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Remembering Our One Year Anniversary

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Aug. 4th, 2009 | 11:36 pm

Well, one year ago today was the big day, and reflecting back on this day when I began training with Gilbert, I think I will always remember this day, and the weekend leading up to it as a period full of mixed emotions. Don’t get me wrong. I would say 90 percent of my emotions were feelings of excitement. I couldn’t wait to have the dignity and confidence that so many blind people say they gain working with a guide dog, not to mention the fact that Gilbert was adorable, and would be able to help me make friends in the unknown world of college. There was also a little apprehention. What if, after spending more time with me, the dog trainer didn’t think Gilbert was right for me after all? But I think the most intense emotion I had on this day, besides excitement, was the realization that the moment Gilbert walked through the door of my house, an era would end. Of course, every new chapter of life, while it may mean more responsibilities, the rewarding opportunities are well worth it, and I knew this was true when I saw the excitement of my older siblings when they got their driver’s license, or their first apartment. But I couldn’t ignore the subtle feeling of loss when I realized that I might never be a carefree girl with no responsibilities again. I will never forget the morning of August 4, 2008, before the dog trainer came and I was explaining this feeling to my mom, and what a thought provoking analogy she used to describe how I was feeling. She said that getting Gilbert could be compared to a wedding, since it will be my job to love, honor and cherish him. My sister had just gotten married a month earlier, and when I stopped to think about it, marriage really is very similar to getting the first guide dog. While my sister was excited about spending the rest of her life with the person she married, I wonder if she too realized that life will never be just about her again. Both of us, in different ways of course, have to devote our lives to our partners, learn to work as a team, and part with an old era.
Of course, I have always had school responsibilities, but keeping your grades up is trivial compared to the realization that soon, the daily care, and well-being of another animal will depend on you. Was I ready to take on this important responsibility? But like I said before, additional responsibilities are so rewarding when you see how much independence and confidence it brings to other people, and if I chose to remain in the carefree era of childhood by not getting a guide dog, I knew I would miss out on so many opportunities this world has to offer. By the time the doorbell rang to announce the arrival of the dog trainer, I resolved to say goodbye to the limited world of childhood, and never look back.
The first half of the day was filled with eager anticipation because when the dog trainer first arrived, he said that he wanted to talk about dog behavior, and how dogs are trained before he brought Gilbert in because he knew once Gilbert came in to the house, I would be distracted (smile). So, my mom and Dad, the dog trainer, and the president of the school gathered around the table for coffee and muffins that my mom had made. The dog trainer talked about dog behavior; how dogs are pack animals, and if you don’t show the dog that you are the leader of the pack, the dog will lead you. He told my parents what guide dogs are trained to do, and also explained some of the legal stuff, like the fact that the school legally owns the dogs until they retire, something I don’t have a problem with because I know that he is my dog, and that the issue of legal ownership is only a technicality, and a precaution that is in place only so that the school could take back dogs who are mistreated. Since I loved Gilbert the instant I met him, I knew that this was not something that I had to worry about.
Anyway, after this meeting, the dog trainer brought in the big crate, which my mom and dad assembled in the bedroom. The dog trainer said he would come back around 1:30, at which time Gilbert would officially be my dog! Until that day, I was slightly disappointed that I was not going to get the experience that people that attend schools like the Seeing Eye talk about with such excitement, getting called down to a lounge one by one to meet your dog for the first time. But that day, I discovered that waiting for the dog, even if you already know who the dog is, is equally exciting.
It seemed as though 1:30 would never arrive, but at long last, it did, and when my mom and dad, who had only seen Gilbert in pictures, admired how beautiful Gilbert was, I knew the waiting, both that day, and through the years since Indy died, was well worth it, and that my family was just as excited as I was.
I think Gilbert was quiet at first, and naturally, although he knew me a little bit from our brief meetings at fundraisers, he was more attached to the dog trainer. While he would listen to me during training, I think it took several weeks before I felt like he was really bonding with me. But just because he wasn’t attached to me, I had no doubt, even that day, that he knew he would spend the rest of his life with me, and was excited about it. How did I know this? Shortly after Gilbert came in, I decided to sit on the kitchen floor and pet him while my parents and the dog trainer talked, to start the bonding process. Shortly after I sat on the floor, he came up and smothered my face with dog kisses. The dog trainer looked over when he saw me pinned to the floor, laying on my back giggling and said I could tell him no if I wanted. But it was too adorable to reprimand him. What is even more unforgettable about this event though, was that it never happened again. Every time I have sat on the floor since then, he will lay next to me, or flip over on his back for a belly rub, or if he licks me, it is a quick lick on the cheek, or he will lick my fingers if I have food on them. But he has never licked my face that excitedly since. I still look back and wonder sometimes if he was just excited about being in a new place, and would have licked the face of anyone who let him, or if he could sense that I was his partner for life, and this was his way of saying, “I don’t really know you, but I am sure life with you will be wonderful!” Whatever he was thinking, that will always be a precious moment that I will never forget.
After this brief bonding time, the dog trainer showed me briefly how to groom him, how to use the brush and clean his ears. They encouraged me to spend the evening just exploring Gilbert: open his mouth to feel his teeth, pick up his paws, feel his belly, and just get used to details so I would notice changes or abnormalities throughout his life that could signify a problem. They worked out a good spot to relieve him, and showed me where it was. And then they left us to spend the evening bonding. I was supposed to keep him on leash and take him all through the house and let him sniff everything to get used to his new surroundings. So as soon as the dog trainer left, that is what I did. I took him to every room of the house where he sniffed meticulously. When I got to my room, he must have sensed that it was his room too because the first thing he did was jump on my bed! I didn’t want to use tough love so soon but I didn’t want to encourage bad manners so soon either, so I made him get off (smile). It turned out that the next day, I found out I was supposed to have him on short leash. I was wondering how he was able to jump on my bed while I held the leash, and why it kept getting tangled up in his legs every few steps, but somehow, in the excitement, I hadn’t realized that he was not on a short leash. Oops! Anyway, all night, he went everywhere with me, and I pet him and doted on him like a newborn baby. I called one of my blind friends to share the exciting news, and she was so happy for me. He was kind of quiet all evening, but we quickly discovered he wasn’t too depressed to eat (smile). As soon as we opened the storage container of dog food, he raced up and stuck his head in as if he wanted to just help himself to his food right from the bin! We had to reprimand him, but he never did that again either. But still to this day, when you put his food down, he dives in, and does not come up for air until the bowl is clean (laugh). All evening, Gilbert was by my side, and even while I watched television, I was petting him. I know this might sound silly to some, but I will never forget what a beautiful experience it is to start bonding with your first guide dog.
Our first day together ended peacefully. The thing I was most nervous about, taking him out to relieve by myself went perfectly, and to my relief, he came back to the concrete instantly after peeing, so I knew he didn’t have to poop. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to tell when he was going, or find it, in which case, the trainer might not trust that I was capable of caring for a guide dog, and to my relief, I could hear him pee. I know this is a disgusting topic to write about, but when I watched two multese dogs for my teacher, I could not tell when they had peed, and I was scared to death by the thought that I might not be able to hear my guide dog pee. But of course, I was worrying too much again (smile).
Then I gave Gilbert a treat, and put him in his crate for his first night with me. To my relief, he slept through the night without a problem. And as we both drifted off in to a peaceful sleep together, I decided that no matter how difficult the training was, no matter what challenges college threw my way, I never wanted to return to the childhood era again. I would brave the unfamiliar roads of college with Gilbert by my side. And Gilbert, I am renewing this vow on this one year anniversary too. I look forward to beginning another school year, and take on new challenges challenges that are always made easier with your cautious guiding, your sweet happy outlook on life that melts everyone’s heart, and your forgiveness when we have a bad day. I hope we have many more happy anniversaries to come.

