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!

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What a Week – Part 1

Wow, if last week is any indication of the upcoming months, Jingles and I are in for some real adventures! We experienced so many out of the ordinary experiences that I believe the week deserves multiple blogs, so as not to bore my faithful readers to sleep… Okay, without further ado, the week in review (poet and know it: P)

My recent trip to the hair salon with Jingles, paired with melting snow and rumors of spring made me restless to try something new, face another fear, and put another guide dog experience under my belt. On Tuesday, I decided to return some clothes. Now, I know that the simple act of returning clothes is nothing, truly miniscule in the realm of errands, but for me, it was kind of a big deal. See, I like to go shopping with a sighted person…usually my husband, but sometimes another family member of the fairer sex. Since my favorite store is only a few blocks from my apartment, I have, up until now, left Jingles to enjoy some “her” time while I search for the season’s latest styles. So, it really hasn’t been necessary to bring her with me. I have contemplated bringing her many times, say, to find a black shirt or some other singular item, but usually don’t know what I’m searching for, so I haven’t tried it yet. Anyway, I had a few items I needed to return, so I figured what better way to try our first venture into the clothing store than to simply find the counter?

It was a super windy St. Patrick’s Day. Jingles and I navigated around a few drunken people hanging out in front of the local bars on our way to the store. Once we got to the block, we began to slowly walk down the street, searching for some sign of familiarity as to the location of the storefront. We didn’t have much luck because I had never paid attention to the details surrounding the store in walking with my husband. After a couple swipes of the block, I heard someone closing a store nearby and asked them where New York & Company was. He kindly showed me the way, and soon Jingles and I were inside. Once inside, we were faced with a new challenge. The many stocked racks of clothes were viewed as obstacles to the dog, so she would stop to show me what was blocking my path. A clerk noticed us and asked if we needed help. . I told her we were looking for the counter and she guided us there. The return process was easy. Jingles chilled out beside me like an angel. After we were finished, I asked the clerk to point out the path, and once Jingles found it, she navigated to the front door like a pro. That was fun, winding around the many clothes racks on the path out 

New adventures were ahead of me on Wednesday. First, in the morning, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by USA Today about life with Jingles! Can you believe it? I was able to represent Guiding Eyes for an upcoming spread about the Today Show raising Guiding Eyes puppy, Wrangler. There will be a whole piece about service animals in early may, and guess who will be nestled in a side column? Your favorite yellow lab and handler: D I am so incredibly excited!!!! It was quite the honor, and I hope I painted the school and life with Jingles in a way that truly reflects how awesome both are: D

Later, I had a meeting in the Upper West Side. This would require me to transfer at Times Square, which I am not at all familiar with (I avoid the station like the plague). Luckily, I was able to take an Uber Cab on the way to meet my colleagues. Meeting was fine, but on the way back I would have to take Times Square during rush hour. Aghhhh. My coworker was super sweet, however, and rode extra stops on her way home to transfer with me so I didn’t get lost. While I’m sure I would’ve found my train eventually, this really helped take the stress out of things. Jingles was overall okay, but was a little too interested in the garbage and smells around us. (We’re working on this little issue…no one’s perfect).

Fast forward to Friday. This day, Jingles got to visit a Juvenile Detention Center. Not an incredible lot to tell here, except that there was a little miscommunication, and a little hassle getting inside because of the dog. It was rather annoying at the time, but once things got sorted out, the staff tried to compensate by being extra nice to Jingles and I, so I guess I’ll let that one slide: P. It was irritating though…I don’t like to stand out, much less be an annoyance to someone. Oh, well.

And, so ends Part One. A little excitement, a little irritation, a little sniffing…a lot of love.

Jingles Visits the Hair Salon

Hello WordPress! Yet again, my absence is inexcusable. Seems like I’ve been hibernating through the winter in all facets of my life. I suppose I should start all my posts with “sorry it’s been so long.”

I just wanted to write a little post to brag on my Jingle Belle a bit. On Wednesday, I took Jingles on her first trip to the hair salon. I had been putting the visit off out of apprehension, anxiously imagining a million ways my friend could misbehave at the salon. Maybe she’d knock over products. Maybe she wouldn’t sit still and I’d have to keep settling her, annoying the person doing my hair. Maybe she’d try to eat everything in sight…

Because of my anxiety about the unknown, I put off my hair cut for…months. Looking like a ragamuffin, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. I didn’t want Jingles first trip into the salon to be on a busy day (Saturday, or Thurs night), so I decided to take the day off work. I also made sure to take the same day my husband, who works the weekend and gets a mid-week day off instead, was off work, in case I chickened out and decided to leave Jingles behind.

After getting a little encouragement from one of my friends and former dog school classmates, I decided that I would take Jingles. I called the salon the day before to make them aware and make sure they weren’t afraid of dogs. I know I didn’t have to do this, but I like to make sure I cause as few waves as possible. My hairdresser assured me it would be fine.

SO, the morning of the appointment, I got Jingles together and prepared to conquer my fear of the unknown. My husband, who is always willing to help, asked me if I wanted him to go. I really wanted to do this as independently as possible, but thought a failsafe to hold Jingles if she began to act up, and some company for the walk would be nice.

