Cecilia Warren and Gardenia

 

Class of March 2006

 

Entry One - Thursday, March 2

 

I have been experiencing great technical difficulties, so please excuse me for such a delayed start to my journal.  It is fairly late now, we just had our last park and pee for the night, which occurs at 10 PM.  I arrived here at Guiding Eyes for the Blind on Tuesday afternoon, Feb 28th.  I had intended to start a training journal much sooner, but Murphy's Law prevails...  With a lot of assistance from Jeff, a graduate here from GEB, he has my computer up and running! 

 

So, I will start from a few days ago.  On Tuesday. I left Maryland from BWI Airport on US Air.  I was greeted at LaGuardia by two kind ladies from GEB .  I met W. and S, who are repeat students from GEB.  I will only use first initials because I wish to respect their privacy.  S and I have a lot in common.  W has a great sense of humor, and issues jokes at random moments. 

 

We traveled by van to the main campus here in Yorktown Heights.  I received an orientation to my room and the lower level of the building right away.  The other students trickled in for the remainder of the afternoon.  One student arrived quite late after flying for nearly 12 hours from the state of Washington.

 

On Tuesday night, we received training in collars for the dog, and practiced what we learned.  We also reviewed the anatomy of the guide harness. After our lesson, I called home.  I was already getting quite homesick.  I was having regrets and thinking that I made a dreadful mistake in leaving my children for such a long time.

 

In the morning, we awake to the voice of our instructors on a microphone.  We are advised of the weather, the time, etc.  On Wednesday, March 1, we were awaken at 0600 hours, so that we could start our obedience walks by 0630.  After dressing, we report to the lounge to perform a series of obedience instruction with the leash and harness.  The idea is to finish the obedience training walks before breakfast, so that we can move quickly after breakfast.  

 

After breakfast, we met with Marie, the dietitian, to review the many special needs and requests of the students.  She has a special place in Heaven!  She also helps in the housekeeping duties.  Wednesday was a Holy Day, and she accommodated any student who wished to have a special diet for Lent. 

 

We then boarded two van to head to White Plains.  A building has been renovated in the downtown area that GEB  uses to train students.  Very cool place that is across the street from the courthouse.   I feel like I am in Baltimore when I am there.  We received a variety of orientations to the building, the computer room, etc. 

 

Every student participated in two Juno walks that were observed by other instructors.  I am a rookie in this class. Only L and I have never had a guide dog before.   A juno walk is a training exercise that the student uses in learning commands, demonstrating pace, etc.  An "imaginary dog" is used.  A real guide harness and leash are used with an experienced instructor holding one end.  The student holds the handle of the harness and follows the instructions given.  We were in an urban area with a lot of distractions and noise.  This exercise was very helpful in that it was well simulated to real life and working experiences. 

 

While in White Plains, we received a didactic lesson on the rules and regs of the students.  Then, we returned to Yorktown Heights, and prepared for dinner.  After dinner, we received a brief lecture regarding the transitions that our guide dogs have made and what to expect on Thursday.  Many students are querying the instructors on their designated guides.  The instructors seem to expect such cross examinations, and have prepared answers that clearly indicate " I am not going to tell you what dog you are getting!"

 

It appears to be a collaborative decision among the instructors.  They carefully question each student individually on our daily life needs, schedules. transportation, and family.  On Wednesday evening, a staff member, Sandra, offers to take students to Mass for Ash Wednesday.  I am delighted because I will not be able to attend Mass for a few weeks.  C and I travel with Sandra to St Patricks in Yorktown Heights.  We received ashes and had a full Mass.  Afterwards, Sandra generously takes us  by Dunkin Donuts and we pick up two dozen donuts and a pound of coffee for everyone.  A large snowstorm is predicted for Thursday

 and a little hospitality will warm everyone up.

 

Thursday is "Dog Day". If you have every birthed a baby, well, it is that type of energy and excitement.  The students discuss and wonder what type of guide dog, color, puppy raiser, disposition, size, and the most asked question-"What  is their name!"

 

After breakfast, we do obedience walks with practice dogs.  My practice dog was Peggy.  She was sweet. quiet, compliant, and so overtly obedient that I looked like a star.  Peggy could make anyone look like a champ!

 

After lunch, we receive a few brief lectures, and are advised of our guide dog's name, color, breed, and sex.  We go to our rooms to await the big moment.  I can only describe it as feeling life I was  voluntarily entering an arranged marriage.  Would I be liked?  Would I be accepted?  Would I be loved?

 

I spoke with S for awhile and then she returned to her room.  Shortly after, I heard the momentous knock at the door.  I sat on my bunk and Julie (instructor) entered my room and announced the arrival of Gardenia.  Wow!  What an interesting name!  Gardenia immediately came to me, placed her head in my lap, and started licking my hands.   She is so unbelievably calm that I cannot guess her age.  Gardenia then sat up to give me both paws in a calm and loving way.  Julia shut the door after leaving, and Gardenia led me to the door and sat for a long time, waiting for Julia to return.  Gardenia is clearly attached to Julia.  However, Gardenia happily follows me back to our room.  We sit on the dog bed and she is so profusely affectionate and loving that my worries about success are alleviated.  Ga

 

Entry Two - Friday, March 3

 

I am starting this entry at 10:36 PM,  as we are busy with training during the day and evening.  I will be brief because I know that I will have more time this weekend to make journal entries. 

Last night, I slept better than I had in the previous two nights.  All of the students seem to be feeling that they are more relaxed now that they have their new guides and are moving along in training.  Gardenia is a funny sleeper.  She emits a low level grrrrrr during her sleep. and it continues through the night.  Quite remarkably, Gilroy has the very same behavior, and he belongs to JC.  I suspect that Gardenia and Gilroy are from the same litter, however, there are such vast differences in size that is seems implausible! 

 

This morning, we awoke at 0600 to park, pee, water and feed our guides.  All of these activities are monitored by instructors.  We then report to breakfast and are met by an instructor at the stairwell.  After breakfast, we receive a lesson on how to place the harness on our guides.  One by one, an instructor comes to each of us to  bring a new harness and observe our work.  Gardenia is quite petite and the harness feels too large for her.  The instructor and I agree that we will try the harness, but may switch to a smaller version in the near future. 

 

We are all anxious to get to work!  We board the vans for White Plains with our guide dogs.  It is quite moving and exciting to do the first harness walk.  On my first walk, it is cold and windy.  Gardenia is such an exceptional guide that I have not made any corrections.  She leads me to the curb with grace.  I struggle with the correct placement of my feet and posture through doors and stairs.

 

Yesterday, a lot of snow fell and created a slippery surface.  The Instructor Assistants help us to wipe the paws clean of salt and debris after of work. 

 

In the afternoon, we do a reverse walk of our previous journey.  JC and I spend our down time listening to the news on the  computers in the lab in White Plains.  I have discovered that he is a news junkie  like me!  I was overjoyed to find Jeff doing the final updates on this laptop when I returned to Yorktown Heights.  We can thank Jeff for helping me to get the journal transmitted!

 

At dinner, I sat with W.  I meet with him around 8PM in the computer lab to help him with his email.  He is so thankful!. We have fallen into a nice routine, and I appreciate the fact that he needs some help to communicate with his wife.  She is also deaf, so phone communication is not always successful.  Email is easy, and we try to meet at the same time every night to work on sending his messages.

 

The instructors are helping various students privately. After dinner, the lecture is given.  We are advised of tomorrow's work.  We will be doing traffic crossings!  Each student has had a wealth of traffic disasters.  I am privately thinking of the intersections that make me nervous due to their high volume and extensive lanes.  With a cane, we  move like turtles.  Very slow, fairly fearful of tripping and injuries.

 

Today was exhilarating.  I have not walked to briskly in  years!  Gardenia is quick and methodical.  My classmates and I discussed how exciting it is to get the first real harness work done.  Gardenia follows her commands so peacefully and quietly. 

 

As a class, we are starting to fall into a rhythm and become a cohesive group.  It is a bonding experience.  I am still homesick.  I know that this is an important mission, and am looking forward to the weekend.

