Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Guide Dog Lifestyle: Is This What You Want?

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Writing Life

Annie and Bailey outside the HotelWorking with a guide dog brings along perks, like being offered the aisle seat at events, being given the extra leg room seats on trains, and pre-boarding when flying. These, of course, are the obvious advantages.

I would most likely be presented with most of these as a white cane user when traveling without a guide dog, although, perhaps the extra leg room seats would not be part of it. Traveling with a disability can be challenging enough, thank-you.

My dog guides me safely while also assisting in softening the stressors of traveling. A dog also helps with engaging in social events.

A few of the little-known perks are humorous, along with being practical. For instance, my dog, like many other guide dogs, is an expert at finding friends and family during parties and in crowds. Both my current dog and my retired dog have found my husband or other guide dog users countless times. They are creatures of habit and will most likely show the handler familiar locations and individuals. I think of it as, “Hey, is this the door you want? Or Hey, we know this person, maybe you want to talk to them again so I can say hi to their dog?

The most recent time I recall being surprising as well as useful was during a convention. Upon exiting the elevator, Bailey began pulling harder and I knew he was on a mission. He brought me up to my friend and her new dog. The same friend who trained beside us for two weeks when I first got Bailey. It was very smart, for a dog. 😊 I didn’t even think he would remember her, but he did. We also had this sneaking suspicion Bailey and her new dog, (not the one who trained with us) and Bailey knew one another from the kennel, acting like old friends.

Some folks say being a guide dog user is too-time consuming, that it’s all about the dog, and the extra attention is difficult to manage. Personally speaking, I prefer the social and travel advantages my dog provides. It far outweighs the annoyances.
Annie and Bailey outside the Hotel

Are Those French Fries?

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs

Being a guide dog handler is probably the best choice I’ve made since going blind. It gives me much more than just a canine partner and increased safety. Sometimes it even brings comic relief.

A few months ago, I left work and walked around the corner to relieve my guide dog, Bailey. We began the usual routine, and then he started to do something odd, he lay down. I bent to try to make sure he wasn’t eating anything, and, being a Labrador, he sure was munching on something. I pulled him away and made him spit it out but he’d already swallowed it. I needed to know what was all over the sidewalk, so I got out my phone and called AIRA. The agent identified the scattered items through the camera on my mobile phone as French fries, to my relief. If Bailey was going to be corrected for temptation, I needed to know what had done the tempting. The agent’s quick and accurate scan of the area confirmed it was something that would not cause Bailey any harm. This helped me breathe a sigh of relief; it was only a few French fries. We could deal with it.

This is also a reminder that while Bailey has an advanced canine degree as a guide dog, he is still a dog and will give into temptation. The counterbalance to this is knowing that when he does his job, when he pulls us from a driver turning right on red as we try to cross a street, or when he shoves me away from the speeding bicyclist hurtling down the sidewalk, a few French fries is acceptable.

Guide Dogs In Rochester

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Poem writing Writing Life

Jerry, Bailey and I rode the Amtrak up to Rochester, New York to attend the 2019 American Council of the Blind National Conference and Convention from July 4-12. The train ride was pleasant and allowed Jerry to relax, sparing him from the 7-hour drive. Bailey slept the entire time, except for guiding me to the lavatory. Once we arrived, the walking shoes went on and the convention navigation began. We walked a familiar circuit from one hotel, then on the skyway, and into the convention center and the sister hotel. We also found it quite pleasant to travel on the street level, crossing the streets to go from one location to the other. Bailey was happy to do some street work and did a great job recalling the often turn-heavy and difficult routes to the meeting rooms. Jerry, bless his heart, scoped out the area and made his opinion clear, “don’t go out alone at night,”, due to the higher indigent population. The police presence during the day and evening hours while the convention center was open, while necessary, wasn’t very reassuring.

We had a sleep number bed, a spacious room; our key cards didn’t work for more than a few days at a time. The food was good, but the restaurant choices was sparse, and we got snacks from the multi-dollar store down the street and Jerry walked to Dunkin’ for coffee in the morning. The fridge and microwave helped us save some money on expensive meals.

I was asked to co-host the Friends in Art musical showcase, and I said, “OK”. What was I thinking? But I am, admittedly, a closet performer, and the evening was fun and a confidence-builder.

The exhibit hall also allowed me to meet folks who had read my book and allowed me to connect with new readers as well.

My good friend, Cheryl Lawyer and I received awards from GDUI for being advocates for the guide dog movement. More on that later.
Next year is Illinois and I being not sure I will attend, but I do know we will go home with fond memories and a lot to laugh about and remember.

