April Showers

This is a story I wrote down a year ago that I never got the chance to post. I figured since it’s April again, it would be an appropriate springy thing to share.

 

I can’t drive, and I don’t have buckets of money to pay for Lyfts everywhere I go, so generally whatever the weather is, my guide dog and I are out in it, getting where we need to go.  That is why, one April Saturday, Prim and I ventured out into the pouring rain to head to a friend’s recital at my old university.  Neither of us were excessively pleased about the damp; I shivered, and Prim did her best to avoid puddles as we set out on the mile walk.

We were standing at a street corner waiting for the light to change.  I was listening to the traffic on my right to know when it was safe to cross when, suddenly, a car approached quickly from my left and a massive wave of water struck us.  I squeaked and leapt back, shocked by the cold and completely soaked waist down.  Prim shook it off and we stepped back up to the curb to wait once more.

Not thirty seconds later, a truck came barreling through the intersection.  Before I could react, I was engulfed from head to toe in a six foot high tsunami of street water.  The frigid liquid left me breathless, and poor Prim was completely disgruntled.  I laughed ruefully and turned to go home, blinking away the water dripping into my eyes.  There was absolutely no way I could walk into a recital looking like I’d just fallen into a pool.

“Ma’am!” a voice called from a car at the gas station behind me.  I paused, glancing in his direction.

“Ma’am do you need help? I have a towel.” He approached and pushed a towel into my hands.

“Thank you.” I said, surprised.  I took the towel and mopped my face.  I was just going to believe it was a clean towel, and not something this friendly samaritan had just used to clean greasy hands after working on his engine or something.  I vainly tried to dry my clothes with the towel too, but only semi-successfully.  I was at least grateful to have dry face and arms.  As per my request, the man kindly helped me across the street.  I’ve probably asked someone to do that a grand total of two or three times in my life.  Contrary to popular belief, I don’t normally need help to cross the street, dog or no dog, but I was not in the mood to be hit by yet a third surge of rainwater.

Upon reaching the other side of the street, I expressed my appreciation to my benefactor, then was promptly dragged by my indignant dog to the nearest door.  I was planning on walking the rest of the way to the recital, but clearly Prim had other ideas, and she wasn’t afraid to tell me.  She absolutely refused to leave the shelter of the overhang in front of the business.  I was trying to reason with her when another voice called from a car in the street.

“Shea!”

It was a friend from college.  He offered a ride to our destination, and Prim and I gladly accepted.  We arrived just in time for the performance.  I sat through the whole thing shaking in my soaked clothes, and winced at the strong smell of wet dog radiating from my poor unhappy pup, but man am I glad we made it, and honestly, it was kind of an exhilarating experience.  Who says Nashville doesn’t have a good waterpark?

A Safety-Conscious Canine

A little story I wrote for a blog I contributed to. The blog is no longer running so I decided to republish it here. Enjoy.

Prim has consistently been rather stubborn about going to church. When I asked my trainer about it, she suggested that perhaps Prim simply wasn’t religious. I laughed at that, but it wasn’t a sufficient explanation, especially when I realized that Prim was somewhat unwilling to walk the route from church, as well as to church. Today I figured out why. 

Our walk to church includes traversing several sets of steps, the top level of a parking garage, and a long, side-walkless driveway, one that is consistently populated by church-goers’ vehicles leaving and entering our parking lot. Because there is no sidewalk, we are forced to stick as close as we can to the edge of the road. Prim is trained to do this. It’s a technique called “shore-lining”, but she is still not satisfied. She often stops in the parking lot or veers to the grass when she sees an idoling car, as I think she recognizes it as a threat. Well, one day on our way out of church, Prim decided to take matters into her own paws. Despite my direction to walk straight, across the parking lot and along the driveway, Prim insisted upon turning left. Curious, I trusted her and followed.

“Let’s go home.” 

