For the first time I picked up after him. Initially they didn’t want us to do it because the dogs are just getting used to us and they want them to relieve regularly before we start touching their backs and stuff. Honestly, I’ve been doing that almost from the get go, because there isn’t always an instructor out there and I need to know when he goes. He doesn’t seem to mind me touching his back while he’s going.

This morning, I was chatting with the nurse who had been out sick a couple of days so she hadn’t met our dogs. She said he was beautiful and that we already looked so comfortable together. She said he looks up at me a lot. Yay! 🙂

Keats’s trainer told me that he knows “high five.” I’m so glad she told me the command he knows already, because I wouldn’t have wanted to change it on him. He is so cute when he does it too.

GEB has what they call the grooming room, where there are benches the dogs can hop on to make grooming easier. They have a bin with different grooming tools, and since they haven’t given us ours yet, I went in there yesterday and groomed him. He seemed to enjoy it. I love his fur–it is so sleek and soft. There is this little spot under his neck that feels the softest, almost like a rabbit. IN that same room there is a bin with different toys. I borrowed a Kong rubber bone, and he is sooooo loving that toy! The picture I’m attaching shows him with the bone in his mouth. He walks around and shows it off. he will chew it sometimes, but most of the time he is just walking around or just standing there holding it. This afternoon we both took a nap together, he on the floor next to my bed. It is feeling more and more comfortable and natural together.

Today we worked with the clicker, targeting seats. He loves the clicker game and gets right into it. His trainer told me he was awesome at targeting. I’m soooo glad! By the way, his trainer and my instructor are two different people, but his trainer is an instructor in the class too. She is honestly the person I connect with the most. She seems to understand me the best.

Keats is heeling nicely and pretty consistently. He usually only needs very few gentle reminders now. We are working in the building now, and he is doing well targeting the stairs to and from the dining room. Sometimes he misses moving turns here in the building, but he is doing better. I think I’m probably not slowing down enough to cue him for those turns. We’ll work on it. A moving turn is when you suggest a turn to the dog while you’re moving forward, and he will turn in that direction as soon as he is able.

We worked in a supermarket this morning, and he did well. We had a couple of clearance errors, but those are normal in the beginning. He corrects himself the 2nd time around, and he is starting to be more cautious around narrow spots. HE took me around a mud puddle this afternoon. What a good boy! I had my white sneakers on and especially appreciated that. I am so happy with his pace. He has a nice confident pull. During one particular street crossing, He hesitated a little because there was a car stopped pretty close. My instructor said he gave it a look. 🙂 I am looking forward to doing traffic checks. For those who don’t know, that’s when an instructor drives a car at the team in different directions and the dog has to react. There is also an instructor walking with the team and giving feedback. The phrase “follow your dog” is especially applicable during that exercise.

Well, I’m sitting here drinking an Airborne. I feel a little like I may be coming down with something, so trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. I also had a bowl of cereal. Tomorrow we may work to a Starbucks. It’s about time!!

I miss Sachet, but knowing she is loved and so well cared for makes it so much easier. Little things Keats does make me think of her, like the way he drinks water–it sounds just like her, same rhythm and everything. The few times he nudged my hand with his nose reminded me so much of how Sachet used to do that. She did it if she wanted a little attention, wanted to eat, go outside, or just wanted to hold my hand. Keats also likes to go between my legs like Sashy does, except he caries the bone in his mouth the whole time. A couple of times he tried to pick up one bone while holding the other. It didn’t work so well. 😉 I noticed the other day that he has super short nails–I’ve never seen nails that short. I will leave you with my boy’s birthday, which I finally found out yesterday. My instructor looked it up for me–he surely got tired of me bugging him about it. So, his birthday was May 4th, the same day I arrived. How cool is that?!!

Our 3rd day

Yes indeed, I can now say we and our again. Yay! We will go almost every place together, so it is not just me, but us now.

We had a nice day today in spite of the rainy, drizzly weather. It meant we did lots of in door work, at the mall and the City Center. That was a nice confidence builder for me. He does nice work in doors too, and we both felt pretty comfortable with the escalator practice we did, especially at the end. The technique is of course slightly different than GDB teaches, but not so much. One cool thing that happened this afternoon at the mall is that we were walking toward the food court, and Mr. Keatsy boy decided to show me some stairs without me asking him. My instructor said I should cue him away from them, but I was actually excited! To me, it showed initiative, as we had been targeting stairs other places. The instructor talked about making sure that the targeting is done on cue, but you know, sometimes it’s nice to know something is there, and especially in the beginning, I want to encourage that kind of initiative, since I will be doing lots of targeting with him.

I talked to my instructor today about how I was feeling yesterday, and how I need to know what I am doing wrong and what I’m doing right. He said something along the lines of, “Well, you’ve had dogs before, you did this route of a few blocks without the support leash and it went well, so obviously you are doing lots of things right.” I asked what things I was doing right, and explained that no, it was not obvious. I have had one dog, from another school, and trained quite differently than this one, so I do need to know I am doing things right. Besides, the dogs are not the only ones who need motivation. I didn’t think to say that but I should’ve. If it comes up again, I will, but I think he got the picture. I think we just need to get used to each other’s styles, and make sure we communicate. He is very open to questions. OH yes, and he bought me coffee, so that makes him a good trainer in my book. 😉

Life is good, and I’m off to play cards! Catch y’all very soon!

A quick note of thanks

I feel very blessed to have friends and family who are so supportive and caring. Thanks for your notes and your prayers. I am making a little check list of things I want to talk to my instructor about, examples, etc. I know that some of this is me, but not all, so I want to give feedback and give him an opportunity to understand where I am. I also just want to give it a little time, because time can be an amazing problem solver! Perhaps today will be the day I have my first Starbucks Frappuccino. After all, Starbucks usually makes things better. 🙂

A rough day

Today has been an emotional day for me. I could just sit here and tell you that I’m doing ok, but the idea of this blog is to write about my guide dog journey and all its facets. It will not always be easy or happy. I do realize that, but it’s been tough all the same. IN a nutshell, I don’t feel that I am being a good handler for Keats right now. It’s hard when it seems that for every one thing I’m doing right, there are 4 or 5 that I’m not. My first guide dog training experience was almost 9 years ago, when methods were a bit different and at a different school to boot. I feel that I was a pretty effective handler for Sachet, but today, I feel very inept. I know Keats and I have been together for almost 36 hours, and that’s not much. We are very much still learning each other and getting more comfortable. IN my head all this makes sense, but it’s hard all the same. I went from working almost flawlessly with one dog, to starting almost from scratch with a new dog. Even the food reward methods are different now. I want to communicate with him as best I can. I don’t want to confuse him, but I know there will be some of that. Even the way I say his name sounds different to him than the way his trainer said it.

Another frustration is that I don’t feel like my questions are always interpreted in the way in which I mean them. Sometimes I get vague answers when I need more specifics. I know it’s the first day, but I like to understand methods, the how and the why, and I like feedback about why things happen. I am getting that sometimes, and sometimes I get the feeling people are thinking, “Just give it some time,” when I like to get actual answers whether I need to give it time or not. I want to have an intelligent discussion about things, and to be able to freely ask questions without being put off. I also get the sense that some are a bit annoyed by my questions, like I’m questioning to be defensive rather than to seek understanding. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or I wouldn’t be asking. I have had some experience, with only one dog, but experience all the same. It is of some value, and I don’t feel it is being valued. Now mind you, my emotions have been all over the place in the last three days, so I realize my perceptions are clouded by that. This also hasnt been the case with everyone or all the time of course.

