Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Three Years Together

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

Bailey and I met in March 2015. The first day he held my wrist in his mouth as if to say, I am so excited I just need to hold onto you. I would gently stroke him on the head and he would let go, opting for a butt rub instead. The next day, as I bent to put the harness over his head, he got in some face licks, too. I was instantly attracted to his energy, his work ethic and the fact that he did not snore. My retired dog snores like a human, so thank goodness for small blessings.

Bailey keeps me grounded when I am faced with a burst of vertigo, a symptom brought on since the final decline into blindness. His goofiness makes me smile, like when he brings me two dog toys in his mouth at the same time. He challenges me, like when he decides not to listen to any commands when a new dog greets him. Not even a dog treat distracts him when he wants to say hello if he isn’t working. Yet, when he is guiding me, my hand on the harness, he somehow pulls it off and we move on past the dog distraction.

He is a licker. Instead of a harness sign saying, “Do Not Pet Me, I Am Working” I want one that declares, Warning: licking Zone,”. I’m not sure it will keep away the unsuspecting victims, though.

He doesn’t become intimidated when faced with an 18-wheeler pausing at a street crossing to let us cross. He doesn’t notice the developmentally disabled man pacing us, trying to pet him. He doesn’t even twitch a paw on the paratransit bus when another passenger calls his name and stays on the floor, ignoring them.

He’s almost five years old and has matured into a beautiful and noble creature, standing straight and tall, weighing in at 73 lbs.; cream colored fur, a little darker around the eyes, on the ears and the tip of his tail. I think the best part of being a guide dog handler is how well we get to know our dogs and the benefit of allowing them to bond with us.

Thanks to his puppy raiser, Pat, he loves to have his face touched, his ears rubbed, and loves his kennel. This part could go on forever, as a raiser does so much when the pup is growing up.

Here’s to our third year together, Bubba, thanks for being by my side, for accepting me despite all my faults and helping me understand the meaning of canine

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Annie and Bailey the yellow lab guide dog

unconditional regard.

Thank You Verona

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Poem Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

I got on the bus last week and took out my cell to pass the time. I opened Face Book and fingered through my status and read that it has been 9 years since I met Verona. I shared the milestone like a good little FB user but the nostalgia stayed with me all day. I wasn’t able to reach out and pet her to say thanks for a wonderful first guide dog experience. It was like not saying “I love you,” to my human family upon leaving for a day’s work.

There are so many reasons for writing this post, from appreciating the people involved in bringing Verona and I together to those who helped me make the decision to retire her and supporting our family so we could keep her and let her live out her retirement with regal dignity.

It’s a little overkill, perhaps, to keep writing about this dog, but, hey, I write about relationships and the most meaningful ones have been with dogs, so, you know, write what you know, right?

Verona continues to provide unconditional love dressed in ebony, a constantly wagging tail, and a gentle nature. She is the only dog in our lives that has generated a fan club and a long list of possible retirement homes when folks heard she was hanging up the harness. All the paratransit bus drivers talked about her, how intelligent she looked, that she “has smart eyes,”. We are featured in the para transit taxi program brochure; when she retired, the local newspaper wrote an article about how much the veterans would miss her. She saw her trainer the other day and actually jumped up to lick her face, prancing around like she was two years old. It is in these moments for which I feel grateful. I am appreciative of the dedication and expert attention to her training and breeding. Our family has benefitted from such a phenomenal dog, she is a true Labrador retriever and the kind of guide dog who became an ambassador because of her character. This is why I write about her so much, have written a book, two poems and dozens of articles about her. She is exceptional. It is this piece of canine personality which grabs our attention and stays with us. It is this type, this definition that sticks to our hearts like Velcro and owns a part of our hearts making us grieve when the animal passes.

People talk about soul mates, and a great guide dog match is similar. Some folks refer to it as a spirit dog, or a heart dog. I felt her unique energy the first time we met and don’t ever want to forget it. The energy still keeps me grounded, gives me confidence.

Here’s to you, Verona, sweet girl, whose ability to trust me and to have been able to take us places and lead us into adventures is the most powerful partnerships I’ve known. Happy ninth anniversary. I love you.

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