Monday, July 27, 2009

A Day in the Life of… a Guide Dog in Class!

A Guide Dog team followed by an instructor.
Readers: This is part of a series of articles originally published in our Community Connections Newsletter. We are reprinting them here for your enjoyment. Click on the "A Day in the Life" label link to list the entire series (see Labels section, right hand side).

I passed all my final exams with flying colors! I know if my raiser Abby was here she would be so proud of me. I’m told that next I will go to class. I am anxious to find out exactly what that means. Over the past four months I’ve grown very close to the Canine Welfare Technicians (who take care of me), my fellow Guide Dog in training buddies, and most of all, my instructor. She has taught me so much and I know I’ll make her proud in class. Here comes a CWT now to get me. “Is it time? Is it time?” No, instead we’re going into the bathing room. Not my favorite place on campus, but I’ve learned to tolerate it. The aloe and oatmeal shampoo does leave my coat silky soft. I’m sure the CWT will also clean my teeth and ears and brush my coat. I’ve learned that it is important for me to hold very still for these rituals. I’m even comfortable having my nails clipped. Wow, have I matured!

I’m back in my kennel, and I can feel the excitement in the air. Something about today is different. This must be the day I’ve been hearing about…Dog Day. It sounds like a celebration of me and what could be better! Here comes my instructor. “Is it time? Is it time?” Yes! As I walk in perfect heel with my instructor she gives me a few words of encouragement and advice. “You’re no longer a puppy. Today you become an adult with big dog responsibilities. Everything you have learned has led you to this experience. Today you will meet the person with whom you will spend the rest of your life. This person is special and needs you to perform a very special task. We all believe in you. Remember your training and believe in yourself.” As we walk into the large building know as the dormitory I can smell many people I’ve never met before. Some of my Guide Dog buddies are here too and have already been paired with people. My instructor is leading me to the Music Room where I can only pick up one person’s scent. My person! I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. I have to sniff him up and down, give him a few licks, and really let him know how happy I am to meet him. He also seems very excited and has tears of joy in his eyes as he runs his hands along my sides in such a gentle manner. I know in this moment that we will have a very special relationship. My person, Kevin, takes the leash from my instructor and gives his first command, “heel”. I am still so excited that it is difficult to stay in heel position as we walked to our room. 

We spent the rest of the day playing, cuddling, and practicing heel position. Kevin prepared and fed me my dinner before having his and then off to bed. Before I knew it we were up and starting the next day. Kevin prepared my breakfast and took me to a place called the “relieving circle”. There were eleven other of my buddies there who had been paired to people. We all motioned our quiet “good mornings” and got to business. After Kevin ate his breakfast we met in a large comfortable area called The Day Room. I got to take my mid-morning nap while the people talked about important things like crossing streets and re-working errors. After another opportunity in the relieving circle (I always use my opportunities…wouldn’t want to have an accident!) we boarded a bus and drove away from campus. I really wanted to lie down and nap more, but Kevin preferred me to sit. I could understand that we were practicing for something. The bus eventually stopped and we got off. Kevin gently slipped the harness over my head as I stood very still. He picked up the harness and commanded me forward. Although he sounded very authoritative, I knew that if it wasn’t safe I would disobey even the most confident command. My instructor had taught me the concept of “Intelligent Disobedience” well. This time there we no obstructions or hazards. I stepped forward and pulled firmly into the harness. Kevin followed hesitantly at first but eventually relaxed and walked by my hips. We flew down the sidewalk. I showed Kevin how well I knew to stop at curbs and cross the street strait as an arrow. Each time we reached an up-curb Kevin stroked my chest and gave me a kibble. I loved that I was pleasing Kevin, but I can’t lie…the kibble was the icing on the cake! What a great first walk. We reloaded the bus and drove back to campus. After lunch (Kevin’s, not mine. Drat!) we did it all over again. 

That night I feel fast asleep on my fleece mat next to Kevin’s bed, and had dreams about what the rest of class would hold for us. I dreamt that I took Kevin to all my favorite places: downtown San Rafael which I know like the back of my paw, Fisherman’s Wharf where the smells never quit, and The Embarcadero where I can show off my acute awareness of the dangers of platform drop-offs. I went on to dream about being on a great stage with both Abbey and Kevin. Many people were applauding us with tears in their eyes. What a great feeling! I can’t wait to graduate and walk proudly onto that stage. I hope to see you there too!

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