My main instructor is a good guy, very experienced, knowledgeable, and very laid back. I like his flexibility, but sometimes I feel I need more definite answers, and I’m given half answers, or “just wait until this or that date.” I don’t even know my dog’s birthday for goodness sakes. They want to wait until Monday for us to see the vet and get all the stats. I want to know yesterday! Finding out his birthday shouldn’t be this huge deal. My instructor said he would look it up for me tomorrow. They don’t like to share what dogs are related, because they say it could create drama. Really? We’re adults. That’s another thing, I don’t always feel we’re treated like adults in some ways. I can’t really put my finger on it, and it’s not everyone or all the time. Sometimes it’s tone, sometimes it’s even the way information is held back. We are not in 3rd grade. They don’t want to share the dog’s weight too early because they say some people have an issue with that. So what? So they have an issue. Whatever! Deal with the one or two a year who may have issues. There should be open communication.

I also hear a lot about what the dog is doing right, and I don’t feel I hear much about what I’m doing right. Maybe that’s because I’m doing way more things wrong than right. At least that’s how I feel. I’m not motivating my dog enough. I’m not in proper position. I’m crowding him. I’m not slowing down with him. I’m not using the marker word for the food reward. And I’m sure there’s more.

This low expectations in the beginning thing is also hard to get used to. I don’t remember that being the case so much with Sachet. It was clear from the beginning that I wanted her to heel, and if she didn’t, she would get a correction. When she did, she’d get rewarded. Now, if Keats doesn’t heel, I’m just supposed to ask him again, try to bring him back, all kinds of stuff before I can correct him. It doesn’t seem to be getting the message across. He still is not consistently heeling. He will start in position nicely, and then he tries to pull forward. I’ve been keeping a short leash and helping him to stay in position , but I have to keep reminding him. I do correct, but not much, as they don’t seem to want us to do that very much. I know he needs some time to feel comfortable with me, but he needs to know what I expect and that there are consequences. Of course, when he does it well, I reward him, consistently I think. This is a basic skill. Whether he knows me or not, he knows his training and he should do it without so much reminding. It’s not like it’s a complicated skill. I really just need to go to bed and start over tomorrow, with a fresh perspective and a new dose of patience, except I can’t do that for another hour or so. I intend to talk about all this with my instructors, but I just cant do it tonight.

So, to end on a good note, Keats did very well on our first two walks today. He had a nice pace and did well with curb approaches. He avoided a couple of major distractions—a table full of food and a little dog at the end of a leash. During the second walk, the instructor didn’t have his leash attached at all. It was nice to just work him on my own, with the trainer giving me feedback. He is great about that, letting me know what the dog is doing and what’s around us. I love the way Keats checks in with me, tapping me with his nose. Or just looking up at me. He is very responsive when I give him a command. His behavior in the room has been very good—he only tried to stick his nose in the trash once yesterday. I have been giving him some freedom in the room, but of course when I’m there and paying attention. He settles very nicely. He has great recall—at least in the room. J Haven’t tried anywhere else yet. He is initiating play with me, and he is soooo cute, prancing around with his bone and offering it to me. He is very good about staying by himself in the room quietly—we practiced that a little today. Small but important steps.

Please know I am not trying to be negative, just honest. Guide dog training can be emotional in all kinds of ways. If you’ve read this far, thanks, and tomorrow will be another day and a fresh start.

The important stuff:-)

Good morning, this would not be a true dog blog without talking about the important stuff–the poop. 😉 this morning, after almost 20 hours, he finally went for the first time. Woo hoo! Last night, after 12 hours, he finally peed for the first time. I told him I was going to turn around and ignore him, and that I wouldn’t look at him. That is when he decided to go. Guess he’s kind of a private boy. 🙂 he is so darned cute! He likes to carry his bone around and spin in circles by me. Last night he brought the bone to me for the first time. I couldn’t believe it, because his trainer was also in the room. It made me feel good that he was wanting to play with me even when his mama was there. Maybe he felt more comfortable because she was there. I don’t know, but it was very cool. It took sashay days to initiate play with me. Right now he’s laying a few feet from me and chomping on his bone. We already had a little play session this morning. Oh yes, and he slept very well. He moved around a few times in the crate, but he never whined or vocalized at all. Good boy!

Getting To Know You

2:18 PM
Keats is curled up under my desk at my feet. He is more settled than when he first came to me. He is very attached to his mama trainer. One of the times she was coming up from behind us, I said to her, “He loves you!” She answered, “and I love him.” That made me feel really good, because he was trained with love, and the fact that they are so bonded gives me hope that he will bond that way to me. I know he will, it’s just a matter of time. This morning he really didn’t know what to make of me. I can just imagine him thinking, “Who the heck is this lady and what am I doing here? He would sit or lay by me for a little bit, then he’d get up and try to go toward the door. The poor thing has this really pitiful whine, very soft and sad sounding. He perks up whenever he hears his trainer. I know it will take time for him to even feel comfortable with me, and that’s ok. We have time. This morning I had a little chat with him. I told him that we’re both not sure of one another and are trying to figure everything out, that we both just need time. He is beautiful and sweet and obedient and definitely has a playful side to him. He likes to sit and give me his paw. It will be a breeze to teach him to shake on command—he pretty much does it already. J This afternoon we worked a little on targeting our room doors. It was a short session, and he did seem to understand what I wanted him to show me. He needed a little prompting to actually get there each time, but it was only the first session. I love the way he points his nose up to the door handles—he did this yesterday too. We got to work with a dog yesterday, but we didn’t know names at that point, since it may or may not happen to be the dogs we would receive today. He has nice initiative and a good quick pace. In a little while we will go out on a brief walk. They call it a country walk, because there are no sidewalks. I like the harness—it’s very similar to GDB’s classic harness, the ones they used before the Swiss ones, except that the handle on these does detach. They gave us treat pouches too. The pouches are a little different than the ones GDB uses. They have a zipper pocket in the back and a Velcro pocket in the front, aside from the middle part that closes with a magnet. There is no flap like with the GDB ones, and there is no strap for around your waist, just a clip and some straps for sliding it on a belt. They also issued two collars, a training or chain collar, and a martingale or half-check. One is for working and the other for down time. My trainer said they have actually had dogs die who have gotten their training collars caught. I had heard that a long time ago but figured it was just a fluke. I guess it’s happened several times, enough that they decided to issue a 2nd collar. GDB uses martingales primarily—they hardly even use the training collars anymore, because they don’t do much correcting. They say they use corrections IF NEEDED, but many students say they really haven’t had to correct their dogs much. Here at GEB they do more a balance of both. By the way, I got a red martingale which is what I wanted. J

It’s now a couple of hours later, and we are about to go to dinner. We had our walk and it felt good. He has a quick pace, and our trainer said he was starting to look more comfortable with me by the end. One thing I’m having to really get used to is that they don’t expect the dogs to be right on in the beginning. For instance, the trainer had his leash attached to us as well, and if Keats didn’t respond to a forward or something, he would cue him. I guess it makes sense in the beginning, but I don’t remember doing this with Sachet at all. Guess we wait and see how things unfold in a couple of days. I’m optimistic but cautiously so. I guess that about sums up how I’m feeling right now. I’m also enjoying getting to know him and letting him get to know me. So many people have commented that his eyes are kind, sweet, or compassionate. It wasn’t just one or two people, and not all on FB either. Oh yes, I will post a picture here with this entry. Wonder if I attach it to the e-mail post whether it will work. I’ll try it and if not I’ll post the picture separately.

He is sitting here with his head on my lap as I type. He does the nose on nose thing like Sashy does. He has a nice thick bushy tail. His ears are big and soft. He eats 3 cups a day, and they feed dry here, no warm water added. Ok, I’m going to try to post this now. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I’m enjoying the ride. I will leave you with a quote by Keats that a friend shared with me, and how fitting it is:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” –Keats

Anticipation

Happy Dog Day!! I haven’t met my handsome boy yet, but I know just a little about him. He’s a yellow lab, and his name is Keats, like the poet. I’m full of mixed emotions right now–anticipation, excitement, uncertainty, joy, anxiety, and just emotional. I am sitting in my room waiting for the instructor to bring him to me. I’m having a mocha and trying to stay calm, as calm as anyone can be expected to be when waiting for a momentous event in her life. Wow! I will post a picture ASAP. I am glad I got some much needed rest last night. Yesterday was a bit overwhelming at times. I think the waiting makes it especially hard, but of course lack of sleep doesn’t help matters. Well, hope I won’t have to wait long. Every time I hear footsteps I keep hoping they’re headed this way!!