 

Our final pee and park for the day is at 10PM. All of the students on my side of the building exit our rooms and wait for our guides to get busy.  The dogs loiter and we are freezing here in New York. After 10 minutes we laugh and give up! 

 

I should mention that I made a nearly felonious error with Gardenia today.  After we returned from White Plains, during our 4PM park and pee and feed and water, I took her outside to relieve herself.  I was waiting and encouraging her to get busy and she refused to leave the sidewalk.  I repeated myself several times and she would not budge.  I then realized that her working harness was still on her!  Relieving her bladder in the working harness is a cardinal sin ( we are to remove the harness first).  I felt terrible that I could have overlooked such a simple concept.  As soon as her harness was removed, she got busy.

 

Tomorrow's schedule is somewhat lighter than a regular weekday.  On various days, volunteers come in and do some shopping for basic items for us.  I will check on getting more donuts and having some hospitality for Saturday night.  I will not be attending Mass this weekend, because I do not want to leave Gardenia.   Gardenia and I seem to be bonding well.  It is important that I do not break our bonding experience.  If I leave the campus, she would have to remain on a tie down in our room.  I will not consider doing that, so we will be here throughout the weekend.

 

I will enter another journal log later tomorrow.

 

Entry Three - Saturday, March 4

 

I was mistaken when I thought that Saturday was a light training day! Saturday is like any other training day, which makes wise use of time and resources!  The weather today gave us a brisk wind, but it was sunny and not as cold as the previous days.  The temperatures seemed to hold around 35-40 at midday.

 

Usual morning routine with park, pee, feed and water and park and pee again at 0600.  Then on to obedience training and breakfast.  Lecture after breakfast today described the types of intersections we would be working on in today's lessons with our guide dogs.  We loaded into the vans and headed to White Plains.  I was assigned with W to go out first with our two instructors.  We were driven to the starting point of our routes.  W exited the van first and left to train with Julie.  I exited to train with Jesse.  We are working in an area comprised of government buildings, courthouses, social services, and other public service agencies.  Because it is Saturday morning, traffic is light.  At each intersection, the instructor reviews the type of intersection it is, and all of the pertinent info ( traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, identifying curbs, etc).  Then, I wait and listen for the traffic directions and cars.  These skills are necessary whether I use a cane or guide dog.  I listen for what seems like a long time to be certain that it is safe to cross.  Jesse is with me and confirms that I have chosen a good time to cross.  "Gardenia, forward", she moves through the street and leads me to the up-curb.  We repeat this training at other intersections. 

 

My lack of smooth coordination is obvious at the right and left turns with Gardenia.  When I focus on proper foot placement, I usually have my hands too high or move too slow.  The movement of the hands, feet, and voice command should be fluid. 

 

After lunch, Jesse switches Gardenia to a smaller harness.  We do the same route in the afternoon that we did in the morning.  On the afternoon route, traffic is considerably heavier. 

 

We arrive back in Yorktown Heights at 4 PM.  Time to feed, water, park and pee our dogs. 

 

By the time this is done, it is time for our dinner.  After dinner, another lecture period and a review of tomorrow's activities.  I quickly run down to the computer room to help W email his wife and check his messages.  W has bilateral hearing aids and is blind due to Usher's Syndrome.  His guide dog, Lyle, and Gardenia sit at our feet when we work in the computer room.  I turn the speaker up on the computer so that W can hear his messages.  Lyle and Gardenia snooze and emit funny snoring noises. 

 

Then, half of our class received a lesson on grooming ( for the dogs, not us!).   We received new brushes and combs, and do a grooming session under direct supervision.  Most of our guide dogs fall asleep and become lobby lizards ( the lesson was in the lobby).  We are now obstructing foot traffic and we wake our dogs and report outside at our designated spots for the 7:30 PM park and pee.

 

A volunteer arrives to take requests for small purchases that student's have.  I order 2 dozen Dunkin donuts.  She returns about 2 hours later with everyone's purchases and change. 

 

The donuts are placed strategically in the coffee room where the dogs cannot investigate them!

 

I wash two loads of laundry.  The dog food is kept in the laundry room.  I learn how to quickly toss the laundry from the washer to the dryer before Gardenia discovers the large barrel of dog food.

The washer and dryer are brailed, which make it easy to use.  The coffee machine is also brailed, and very easy to operate.

 

Dogs and students are tired.  We wait for the last scheduled park and pee, and then everyone will go to bed.

 

Entry Four - Sunday, March 5th

 

The morning started with, the usual roll call outside at 0600- park, pee, feed, water, park, pee.  The routine works well and gets everyone hopping early in the morning to take care of their guide dogs.  One rule that is particularly effective here is that no student can start jangling the food bowls until all of the dogs have been observed outside by an instructor.  The idea is that once the dog hears the bowls and food distribution, he/she will be distracted from "getting busy" outside.  After all of the dogs have gotten busy, the students proceed to the feed room with their dog bowls. 

 

As with most Labs, her meal is consumed in a matter of seconds.  Gardenia drinks a small amount of water after her meals.  She drinks most of her water at the 11AM water break.

 

One of the nicest features here at GEB are the meals.  The dietician, Marie, always makes certain to tailor each student's meals to their special needs.  Our class has a lot of special requests- no salt, low salt, antidiabetic diets, etc.  For each day, we are given several choices for our meals.  We all agree that it is nice to not be restricted to one menu only.  I like the chef salad, and have been getting it for lunch everyday.

 

Before breakfast, we each do our obedience exercises with an instructor individually.  After breakfast, we receive a lecture regarding the morning exercise for our guide dogs for today. I am scheduled first. Julie (instructor) brings a box to my room containing a long canvas leash ( 20 ft or so), and some sturdy approved toys for the guide dogs.  Gardenia was quite animated and lively while on the long leash play.  Julie supervised to be sure that there was no leaping or jumping that could injure Gardenia.  This is the first time that I have experienced this part of Gardenia's personality.  She is a very loving but serious minded guide. 

 

After lunch, we have another supervised grooming of our guide dogs.  Gardenia seems to love the comb and brush. 

 

I spend some time outside while the sun is up.  It was only slightly cold and the snow from the major snowstorm on Thursday is melting.  JC and I and W take some digital photos while there is still snow outside.  The dogs seems to know it is Sunday.  They rest on the sidewalk while we take turns trying to figure out what we are really photographing.  It is so very funny between all of us- how can two or three blind people be using a digital camera.  Several photos have to be deleted because they are completely unrecognizable to us.  In one photo, I thought I was photographing JC and his dog; however, it is discovered that I actually photographed Gardenia's backside!  We laugh at these mistakes. 

 

After dinner, I have a one hour practice session with Jesse(instructor) on Juno work.

 

Tomorrow, we will start extending our working routes and add more intersections to the route we learned on Saturday.

 

Entry Five - Tuesday, March 7

 

It has been a few days since my last entry.  On Monday, we started with the usual routine at 0600.  If you have followed my other journal entries, you know that this is the first function of the day- park, pee, feed, water, park, pee.  It does not take nearly as long as it sounds.  The dorm wing has outside exit doors for every dorm room, which we all agree is very convenient for us to take the dog directly outside for their scheduled park and pees.  After breakfast, we take our guide dogs back to our rooms and grab our coats and backpacks.  We place the work harness on our guides, but we do not use the harness handle until we start instruction with a teacher. 

 

If you have ever traveled with a few dogs in a car you know that it can be anything but relaxing.  In the vans that we travel in to our routes, we have 4-5 dogs per van with their student.  The only noise in the van is the students!  The dogs find a spot under our feet and fall asleep.  On the trip back to Yorktown Heights in the afternoon, us old students fall asleep as quick as the dogs do.

On Monday (yesterday)  we added some new suggestions and concepts for our work with the guide dogs.  We are clearly building on the basics of what we were taught last week.  Not every guide dog uses or needs the extra suggestive commands. 

 

On Monday's route, as my instructor Jesse was close behind me giving feedback during my work, a male pedestrian must have been following or passing us.  I was intently concentrating on Gardenia and Jesse's voice as we were approaching a down curb.  The pedestrian said to Jesse, "Are you talking to her or the dog?"  His unexpected comment was funny but it broke my concentration.  I am sure he did not realize that I was in training.

