Graduation and the First Week Home

Wow, so apparently I’ve fallen off the face of the planet…sorry!

Day 21 – Graduation
First, I can’t believe it’s been more than a week since graduation. I woke up thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe the day was finally here. Three weeks had gone by so fast, and I surely didn’t quite feel ready to face the real world yet. But, training at the school was over and it was time to present ourselves to the world.
After breakfast and graduation practice, we got to let all the dogs play together one last time. We all journeyed over to the community run and let the dogs be dogs 100%. We also had the freedom to pet and play with each other’s dogs. What fun it was!
Lunch was soon after, and then it was time to get ready for graduation. While I was putting the final touches on my ensemble, there was a knock at my door. My boss had come out to support me at the graduation! How incredibly sweet  He congratulated me, we hugged, and let our dogs meet, and then he was off to the hall, followed soon after by me.
We proceeded into the room, one by one, and stood at the front facing the audience. After each of our names were called, we sat down and put our dogs under our chairs. There were a few words spoken by the president and training director, and then it was time for the graduate speeches. First, my classmate sang a song he’d written for the school accompanied by his acoustic guitar. It was completely heartfelt and left the audience in tears. So sweet. Then it was my turn.

I walked up and tried to get my dog to settle. When she wouldn’t sit, I kind of gave up and began my speech. Halfway through it, I noticed Jingles was…a little distracted. She was giving kisses to my friend’s dog, who was doing her best to keep them settled. I paused in my speech, made a joke about Jingles having a boyfriend, and moved her to the other side of me. Then, I finished. I was pretty happy that I’d remembered all the words. After my speech, another classmate – a returning graduate – gave her speech. It was beautiful. Once the speeches were over, the certificates were given out to us and the puppy raisers, and the ceremony wrapped up.

We were each instructed to take the harnesses off our dogs, and then our puppy raisers were allowed to come up and meet us and see their darling dogs. I was excited to see that mine had come out to the graduation! She led me and Jingles out of the crowd to her group of friends – two of which had helped a lot in raising Jingles – and we went back to my room to talk.

I learned that Jingles had been raised in western NY by a lovely lady who also ran a dog watching and obedience training business. She brought me a gift bag with some treats and a bone for Jingles, and a lint glove and a photo book of Jingles’ life for me! It was so incredibly sweet 😀 We chatted for quite a while, and before I knew it, it was time for her to hit the road for the long drive back home. It was so wonderful to meet everyone who was such a crucial part of Jingles’ life. I definitely made some lasting friendships that day.

That evening, my classmates and I stayed up late (in school-time late was 11:00 pm ha), not wanting our time together to end. But, we all knew we had to go to bed eventually, and said one more good night.

-Going Home and the First Week –
There was a definite sadness in the air Sunday morning. We were all excited to get home, and yet, we knew that going home meant no more hanging out in between training with our dogs and after dinner in the evenings, sharing stories over coffee and laughing. The first van departed at 7:00 am. Those of us going later gave our classmates a hug, knowing that we may never see each other again, and wished each other well. The rest of us had one more breakfast at the school and wrapped up packing. I left at 9:00. The school was amazing and got me a car service from their door to mine! I gave my remaining classmates a hug and got into the car. What a bittersweet morning. Of course, it’s nice to go home…but the school was wonderful, and my classmates were fabulous. We shared so many moments, and I really think we built friendships that would take months, or even years, in a matter of weeks.

I chatted with the driver all the way back to Brooklyn, and before I knew it, I was home. The drive had only taken an hour…I still can’t believe I was so far away and yet, so close. Adam met me out front and we brought Jingles into her new home.

This first week was crazy, I’m not going to lie. It has been quite the adjustment for everyone. For three humans, a cat, a dog, and some rats in a 2 br apartment, things can get chaotic fast. We’ve had our ups and downs, but overall things are smoothing out. I think the biggest thing on my plate at home now is getting the cat and dog to get along. Jingles thinks Muffin’s a toy. Muffin is stressed out, and I love them both, so I get stressed out. I’m sure time will help them get used to living together. My hope is that one day they are cuddle buddies.