Thoughts on a good match

Many people have asked me if I know what kind of dog I’m receiving, or anything about him/her. Truth is I have no idea. I would really love the opportunity to work with a German Shepherd. I know they are great workers and super smart. I also know they can require a bit more handling, but I’d be up for the challenge. The chances of me getting a Shepherd are very slim though, because they don’t have many and there is a waiting list. GEB only has labs and a few Shepherds. I made it clear that I’d be perfectly content with a lab too. After all, I think I was blessed with the smartest dog ever when I got the Super Sashy Dog. 🙂 Honestly, I just want the dog that will work best with me, whatever breed, color, gender, etc. I want a dog with lots of confidence and initiative, who enjoys working and problem solving. I did lots of targeting work with Sachet, and will also with my next dog, so I would like him to be good at it. I am a supportive and consistent handler. I expect a lot out of my dog, but at the same time I will love and support my dog in every way. I don’t mind working hard in the beginning, if it will be worth it in the end. I would like a smallish dog, because I travel on buses a lot and would like to be able to fit him under seats, though some bigger dogs curl up nicely too. I don’t want a super sensitive dog, at least not if it would mean he wouldn’t have as much confidence or be as resilient. I do like a dog who is attuned to me, so in that respect I like a sensitive dog. I just don’t want a dog who can’t handle stress or difficult situations. I like a firm pull in the harness. I love a dog who is expressive, and one who will definitely consider me his person, even if bonding takes some time. I’m not too crazy about a dog who licks all the time. I need a dog who is able to lay quietly during the day while I teach, but is spunky and ready to work when it’s time to go. These are just some thoughts I have, but I am willing to be flexible about many things. Yes, Sachet is indeed many of these things. Yes, I know dog #2 will not be a clone of dog #1. I am certainly willing to learn to work with a dog who is very different from my first dog. I do trust that with patience and consistency, we can be a great team. As someone put it, we are learning to dance together, and that takes time.

Oh, and I think we get our dogs Tuesday, but tomorrow we have a chance to work with one or two dogs. Yay! Off to bed–didn’t realize how late it is.

I’m here!

Hey everyone,
I made it to Guiding eyes for the Blind! I am getting settled in my room and doing a little bit of work I had pending. There is an amazing aroma wafting in from the kitchen–smells like ribs or something awesome on the grill. Dinner is at 5. The window is open and the weather is beautiful! I think it’s in the low 60’s right now. The rooms are very nice. Plenty of drawer space, full sized bed, a TV, phone, night stand, desk, a mini refrigerator, and very important, easy to access outlets! I was going to bring a blanket but they even have that, an extra blanket and pillow. The bathroom has the toilet and tub inside, and the sink is in the room. There’s a nice little medicine cabinet right above the sink. On the other side of the bed opposite the night stand is a crate with no dog in it right now. 😦 There is also a place to put a tiedown if you prefer to use that rather than the crate. If the weather is this nice all the time, I don’t foresee using my AC at all. The rooms have a door leading directly to what they refer to as the “park area” for your dog. Two or three people share each park or relieving area. It’s concrete and there is a drain and also a hose out there of course.

I’ve been up since 4 AM, and I only slept about two hours. Somehow I’m still awake and will be for at least a few more hours. I decided to bring some snacks, including a couple of Starbucks bottled frappuccinos–of course! One of those might come in handy tonight. This morning was a bit crazy, but not as much as it could’ve been. I had actually finished packing before going to bed–I think the world may be coming to an end soon! 😉 I had some time to eat breakfast with my husband this morning before I left, which I really wanted to make a point of doing. After all, I won’t see him for almost two weeks.

I flew into LaGuardia around 11:15 or so. We waited around for a few other students and got to the school around 2:15. One of the instructor assistants gave me a great tour of the room and relieving, um, I mean park area. I’d better start getting used to the terms they use here. The nurse had called me the other day and let me know they would have distilled water for me to use with my CPAP machine. How thoughtful! Sure enough, there was a gallon jug on my night stand. They really treat us well here.

Ok, off to finish the little bit of work I still have. I think I forgot to set my work phone to my vacation greeting. Better do that now before I completely forget. I did do my e-mail away message, this time making sure the first line red “This is an automated message.” Last time I had an auto response e-mail, one of our volunteers got offended because he thought I had e-mailed him telling him I wasn’t in the office and would reply to him when I returned. I’m sure he was thinking, “How impersonal!” along with other not so nice things about me.

I’m not sure, but I believe that maybe I will get my dog tomorrow instead of Tuesday, since I’m only here for 10 days. Not sure if I’ve already mentioned this here, but I am doing what they call the Action program. This allows you to train at the school for 10 days, and then they send an instructor to your home area for five days. So, I fly back on Thursday afternoon, but the instructor comes the following Monday I think. It happens to be the same guy who did my home interview–very nice guy and I look forward to working with him. So, stay tuned for dog news possibly tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest. Of course I’m not the least bit excited or anything! 😉

Clarification

I just wanted to clarify that my golden boy from last weekend is not named Perkins. ON the off chance that GDB has a golden named Perkins, I thought I should say that. I am withholding his name to protect the innocent. 🙂

Dreams

I just had a dream that I had received a mail golden retriever named Perkins. Being that Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) does not have goldens, that will not be happening, unless they traded dogs with another school which the schools sometimes do. Nothing is impossible, but very unlikely. How awesome it would be if I could get my buddy from last weekend. He was amazing!! I’m thinking that’s why I dreamed of a golden. I’ve never had a golden or a lab golden cross before, but then again I’ve only had one dog, a very cute, smart, awesome little black lab. I never pictured myself as a golden person, but working with that dog last weekend, I realized I could totally be one. He is a special boy.

So, I haven’t really had many pre-dog dreams this time. I think I had one but can’t remember. Before I got Sachet, I had all sorts of crazy dreams. One was that the instructor was here to see us and I couldn’t remember my dog’s name to save my life. I was panicking because I didn’t know how I was going to call her. I had dreams that I forgot my dog places. Yeah, how likely is that? I had dreams that I hadn’t fed my dog for days and I was worried she wasn’t going to make it. I guess maybe the getting a new dog thing was a bit stressful at the time, wouldn’t you say? So, does that mean that this time, since I haven’t had the crazy dreams, I’m not as stressed about it? Oh, I just remembered the other pre-dog dream I had this time–it was a couple of months ago. I was having follow-up with Sachet, and the instructor had come to the job to meet
me. I left there and we were all the way home before I realized I had left Sachet in my office. Everyone had left, and the instructor didn’t want to go back and get her. Talk about stressful! Guess my theory of not being stressed this time doesn’t quite hold up.

This morning I woke up and prayed for my new companion. God knows who it is and so will I very soon. About three more days now!!! I leave tomorrow to New York bright and early. I guess tomorrow is kind of an orientation day, and Monday is the day for Juno and learning about GEB’s dog-handling commands and such. Not sure if I’ve mentioned what Juno is at all, but for those who don’t know, it’s a simulation of walking with a guide dog. the instructor holds one end of the harness and the guide dog user holds the handle. The instructor simulates the movements of the dog. Yes, you get to give the person commands, praise, and corrections if they’re not behaving! It’s been a while since I’ve done Juno, so the leash is in there too somewhere. Not sure how it attaches and all. Guess I’ll know more than I ever wanted to know about Juno in a couple of days. That first day is also where the instructors get to really see how you walk, your pace, how you would handle a dog, etc. It helps solidify the match, as they already have a dog or two in mind for you when you get there, from the home interview report and short video. I’ll be in touch soon. Ciao!

