Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Emotions and New Dogs

| Filed under Guide dogs Uncategorized

Emotions, Dogs, and New Paths

This entry will focus on a few divergent topics, all of which, I hope, will come together in the end. If not, well, I hope they are entertaining and thought provoking so you won’t be disappointed.

Topic 1:

I’m trying to process the struggle of retiring a guide dog. I’ve just experienced this transition and have been monitoring other guide dog users who are also going through this adjustment. It the best of circumstances it is emotional and anxiety provoking, in the worst, it feels like losing a loved one or cutting off a finger. I would argue the point and say it is saying goodbye without the internment of death. It’s a limbo that hangs on even after you are matched with a new dog.

 

I happen to be fortunate to have kept my retired dog and she still comes to the harness even after almost a year. She is used to being with one person all the time, day and night. She has turned to my husband for this reinforcement while I am away with my new dog working. I sometimes feel guilty, sad, and wistful; she is my first guide dog and the bar has been set high for my new dog, much to my discomfort.

 

Like John Grogan state in his introduction of the book, Marley and me, Verona is my Saint, the ultimate dog. I will compare every subsequent dog thereafter to her. Does Bailey know he’s being compared to Verona? I don’t think so. Do I struggle with this habit? Yes, and it often leads to trouble bonding and communicating with my new dog. I wish I didn’t follow these unrealistic expectations with Bailey, but I also think its human nature, part of the transition.

Topic 2: Expectations

I must turn to my new dog for my enhanced mobility and while I wish I could instill many of Verona’s personality traits and working behaviors into Bailey, I must accept his style and quirks to make it work between us.

 

For instance, when Bailey resorts to his dogginess, and I am frustrated by it, my first thought is, ‘Verona didn’t do that,’ Then the pang of guilt reminds me that bailey is not Verona, that every dog is different and it isn’t fair to expect this 2 year old very exuberant male Labrador to behave like my 9 year old female, who has many years of practice and poise to draw upon.

 

I do ashamedly admit   that I wish she could instill some of her poise and dignity upon him, waive her canine fairy wand over his head and with a poof! Bailey would no longer dive under chairs for discarded napkins.

It would help me feel less frustrated.

 

Topic 3: obsessed with training

Every moment is a training moment. Yes, I have turned into an opportunist of the worst sort. It began with Verona and now it has become part of my autonomic system. Don’t just give them a treat, make them work for it.  I recently taught Bailey how to give us a paw. He slaps the hand holding the treat and it’s very funny.  It’s an expected social interaction with people, after all and I was surprised he didn’t know how to do it. I had to enlist the assistance of a dog trainer to help me help him make the connection. We are going to work on the other paw next week.

 

This trainer, by the way, was one of the other guests at the bed and breakfast we frequent. Talk about not being able to put away the clicker and treats for the day; we even kept in touch afterwards and will get together at some point to proof out my dogs for their CGC (Canine Good Citizen Certificate).

 

Verona knows her right paw from her left paw and also sits up and begs on command.  Work for it, you doggies!

Topic 4: Trust Your Dog

But I digress. Back to retiring the first guide dog. For me, traveling up to Guiding Eyes without my dog in the harness was bitter sweet. I cried and the first two days were the hardest. The insecurities of the first time came flooding back; would this match work out? What if I got a bad match? What if my dog doesn’t bond to me, or, worse, what if I don’t bond to my new dog? What if the dog has a weird name like Petunia or Fireball?  I wanted a dog as different in looks from Verona as possible. I requested a taller, stronger, faster dog.

 

And, yes, all these doubts were scattered when he came into the room. Bailey was strong, whined for his trainer, and accepted me reluctantly. I remembered the whining, the restless way both dogs exhibited and I wanted to tell Bailey that it would all be okay, that He would get more love, discipline and care from me and he didn’t have to go back into the big, noisy, kennel tonight or anymore nights in the near future.  Knowing he wouldn’t be able to understand this allowed me to be kind, patient, and hopefully comforting in some way.

 

I learned about Bailey as he learned about me. He had to learn how to clear us from obstacles, make sure I was on safe ground as I walked. He had to stop for elevation changes like curbs, steps, low hanging branches or store front signs. He had to learn to back up with me holding onto his handle, push and pull me and move me to keep me safe. I had to learn his body language, his pace, and his signals. We both have likes, dislikes, habits and quirks and sometimes we butted heads over them.

Now Bailey loves brushing, but we had to work on convincing him brushing and ear cleaning were both necessary and good to tolerate.  He does funny things with flip flops, like using them as tug toys. He loves tissues, and will pluck them from the box if he can.  He brings me my shoes in the morning. He doesn’t like going under a chair, and once under it, will tangle himself up or back out of his harness like Houdini the escape artist. He is a sniffer and has taken liberties with many items he thinks would be good candidates for food. The first week I had him home with me he brought me a few bottle caps, different shoes, ripped up my daughter’s flip flops, and ate through a few dog beds.

