Good morning Everyone!
Author Jo Elizabeth Pinto is back with a wonderful adventure to share.
This comes from The Writer’s Grapevine community of which Jo is a member and contributor.
If you’d like to join us continue reading after Jo’s offering is done.
Going for a Wander
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
I trained with my first guide dog in the spring of 1993. Having a leash or a harness handle in my left hand has become almost second nature to me over the last twenty-seven years. It was something I didn’t even think about anymore—at least till I unexpectedly had to give it up.
When I suddenly had to retire Anlyn, my sweet yellow Labrador, right before her seventh birthday last spring, I felt as if I’d lost a piece of my heart, and strangely, a piece of my body as well. There was a gaping emotional hole where my dog had been, and my independence was gone. But beyond that, it actually seemed like part of my left side was missing. I reached out to pet Anlyn and felt nothing. I talked to empty air and heard only silence.
At first, the plan was to get me into training with a new guide in a few months. But the Coronavirus put the whole world in a tailspin. Winter is upon us now, and it may be another year or more before I’ll get to meet my next guide dog.
I hadn’t intended to make room in my life for another dog besides my guide, especially not a shelter dog. I’ve taken in rescues before, and I know how much work they are. I prefer broken-in models, if it’s all the same. Guide dogs come to their handlers very well behaved, thanks to the puppy raisers who take on the arduous tasks of housebreaking, obedience training, and socialization. I’m too old for all that drama.
But there’s nothing on this planet like canine love. And after months of starving for it, I began following the listings at the local animal shelter. I wasn’t really looking, I assured myself. If nothing came of the search, that was fine. But if the right dog turned up, our family would be open to the possibilities.
The week after Thanksgiving, Mindi–a ravishing little Labrador bull terrier mix–pranced into our lives. She’s got the sleek black Labrador coat with white on her belly and the strong shoulders, long neck and nose, egg-shaped head, and perky ears of a bull terrier. She weighs thirty pounds right now and stands about knee high. Judging by the size of her paws, she might not grow much taller, but she’ll fill out a bit more and put on another fifteen or twenty pounds over the next year or so.
The shelter definitely fudged Mindi’s credentials to get her into a home. She’s housebroken, but only just. She may have learned a few obedience commands somewhere along the way, but she’s pretty much forgotten them. She does know how to walk on a leash, which is a plus. Mostly that’s because of her sweet nature, though, not because of any training she’s had. She began life as a stray, and her love of all things outdoors is still strong.
On the positive side, she’s playful, affectionate, eager to please, and incredibly smart. Everything else can be worked out. My husband and I both have a good deal of dog training experience, and neither of us are about to back out on what we’ve begun. We might not have signed up for the job if we’d known what we were getting into before we started. But Mindi has stolen our hearts, and as we told our daughter, once you make a promise, there are very few reasons to go back on your word.
One sunny morning about a week after Mindi joined the family, the two of us went for a walk. I snapped on her leash, grabbed a jacket, and stepped out onto the front porch.
"Let’s do this, Mindi girl!" I encouraged her as we approached the steps. "It’s a beautiful day …"
Then I froze. I was so accustomed to the feeling of a leash in my hand that I’d forgotten Mindi wasn’t a trained guide dog. She wouldn’t stop to show me where the porch steps were. She wouldn’t pause at curbs or be mindful of traffic.
"Uh oh!" I turned back toward the house, causing the dog to whine and tug at the leash. "Wait a second. I better grab a cane. I forgot; you don’t have the right skill set to keep me safe out here."
A moment later, white cane in my right hand and leash in my left, I made my way down the porch steps. Mindi and I followed the short sidewalk to the street, turned right and proceeded to the corner, then turned right again. That’s when I learned my next lesson–from a snowy evergreen bush that brushed against my elbow. I avoided the bush as an obstacle to hurry past. But Mindi paused to sniff at its lower branches, snorting as she was rewarded with a snout full of snow and juniper needles.
When you travel with a guide dog, your focus is on getting from one point to the next. Short time, straight line, all business. Guide dogs are taught not to sniff, not to be distracted, not to mess around. They’ve got work to do. But as I walked with Mindi, my cane did the job of preventing me from tripping on cracks in the sidewalk or bumping into obstacles. The whole point of the trip was for my dog to sniff fences, bushes, sign poles, and anything else that grabbed her interest as we enjoyed the day.
We only strolled halfway around the block and back home. We took our time. The sun was warm; the breeze was fresh. We stopped to say hello to a woman with a Chihuahua and two men admiring a new car one of them had just bought. Mindi sniffed and meandered, and I let my mind wander.
The dedicated people who raise and train guide dogs perform miracles, teaching those shepherds, retrievers, and other pooches to ignore their natural instincts so they can make sure blind people get where they need to go safely and quickly. As Mindi explored, it struck me what a daunting job those puppy raisers and trainers have before them. It’s in the very fiber of the being of dogs to sniff everything they encounter and often urinate on it besides; it’s what they do. Then too, it’s in the nature of many human beings to be driven, anxious, and in pursuit of empty goals. Sometimes, it’s good for human beings to put aside their inclinations to hurry and worry as well.
Two-legged creatures ought to take a hint from their four-legged counterparts now and then: Why not grab twenty minutes on a December afternoon to stroll in the sunshine, check out the day, and see who you meet along the way? Oh, and catch a nap afterward. Life is good!
I’d love to hear about your adventures with your pets. To contact me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s Jo Pinto at MSN.com
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