A Phone Call and A Big Smile My mobile rang the other day and I sent it to voicemail; it was a number I did not recognize. Later that night, I listened to the message and it brought a smile and the telltale prick of grateful tears to my eyes. Little did I know that my guide dog school, Guiding Eyes For The Blind www.guidingeyes.org sends out my book, FOLLOW YOUR DOG A STORY OF LOVE AND TRUST www.annchiappetta.com to donors as a thank-you for their support. The message was from a woman in California and she said she love my book, could not put it down and read it straight through. She said I did not use self-pity but expressed the struggles with clarity and strength. So, of course I called her and we spoke, both benefitting from our short and powerful conversation. Here it is again, a miracle of inspiration — our dogs have brought us humans together; we shared a powerful moment of connection and this, folks, is why I write and why we need to continue sharing and loving one another and thank our dogs.
A public apology to our Continental neighbors following a prior post about being denied a taxi while in Ontario.
The second week of September Bailey and I flew up to Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada to meet my sister-from-another-mother, Myla, for a week of fun and what I call, “bumming around,”. The flight and subsequent driver from Buffalo airport over the Rainbow bridge into Canada were pretty much routine. The Customs officer didn’t even ask for Bailey’s documentation and we arrived at the hotel in about an hour.
The hotel staffer, Autumn, oriented me, giving me a room that was near the end of the hall so it was easier for Bailey to find. She also oriented me to the climate control in the room and walked me to the parking lot where I could take Bailey to relieve himself.
We stayed near the Clifton Hill area on Victoria and found it centrally-located, which was a good thing since we didn’t have a rental car the first few days. There was a casino and restaurants, coffee shops and tourist traps lining the entire area and it was walkable and clean.
We ate at the Hard Rock Café at the casino, and shopped in the Hershey’s chocolate shop. Awesom fudge, BTW.
The tour of the wine district was one of the best and our group got along well, no one minding Bailey and my personal needs getting into and out of the 15-passenger van. This involved sitting down on the floor of the van first, then stepping onto the ground because of my knee. I am past the humiliation of it and once I got to the second vineyard, was not feeling too bad, and didn’t care at all after the third winery anyway (insert drunken emoji).
At Lakeview Winery, I recorded the sounds of the cellar’s enormous vats. Walking into the gigantic structure and smelling the fermenting grapes took me back to my grandfather’s wine cellar and for a moment, childhood memories flooded my head. We went up the steps to a platform next to the casks and even Bailey was curious; Myla said he was looking around and sniffing, too.
While we got in the van after the final winery, Bailey decided to jump into the lap of the man behind me, it was the last winery and maybe he thought, we were all loose enough to appreciate his antics. which was correct Silly boy!
The heat wave was hard for me and I got a mild case of dehydration and had to rest and drink more water after the first two days. I listened to my body and the rest of the time I was okay, even with the heat.
Monday was the day for challenges. The taxi driver for our morning trip to Tim Horton’s refused to take Bailey. He said he knew it was a service dog and “didn’t care,”. We were dispatched a second car, which was fine. We thought it was a fluke, and I called later in the day to report the driver to the taxi company. I also called the constabulary, and wasn’t impressed; the sergeant on duty acted in a dismissive and patronizing manner. “If we come, at all, it will be hours, we’re busy,” he stated, referring to my request to make an incident report.
That evening, we went on a cruise around the Falls and watched the fireworks. We called a taxi back to the hotel and the driver refused to take the dog. Myla and I think it is the same driver from earlier in the day but it was dark and he drove off before we could snap a picture or get his cab number.
The next day Myla said we should rent a car so we didn’t have to take the chance of this happening again. I agreed, not wanting to keep having to be discriminated against.
We toured Niagara on the Lake, finding a most excellent gelato bar. We ate the best dinner at an Irish pub called Macmulligan’s. Myla had fish and chips and I had a sampler plate with three mini pies: curry chicken, Shepard’s pie and steak and mushrooms, I still can’t choose which was better, the shepherds or the steak and mushroom pie.
We found another mall, with more chocolate and I found a Marshall’s and bought a few shirts.
Hello readers, here is a traveling blog of sorts from the past featuring sweet Verona. It’s hard to believe she will be twelve and still healthy and active. Next week I will be kicking around Ontario with Bailey, and every time we visit an attraction I will be thinking of how much Verona opened up traveling opportunities I never thought were possible. Read on, and stay tuned for the post-travel blog upon our return.