So, the three of us walked the mile on the beautiful spring day to the hair place. When we neared, I asked Adam to show me where the door was and I’d be fine after that. He did, and I went on to the salon while Adam continued on to have a cup of coffee and be on call in case I should have a difficult time.

Well………..

Jingles was AMAZING. A complete angel. I mean, she’s good in public places, but I’ve never seen her THIS good. I would tell her to lay down, and she’d be a statue. It was fantastic. Everyone loved her. With that face, who couldn’t love her???? She laid patiently as I got my hair washed. Then, when I sat in the chair, I put her down next to me and she laid there serenely, watching the traffic in and out of the place, only getting up once for maybe 30 seconds.  Hair fell all around her, and she never even cared to taste it. This coming from the dog, who would, if it were up to her, try anything not bolted to the ground. My hairdresser loved her too, and she made a great conversation piece.

I left the salon with my hair looking like a movie star’s, and my dog an actual rock star. Jingles would’ve made her puppy raisers, trainers, and Guiding Eyes proud. She certainly made her momma proud!!!

rebekah and jingles on stoop

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.

2014 in Review

To add to the trend that I’ve seen circulating around Facebook and in conversation with others, wow, I can hardly believe today is the final day of 2014! It seems like only yesterday, I was preparing to usher in this year, and here I turn around and the year is at its close. On this eve of the New Year, and since this blog was my somewhat belated resolution for 2014 (see my first post), I thought it only fitting to post a recap of sorts to my little space on the web.

2014 was a year of immense change in my life, most for the better, some for the worse. The year felt like a car accelerating, or a vortex forming, with many events taking place towards the second part of the year. As noted above, I began this year with a resolve to let others glimpse a day in the life of me – partly to inform and inspire, and partly to try to transform my embarrassment of my condition to some sort of acceptance that I am a blind person. In early 2014, I finally gained the courage to apply for a guide dog, and tried for the better part of the year to wrap my mind around the transformation that was to take place when I would be introduced to my “other half.” Over the course of the year, I feel I’ve lost an incredible amount of vision – or perhaps, I had so little to begin with that every change was insurmountable. Either way, I feel close to what must be classified as completely blind. I can no longer focus on any pictures, most of the world is a mix of origami shades of black, tan and gray, mixed with double vision, and I can’t remember the last time I saw my husband’s face.

As 2014 rolled on, I moved into a new apartment, which was a small change, yes, but was the beginning of an onslaught of newness. A few weeks later, I headed off to guide dog school and met Jingles, my new set of “eyes.” While I was gone, my family grew as my stepdaughter moved in with my husband and I to put her mark on the Big Apple. Upon my return, I set about adjusting to a new dog, a new apartment, and a new family life. Since then, I’ve been doing just that.

Now that the concrete has been reviewed, I’d like to reflect on a few abstracts. For one, I feel like I’ve grown much stronger over the course of the year, not physically (though there’s been a little of that too since training with Jingles), but inwardly. I’ve faced many situations that have scared me half to death, and have not only conquered them, but also found that they all have turned out better than I feared. My family is growing tighter as time passes; I’ve tackled situations in dealing with the public from work to embarrassing moments of blindness, and survived every one. I’m much more confident on my own – and I have Jingles to thank for that. I used to only leave the house alone out of necessity, now I do more for fun. I can now take my much enjoyed long walks solo, though not lately because it’s cold and cold and Bekah do not mix, and being blind in public isn’t so bad when I have my furry companion to look cute and get me around tricky situations. I can speed walk again, and amuse myself leaving folks in the dust on my way home from work. And, I am slowly, slowly becoming more adventurous…slowly.

As far as the whole blind thing goes…I do feel like I’m beginning to gradually come to terms with the fact that until there is some kind of cure, I am without sight. I am no longer embarrassed when someone may hear my voice over on my iPhone or catch a bit of my screen reader on my computer (though I still, and forever will, use an ear bud at work). I am more willing to ask for help when looking for something, and I no longer strain to see something I know I can’t. On the flipside though, the more blind I get, the more isolated from my beloved former life I feel. This isn’t to make people pity me, or start some kind of dialogue about how blind people can do whatever sighted people can do; it is simply a fact of my life. I have always been a very visual person, gaining my greatest enjoyment from small observations of the world around me. From photography, to videography, to graphic design and exchanging glances with my loved ones to watching the snow fall, those I care about grow and change, and spending hours alone browsing through shops just because, my greatest pleasures have been through my eyes. So, now that I have to experience the world differently, I feel a bit numb…jaded almost. Things make me happy, but I rarely feel the pure immense pleasure of what only visual images can bring. Those who care about me will describe things, and thank goodness for audio books and the ever growing accessibility of audio description, but it’s just not the same, and never will be for this girl.

BUT……….not to end this on a downer note. I AM BLESSED. So what, I have hardships. Who doesn’t? I have a wonderful husband, family, and extended family who I love dearly, the spunkiest and arguably cutest guide dog in history, a great job and colleagues who see beyond my blindness to my underlying potential, and a great apartment in the greatest city on earth! Really, what more could I ask for?

So, bring on 2015! I cannot wait to see what this New Year brings. I hope its new adventures, renewed independence and confidence, opportunities for growth, and the strengthening of my current relationships paired with the building of fabulous new ones!