It took me a while, but I am starting to get used to the 5:30 am schedule…get up, shower, get the dog fed and parked, finish getting ready and get out the door…then to work, and back by around 6ish. Then dinner, take care of dog, and bedtime.

The first day I was back, I basically tried to get used to being home. I took Monday off, and with Adam’s help, taught the dog the route from my house to the subway.

Tuesday, Adam came with me to make sure I made it to work all right on my first day back. My work is basically the best job ever. I couldn’t ask for more understanding and caring colleagues. When I came back to work the first day, my boss had set up his crate under my desk, brought me toys, and bought me a new bed for the dog to sleep on. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Everyone welcomed me back warmly, hugging me and asking all about school. It took a little while to get adjusted back to work, but I’m in the swing of things now.

Thursday was Jingles’ first “public” appearance for a function at work. She did pretty well, considering she had to behave ALL day. Friday, I was completely drained, but after some sleep, the weekend was better.

Friday evening, I let Jingles off the leash in the house (the dogs have to be attached to you at all times for the first while home) and that helped relax both of us, I think. Saturday, Jingles and I went for our first long walk to nowhere in particular. It was really an amazing feeling. Its funny how with the stick, sure I could go for that walk, but would I ever want to? Absolutely not. With the dog, I stick out just as much, but it’s different. I have this living, breathing thing guiding me, thriving off my praise, wanting to please me. We’re in it together, and I don’t mind sticking out so much with Jingles by my side.

Sunday Adam, Jingles, and I ventured into the Sprint store to check out the new iPhone. Then we journeyed to Downtown Brooklyn, and after a little walk, we left Adam to finish his errands, and Jingles and I made our way through the subway, and back home.

Today – and I’ll stop droning on after this – I decided to venture into Duane Reade after work to pick up a prescription. Again, I probably would’ve never done this with my stick unless I had to, out of sheer embarrassment, but with Jingles it was an adventure. We got off the appropriate subway stop and made our way up to the surface. Aside from Jingles wanting to check out every trashcan (I’m still working on this one) and attempt to eat some nasty piece of bread, she did fabulous. I, on the other hand, have a little learning to do. I knew generally where the door was, but I went to the back entrance, so it was hard to tell exactly when to turn. With a little assistance from a person on the street, we made our way inside and got in line. I had to wait a few minutes while they filled it, but no one was nasty to me, which was nice. On the way out, I turned a little too soon and ended up in a waiting area. Again, after some help, we were out of the store and on our way. We walked the seven blocks home, through rush hour crowds, with no problems. I came home thrilled that I had accomplished this new adventure, as small as it may be, and did not feel the least bit like crying. It’s hard to imagine that only a month ago, I was coming home nearly in tears out of frustration walking with Bob. No offense man, but Jingles blows you out of the water, even if I can pack you away and don’t have to take you to the bathroom.

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Days 18, 19, 20

First off, graduation is tomorrow, and will be on live stream as well as uploaded to YouTube by Wednesday. You can view the ceremony (starting at 1:15 PM, maybe as late as 1:20) by going to the following links:

https://www.youtube.com/user/GuidingEyesGuideDogs

or

https://www.guidingeyes.org/prospective-students/guide-dog-services/student-experience/graduation/

Now, on to the rest of the week:

Weds. – Manhattan Day.
We left the school in two groups. One at 8:00Am, the other later. I was in the first group. We rode in the van to the area commuter rail station and took it down to Grand Central Terminal. Once we were at GCT, the work began. Jingles, myself, and an instructor walked through the terminal, weaving through hoards of people to the subway trains. Jingles did an awesome job. Once we were in close proximity, my instructor led me to the turnstiles (which I can apparently teach Jingles the name of later on) and showed me how to enter with her. First I swipe my card with Jingles behind me all the while telling her to stay. I then walk slowly through the turnstile holding her leash with my arm extended while I still tell her to stay. After I’m through I tell her to go, and she slides easily under the turnstile. It was really cool to see how easy it was for her. We practiced riding on the subway for a couple stops. It will take some practice, but I’m sure it will be easy in no time.

