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Our Journey Begins

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Aug. 22nd, 2009 | 12:57 pm

One year ago today was the big day. In almost the same way that most young girls dream of their wedding day, I had dreamed of the day when I would be a certified guide dog user since I was the little girl reading “Greff: The Story of a Guide Dog”, and I couldn’t believe that this day had actually arrived! I woke up at the usual time, and when the dog trainer came, we did obedience together for the last time, and we had now reached the point where Gilbert could do obedience outside and off leash. Then, the dog trainer wanted to work Gilbert one more time, and asked me where I wanted to go. To celebrate all of our hard work, he agreed to let me just take Gilbert for a leisurely walk on my street again, and once again, he walked at a distance behind me, and there were no problems. And after that, it was all over but the signing of contracts He read me the school’s contract which stated that the school legally owned Gilbert until he was retired, and the school would determine when he should be retired. I know the ownership issue is argued about a lot on the guide dog discussion lists, but personally, I don’t mind the fact that the school legally owns him because I view ownership as just a legal technicality. It has never gotten in the way of my bonding with Gilbert, and in every other regard, he is my dog. The school had the right to take Gilbert away if he were ever abused or mistreated, and even though I would never even think about mistreating Gilbert, I think this is a good precaution because unfortunately, people do mistreat their dogs, and it would not be fair if a guide dog had to live with an abusive owner when someone else would appreciate a guide dog, and treat them well. Then I was issued my identification card with a picture of Gilbert and me on it, and the trainer told me to have it on me whenever I am out in public so I could present it if I ever had access issues. And then there was just some last minute advice like if I am ever going to travel on an airplane, or take a long car ride, I should not feed him the morning of the trip because food can upset their stomachs in those kinds of situations, and there may not be a place to relieve him. He also told me that there were still some things I could work on like giving harder leash corrections if he is being naughty, and recommended I use the pinch collar when he is working. The week before, he had shown me how to put on the pinch collar, but I must confess that I have never used it since graduation. It fits so tightly, and getting the pointy things on one end, and stretching them to fit the holes on the other end really was hard on my fingers, and I sure wasn’t going to go through that every day. But I am slowly getting better about giving effective leash corrections. Contrary to what people accuse me of thinking, I know that the corrections don’t hurt the dog, and on the first day of training, the dog trainer put the chain around my arm so I could feel what a correction is like. It is just a little squeeze, but not enough to hurt them. But the main reason that I don’t always give good corrections are that if I trip over something for example, I am not always sure if it really was Gilbert’s fault, or if I was not staying up with him enough, or wasn’t keeping my feet straight or when it is a crowded setting where bumping in to people is inevitable. I would hate to give him a correction when it wasn’t really his fault. And when an infraction was absolutely positively his fault, usually wanting to say hello to other dogs while we are working, by the time I realize he is being naughty, I am practically running to keep up with him, and I have a hard time giving a good correction while moving. But like I said, I think I am getting better. I am starting to recognize sooner when he is going to be naughty, so I can plant my feet and deliver better leash corrections. My mom and I also bought a couple more links for the pinch collar recently, which I am going to try and use more often, especially in situations where I know we will encounter other dogs, Gilbert’s biggest weakness.
While I knew that corrections would not hurt him, I was still afraid that I might hurt him in some other way. Whenever we were getting out of a car or standing up from a table, and his leash got tangled up in his paws, I was afraid to pick up his paws because my pet dogs in the past never let me do it, and I didn’t know if I might accidentally hurt him. So I think that one year ago today, the trainer had me do an exercise of just picking up his paws, and he demonstrated how high I could pick them up. Now I have no second thought about picking up his paws when I need to. He also noticed my surprise a couple days earlier when he would smack Gilbert, hard I thought while rubbing his belly, and I will never forget when the trainer said “your dog is not made of glass.” It turned out that dogs really do like to be smacked like that because when I started doing it, he wagged his tail. The trainer told me to treat him like I own him, and that’s when I realized that just because the school legally owned him, he really was my dog. But other than my weak corrections, which he knew I would get better at in time, and my fear of hurting him, he was completely confident that Gilbert and I were ready to begin a wonderful life together. There was just one more ceremony that evening, and then it would be official.
I got the afternoon off, and I don’t remember what I did besides taking Gilbert to the vet to get his nails trimmed, and getting us all dressed up for the big ceremony. I think I wore the same dress I wore for high school graduation, and Gilbert wore a cute bandana someone made for him with his name in big raised print letters. Gilbert made it clear on the second day of training that he wasn’t too fond of the bandana by chewing off the corner of it (smile). My mom found it hanging by a thread, and decided to cut that part off. We made him wear the bandana that day though because he did look so cute in it, but he was cooperative and agreed to wear it without any additional protest (laugh). Then my mom, dad and I drove to the banquet hall located in a fancy hotel, where the ceremony would be held. What a wonderful evening it was! Everyone I had hoped would be able to come was there including my vision teacher, my two teacher assistants that had worked with me when I was in school, one from first through fourth grade, and the other from fifth grade through first semester of senior year, as well as another blind friend who also has a guide dog, and gave me a lot of wonderful advice and support. We had a formal dinner with salad, bread, marinated chicken, rice and of course, cake. And then just like with high school graduation, there were the speeches, and like I said in the entry about high school graduation, I love speeches. These speeches were especially thrilling, especially when the dog trainer talked about how far Gilbert and I had come since that day when I didn’t even want to step off the curb, and he nailed it on the head when he reminded me that I did not have a balance problem, just a confidence problem. I gave a speech thanking everyone in the program, and all of the people who made donations to make Gilbert’s training, and my training possible. When I was situated at the podium for my speech, Gilbert was given to the puppy raisers who officially presented him to me after the speech, a sweet moment I will never forget. And to end this wonderful evening, a slideshow with pictures of Gilbert and me during training was presented, and though I couldn’t see the pictures, I could sense the excitement in the room when the audience saw the pictures, proof of how far Gilbert and I had come, and of what a wonderful team we would be.
I also received a goody bag with a chocolate dog, and some dog treats, but the most precious souvineer was a bookmark that was placed at every table setting. On this bookmark was a picture of Gilbert, and a beautiful poem the president of the school wrote to send us off on our new life together.
I was born to serve and lead the way
For a very special girl-every day.
I’m sweet, cautious, and her best friend.
I’ll guide her safely til the very end.
Day by day we bond a little more
As we open new doors and go explore.
She loves me, pets me, and gives me food!
She makes me feel like quite the Dude!
I will keep her safe and give her my love.
For this match is truly a gift from above!
This incredible journey has just begun.
I’ve changed a life! Her heart I’ve won!
Guide dog Gilbert
And that night as I said goodbye to the trainer, and the president, who I would not see again for months, and left the banquet hall, I realized with a little nervousness, but mostly excitement that our journey together really had officially begun, but we were both ready to enjoy it, challenges and all.

Comments {1}

From: anastoff
Date: Feb. 1st, 2014 10:21 pm (UTC)

This would be a great essay to include in my tribute book to Gilbert

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