Persistence Pays Off

A couple of weeks ago, I had a student come talk to me about his challenge with his dog being too food distracted. They are a new team, have only been together for four months or so. I tried to encourage him that consistency pays off, and that it does get better. I gave him some tips that worked for us, with the disclaimer that I am just another handler, not a trainer. I also encouraged him to talk to his school about it. I told him that these stubborn, hard-headed dogs can make excellent guides because they are full of initiative and can be good problem solvers. I realize I only have my experience with one dog to draw upon, but I am an optimist by nature, and feel that at least in the majority of cases, with lots of patience and consistency, these behaviors can improve. Our conversation made me think back on our early days, so thought I’d take a few minutes to reminisce here.

My little girl definitely gave me a few gray hairs in the beginning. I remember how she would just dive to pick up whatever on the ground at the first opportunity. One time in particular, we were coming back from visiting Casey’s grandmother in Daytona. At the Greyhound station, we were working our way outside. Next thing I know, I’m running right smack into a railing, because my dearest guide dog, who is supposed to be watching out for obstacles, is instead watching out for food on the floor, and diving down to take advantage of it. I was beyond frustrated by that point. We got home that night and we did some obedience exercises with Casey trying to entice her with pepperoni. Of course, she smelled a set up and did everything perfectly—she’s too smart for her own good! In the coming weeks and months, I continued to be persistent and vigilant, correcting her when I noticed she picked up anything off the floor. Often times this involved sticking my hand in her mouth and pulling out whatever disgusting thing she had in there. It became no big deal to do this. I always had sanitizer close at hand. Another thing we would do is throw stuff on the floor on purpose,, and if she went for it, I would correct her. If she didn’t, she would get rewarded. Slowly but surely, she was getting the message that Mom was not going to let her do this.

About two and a half months after we came home, Sachet did her first counter surfing. I had gone to the store with my dad for a little while, and my mom insisted that I leave Sachet with her. She said Grandma should have the right to spend some time with her new granddaughter once in a while. So, for the first time, I went out and left her behind. I told Mom to keep a close eye on her. When I got home, she hands me an empty, ripped Ziploc bag with a braille label on it, and tells me, “Your daughter was very bad!” After a few seconds, comprehension dawned. “Oh my gosh! She ate that whole bag of candy kisses!” I was freaking out because I had heard about how chocolate was very harmful for dogs. It was a Monday night, so I had to call the emergency vet. I tried to keep the panic out of my voice as I explained that my dog had just eaten a whole bag of candy kisses. The lady on the phone asked how much my dog weighed. “57 lbs,” I replied. “Will she be ok? Do I need to bring her in?” She reassured me that my dog would have had to ingest 57 oz of chocolate before it was anything to worry about. I wonder if she meant milk chocolate, because I’m pretty sure it would take way less than that of dark chocolate to cause serious problems. Anyway, she said to keep an eye on her and that she may have some vomiting or diarrhea. 24 hours later, I was fully convinced that my girl had an iron stomach. My husband’s dog Nexus, on the other hand, threw up in the middle of the night. And before anyone thinks it, he wasn’t home when the chocolate was eaten. He did eat a very small amount of stuffing from a toy. It appeared we had the two extremes, one super sensitive stomach and one iron stomach.

Sachet did not usually counter surf, but I noticed if there were any changes in the routine, such as company over or being at someone else’s house, she seemed to think the rules were different, and she became pretty bold. The summer after the chocolate kisses incident, she tried to eat a corn cob that was accidentally left on a plate on the kitchen table when we had some friends over. The Christmas after that, while at my parents’ house, she ate almost a whole tray of small pastelitos (Cuban pastries), which had been sitting on the stove. She then came over and breathed in my face. That’s how I knew. Crazy dog! Needless to say she didn’t get dinner that night. The summer after that, she snatched a mango from the top of the stove and ate everything except the seed of course. My parents were over that weekend, and true to form, she thought the rules didn’t quite apply when we had company. Another time my parents were over, she tried to snatch strawberries from the counter which were left there to dry. I think the occasional attempts at counter surfing stopped after I caught her red-handed one day, going for pastelitos again, at our house, with my parents there of course. It took some time for me to trust her to be free around the house with company.

The other frustrating thing in the beginning was her desire to get into the trash and shred cleanex. I was sooooo frustrated, because no matter what I did and how many times I caught her in the act, she would just go back and do it again. No correction would phase my stubborn little girl. I called graduate services when I was at my wit’s end. They suggested different ways of setting her up, and maybe putting some bitter apple spray in the trash. The next day, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I did not have bitter apple, but I thought Tabasco sauce would work just as well, maybe even better. So, after a couple of attempts to get in the trash, I put some Tabasco on a few paper towels and tossed them in. My room smelled like Tabasco, and it was giving me a headache, but I thought to myself that it would be worth it if it stopped this obnoxious behavior. I walked out of the room and hung around nearby. In she went, and it didn’t take long for her to go for that trash again. Next thing I heard, she was sniffling and snorting. Guess she had found it! It didn’t stop the behavior altogether right away, but it sure made her less inclined to do it.

At work, we had other issues. A few months after she came home with me, our desk space moved, and I didn’t have anywhere for a tiedown or to tie the leash to. I requested an eyebeam be put in the wall where her bed was, but it was taking a few days. So, if I ever walked out of the office for a minute, she would take that as an opportunity to make mischief. She would get up and wander around, sometimes trying to rummage in someone’s bag to find food. One time she wandered into the elevator with another staff member.

Mind you, I would not leave her alone very long at all, but she was quick. I was so frustrated! The eyebeam finally came in, and what a relief!

I think back on those days and almost can’t believe it was the same dog. In the past few years, I never had to tie her down anywhere. She would stay put, only moving around to arrange her bed just the way she wanted it. She stopped going in the trash altogether. She became so good around food distractions, and was able to ignore food almost always. I say almost always, because she is also a very smart dog, and sometimes, if she thought Mom wasn’t watching too closely, she would try to sneak something, but this was very much the exception, probably because she realized Mom paid more attention than she thought. I felt inclined to share this post, because it is a testament to the power and the importance of consistency and perseverance. Most of the time, I brag about how awesome she is, but we must always remember, as they repeatedly told us at the school, that they are dogs first, and guide dogs second. It is up to us to let them know what is and isn’t acceptable. I believe dogs actually like having clear boundaries and expectations. It certainly helps minimize lots of stress and frustration on everyone’s part.

Six more days!!! Less really, since I think we get our dogs in the morning on Tuesday. Yesterday I got an e-mail from Guiding Eyes, with some info about rules and regs, guide dog commands, and the life of a guide dog. I looked over it, and it’s pretty straight forward. A few of the commands are different from GDB, but most of them are the same. One thing that seemed odd to me is that they ask people to stay in bed until 6, because if the dogs hear someone up and around, they are more likely to get up and have an accident. I could see asking people to be quiet until 6, but stay in bed? Since I’m such a morning person, this really affects me! LOL I’m sure I’ll be dying to get out of bed before 6. 😉 No comments from the peanut gallery!

A memorable experience

I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you all about a wonderful and rare opportunity I had this week. I was able to travel to Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) for a couple of days, to observe and learn more about the way things are done now, with the new class structure and positive training methods. I attended class in 2005, when classes were four weeks and the food rewards were just being introduced. Like many other graduates, I had reservations. Being on the alumni board and hearing feedback from grads, I had a good idea of many of the changes to training, class structure, and philosophy. However, as you all know, to read about and hear about something only gives one a limited picture. In order to have a more complete understanding, I was invited to participate and observe. This was done with the knowledge that I have a class date at another school, Guiding Eyes, which by the way is this coming Sunday. I am humbled by the openness I have experienced from everyone at GDB, and the desire to help me better understand. I believe I would be hard-pressed to find that degree of openness from another guide dog school. I truly feel that as a result of this experience, I now have more of a complete picture. I have made connections between theory and practice that could never have happened without the first hand experiences I have received.