We got off at 59th and Lexington and then began walking. Jingles did great in the crowds. There were a few things I needed to work with her on, but for the most part, I did alright and so did she. Then, about halfway through our trip, Jingles was attacked by another dog! Oh my gosh, it was the worst. Apparently there was a lady walking with some kind of Labrador mix, who lunged at Jingles as we walked past. The woman managed to drag her dog away and my instructor got us out of danger. Unfortunately, the woman kept moving and didn’t even apologize or see if Jingles was okay. My instructor examined Jingles, who was okay, with only a little cut by her eye. She was shaken up though and nervous around dogs for the rest of that day. We made sure to give her positive reinforcement, and continued our walk.

We took the subway one more time, and then finished walking to the restaurant. Jingles was really great in the city. I just hate how she had that experience. I hope it’s the first and the last.

Yesterday, we went back to the small town that we had our night walk at and completed a route there. Jingles was fabulous, except for getting distracted by the smell of a coffee shop. Ironic that the smell that distracts her most seems to be coffee. Ha. Later that day, we went to the grocery store and walked the dogs through them. That was a fun experience. After the grocery store, we went to Petsmart and walked the dogs through. Pet stores can be tricky because there are so many dog friendly smells, but Jingles did really well, even getting a compliment by our class supervisor 

Today, we went to Mount Kisco (which I’m sure I’ve spelled wrong) and walked a loop around a shopping/business area. When we weren’t walking, we were chilling in Starbucks. Can’t complain about that  Again, my pup was great.

This afternoon, we practiced overhead obstacles again, which Jingles again avoided perfectly. We also practiced sidewalk closings, getting in and out of a car, and refreshed on the revolving door. After the work was done, we received our going home packets, class photos, and ID cards.

This evening we took a dog massage class. I know it sounds weird, but it really relaxed the dogs, and it was explained to us the importance of keeping our dogs from being stressed and also how reinforcing positive touch will help when the dog needs its nails clipped, for instance. We also learned how to tell if our dog is sick. Really cool stuff.

Anyway, it’s super late, and graduation is tomorrow, so good night 😀

Days 15, 16, 17 – Catching up

This week has gone by in a blur! I’ve been spending time with my fellow students every night, and when I get back to the room, I just fall into bed, so I apologize for not updating my blog as often as I’d like. I’m going to skim over days 15, 16, and 17 (sun-tues), and save yesterday, Manhattan day, for another post.

So, Sunday, Adam rented a car and came up to visit me. It was so fun being able to show him the grounds, where I spend my time, and of course, letting him meet Jingles. Adam is in love with my little Jingle Belle. However, for the first few weeks I’m back home, I can’t let him pet her too much, and oh my gosh is it hard to keep her all to myself! (if you’re wondering why that is, I’ve been building a bond with the dog since I’ve got her, and it’s very important that she bonds only to me, and doesn’t prefer a spouse or family member. After our relationship is secure, he can pet her and hang out with her, but never feed or give commands…there’s a little glimpse into guide dog world for ya). We had a blast. Adam and I left Jingles at the school (we were required to) and toured around Yorktown Heights. We got some food, sat at a park, found a Starbucks (yay for pumpkin spice lattes!) and went to the mall, where I showed him the escalators I rode with Jingles earlier that week. What a nice day 

Monday, it was back to work…though I can’t really remember what we did. I know we did some routes through White Plains, and oh yeah! I wanted to try going to Starbucks because this is what I do at home a lot. We took a route that would lead us to a nearby Starbucks, but when we got there…there was tons of construction. Turns out, the Starbucks was being remodeled and it had been shut down at 3 PM the day before! Ha. So, we went to a 711 instead, but it wasn’t quite the same. Oh, well.

