Happy Anniversary Jingles!

One year ago today, I received one of the greatest gifts of my life. I knew I was getting a guide dog as I sat nervously with my classmates in the lecture hall at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, but little did I know I would receive so much more. That day, I received a gift, which held many other gifts. I received independence, self-confidence, adventure, laughter, acceptance, and an unconditionally loving best friend. All these gifts came wrapped in a ball of yellow fur, brown eyes, and a black nose with a little pink in the center. My little yellow lab, just over 50 pounds, a little doll with a big job.

Ah my Jingle-Belle. During those first few weeks of having Jingles attached to me at all times, trying to learn all the commands, and wrap my mind around my sudden doubling in width, I had no idea just how much she would bring to my life. I don’t think it’s possible to understand what having a guide dog can truly mean until getting one and going through the process of bonding. Jingles and I have had so many adventures over the past year – from mundane (to most) activities like going to the hairdresser or visiting a coffee shop to taking up running and tandem biking to discovering new places in the city and traveling alone. We’ve laughed together (if a dog could laugh) when I do something embarrassing or after she very proudly shows me she’s found what I was looking for by wagging her tail until she nearly hops off the ground. We’ve cried together (at least I cried) over frustrations, confusions, and life in general. We’ve overcome challenges – from Jingles’ and Muffin’s (cat) less than amiable relationship for the first several months to sniffing episodes when presented with the boatloads of trash and doggie smells that come with the territory of living in Brooklyn to walking on ice for a solid month in -5 degree temperatures last winter. We’ve shared plenty of love and kisses, and every day I am truly amazed at her intelligence.

As I reflect on the last year, I realize how much I have changed. The Rebekah of August 2014 is completely different than the Rebekah of now. I was still going through the stages of grief regarding losing my much cherished sight. Halfway in denial, I would wander in and out of anger, bargaining, and depression. I’m not saying I was a miserable mess, but I certainly wasn’t in the place I am now. Today, I feel like I really have moved into acceptance. I rarely find myself angry at my condition, and only feel a twinge of sadness occasionally. Now, I even make jokes about myself, and laugh about the challenges I face and the peculiarities I exhibit as a result of my own journey through blindness. I know it was Jingles who helped me over this seemingly never ending hump. Having her by my side, guiding me through the obstacles of daily life inadvertently guided me through the emotional obstacles of grappling with the physical condition I never wanted to accept. She restored my confidence and made me more like, well, me.

Last Sunday, I was lounging on the bed petting Jingles when Adam remarked “that dog is your favorite thing in the world.” He pretty much hit the nail on the head. While I love Muffin from the bottom of my heart, there is just something extra special about the relationship one shares with their guide dog.

Happy Anniversary Jingles! Here’s hoping we have many, many more!

Broadway Bound

On Thursday, Adam Jingles, and I went to the Broadway play “You Can’t Take it with You,” starring James Earl Jones. The play is based off the old movie featuring Jimmy Stewart (I believe it came out in 1938), and was a special audio described showing, made possible through HAI’s Describe! Program.

It was a frigid day, so I had Jingles sporting her blue winter sweater as we traveled. We met Adam at Grand Central Terminal, on the subway train platform. This is an easy way to meet up with someone, as finding each other in the huge abyss of Grand Central can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Since I had my husband-man, I heeled Jingles alongside of me. This is nice to do sometimes because I can still hold Adam’s hand and talk with him while keeping my pup with us. As a side note, I have found that going sighted guide with Adam has had no ill effects on Jingles’ performance, save for us not learning whatever route we are taking that day. She switches right back to work mode the moment I pick up the harness handle.

The first stop on our journey was the Shake Shack in Grand Central. In my opinion, Shake Shack makes the best burgers in NYC. Adam managed to find us a seat, and I tried to get Jingles into a down position under the table. This proved somewhat difficult, as the chair I was sitting in was a high seat, much like a bar stool, and she was fascinated with every smell and crumb around her. Eventually I got her settled, for the most part, and we ate our chow. After dinner, our little crowd headed to the theatre. We had to transfer trains at a different station, so we took the shuttle to Times Square, which I would never recommend to any blind person, as the trains arrive on 4 different tracks, and are only open for less than a minute. Because of this, Adam, Jingles and I would rush to a platform, only to find the doors closing in our face, turn around and repeat the process to a different track, ultimately catching the third shuttle to arrive. Finally, we made it to the theatre, picked up our tickets and my audio receiver from the HAI staffer in front of the theatre, and headed to our seats.