I said, hopefully, even though I didn’t actually know whether we could get back to our appartment this way. She led me along a brief strip of parkinglot, then pulled me strongly to the right to step onto a sidewalk. I couldn’t help but laugh. We stuck to the sidewalk, made a right, then walked another good distance, until Prim pulled right again and I recognized the slant of our leasing office parking lot beneath my feet, and a minute later reached out to feel the gate that would take us into our complex. 

We had never walked that route before, but somehow Prim knew we could get home that way, and knew it was safer with side walks. She won’t let us walk any other way now. I love my safety conscious canine.

Reflections on the Transition, but Really Actually Just Prim –Our Newest Adventure, Part 3

This is a continuation of a series on our transition after our move to Ireland. Read part one here, or part 2 here.

 

Wednesday September 12, 2018

 

Sometimes I look about me here and I can’t believe where I am, or what I’m doing. It is so surreal, but so fantastic. It’s definitely been an adjustment, and there have been hard moments, but the wonderful moments far outweigh the hard ones, and I am thankful for that. 

Prim has been pretty darn amazing, all things considered, throughout this whole transition. There have been times when we have both been stressed and our communication has broken down somewhat, but seriously, she has been so solid for the most part, and it has made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. She wants to work, and wants to be where I am. She isn’t particularly interested in meeting all the new random people, which is kind of helpful honestly, because they all want to meet her, and I’m glad she’s not particularly distracted by them. She’s eager as ever, especially when I meet her where she is and give her the trust and the confidence to succeed.

Today I took her for a long line leasure walk aalong the gravel path outside of my dorm building. She very much enjoyed sniffing along the path and prancing in the grass as we went. At first when we got outside, she was so thrilled to be free she took off at full speed, with no heed to the end of the line… so of course I went flying. Two joints of my cane came apart, and I tumbled into the grass, hardly managing to cling onto the leash handle. Prim immediately realized what had happened and rushed over to me, snorting and nudging me in concern. Dazed, I struggled to sit up. She sat in front of me and stared at me with worried eyes, placing an appologetic paw in my hand for comfort. She refused to move until she knew that I was okay, and let her know. Literally the sweetest moment ever.

I think she realizth that she was the cause of my fall. She is so attentive and empathetic in that way. Any time I fall Prim is immediately right on top of me making sure I’m all right. I’ll never forget that first time I slipped in my heels in the rain on the way to the Nashville symphony, not too long after Prim and I had gotten home. My shoe just went out from under me and I landed in the wet. She twisted around to bounce in my lap, lick my face, paw at me, and generally ensure that I was responsive. It was definitely a strengthening moment for our bond. I love this little girl so, so much, and I am so glad to have her as I settle in a new country.

The Symbiosis of the Guide Dog Team

I am often asked questions about the nature of my relationship with my guide dog.  A topic we frequently touch on is the interdependence of it.  I like to point this out to people, because no one is surprised that I depend on my guide dog.  After all, she is my eyes, in a sense… but they usually don’t think  about the fact that my dog depends on me, too.

My guide dog does have a lot of responsibility, especially for a dog.  Prim protects me.  She keeps me from walking into traffic, or stepping off the edge of a platform or stage.  She navigates me smoothly around things in our path, and shows me when there is an obstacle like a parked car or construction barrier obstructing our way entirely.  Prim provides for me.  She helps me find landmarks like doors, steps, trashcans, and chairs, and is a source of ever-present laughter and comfort besides.

But like with any other dog, I have a great deal of responsibility as Prim’s partner and handler.  I protect Prim.  I make intelligent decisions about when to cross the street, and think about Prim’s physical and emotional safety in any given environment.  There are some places I simply do not take my guide dog due to risk of injury or discomfort.  Crowded bars and loud concerts are just two examples of places where paws could be too easily trampled and ears too easily overwhelmed.  There have also been situations where I had to physically protect my guide dog when she was in danger of being attacked by another canine.  I provide for Prim.  I feed her, groom her, take her outside, take her to the vet for medical care, and of course have the enormous pleasure of being her primary playmate and cuddle buddy.