Tuesday was a much more interesting day. It began with platform work. We went to the White Plains train station and practiced walking down the platform. You are supposed to walk with the dog closest to the edge, no matter which direction you’re going. This sometimes forces them to walk in the opposite flow of traffic, but it is ultimately safer for you. If there is no other choice, for instance, if the platform has only one edge and a wall, you have the dog follow the wall. Cool stuff. We also learned how the dog would react if we told it to go forward off the platform. The dog should back up and turn right to keep you safe. It’s still scary to me, even though Jingles was a champ. Edges just make me nervous.

In White Plains proper, each of us got to tailor our routes to be more like what we’d experience at home, or for things we’d like to work on. I wanted to do some indoor work, so off we went. First stop was Barnes and Noble, where I did get the chance to practice going to a Starbucks 😀 How fun to walk through the store and get a drink. We sat for a bit sipping our coffee, and then we exited into the shopping center, where we took an elevator to Target. In Target, we practiced going through the aisles and how to keep Jingles from sniffing the dog or human food. After target, we walked along White Plains for a bit. During the afternoon, we made sure to pass several outdoor eateries, because Jingles likes to sniff there and visit with people, so I wanted to practice keeping her from visiting. She did great.

On our way back, the instructor asked if we’d like to be dropped at a country road close to the school and walk back. Of course, we did. There were four students and guide dogs. We lined up in a row and were off. What fun traveling together!

That evening was a dinner catered by the local Lions club. We were seated throughout the dining room and spoke with the Lions seated near us. I had dinner with a lovely couple and their best friend. Initially, I was nervous about the dinner, but once I got to talking, it was really fun. They all were super nice. The wife in the couple even promised to send me something she crocheted for my house. Isn’t that the sweetest?

That’s the basic recap of days 15, 16, and 17. On a side note, I will be speaking for graduation 😀 I’ll post details later.

Days 12, 13, 14

Wow, time to catch up again…I’m behind by three days! Since it’s been so long, I’ll try to condense the activities so that this post doesn’t become a book.

Thursday was “country walk” day. This is when there are no sidewalks or curbs to go by, only roads. The technique would be most useful on rural routes (hence country walk), but is also useful in parks, on subway platforms, and really anywhere else you’d trail the side of a path. So, for a country walk, you follow the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Every so often you’ll have the dog stop, and then you turn left and have it find the edge of the road. Once you’ve found the edge, you continue walking. This is to ensure you remain on the left side of the road, as the dog/you can drift towards the center of the road at times. Another interesting thing about country travel is crossing intersecting roads. When you come to an intersection, you walk about 15 paces in, check the edge, then about face, and if no traffic, cross the road and continue traveling. This is good for safety and orientation.

Another awesome thing I learned Thursday is how to landmark. Utilizing rewards, you target an item, such as a mailbox or post, or even an indistinguishable place in the road. You give the dog a reward several times at the spot, and then back up, have the dog find it, and when it does, make a big fuss, tap the object and reward. The dog will then associate good things with the landmarked item and stop there to show you it. So cool!

Oh, and one more thing about Thursday…Jingles and I were practicing heeling with her little shoes on, so that she’s comfortable with them for when she needs to use them. We were walking up and down the hallway near my room, and Jingles was doing the funniest thing. When we’d walk up the hall, she’d heel perfectly, but when we’d turn to go the other direction (which faces an outside door), she’d only army crawl. The moment I turned and we walked back the other way, she’d be fine again. Turn again, and it was the army crawl. Haha, funny puppy. We’ll have to try that again before I leave.

Friday was insanely busy, which is why I’m so behind in my writing. First, we went off to a nearby small town to practice walking on crappy sidewalks. Jingles and I did pretty well, minus a few hang ups here and there. After the small town walk, it was back to the school to get ready for class pictures. Class pictures were quite the feat! Imagine trying to position 11 spunky dogs and their newbie owners in an organized fashion. But, the instructors with their magic touch were able to get all people and canines cooperating for a great photo 😀 We also got individual photos with our dogs taken, and many of us requested special photos of our dogs alone, so a picture of Jingles will soon be hanging in our house.