 

After dinner last night, a volunteer photographed each of us with our guide dog.  She will be returning later this week to do a brief interview so that she can write a bio for the GEB website. 

 

I also did a short session of long leash play with Gardenia in our room.  She loves it!! This is the very best way to unwind for both of us.  She becomes a labby puppy when the leather working leash comes off and the long canvas leash is attached to her collar.  She really enjoys the Kong toy.  I do this playtime around 7:10 PM because we have a park and pee scheduled at 7:30 PM.  Once this is done, I groomed her in the grooming room.  I catch up with W and help him send email and photos to his wife and sister. 

 

On Tuesday, today, we had lecture in the morning after breakfast.  We work again all day in White Plains.  My afternoon route went very well.  The afternoon has heavy traffic and a lot of noise and people on the streets and sidewalks.  I like it because it simulates  Baltimore and Washington so well.  In one area that Gardenia was guiding me through, there were a lot of grates in the sidewalk and cars parked in the pedestrian pathway.  She guided me around every obstacle and did not run me into any objects.  She found the down curbs and up curbs.  After the final route of the day, I believe we are improving everyday.  Jesse made another harness adjustment today by removing the noisy rings that attach the handle to the harness.  The small adjustment has really improved the communication between my hand and the harness.  Gardenia is picking up a consistent speed and I am following her better. 

 

Today, our class decided that we want W. to represent us and speak at our graduation.  He demonstrates such a consistent and outstanding attitude despite his disabilities.  Although he is totally blind and wears bilateral hearing aides, he is quite cheerful and funny.  W never complains and he meshes so well with his chosen guide dog, Lyle. 

 

In the mornings, we have started doing our obedience exercises in pairs.  The dogs know the routine, and are very patient while we humans figure out what to say next!

 

Tonight is very cold here in New York, it is to drop to 20 degrees.  Even our student from Canada thinks it is cold!  Although Gardenia gets along well with all of the guide dogs in the class, she seems to enjoy stretching out with Gilroy.  I am strong suspicious that they are siblings.  JC is paired with Gilroy, and they seem like an easygoing, pleasant pair with a nice disposition for returning to JC’s life in Texas.  Very funny episode tonight at dinner.  All of the dogs were napping at our feet and under the tables while the students were finishing dinner.  An unexpected loud entrance into the dining hall by a person caused Gilroy to leap to his large feet and emit one deep bark.  All of the sleeping guide dogs leaped to attention to alert us to this breach of security! 

 

All of the student's are wondering if their puppy raisers will come to graduation.  We wonder what part of the country our guide dogs grew up in; on the water, in the mountains, etc.   We should hear more about those details next week.  For now, it seems like a lifetime away.

 

Entry Six - Friday, March 10

 

 Up until today, we have trained in White Plains all day.  Wednesday was an emotional day. Wednesday started out like any other training day with our guide dogs.  One of my classmates, S, who traveled with W and I from the airport to Yorktown Heights, had to make a change in guide dogs.  She was weeping with such sadness. What a nauseous and helpless feeling we felt when we sat in the lounge in White Plains listening to her.  It could have happened to any one of us.  We all realize how, through no fault of any person or dog, a team must separate for their own safety.  One of the most important benefits to having intense instruction under direction supervision of experienced trainers is that they can recognize and intervene rapidly.  We are a small class of students, and we all extended support to her in her transition to a new guide dog. 

 

In the afternoon on Wednesday, I did my route "solo".  Not as independent as it sounds!  Luckily, my trainer trails closely but does not intervene unless I make bad decisions.  I was always good with orientation, probably from years of reading ADC maps.  I have some clear weaknesses in my work, but my strengths are orientation and crossing traffic intersections.  On my first solo route, I smell the best restaurant in town, and I know that this is the corner in which I cross the street, then turn right and cross the street again.  I also remember that this is a short cycled intersection, meaning that I do not have the right of way for a long time.  If I hesitate or am not sure that it is my turn to cross, then I have to wait for the next traffic cycle.  Gardenia and I don't mind waiting because it smells so good with the steak restaurant on the corner!

 

When we return to Yorktown Heights to our dorms later on Wednesday, S has already been paired with a new guide dog, a yellow lab female.  That evening, we take our dogs upstairs to the formal living room in the entrance to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  There is a large TV in the room.  S wants to watch American Idol, but I do not know how to turn the TV on!  I do not usually listen to the TV.  We find four remote controls and she works with each one to determine which one operates the TV.  We settle in and do not watch any TV, but spend some quiet time with our guide dogs.  I asked her if she remembered her cell phone, and she replied that she did.  Then, she put the remote control to her ear and realized that it was not her cell phone!  We laugh because she had gotten lost in our building earlier in the week. 

 

On Thursday, I worked with a supervisor, Melinda, for my morning route.  We take a totally different and longer route  than I have previously done.  I admit I was a little nervous at first.  Whenever a manager or supervisor works with us or makes an appearance, the first thing that comes to mind is, "What's wrong?"

 

Melinda helped me make a few necessary purchases at the local Duane Reed, which is like a CVS.  The training was a great experience and I feel confident in doing the longer routes.  I also discover that Melinda has a similar sense of humor and that her serious demeanor is a reflection of her responsibility and not her personality.  She did not have to take me on the route which covered the pharmacy store, but she did because she knows that I needed to pick up a few items. 

 

After lunch, we do a doubles route of W and I with trainers Julie and Jesse.  This was a new experience for me.  Basically, we take turns in leading the route, and take turns in leading the crossing through a traffic intersection.  Each of our trainers stops us when we need to be corrected.  I like working this way.  The sidewalks are very busy and have a lot of obstructions. 

 

On Thursday, I had the funniest conversation with W.  During our ride from the airport to GEB on the first day of school, I was in the van with S. and W. and the two GEB employees who picked us up.  We all took turns introducing ourselves.  I could not see that W wore hearing aides.  S and W both tell me that they are repeat guide dog users.  I leaned over to W. and said that ," I guess that I am the rookie of the class!"  W. said," What! You are a wookie?"  " No, I am a rookie!  You know, a newcomer..."  He said," A wookie, like from Star Wars!"  "Never mind..." I said.

 

So, yesterday, while we were grooming our dogs like we do after they eat at 4PM, W. turns to me and said, "Cecilia, on my way here from the airport, I sat next to a wookie, and I haven't seen her since!"  I burst into laughter and said, "W. I AM the wookie, I mean rookie!"  The whole communication cycle is pretty comical sometimes.

 

We are not able to email W's family on Thursday because the tech lab is out of service due to some construction projects in the building.  When the tech lab is back in service, we will all be using it to email our families and catch up on the news and weather.

 

Today, which is Friday, we had a lecture after breakfast about counter conditioning.  We do a practice session together as a group.  We also had a group obedience exercise today, rather than one dog at a time.  Afterwards, we go to a local mall to train on elevators, stairs, walking indoors, and escalators.  We are rewarded with lunch in the food court.  We return to our dorms to clean up for our formal photos that will be used for our identification cards.  We take individual photos, guide dog photos, special request photos, and group shots.  The group reached a point of diminishing returns at just the time the photographer was finished!  We retreat to the dorms to meet with the person who takes our photo orders.  W and I go to groom the dogs.  Gardenia and I do long leash play in our room.

 

After dinner, we have night evolutions tonight (aka night training) in a town we have not visited before.  I am told that there is a Starbucks where we will stage when we are not working our dogs.  I am already thinking about a caramelized apple cider! 

 

Tomorrow, one of our ACTION students will depart to return home to Canada with her new guide dog.  She will continue her training there. 

 

Although I am busy, I am still very homesick.  I will be in training here for two more weeks from tomorrow.  Right now, that seems like a century away!

