I have split day 3 into two posts, because there was just too much to say. Find part two here.
Juno obedience Wednesday morning went well. After breakfast, I had a deep philosophical conversation about life in the lobby with one of my classmates. It was very enjoyable and passed the time quickly. Before I knew it, it was 9:00 and I was rushing to puppy proof my room before the big reveal at 9:15. We gathered in alumni hall and listened as the list was read. I was the first on the list. I must disappoint you in reporting that I cannot publicize any identifying information about my new guide just yet, not until the match is a bit more certain, and not until the puppy raisers have been notified that their puppy has been matched with a person and is in class. Our puppy raisers work so hard and give so much of themselves to these dogs, and we want to ensure that they find out about their puppy’s placement through the proper channels, and not through a third party like social media.
That said, they announced my dog’s name, breed, and sex. For now, I will refer to her as Padawan, as in Oleta’s Young Padawan.
I spent a few minutes in the coffee room with a snack, chatting with my classmates, then went back to my room to wait. It wasn’t too long before I heard the knock on my door.
“Coming!” I called out, then hurriedly gathered my treat pouch and leash from my bed. My trainer came in with our instructor assistant and “somebody else”, as she announced as I opened the door. “Somebody else” came excitedly in, sniffing out the entire area. My instructor walked me through giving her five high value food rewards, which she very much enjoyed for the approximately 15 seconds that it took her to eat them, gave me a few last bits of information, then left us to snuggle. We did not do much snuggling, though not for lack of trying on my part haha. First we explored every inch of the room, then she spent the time getting up, laying down, staring at the door, and whining for the trainers. This is perfectly normal. She has spent the last six months training every day with them, and she doesn’t understand yet that I am going to be her person now… so she cried, and cried, and I fruitlessly attempted to distract her with petting, talking, her bone, and singing, which eventually did help her some. As I sang, she finally laid down for more than a minute next to me. At one particular song, she got excited and rolled over on her back, wriggling back and forth and batting me with her paws. It was so cute, and I thought I had her well-occupied, but she was soon back at the door whining.
Eventually we were escorted up to lunch by a trainer. Padawan was very excited and we only walked a few steps at a time before I had to ask for a sit to remind her not to pull on the leash. Lunch was hectic, as I expected after spending two hours trying to get her to stay still long enough to pet at all hahaha. She was up and down the entire time, but I did get to eat bites of my sandwich in between commands to “sit” and “down” and “stay”. The other students at my table had to do so a couple of times. It seemed their dogs were much more interested in chilling out. Personally, I’m glad I have my ball of energy. 🙂 ❤
I have been a guide dog user for six years now, and it’s become a way of life. My guide dog is a mobility aid, and so affects the way I travel, but she also affects my schedule, personal interactions, thought processes, financial decisions, clothing choices, etc. For the last while, a lot of those things have been absent from my life. These are some of the things I’ve missed most since retiring my first guide.
1. That Glidey, Free Feeling of Working a Guide Dog
If you have never worked a guide dog, you may not understand what I mean here. When you pick up the harness handle and tell your dog forward, your dog leans into the harness, you lean back, and you take off. It’s a smooth, exhilarating sensation that I can only describe as a sort of flight. Having worked with a guide that has not really pulled into the harness for years, I have not experienced this feeling properly in a good long while, and I cannot wait to experience it again.
2. Excessorizing My Guide Dog
Oleta’s drawer in my apartment is full of brightly colored flowers, bows, ribbons, bandanas, and collars that coordinated with my outfits. My guide dog is, in a way, an extension of my body, and therefore, also fashion, and right now, I’m missing my canine fashion extender!
3. Interacting Regularly with a Dog
I love the nitty gritty mechanics of the guide dog team. I am a dog person, and I love being near them. Learning to communicate with my dog, improving obedience and work-related skills, and watching my dog put those skills into action are all things that give me joy, and that I miss having as part of my everyday life.