I had several aha moments. One of them is the realization that the strategic use of food serves as a tool and a building block for the human-animal bond; it does not replace it. Relationships are just as important and necessary for the team to work well. It was also pointed out that with the traditional compulsion training methods, dogs were made to learn; it was not their choice. Did they eventually enjoy it? Sure thing, but it took much work and perseverance, and they likely did not enjoy it initially. With the positive training, the dogs are making that choice to learn and to work, not because they are made to, but because they are empowered and motivated by something that is deeply ingrained in their biology. Though I will likely always lean toward conservative use of food, my experience this week has reinforced just how powerful this tool is, if used strategically. I realize that GDB is not only using it strategically, but also empowering students to do so. I had the opportunity to observe practical obedience exercises, and proactive management of dogs around distractions. Though I don’t have all the answers, one realization I came away with is that there is not just one right way to handle situations, and as always, it varies from dog to dog and person to person.

The shift in philosophy to more adult learning theories is really great to see. I also feel that the class experience, though much shorter than my four week class, is just as comprehensive. Not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really like how the lecture material is presented. There is a good balance between self study and group discussion, and there is accountability. I was so relieved to see that the group discussion and Q&A is still a regular part of class. It can be very valuable. The daily class and study schedule is just one more way that students are empowered and given responsibility for their learning. The individualization and customized training are also huge advantages of this format.

As with everything, there are always pros and cons. IN my view, some disadvantages of the two week classes are:
1. Dog switches occur sooner in class, because there is not really much time to work out problems. With a longer class, a team might struggle in the beginning, but by week two or three, the issue may have been resolved, and the team may be better for it. With the two week class, rather than take a chance that the issue may not be resolved, dog switches are made, perhaps more often than in the past.
2. The students have a shorter period to bond with the dog while in class. Yes, the bonding continues at home, but it is certainly a confidence booster when you notice you and your dog are communicating on a deeper level. This may or may not happen in two weeks.
3. Two weeks is not much time for habits to be ingrained. It does put much more responsibility on the handler, which in itself is not a bad thing.

IN an ideal world, I would love to see there be a choice of two or three week classes, even if on a limited basis, because though this format may work for most, there are some who would certainly benefit from the additional time. However, I do feel that the two week format is able to meet the needs of most students, and still preserve the high standards held by GDB.

I was thoroughly impressed by the new residence hall. It is clearly evident by even the most minimal details that so much thought and planning went into the design. I am honored to have been a small part of that planning process on the alumni board, and also to have been able to see it come to fruition.

I was so glad to have had the chance to meet and have lunch with Chris Benninger, the new GDB CEO. She is certainly open to feedback and seeks it. I feel that the selection committee made a great choice, and I am hopeful.

All of the GDB staff members with whom I had the pleasure of working were fantastic, and I truly appreciate the time they took to help me better understand and apply concepts. These are very busy people, and I don’t take that for granted even for a minute. I enjoyed getting to know the students in the current class. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel a part of them. I was even invited to attend the tribute to retired guides session, which is such a personal experience, and I would not have blamed them in the least for not inviting me
to attend.

I’ll tell a quick dog story. As part of my experience, I got to work with a couple of dogs. The first one was a cute little female black lab, and the second one was a handsome male golden retriever. I worked with the female in the morning with clicker training, and then got to do guide work with both her and the golden on a route in downtown San Rafael in the afternoon. When I picked up the harness and gave that first forward command, it was magical! It was almost more so than my very first walk with Sachet, because now I know what I’m missing. I had been without a dog for five days, and it was so liberating to be able to fly down the sidewalk again! I am soooo ready to have a dog!

I have to say that the curb approaches from both dogs were right on the money. They both had excellent guide work. These dogs were both class ready, or at least I know for sure the golden was, because he was supposed to be in this class but didn’t have a match. That’s ’cause he was supposed to work with me! 😉 That was one of the highlights of my time there. His pace was perfect, and he was so attuned to me. At one point, I slipped on a manhole cover, because it had been raining and the surface was wet and sleek. He looked up at me and seemed concerned. After that, he would stop at every manhole cover we came across. What a good and cautious boy! I reworked one clearance error with him, and he did beautifully with it. He was super serious and business like, didn’t seem to have the golden silly personality at all, even after I took off the harness. That evening, I had the privilege of baby sitting him, not working him or anything, just keeping him with me. That’s when I saw the silly, goofy side. I swear that boy knows what “good night” means, because the two or three times I said it, he tried to get in bed with me–so silly! I loved that dog!

This unique opportunity will not soon be forgotten. In spite of the fact that I am attending another school for my next dog, I will continue to support GDB, and to recommend it as an excellent training program. In my job, I get to discuss guide dog training with potential applicants, and it’s great to have a more complete understanding of how a school does things. Part of my heart remains with GDB. What an amazing and committed group of people form the GDB family!

I think I’m in love!

No, this is not my new guide dog! I am just baby sitting him. Such a handsome golden boy! I will post a little more about him in the next day or two. For those who can’t see the pictures, there is one with just the dog–A beautiful golden retriever, Another one with the two of us smiling, and the third one where he is giving me a kiss on the cheek.

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Sachet Retrieving

I am trying once again to post a video. I am including a dropbox link to it, because it doesn’t want to accept a .mov file type for some reason. Here is the video of her retrieving, and I hope it works. This is such a testament to the wonders of clicker training! She was not trained with clicker, and neither was I, but we experimented, and didn’t do half bad. 🙂

Sachet Retrieving

Time Flies

I am including one picture from our first weeks together, and one from our last. It’s amazing how almost nine years have flown by. It seems only yesterday I was meeting my Sashy girl for the first time. I am so thankful for the time we’ve shared together, for the way she added so much to my life. I’ve said this before, but she truly gave me new wings. There was no stopping us, no matter what challenges came our way. If we weren’t quite sure where to go, we’d figure it out together. If we had to cross a very busy street, we did it more safely and confidently together. Not that I didn’t do these things before with my cane, but I can honestly say that with her, I felt more confident, graceful, efficient, and independent.

My parents and grandmother came up this weekend. We had a nice couple of days together. Those last few days with my girl were precious. Yes, I’ll see her again, but our relationship will be different now. As you can imagine, this is so hard to think about. I have often second-guessed myself, especially in the last month. Did I read her signs right? Was this really the right time for her to retire? So maybe she’s a little slower, but she’s still happy to work. I’m a little slower too—I don’t mind. Maybe we should’ve just kept working together for another year or two. We were one awesome team! Then I start thinking about all the reasons it’s right, and I don’t doubt that I made the right decision. She will turn eleven in October, and she has worked hard for almost nine years. She should have some time to enjoy her life as just a pampered pet, while she is healthy enough to enjoy it to the fullest. She was definitely not as eager to work consistently. She would take longer to come over when it was time to go. She would get tired more easily and quickly while working. She did walk slower than she used to, though some times she was just as spunky as ever, blurring the lines for me. Life is so not black and white! A couple of weeks ago, we took a walk to Publix, about a mile or so. She was walking slower than usual, and she was not inclined to go any faster. It was 7:30 in the morning and the weather was cool, so I couldn’t blame it on the heat. I felt like she was reaffirming my decision somehow, like she was giving me the assurance I needed that this was the right time. I truly believe she is just what my parents need at the moment, and her going to them is an answer to prayer. She was not originally going to go live with them, but with a friend locally. Things didn’t pan out as expected, and after talking it over with my parents, they agreed to take her, very eagerly I might add. The timing of everything was uncanny, and I thank God for working out the details. Guess it was His plan all along.

Sunday was our last official day of working together as a guide dog-handler team. We went for a long walk together. I appreciated my parents’ understanding of our need for that time, just the two of us. She didn’t often get up on the bed, but she did that morning, snuggling under the covers with me. It felt like a normal day, and the fact that she would be leaving that night was not registering, not until she actually got in the car with them and they pulled away. My mom got really emotional, so I tried to keep it together for both our sakes. I was thankful they did not drag out the goodbye. That might’ve been too much. I know one of the ways I deal with tough things is to pretend they are not happening, but you can only be in that river of Egypt for so long, and there comes a time when you actually have to face reality. That moment of sudden realization that she was gone, and that I would not see her for probably a couple of months, was the hardest! In our whole time together, the longest we were ever apart was 24 hours, and that was only once. A few hours here and there, but not very often. It’s such a strange feeling, not being able to reach down to pet her as I did constantly. Sometimes I think I hear her tags jingling in the house. My office was way too quiet this week. Thank God for students to distract me, and for volunteers who know just how to cheer me up—with See’s chocolate (thank you so much, Kevin)! I am so grateful for the support of dear friends and family during this difficult transition. Your prayers, check-in texts/calls/e-mails, and words of comfort have helped so much!

