Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

The Dog Swap

| Filed under Guide dogs writing

Six years ago began my journey as a guide dog user. I remember dog day with the clarity only a poignant memory can convey. Verona came into my room, I felt her head, stroked her ears, and my life changed forever. One snapshot, one touch, and now I am once again writing about another first, dog two.


This time was a bit different. The 2015 matching process had advanced and we were pre-matched, which provided an entire day to just get to know our dogs before hitting the pavement.

So, on a cold and windy Monday afternoon, once completing the Juno walk, the instructor swapped out the empty harness with a dog. I reached out for the leash and was rewarded with a lick on the hand and a wiggly body against my leg.

“He is a yellow lab and likes to lick,” said the instructor after our damp introduction. I smiled. I did like the way he was leaning against me, not too aloof. I liked that in a dog. I don’t like licking but it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker, as they say. Was this going to be my new partner? I didn’t have time to ponder it, because I lined up and said Forward, and off we went. We took off down the street and I realized that I liked what I felt. His pace was good, I liked what I felt in the handle, too. My first dog had almost no pull just prior to her retirement and I had to work hard at reading her body language. We got back to the training lounge and when the instructor asked if I liked the dog, I said yes, that he seemed like a sweet dog and he was a good pace for me. In two dozen words and a few blocks later, I knew I would be matched with this dog.


By the time you read this, Bailey and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary and he will have hopefully have gained a more mature doggie perspective on the world. Right now, though, he is still a spirited adolescent, requiring equal amounts of discipline and tolerance as he matures.


He is distracted by the pigeons a bit more than I’d like but at least now I pick up on it. I know he is a labra-goat, and I am better prepared for his propensity to investigate all manner of things with his mouth. He makes me laugh with these puppy-like antics, too. Well, not the snarking, but the other silly, innocent things like the way he rubs against a leg for petting and how he plants a full tongue Monty on your face if you lean down within reach. When it takes someone off-guard, I think it is a riot. I think, you entered the danger zone, friend, he’s going to get you.


Finally, so far, the transition from dog one to dog two has been a less harrowing experience than anticipated; I am glad this dog is so different, it helped me make the swap a bit more exciting and less negative. My family has also been part of this dog swap thing and both my husband and daughter understand it because they have witnessed all the stages in the process from Verona’s retirement to bringing home Bailey. As hard as it was for me, my family also had to adjust, get through the emotions of watching me leave for work without Verona and be left witnessing her distress after I left for the day. My husband would say, “Honey, she’s moping,” or my daughter would say, “Mom, the look on her face when you walk out without her breaks my heart,” It was deeply troubling but I kept calling for updates and after a month, Verona began to depend upon my husband more and me less.


Fast forward and here we are, Verona will soon be nine, Bailey has settled in, and even my pet dog, Nikka, has accepted it all albeit with a grumpy, senior dog acceptance.

I am looking forward to finding another special dog themed ornament for my Christmas tree and celebrating another doggie birthday next April. Most of all, I am hoping some of Bailey’s distractions and snarking improves as he grows from a spirited adolescent into a noble and loyal dog with a splash of the Irish   cream for coloring and Irish spirit in his boisterous heart.



by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

No Room on the Bed

| Filed under Guide dogs writing


No Room on the Bed

This morning, like any morning in the here and now, I get up and begin preparing for work. Jerry, my husband, is sleeping, surrounded by three other reclining canine usurpers. I stand at the foot of the queen sized bed and think, we really need a king, California king, in fact. I know this is a pipe dream, as it would never fit in our long, narrow bedroom. But, I can wish, and hope one day we will eventually be able to get one.


The three dog balls we managed to acquire on the bed all have unique stories. Some people say our animals choose us and we blithely go along for the ride. Whether its karma or unrealized longing that puts people and animals together, I think that at least some of the pairing is divine intervention and the other part is purposeful choice.


As I contemplate how we somehow became a three dog household, I reach out and stroke each head, marvel at the velvety soft ears, run a hand along the back, fingertips feeling the vertebrae curled into a tucked sleeping position. How do they do that? That can’t possibly be comfortable, can it?


One dog is curled up against my pillow, one is curled up at the foot of the bed and the third is curled up against Jerry’s leg.


I listen to soft doggie breathing accompanied by Jerry’s snores and I get all mushy inside. This is our family, we are the pack and the Beauty Rest queen bed is the den, the most relaxing place to be together.


If I returned to bed, at least one pooch has to move onto the dog bed on the floor beside the bed so I can fit. All I have to do is touch the dog and point to the dog bed and with a grunt, I get my place back. No fuss, no muss, and best of all, pre-warmed.

I was raised in a home that believed a dog belonged on the floor, not on the furniture. Then I met Jerry and Blackie, his 2 year-old pit bull terrier mix and soon after we began cohabitating, I resigned myself to sharing the bed with both of them. After Blackie died, we adopted two puppies and I tried to assert the no bed rule but was overruled by Jerry and the kids. Back then, I still removed the dog from my side and they each learned that if I was on the bed, only one was allowed up or risk being pushed off. Then, one time, as I was lying in bed sick, Rocky came up on the bed and curled up beside me, laying his head on my chest. Until then, I’d never been touched both inwardly and outwardly by a dog. He was comforting me and I felt a connection.