Jingles on escalator
Caption: Jingles rides the escalator in Grand Central. She is wearing her blue sweater and a sign that says “don’t pet me, I’m working.”

It was an interesting ordeal getting the dog settled in at our designated seats. The area was cramped (like all Broadway theaters), and there were several other guide dogs present, which required strategic placement of the dogs so they didn’t try to interact with one another. I wasn’t sure what to do about Jingles’ harness. Since she is small, and I am tall, we have the long handle, so it’s hard to fit her into small places because the harness handle is as long as she is, preventing her from curling up. I was a bit nervous after Jingles’ last theater experience (a story best not mentioned), so I chose to leave the harness on and wedge her between the seat in front of me and my legs. We sat next to a nice couple, with the wife also blind with a guide dog and the husband also sighted. After a little finagling, we managed to get our dogs settled, and got to know each other a bit before the show and during the intermissions.

The play was awesome, and the description was great. There were three acts. Jingles stayed down during the first act, groaning to let me know that she was not pleased with the arrangement. During the first intermission, she jumped into a sit and refused to lay back down. So, Jingles literally sat through the entire second act. I wouldn’t have minded, but the space between the seat and my legs did not allow her to sit straight, so she kept shifting her legs to get back into a sit, which was inching her toward the man to my left. I kept my hand on her collar, fearing that she might randomly bolt, but she didn’t. I figured she was rather uncomfortable, so I unclipped her harness so it would be loose on her. She proceeded to get it wedged, so I removed it completely. About 2/3 through the second act, I reached down to find that Jingles had somehow managed to shimmy out of her winter sweater and it was stuck around her legs and back. Since I knew it was really tight, I tried to remove it completely without disturbing those around me. Finally, the second act ended and I had a naked, unharnessed dog. Once the third act began, Jingles laid down and slept like a rock.

In hindsight, I figure Jingles was extremely hot in her sweater, and uncomfortable because of the harness, which is why she refused to lay down during the second act. While trying to behave for me, Jingles apparently decided to take matters in her own hands. Silly dog. All in all, great play, great day, and I learned some tricks for next time.

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.

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 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 Four

Well, folks today has been super busy, but I am extremely exhausted, so I’ll condense this post as much as possible, and sorry for the abbreviated description of the day.

It was hard to sleep last night, probably because of having a dog in my room for the first time combined with anticipation for the upcoming day. After getting a shower, my dog and I went out for the 6:00 am “park” (bathroom) time. Can’t remember if my dog did anything. After the park time, I fed and watered her, and it was back outside for another ppark. Once the bathroom break was over, it was off to alumni hall for obedience, with an actual dog for the first time.

After obedience was breakfast at 7:00, back to the room to put the working harness on my dog, grab a few things, and we loaded into the van to head to White Plains.

We each took two walks with our dogs, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. I was last in line before lunch, so I sat on the balcony for a while. Then it was back downstairs for another bathroom break for the dog, and out we went.

The walk was great, surreal almost. My creature led me around strollers, people with umbrellas, outdoor seating areas, through narrow sidewalks, and to each and every curb. We crossed streets with ease, the pup (ahhh it’s so hard not to say her name) slowing when necessary to avoid turning cars. It is a truly incredible experience. The only downside to today’s walk was that it was a good 90 degrees out, and the poor dog was hot. Poor dog, I should be saying poor instructors. The each had to have walked 10 miles over the course of the day’s training.

Lunch was grilled cheese and tomato soup. Delicious. All of our dogs were so much better behaved at the meal than yesterday. After lunch, the walks began again. I was the last one out before we departed. Once again, my sweetie was wonderful. She walked like a trooper, even though it was so hot and she was tired. Afterwards, we headed back to campus for a quick rest, and then it was out to park again.

