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.

The Soundtrack to my First Six Weeks in Ireland | Songs with Significance, Autumn 2018

There is an assignment this semester for one of my classes that asks us to create a musical tapestry, that is, a collection of songs that reflect different stages or elements of our lives.  For the assignment, we are also supposed to involve various music therapy concepts and research, but it gave me the idea of preserving the music that is meaningful to me now, so that I can look back on it in the future.

I think perhaps I will organize this by month, or maybe season, so here are some of the most significant songs for me this fall.

“Leaving on a Jet Plane”, John Denver 

Because I did, you know, leave on a jet plane, and left everyone in my country behind… I was thrilled to be going, but there is that piece of you that does “hate to go” even so.

“The Parting Glass”, Ed Sheeran 

There are many variations of this song, and this is not the first one I heard, but it was playing in the airport just as I was about to board the plane for Ireland, which I thought was cool, given it’s an Irish song as far as I know.

“Gold”, from Once 

Again, the Irish connection, but actually I just love this song in general, and have been listening to it pretty regularly for a while.

“My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness”, Keith & Kristyn Getty

I love Ghetty hymns, but this one has been particularly relevant lately because my heart IS SO FILLED with thankfulness to the Lord for his provision in recent times.  A year ago, I never would have thought I would be in another country 12 months on from then.  I wanted a job, not more education.  I certainly wasn’t crazy enough to actually think an international move was in my future, but God had other plans, and he’s been so faithful with every question mark and concern in the process.

“Empty”, Ray LaMontagne 

Just such a nice sound, and reminds me a bit of Tennessee and Virginia.

“Let it be Me”, Ray LaMontagne 

“Boston”, Mick Flannery 

Such a sweet song.  I saw Mick Flannery in concert at my university a couple of weeks ago, and this was one of the only songs I really loved.

“No Name”, Ryan O’Shaughnessy 

Granted, I’ve always adored this song.

“Eve, The Apple of My Eye”, Bell X1 

Good song.

Okay, if you don’t like Damien Rice, stop here, because every other song is one of his from here on out hahaha.  A friend and fellow musician here introduced me officially to Irish song writer Damien Rice, and I’m kind of in love with a lot of his songs.  I tried to narrow it down to a couple for this, but I just couldn’t!

“Older Chests”, Damien Rice 

Just really pretty 

““Volcano”, Damien Rice 

I like duets.

“The Blower’s Daughter/Elephant”,“, Damien Rice 

My first favorite. ❤ 

“Colour Me In”, Damien Rice 

My second first favorite! Ah I can’t even it’s just so good!

Wow, that was more extensive than I thought it would be, but kind of cool to see all the songs I have been listening to on repeat for the last few weeks all laid out in a list.  I didn’t realize how many Irish song writers and singers were on this list until now haha.  Irish people just write good music… what can I say?

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.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017_, Day 10|Pretzels!

Wednesday it was rainy and wet the entire day. We were scheduled to go into white plains, but no one wanted to work outdoors while it was pouring, so we stayed inside.  The trainers set up a makeshift obstacle course in the hallways, then worked on targeting and revolving doors, followed by a mall route in the afternoon.

There isn’t much to say about the obstacle course as it went flawlessly for Prim and I.  In targeting, the class split up into separate groups. Some worked on teaching their dogs to show them the elevator buttons, some worked on landmarking the hall intersection, and others (such as myself) worked on finding chairs.  Prim was, of course, brilliant with it as she has been every time we have

with targeting since the very beginning.  I am looking so forward to the day that she can take me to an empty chair in a meeting or on a train. Oleta got to that point but it took a little while and a lot of practice.  First they have to generalize what a chair means in different situations.  Chairs can look different depending on where you are.  Some are in a line against a wall, as in a waiting room or lobby area.  Some are pushed up against a table, as in a restaurant.  Some are wooden, some are soft, some have arms, some do not.  Once the dog gets an idea of what I mean by a chair, learning that I want an empty one is another layer of the process.

After finishing with our chair activity some of us learned how to go through a revolving door with our dogs. Guiding Eyes has a revolving door on campus so it was easy to practice.  I was a little nervous to do this, as there was one occasion in high school when Oleta and I were forced by a crowd unknowingly into a quickly moving revolving door, and Oleta came very near serious injury.  It was very scary, so I tend to avoid revolving doors at all costs, but if I didn’t do the training here Guiding Eyes asks that we refrain from using them in the future, so I opted to complete the training, just in case it proves unavoidable at some point.  She did fine and did not get her tail stuck in the door as I had feared.  She even helped to push the door along as we went with her nose.  Haha, thanks Primlet!

In the mall we worked on escalators, elevators, and suggested turns, but mostly the “steady” command.  As we have been discovering, we cannot safely travel at our normal pace indoors.  It was definitely a challenge for the both of us.  It doesn’t help Prim that I don’t really want to walk slower either, but I know we have to, so I have to be the responsible party and show her what is acceptable pace-wise in that situation.  We will get there, but I’m definitely anticipating having to work a lot on this when we get home.  Honestly I don’t think I could ask for a better problem to have.