THE HANDLER’S CORNER: Living and Working with Guide Dogs
by Ann Chiappetta
Reprinted from The September 2018 edition of the Consumer Vision Magazine
Hello, readers. It is the end of the summer, one of my favorite times of year. Warm, lazy days, cool nights, with a hint of autumn in the air.
I’d like to share more on how guide dog handlers provide a meaningful life for a guide dog. Generally speaking, we do our best to balance a dog’s working life with its life as a normal dog. Let’s face it. We can say we have a well-bred, well-trained, and well-behaved service dog, but it is still a dog and will, at times, revert to its instincts and doggie behaviors. We anticipate and honor this by providing play time and experiences which provide our dogs with down time to prevent them from being flooded and overworked.
For instance, I attended a week-long training, and each day, I made sure my guide dog got time to play with his toy and run around a bit in the hotel room. It took only ten minutes, and I know it helped him settle down and relax. This is an example of honoring his work ethic and patience while I attended the training.
Below is an essay on how I try to provide my dog with fun and connection with the doggieness of just being in the moment that dogs love.
Dog Beach, Santa Cruz, California 2012
We navigate the way down a rocky path to the sand. The air is full of beach smells. The sounds of surf and gulls echo off the cliffs as we walk closer to the waterline. My sister unclips the leash from her Golden Retriever. I release Verona, and she trots off, her nose to the ground. My friend, Myla, tells me what she is doing and how far she goes. I call her back a few times as we find a spot near the cliffs to sit and watch the dogs play. Music, my sister’s dog, chases Verona into the water. As she turns back to chase him, a huge wave crashes down, and for a moment, she is engulfed. The wave spits her out onto the beach and she runs to me, weaving in between my legs and soaking my pants. I look like incontinence has gotten the best of me. Verona seems to say, in her best doggie language, “Hey, mom, what happened?” From then on, she doesn’t go near the waves and prefers a safer splash in the wet sand and tidal pools instead.
It’s important to me that Verona have the opportunity to be a dog; so much responsibility is put upon her when the harness is placed upon her back, it seems that this is the right way to let her know how much she has changed my life. As she digs her hole in the cool sand and flops down to dry off, my heart is content because she is doing just what she’s supposed to be doing, living a dog’s life.
San Francisco, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
An hour after we leave San Jose, we reach San Francisco. The drive through mid-morning traffic isn’t as bad as we thought it would be, and we soon find a parking garage near the wharf close by Pier 39. Verona’s snorting tells me she’s excited by the new smells and she’s ready to go. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and soon we’re out of the garage and walking along the sidewalk, waiting to cross the street.
As we stroll along the promenade toward the pier, Verona feels as if she’s doing a little dance, and I feel her head turning left and right. A few times, we weave a bit, and I have to check her so she stops. It takes me a minute, but I finally understand what is making her dance around. Pigeons. Hordes of them walking underfoot, across our path, flying up practically under her nose. I’m surprised one hasn’t landed on her back. Myla laughs, saying, “She’s trying really hard to ignore them, but they’re teasing her.”
Thankfully the winged rats are less plentiful on the pier itself, and we spend the time shopping.
Coming to San Francisco with Verona is one of the best parts of traveling with a guide dog. At no time did I feel unsafe, even on the steep wooden stairs leading to the stores on the second level of the pier. Next year, we’re going to Golden Gate Park and Alcatraz.
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While visiting Hunt Valley, Maryland last week, I posted a picture of my guide dog, Bailey, lying on the hotel roomed with his rubber bone between his paws. Yes, I know dogs are surely not allowed on hotel room beds, especially not a guide dog. In fact, I did get criticized for it after posting it on Face Book.
I felt obligated to respond to this person because she questioned the standards of my dog’s training program and implied the program was somehow lax about the “no furniture” rule for task-trained service dogs. I thought that was rude.
Not sure if this is a provable statistic but I believe the no furniture rule is about 50/50 with dog owners, whether or not said owner is a person with a disability who is working a service dog.
