Thankful for Safety | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 12

At church this morning, we were introduced to an off duty police officer who will be on guard during services.  It was a project, according to our pastor, that has been in progress for several months now, and not something that was motivated by recent events, though recent events certainly make me consider the change in a different light than I would have before.

The knowledge that an armed officer will be standing at the entrance of our sanctuary both leaves me thankful, and a little sad.  Thankful because I don’t see any reason why we should leave ourselves and our church family open to attack.  Perhaps the recent shootings in Texas, Nashville, and South Carolina could have been avoided had their been an armed guard already on sight at the time of the event.  Indeed, the attacks in Texas and Nashville very likely resulted in fewer casualties due to the nearby presence of a courageous, armed citizen.  Thus, I am thankful that our church family, at least, is no longer as vulnerable.

Still, my heart aches a little at the realization that we have to take such measures.  It aches for the lives already lost in the church families that have seen bloodshed.  It aches for the knowledge that we are so much deeper in our sin than we know, or perhaps than we can even comprehend.  It aches a little too, in a nostalgic sort of way, for the sleepy little village churches of American antiquity, doors open and lights on, ready to welcome any sin-weary wanderer to be received, forgiven, and renewed by the transforming power of Jesus.  Somehow, a church sanctuary with an armed guard at post outside of it doesn’t give me the same welcoming vibe, but then, perhaps those sleepy little churches of American antiquity are figments of my imagination anyway.

Either way, I’m not willing to sacrifice members of our church family merely for the sake of a potentially more “welcoming vibe”, so I’m back to being thankful.  We don’t live in a culture now where it is prudent to go unprotected, certainly not in a city of 700 thousand, and I trust Jesus when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Protecting one another is part of loving one another, so even in a day an age when we must set armed guards outside of our sanctuaries to protect our church family from attack, I am convinced that Jesus’ love will shine through, and for that, I am also thankful.

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.

A Second Journey: Update on Oleta

Many of you have asked where Oleta will be staying and what she will be doing during my absence.  I was hoping to get something directly from her and post it here, but I’m afraid she does not have access to a computer or phone and so I will have to do the updating I’m afraid. 🙂

For the first few days, Oleta stayed with my Dad.  She was actually able to go into work with him, and made quite a few new acquaintances during her time in the office.  Over the weekend, she visited with her friend Dozer, a family friend’s chocolate lab, though Dad did say that even that get together didn’t cheer her up, she’s been missing me so much.  That makes me so sad, because I can’t phone her and tell her that I will be back soon, and that she doesn’t have to worry, but then again, I can’t even seem to convince myself of that so I guess it’s a lost cause anyway.  It’s also comforting in a way, to know that she is missing me as much as I am missing her.  I’m not really alone in this, even though it feels like it sometimes.

Monday, my Mom took her for a walk and then met up with a puppy raiser from Guiding Eyes, who was driving one of her puppies up to New York.  With a little coaxing from Mom, Oleta jumped into the crate in the back of the puppy raisers van, next to her travel buddy Hendrix, a five month old German Shepherd pup.  Later, Mom got a call from Guiding Eyes, assuring her that Oleta will be spoiled rotten at the GEB kennels.  She has a roommate, goes out to play with the other dogs multiple times a day, will get a thorough check up from the vet there, and will be worked several times a week by the trainers.

I hate to think of her there, worrying that I abandoned her, but I am glad that Guiding Eyes is so willing to go above and beyond to care for my sweet guide and dearest companion.  I’m sure the work with the trainers will do her good; getting into harness is something she wouldn’t be able to do if she were staying with my family, so I’m very pleased that she will have that opportunity.  Work is always a great distraction, and this way Oleta and I will both have plenty to keep us occupied.

I am still aching for her, but I am glad that she is safe and in good hands and paws.  I hope that this can somehow prove to be a regenerative period for both Oleta and I, and that our bond can only grow stronger during our separation.  I love you Oleta.

Ponderings With Oleta Renee: Saying Yes to Less Stress

Shea is worried about her visa, and it’s proving very distracting for her.  She was too busy Thursday morning sending an email to the British consulate to give me breakfast at the proper time… (And for your future reference, when stress gets the best of breakfast, it’s become much too serious and there must be an intervention… or at least some kibble).  In any case, while I was waiting for my food, I thought I’d explore this topic of stress a bit further.

Being a guide dog can be stressful.  I’ve got a lot to worry about.  Why?  Because the entire success of my job depends on my ability to keep my mom alive and uninjured on a daily basis.  That’s a big responsibility!

And the thing is, it’s not like we’re dancing through fields of daisies every day kind of protection.  It’s like, “there is a giant bus coming straight for us and I have to get us out of the way now!” kind of protection.  Yeah!  And you thought you had worries!

Still, traffic checks have been so drilled into me that I deal with those situations with pure instinct.  I don’t have time to worry.  It’s a split second decision to figure out how to keep us breathing, and whatever that looks like, I do it.  There are other aspects of my life and career that worry me more.  It’s those times when Mom is on the floor sobbing hysterically about the horrors of sophomore year (and they are horrifying.  We’ll tell you about them sometime), or when she is on the floor comforting someone else sobbing hysterically about the horrors of sophomore year, or when she ends up in the hospital for two and a half days for emergency surgery (yep, that happened)

On a slightly less catastrophic scale though, there are those moments when Shea and I are traveling in an unfamiliar area, and Shea gives me confusing directions (because she doesn’t know where she’s going.  If she would just let me take the leash I’d be where we needed to go in no time)… or when she tells me to find the piano in a room full of people watching us (for juries and other performances.  Seriously, you have no idea how much pressure that is).

Of course, in all of those situations, it’s not just me that’s worried… it’s Shea as well, and with a relationship as close as our’s, it’s a given that her emotions are my emotions, and vice versa.  That’s two times the stress, folks.  In dog therapy circles that’s called “unhealthy”.

But there is Good News.  Amidst all this worry, there is a God, a sovereign King, the ultimate pack leader who cares deeply about us, and our stress levels.  In the book of Psalms (Psalm 55:22) God’s Word tells us to “Cast your burden on the Lord , and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

In First Peter 5:6-7, we are reminded to, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Whether you are guiding your blind owner on a busy city street, overwhelmed with school work, fretting for a loved-one in the hospital, performing on a stage, waiting for a decision on a visa application that will decide the fate of your mission trip, your worries have not gone unnoticed.  God knows our troubles, and He wants us to place them in his hands, because He loves us.  He does not want us to be burdened with the cares of the Earth, but focussed on the joys of Heaven.

So God’s asking us to trust Him.  He wants to bless us with the gift of less stress… and I guess it’s time we said yes.