At the end of our route, I slyly persuaded one of my instructors, who had finished with her students, to snag me a pretzel and a strawberry lemonade from the Auntie-Anne’s downstairs before we left.  My classmates really appreciated me, I know, because they got some pretzels out of it too.  No no, don’t thank me… really, thank our instructor, dear classmates.

Seriously though… she’s awesome.  All of our instructors are awesome.  They have great senses of humor, are crazy about dogs, love people, are willing to snag pretzels for students at the risk of possibly getting in trouble later, and generally are a joy to work with.  Just another reason to love Guiding Eyes.

Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 3 Part 1|Meeting Oleta’s Young Padawan

I have split day 3 into two posts, because there was just too much to say.  Find part two here.

Dog day!!!

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. 🙂 ❤

Reflections on my First Guiding Eyes Journey – Meeting my Little One with Wings

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.”

Celebrating Five Years

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.

My Historical Romance, Mount Vernon, and the Key that Unlocks Liberty

Today, I visited the home of one of my biggest crushes of all time.  The man is everything and more a girl could ask for: tall, dashing, kind, talented, incredibly intelligent, down to earth (quite literally), and God-fearing.  The only problem is he’s 263 years my senior, and he’s already happily and beautifully married.  I shall concede to love and admire him from a distance then.

No, I am NOT talking about Edward from Twilight.  Perish the thought!  If you know anything about me at all, you should know that vampirism is NOT on my list of ideal characteristics for my future husband.

I am speaking of the honorable General George Washington, who led America to victory in the revolutionary war, oversaw the creation of the U.S. constitution, and served as our first (and undoubtedly best) president.

Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was purchased and restored by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in the mid 1800’s, and they have been sustaining it ever since.  The remaining 500 acres of his once 8000 acre property are still furnished with the gardens, forest, fields, flowers, and livestock that Washington managed as a farmer during his lifetime.  It also features the plantation’s many buildings, including the slave quarters, carriage house, black smith, shoe shop, stables, corn crib, treading barn (for threshing wheat), mill and distillery, and of course the gorgeously restored mansion.  Washington is remembered for his incredible service and leadership for our country, but he considered himself a farmer above all other things.  He was a fantastic farmer, always employing new techniques to increase the plantation’s prosperity and productivity.  He utilized crop rotation, in order to use and reuse the fields he had already designated for crop growth, used different types of fencing in revolutionary ways, and created the ingenious treading barn, a building designed for threshing, which used the power of horses to thresh wheat in a much more efficient manner.

And then there is the mansion.

A long, symmetrical building with three sections, with covered porticos connecting them in between, the over 200 year old building is painted with a mixture of sand and paint, which gives the outside of the house the appearance of stone.  Indoors, the rooms come to vibrant life with shades of yellow, green, and red.  Much of the home is original, including paintings, furniture (Washington’s bed, and fancy rolly swivel chair), harpsichord, and china.

Another original hanging in the first floor passageway caught my attention in particular.  It is the key to the French political prison, Bastille, which Washington’s friend Marquis de Lafayette gave to George as a gift, with the words, “It is a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father, as an Aide-de-Camp to my General, as a Missionary of liberty to its Patriarch.” – Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, March 17, 1790 

The key to liberty given to the Father of liberty.

George Washington dedicated his entire life to the service of his country, to protecting and preserving liberty, but even more than that, he dedicated his soul to Christ.  Washington was a Godly man, and found the idea of freedom first in being freed from sin.  That is what inspired him to be the magnificent leader, farmer, husband, human he became.  George Washington reflected well the sort of CHrist-like love, courage, and humility that we all strive for in our walk with GOd.  God, Washington’s leader, is the ultimate father of all life and liberty, and Christ is the key.  Knowing that, I am inspired indeed, and have fallen in love with two marvelous men all over again—George Washington, and more even than him, the true key to liberty, our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Thank you to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for the information on the website, and the wonderful tour at the Mount Vernon estate.

(By the way, fun fact: Washington set his slaves free shortly before his death.  He truly did value freedom for all people.)

Mommies, SHeep, and The Good Shepherd

Guess what!  It’s Mother’s day!  I know, it’s a surprise, right?

Today’s the day we thank our awesome Mommies for being there when we needed them, for teaching us how to navigate this big, scary world, for making us meals and taking us to countless practices and events, for being so much more kind, gentle, gracious, humble, selfless, and loving than we ever deserved, and sometimes, even for giving us a taste of what exactly we did deserve.  At least, that’s what I have to thank my Mommy for. 🙂

Today, the sermon, and many of the songs we sang in church, were about Jesus as our good shepherd.  He leads them to green pastures, beside still waters, and sleeps in front of the gate at night to ensure their safety from wolves and thieves in the night.  In everything, His flock is his first priority.  As one of our songs says, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and they know me.  I lay down my life for my sheep.” 

Like our awesome Mommies, Jesus loves us so much more than we deserve.  Wee complain, argue, throw temper tantrums, even attack him, but he still loves us.  He too is always, always there for us.  He too shows us the grace, mercy, selflessness, and loving kindness that we all need, but could never earn, and He has shown it to us in the greatest sacrifice of all, in giving His very life.

So maybe we owe God a happy mother’s day too, because isn’t He really the ultimate Mr. Mom?