My mom has been great this week, sending me texts and filling me in on how my girl is doing. It will take me a while to stop thinking of her as my girl. She’s there’s now, although she’ll always have a piece of my heart. My parents say she looks around for me, but she is happy, adjusting way better than me I’m sure. One thing that makes me a little sad is not being able to explain to her what’s going on. I wonder what she is thinking. I know dogs live in the moment way more than we do, and they don’t think like us. I would hope she’s not sad or confused. One of my friends wisely pointed out how fitting it was that she went to them on Easter, a day of hope and new beginnings. She has a new life now. She is loved and cherished, and that makes me so happy. She is also very spoiled—she deserves it! Guess how many beds she has? Not one, not two, but three beds, in different parts of the house. What a life! My dad takes her for walks in the evening, and my mom has taken her out on errands with her. I sent them a list of the non-guide work commands she knows. My mom says she has stopped to show her steps. Yesterday she dropped a pill bottle, and Sachet handed it to her. That’s my girl! I’m so glad she is still doing some of the tasks she knows. She loves to show off, and she is so proud of herself when she does it, wagging and looking pleased with herself.

So, this week I have taken the bus home a couple of times, and one day I had to go run some errands at a shopping center. Zelda, my trusty cane, did the best she could, but boy, there is so much we take for granted after working with a dog for a period of time. For instance, the dog knows exactly where those turns are. I couldn’t believe I got turned around in the parking lot at my job, a place I know almost as well as my home. I went down the steps and proceeded to turn left, not realizing I should have walked a couple of steps before turning. It didn’t take me long to get back on track, but I felt like such an idiot! That was just one of many moments that day when I said to myself, “I can’t wait to have another harness handle in my hand, and a smart, confident dog at the end of it. Zelda didn’t do so well it avoiding furniture, people, and posts. She also would not find the outside doors for me, no matter how many times I asked her, darn it! She’s just not as smart as a dog! 😉 Seriously, I’m not trying to knock the cane. It is a source of freedom and independence. I am thankful for my cane skills. However, the way it conveys information is quite different from a dog, and I much prefer the ease and efficiency of travel a dog can give. Twelve more days until I meet my new furry companion, but who’s counting? 😉

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Happy Retirement!

I have such an amazing church family! They are kind, loving, and thoughtful. Last week, we were talking about Sachet’s retirement, and how today would be her Last Sunday in church with us. I can’t remember which one of us said that we should have a retirement party for her—it might’ve even been me. Next thing I knew, we were discussing doggie bakeries and how we could celebrate. ON the way to our gathering today, we swung by Woof Gang Bakery and picked up some cute and celebratory doggie cookies with icing. We also got them some Water Buffalo horns—haven’t given them those yet but I’m anxious to see how they do with them. The lady there said they last a pretty long time and that they are not like rawhide—don’t get all gummy and squishy. We don’t usually give our guys rawhide, but once someone gave them a rawhide bone for Christmas and we thought we’d just let them have the one. Sachet did fine with it, but Andy, well, let’s just say Casey won’t be doing that again.

So, back to the retirement party, we thought we’d just let the dogs be out of harness all day, so people could interact with them more freely and they could just enjoy the day. We even brought them a couple of toys and Nyla Bones so people could play with them. Our friends Jeff and Cindy brought a human cake that we all had in Sachet’s honor, with candles and all! They even had retirement plates! I was so very touched and filled with gratitude. It was hard not to get emotional, but I really tried. I didn’t want to lose it in front of everybody, even if they are my church family and understand that this is a tough time. It was a happy day and I wanted to focus on the celebration. Our friend Cindy got Sachet a Happy Retirement Lei and hat, and we managed to get some cute pictures of her sporting her gear. J I will post these pictures in a few—hopefully I can figure it out without too much trouble.

While I’m at it, I will post a video of Sachet retrieving. This was done at my parents’ home. A few years ago, we experimented with the clicker and I was able to teach her to pick things up for me. She doesn’t necessarily need to see me drop it. As long as it’s on the floor around me, if I give her the command, she will hand it to me. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, because she is great at it, loves to do it, and we worked very hard on it. It was lots of fun too. We had our moments during the training. Sachet was not trained with clicker—this was before they started using clicker at the school. She picked it up quite easily. However, my Sassy girl has a mind of her own, so occasionally she would give me some commentary on this clicker thing. We would only do short sessions, a few minutes a day. On one particularly hectic day, I decided I would still do a session with her, to keep the consistency. We worked for a minute or two. Then, she simply gave a big woof and laid down. She was done for the day and was letting me know it! 😉

This will be her last week with me. My parents are coming for Easter weekend, and they will take her back to Miami with them. It was supposed to be this weekend, but a couple of weeks ago I asked if they would be available next weekend instead, and if it was all the same to them, I’d love one more week. Thankfully they were good with that. The weekend after I will be going out of town, and the weekend after that I go for training with my successor dog. It’s all happening way too fast! Of course I have such mixed feelings about it all, as is to be expected.

To my dear church family, thanks again so much for making today special for us. We love you all!

moments of Reflection

Over the last few months, there have been moments that have just made me stop and thank God for my wonderful little girl, and for the amazing bond we have developed over the years. Each of these moments is different but equally significant for me. I want to take a few minutes to write about some of these.

The first one was in late September. It had been a hectic morning already, taking an almost mile walk to Walmart to get a gift certificate, then taking the bus to meet a friend at Starbucks, then another bus to do some shopping at Sam’s, and then we would take a cab to our final destination before going back home, a get-together for a couple of friends at work. Initially, Sachet had a nice quick pace, but she started to slow down a bit, and her work was just a little off, though still very good. While walking to the Starbucks, she missed a curb that she has always nailed since she learned to find it. In little ways I can’t quite explain, she was just not her usual self. By this time, plans had been in place for her retirement in the next 6 months to a year. Little things like this confirmed I had made the right choice. We all have off days, but it was happening more, and the slowing down too. If only it was clear cut, and there was no doubt that the decision was being made at the right time. But, life ain’t that simple, and this is not to be. We took the bus to Sam’s and crossed a wide, busy intersection. We walked down the block to the Sam’s parking lot. We turned in and walked, then walked some more, and then walked still a good distance more. Sam’s was pretty far back from the street, and it would have been very easy to get lost in that parking lot, but my girl had suddenly become very confident, and she would get us right to the Sam’s door. Major party with praise and a treat at that point. How she could go from being flaky to flawless in the same morning was mind boggling. Maybe she was letting me know in her way that she still wanted to work and could do a good job. That same thing happened back in Feb. last year, when circumstances were leading me to believe that I might need to start considering the big scary r word. It’s as though she sensed it and wanted to say, “We won’t be having any of that!” So the next few weeks her work was extra good.

