Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl

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Today is Verona’s sixth birthday. Being a dog, she probably thinks, wow, why is mom giving me extra treats and belly rubs today? When I’m feeling down from life’s vicissitudes, I think about what’s truly important and being able to work and live with a dog guide is on the top of the list.


The holidays are a bummer for me and thinking about it brings me to a very dark place. So I prefer to stay at home, avoid the pressure of going to places I am uncomfortable and spend extra time with my own   family members and animals. There aren’t many places where I feel comfortable, mostly because I am helpless in the homes of well meaning folks who just don’t understand what it’s like being blind. To clarify, just going to a place where you have trouble finding the bathroom and must ask for everything from a napkin to dessert is a huge stress. Maybe it’s because I am so fed up with having to ask for help so often that I just don’t want to be subjected to it during the holidays. It jacks me up instead of relaxing me.


Verona helps mitigate this feeling of helplessness when I’m home, or working and especially when I’m traveling. I know that when I’m working with her I don’t need other people as much.


I’m glad her birthday comes during the holidays, it gives me a chance to celebrate something positive and steadfast, a true light in my life when things seem dim. With Verona, I know that when family stress overwhelms me, I can pick up her leash and take her out for an obedience lesson, play fetch, and brush her glossy coat and come back a bit more settled in spirit. All my dogs have done this for me but she does this and so much more.

I love you, sweet girl, thanks for fortifying my life.




by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Team Work

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This entry continues exploring the question, what do our  dog guides actually do for us? In a previous post I wrote about how Verona helps me in the therapy room. This time I want to try and describe how she helps me when we travel and how her breeding and training has prepared her and other Guiding Eyes dogs to be able to perform so well in circumstances involving high stress situations like airplane travel.


First, let me begin by saying that many folks like traveling but if you asked them if they would like  to do it if they couldn’t see, I bet many of them would not want to answer that question,   a look of horror on their face. Ten years ago I wouldn’t  have traveled outside my immediate area without some serious anxiety while using a white cane.  Airports, train stations and bus terminals are controlled chaos and travelers must bring a huge bag of patience along with the other luggage. A traveler with a visual disability must tow ten times that of a person without a  visual disability because we require assistance from airport personnel, meaning we are more than likely going to wait for help. All our senses are on high alert, too, which is mentally and physically draining.


My first  solo trip on an airplane with Verona  was a positive experience. Once we got through the security line, with the help of a very sweet airline employee, I realized for the first time since losing a significant portion of my vision that I can do this myself. I can use my dog to find the counter, follow someone  through the maze of people, luggage, and crowd control line posts.  In a fit of frustration, I told her to find the bathroom and she found it. Then I asked her to find the store and she led me to the kiosk that sold water and snacks. Now, I wasn’t just being led like a two-year old, I was listening  for the flushing sounds of the bathrooms and the beeping of the cash register to confirm she did find what I asked her to find. I knew my way back to the gate. But, I thought, would she take me back to my seat? I said, “let’s go back,” and you know what? She led me back to the same seat we’d left. Did I praise her and give her a treat? You bet, I even gave her more than one treat.

Since that first solo trip to visit my mom, we’ve been lots of places. She’s earned the respect and admiration of all my family and friends who’ve  watched her work.   The level of discovery I share with my dog transcends my expectations. Sure, there are moments when we are stumped. At those times, I take over and we deal with it. These times are few and far in-between.  Mostly, though, only a few hours go by before  I think how lucky to have been bestowed with this gift called my guide dog and how satisfying it is to work as a team.


by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

After Sandy

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After Sandy


We knew it was coming; a huge cyclonic mass packed with ripping winds and a gazillion gallons of rain. The Doppler prognosticators warned us about the tidal surges, the full moon, and that even they could not accurately predict what the outcome would be except for one dude, a geologist named Koch,. He knew what was going to happen and he was right. He said that Manhattan would be flooded and I wish he had been wrong.


When our Governor said that he watched the tidal surge pour into the ground zero site, I wanted to cry and it hit me, the enormity of it really struck home. This was serious and our entire region was going to limp for a long time. It took five years for people to recover from Katrina. Folks are still being affected by Irene’s aftermath. Now this.  How much can people take?


Hurricane Sandy came in Monday night. The winds shrieked so vehemently that it sounded like freight trains going by our windows.  Entire villages and towns, and some cities along the lower Hudson valley were crippled by the winds and tidal surges. Atlantic City lost its boardwalk; Breezy Point lost houses from fires and lives resulting from those fires. A fire commander said they couldn’t fight the fires because the winds made the fire as dangerous as flame throwers. How helpless those firemen must have felt, to not be able to help.


The tidal surge swept away people, beaches, houses, and placed boats on train tracks and in parking lots. Long Island will not have power or telecommunications in some areas for a month. The trees snapped like twigs and pulled down so many power lines, it’s a wonder there weren’t more fires.

So far, 50 people have lost their lives. We are still without power and have no heat. The quiet and darkness is unnerving, too. We listen to our weather radio, hoping to hear when the utility trucks will roll into our neighborhood and get us going again. We wonder how those south of 34th street are doing, who, like us, have no power, heat, phones, or internet. We are running utility lines to our neighbor upstairs so she can have a light and a way to charge up her computer and cell phone. Another neighbor makes his coffee in the hall, and yet another neighbor is running a line into the hall to keep his fridge running.  We gather in our building’s halls and talk, complain, then thank the stars that we are unharmed and wish for a hot shower. It could be worse, someone says. Then we all go back into our, dark, quiet apartments and wait.


The police are directing traffic where the traffic lights are still down and patrolling to discourage looters. Now there is a gas shortage and the police have to monitor the pump lines, too.

It is four days since the hurricane and it feels like weeks have passed. It feels like this because we are mentally exhausted. But we are human beings, highly adaptable organisms, who, when faced with adversity, will survive. We will get our power back. Those who lost loved ones will grieve, mourn, and eventually keep on living. We will get over this and rebuild. We have to, don’t we? Getting through this experience is the only way to do it. Touch base with family, friends, and neighbors, even the ones you don’t like. Perform a random act of kindness; it will help you feel better, too. Send healing thoughts to others who didn’t make it through the hurricane as well as you did and most of all stay positive and hopeful even when the water is still running cold.


by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0