4. Interacting with the Public
When you take a dog everwhere with you, you get noticed. Suddenly everyone wants to shower you with compliments, pester you with questions, and tell you long detailed stories about their childhood labrador Rex who was their best friend, could open doors, slept with them every night, saved their sister’s pet rabbit from a fire, etc etc. Sometimes it can become overwhelming, but in general I enjoy those conversations. I love sharing about my guide dog, the amazing work that she does, and the organization that bred, raised, and trained her. More even than that, I love how the presence of a dog seems to normalize my interactions with others. Instead of viewing me as “that blind girl”, they think of me as “that girl with the dog”, which honestly I prefer.
5. Going Out Early Every Morning
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of like being awoken at the crack of dawn to park and feed my starving canine. I am an early riser anyway, but there’s no staying in bed with a hungry labrador in need of a potty break bouncing all over you. I love having that motivation to roll out of bed, no matter how groggy, and go out to greet the new day, whether that be freezing wind and rain or sunshine and birdsong.
6. Always Having a Good Excuse to Talk to Myself
Sometimes verbalizing my thoughts helps me process things, okay? With Oleta, people assume I am talking to her… which I may very well be. Right now, with no dog, I just appear unstable.
7. Spacing Out On The Walk Home Because My Dog Knows Exactly Where Home Is
Guide dogs are not GPSs. I can’t just say, “Juno, take me to Walmart.” and then find myself magically at Walmart 20 minutes later. Still, after directing my guide dog home over and over again, day after day, my guide dog starts to understand that when I say, “Let’s go home.”, I am about to tell her forward, left, to the curb, forward, right, etc.” Basically, she becomes a bit of a GPS. Of course I can’t totally space out. I still need to keep track of where I am, and make safe traffic decisions, but I can, for example, work on memorizing music for my voice lesson the next morning the whole walk and still do it completely safely (I can do that with my cane too but I usually miss more turns).
What I’m trying to say is my dog knows where dinner is. My cane, on the other hand, doesn’t care.
Today marks one day before Dog Day, and one day before I get to reclaim these and other elements of the guide dog lifestyle, and I can’t wait!
With the cool evening air wafting in through the screen door, along with golden birdsong and the smoke of summer fires, I am swept into years past, happy childhood years, filled with summer evenings of s’mores and sparklers. Today has been a day of reflecting on memories. That’s because today marks 15 states, 4 countries, 5 languages, five years, and countless memories since Oleta, my beautiful guide dog, and I became a team.
Contrary to many people’s assumptions, I don’t NEED a guide dog to travel independently. I can (and do upon occasion) use a white cane to travel just as effectively. I don’t NEED a guide dog to pursue my professional goals. I know lots of blind professionals who are strictly white cane users. I chose to work with a guide dog because I loved dogs, I imagined working a guide dog to be infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane, and it was, after all, my dream to have a guide dog from the age of eight.
Those reasons still stand. Working a guide dog is, in my opinion, infinitely more pleasurable than using a cane. A guide dog allows one to walk much more fluidly and quickly without having to stop every 20 feet to unstick one’s stubborn cane from the side walk, or the grass, or some unidentifiable metal thing in the middle of the path, or, heaven forbid, someone’s legs, or to recover from getting one’s cane stuck in one of these various and sundry obstacles, not stopping fast enough, and promptly being rewarded with a sharp jab to the stomach. Yep, don’t miss those days. Having a guide dog also means that I didn’t get hit by that one insane bus driver who suddenly decided to drive on the side walk right where I was standing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to find doors, stairs, curbs, escalators (Oleta LOVES escalators), benches, etc, and sometimes even one of my best friends. Yes, these, among others, are all awesome benefits of having a guide dog, but now a days, the reason I work a guide dog is because of Oleta.
Oleta, who loves unconditionally as easily as she licks, who takes work breaks to wriggle on her back in the grass and the snow and the sand just for the pure joy of it, who actually whines when she sees children on playgrounds because she wants to play with them, who lives out the meaning of her name “Little one with wings” every time we find ourselves flying alone along some sidewalk or other.
