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 8|A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White Plains Building

There are days I just have to step back and marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team.  Dogs don’t naturally walk in straight lines.  They don’t naturally refuse to chase other animals or deny themselves food lying on the ground.  Most dogs don’t want to spend their days forging a path through pedestrians on crowded sidewalks, locating curbs, and playing in traffic… and yet these dogs do.  They love their job, and most, if not all guide dogs, seem to realize at one point or another that they aren’t just doing this for the food reward.  These are the sort of dogs that Guiding Eyes breeds, raises, and trains, and I feel so blessed to be able to experience life with now two of them.

Prim had a number of things thrown at her today.  It is only our sixth day together and we had two major traffic checks, plus a skateboard check (yep, skateboard. You read that correctly), escalators, crowded, narrow sidewalks, indoor work, and major distractions in the dog food isle at CVS.  That “major distraction” took the form of my class supervisor (who is also Oleta’s trainer and my instructor from 2011) tempting Prim with all sorts of very appealing squeaky toys while we did puppy push ups (sit, down, sit, down, sit, down, sit).  It was pretty hard not to look, and she definitely did struggle to listen to a couple of my commands, but we got through it well enough.  Honestly… can you imagine trying to concentrate while people danced around you with Chic-Fil-A and gift cards for pedicures and the latest technology gizmos, or whatever tempting treat might strike your fancy, and be expected to keep working at the same high performance without ever lunging for one of those waffle fries or gift cards or iPhones?  Mm… Chic-Fil-A… I discovered today that Chic-Fil-A doesn’t exist in this area, bless their hearts.  Anyway, what was I talking about?

Prim handled it all very well.  I was impressed with the way she dealt with the traffic checks.  One was on the left side of the street with a legal right turner.  She saw it coming ahead of time and stopped about ten feet away from the car.  The second was a car turning very illegally on the wrong side of the road.  That was slightly more startling to me as it was completely unexpected, but Prim just came to an abrupt halt, let the car pass, and continued to the curb.  It didn’t seem to throw her at all.  She got a cookie and lots of praise upon reaching the sidewalk.  She did her job very well.

Prim loves escalators.  I am sure that her trainers used a great deal of positive reenforcement with them, as they can be scary for some dogs at first, but I think Prim also just likes the ride.  She did very well pulling me to the edge of the metal plate and showing me exactly where the escalator started.  She is brilliant with targets.  When she hears the name of a familiar target (like the steps in this case) and recognizes it, she is there and fast, and she doesn’t stop pulling until we are all the way on top of it.  Since I have practically no vision, this is extremely helpful for me, because she makes it very clear where whatever I am looking for is, whether it be the curb, the escalator, the door, etc.

We are still working on slowing down a tad in certain situations.  For example, when we entered the CVS in the afternoon, we were moving so quickly the automatic doors didn’t quite have a chance to open all the way, so I got clipped by the still slightly closed sliding door.  We also had to slow in the isles so as not to knock any displays or innocent bystanders to the floor.  On our way back from CVS, we had a slight sniffing distraction with some trash cans (which, in her defense, did smell very strongly!), but as my instructor observed, Prim seems very responsive to my voice and a “Prim, leave it” was all she needed to get going again.

Shortly after that we crossed a street, made a right, and then I felt Prim angle over to the left a bit toward a building.  She approached the wall of the building, then made a quick right and continued along the block.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, until my instructor came up from behind to inform me that Prim had seen herself in a glass wall.  Apparently, Prim got all puffy and upset like, “who’s that over there?!”, until she realized it was her own reflection, got embarrassed, and quick changed her direction like, that didn’t just happen.  We laughed all the way back to the White Plains building.  There are days you have to marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team, and then there are days you just have to laugh… and with Prim, that’s every day.  This dog cracks me up.

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.”

A Second Journey: THe Awesome and the Unexpected, Part 2

Wednesday was more Glasgow leaflet distribution in the morning, followed immediately by a school presentation at Saint Margaret’s, a catholic secondary school in Airdrie. The team split up into three groups, and we were each assigned two combined classes to speak for 45 minutes. Having really only prepared for five minute presentations, we were a bit worried that we would have difficulty filling the time. My partner and I did run a bit early, but only by about 5 minutes. Our class was quite quiet and not too interested in conversation. I was blanking on questions to stimulate conversation, so I talked a little bit more about who we were and mentioned that I was a vocal performance major. Of course, the request for a song soon followed. I chose the same song, Amazing Grace, I sang in my presentations last year, and gave an explanation for my choice before hand. My partner joined me in harmony, it seemed appreciated by class and teacher alike. Perhaps the music spoke to our audience in a way that our stumbling words could not.
A few minutes after we said goodbye to the class and went downstairs to find our fellow teammates, the bell went off, and let me just say… this was not the kind electronic tone you heard at my high school. It was an ear-splitting, old-fashioned fire alarm style bell, and it was terrifying! As much as I tried to maintain my composure, I think I jumped about three feet each time it happened.
Our team mates, it seemed, got much chattier classes, and had some really interesting conversations about salvation, sin, and several other topics.
By Wednesday night, two of our team mates, including our fearless leader, were deathly ill, so we took Thursday morning off so that they could get some rest. Two of us wandered about Airdrie for a couple of hours, going to the library to work for a bit and browsing through charity shops. As we were walking down one street, we passed a lady outside of the Chunky Monkey cafe with a very happy puppy. Obsessed as I am about dogs at the moment, we stopped to say hi. In asking questions about her dog, the lady heard our American accents and asked what we were doing so far from home. We answered that we were on a mission team at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian church, fully expecting her to then further inquire as to what exactly a mission team does, and were we Christians, etc. Instead, she smiled and put out her hand.
“ Well,” She said, “Nice to meet you girls. That’s my church.”
“ What?” My friend and I gasped, completely taken aback.
“Aye.” She affirmed. “I have been going there for several months now.”
She continued, telling us that her husband, who had previously been quite indifferent to the Gospel had also started coming with her to the services. She said that she and her husband had recently begun having conversations about faith on a much deeper level than they ever had before. We shared in her excitement at this, and chatted for a while longer, getting to know her a bit. They were on holiday the Sundays we attended the services in Airdrie, which is why she didn’t recognize us. Hopefully though, she and her husband will be at church on the 28th, and I, at least, will be able to see her again.
So strange! Of all the random people we could encounter on the street, it’s one of the Airdrie congregation that we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet! I mean, what are the chances? The Airdrie congregation is relatively small, and we only stopped to talk to her because of her dog, as awful as that sounds… I’m so glad we did though! God sure does have a way with the unexpected!
To be continued tomorrow though, as I am unexpectedly exhausted.

