Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Trust Your Dog

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Trust Your Dog

By Ann Chiappetta

There have been times, as a new dog guide user, that I’ve forgotten the first rule of working with a canine partner, Trust Your Dog, or TYD. The result, often painful, not only left me with a bruised knee or swollen ankle, but also the  Homer Simpson-esque stamp of D;uh on my forehead.

If I’d listened to my dog and not stepped ahead of her, I wouldn’t have wrenched my foot in that  sidewalk crack or bumped my head on that low hanging sign. It takes time, and in my case, a year or so, to  accurately read my dog’s body language and know that when she jerks to  a stop, or side steps and does a little dance, that under no circumstance should I even try to move. Instead,    I need to carefully explore my surroundings with a toe or an outstretched hand, identify the danger, and  trust my dog to find a way around it.

 

Thankfully, our teamwork is much improved since we first started our partnership and only a few embarrassing and thankfully not painful, moments have since prevailed upon us.

  

For instance, one afternoon we went to pick up lunch.  As we approached the door, Verona stopped and I listened to determine if the door was open or closed. Sometimes the staff leaves the wet floor sign out and Verona shows them to me so we can go around them. I decided that since I couldn’t hear noise coming out of the eatery, that the door was closed. I put out my hand to swiped for the door handle and ended up grabbing a very large female breast. I jerked back my hand, profusely apologized and the woman stepped past me. She must have been about 7 feet tall and filled the doorway so that she blocked the noise just like the closed door.  Face flaming; I went inside to order my food.  Its times like this that I wish Verona could talk. Then, again, maybe not.

 

Now, the next story really is a TYD tale. Once again, we were coming back from lunch; the entrance to our office building is on the left. The door is up two low steps and can be awkward. The doors open out and the top step is not wide enough for you to stand on  the landing while pulling open the door, and can be tricky for a person with a guide dog handle in one hand and lunch in the other. Verona slows down and usually stops at the first step. Then goes to the next one and I open the right hand door so we can slip in without a problem. This time, a man was standing at the top step with the right hand door open. We stopped, Verona didn’t go to the top step, so I knew someone or something was blocking us.  “Is someone there?” I asked. No answer. I asked a second time. Finally, a man says, “you can go inside.” I tell Verona “forward” She doesn’t budge.

I turn to the man, saying, “my dog won’t go because you are in our way. We use the right hand door to get in.” Rather than stepping down and holding the door open from the outside, he tried to open the other door,  pushing Verona off the landing and  making me  take a step backwards. So now, he’s got both doors blocked and we’re at the bottom of the steps. I wait until he lets the right side go, then I re-open it.  As we pass, he says, “I told you it was okay to go, why didn’t you trust me?”

By this time, I’m a bit short of patience, the guy managed to cause a problem in about ten seconds and I was annoyed that he just pushed Verona down the steps with the other door and I had to let go of her harness handle to avoid her being hurt.

“Sorry, but I trust my dog more than people. Oh, and I don’t appreciate it when someone pushes my dog off the steps like that.” You could have hurt her

I hear him say, “I didn’t do that.”

Whatever, dude, I think and continue on my way. TYD.

August 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What We Do

Another Day with my dog guide

By Ann Chiappetta

 

Each day at lunch I pocket my mobile phone, some cash, and harness up my dog. She stands while I put on her harness and leash. After gearing up we exit the office.

We walk to the steps, she stops to indicate them, and as soon as I tap the top of the step with a shoe, she leads me down, and we swing open the door and out on to the sidewalk. We turn on the auto pilot and reach the left turn across a four lane intersection. I wait for the light to change, counting the seconds after the last chirp of the audible pedestrian signal. When I hear the traffic surge, I say ‘forward’ and we start across the street. As soon as my foot reaches the ramped curb on the opposite side,
Verona stops and I hear,

“Hi, is your dog a working dog?”

As I groan inwardly, thinking, oh, boy, here we go again, I put on a smile and tell Verona to sit while the big, brown dog he’s walking tries to make his doggie acquaintance. The dog is excited, panting and pacing but the man keeps him from disturbing my dog.

We exchange pleasantries, and move on to our destination, the dog relief area just one more block away. It is a great, clean place with a waste bag dispenser that is never out of bags.

 

As we walk up the sidewalk, I hear more dogs and their owners but all is well. Verona directs me to the dispenser with a targeting command and I remove her harness, extend her leash, and she does her business.

 

Once she’s done and harnessed up, I say ‘forward’ and turn back to the way we came so we can find the trash and go get lunch. Suddenly, she stops and I hear the patter of small paws and the jingle of a leash. The woman at the other end of it realizes her dog has decided to play kissy face with Verona and my dog is trying to go around it but it keeps cutting us off. I call this the doggie side step, as we often get nowhere until the other person recalls their dog. I think, as I often do, that a flexible leash is not as great as the inventor hoped it would be.  The woman is very apologetic and retrieves her dog so we can move on.

 

Okay, I think, today is a great day to praise my dog, as she has ignored not one, but two dogs while working. As we walk across another wide four lane intersection, I tell her, “Good dog”, and I know her tail is up. Swaying proudly.

 

We walk another block and enter the mall.

 

I love working my dog, passing each day and year with a better understanding for one another and strengthening the bond. I often wonder what my next dog will be like, as we are coming up on our fifth year together. I think it’s normal to think about these things, as it prepares me for the time we must part as a team and allow another dog to step in to lead me.

 

Verona guides me down the ramp, and angles us toward the door to the restaurant. Like clockwork, the little white fuzz ball in the vitamin store begins his barking and as usual, Verona ignores him. I hear his owner telling him to be quiet and wonder if the mall actually allows pets inside.   We navigate among the chairs and tables and stand on line to order and pay for lunch. Then we weave out of the store, pass the barking dog, up the ramp, and out into the sunshine.

Once we are back in the office, the gear comes off and Verona drinks some water and takes a snooze while I eat.

 

This is a typical day – whether its dog distractions, traffic checks, construction or a street fair, we face it all together. It’s times like this that I feel fortunate to work with a guide dog. We have the freedom to go about our business in a way that I’d never known with a white cane.   I have good travel skills and now that Verona and I are a solid working team, most traveling is routine.

 

There are times when even traveling with a dog guide is tough.  I try not to take on more than we can handle so we stay safe. Some serious obstacles would be unfamiliar, busy intersections with traffic and multiple lane crossings,  a round about and other similar situations.

 

In Canada, for instance, the downtown Ontario streets and sidewalks are blended so there aren’t any curbs. The curbs are indicated by the visual markers of alternating cobblestones and a thin line showing where the curb is.  We had to work for a whole day on that challenge, as I couldn’t even really feel it with my foot or cane tip. What possesses folks to do things like this? I’m sure it looks great, but curbs are there to give drivers and pedestrian’s both clues of where the street ends and the sidewalk begins.

I could go on about these inconveniences but don’t want to bore readers any more than I have already. Suffice it to say that I find the challenges more manageable with my dog and when in doubt, I find a willing person to help.

 

 

 

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