Thanks to Rocky, I know can’t ever bar my dogs from the bed unless it is physically distressing for me. I will put up with the hair and extra cleaning in order to keep that unique connection with the dogs in my life. Even when Jerry grumbles, “Where am I going to sleep?” in mock seriousness, I smile, knowing he’s just being Jerry. A touch, a gesture, and sometimes an extra word is said, and paws slide to the floor and Jerry slips in beside me, his place pre-warmed.




by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Orbs and Evangelists

| Filed under Guide dogs writing

Orbs and Evangelists


Yesterday myself and two other folks visited a few conference centers to find out which one would be best for an upcoming event. I had visited the first location four years ago while I was working Verona, my first guide dog.  Back then, I thought it was a little challenging but not overly so. This time, though, I had a much harder time navigating the indoor and outdoor areas. At the time, I didn’t understand why, just that I felt as if I’d never been there before; nothing had changed except for the time of year, so I was indeed perplexed about my reaction.


Then, last night, I thought back on the possibilities and one thing kept coming up in my mind: my vision loss and how much it has declined.


Five years ago, my vision was better. Now, after a comparison like once again visiting the conference center, I got a reality check. Big time.


RP is a progressive retinal eye disease that has no cure and steals vision over time. Over the last 30 years I’ve gone from using glasses and seeing color and large print to becoming night blind, losing central vision and going color blind. Three years ago I packed up the CCTV, too, unable to read even the capital E on the screen an inch from my nose. I am also working my second guide dog, having obtained the first one in 2009.


Now, my light perception is limited and often I prefer to keep my eyes closed, relying more and more upon my other senses.


I understand why I felt so awkward; I was trying to recall things and details about the venue that are gone due to the additional decompensation of these broken orbs. I am accepting of it, after all, I can’t change what’s happening nor can I control it, even with treatment. I’ve been fortunate to have lived half of my life with sight, now I am living it without the benefit of it and it’s made me a better person.

  • * *
  • Now, in a most complimentary fashion, I give you a slice of life on the short bus:


Okay, I am on the para transit bus, the driver and I are talking. He starts driving. Then he asks,

“Do you mind if I ask you something?”

I smile to myself, knowing if I bet myself a dollar he’s going to ask me something about being blind, that I’d surely win two dollars and buy a coffee.

I say yes, what is the question.

“Were you born blind?”

I say no, I always had poor vision but I didn’t lose a large portion of it until age 28.


He goes on to ask me if I miss not seeing. I say sometimes I do but mostly, I am happy and do fine without it. At this point I’m not quite sure what he’s building up to – maybe to ask about a friend or some other well-meaning but ignorant statement. I’ve heard them all and after many years, it doesn’t really bother me much anymore.

To my surprise, he says,

“You know, my wife and me, we are Christians, and on weekends we find people and pray with them, you know, on the street,”

I nod and think, Oh boy, he is a charismatic Christian like the guy who walked beside me on the street last year and wanted to heal my eyes.

Anyway, he asks my permission to pray to heal my eyes and I say okay, he can do it.

He starts speaking, then ends with a sincere and confident intonation, asking,

“Can you see yet?”

I want to laugh, tell him, Mister, last year, your colleague has done this before and it didn’t work then. Hey, I love Jesus, believe he died for our sins, but even He can’t heal DNA.

But all I say is,


He asks if he can do it again, and suddenly I find myself trying not to laugh, thinking why would it work the second time? Last year, his colleague got to pray for me for an entire city block and I am still blind.

He wraps up the prayer with another strident request and asks,

“Can you see?”

Now, I am going to admit, I was going to go all Sarah and Her Vassals evangelical on him, roll my eyes, pretend to spasm and speak in tongues, but all I actually said was,


The bloated silence in the bus was kind of sad, and could probably be adapted for a SNL skit. It was also annoying but not enough to ruin my day or the potential for an ironically humorous moment. I let the silence hang for an instant longer before I remembered the grace is part of acceptance and let the guy off the hook. I say,

“You know, I believe God only gives you what you can handle, and since He thinks I can handle being blind, I choose to accept that and be happy. I’d rather that you pray for my health and happiness, not to see again,”

And that, my constant readers, was the end of that conversation. Blessed Be.



by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Bailey Find the Cannoli

| Filed under Guide dogs writing



Last Wednesday began the 2015-2016 Building bridges presentations.   We visit elementary schools and expose the kindergarten and first graders about people with disabilities. The program is funded by the County and coordinated by a long-time advocate for people with disabilities, Ana Masopust. She and a few others, myself and Bailey included, talk about disabilities and give the kids Q & A time, which is always entertaining and inspiring. We use props in the form of puppets with disabilities. A boy named Renaldo who is blind, a boy named Mike Reilly who uses a wheelchair and other puppets to help kids connect with what we are talking about without feeling uncomfortable. I usually talk to the kindergarten kids and another woman with a guide dog talks to the first graders on another day. We cover how we went blind, how we do things, and the difference between a guide dog and a white cane. It’s hard for the young ones to ask questions rather than to make statements, which I find very cute. I’ve heard about grandmothers and grandfathers who are visually impaired, which of them uses a walker, a wheel chair, and other mobility devices. I’ve heard about pet dogs, what their pets look like and how the dog behaves or misbehaves.