The next moment I’ll share was a powerful reminder of the trust we have in each other. I get to trust her every day with my safety as we navigate through life. She gets to trust me with her care and well-being, and even her safety actually. I guess she demonstrates that trust in different ways, but on one particular October evening, it was oh so clear to me. We were about to get off of a paratransit vehicle, and as we usually do, I stood up and told her “let’s go!” She usually jumps up with me, happy to get off, especially when it’s about to be her dinner time. But on this particular evening, she didn’t do that, so I asked her again, “Come on girl, let’s go.” Still nothing. I knew something was up, so I checked and noticed her harness handle had gotten very stuck under the seat. This has only happened one other time in the over 8 years of traveling together, and the other time was very scary because she kept yelping whenever she tried to move, and I wasn’t sure what exactly was causing her pain. Was it pinching her? Was her leg at a weird angle? Was she scared? That time we ended up unfastening the belly strap and letting her just go out of the harness. Anyway, this time wasn’t so bad, but I could tell she was a bit antsy. I told her to stay. I was afraid she would try to get out and get scared that she couldn’t move. Had that happened, it would’ve been so much harder to get her unstuck and out of there. But, instead of freaking out, she chose to trust me. I tried to soothe her in a matter of fact way, so she wouldn’t pick up on any of my nervousness. She stayed very still and let me work to get the harness handle unstuck. In less than a minute, I was able to dislodge it—it was really wedged in there! Then I told her ok, and up she went. I was touched by that show of trust on her part, and was again so thankful for the incredible bond we share.

The next thing I want to share happened on a casual Sunday morning at home. I was working at my desk in the room. as I grabbed my brailler, the wooden braille eraser slipped out and rolled onto the carpet. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a wooden cylinder, about 2-3 inches long, that tapers into a point at one end, but it’s not sharp. At its thickest, it’s probably about as big around as a dog’s front leg. So, the eraser had quietly rolled God only knew where exactly. We have carpet in the room, and I didn’t hear where it went. I thought Sachet was snoozing on her bed in the corner, but if she had been, she wasn’t any more. As soon as that eraser dropped, she got up and came over, wagging a bit, looking up at me as if to say, “Want me to get that for you, Mom?” So, I gave her the command. “Ok, girl, let me have it!” She excitedly darted over, grabbed it effortlessly, and brought it over to me, holding it in her mouth so I could grab it. What a dog! She made my day.

The last thing I’ll share took place around mid October. Casey and I were going to meet coworkers for lunch, and we were waiting to catch our 2nd and last bus. While we waited at the stop, I thought I’d ask her to find the trash so I could throw something away. I said, “Sachet, find the trash.” We were about 30-40 feet away from the trash. There were two guys standing in the middle of the sidewalk between us and the trash can. Sachet went forward, smoothly avoided the guys without missing a beat, taking me in between them, then curved back around and went right to the trash. All this she did in a very focused, purposeful manner. “Good girl!” No matter how many times I experience great work from my dog, I never cease to be proud and amazed. Yes, she is trained to avoid obstacles, and yes, she has been finding trash cans for me for years, but on that sunny October morning, I was beaming with pride, and it was like the first time she did some of these things for me. The two guys were impressed, and were commenting to each other how she went around them to find me the trash. I love showing off her excellent training and skills to people. I pray I will never take any of these seemingly ordinary things for granted, and that I never consider them just ordinary, with any of my dogs.

Funny stories

As I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve trained Sachet to find my husband, Casey. This is super handy when we’re out and about and I need to find Casey, our seat, our table, etc. One example is when we’re at a restaurant and either one of us needs to go use the restroom. Whether we go inside for me or outside for Sachet, I can just say to her, “Sachet, find Casey!.” She will get us right back to our table, without me having to ask for assistance from anyone. How awesome is that?! That’s yet another example of how Sachet adds to my independence. I am the first one to ask someone for help when needed, and I have absolutely no problems doing that, but how can I explain the feeling of accomplishment when I’m able to do something on my own, which in the past might have required assistance (from a human)? It’s something akin to how a person feels the first time she goes somewhere on her own after learning how to drive.

When I began teaching Sachet this command, we started with the most familiar and distraction-free environment—our house. Once she was successful here, we moved outside, still at home, and with minimal distractions. We gradually made it more difficult, introducing other people, environments, and distractions. Sachet was doing great. What sometimes tended to happen was that she would get so excited about finding Casey that she would forget I was at the other end of the harness. She sometimes required some reworking or reminders to be careful, but she was getting it. One Saturday afternoon, we were at a conference, and Casey had gone up front to talk with the speaker. I had gone up to our room to grab the book we had bought, so we could get it autographed. As we came back into the meeting room, I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to practice our newly learned command. There were still a few people around, and some obstacles—chairs, and some small and high round tables that sat about 4 people. “Sachet, find Casey,” I commanded. Off she went, wagging a mile a minute. She was alert and very focused on the task at hand. In fact, she was so focused on finding Casey that she wasn’t being as careful as she should be. I was so excited that she was going to do it, that I didn’t think to remind her to be careful. So, she made a turn to go down the isle, and got too close to one of those round tables, which by the way had glasses and a water pitcher. To my embarrassment, the table, pitcher and glasses came crashing down! A couple of the glasses broke. Water went everywhere. Boy, what a way to make a grand entrance, and a memorable impression! Thankfully people were very nice and didn’t seem to think much of it. I, on the other hand, was cringing the whole time. But hey, it could’ve been much worse!

Another funny incident happened on a regular work morning, very early and pre-coffee. We walked into my office, I put my bag and purse down, dropped the leash, and proceeded to tell Sachet, “Ok girl, do your business.” Yeah, for those who don’t know, she does go on command. But, God bless the importance of context and not just the words of a command. What I had meant to say was, “Sachet, go to your place.” And, she absolutely knew what I meant to say, so she did it, thank God, instead of obeying the actual command I gave her. OH yes, and my sassy dog, after going to her place, laid down, gave a big sigh, and probably threw a dirty look my way as if to say, “Gee, Mom, really? Are you crazy?”

The Find Command

When Sachet and I began working together, I had no idea how much we would use the find command. For me, that’s one of the most awesome and useful things about having a guide dog, being able to teach them to find common objects—and people too for that matter. It’s such a big help to go to a strange place and say, “Sachet, find the trash.” I would say that 95% of the time, if there’s a trash present, she will find it. I marvel at how well she is able to generalize commands. Trash is probably the one she wows me with the most, as far as generalizing. I have taught her to find all different kinds of trash cans, and she has just taken it in stride. It amazes me that when I say “find the trash,” she is just as able to find a regular kitchen trash can as she is one of those ones with the swinging wooden doors, or the little bathroom trash cans, or the ones with the dome lids like at Starbucks, or even a big dumpster. I remember when first starting to work on the find command, I would get a bit frustrated when she would have difficulty discriminating words. If there was a trash and a seat close together, she would be just as likely to find the trash as the seat, regardless of which one I asked her to find. We would rework repeatedly, and she would eventually get them right, but a few days would go by, and we would encounter the same situation. After a while, I began to accept this as one of her quirks. Not only that, but I realized that this very thing that was causing us frustration was probably a blessing in disguise. She had difficulty discriminating specific words, which likely allowed her to be even better at generalizing. I began to appreciate more and more her ability to generalize, and the fact that she would find one thing or the other bothered me less and less. Now, I just expect it, and when she finds the wrong thing, I just say, “No, lets find the …” and usually she’ll get it with little difficulty. I was telling Casey yesterday that if she’s ever pokey or not too enthusiastic about guiding, all I have to do is ask her to find something, and it really gets her excited. She seems to thrive on that, and to enjoy it as much as I take pleasure in seeing her do it. We worked so hard in the beginning, and our work has certainly paid off over the years. She has “find” down pat, even when I’m showing her something new. In fact, there has been a time or two when I’ve even pointed out something to her, showed it to her once, had her find it, and she was able to do it later on, without me even giving her any treats. I usually do use food rewards when teaching her something new, but this girl has amazed me by being able to learn quickly and without food when need be. I’m so spoiled!! 🙂

Picture?

Hey all you lovely people with working eyeballs. 🙂 Can someone tell me if there is a picture of Sachet and me on this blog? I tried to upload one, but not sure if it worked. In fact, I might have uploaded the same picture twice, in which case I’d like to know too, so I can hopefully fix it.
Thanks for the feedback.

Meet Princess Sachet

Hello to all our readers! I’ve finally decided to post my first entry in this blog that was created over a month ago. This will be a place where I talk about my guide dog journey, whether reminiscing about my partnership with Sachet for the last 8 and a half years, or looking ahead to my successor guide dog, or maybe even further. Not sure how long I will keep writing here, but I am looking forward to blogging about my experiences. This is my first official blog, and I’m kind of excited!

