Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

On Being a Good Dog

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

Our Good Dog Story
By Ann Chiappetta M.S. Verona and Bailey
This story began at the time I met Verona, a black Labrador retriever bred and trained at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I was matched with her in 2009 and we worked together for six years. When she started to tell me it was time to hang up her harness as my guide dog, it was heart breaking. She had become such a loving and intuitive dog, helping so many people during our work together. I am a family therapist and also visit schools and other facilities and institutions, and Verona was unfailing with her ability to bring a smile and ease the stress of someone who was suffering in some way. She was a dog whose job wasn’t done just because her guide dog harness was no longer being used; I did the best I could to honor her doggie work ethic. A year after she retired as my guide dog, she was evaluated to become a therapy dog.

“She is a natural,” the evaluator said, “this is just a formality.”

Verona did possess an advanced doggie degree, having worked as a guide dog, after all, right?

A year later, we were in the advanced class with eight other teams. Once we passed, we would graduate as one of the official pet assisted therapy teams for the Good Dog Foundation http://thegooddogfoundation.org/ .

This part of the story will explain the most unique piece in our journey together. Being blind and wanting to work with not just Verona but also my current guide dog, Bailey, and making it work for all three of us was the real challenge. I was anxious and a tad fearful that this trio of blind person, guide dog and therapy dog would not be accepted by the instructors or the general public. When I got up the nerve to verbalize my worries, the instructor said as long as I want to make it work, there is a way to make it work. Our class instructor was not going to allow me to quit. She made it clear at the very beginning that being blind and having another dog with me wasn’t going to be a reason to walk out with an incomplete or be turned away.

We made it work by preparing and practicing with both dogs and asking for help when I was required to focus on training with Verona. We went to most of the classes with a third person who sat apart from Verona and I. The helper, which involved either my sister or husband, held Bailey, who stayed in harness. The first two classes were the most disruptive to him, but he earned food rewards for settling and not whining when he saw me give Verona a reward. Bailey was still young, very attached to me, even after an entire year of being my guide dog. I think his tolerance was challenged when he was asked to settle and let me work with Verona. By class three, however, he wasn’t even whining. He settled down and even napped during the last half of the class. Class four was a test for all of us, I was handling both dogs and it was a little more frustrating due to the logistics. For instance, the three of us had to work out how to walk together, when to allow Bailey to perform the guide work, and train Verona to heel on the right. I felt that both dogs, having been living together for two years and having already accepted their respective roles, were up for it. We practiced for two months, taking practice walks and the preparation paid off.

In empathy for Bailey and his situation, imagine the person that you have bonded with and guided is suddenly going back to interact with another dog; I could feel Bailey’s confusion. I have since given him some slack but also provided directions and a way for him to perform even when he is not guiding and required to “turn it off”. He is rewarded with treats and praise for being quiet and not engaging. He still wants to greet the children, licking hands and wagging his tail, but he will settle when asked.

November 6, 2016 was graduation day and since then we have been visiting local libraries. We are now working on making smiles happen. Verona is giving back and helping by being the one to give the gift of positive energy. Bailey has matured measurably in the last 8 months, too. I am so proud of his ability to make the transition and step into his harness when I give him the forward command. I am a very lucky lady. I have learned so much about both my dogs and their personalities. It’s given me the confidence to go out and help others. It helps me because I am able to give back, and being a person with a disability, I am often the recipient of kindness and it means so much more for me when I can return it.

I don’t know where our path will lead or what the future holds for our trio but I do know one thing: we will continue to do it together for as long as we can — When I clip on my I.D. tag and tie on Verona’s scarf, it feels like we can conduct miracles with a smile and wagging tail.

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Speaking of the Muse for National Poetry Month

| Filed under Poem Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

A bit on the creative process is a good way to keep the brain muscle in shape. Writing is, in itself, a very singular endeavor. One must gather the items for which to write about, and this can mean observing the rhythm of life. It could mean overhearing a conversation, being intrigued by something on the telly, or inspired by another artist. In my world, anything is an opportunity for the Muse.