I choose to allow my dog on the bed. He askes for permission first. My other dogs don’t go on our bed and prefer the dog beds instead. It really is a matter of preference and only occurs after the bond and mutual trust has been solidified. Right now, as I write this blog post, my sweet Bailey is under my desk with his head on my foot. He is with me, must be assured we are a team and proximity is the key. He is ready to go at a moments notice, loves to work with an indomitable spirit to match.
What the picture does not say is how tough it was for him at this training, how uncomfortable he was lying for 8 hours on a cold, tile floor during the training. Allowing him on the bed to chew a rubber bone was my thanks for enduring the discomfort for four days in a row.
Is the bed thing really that important? It is a matter of preference and I believe it has nothing to do with whether a chosen program is lax or if the handler is using poor judgment. It is about balancing love with discipline and a competent handler knows when to apply one or the other, depending on the circumstances.
Photo description: Yellow lab on white bed with red rubber bone between paws.
Tomorrow me and Bailey are boarding the Amtrak train to Baltimore, Maryland. From there we will be taking ground transportation to the Holiday Inn Express in Hunt Valley. The only part of this trip that worries me is the car service – will I encounter ride refusals because of my guide dog? I am prepared as much as I can be, I hope.
As for Bailey, he’s ready to go, like always. After reading this post, please send out good trip Juju. I think I will need it.
Since I began my journey as an independent author and presenter, I knew it would take time for folks to seek me out to be a guest speaker.
More than a year has gone by and I finally was asked to present at a local women’s club . In fact, the contract came in the mail yesterday. The best part, when I was asked how much I charged, I replied what the fee was and when she said, “that’s reasonable,” I broke into the cheesyest grin and thought “score!”.
I made the 3 Ps a mantra in this part of my life, thanks to a speech I heard by Rock Legend, Jon Bon Jovi. He was asked what helped him push through and achieve success. He replied, Practice, Patience and Perseverance. Thanks, dude, .
Hello all. Just wanted to share the link to the American Council of the Blind of New York’s newsletter, INSIGHT. It is one of my ongoing editorial projects. I enjoy it very much, mostly for the way it taps into all the people resources. If you would like to catch it when it it comes out via email, email [email protected]
We send it out biannually, and sometimes I can squeeze out a third issue, depending on how much content folks contribute. If you would like to contribute or know someone who would like to write about anything touching upon the blindness community, please email us.
Whithout further ado, here is the link:
Hello readers. I alluded to revealing the number one question asked by a kindergarten student in today’s FB post and now I will tell you all what it was – drum roll, please —
It wasn’t “Does your dog fart?” or “why is he licking his privates?” In fact, it was a very astute and concrete question from an adorable little girl.
The question: “If you can’t see, how do you clean up after the dog goes to the bathroom?”
After I thanked her for the most interesting question, I answered her keeping to age-appropriate euphemisms and language. When one of her classmates also asked for a special post card, I said, not everyone gets a special post card. I know, maybe I should have said something else, but the devil in me blurted it out, after all, this little girl deserved recognition for asking the best and boldest question, and there really can be only one winner, at least that is what I was raised to believe.
The Handler’s Corner
Living and Working with Guide Dogs
By Ann Chiappetta, M.S.
Previously printed in Consumer Vision, April 2018 (c)
Hello readers, it is finally Spring and thanks to daylight savings time, my dogs are confused about what time the kibble feast begins. Thankfully, dogs are experts at adapting and I think another week and all will be well.
Speaking of time, I often wonder how dogs interpret time. Is it set by only feeding times or do dogs possess a highly developed body clock? We humans take our time cues from a highly advanced episodic time framework, which is one of the most unique characteristics of being human. Experts say that dogs have also developed a similar type of episodic time framework. Another cool fact is a dog’s unique circadian rhythm; humans tend to sleep in longer periods and mostly at night. Dogs, on the other paw, tend to sleep in shorter, more frequent periods during the day and at night. How cool is that?
Experts say a dog keeping track of the time is also behaviorally focused, like knowing the kibble feast will begin soon after the sun is up and the birds begin chirping. My dogs know after the 7 a.m. bus passes by, it’s time to eat and they become restless. This is an example of pattern recognition, and the canine is an expert when interpreting patterns and making associations. For instance, we pick up the leash and the dog goes to the door, connecting the object to the result, getting to go for a walk.