Dinner was amazing. I had baked tilapia and string beans…mmmm. Again, the dogs were much better behaved than yesterday, lying beside the chairs nearly the whole time without getting up. After dinner, a couple of friends and I decided to explore the upstairs areas of the buildings with our dogs. That was a doozy! None of us could get our dogs to heel. They kept surging towards offices and areas they knew well. All training was lost at that point haha, but not completely. So, we quickly went back downstairs, and then it was time for the evening lecture.

The lecture covered tons of material. Tons. I have no clue how I am going to remember it all. Once the lecture was over, we watered and parked the dogs, and then I learned how to groom my friend. It was really easy, simply stroking the back and sides with a comb, followed by a brush. After the grooming, I loved on my pal for a few minutes, and then I got to test leaving her alone in the room while I left for about 10 minutes. This was a bit of a relief for me, it’s been a journey the past couple days. I’m sure it was nice for the dog too. She must be so stressed with this human who doesn’t know what she’s doing handling her at all times. She did great, no whining, and actually I don’t think she really wanted to hang out when I came back, ha.

After a final bathroom break, it was time for bed. And here I am now. I apologize for the rundowns of my day being a bunch of “and then”s! I’m too tired to embellish right now though. You’ll have to bear with me over the next several posts.

I am exhausted, overwhelmed, and mentally drained. I am loving learning so much, but right now, I don’t know how I’m ever going to remember it all. Tomorrow is a new day. I know I’ll get the hang of it, it just takes time. Hopefully I get it over the next 2.5 weeks!

Day Three – Dog Day

Day Three

**Warning: long post ahead***

You’d think I wouldn’t be able to sleep last night, but I slept like a baby, and stumbled grumpily out of bed at 5:40. Soon after my sleepy fog lifted, my mind began to pulse with nervous excitement. Today is DOG DAY! Omigosh, in just a few hours, I will have my furry companion for years to come…

After my shower, I headed down to Alumni (Lecture) Hall for obedience training. It was similar to yesterday. We went over the commands of sit, down, and stay, and then I came back to my room to finish preparing for the day. Breakfast was at 7:00, where I had AMAZING gluten free pancakes (I really can’t believe how accommodating they’ve been with the gf stuff) and then there was a meeting at Alumni Hall about some general services, like volunteer shoppers, volunteers to take people to church, etc.

After the meeting, the waiting began. I hit up the coffee room for a café mocha, and then settled into a big recliner to browse Facebook and pass the time. At just after 9:00, a voice came over the intercom instructing us to go down to Alumni Hall for the big reveal. The 11 of us sat in the hall, excitedly chatting. My heart fluttered in excitement as I waited. Once the meeting was called to order, the instructors went over handling the dog, what we were going to be doing today, how to interact in certain ways, and how the process would go when we would receive the dog. We would find out the name, sex, and color of the dog now, and then would go to our rooms, where our dogs would be brought to us individually. They also told us how the dogs have bonded very closely to their trainers, so don’t worry if they don’t immediately bond with us, or whine when the trainers left, and other bonding related things.

And, then…it was time. My heart raced faster and faster as each student’s name was announced, followed by the dog they would receive. One by one, my classmates learned their dogs’ names and sexes. Finally, last but not least, my name was called, and I was given my dog’s information.

Now, I’m sure you’re gripping your computer monitor or cell phone screen in in anticipation of finding out who my furry friend is…but, unfortunately I can’t tell you until Thursday. The folks here at GEB want to make sure they tell the puppy raisers who got their loveable pet of a year before it leaks through the streams of social media. Plus, I’m sure they’re making sure the dogs are working out with each of us before we’re to go telling the world…Believe me, I will be posting the dog’s name and pictures as soon as I can!!!

I sat on my bed, fiddling with the empty leash nervously. The wait time was about 15 minutes or so, I’d say. Then, a knock at my door, and my four legged friend was brought in. I was instructed to put my leash on the dog and immediately feed it five treats as the instructor walked out the door. Since labs love food, this would divert their attention from their human ignoring them and leaving, and also make the dog like me a bit better. I did so, and was left alone with a very energetic ball of fur.

The rest of the morning was spent petting the dog, getting used to its presence, and letting it get used to mine. At about 11:45, the instructor knocked on my door, and I walked into the hallway for my first heel with the dog. We walked to the lobby, where I learned how to put the dog below my seat, and then tried to keep it down while others walked through with their pets. Then, one by one, we were led into the lunch room.

