Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

The Bestest Question

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

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.

Hold It Up Proudly

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

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.

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.

Meet The Author

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Poem Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

Meet the Author Ann Chiappetta
Author of Follow Your Dog A Story of Love and Trust © 2017 www.dldbooks.com/annchiappetta/
Date: March 15th Time: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Place: Westchester Disabled on the Move 984 North Broadway, suite LL10, Yonkers, NY 10701. Directions: 914-968-4717 or www.wdom.org/
Signed books are $10 each, cash only.
What, exactly, does it mean to share one’s life with a guide dog? The person and guide dog are interdependent, and the bond of mutual trust is what makes the partnership successful and fulfilling for both. Ask yourself how many people you would trust with your life, and after answering, ask yourself if you would trust an animal with your life. Unless you are bonded to and live with a working dog, you might hesitate in answering the second question.
To be sure, guide dogs have performed many heroic tasks and have saved handlers from innumerable dangers. However, there are smaller and subtler things that can mean so very much: the feel of your dog’s head on a foot while riding the bus, the whimpers and doggie dreaming, the way you and the dog move in sync when walking down the street, and countless other tokens of trust and affection.
With this book, I hope to take the reader on a journey of understanding: learning what it’s like to overcome the darker side of disability by walking the path of independence with a canine partner.