Patterning is a very useful tool for any working dog team. Guide dogs learn routes and destinations along the routes. One of the best tasks is being able to target the hotel room door or knowing just where the coffee shop is. I taught my dog a route from the office to the bank, and to the sandwich shop and back to the office. Once a dog learns a route and it is used frequently, one phrase will get you there.
I think animals have a deeper connection to time and we could learn a thing or two about being reliable and punctual, especially when it involves tasty tidbits.
The article I referenced is; https://www.petcentric.com/articles/training-and-behavior/can-dogs-tell-time/
Ann Chiappetta, M.S. is an independent author and consultant. Her books, UPWELLING: POEMS and FOLLOW YOUR DOG A STORY OF LOVE AND TRUST can be purchased in both eBook and Print from www.dldbooks.com/annchiappetta/. Ann’s personal website is www.annchiappetta.com
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Bailey stood, signaling our para transit bus was pulling to the curb. I praised him with a “good boy!” and he guided me to the door. We stepped up, and as I asked the driver which seat was open, a familiar voice greeted us. Bailey, being the most curious dog ever in the world, decided to try to sniff the passenger’s bag and I corrected him and direct him to back up into the space where he would be safe and away from temptation.
The passenger, whom I will call Sonya, announced she was going to my guide dog school to observe a graduation. She has been thinking about a guide dog for the past year since her vision has deteriorated. Whenever we meet on the bus, she spends the time asking me questions. I answer them. This time she asked the most familiar questions, the ones I asked all those years ago, when I first began the exploration of applying for a guide dog.
Questions like, was she blind enough for a dog? What if, on some days she walked a few miles and other days she just cleaned the house? Would a dog be able to be part of her life? She was also trying to describe a new harness my school used for running guides that resembles a Y with an adjustable handle. All these questions and she was finally going to a graduation to see for herself just how much a dog can enhance someone’s life and get a person back to being more independent. I was so happy she was taking a chance and evaluating her choices. Part of her reluctance was, how would a dog fit into her life and her family? How would she be able to show the dog what she wanted? Would the dog be able to be part of her extended family and be good with her grandchildren? Our conversation took on a very serious connotation, as if she was ready to make the commitment and apply or stick with the cane.
After she got off the bus, I thought about how, like Sonya, I got to a point of extreme frustration with a white cane, being exhausted from the mental vigilance and finding it a laborious tool, that, while helpful, also had its limits and had let me down. I think folks like us, who have lived with vision and then gradually lost it, are just unequipped to make a complete and successful transition to exclusively using a cane because our brains have aged and aren’t as flexible. I also hit my learning ceiling with braille in a similar fashion. I studied braille for six months with an instructor; After a 20-minute session of reading braille, I was mentally exhausted and could not move past the phenomenon. My fingers would get numb and my head felt like it was going to explode from concentrating so hard. For me, and many other folks who lose vision later in life, the adjustment to progressing from simple tactile reading to reading a novel is just too much for the brain to handle. Moreover, folks like me have already learned how to read and write visually; later on, as we lost more vision, thanks to computers and assistive technology we were able to transition to listening the way we had been taught to with sight. Folks like me just want to be able to manage vision loss and not be overwhelmed by it. But I digress.
Back to the dog or the cane discussion. Why is, one might ask, using a dog less stressful? A dog takes the adjustment to a different level, allows a person to share the mobility experience and be less vigilant. The handler relies less on constant tapping, stopping and realigning a path; with another sentient being, walking down a street goes from a singular effort a team effort. The partnership takes the stress off the person, and the experience of being out and about in public becomes more pleasurable and less isolating. The dog is the teams’ eyes, does the shore-lining, the obstacle avoidance, the targeting. The handler follows, directs, and keeps track of the team’s location.
I smile and think — how many times have I found myself talking to my dog? How many times have I thanked the Powers that I was a guide dog user after being redirected from a dangerous situation? How many times has my dog kept us from being hurt or worse? How many times did my dog find our way from a situation where I got lost? How many times has my dog comforted me, my clients, and provided unconditional regard to whomever needed it?
The answer is simple: I trust my dog and we are a team and no matter what we face, we will work through it together.
As for Sonya, whatever she chooses to do to manage living her life with vision loss, I hope that she stays active and engaged. Adjusting to losing sight takes time and I think Sonya is a brave and focused person for exploring all her options.