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A Great Way to Wrap-up 2018

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Poem Relationships writing Writing Life

Thanks to Kim Charlson and the Perkins Library for the Blind, the memoir I wrote is now an audio book for listening through the National Library Service, or NLS. Expressing how it felt to listen to my words for the first time was emotional. It was immensely gratifying and powerful. A few weeks prior to the email notifying me the book was in the final editing stage I listened to the introduction I penned for GDUI’s A HANDBOOK FOR THE PROSPECTIVE GUIDE DOG HANDLER (4th Edition), also recently released as a free digital book available via the NLS talking book and braille library.
Follow Your Dog: A Story of Love and Trust DBC11582
Chiappetta, Ann. Reading time: 4 hours, 27 minutes. Read by Ana Maria Quintana. A production of Perkins Library, Perkins School for the Blind. Animals and Wildlife. Drawing on her skills as a poet and a therapist, the author of this candid memoir explores her life-changing relationship with her guide dog. The book is also available on Bookshare and all eBook sellers as a digital book and print soft cover. Go to www.dldbooks.com/annchiappetta/

The GDUI Handbook’s catalog number is DB92557 and it is also available from Bookshare.

Here’s to a book-filled 2019.

The Traveling Bed

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships writing Writing Life

Inspired by Yellow Lab Bailey.

Bailey on round dog bed

yellow lab Bailey curled up on new round dog bed

It began in 2015, after Annie met Bailey and the two became a team. Bailey was making the transition to his new partner, a new home, and a new routine, all of which probably contributed to Bailey’s attitude about the dog bed in the office.

After the destruction of dog bed one, Annie tried a new mat, professed by the company to be “chew proof”. It was not Bailey proof, but durable. Annie thought reinforced steel mesh corners would be an improvement, but did not share this with the manufacturer, thinking it might insult them.

The next bed was almost too big for the office, but after the dutiful corner-chewing, along with numerous patch work and generous bitter apple spritzes, it survived, tattered but useful.

After hearing a few remarks from office mates asking when Bailey was going to get a new dog bed, Annie decided it was time for a change, plus she was tired of sewing and hot gluing up the corners a third time. Annie shops online, and the decision to try a round bed is like a canine-inspired epiphany.
chewing won’t occur, because, well, round beds don’t have corners.

A 40-inch polyester-filled bed is ordered. It is delivered and schlepped to the office three days later. The paratransit bus driver smiles when Annie says it is her guide dog’s new bed.

The transition does not go well; Bailey applies passive resistance, unwilling to get off the old bed; Annie must wrestle the old bed from under Bailey’s large Labrador butt, and afterward, convince Bailey the new fleece-topped cuddly bed is not a huge toy. Bailey ignores Annie’s professions and verbal coaxing, like, “You will be warmer, right Buddy?” and so on. He paws at it, finds the fabric handle and drags it from one side of the office to the other and eventually, with a few treats, and the “place” command, he takes a nap upon it. Day two is much the same: enter the office, paw at it, fling the bed around like it is a hover craft, and afterwards, decides he will take a nap under the desk instead. Okay, thinks Annie, he will go to the bed when he wants to curl up into a doggie-ball.

Day three is much like day two with one exception: he tries to drag the bed while Annie and the computer tech are troubleshooting. Annie has to take charge and put an end to the shenanigans. Luckily for Bailey, the tech is a pet lover and he approve of the tough love modality.

It is now the weekend, and Annie anticipates the traveling dog bed shenanigans will continue. Annie wonders what is going on inside Bailey’s peanut, tries and fails to think like a dog. Is he confused? Maybe he really does see the bed as a huge fluffy, dog toy? It is a sobering thought and might be a little unfair for Annie to think this about her sweet and loyal guide dog who is also a dog possessing intelligent disobedience skills.

12 Years Young

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Poem Writing Life

Birthday Wishes for our Verona who is 12 years young. We have known her since 2009, when she was two years old. She guided me with focus and precision until age seven, at which time decided to let us know she didn’t want the job anymore. She comforted my clients during times of emotional pain, eased the physical pain of adults and children with pet-assisted therapy, and while she worked, was by my side for presentations and workshops.

Now she enjoys her retirement being a cherished pet and we couldn’t have chosen a more loving and intelligent dog. We love you, sweet Verona.

Verona
By Ann Chiappetta

I wait for the knock
Once it comes my life will change forever

Since I arrived
For two days and nights

For my entire life until now –

I’ve waited
Unprepared
Searching

I sit on the bed
Wondering how it will feel an hour from now
And go numb with nerves

Question scroll across the marquee of my mind
What will she be like?
Will she like me, learn to love me?

The hot red letters of doubt scroll past
Can she guide me?
Will I be able to trust her?

Then the knock comes and my heart jumps
“Come in.” I say
Hoping I can open my heart with as much ease as the door.

I hear her nails click on the floor
I put out a hand, touch her head
She licks me, tail wagging
“Ann, this is Verona.” the trainer says

I don’t really know what to say or how to feel
But her presence soothes me

“Aren’t you a beautiful girl?” I coo as the trainer leaves
We sit on the floor together

The marquee of doubts vanishes
The blocky, red letters fade
Replaced by a message of calm, canine acceptance
Dressed in ebony

She settles her head in my lap
Each stroke of my hand
Strengthens the hope, quiets the fear
The questions dissipate with the knowledge
— Stroke by stroke —
That she is the one who will lead me

January 2009

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blankEither add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Black lab Verona’s face with snow on her nose.