So, just a little background for anyone who doesn’t know us, my name is Judy, and I am currently working with my first guide dog. Her name is Sachet, and she is from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA. They also have a campus in Oregon. Sachet is a black lab. She is 20.5 inches at the shoulder, and roughly 60 lbs. I call her my little pocket lab, though I know others with even smaller dogs. She fits well into tight places—even regular restroom stalls. I would not be opposed to working with a larger dog, but I think it would be hard to get used to, although, these guys sure know how to curl up and settle into all kinds of spaces, just like they wind their way right into their own little space in your heart.

Sachet and I met on Sept. 14th, 2005. Today It makes exactly 8 and a half years. How fitting that I should start my blog on this special day. I once described my experience of getting a guide dog as feeling that I had new wings, and I can think of no better way to convey the added confidence and efficient mobility that Sachet has given me. Rather than try to describe our adventures, I think I will share something I wrote for our 5 year anniversary, and it will give you a better idea of who she is, and who we are as a team.

*****

Tuesday, 9/14/2010

Five years and Counting

I can’t believe Sachet and I have been together for 5 years! What a milestone! It seems like only a few months ago I was getting ready to go to GDB, “All dog fired up” like my supervisor put it. The night before leaving to California, I didn’t get a wink of sleep, packing and getting stuff ready, waaaaay too excited to sleep. I remember the day we met. It was “D-Day” and you could just feel the anticipation in the air. We were all speculating about what kind of dogs we would get. The instructors were doing their darndest to keep us in suspense as long as they could. They were all mysterious the day before, having secret dog-matching meetings. The morning of Dog Day, they said things like, “Well, the dogs couldn’t get bathed today because the baths in the kennels are broken. Guess you all will just have to wait till tomorrow.” Yada yada. They dragged out the lecture on receiving your dog as much as they could. Then it came, the moment we were all waiting for. “Casey, you will be receiving a mail Labrador golden retriever cross named Nexus.” Wow! That name was significant for Casey before getting his dog, and it sure surprised us. Then, after a few other names, “Judy, you will be receiving a female black lab named Sachet.” Oh man! Sachet! I couldn’t figure out what I thought of the name at first. It sounded kind of fru fru, but boy, my little princess sure has the perfect name for her, and I quickly grew to love it. We all went back to our rooms to wait. I was super duper excited and I just couldn’t wait to meet my new doggy partner. Then the instructors came, and we went into, I think it was the instructors’ office, where we were introduced. Sachet was all waggy and happy, acting like her cute social self. They told me a little about her, and then we walked back to the room to get acquainted. I was just taking it all in. Part of it seemed so unreal. In some ways I felt like I was dreaming, not too different from the way I felt on my wedding day. Is this really happening? We all had pizza to celebrate Dog Day, and all the dogs were great, quietly laying under the table in the Lounge.

Since then, we have had many fun and happy adventures. We have become a fine team and learned so much about each other. I could write a book about our adventures together, but we do want to have dinner tonight, so I’ll just say that I feel so much more confident when I go places with her. Walking together is so effortless. She has a nice quick pace, yet she’s very cautious, navigating around obstacles, slowing down for narrow paths, and making sure Mom doesn’t trip or run into anything. She was eager to learn new things from the get-go, so I taught her how to find seats, trash cans, the posts at the bus stations that have the bay letter in print and Braille, our stuff (usually my backpack), and probably her favorite, how to find her daddy Casey. She just wags all over when I ask her to find him. She learned other non-guide work related fun things too, like how to shake hands, speak, role over, and rub noses. We had so much fun learning about the clicker together. She learned to pick things up for me, and let me tell you, she’s quite the pro, picking up even small items, holding them in her mouth till I retrieve them. She loves to tug, and boy can she make some noise, but, once she’s done, she’s done. She’s the typical lab, inhaling her food like she hasn’t eaten in a week, but she is somehow dainty while she is doing it, at least compared to other dogs. We worked very hard on food distractions in the beginning, so now she’s excellent at ignoring food most of the time, at least when she thinks Mom’s watching. I love her goofy, silly personality when she’s playing. She enjoys weaving between your legs and rubbing her face into you, snuffling and wagging. It wasn’t hard to teach her to rub noses, because she did it naturally, so all we had to do was attach the command. My girl loves to explore about as much as I do, and she loves people—she’s a social butterfly. When she’s working though, she’s very serious and focused. I know that I can trust her to keep me safe. I pray every day that I never take anything she does for granted. I am so thankful for her raisers, the Bolsters, for raising her to become a very well-mannered, obedient, sweet, loving, easy-going, and beautiful young lady. I am thankful to her trainers, Tamara and Melissa, for training such a fine guide dog. She is a great and confident worker, not phased by much, eager to take on a challenge, careful and thorough, and oh so smart. I thank God, because I prayed for my dog way before I got her, and I knew He had a special one in mind for me. My heart is very full, and I just hope Sachet knows how much Mommy loves her, and how proud of her I am each day.

I love acrostic poems, and in honor of our five years together, here’s one for my girl:

SACHET

Smart as can be

Attentively she watches me

Confident and cautious as she guides

Happily she makes great strides

Enjoying our work as much as our play

Together we navigate through life each day.

*****

Back to the present

I hadn’t read that in quite some time, and my heart is again very full, but this time I have so many mixed emotions. I am sad, because my girl is about to retire, and boy will I miss working with her! I am proud of all we’ve accomplished, of the fine team we have grown to be. I am glad that she will be going to live with 2 of the people I trust most to love and take great care of my girl, my parents. As I write this, she is laying on my foot, as we make our way back to Orlando from Miami on Amtrak (I actually wrote most of this last Sunday). This will be our last trip, so I have had my emotional moments. She is such an amazing little girl!

At the station in Orlando, while we were waiting for the train to Miami, I decided to go to the restroom. One of the employees said she would keep an eye on my large suitcase, and she directed us to the restroom. When we came out, I told Sachet, “Ok girl, let’s find our stuff!” She was instantly excited and wagging, knowing even before I asked her that I would probably be asking her to find something. I could feel her anticipation. She pulled us confidently in the direction of our stuff, and stopped short. I reached out, only to find a nice big suitcase … just not OURS. * smile * Woops! I told her that wasn’t ours, so off we went again. In this case, the 2nd time was a charm, and she confidently took us right to our stuff, which was not super close. “Good girl, Sashy! Awesome work!” “Wag wag wag! Snuffle snuffle!” Those are some of the high points of working with a guide dog, when your dog does something to amaze you and make your heart swell with pride, even if it’s something she has done many times, but it never gets old. And then I had a mini melt down. Good thing there was no one sitting around us. It occurred to me that it would be our last out of town trip together. I had such mixed emotions—that happens a lot these days as you can see. * smile * How I wish we could work together forever! Yeah yeah, my husband Casey is the practical and realistic one. I never claimed to have those as strong suits. After a couple of minutes, I collected myself and tried to focus on the positives. What a privilege to be sharing these moments with her, giving us a chance to have closure. I know this will not necessarily be the case with other dogs. I can’t be happier with our arrangement, and the transition seems to be going beautifully for her. This weekend, my parents, especially my mom, got to do for her things they’d never done—feed her, brush her, take her out to relieve (well, they’d done that a time or two), and even give her treats when she came to them if called. She loves my parents, so she seemed to take it all in stride. There were a couple of tricky moments, such as the first time my dad tried to feed her. I was standing there too—I learned from that experience—and when my dad gave her the go-ahead to eat, she kept looking at me for confirmation that it was ok to eat. So, we both said it together and that worked. Now, if I wasn’t close, she ate just fine, not much hesitation if any. So, I know it will be an adjustment for everyone, but for the first time, I really know in my heart that it will be ok.

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Come join me on a pawsitively awesome guide dog adventure!