Case in point, the second group was much more restless, it nearing the end of the day. One of the last questions was a boy who wanted to know, “How does the dog know how to pick out the best pastry?”


Now, that one got me and the other adults laughing. I answered him truthfully, that I pick out the pastry and my dog isn’t allowed to lead me to the food unless it’s up on a table.


But, imagine if I did want to add in a food command, like at a buffet. I think I’d make the command, Bailey, find the Cannoli,”


by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Doink Doink DoinkDoink Doink Doink

| Filed under Guide dogs writing


Well, readers, this is yet another post about dogs. It’s been just a little over 6 months since Bailey has come into our lives and I am satisfied with his progress thus far. He is a sweet boy, but he can be bossy. I think that is a male thing, though. I’m talking about assertive and unaggressive in-your-face pushy. He is energetic, sweet and loves attention.


Jerry and April told me that Bailey grabs Verona’s leather collar and pulls her to try to get her to play. This is after rubbing a toy in her face, whapping her in the head, and play bowing and verbalizing. He is either ignored or given the brush-off. Verona will, when possible, hide behind one of the humans as if to say, ‘save me from this big goofus’.

So, I take off her collar and re-direct him. I don’t get mad I just convince him to do something else. It only works half of the time, though; he is a very single-minded dog.


I must say at this point that Nikka does not tolerate any of this from Sir Bailey. If he begins to treat her the same way as he treats Verona, she will bark, chase him, and put him in his place. Let me say that knowing Sir Bailey tucks tail and makes for safe ground is quite amusing. The only animal who dominates Nikka is the cat. Hehehehe

This character trait works out very well when guiding. He has a great energy and drive, especially when he is familiar with the surroundings and we can relax in our work. I love it when he picks up the pace and we fly. The feeling makes all the effort worthwhile and I know I made the right choice in 2009 when I first picked up a harness handle.


Anyway, our latest power struggle is food time. In class meals were at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a water and relieving break in-between. After a few months at home, he began bothering me at 5:30 a.m. At this time he was on tie-down beside my side of the bed. I would re-settle him and wait until 6. Then we went to California and the time change screwed up everything. Now, he is often bothering me at 4 a.m. I think it’s partly due to having night owl hours with Jerry, who can’t sleep from post-surgery pain; he will take the dogs out to distract himself from the pain and when this happens, Bailey thinks, hey, it’s morning and time to eat!


Then, Verona joins in and I am roused, doinked and otherwise accosted by canine noses until I sit up. It’s very unbecoming, my eyes full of sleep, my hair a mess, and my mind barely registering that I am sitting up. Oy, ugly.

But this matters not when puppy tummies are empty and there is kibble two rooms away. After a few rounds of ‘no, lay down, go back to sleep’ and ‘it’s not time yet,’, I flop back down and huddle under the covers, as if it will signal to them to stop bothering me.

Then I notice that my bladder is bursting. I lay there, thinking, that if I get up, all bets are off and the doinking of noses and snuffling will start up again. So I lay there, miserable, praying that I fall back to sleep, knowing I won’t.


As my aching bladder throbs, I dare to poke out a finger from under the covers to touch my I phone to hear the time. Bailey must be watching me because as soon as I move, he pops up and doinks me with his big, wet nose. I retreat under the covers after getting the time check. 30 minutes have passed and my bladder is screaming. I have to get up. I tuff it out until 4:45 and fling off the cover and make it just in time to the bathroom. I am, of course, accompanied by both bailey and Verona.

Then, I walk down the hall, being herded by a dog to each side of me, taking turns licking my hands, doinking the back of my legs with their heads. They make sure I don’t turn into the kitchen and herd me into the office, whereupon I pick up the food bowls and begin dispensing tasty goodness in the form of kibble.


So, readers, here is a Monty Python-esque piece based on these experiences — hope it makes you smile.



Upon the hour of 3

Ye canine shall entice the Master

With four legged antics,

Frolicking exploits

And other doggerel

to thereby convince the Master

To fill Ye Holy Kibble Pail


Ye canine will not,

Repeat, not,

Attempt to entice the Master

Before the strike of 3 of the clock


Feeding of the canine shall not

be at the strike of the one hour,

nor the two hour,

but at the hour of three

As decreed by the

Most Noble Master and Keepr of Ye Royal Kibble.


by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0