 

Entry Seven - Friday, March 10

 

We have just returned from Mount Kisco, where we did the night training.  Prior to leaving the GEB campus, we are advised of the order in which we will work and with which instructors (for this route).  We park near a library, disembark the van, and Jesse works with me. I pick up Gardenia's harness and give her the command, "Gardenia, forward" with my right hand moving in a forward motion.  She immediately begins to walk and Jesse gives me instructions to go to the curb as the block ends.  We cross through an intersection that is a wee bit complicated with pedestrian medians separating the different directions of the traffic.  Several lanes from various directions travel through this intersection.  Although it is controlled by a traffic light, I need a little help in determining a safe time to cross.  In the pedestrian median, there is no up-curb to identify as it is completely flush with the streets. 

 

We continue on down a few long blocks.  Gardenia and I fall into a groove that allows me be a pedestrian just like sighted people!  We pass storefronts, banks, bars, other pedestrians, etc.  I start to wonder if Jesse is still with me.  She has allowed me to take over my decision making for this section of our route.  " Jesse, are you still there?" I said aloud.  "Yes! I'm still here," she laughs with me. She then advised me that I was coming upon a flower shop that has several outdoor displays of fresh cut flowers on my left side.  I anticipate that Gardenia will demonstrate some distraction or pull to the left.  She sails past the flowers and does not even turn her head or drop to sniff!  I give her generous verbal praise.  Jesse tells me that whenever I give Gardenia verbal praise while we are working, that Gardenia's tail swings back and forth.  Before I realize it, we have passed the Starbucks where we are to meet the other students.  Jesse tells me that I have gone too far.  " Wait", I said to Gardenia.  She stops.  I have to make a sharp left turn and instruct her, " To the door".  Gardenia takes me to the entrance of Starbucks.  I knock on the door handle and praise her for finding the door, and reward her with a tiny dog treat that is used here. We enter Starbucks and get a Caramelized Apple Cider.  Already, several of my classmates are there and Starbucks is looking like the doggy happy hour!  W. with dog Lyle is seated with JC and dog Gilroy.  C. is seated with dog Oden.  L and dog Portia sit with Gardenia and I. 

 

This is a fun training exercise.  Traveling on foot with a guide dog at night feels different than during the day.  Yesterday, when we were training in pairs, a male pedestrian behind me saw that I was waiting at the intersection for a safe time to cross.  In his opinion, it was a safe time.  He asked why I was not crossing, and wanted to know how the dog would know when to cross.  I wanted to smile and say, " Well, of course, the dog can read the walk and don't walk signs!"  Jesse was very pleasant and explained to him that I was listening for the traffic pattern for a safe time and that the dog would guide after I gave the command to move forward.  I guess he was satisfied with the answer, but tired of waiting for me to move out of his way!  He simply walked around us crossed the street . 

 

Today was unseasonably warm for this time of year.  The weather for our night walk was mild, and could not have been better.  Tomorrow, we will be doing country travel.  We will be working our guide dogs on streets and paths that do not have sidewalks or designated pedestrian areas. 

 

The kitchen staff surprised us tonight with a giant birthday cake for JC!  We did not know it was his birthday today.  We sing happy birthday, and the dogs sleep through the whole episode.

 

Entry Eight  Saturday, March 11

 

After breakfast this morning, we have a few lectures and then do some group exercises.  We receive a lesson on country walks, like in areas that do not have sidewalks or pedestrian friendly walkways.  A lot of my classmates live and work in communities where pedestrians share the road with the cars.  We are going to do two training/working walks today on streets without sidewalks near the Yorktown Heights campus.  The following lecture was additional training in counter conditioning.  We also got a lesson on the new skill for the day: poopy scooping !  Plastic bags are distributed and it is now our official duty to pick up after our guide dogs.  Afterwards, we did a group obedience training session.  We finished up with a long session of distractions and counter conditioning with a dog in training as the realistic distraction.  "Lenny" a large male black lab was brought to the room and he wiggled and greeted and our job was to reward our guide dog for not responding to Lenny.  Lenny was irresistible and most of our guides wiggled right back once or twice.  For the most part, the dogs responded well to our direction to sit.  The session finished around 10 AM and we headed to our dorm rooms to get ready for the first session of country walks. 

 

My first country walk was on a street near our campus.  The morning walk is fairly quiet.  I learn how to check where the shore of the road is.  We walk on the left side of the road against oncoming traffic so that drivers can see us.  If we hear a vehicle , we say "wait", and give the "left" command.  We turn left with our guide dog and the dog takes us to the side or shore line of the street.  The dog stops and we do a foot check to ensure we are properly located, and give verbal praise.  We wait for the vehicle to pass, and then give the "right" command and continue the walk.  Sounds easy enough, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, distractions and complications like other dogs, kids, cars parked halfway into the street,  etc. make the trip realistic.  Fortunately, the morning walk was a good primer.  The afternoon walk on the same route was alot more active.  We encountered several dogs, running vehicles loading and unloading in the road, laughing little children, etc. 

 

Sometimes, we would start drifting to the right.  I try to sense the change in direction, but it is so subtle.  Jesse lets me make decisions about corrections, unless I am unaware of an oncoming vehicle.  This afternoon was good training.  I do not normally walk in areas without sidewalks for the very reason that I feel unsafe.  Jesse does some training with me about land marking. 

 

The weather today continues to be lovely.  It is perfect weather for outdoor work.  We have also begun working our dogs in the building.  Working our dogs means using the harness, and the dog is guiding us.  Up to this point, we have been "healing" our dogs in the building.  This meant that we were using the leather working leash, but not the harness , and we were leading. 

 

We are teaching the guide dogs where our dorm room doors are.  Gardenia is very good about finding the doors on our training walks.  "To the door" is the command to find the door.  At the mall yesterday, she worked through two sets of double doors to exit the mall.  She chose the best doors to use, as she had four sets of doors to choose from. 

 

She is tired and ready to sleep for the night.  I will have to wake her for the 7:30 park and pee. 

 

I was helping W. today with his graduation speech.  The tech lab is back in service(yay!).  W. dictates what he wants to say, I type it into the computer using JAWS.  JAWS reads it back to us so that it can be edited.  I save it to the computer so that we can finish it tomorrow.  The speech needs to be printed and turned in by Monday so that it can be reviewed. 

 

My classmates and I often have discussions that we would not normally have with our sighted friends.  Most of my classmates are "mature" in age (like me!) and lost their vision later in life.  Some lost their vision due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, Macular Degeneration, Usher's, tumor's, and other progressive eye diseases. Among the memories we describe, we all remember vividly the day we turned in our driver's license.  Another memorable and sad day in our lives in the day we sold our vehicles, knowing that it was the last tangible object of our former independence in the sighted life. 

 

JC and L. both describe with perfect visual memory what their vehicles looked like, the color, the interior, make, model, and even how many miles were on it!  In quiet moments in the van, while traveling to the training locations, we even talk about the day we were given the diagnosis of our impending blindness.  Most of us agree that we were in denial for a long time.  These discussions are bonding for us.  The topics we talk about to each other would make our sighted friends uncomfortable.  The topics would probably make us uncomfortable, too.  Amongst ourselves, we can joke about losing our sight, bumping into furniture, getting lost in the building, etc.

 

A few days ago, a car pulled out in front of our moving van and the driver had to hit the brakes suddenly.  We yelled to our driver, " Is he blind?!!! Can't you see us?!!!"  We got a good laugh and relieved some tension.  Yesterday, on the way to Mount Kisco, Gardenia lays under my feet in the van.  When we arrive in Mount Kisco, I discover that Portia is also at my feet and that I have been petting her by mistake. 

 

The upcoming week is reportedly a busy training week.  Just hearing the schedule is making my head swim. We even go to Manhattan on Thursday.  I will need the experience on the subway so that I can travel on the Metro back home.

 

A volunteer is coming tonight to shop for us, so I must run to put in an order for 2 dozen Dunkin donuts.