Lunch was a trying time. We were all to get our dogs to lie beside us next to our chairs for the duration of the meal. Sounds easy, but every time there was a new noise or sight, a dog would jump up, which would cause others to jump up, and then we’d each have to go through the process of getting our dogs to lie down again. I can’t even remember how many times mine jumped up…at least 4, probably more. After lunch, it was more quiet time in the room with the dogs, until we were each called for our first official harness walk with our guide dogs (I suppose I should mention here that each dog has both a leash and a harness, the leash is used to heel and correct the dog, the harness is used for work).

When it was my turn, the instructor came into my room and showed me how to attach the harness. Then, we went outside. I was amazed how as soon as the harness is on the dog, it’s all work. It changes instantly from a squirmy ball of fuzz to an alert and steady worker. We walked a nearby road, crossed the driveway, practiced a right turn, and came back. My dog’s pace is brisk and determined. It was a fantastic walk.

After the walk, we went back to my room, until 3:30, where we learned how to feed, water, and take our dogs to the bathroom for the first time. After that, more free time. I used this opportunity to wander into the coffee room, and was pleasantly surprised at my dog for lying next to me while I drank the entire cup. Dinner was at 5:00. Again, the dogs had to lie beside us, this time facing away from the table. My dog probably got up about the same amount as lunch time, but I’m sure she’ll adjust. After dinner was the evening lecture. I went to the hall and got my dog settled under my chair, where she stayed with almost no problems for the entire lecture.

Then it was more free time, another water and bathroom break, and more free time. I hung out with a few classmates in the coffee room for a while, each of us periodically trying to settle our dogs. After free time was the final bathroom break for the night, followed by putting the dog to bed, and here I am.

Phew, that is a lot of stuff! I am exhausted, mentally more than physically (a little antsy there).

Sorry for the super long post…night!

Day Two – Trial Run

We hit the ground running today at 6 AM with an obedience training session in the lecture hall. During the training, an instructor acted like an imaginary dog “Juno,” and showed us one-on-one how to command the dog to heel, sit, lie down, and stay. After the training session, I had a few minutes to finish getting ready for the day, and then it was time for breakfast – a delicious meal of eggs, bacon, and fruit.

When breakfast was finished, I gathered my things and made a quick pit stop for coffee, and then it was off to the van to load up for a trip into White Plains. After a 30ish minute ride, we unloaded at the Lounge, and were given the schedule for the day. We would go out with the instructors in pairs and take a “Juno Walk,” which is a dog simulation walk with only a harness and the instructor pulling you along, and then….we would get to take a real dog for a spin!

I was third in line, so while I waited I took a tour of the Lounge, which has several comfortable sitting rooms, a large balcony, dining area (complete with another awesome coffee machine), and an outdoor area where the dogs will relieve themselves. After the tour, I sat and chatted with my lovely classmates while I waited for my turn.

About an hour or so later, my name was called, and off I went. My instructor coached me in the proper way to hold the harness/leash combo, how to stand, and how to give the forward command. Then we began the walk. It was stressed that students should walk their normal pace so the instructors can get a feel for our style. I walked briskly down the road, guided by the instructor, who was pulling the harness. We came to a few curbs, and I learned how to find the curb, turn left, and cross the road. We traveled a bit farther, and I learned how to turn right. After this (or maybe right before the right turn, I can’t remember), I was handed off to the other instructor, who guided me down a block or two.

And then… she went and got a real, live dog! I greeted the little yellow lab, who returned my affection with a quick lick on the face. After the little love fest, I was set into position, and upon instruction, gave the dog the forward command, and we were rockin’!

It was truly an amazing experience feeling this four legged creature lead me exactly to every curb, guide me around obstacles, and follow my commands. After every successful command, I gave the dog a treat, which she inhaled out of my hand, leaving a residue of saliva. Although I’ve never been a fan of dog slime, I didn’t mind so much this squirmy bundle of energy leaving me a little wet. Besides, there’s always hand washing and sanitizer.