Just how a poem goes from knocking around in my head and gets the final blessing is a bit harder to explain. But I will give it my best, so here it goes: the idea comes first.
I want to write a poem about a former therapy client who has since died. It’s been something I feel compelled to do, and for months it’s been rolling around, from one hemisphere to the other, and now I am ready to grab hold of it mentally and wrestle it down in the form of a computer file.

I begin with a working title. It keeps me focused on the theme. I often keep this as the final title, but not always. Next, a few lines will appear, I think of the overall message I want to bring about, if I want it to rhyme or not (usually not), and if I need to do more research on the subject matter. In this case, the answer is yes, and I save the file, then begin a google search for stories about Androcles and the lion. The metaphor of the helper removing the thorn from the king of beasts will be used as a symbolic reference and I must read all about it to understand just how it will be used and how it will provoke and interest the reader once the poem is completed.

I often rely on Greek mythology to accentuate poetry; I think of it as bringing the past into the present, I mean, if they could come back to life and read how much we still utilize their society and cultural morays, religion and beliefs, they would be impressed with themselves.
But I digress. Back to the poem. This is where I am right now, forming the narrative, linking the imagery and emotions. It brings me to another observation: I cannot rush the process – the poem can take all the time it needs. I honor the Muse by allowing the finished piece to unfold naturally.

So, if you are still reading, I am hoping the poem will be ready soon, but this could mean a few months or longer. I will keep the updates coming and I hope you all read more poems during National Poetry Month.

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Binge Watching

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Uncategorized

I’ve taken on a new social behavior. I suppose being who I am, having been raised in the 1970s in the crib of the boob tube, it was inevitable.

Friday and Saturday nights, after the laptop is closed, I escape into the bedroom. I open the iPad, tap on Netflix and settle in for some entertainment.

As I plump my pillows and wait for the dogs to follow me into bed, I think of those late nights in my childhood, bathed in the eerie luminosity spilling out from the black and white TV. I recall sneaking down to the Livingroom and turning it on, the volume barely above a whisper. I would sit close to hear it — because of being extremely myopic, getting close meant I could see the details and not be dragged away by a concerned family member who feared I would ruin my already ruined eyes. I would place my fingers on the channel selector, gently turning it to dampen the clicking sound and surf the late-night movies until the stations signed off after midnight.

Now, with a finger flick I peruse the choices from anime to westerns. The most amazing part of this is the audio description track offered for blind folks like me. I can watch an entire season in two nights and afterwards, after shutting down at about 2 a.m., I can sleep late and take the time to decide on the next binge.

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

What Have You Been MIssing?

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

Well, constant reader, life has been full, overflowing, in fact. Just because winter has influenced just how much I miss benign outdoors and feeling the sun on my face, it doesn’t mean I’ve been curling up by the proverbial fire and tucking in to read a good book and wishing the world away. I’ve been a busy little pea hen, pecking away at the responsibilities of life and such.

When the solstice passed and it began to stay light longer, I did feel a sense of relief from the winter doldrums. There is still so much to do, to get ready for the exploits of spring and summer, which I am longing for in a way I haven’t felt before. Is it aging? Maybe. All I know is I am happy to be busy and productive.

Speaking of being productive, our pet assisted therapy visits, made possible by The Good Dog Foundation, are going well; Verona enjoys them and Bailey is learning to accept it when I handle Verona and he has to “turn it off”. He still has to work on this but is doing well for a young and energetic dog. I am enjoying working with them both by myself. Sometimes it’s just easier when we go without another person. Strange but true.

I am gearing up for the editing process for my next book, a memoir written about my experience of going blind and working with a guide dog. Teasers to follow after the summer. Cheryll will be helping me with the cover photo and I cannot wait to have it ready for the holiday season. I’ve got a few bylines in local and small press magazines, too; this helps keep the writing muscle in shape and helps me reach other audiences.

Disability awareness presentations are ongoing, too. I have gotten very positive feedback from the organizations and schools where we’ve been invited to talk and this is the best ego-boost in terms of knowing that our efforts on behalf of people with disabilities is making a difference.
I hope to blog more frequently as I know it’s important for all of my followers. Thanks for reading and following this blog.

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0
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