I found a seat in the circle of chairs in Alumni hall along with my classmates. I was full of lunch and laughter and bursting with the excitement of it all. I had dreamt of getting a guide dog for years, and this was the moment. I was about to discover the identity of my long-awaited companion. I sat on the edge of my seat as our meeting commenced. A few people spoke first — my class supervisor, the president of the organization, saying a few special words about the journey we were about to undertake. Until, finally, it was time. We all waited with bated breath as our class supervisor read the first name.
“Miss W, It’s your birthday so we’ll start with you. Your dog is named Paulson, P-A-U-L-S-O-N, and he’s a yellow lab male.”
She continued from Paulson, a yellow lab male, to Lynn, a yellow lab female, to Pacer, Orlando, and Butch, all yellow lab males, among others.
As the names and breeds passed, I evaluated each one. Did that dog’s name match with the name of their handler? Would I like having a dog named that? Oh dear, what would my dog’s name be anyway?! What if I hated it? Would I get a boy or a girl? It seemed like we had a lot of yellow lab males… maybe that’s what I would have too… but then it was my turn.
“Shea,” A pause that seemed like eternity. “Your dog’s name is Oleta, O-L-E-T—A, and she is a black lab female.”
A sound that was half laughter half sob escaped me at hearing her name. It was so beautiful I thought I was going to cry right there. My classmates laughed at my reaction and encouraged me to breath. I tried, but couldn’t. Oleta! I was already in love with her!
After the rest of the class received their match information, we all went back to our rooms to wait… and wait… and wait. I curled up on my bed trying to distract myself with Facebook and reading my bible, but nothing was working. All I could think about was Oleta. Would she like me? Would we be able to work together? What was I going to do for the next two hours of bonding time? What if I did something wrong and ruined all her training? Could I really stay calm and collected when she arrived like our instructors told us we should be?
I perked up every time I heard a sound in the hallway. Footsteps? It must be my trainer coming to my room! But no. They continued past, probably headed to a fellow students room to deliver their pup. The jingle of a collar or a leash? That had to be Oleta! I thought, but no. It was someone else’s dog. Voices! I was sure it was my trainer with Oleta! But no… it was my neighbor receiving her dog. I must have started toward my door to open it three or four times, before I finally surrendered to the agonizing wait.
At long last, an hour or so on, a gentle knock sounded, and I slid quickly from my bed to go get it. Leash in hand and treat pouch appropriately placed, I reached for the door handle.
“Hi Shea.” My instructor greeted me, calmly. “Here is Miss Oleta for you.”
Wet nose, velvety fur, thwacking lab tail, and kisses galore.
“Hi Oleta!” I crooned, giving her a greeting scratch and welcoming both she and my trainer into my room. I reached into my treat pouch and offered her the three, high-value food rewards our trainers had given us to make a good first impression on our new partners. My hand was shaking, and thoroughly washed, as she gobbled up each treat in turn, and then made absolutely sure there weren’t any remaining morsels in my palm. At discovering there weren’t, she turned her attention to the floor.
“Okay.” My trainer said. “I’m gonna take my leash off and you can clip yours to her collar.”
I did, and just like that, Oleta was mine.
“She’s all yours.” My trainer confirmed, as she moved to the door. “Enjoy her.”