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.

Staying Still for Colin

It’s my little brother’s birthday today.  I cannot believe how old and tall he is!  Isn’t it a funny moment when your cute little brother suddenly becomes your very hansom, tall brother?  Seriously, he’s like a foot taller than me now… maybe more.

Anyway, these are my reflections on memories from 20 years ago when my baby brother was born.  I miss and love you lots, Colin!  Happy birthday!

I’m wearing my favorite dress… well, one of them.  It’s the button up, with the pockets and the wide collar that looks like a slice of watermelon.  I am glad I’m dressed up, because I’m a big sister now.  I’m going to see my little brother.  Being a big sister is an important job, and I want to look the part… especially because I want Mom to let me hold him.  Only big, responsible girls get to hold baby brothers.

Grandmother says that we’re almost there.  I see huge buildings and a parking lot filled with cars.  There’s an apple on the seat next to me… the one my big brother refused to eat.  He doesn’t like apples.  I wonder if my little brother will like apples… he probably won’t be able to eat them until he’s three like me though.

We walk down a long hallway.  It’s white tile and bright lights, and there are windows to our right.  I see babies through the windows, in little boxes.  Is he in there?  I peer through the windows as we pass.  There’s a dark-skinned baby… Is that him?  I see a baby that looks a lot more like me, blonde and white-skinned, but then we’re turning into a room, and there’s my brother.

He’s curled in my Mom’s arms, wrapped in blankets.  All I can see is his little pink face.  Mom smiles at us.  My big brother and I run to her bedside.  Mom takes my hand and lets me touch his head, urging me to “be gentle.’

I am… I can’t imagine being anything else.  My fingers brush over feathery baby fuzz, and I can’t believe he’s real.  He’s just like my baby doll, Elizabeth, only warm, and breathing, and a boy.

I’m jumping up and down and asking if I can hold him.  I can’t help it.  I’ve been waiting for this moment forever!  Mom says if I sit on the bed next to her and stay very still, I can hold him.  I clamber on the bed and sit very still on top of the blankets.  He’s in my arms, warm and heavy and full of sleep.

I’m a big sister, and I can’t stop smiling.

Thankful for a Compelling Savior

One thing our culture hates about God is that he is uncompromising.  He demands certain behaviors of us, and condemns others, and there are consequences if we do not respond.  We see that here.  The master of the house invites several people to come in and be a part of his banquet, but each refuses, citing some excuse.  Thus, the master says that none of those who were invited and denied his invitation will taste anything of the feast he has prepared.  So uncompromising? Yes.

But he is also a God who compels.

“16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Though some refused him, he sends out someone to compel others to attend the feast.  Someone, like Jesus himself.  Yes, God has standards, the highest ones imaginable, but God knows that we are broken, and in his great love for us he does not abandon us to our brokenness.  We are poor.  We have nothing to offer the God of the universe, and yet he does not simply leave us to suffer in our poverty.  We are blind, but we are not condemned to darkness.  We are lame, but we are not resigned to a life of immobility.  Jesus moves us through his sacrifice, which demonstrated his love for us and atoned for our sin.  He compels us through the Holy Spirit, who moves in our hearts that we might be able to hear and respond to the master’s call.

“If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If we feel convicted over our sin, we should not be angry that the righteous creator God has called us out.  Instead, we should recognize that such conviction is a mercy.  It’s a call to come in and enjoy the feast of grace that God has prepared for all who are willing to partake.

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 Birdsong

I’m a musician, and melody is a constant presence in my life.  My roommates can attest to that.  They often comment, or tease, about my humming, and singing, and piano improvising at all times of the day, and occasionally the night.  I think maybe that’s what makes me appreciate birdsong so much.  They are participating in the same music-making that fuels my energy from hour to hour, and it’s life-giving, enchanting, even.

It reminds me of all the Disney princesses that make friends with birds.  Cinderella, Snow White, Mary Poppins (although she’s not exactly a princess), either way they all have this magically musical relationship with winged whistlers of various varieties, and in a way it’s quite representative of the reality.  There is something magical about it, an animal that can produce music at will, and does so as a regular part of their routine.  There aren’t many other animals like that.  May it serve as a reminder to make magic with our own music in our own routines.