 

 

Verona was smaller, getting under chairs was never an issue. Verona ignored food until given the okay. Well, if I’m going to confess, her weakness has always been French fries and potato chips. Verona has delicate feet, often slowing down to go over surfaces she disliked as if she were stepping through glue. She is very empathic and we are soon going to train as a pet assisted therapy team.

 

Bailey’s strengths are the way he blocks me from steps until I place my hand on the rail or a foot on the edge of the step. He loves to just walk and is great at remembering routes. He has the biggest heart, the best kisses, and most of all, has accepted all of us as his new family. It’s taken 6 months and many hours of hard work, and even some doubtful moments, but we’re finally over the hump and on our way to a great partnership, thanks to Bailey’s giant Labrador heart and his willingness to work for me, Saint Verona, some awesome instructors, and loving and dedicated puppy raisers.

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

In the Moment, Sort of

| Filed under Poem Uncategorized

In the Moment, Sort of

 

Today is Sunday, what I often refer to as catch up day. I usually spend it working on the computer, doing chores, and watching some television. Now that it is football season, the TV will be on in the background so I can follow the games.

 

The weekend is also my personal time to write, work on my assorted novels-in-progress, and tidy up any poems I’ve been writing.

 

I wrote the below poem because I was inspired to investigate poetically, how I could express what being in the moment means to me. Being present is also a skill therapists work on with clients to assist them with not sliding back into the past, which leads to many poor outcomes. I also wanted to explore the sensory perceptions of being present, not just the thought of it.

Thanks for reading.

 

Present

 

By Ann Chiappetta

 

Here and now, in the moment

Late summer sounds

cricket chirps in the hall

The rhythmic creak

Soon quieted by cool temperatures

 

Mindful echoes

Suburban activities

The hum of railways

The acrid stench of highway fumes

Broken by a sweet

Ribbon of honeysuckle or lilac

Voices, car doors, and barking dogs

Replaced by after dark stillness

By dew, new grass, skunk

 

Presence

Human touch

Holding hands before

Slipping off to sleep

A hug and kiss from a friend

The release of laughter or tears

During a phone call

 

A sense of doing, being

Awareness of the body, of blood

Breath, and purpose.

 

2015

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Listening and Talking

| Filed under Guide dogs Uncategorized

Last night, as Bailey and I were waiting for the para transit bus to go home, I heard the familiar tapping of a white cane. I felt like calling out but thought better of it. I often get a bit startled when someone calls out to me, breaking my concentration. I didn’t want to do that to this person, so I listened as he or she passed.

But, how I wanted to stop that person, talk to them, ask them if they worked or lived in White Plains. I, however, stayed silent, listening to the rhythmic tapping with a wistfulness only another blind person living in the land of the sighted can understand.

 

This is part of the blindness culture that I find frustrating; I wouldn’t have even known this person lived or worked nearby unless I heard the obvious tapping sounds. For example, more than once I know I passed another guide dog team because we both gave a command to “leave it and “hup up”. It just sucks that without a verbal or audible sign, we wouldn’t even know one another was walking down the street or shopping in the mall, or getting coffee at the coffee shop.

 

That night I felt like I missed out on a potential connection, and, maybe I did. I know that if it happens again, I will speak out and do my best to connect. This got me to thinking about how to reach out to others, how to develop some sense of belonging among the folks who are blind or visually impaired and live and work in Westchester County. It has long been my dream to lead a support group, to teach others about self-advocacy — that no matter who you are, you can be an advocate and be part of the community and feel good about what you do and who you help, whether it is yourself or others or both.

Keeping this in mind, on October 7, myself and three others will be honored at the Spirit of Independence breakfast, www.wdomi.org, a very important award for me. I’ve been developing my skills as an advocate for years, and thanks to the village I call the disability culture, I’ve achieved something they believe is worthwhile.

 

Earlier this year, I was also included in a short disability film for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA. What a thrill to be part of this, too. I have found my voice and others are listening. I never thought I could be so influential and it’s scary sometimes. I often think, are people really listening to me? Are they really impressed by what I say? Then, I’m overcome with a sense of hyper-responsibility, and I think, OH, man, I hope I don’t let them down. Its all little bit intimidating, but I think the path I’m walking is the path I’m meant to walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last night, as Bailey and I were waiting for the para transit bus to go home, I heard the familiar tapping of a white cane. I felt like calling out but thought better of it. I often get a bit startled when someone calls out to me, breaking my concentration. I didn’t want to do that to this person, so I listened as he or she passed.