After class photos were vet visits. Each of us guessed our dog’s own weight before it was put on the scale. I was torn between 53 and 54 lbs. for Jingles’ weight, but guessed 54…and she weighs 53! Wow…can’t believe how close I came. Also, her birthday is Oct. 11, and she will be 2 next month. I thought she’d be a December baby with the name, but she’s an autumn girl  I also found out who her dog parents are. After the physical, I am happy to say that Jingles is in tiptop shape! After the physicals was a lecture about vet care and the dogs’ health needs. It was incredibly interesting and full of valuable information. This brought us to dinner.

Afterwards, we waited for a bit, and then it was back to the small town for a night time walk. The walk was awesome! It was so great being able to comfortably walk in the pitch black, knowing my dog would alert me to curbs and follow along the sidewalk. Amazing  That wrapped up Friday.

Today, we were back in White Plains. It was ridiculously hot outside, but we all still managed to get two routes in. One of the things we focused on was the “traffic check.” This is where the dog has to stop for a car, should it cut in front of you. This is done in a controlled fashion, with one of the instructors driving in front of you without warning. Jingles stopped immediately. How amazing that she should protect me from being hit by a vehicle!

While I was on one of my routes, it finally dawned on me…I had just avoided people, cars, poles, and followed the transition from wide to narrow sidewalks seamlessly while walking my normal, quick pace, thanks to Jingles. I can’t even believe it. With bob (stick), that block would’ve been torturous, but with Jingles, it was a breeze. I am in awe.

This evening, we began talking about graduation. I can’t believe in only one week, I will be finished here. Time has flown…

Days 10 and 11

The past couple of days have been awesome! I wanted to write yesterday, but was just not up to it. Unfortunately, when I don’t recount the day’s activities at its close, the days run together and I’m not sure which day held what. So, I apologize in advance if I accidentally repeat something; chances are I just thought it happened that day.

So yesterday, after our morning route, which was…okay (we still have a lot to work on), we all loaded into the vans and drove to a nearby mall, which I believe is JB mall (I may have gotten the name wrong). One by one we worked the dogs to the doors, through the doors, and to a table near a Starbucks kiosk. It’s a blast working the dog, especially when she brings me exactly to the object I want to go to. The purpose of this trip was to learn to ride escalators and get some experience walking in indoor shopping areas. One of the assistants told me that it was priceless to watch people riding the escalators, minding their business, only to look down and see a pack of dogs lying under the tables below. Hilarious.

When it was my turn, I listened to the instructions of what to do, and after being lined up with the escalator by my instructor, told Jingles to go to the stairs. She immediately came to the escalator, and I practiced the moves I was taught about riding. You have to check the hand rail and make sure the escalator is going the right way, count to three, and give your dog the command to come with you, while you are not holding the harness handle (basically this command is for the dog, not the guide work dog). The dog steps on, and you tell her to stay, stretch your arm way out so you can feel the escalator changing its slope near the top or bottom, and when you feel this, begin walking and tell the dog to come with you. After you’re off the escalator, the harness handle is picked up, and you’re on your way. Jingles did great, and I think I did alright too. After the escalator, we practiced walking in the mall, which is interesting, because in indoor spaces I am constantly having to tell her to slow down so we don’t run shoppers down, haha. She did fairly well, except for trying to eat a pretzel off the floor and trying to visit with one couple. From there, we practiced going up and down regular stars.

After arriving back at campus, the van dropped us at a different entrance. Obstacles were set up by the instructors, and we worked our dogs from the van to our rooms. Jingles did wonderfully, although I had to slow her since we were indoors, but it took all of 20 seconds to go down both hallways to my door. So fun!