 

Entry Nine  Sunday, March 12

 

After breakfast, we received a brief training lecture.  The schedule for the upcoming week is also reviewed.  Tomorrow, we have training routes in White Plains and vet check ups and a vet lecture.  Tuesday we do platform work for train and subway travel.  Thursday we go to New York City.  These are just the highlights!  We had a group obedience training exercise.  The grand finale was the counter conditioning.  We were expecting Julie to appear with Lenny to distract our dogs.  However, Julie appeared with samples of food from the school kitchen.  She approaches the dogs and we reward the dog for not responding to her.  If we are fortunate enough to survive this exercise, we are excused and can proceed to our dorm rooms.  The trick is that once we leave the cafeteria, two small plates of food are strategically placed on the floor in route to the stairway.  We must successfully navigate the tempting distraction.  Everyone survives!  We breathe easily once we get into the dorm wing and away from the food temptations. 

 

Gardenia is scheduled for long leash play early in the day.  I retrieve the box containing the leash and toys.  She is wiggly and shakes with joy when she sees me carrying the box.  I recall that on the first day that we did the long leash session, my instructor, Julie, took the box from me and said," Let me carry that box.  This is like carrying a bowl of food around the dogs."  I had no idea what she meant.  One week later, I know exactly what she meant.  When a dog sees the box with the long leash and toys, it is playtime!  The dog is so delighted, that they can barely contain their joy.

 

Once we are done playing, I return the box to the credenza in the lobby.  This is sort of like the "command center" .  All of the important stuff is at the credenza in the lobby.  Poopy bags, schedules, long leash toys, loudspeaker, dog treats, etc. are at the command center.  When waiting to depart in the morning, we stage in the lobby and wait for the vans.  The center of activity is located in this shrunken meeting area.

 

W. and I take our guide dogs to the grooming area, aka the soda machine.  A wide bench sits next to the soda machine.  It is the designated grooming hallway.  This morning, we are to tape the introductions of our guide dogs for the graduation video.  We want our brush our dogs before we sit for our videotaping.  Each student will tape a brief introduction that states their name, the dog's name, and their hometown. 

 

Julie is setting the video camera up and working on lighting and seating in the living room area of the entrance to the school.  W. does his intro first.  He speaks very clearly and does not seem nervous.  He introduces his guide dog, Lyle.  I go next. 

 

" Hello, my name is Cecilia Warren.  This is my first guiding eyes dog, Geranium.  We will return to Crofton, Maryland."  I thought I sailed through it with ease.  Julie, W. and JC are giggling at me.  In her southern drawl, Julie said, " Cecilia, that was real good.  Everything was fine, except that you called your dog by the wrong name!  Her name is not Geranium..."  We all burst into laughter.  How did I do that?  Why would I call her Geranium?  We retape the segment and I get the name correct on the next try.  I think that they should save the funny videos for he out-takes.

 

After we finish with the videotaping, I meet with W. in the computer room.  We finish his speech for graduation.  We listen to it on JAWS.  We edit.  We listen again.  The process continues.  The speech is actually quite brief, and to the point.  I print off a few copies and turn them into Julie.  She reads the speech into W's tape recorder so that he can listen to it and practice it.  W. does not read Braille and he will need to memorize the speech. 

 

We had a huge lunch of lasagna and garlic bread. Around 2:30, a volunteer named Chris, arrives to take S. and I to do some necessary shopping.  We have to purchase gifts for our instructors.  Because this week is a high intensity training week, I want to get these tasks completed and off of my to-do list.  We keep it simple by purchasing gift cards for our teachers.  We have to return to school by 4 PM for park and pee and water and feed.  I was feeling some anxiety about leaving Gardenia on a tie-down in our room.  I know she does not bark or get upset.  But 1 hour seemed like 10 hours.  Chris is very funny and easy to shop with.  She does not get frazzled with S. and I.  We had to take our white canes.  We decide to go sighted guide in the Mall because it is crowded and the canes whack people and displays.  Inside the mall, we proceed to the second floor to the customer service counter.  After I make the purchases, we leave the mall through a Macy's store.  We are looking for an escalator, and Chris is guiding us on each arm.  She begins to pull us a little closer.  It gets very quiet.  I ask if we are in the breakables- "Are we in glassware?!" I ask loudly.  Chris is getting a clear picture that S. and I are thinking the same thought: "Fine china, glassware, crystal.  We have to get out of here before we break something!"

 

The three of us enjoy a lot of laughs about our appearance to others.  Chris is quite a saint about the whole episode today.  She promises that she will come back to take us shopping again.  We wished we could have stayed longer to shop for clothes.  Chris is a savvy and humorous lady, and she can easily pick out what we like and describe the fabrics and sizes to us. 

 

The volunteers that we have encountered at GEB are kind and generous people.  One particular gentleman comes to the White Plains lounge once a week to help us with lunch.  He is a senior citizen with a lot of spunk and wisecracks.  His name is Larry. I call him Larry Leisure of the Lounge.  We only know him from the lounge.  The name seems to fit him. 

 

I have just finished taking Gardenia out for the last scheduled park and pee for the night.  Time to get some rest.  

 

 

Entry Ten  Monday, March 13

 

I am starting this journal entry at 10:40 PM, so it will be brief.  Tomorrow, we are scheduled for training called "traffic checks".  The veterans of the class collectively voice, " ooohs" and "ahhhhs" whenever an instructor mentions the words "traffic checks".  I'll let you know what they are when I find out.  I am starting to associate the words "traffic checks" with the impending panic I feel when my kids mention "science fair projects".  I don’t really understand what I have to do but I know that it will require some type of painful learning experience! 

 

Today, after obedience exercises, we did another long session of counter conditioning.  The distraction of the day was another large wiggly male Labrador.  Everyone's guide dogs are getting so good at refusing distraction!

 

In White Plains, I did a long route with Jesse.  We trained along some bustling streets and crossed a lot of intersections.  Gardenia and I seemed to be making errors that we were not making on Friday.  Jesse helped me rework mistakes.  Re-working a command or a traffic crossing is critical to improvement.  Although the re-working part can be time consuming, Jesse did not make me feel rushed or embarrassed.  In one intersection, the pedestrian and vehicle traffic was quite dense.  I can feel the subtle drifting to the right into traffic.  Usually, my shoulders are not squared to the destination.  Once I reach the destination of the up-curb, I gently place the harness handle down and Jesse does sighted guide for me and I heal Gardenia.  Jesse takes me back to the original corner of the intersection and Gardenia and I repeat the whole operation correctly. 

 

Back in the lounge at White Plains, my classmates casually discuss how we felt about our morning routes.  I have noticed that we are interested in each other's progress.  It is not driven by a competitive drive, though, it is a matter of extending some kind words on the days that don't go as well as we had hoped.  It is refreshing to be with a group of students that as so supportive to each other.  As a rookie, I don't know how the other classes mesh.  In the van on the return trip to Yorktown Heights, the veteran guide dog users reveal that they like this class of "older" students.  I guess we have the benefit of life experience to keep us humble! 

 

For the students who had a working guide dog that passed away unexpectedly, these are emotional days.  The instructors and staff here at GEB do not ignore this element of training for the repeat students.  Sometimes, I just have to walk away from the group, because when one student starts grieving, my tears will start rolling.  I just cant even maintain my composure when the talk turns to the beloved guide dogs that have passed away. 

 

I am falling asleep upright in my chair...I will follow up tomorrow!

 

Entry Eleven Tuesday,  March 14

 

This week is truly the "deal breaker".  We are learning so many important techniques and putting them into practice during our training routes.  Yesterday, after our training routes, we returned to Yorktown Heights a little early to participate in the scheduled vet physicals.  Gardenia is towards the end of the group, and Julie does sighted guide for me while I heal Gardenia over to the vet building.  Wow!  What an incredibly busy place.  The vet who examines Gardenia is Dr. Beth.  Dr. Beth introduces herself and I feel nervous about the visit.   Why?  I don't know!  My vet at home is a house call vet.  He has a swank vet surgery center, but usually comes to my home.  My vet at home grew up on Long Island, and when I hear Dr. Sandler speak, I hear the same inflections and dialect.  Dr. Sandler is the other attending veterinarian here at GEB. 

 

I ask Julie to stay with me through the physical.  Gardenia does well and receives a Lyme vaccination.  I feel like I am at the pediatrician's office!  I am grateful that is over quickly.  A funny note here.  You may recall that when I recorded the video of Gardenia's introduction on Sunday that I called her Geranium.  Everyone got a good laugh and we retape the segment with Gardenia's correct name.  Well, when Julie put Gardenia up on the vet table, she said ," Dr B, this is Geranium".  All of the techs giggled and everyone seemed to know of the blooper!  I suspect that the video may reappear sometime in the future!