Dear Oleta, I love how you love life, and I love living life with you. Happy five years of memories made! I look forward to many more together.
A continuation on the explanation of my blog title.
I consider my college campus basically perfect when it comes to location and overall vibe. It is in the heart of Nashville, but it is not, like some universities, integrated into the city itself. Rather, it is a separate community of its own, with plenty of green grass, gorgeous gardens, and giant trees. Of course, that means the allergy season is a little bit miserable, and it also means our campus is completely overrun by squirrels. That’s right, squirrels LOVE our university, and who can blame them, when the only other comparable population on campus (college students) carry food with them nearly everywhere they go?
Unfortunately for me, I have a guide dog that loves both food and squirrels, and while the combination may seem perfect to her, it is slightly frustrating from my point of view. I can’t seem to convince Oleta that she is not a squirrel wrangler, and that licking the cafeteria floor is flat out gross. Still, she sees food on the floor right under her nose, and squirrels that run feet from her on the sidewalk as opportunities, and usually, she takes them without hesitation. If I let her off the leash, she might actually fulfill those opportunities, I.E. Catch those darned squirrels, and lick the cafeteria floor until it’s shiny clean.
So yes, I’m saying the possibilities in our lives are squirrels, and we are the labradors, always ready and eager to chase after them until we’ve got them trapped between our teeth. (Ooh, that was graphic, sorry.) Ironically, we are also the handler holding ourselves back from chasing every last one of them down for fear that we might not succeed, or that the rodent in question might turn on us and slash us across the nose, or bite us and give us rabies. But here’s the thing: God is the ultimate hunter/veterinarian combo; he wants us to go after them, and even if we do get a little hurt in the process, He’s got the cure for anything those tree rats can throw at us. Besides, we’re labradors–squirrels are tasty.
So take off the leash, because we are in a world full of squirrels, and it’s time to take them on!
Welcome to my blog! Here, you will find, in the short term, details concerning my trip to Scotland as a missionary, and in the long term, my ramblings about life as a Christian, American, blind person, guide dog user, writer, and musician (I am a vocal performance major).
In an attempt to briefly explain the first word in my blog title, I present to you a Short, relatively unedited Treatis on Opportunity.
Life is, ultimately, a collection of opportunities: opportunities to learn more, work harder, and love greater. A trial is merely a chance to triumph; a race is simply another shot to win. Of course, sometimes we fail, but the wonderful thing about Christ is that he is the key to opportunity, and whenever a door slams shut, He opens a window somewhere else. I know it sounds cliche (it is cliche), but who ever said cliches are necessarily untrue? Even when we do lose the race, He’s waiting at the finish line cheering us on, and waving a flyer advertising the next marathon. Our job is only to grab the flyer from Him and mark the date on our calendars.
Okay, so maybe the analogy didn’t work quite as well as I had hoped, but the point is that in a life lived with Christ, God presents us with countless opportunities (I promise not to use that word again) to grow closer in our relationship with him and to serve him in unimaginably incredible ways. We have only to walk through those doors, and find what He has waiting for us on the other side.
That, essentially, is what I am striving to do in my life, and what we all aim to do in our journey with GOd. In my experience in this confounding maze we call life, no matter what you think God is doing, what He’s really doing is taking all those dead ends and locked gates and turning them into new passages to explore. When I lost my sight as a child, a very large, very heavy door slammed in my face (I didn’t see it, though I definitely heard it), but God led me through other portals, and I discovered piles of hidden treasure that I may never have found otherwise: independence, determination, and daring. I thought I was trapped when my parents divorced, but God cleared the way for me, when I finally made him the Lord of my life. And of course, he led me to my sweet guide dog, Oleta, who serves as my eyes, both physically and, sometimes, spiritually. She often goes after opportunities (oops) much faster than I ever would, which is where I will continue in my next post. Until “Unleashed”, this is Shea, signing off.