Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Brushing Up

| Filed under Guide dogs

Brushing up

By Ann Chiappetta

 

This post is a follow up to the last post I made called Hard Decision. Let me say right now that I feel immensely blessed to have the dog guide handler community beside me while I experience this transition.  Only handlers know what other handlers go through and I have so many wonderfully empathetic folks ready to support me – it really is amazing and humbling.

 

This post is about the little things, the things that come into play for when preparing to let the retiring dog assume a new role and the new dog move in beside you.

 

For instance, I wonder how it will be with three dogs in the house. How will my older rescue dog, Nikka, take this intrusion? She was a bit unwelcoming when Verona came home with me, so I have to be prepared to make the same accommodations with the new dog, too.

 

Then there’s making sure Verona and I can work together for as long as possible until a new dog is identified for me. I hear Tom Petty sing’ the waiting is the hardest part’ when I think of the months that will have to go by before I get the call.

 

I also have, it seems, a new problem with how I hold the harness handle, and have transitioned to a canted handle, not quite an ergonomic one, only a mild angle. It feels so much better on my wrist and shoulder. Verona has been a good girl throughout all the equipment switches and I  sometimes get to wishing she would last forever – then I get impatient with how slow she is and how unwilling she is to take on new routes and I know that retiring her is the best thing for both of us. She once was enthusiastic and looked forward to new routes and new routines, but now, well, while she is still eager to please, she often balks when we go out of her comfort zone. This is probably the most frustrating for me, as I do different things depending on the time of year and my volunteer responsibilities. I may not venture into New York City often, maybe 3 times a year, but when I do, I rely on her skills to get us around safely and with little stress or trouble.  After all, I know how to travel in metropolitan areas; I just don’t want to live in them,J.

 

Thanks to Guiding Eyes, we now have another harness, number 3, and it floats above her body and has a little upward bend that eases the tension on my wrist.  I think this will get us by for the next 6 months or so.

 

Guiding Eyes has a modified program called the action program where a person can combine campus training and then follow up with home training. This is my plan, as I will require less time on campus due to limited vacation and leave hours at the job. While I love staying on campus, I know that the three week program just isn’t realistic for me and I am happy that this program is available to me as a student being trained with a successor dog.

 

Well, I’ll post this and get the next bunch of updates ready for next time.

 

 

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Hard Decision

| Filed under Guide dogs

Hard Decision

 

I have come to the decision to retire Verona next year. She will be 9 by then and I think she will be ready.  So, unless some other problem presents itself, we will finish up with traveling next July and I will hang up her harness. At least, that’s the plan. I want to do what’s best for her and I think a gentle withdrawal from being my guide is best for both of us. I’ve put in my retraining application. While I still want my guide dog school to visit, evaluate and plan her retirement with me, I know what’s coming. The small signs of stress, her hesitation down stairs, a much slower pace and less stamina are all signs of aging. I don’t want her to work herself into stress-induced illness. We’ll go slowly and when the time is right, it will happen.

 

I also don’t want to be without a dog for too long or train in the winter if it can be helped. While I am intrepid about the cold, my asthma was very bad last year in the colder temperatures and even the extra meds didn’t help very much. It’s a funny thing, this breathing problem. I am fine when exercising in the gym but when walking outside up hills or in temperatures below 40, I feel it. I will let the instructors know about my new limitations and hope for the best in terms of class dates. I would love a September or October class.

 

Until then, we will walk around White Plains, travel, and spend time at the lake and with family and friends whenever possible. Verona is a careful and sensitive dog, a great dog for a first timer like me. I can control her with just a command and hand gesture. She is a wonderful guide, her work is excellent, and she steps up to the challenges whenever I need her to, even if they present difficulties. I’ve also learned how to travel more confidently because of her gentle and steady pace.  I can, however, move much faster now and have overcome many of my dog handling foibles. too. I’ve learned even more about dog husbandry and training because of working with a guide dog.  She’s helped me understand what drives the canine mind to strive to please a human partner. The best part is that through Verona, I’ve learned to be a better person.