 

The whole class attends a lecture given by Dr. Sandler about veterinary issues and our guide dogs.  He answers a lot of questions.  More importantly, he dispels a lot of myths and urban legends about caring for our dogs!  His explanations are clear and he does not drift into any deep scientific discussions that we won't understand.  He covers all the basics:  flea and tick prevention, heartworm prophylactics, GI disruptions, etc. 

 

Marge the volunteer arrived around 6 PM on Monday evening to retake photos of the black labs.  She is a retired school teacher who does a brief bio of each student for the GEB webpage.  She reads the bio to us that she has prepared based on our interviews.  When she is finished, she asked if we approve of the bio.  How could we not approve?!  Marge makes us sound like a million dollars!  She has such an impressive way with the written language.  I gave such a boring interview to her, and I regret not having anything snappy to say!  When I am informed that I have to retake the photo of Gardenia and I, I rush to clean up and put some make-up on. 

 

Afterwards, we have a presentation with another volunteer, Joan, who presents the students with the souvenirs available for purchase.  I met Joan last week.  Her memory is fabulous, and she brings two bags of unsalted pretzels for me!  Joan is very patient with our group.  She is an encouraging person.  Like I mentioned yesterday, the volunteers here are splendid!

 

I know that everyone is waiting to hear about the traffic checks.  What can I say?  Traffic checks are training exercises intended to simulate the reality of street travel with a guide dog.  A traffic check is controlled in that an instructor is driving the vehicle involved.  The traffic check can be described as a "near hit" or "near miss" depending on how optimistic you are! 

 

Jesse worked with Gardenia and I on this training exercise.  I could not conceal my apprehension as we started on our route.  I did not know what was to occur, but the class veterans provided so many traffic check horror stories that I felt like I would "throw-up" on command. 

 

The first traffic check occurred as we were crossing a residential intersection.  The neighborhood was a gentrified area with little activity.  As we were crossing the street, the school van crossed in our path of travel and Gardenia immediately stopped walking.  After the van passed, she moved quickly to the up-curb.  I lavished her with praise. I asked if the van carried a defibrillator.  I thought my heart had stopped!  That was close call number one.  The next traffic check must have been traumatic, because I cannot even remember it!   The final traffic check was the most dramatic.  Gardenia was working and we began to cross a driveway.  Suddenly, she went into reverse so fast that I began tripping backwards.  I backed into Jesse. I had no idea that the van was pulling out of the driveway.     If I had been using a white cane, I would have been a hood ornament!  This training exercise is quite a sobering experience.  The most valuable lesson I learned is to trust the dog.  I must note that this traffic check training exercise is done is a controlled manner using a senior instructor driving the van, and one on one instruction with the guide dog/blind person team.  While it feels destabilizing, it is a fair reflection of the hazards that we must be aware of in daily living with a guide dog.  I am very pleased with Gardenia's response to the traffic checks. 

 

In the afternoon, I did a long training walk with Melinda.  Gardenia seemed a wee bit concerned when crossing the first two intersections.  I did not understand what was causing Gardenia's caution.  Melinda explained that the traffic checks can be stressful for the dog and Gardenia is being cautious.  Melinda tells me to give Gardenia some extra physical praise and loving.  It works well, and Gardenia is sailing through people and intersections with no trouble

 

Entry Twelve Wednesday,  March 15

 

Tomorrow is the big day!  We go into New York City with our guide dogs to try the real deal of urban public transportation. Public transportation has varying degrees of success, but it is a vital component of independence for most blind people. 

 

I must detail the highlights of today's training.  After our usual routine of park, pee, water, feed, park, pee at 0600 hours today, we had breakfast and obedience training.  The counter conditioning training, which follows immediately after obedience training, used food as the distraction.  Once we completed the training on food counter conditioning, the instructors emerged with ball toys as a primary distraction.  No fair!!!  Everyone knows that Labradors love tennis balls!  Every guide dog had a few quivering moments with the bouncing balls, but it was an overall success.  Afterwards, we grab our coats and backpacks, and board the vans to White Plains.  We have 5 teams plus two instructors on this van. It is  a cozy fit.  We arrive at a train station in White Plains for platform training.  My classmates live and work in communities less dense than my home area.  They do not expect to utilize trains and subways on a frequent basis.  I use the Metro system subway in Washington DC quite often.  I also use the light rail in Baltimore.  After much discussion, it appears that I will use a rail system more frequently than my classmates.

 

Melinda and Jesse and Lori have a synchronized system to take each of us from the parking lot to the "staging area".  I work Gardenia from the van to the staging area.  Not only is the train station a busy place, but Gardenia and I get to put several skills together in a real-life environment.  I pick up her harness, "Gardenia, forward" and she glides through automatic opening doors.  The stairs and escalator are side by side in this station.  She leads me to the base of the escalator.  I have predetermined that I will not ride escalators with her, so I say "To the stairs".  She moves to the right and stops at the base of the stairs.  I work her to the top of the stairs, which is about two stories.  Melinda takes me sighted guide to the chairs on deck. 

 

An announcement is made stating that the trains are about 30 minutes late due to mechanical difficulties.  The train platforms get crowded quickly.  Melinda debriefs the group on the training exercises we will complete.  She asks who wants to go first.  Nobody responds in 10 seconds, so I raise my hand and volunteer to go first.

 

Melinda follows Gardenia and I on the platform.  She issues instructions to me as needed.  This is our first experience on the platforms and I know she will be close by.  We go through a series of commands on the platform.  This station has both single platforms and double edged platforms.  The edge of the platforms have an 18 inch strip of raised tactile circles to help me identify that I am at the edge of the platform.

 

The moment of truth arrives.  This is another deal breaking moment.  The edge of the train platform drops to the train rails.  I can only pray that this exercise goes exactly like my instructors have said it should.  Although it is cold and windy, I can feel my skin is diaphoretic.  Melinda instructs me to give the command.  "Gardenia, forward."  Gardenia does not budge, not even an inch.  A few train station employees are now on deck observing this piece of my history.  I get the impression that while they appreciate my need for training, they are concerned that I might land in the tracks!  Again I say "Gardenia, forward".  Gardenia turns a hard right to block my passage!  She proceeds to guide me to the middle of the center platform.  She is no nonsense and moves briskly. 

 

"To the door".  A train employee is making a lot of noise trying to tell me where the door is.  Melinda kindly tells him to pipe down and let the dog do her work.  Gardenia guides me to the next set of doors, which are not obstructed by anyone.  As soon as we get indoors, I drop to my knees and give her the "lovin train" (lots of hugs and kisses and praise). 

 

Back in White Plains for our training route after lunch, I get to work a doubles with W. and his guide dog, Lyle.  Jesse is supervising us.  Jesse has each of us take turns in making decisions on when to cross intersections.  We are supposed to maintain  verbal communication with each other.  Between the heavy winds and W.'s hearing aides, I am practically shouting to him! 

 

The route was quite successful.  As we wait at our final traffic light, I am listening for the flow of traffic.  It is my turn to lead across the road.  W. is standing next to me.  Suddenly, he says loudly, " I told you to knock that off!"  I turned to him and said, " Don't talk to me that way!"  Jesse laughs and informs me that W. was talking to Lyle, who was trying to be romantic with Gardenia.  I had no idea!

 

Looking forward to training in the city!