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When Weighty Cares Beset Your Soul — A Prayer for 2018

This is just a small bit of verse that came to me as I prayed that the Lord would use this year as he pleases.  Undoubtedly amateur in terms of poetry, but I’d thought I’d share anyway, since the sentiment is sincere, if nothing else.

 

 

When weighty cares beset your soul

Rejoice, oh heart, the Lord extol,

For in his hands each trial finds rest,

To ease the anxious, grief-burned breast.

 

And when the swords of men draw near,

Remember then his side, the spear.

He took for you the shame for sin,

And granted you new life in him.

 

And if one day the tempest rage,

Should cast you out into the waves,

Look up to see your sleeping Lord,

And know his peace means you restored.

 

For never did he like Jonah stray,

Or from his father turn away,

The righteous life we could not live,

He by grace through faith will give.

 

“Your faith,” he’ll say, “has made you well.”

So we need never taste of hell,

For though we only death deserved,

Jesus came to heal our hurt.

 

Oh let me never forget thy grace,

That cleanses me from every trace,

Of sin and every evil thing,

Which kept  me from my God and king.

 

Oh that. thy Word and thine alone

Might be for me foundation stone

And when the mighty waters come

I shall say, “Thy will be done.”

Thankful for Accessible Technology

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 8|A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White Plains Building

There are days I just have to step back and marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team.  Dogs don’t naturally walk in straight lines.  They don’t naturally refuse to chase other animals or deny themselves food lying on the ground.  Most dogs don’t want to spend their days forging a path through pedestrians on crowded sidewalks, locating curbs, and playing in traffic… and yet these dogs do.  They love their job, and most, if not all guide dogs, seem to realize at one point or another that they aren’t just doing this for the food reward.  These are the sort of dogs that Guiding Eyes breeds, raises, and trains, and I feel so blessed to be able to experience life with now two of them.

Prim had a number of things thrown at her today.  It is only our sixth day together and we had two major traffic checks, plus a skateboard check (yep, skateboard. You read that correctly), escalators, crowded, narrow sidewalks, indoor work, and major distractions in the dog food isle at CVS.  That “major distraction” took the form of my class supervisor (who is also Oleta’s trainer and my instructor from 2011) tempting Prim with all sorts of very appealing squeaky toys while we did puppy push ups (sit, down, sit, down, sit, down, sit).  It was pretty hard not to look, and she definitely did struggle to listen to a couple of my commands, but we got through it well enough.  Honestly… can you imagine trying to concentrate while people danced around you with Chic-Fil-A and gift cards for pedicures and the latest technology gizmos, or whatever tempting treat might strike your fancy, and be expected to keep working at the same high performance without ever lunging for one of those waffle fries or gift cards or iPhones?  Mm… Chic-Fil-A… I discovered today that Chic-Fil-A doesn’t exist in this area, bless their hearts.  Anyway, what was I talking about?

Prim handled it all very well.  I was impressed with the way she dealt with the traffic checks.  One was on the left side of the street with a legal right turner.  She saw it coming ahead of time and stopped about ten feet away from the car.  The second was a car turning very illegally on the wrong side of the road.  That was slightly more startling to me as it was completely unexpected, but Prim just came to an abrupt halt, let the car pass, and continued to the curb.  It didn’t seem to throw her at all.  She got a cookie and lots of praise upon reaching the sidewalk.  She did her job very well.

Prim loves escalators.  I am sure that her trainers used a great deal of positive reenforcement with them, as they can be scary for some dogs at first, but I think Prim also just likes the ride.  She did very well pulling me to the edge of the metal plate and showing me exactly where the escalator started.  She is brilliant with targets.  When she hears the name of a familiar target (like the steps in this case) and recognizes it, she is there and fast, and she doesn’t stop pulling until we are all the way on top of it.  Since I have practically no vision, this is extremely helpful for me, because she makes it very clear where whatever I am looking for is, whether it be the curb, the escalator, the door, etc.

We are still working on slowing down a tad in certain situations.  For example, when we entered the CVS in the afternoon, we were moving so quickly the automatic doors didn’t quite have a chance to open all the way, so I got clipped by the still slightly closed sliding door.  We also had to slow in the isles so as not to knock any displays or innocent bystanders to the floor.  On our way back from CVS, we had a slight sniffing distraction with some trash cans (which, in her defense, did smell very strongly!), but as my instructor observed, Prim seems very responsive to my voice and a “Prim, leave it” was all she needed to get going again.