Scotland Trip: GOd Can Speak Through Bagpipes… Who Knew!

I am currently sitting in the window of my hostess, Beth’s house, as the sun is out and feels so lovely after the damp chill of the outdoors earlier.  Today has mostly been cold and rainy, as many days are here I suppose.  Still, I enjoy the crisp air.  It reminds me of fall.

So yes, after a lot of hassle and stress, we arrived yesterday at around 9:30 Am, Scotland time.  There were many moments Friday night when I thought I might not be here today after all, what with terrible traffic, ratchet rest stops, packed parking lots, clueless airport check in agents, and of course the constant fear that they might reject Oleta’s paperwork for some obscure reason, I was a little worried, but we did get there in the end, and I knew we would.  On the way to the airport, and as I went through the checking in, security routine, I was sick with nervousness, for several reasons, but through all of it I had the underlying sense that no matter what went wrong, this was God’s plan, and he would redeem every situation for his purposes.  With that knowledge, I tried to calm down, though I still couldn’t bring myself to b excited exactly.

That is, until we reached the gate, where we were greeted with this:


And it finally hit me.  The music was in celebration of the fact that this was the first direct flight from Philladelphia to Edinburgh, offering the passengers and flight crew an early welcome to Scotland, but to me, it felt like a welcome from GOd.  I heard his voice in it, rejoicing in this new experience in my life, and the way it has and will continue to draw me closer to him, assuring me of his blessed sovereignty through everything.  I needed assurance, and encouragement, and He knew there was no better way to provide those things to me than through music.  He is so awesome!

With that boost of confidence, my anxiety melted away, and I felt much more secure hugging my Dad goodbye and taking my seat on the plane.  As we taxied onto the runway, I marveled at God’s providence, the way He had brought me here despite all of my stumblings and lack of trust, and how incredible it was that our All-powerful, All-loving God would choose to work through me, through any human, to achieve his purposes.  God is, as I said, all powerful.  He doesn’t really need us to do anything, but He loves us, and wants us to participate in His perfect plan, even if we do mess up and make things more complicated sometimes.  That is also awesome! 

In that moment too, I realized that this trip will change my life.  In what ways, I don’t know, but I know that I will return to the States different, with new purpose and fresh direction.  I hope others will be changed by it also.

So, after a 40 minute delay due to air traffic, we took off, and were in the air, headed to the Scottish city of Edinburgh.  They served dinner, and I ate half of my hard tack roll, and a bit of my oatmeal raisin cookie, but left the chicken and very sad salad alone.  I couldn’t eat much, partly because I was still full from dinner, which probably hasn’t ever happened before in my life, and mostly because I was too occupied to be hungry.

After dinner, I curled up with my airline pillow and blanket and tried to sleep.  About 2 and a half hours later, I awoke to the sound of the speaker, as a flight attendant announced breakfast.  Groggily, I accepted orange juice and a cynamin muffin from the stewardess, and checked my clock to see that it was about 3:30 in the morning Maryland time.  I guess it was Maryland time… who knows.

An hour on, and we were touching down onto the runway of the Turnhouse airport in Edinburgh.  I could not believe it!  We were in Scotland!

Oleta and I disemBARKED (haha, get it?), and found our way to the immigration people.  They asked only a few questions, stamped my passport, and I settled down with a friendly airport employee, Fiona, I seem to remember, to wait for the department of agriculture person to come check Oleta’s paperwork.  After an hour of friendly conversation and confused phone calls, someone called to inform us that we had to go to another room to have her checked, so, huffing and puffing on my behalf, an entire entourage of employees escorted me to the room in question, and got Oleta processed and verified.  Finally, Fiona, Oleta, and I headed out to the luggage area, and found my team leader and our host church’s secretary waiting for us there.

I am cursed with being a very detailed writer. It is late, again, and I shall have to complete this account tomorrow.  I will try to make my posts a bit briefer in the future.

Right then.  Good night.