 

 

Entry Thirteen Thursday, March 16

 

Today was our big field trip to Manhattan.  Lori drove my group in the van.  We staged at an Irish Pub (Kansales).  The restaurant is bustling, but the manager saved plenty of room for us!  The food was great.  The dogs slept  under the tables.  I must summarize my first problem solving dilemma of the day.  Prior to embarking on the training route, I took Gardenia with me to the Ladies restroom.  I went into the stall and could not fit Gardenia in with me!  I am not a large person, and Gardenia is the tiniest dog in my class.  Gardenia tried to enter head first.  Then she tried to back in.  I tried to turn her sideways, to no avail.  What a comical scene!  The story gets even better.  At the end of the day, we were in Grand Central Station.  We were waiting to take a train to Croton-Hudson to return to Yorktown Heights.  Jesse did sighted guide for me once we were inside the huge restrooms with rows and rows of stalls.  Again, Gardenia could not stand and fit in the stall.  I close the door.  There is barely room for her to sit.  She lays down and next thing I know, she had stretched out so that her head is protruding into the stall on my right and her tail and feet are extended into the stall on my left!  Much giggling from behind the doors.  She does not try to get friendly with anyone, but she needed some space! 

 

From Kansales Pub, Jesse works with Gardenia and I.  We work for about 15 blocks, and then board a city bus.  We take the bus a short distance and begin walking again.  I got a lot of practice with street crossings.  The sidewalks are engorged with pedestrians.  As a team, we made a few errors.  We reworked the errors immediately.  Gardenia had a traffic check with a taxi while guiding me across a busy intersection.  She did remarkably well!  I was glad that I did not know we had a traffic check until it was over!  We had several pedestrian checks.  Gardenia slowed into a steady pace when the pedestrians became too voluminous to maneuver around.

 

The busy streets present substantial distractions that she ignores:  open air grocery markets, pigeons, dog walkers with several dogs, children in strollers, ground level flower displays, bagged garbage, etc. 

 

We descend several levels into a subway station.  At the base of the last set of stairs was a street musician playing what sounded like a violin or some sort of string instrument.  Gardenia stops are looks at him.  The notes are in a high pitch that make her curious. 

 

We board the subway.  No seats are available.  Jesse teaches me how to guard Gardenia's tail and feet from being stepped on by commuters.  I slide Gardenia, in the sitting position, between by feet.  I tuck her tail sideways under her feet.  With my right arm. I hold onto the vertical pole with a firm grip.  With my left hand, I stroke Gardenia's head and face and tell her quietly what a great job she is doing.

 

A few stops later, we arrive at Grand Central Station.  Jesse knows the landscape of the building.  We meet the others from our group in the main hall.  We board our train with only seconds to spare before departure.  Gardenia and Lyle fall asleep under our feet.  The gentle rocking of the train sends me into a light nap.  The train trip was over quickly. 

 

The class graduation is only two days away.  I will have to continue training here until March 25th.  The repeat guide dog users will fly home this coming Sunday.  Tomorrow, my class will give our instructors their gifts.  We could never properly recognize their efforts, but we have a small gift for each teacher.

 

Entry Fourteen Saturday,  March 18

 

Today was our official graduation from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  It was an amazing day.  First, I want to describe some of the training we did on Friday.

 

On Friday morning, we received the remainder of the lesson on "going home" with our new guide dogs.  We also did group obedience training and the dreaded counter conditioning training.  The distraction of the morning was a large German Shepherd puppy belonging to a guest instructor.  Each day, the counter conditioning distraction increases in intensity!

 

We were offered two choices on what training we wished to work on for the morning; grocery stores or shopping mall.  L. with dog Portia, JC with dog Gilroy, and I opted to go with Julie to the Jefferson Valley Mall.  Julie works each of us individually.  I wanted to practice boarding and deboarding the elevator.  I also wanted to practice multi level stairs.  After JC and I finish our individual work, Julie allows us to go together to practice.

 

Our first stop was a bookstore to purchase more gift cards.   I always loved to read books and newspapers when I had my vision.  I thought that gift cards to the bookstore would make sentimental and useful gifts for my instructors, the kitchen and housekeeping staff, and Gardenia's puppy raiser.  If you can imagine the humor in seeing two blind people with two guide dogs in a bookstore!  We took the comments in a humorous way.

 

We proceed down a long hallway to Sear's.  JC wants to purchase suspenders. Once inside the Sears store, JC takes the lead.  The path gets very narrow.  We reach a dead end.  We are surprised, but not delighted, to hear that we are in the lingerie section.  JC  mumbles that he will wait to purchase suspenders when he returns to Texas.  I suggest we turn around and go to the Cookie Factory Kiosk where we are to meet Julie.  It is almost time to return to our campus for lunch.  We pick up 2 dozen cookies for everyone ( they said they were ready for a change from donuts). 

 

On Friday afternoon, we receive all of the vet supplies we ordered.  We also do a lesson on using the booties on the dog's paws.  We each practice placing the booties on our dog, and then healing them down the halls.  I can only describe it as trying to wrestle with an alligator!  Gardenia eyed me suspiciously, with a "take no prisoners" posture.  I was on my hands and knees.  I gently tried to pick up one paw, slip the bootie on, secure the Velcro tab on the bootie, and gently place her paw down.  By the time I got to the fourth bootie, the first two had been discarded a few feet away!  We repeated this routine several times.  Finally, all four booties were on at the same time.  "Gardenia, heel"  and we started moving down the dorm hallway.  I could not help laughing, as she walked like a crab plucked from the Chesapeake Bay!  Hopefully, we won't need to put the booties in service too often!

 

Immediately following dinner, we participated in a lesson with our guide dogs.  We received hands on instruction from an animal massage therapist on how to properly massage our dogs.  By the end of the lesson, every dog was asleep!

 

We gently coax the dogs awake to take them outside for the 7:30 park and pee.  Afterwards, we gather in the coffee room (right now it is more like the coffee table) for some hospitality.  Everyone shares funny stories of their time here.  We affectionately tease S. about the evening she tried to pour a glass of water for herself at the dinner table.  She did not realize that the table is set with the glasses upside down at each place setting.  Cold metal pitchers of water are placed at each table.  At this stage in blindness, we all know that when we pour a drink we have to stick part of a finger in the glass so we know how full the glass is and when to stop pouring.  S. started pouring the cold water at the table, but had forgotten to turn the glass right side up!  Water began to spread over the table, off the table, onto the dogs, etc.  She realized the error from the great exclamations from her tablemates! Fortunately, the staff here has seen every possible error we can make with food, utensils, glassware and napkins. We are never made to feel embarrassed.  This is probably what makes it so easy to share our funny stories with each other.

 

On Saturday morning, we had group obedience exercises immediately after breakfast.  Afterwards, Lori reviewed with us each item in our going home packets.  Lori does a great job of helping everyone earmark or paper clip important documents like the accessibility laws for our state.

 

We had hoped to escape the counter conditioning exercises.  We dread the next distraction: cats!  We all love cats, but we are concerned about how excited our dogs will become.  The two cats live in the kennel building and at the vet hospital, and they are not bothered by dogs.  The dogs, however, want to visit the cats and be friendly!  I have two cats at home, so I know the drill on what to expect.

 

We return to our rooms to get ready for graduation.  Saturday was full of surprises!  A large contingent of puppy raisers from the Bay and Baltimore regions came to witness our graduation.  They even brought my daughter!  I was so very happy that she came to my graduation!  It was truly the best kept secret- I had no idea.  I had even called her around 12 Noon on her cell phone.  She sounded like she was sleeping!  The only sadness was that I could not go home with her.  I want to thank everyone who organized the day trip- I know they drove for many hours. 

 

During the graduation, S with dog Cammie sat on my right.  C with dog Odin sat on left.  On the other end was W. with dog Lyle.  W. gave the brief graduation speech that we had worked on.  My classmates are I were truly moved to hear him speak.  I do not know how the audience reacted, but I hope that they were moved to tears like we were. 

 

After a few other speakers, the ceremony was finished.  We were grateful that we could remove the dog's harness so that they could greet the families and puppy raisers.  I had not realized that I had so many visitors in the audience!  I also met the members of the staff here at GEB who were involved with Gardenia prior to my arrival. 

 

My classmates and I find various spots and nooks in the building to meet with our guests and puppy raising families.  Formal photographs are taken.  My daughter took a suitcase home with her so that I have one less heavy bag to take to the airport next weekend.  I have  advised her that if anyone tries to unzip the bag, they should wear eye protection as it is stuffed like a "jack- in- the- box".  I get to meet with the Bay and Baltimore region puppy raisers only briefly, because they have to drive several hours to return to Maryland.  They are all so very kind and encouraging.  It seems like they just got here!  I try not to cry when I hug my daughter goodbye. 