Once our walk was finished, I headed back into the lounge, buzzing with excitement. Boy, that dog was absolutely adorable! None of us were told the dogs’ names, nor will we ever be told if the dog we end up getting is the same one we walked with today…but I really hope I get that one, and I feel like, somehow, I will know it’s her.

Lunch was at 12:00, and then I basically lounged with the other folks who had already gone out until all the others had their walks, and we loaded back into the vans and headed back to Yorktown Heights.

We had a meet and greet with the staff in the afternoon, then dinner was served, followed by a lecture full of information about the dogs, and what we will be doing tomorrow…

And what is tomorrow? DOG DAY! Yep, starting tomorrow, I will be the proud new companion to my new guide dog: D

I’m just chilling for the rest of the night. We’ve been warned many times that after tomorrow, there won’t be much chill time, as we’ll be learning to live with our new friends. I’m really excited, but really nervous. There was a ton of info covered, and right now, I’m not sure how I’ll remember it all. But, I’m sure I will.

Stay tuned!

Day One

And so the journey begins…

The day started out beautifully. Got up, finished packing, and Adam and I were out the door just after 10 AM. Although I usually am pretty good about what to pack, this time I believe I may have over packed a bit…Who knows what I’m going to want to wear for the next 3 weeks? Not me. So, Adam, being awesome, carried my large suitcase and backpack to the subway. 😀

The subway journey was slightly tumultuous. The trains were all messed up, and so Adam had to lug my giant suitcase, and me, through the Times Square station (for you non-New Yorkers, that is pretty much the most insane station). On the way up a staircase, I tripped and landed on the toe I broke earlier this summer. OUCH. I’m pretty sure I broke it again. Great, on the first day of class. Now, I’m limping and freaking out about my stupid toe, we have yet another two transfers, and it looks like I may be late.
Amazingly, I was not. Made it on the van, and to Yorktown Heights. I could go into much more detail about my journey, but I am sleepy, and more interested in telling about the school.

This place is awesome!!!

Upon arrival, we (there were two others in the van) were met by the instructors, who gave each student a tour of their room and the building.

My room has more closet space than my apartment, no joke. It is spacious, and has all the bells and whistles of a hotel room. There is a large, comfy bed, a mini-fridge, TV, desk, and phone that can make local and long distance calls. There are two doors to the room- one from the hall, and the other leading to outside. This is the door I will use to take my dog to the bathroom. The room already has dog food, bowls, a bed/crate, and chew toy.

The building is fabulous. There is a game room, exercise room, laundry room, computer lab, living room with couches, and my favorite place, the coffee room. The coffee room is equipped with everything you could ever want. The coffee machine, at the push of a few buttons, will instantly give you regular, decaf, or half/half coffee, or if you choose, hot chocolate, café mocha, or hot water for tea. OHHHHHH YEAHHHHH. The fridge is stocked with 4 types of milk, several juices, fruit, and yogurt. There is also cereal and a water cooler. I love that place.

Speaking of food…the it is amazing. Dinner is prepared on site, and is healthy, and conscious of diet. I told them I was gluten free before coming, and they have gf bread, cookies, and make sure any of my plates are absent of the substance. I had an amazing dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes, and squash, with a side salad. While we were finishing up dinner, one of the staff came around and gave us a huge list of choices for breakfast, and took our orders. I chose eggs, bacon, and fruit. Awesome.

After dinner was a lecture in, for lack of a better term, the lecture hall (can’t remember the actual name), where we went over the rules of the school, some scheduling things (some of it I’ve forgotten already), and handled some equipment, including two collars, the harness, and the leash.

After the lecture we had free time. There is a nice outdoor space just to the left of my room that has a couple of benches. It’s a lovely place to sit and chat.

Everybody here is great! I love the staff, and can already feel new friendships forming with my classmates. Speaking of classmates, this group is compiled of people from all over the country, as well as Canada, and even two students from Hong Kong.

There is so much more I could say, but I am getting pretty sleepy, and the day starts with a bang at6 AM. Oh yeah, my toe is feeling much better. Although still a bit painful, I can now walk briskly without limping: D Guess tomorrow I’ll wear a stiffer pair of shoes than usual to protect it.

Sorry this post is not up to my normal standards, but I wanted to make sure I posted, and am too tired to tighten it up.
Until tomorrow…