But, how I wanted to stop that person, talk to them, ask them if they worked or lived in White Plains. I, however, stayed silent, listening to the rhythmic tapping with a wistfulness only another blind person living in the land of the sighted can understand.

 

This is part of the blindness culture that I find frustrating; I wouldn’t have even known this person lived or worked nearby unless I heard the obvious tapping sounds. For example, more than once I know I passed another guide dog team because we both gave a command to “leave it and “hup up”. It just sucks that without a verbal or audible sign, we wouldn’t even know one another was walking down the street or shopping in the mall, or getting coffee at the coffee shop.

 

That night I felt like I missed out on a potential connection, and, maybe I did. I know that if it happens again, I will speak out and do my best to connect. This got me to thinking about how to reach out to others, how to develop some sense of belonging among the folks who are blind or visually impaired and live and work in Westchester County. It has long been my dream to lead a support group, to teach others about self-advocacy — that no matter who you are, you can be an advocate and be part of the community and feel good about what you do and who you help, whether it is yourself or others or both.

Keeping this in mind, on October 7, myself and three others will be honored at the Spirit of Independence breakfast, www.wdomi.org, a very important award for me. I’ve been developing my skills as an advocate for years, and thanks to the village I call the disability culture, I’ve achieved something they believe is worthwhile.

 

Earlier this year, I was also included in a short disability film for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA. What a thrill to be part of this, too. I have found my voice and others are listening. I never thought I could be so influential and it’s scary sometimes. I often think, are people really listening to me? Are they really impressed by what I say? Then, I’m overcome with a sense of hyper-responsibility, and I think, OH, man, I hope I don’t let them down. Its all little bit intimidating, but I think the path I’m walking is the path I’m meant to walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

In Celebration of Dogs

| Filed under Guide dogs Uncategorized

In Celebration of Dogs & National Guide Dog Month, (September)

Dogs enhance our lives by imparting unconditional regard, affection, and loyalty. Guide and service dogs take these attributes and expand upon them, assisting us and stepping into a role even more profound than a pet. I have personally witnessed a dog redirect his handler during an anxiety attack, another steady her handler as she struggled to stand up and transfer from a wheelchair to a stationary chair. My own dog has blocked us from oncoming cars, other obstacles, and unerringly finds what I seek on command.

 

Then there is the work that goes into a guide dog. From the time they are born, training programs are evaluating and preparing these dogs. Experienced socializers watch puppy play, provide testing with touch, sounds, and other stimuli to determine a dog’s nature and character. Some pups are passed over, many are given the green light and proceed to the next step and are raised by volunteers until they are 16 months old. Then there is more evaluating, training, and a matching process.

 

But before the match, there is also so much more that is happening at the human end of this endeavor. I will try to explain it. Training programs require an application, for first timers and those returning for a successor dog. A medical and orientation and mobility form must be submitted, plus other release forms. There is a home visit, maybe some video taping, and practice walks, called juno walks, wherein the instructor holds the harness and mimics the dog while you follow and give commands, execute turns, and street crossings. They look for pace, pull preferences, and other habits. They also get an idea of what you will require of a dog in your home environment in terms of guide work.

 

In class training is 3 weeks. Condensed classes are offered for those returning for successor dogs. A typical day begins at 6 a.m., followed by relieving and feeding your dog. Next is obedience, breakfast, and preparing for traveling to the training routes and locations. Routes are done one-on-one, two times per day, with a lunch break in-between. After returning to the dorm, the dogs are fed again, relieved, and there is lecture and dinner, one more relieving break, then bed. This is more or less the routine for three weeks. Highlights are learning about the harness, leashes, collar and other equipment. We learn how to walk in both city and country environments, and so much more. My favorite part of all of this is getting to know my dog through the husbandry end of things. Brushing, feeding, playing, obedience, the bonding elements. Let’s not forget booties. If you want your dog to walk like a duck, resist you and suddenly forget commands, put on those booties.

 

When I first met Verona, my first dog, it was a very emotional experience. She was calm, quiet, and once she accepted me, became a very loving and excellent guide. When Bailey and I met, it was a bit more energetic. I remember saying, “Wow, he’s so much bigger,” and, “he’s intense,” The first night he barely settled down, walking, rubbing on me, whining at the door, and watching me. He is more distracted than Verona was at his age, too. Yet, for all their differences, they are both great guides and companions. I love how Bailey pulls into his harness, has confidence in crowds, and takes charge when I need him to do it. I love that he comes right to me when he sees his harness, remembers our routines, and settles in when we travel on the, big, rickety busses. I love his exuberance, his doggie smell, and his kisses. I love when Verona is so happy to see me that she hops like a rodeo horse and running in-between my legs, being very silly. It’s these things that melt my heart, soothe my soul and keep me thinking I am the luckiest person in the world.

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0
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