Shortly after that we crossed a street, made a right, and then I felt Prim angle over to the left a bit toward a building.  She approached the wall of the building, then made a quick right and continued along the block.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, until my instructor came up from behind to inform me that Prim had seen herself in a glass wall.  Apparently, Prim got all puffy and upset like, “who’s that over there?!”, until she realized it was her own reflection, got embarrassed, and quick changed her direction like, that didn’t just happen.  We laughed all the way back to the White Plains building.  There are days you have to marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team, and then there are days you just have to laugh… and with Prim, that’s every day.  This dog cracks me up.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017) | Meet Oleta’s Young Padawan!!!

And now the post you have all been waiting for.  This is Oleta’s Young Padawan.  She is a black lab female named Prim!Prim in my Lap

So far, her nicknames include Primrose, Primie, Prie, Piglet, Primlet, and Wild Woman upon occasion.  She may be small, but have no doubt, she *IS* mighty.  There is an incredible amount of power, personality, and intelligence packed into that little bundle of fur on my lap.  My class supervisor (and Oleta’s trainer) told me that she had “hand-picked a nice one” for me.  She wasn’t kidding.  She did pick a nice one!

She has big paws to fill as Oleta’s successor, but so far she is doing brilliantly.  I was immediately in love with her name, and I’ve totally fallen for her.  How could you not?! ❤ ❤ ❤

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 4|A Day of Firsts

Thursday morning I got to do obedience with a real dog!  And it was great.  Padawan did wonderfully.  She was remarkably responsive and didn’t make any mistakes. Granted, it is a low distraction environment right now and we are working individually with instructors at this point, but it’s still been less than 24 hours.  SHe’s a pro.

Healing up to breakfast was a tad bit challenging, because she was so excited and she got up quite a lot during the meal, but in the van and at lunch she laid quite positively still. We had our first walk around 10 this morning. Padawan was on it. She found every curb perfectly and navigated around people and carts and cars flawlessly. We even had a mini traffic check. We were crossing one street when a car turned in front of us. She slowed to allow it to pass then sped up, got to the curb, and all was well. She started out a bit quick even for me, but we ran it off and got a little bit slower as the morning went on.

On our second route, Padawan’s pace was perfect. She found every curb and the only thing I could fault her for was stepping into the street a bit too early.  She did slow to look at a pigeon at one point, but looked back at me quickly and kept working just fine. There was another car that pulled in front of us at an active driveway.  She stopped for it, then waited for me to listen and give the command to continue.

I really was not expecting to have such smooth routes today.  I am sure we will run into challenges, but when my trainer asked if I had any questions at the end of our second route, all I could think of was, “where are her flaws?”.  Apparently she has them… but all I can see so far is that we need to work a bit on staying and waiting. She is go go go all the time, and I love it, but sometimes we do have to stand still for a little while, unfortunately.

In the afternoon, I attached Padawan to her tie down so that I could lay down for a few minutes between lecture and dinner.  Padawan saw me lay on my bed and immediately leapt to join me, only to find that the tie down was a little too short.  So, she settled for standing with her front paws on my bed, bouncing at me and licking me. My heart melted.  I wasn’t expecting her to want to be with me that badly… so I got up and sank to the floor with her.  She wiggled and jumped to put her paws on my shoulders.  I got face kisses, and she rolled and wriggled herself around until finally coming to a rest draped over me with her bum on one of my legs and her head on the other.   We cuddled like that until we heard the announcement to go to dinner, and even then I took my time getting up.  It was too sweet!

Later that evening I got to play with Padawan for the first time.  We went with our instructor into Alumni Hall and I got to sift through a crate of various toys to see what she might like.  The bone wasn’t of interest to her, but she ran joyfully after the tennis ball and played soccer with a big bouncy frog that did not really fit in her mouth.  It was absolutely adorable.  She makes me laugh.

I also heard Padawan’s bark for the first time.  She was laying comfortably still beside me in the student living room as I worked on blogs.  Padawan saw/heard a fellow classmate and her dog in the hallway and suddenly leapt up with a loud “woof woof woof!”.  It scared me at first because I was so focussed and she had been so calm, but she was, I think, just excited to see her friend and wanted to play.  With a firm “quiet” and “down” command she went easily back to resting, and I got back to work.

Friday (Friday already?) we have the same routes in White Plains and a lecture on grooming.  We’ll check in with you then.