It’s a relationship of giving, not 50/50, but 100/100.  Of course, we both fail, but the beauty is that not only do we both provide and protect, but we also persevere.  There are days I am convinced I have a two-year-old child on a leash, and there are days that Prim is convinced she will starve to death because we get home late and I forgot to throw her dinner in my backpack, but I keep loving her even after she throws tantrums about not being able to eat the cat, and she keeps loving me after I feed her an hour or two later than our schedule dictates.  In that way, it is undoubtedly a symbiosis of sorts, but not a symbiosis of chance, rather one of choice.  Primie, I’m so glad I get to choose you.

First Exciting Announcement — Opportunity Unleashed is Joining Youtube!

I’m glad to welcome y’all to my youtube channel!  I have been wanting to start this channel for YEARS, and never felt confident enough to do it, but now is the time!  Watch my welcome video

HERE!

Thank you all, for supporting me here at Opportunity Unleashed.  I am so thrilled to be expanding into this new area of the world wide web, and I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback!  If you have ideas for future videos, questions about blindness, guide dogs, or music-related requests, please comment or shoot me a message.  If you have been a reader here at OpportunityUnleashed.com, please become a viewer, too, and

subscribe!

If you haven’t already, you can also like our 

facebook page

to ensure you don’t miss a post or video.

Thanks, and see you again soon!

My Girls’ Canine Family!

Recently, I got to chat with someone from Guiding Eyes who shared the family information for both of my guide dogs.

Oleta was born on October 23, 2009 to parents Loren and Mark.  Her siblings in birth order are:

Orchard (released)

Osa (released, but became a different sort of service dog)

Bailey (released)

Oak (retired guide dog)

Oleta (retired guide dog)

Opera (released)

Ogden (retired guide dog)

Octavian (released)

Prim was born on October 21, 2015 to parents Peter and Daphne.  Her siblings are:

Peyton (in training)

Promise (released)

Posh (released)

Peace (working guide dog)

Parker (released)

Pongo (detection dog)

Pearl (working guide dog)

Prim (working guide dog)

Pumkin (working guide dog)

It’s great to know where my sweet girls came from.  I’m hoping we can meet some of Prim’s siblings!  We already know her sister Pumpkin, who was in training when we were in class in September.  It was pretty clear they knew that they are sisters, judging by how much they wanted to play together every time they saw each other. ❤

So thankful to Guiding Eyes for breeding, raising, and training so many fantastic dogs.

Thankful for a Voice | A Blind Girl Speaks Out!

I don’t really know what happened.  I wasn’t that sick, but suddenly my voice just sort of left me, and a painful cough took its place.  For the last four days, I’ve been on strict vocal rest, which is difficult for a singer and a socializer.  I didn’t think about how it would impact my interactions with the public, however.

“I’m outside Panera.” I whispered into the phone, because that’s all I could manage.

“You’re where?  I can’t really hear you.”

“Outside the doors of the Panera!” I tried again, “I have a guide dog and I’m wearing a black coat.”

“Oh, I think I see you.  You have a dog?”

“Yes!” I replied, relieved that even if he hadn’t heard me he found me and I didn’t have to wait much longer in the 15 degree weather.

I got in the Lyft and got home, thank God, but my vocal issues had made it incredibly difficult to communicate with my driver to tell him where I was.

A similar thing happened a day later.  A gracious friend of mine volunteered to drive me to the pet store to pick up some emergency dog food for Prim.  We entered the pet store, and I was immediately struck by my hindered ability to scold my guide dog for trying to chase the cat she saw upon entry.  Turns out whispered commands to your dog to “leave it” when there is a cat right in front of their nose is really not that effective.

The kicker, though, was when we stopped at CVS on the way back to collect some soup and cough drops and other such necessary items.  Prim followed my friend into and throughout the store like a champ, and we found the things we needed without too much trouble.  When we arrived at the counter, I set my items down and waited as the cashier scanned them.