 

What do I mean, one might ask. I’ll do my best to try to explain it. Before being matched with a dog guide, there were some behaviors and negative thinking I learned while gradually losing my vision. I would give in to my insecurities and limit myself. I did not venture out at night due to disorientation and night blindness. I avoided places with a lot of steps or challenging architecture because while I was a proficient cane user, I lacked the confidence in myself to believe I could figure things out if lost or stuck.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I raised my kids, went to graduate school, vacationed and achieved many other things with a white cane. When I was exposed to traveling with a handle in my hand, the sense of freedom was incredible.

 

It was the change of perception that helped me improve the inner sense of myself as a whole.   I held my head up and didn’t slump my shoulders, I not only looked confident but I felt it deep inside.

 

This is what I was meant to do, I thought, while on my first solo trip with Verona. All the years of loving and living with my pet dogs has culminated in something much more meaningful.

 

One surprising thing has happened; I know that the next dog will be faster and pull a bit more. It’s not that I’ve outgrown the sedate and gentle pace and pull, it’s more like transitioning from double to single bladed skates.

 

For now, though, we’ll continue being a team. Just the other day we came in from getting lunch and I said that I wished I could have someone video us when we traverse an especially troublesome challenge like on that day.

We were going to a familiar intersection and she stopped about ten feet from the corner. I said forward, she didn’t budge. I listened and off to the right, heard construction, sounds of shovels scooping cement, etc. I asked someone if there was construction and a man stopped, saying, yes, they had the whole corner roped off and people were crossing the street from further up. I asked him to show us where we could cross safely and he did. He then told me that the opposite corner was also being blocked and said there was a wooden ramp in place. We crossed and he let me know Verona was indeed targeting the ramp and then we were back onto the sidewalk. I thanked the man and we went to the deli for lunch. On the way back, we did the reverse and that was when I told my coworkers that I wished for a video camera.

I want folks to know how much our dogs do for us in the line of duty. After all this time, it is still amazing to me.

 

Even so, I just can’t get my mind to accept that another dog will one day be at my side. I’ll have to work on that thought. In any case, below is an ad, if I were to put in my application as a retrain with my guide dog school.

Situation Wanted

A 50 something white female who just happens to be blind is seeking a highly motivated working dog.  If you are a Labrador retriever and are willing to work with me, please read the job requirements. Only serious applicants need apply.

  1. Females preferred but will consider a male if all other character and personality traits are met.
  2. Height and weight not important as long as you can do the job. Color: no preference.
  3. I am a moderate but steady walker, travel in all modes of transportation, usually in taxis, loud, para transit vehicles or public buses. I also fly at least once a year and commute by passenger train twice yearly to other busy, crowded events. I stay in hotels and motels. I visit cities and live in the suburbs and spend summers by the lake. This means my new partner must be versatile and ready for action, depending on my busy schedule.
  4. I will require my new partner to be ready to go from the office to new locations with care and attention. My new partner must be able to settle down and quietly observe or ignore other humans during office hours and also be empathetic and willing to offer some comfort therapy to my human clientele if needed. My new partner must be willing to allow kids of all ages to touch and pet them for disability awareness presentations. Applicants with a penchant for the camera is a plus.
  5. My new partner must be experienced in offering a kind and gentle nose to other furry critters including cats and guinea pigs and other dogs as well as children.  You will be filling the paws of my current partner, who will be retiring soon. She is an amazing worker, friend, and has been part of this community for many years and is loved by all, human and furry.
  6. If you have read these requirements and feel that you have the right combination of breed, personality, manners, strength, adaptability, affection, drive, and possess intelligent disobedience skills, and wish to work with a human who will trust and love you the best she can, please send your contact information to Ann Chiappetta, Care of: Guiding Eyes for the Blind 611 Granite springs Road, Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0
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