Comments {4}

Hello

From: thebig-t.blogspot.com
Date: Oct. 25th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Hello. I just read your post for the assistance dog blog carnival.

My experience was kind of the same. When I went up to train at class, my main thought was "what if this doesn't work?". I wished in the first couple of weeks that I could just go back to bed and that, but i am finding that as each day goes by, I get more and more used to the early starts, and always can go back to bed afterwards if I don't have anything on!!! I have been qualified with my first guide dog Ushi for nearly a month now. We're just working out some teething problems right now. It's really good when we can just reach out at night, for instance, and just pet our dogs, and know they love us.

You can follow my jerney at:
http://thebig-t.blogspot.com

Great entry,

Torie.

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Great post!

From: anonymous
Date: Oct. 25th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
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Awesome post! I can sooo relate and found myself nodding a lot hehe! I actually mourned my cane lol. After my last O & M lesson before getting my guide dog, I cried. It's definitely a life altering thing to get a guide dog, but such a positive life altering thing. So grateful for the blog carnival so I can read all these great posts!

~Ro (http://raynaadi.blogspot.com)

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Re: Great post!

From: anastoff
Date: Oct. 26th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
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Thank you Ro! I am so glad you also enjoyed my post and could relate. I must say though, I definitely didn't mourn the loss of the cane. In fact, I gave it a joyful burial deep in a closet. Lol. I look forward to reading your post after school tomorrow.

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Re: Hello

From: anastoff
Date: Oct. 26th, 2010 04:07 am (UTC)
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I am so glad you enjoyed my post. This carnival really is a cool idea and I look forward to reading your entry too. Taking him out, especially on those cold mornings was definitely something to get used to, but fortunately, Gilbert doesn't mind holding it until I am ready to get up, which is usually around 7:30 or 8:00. No way would I take him out at 5:30 like they do at The Seeing Eye! Lol.
Having a guide dog is a life altering experience, not only because of the increased confidence and independence but because your love and sense of bonding becomes so strong when they go everywhere you go. Let's all give our dogs some extra love and pets tonight.

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