Friday at last! It’s been a busy week. I feel like I’ve gone through one of those time warps where five days lasted only seconds and yet they went on for ages. Miss Labragirl seems to have been at my side forever, but in another way, wow! Monday was a long time ago!
The trainer, Michelle, and I had planned to work a challenging route from my house to the grocery store yesterday. The route involves crossing about ten streets to the store and home again along a busy road, with one traffic light.
But before we got to the busy street, I stumbled on one of the cracks in the sidewalk my city is infamous for. I injured my hip thirty years ago and, since I was young and invincible, never got treated properly or slowed down to let myself heal the way I should have. Fibromyalgia has popped up in middle age to make me pay tenfold for all my past sins, so that one little stumble took me out of commission for a long walk. Thankfully, Michelle was willing to change her plans.
We drove to Target and worked on the “Follow” command. Sometimes it’s useful in stores or crowded places for one person to lead, and a guide dog handler to say, “Forward, follow.” The dog is taught to follow the person who is leading, but only when directed to. We also worked on heeling Miss Labragirl behind a shopping cart. She passed good-smelling items at dog level in the deli without so much as turning her head. In Petsmart, she walked by a growling little dog on a bench by the grooming station with hardly a glance. She did look over at the stuffed cow with the squeaker in its tail a kid was checking out as we went by, but she didn’t break stride. You can’t fault a lady for looking.
We’ve also been working on finding Seven-11 and Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant, two common haunts of mine that are close to my house. Seven-11 is at the end of my block, near the busy road I’ll need to walk down to get to the grocery store. The trick is, we have to cross a little parking lot to get to the sidewalk that leads to the door. Guide dogs–and usually their handlers–don’t like crossing open parking lots. The world would be a better place if there were clear, crackless sidewalks everywhere. So Miss Labragirl had a bit of a meltdown this morning and lost focus on her work. Dogs can lose their edge and teeter in their confidence just like people do. Some food and praise got her over the hump, and we went to the Mexican restaurant for lunch. We’ll do the short routes again tomorrow, not only to rebuild some confidence for Miss Labragirl but also to give my hip a little more time to quit nagging at me.
My dog isn’t the only one who has gotten worn out from training. Not so much physically worn out, but mentally exhausted. It’s a big emotional investment and a lot of mental focus. I’d started forgetting my dog’s name and calling her by the names of her three predecessors yesterday and today, as well as by my daughter’s name and even Alexa, for some reason. I’d gotten my rights and lefts mixed up a few times. So this afternoon, Miss Labragirl and I had a nice grooming session and a two-hour nap on the couch under the air conditioner.
She’s been quite stoic with her affection. That’s fine. I’m an introvert, too. I get it. She was in her puppy home for a very long time, so I’m a relative stranger to her. She may take a while to warm up to me. She’s got a very sedate, ladylike personality. But when we woke up on the couch, snuggled and sleepy, I found out how to crack that standoffish shell a bit.
Belly rubs! I’d done belly rubs with all my dogs, but Miss Labragirl takes them super seriously. Her whole body wiggles, and she’ll sprawl out and spin all the way around on her back, squirming till she gets your hand in just the right spot. Then all four paws wave in the air and stretch completely out, toes pointed, and she vibrates. It’s epic! She only does that for a few seconds; then she stops and curls up, like she remembers her dignity, you know, that she’s a lady and ladies don’t act like that. But if you start rubbing again, she’ll repeat the whole process.
So. My lady Lab and I are halfway through training, and we got this. 🙂
About the Author
Jo Elizabeth Pinto was among the first blind students to integrate the public schools in the 1970’s. In 1992, she received a degree in Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. While teaching students how to use adaptive technology, she earned a second degree in 2004 from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Nonprofit Management. She freelances as an editor and a braille proofreader and is a contributor of The Writer’s Grapevine Magazine where more such articles as this may be found.
As an author, Pinto entertains her readers while giving them food for thought. In her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she draws on personal experience to illustrate that hope is always an action away.
Pinto lives in Colorado with her husband, her preteen daughter, new Guide Dog and their pets.
Her website is: http://www.brightsideauthor.com.