In the evening, my classmates and I attended an introductory yoga class. The yoga instructor showed us a few breathing techniques and stretches to loosen up our bodies. It was pretty neat to learn the stretches, though I can’t remember half of them.

Today was wonderful. It wasn’t quite as warm as the past few days, which made the routes more enjoyable for everyone. The first route Jingles and I went on was an extended route to what we usually do inn White Plains. Things went pretty well. Jingles got distracted a couple of times, but after having a quick training session with an instructor the night before (forgot to mention this) in how to handle the situation, I did better and we had a great walk. Our afternoon route was super fun. First we walked a different way than usual, and then made our way to Macy’s, where I walked with Jingles through various departments, including the china section. We rode down an escalator too and eventually found our way out. She did great 😀 After Macy’s, we walked through a crowded area with benches and fountains. Jingles rocked it, only getting distracted once. Looks like she’ll be great in crowds! What a fun adventure.

This evening I spent some time hanging with my classmates. It’s amazing the comradery that has developed. Even though our ages span generations, we’re all on the same playing field and have tons of experiences to share with each other. I’m really going to miss these folks. One of the girls could see well enough to do nails, and began painting some of our nails for pictures, which will take place on Friday. We sat and laughed and had a ball. Then, later I practiced some heeling with Jingles around the building, and here I am.

Oh, I think I may have forgotten to mention in previous posts that Jingles is definitely the dog I walked with that first day, no doubt about it. We were meant to be, absolutely: D

Oh, and one more thing…last night, I began the #2 pickup technique…gross. But, the pooch does so much for me, what’s picking up a little poop here and there? I figure, give it a few days, and I’ll be poop-bagging with the pros. I know, I really should have left this post at the last thought before the poop bagging…sorry 😛

Day 9

Today, obedience training was changed. Now that we’ve got the basic commands down, we are working on obedience with distractions (such as other dogs, birds, food etc.) present. This is really important because in the real world, distractions happen…often, and it is crucial to know how to turn your dog’s focus back to work. Jingles was very distracted initially, but once I took out the food, was completely attentive to me. Good progress. Hopefully I can learn how to handle distractions too, haha.

In White Plains, another student and I got to work in “doubles.” This is where two guide dog users are traveling together, which happens more often than you might think, once you are plugged in a community. In a double, one person (and dog) take the lead while the other team follows. At each curb, the lead switches off. I believe this is to keep balance with the dogs, but I can’t really remember. It was super muggy and getting hot fast, but Jingles and I did awesome: D in fact, when we returned the trainer and the other student (who is here for her fourth guide) both commented on how well we did! The trainer said we acted more like we were in our third week, and the student was very impressed, considering this is my first guide. I’m glad Jingles is impressing folks on route, because she is certainly testing me on down time, not listening to commands and poking at other dogs. Of course, that’s probably just because I’m not trained well enough yet to control her. I’ve remarked a few times to other students that we’re not really training the dogs, but rather, they are training us.

We went for two doubles routes total. Jingles was a little more distracted during the second route, and was also super tired because it was so both. I felt so bad for her, but she’s had plenty of time to sleep since then.

This afternoon, Jingles got a “quad” of dog bootie shoes for when it’s too hot or cold out. She was totally fine with me putting the shoes on, and walked pretty well with them on (apparently every dog’s reaction is different). But when we were heading to the hallway to practice her walking in the shoes, she took off in a sprint, slid, and fell down. Poor thing, but it was hilarious. Here we are, 9 dogs prancing down the hallway in a row wearing shoes and doing the silliest things because they’re not used to them. It was so freaking cute.

Now we are doing a new thing during meals where we rotate who is bringing their dog to the meal. Today 5 of us brought our dogs to breakfast, and the other four brought them to dinner, while we left ours in the room. It was actually rather weird not to have Jingles beside me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the room after dinner.

We played a bit in the evening, and now she’s sleeping in her bed, and I am following soon after.

Until tomorrow…keep on truckin’! 😛