“Do you live with her?” The lady asked my friend.

“No, just a friend.” She replied.

“She agreed to drive me around tonight.” I added with a smile, though I felt my smile falter a little when I realized what had come out of my mouth was barely recognizable as spoken word.

“Who takes care of her then?”

“I take care of me.” I answered, patiently, still in a whisper.

“She said she takes care of herself.” The cashier observed in shock to my friend, and then to one of her coworkers as we left.

Yes, madam, that is what I said.  I take care of myself.  She clearly found that hard to believe, since I am blind.

I desired desperately to educate her.  I wanted to tell her that, not only do I care for myself, but I care for my guide dog, and sometimes, when necessary, my sighted friends too.  I wanted to say that blind people can live quite independently, with the right training and techniques.  I wanted to tell her that I’d been living on my own 12 hours drive from my family for almost 5 years now, since I moved to Tennessee at 18.  I wanted to tell her I’ve traveled internationally by myself three times, and within the U.S. hundreds of times… that I’d been white-water rafting, and rock climbing, and hiking, and horseback riding, and kayaking and jet skiing, and spelunking, and I’d sung, danced, and acted in operas and plays and musicals, had a bachelor’s degree, and was planning on moving internationally for a master’s.

But I couldn’t say any of that because I couldn’t talk.

I’ve been blind for 16 years now.  I’m pretty used to comments like the ones I heard at CVS last night.  I’ve learned to say something, but once that’s done, it’s all I can do.  Eventually, I just have to let it go and allow my life to be the proof, but I felt robbed of that power yesterday, of my ability to advocate through speech.  It upset me, but mostly it made me thankful that, on the regular day-to-day, I do have a voice.  I can speak up to defend my own freedom of independence and the freedom of other blind people to live the lives they want.  I can share my experiences and challenge a sighted world to raise their expectations for the blind.

Not only do I have a voice on an individual, physical level, but also on a macro, socio-political-economic level.  As an American citizen with first amendment rights to free speech, I can write articles like these to spread the word throughout this entire vast country that blind people ARE capable.  I can vote for policy and policy makers that I think will advance the rights and privileges of blind Americans.  I can show employers that there is a valuable workforce of competent, passionate people that are currently being largely ignored because of their blindness.  I can tell our nation that blind people are a people without physical sight, but not a people without vision, or drive, or ingenuity, or skill, or, as I’m pointing out here, a voice.

Today is January 4th, a day many in the blind community know as Louis Braille’s birthday.  Braille should have been as life changing to the blind as the invention of the printing press was for the sighted a few hundred years earlier.  I say “should have been”, because while Braille’s invention did a great deal to change the state of blind people, and loose them from the chains of poverty and dependency, it hasn’t done enough.  According to a study from Cornell University, only 42% of visually impaired Americans ages 21-64 were employed in 2015, and that is a high estimate given that the associated unemployment rate did not account for those blind Americans who were not actively participating in the workforce (Erickson).  The National Federation of the Blind reports that 29% of the same population in the same year were living under the poverty line (Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States), as compared to 13.5% in the general population (United States Census Bureau).  Those statistics start to paint a picture of the devastating impact that negative perceptions of blindness have on our success and thriving as a segment of society.

I’m tired of being told I can’t, and I’m thankful that I have a voice to reply, “I can, I do, and I will!”

 

Works Cited:

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. “Disability Statistics.” The American Community Survey (ACS), Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute, 2017, Ithaca, NY, http://www.disabilitystatistics.org/reports/acs.cfm?statistic=2

“Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States.” NFB, National Federation of the Blind, 12/2017, nfb.org/blindness-statistics

United States Census Bureau. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016.” Report Number: P60-259, Jessica L. Semega, Kayla R. Fontenot, and Melissa A. Kollar, U.S. Census Bureau, Sept. 12, 2017, http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-259.html