 

Gardenia and I returned to the dining room.  Gardenia's puppy raiser has invited me to dinner ( maybe, I invited myself?!).  The family is staying overnight at a nearby hotel.  We go to Applebee's and share a lot of great stories about Gardenia.  The atmosphere is relaxed, and we return to Yorktown Heights for park and pee time.  They have been reading my training journals online.  I am glad that I maintained the journals.  Originally, I thought the journals would keep my family up to date on what I was doing in training (my sons' suspected I had taken a four week vacation!).  The feedback and comments that I have received on the training journals have been overwhelmingly positive. 

 

I invite Gardenia's puppy raiser and her family back to my dorm room so that they can see Gardenia and say "so long for now."  Saying goodbye seems final and inflexible.  They sit down and give Gardenia the "lovin train"

( praise and affection).  I promise to share Gardenia's endeavors with them.  Usually, this is be a painful moment.  As we exchange contact info and play with Gardenia, it seems that goodbye is not an appropriate end to our first meeting.  We have a common bond.  We are all happy with the outcome.  They are raising another puppy already!  I think they are comfortable with Gardenia's match to me.

 

My classmates and I meet in the coffee room for our last evening together.  Five students leave early on Sunday morning.  One student will leave on Monday.

 

Entry Fifteen Sunday,  March 19

 

This morning, four of my classmates departed for La Guardia airport at 0700.  Lori and Jesse looked like tour directors trying to move a small herd of people, dogs, luggage, etc. to the van to leave on time for the first departing flight.  My classmates were certain that we would have to secure the luggage with bungee cords to the top of the van!  Guide dog Lyle will live in Maine, Gilroy in Texas, Wally in Illinois, and Cammie in Pennsylvania.  Guide dog Odin departed for Pennsylvania by early afternoon.  As a group, we have many differences.  We are diverse in age, cultures, religions, careers, and interests.  We share one unbreakable common bond: we are partners in working guide dog teams. 

 

As we repeat our farewells, a deep silence fills the dorm hallway.  L with guide dog Portia is packing for his departure early Monday morning.  J with dog Josh is sleeping.  I do an extended session of long leash play with Gardenia.  I groom her.  I do some laundry.  The cooking and housekeeping ladies know that I am missing home and family. When they clean my room, sometimes they will sit and visit for a few minutes.  Today, Marie cooked one of my favorites for me: pierogies and zucchini sticks. 

 

I attempted to do dental care on Gardenia this morning.  It was about as successful as my attempt to put booties on her paws!  I approach her with a happy voice and a tiny finger brush.  Initially, she would not open her mouth.  After her first taste of the toothpaste, however, she starts to lick the brush and toothpaste and I could not do the remainder of her teeth.  The toothpaste is a poultry flavor.  We will try again tomorrow.

 

 

Entry Sixteen Monday,  March 20

 

I just finished the 0600 park. pee, water, feed, park, and pee.  As Gardenia and I stepped out of our room we discovered that it is snowing!  Not the heavy, cold, blizzard type of snow.  Although there is a thin layer of wet snow on the ground,  this is not the type of snow that even warrants coffee room discussion with the people who live and work in New York.  But for J and I, this is great fun.  J is from California.  I am from Maryland.  Where I come from, this could be characterized as " 2 hour delay snow".  This treat is unexpected to me.  I must have been "asleep at the wheel" when checking the weather reports!

 

I heard from some of my classmates last night.  It was great to hear their voices and know that they arrived home safely.  They all talked about how happy their families were to receive them and their new guide dogs.  I can only describe their voices as effused with joy!  J and I will be training together with our instructor this week.  We are planning on training that would be more difficult to complete with the larger student group.  Because it is just two of us as students, we can ask to tailor the training to activities or situations that we commonly encounter.  In a larger group, the general training needs of the entire group must be assessed.  Now, with just J and I remaining, we are asking for more specific targeting to our needs in daily living.  I am sure that we will work well together, and get many opportunities to train.

 

I must run to breakfast now!

 

Entry Seventeen Tuesday,  March 21

 

Despite the fact that it is the beginning of spring, the cold air of winter continues to prevail.  This does not interrupt, or even delay, our training.  The instructors are always prepared for bitter wind, sloppy ground and slippery surfaces.  We never hear them complain or seem concerned about the weather.  This is quite reassuring to those of us who live in climates that are "reactive" to winter weather, rather than "proactive". 

 

Earlier this week, I gave a list of training requests that I would like to do this week, time permitting.  The list included the realistic and possible training ( like parking garages, revolving doors, mid-rise to high-rise elevators) to the most unreasonable and preposterous request (how about another day in New York City?!).  I placed that request on the list just to get a chuckle from Melinda. 

 

Yesterday, Jesse took Gardenia and I training in Peekskill.  I am so pleased that we got to work in a parking garage on 2 different levels.  My training question was not about orientation, as that is specific to a certain location.  I wanted to practice the proper response when I hear a car approaching.  In Washington and Baltimore, if you do not take the subway or light rail, then you are committed to using parking garages.  I thought it would be worth trying.  I am so glad that I got the training in a multi-level garage. 

 

The other type of training I worked on yesterday in Peekskill was crossing intersections with various types of up-curbs and down-curbs.  This may seem like an architectural detail of little consequence to pedestrians.  To a blind person, with a cane or guide dog, it is imperative to properly identify the curbs at intersections.  Some curbs have large rounded ends as opposed to straight corners.  Handicap ramps can be gentle and nearly flush to the street.  Some ramps resemble a steep curb cut.  During my training yesterday, I worked on a variety of pedestrian surfaces.  Some of the sidewalks were not the typical concrete or asphalt pavement.  One of the surfaces felt like a large stone surface. 

 

We worked in both residential and business districts.  Quite a nice variety of travel.  Peekskill is also a location that dogs in training work with their trainers.  Apparently, we passed quite a few other working dogs.  I am pleased that Gardenia did not seem distracted. 

 

I will be flying home on Saturday.  It sure seemed like a long time away from home.  I have been thinking about routes at home that I can work Gardenia. 

 

Today, we will be going to White Plains to work for the day.  It is sunny outside, but quite cold.  I am glad that I could not stuff my heavy coat into the suitcase I sent home with my daughter on Saturday.  I thought I would not need it this week!

 

Entry Eighteen  Tuesday, March 21  Evening

 

Another good training day. The other student, J, and I did our obedience exercises just after breakfast.  We traveled in a minivan to White Plains.  I worked with Melinda today.  She and Jesse poked good natured fun at my "wish list".  I replied that I could not resist asking for another working trip in New York City.  Melinda inferred that I may get my wish!  It seems that J was doing other training last week and did not participate in our training in the city last week.  I am keeping my fingers crossed... in the meantime, we are going to Pace University in the morning tomorrow.  The campus setting will allow me to practice a variety of steps, doors, distractions, and shore lining. 

 

This morning, Gardenia and I trained on revolving doors.  We worked to the large public library in White Plains.  Revolving doors are a wee bit tight for space!  It is a good skill to have, but the wisest choice will be a regular door whenever possible.  Absolutely no automatic revolving doors! 

 

Once I complete the revolving door training, I work back to the lounge in White Plains.  Melinda tracks closely behind.  We are at the point in my training that I am permitted to make decisions regarding corrections, traffic crossing, pace, etc.  Melinda and Jesse will voice the places where I need to say "wait"  and "Gardenia, left" and that type of command.  Very rarely do we run a curb, but when we do, I immediately hear, "Stop!"  That's a command for me, not the dog!  Gardenia does not run the down curbs for street crossings.  The rare down-curb we have a problem with are busy entrances to garages and massive municipal buildings ( like the courthouse parking lot).  At this juncture, we are 'fine tuning' what I have learned. 

 

At the lounge, I take Gardenia outside for the 11 AM park and pee.  The designated area is the parking lot in the rear of the property.  I take Gardenia's harness off and hang it up on the harness rack.  I put cold water in a bowl for her to drink.  She declines the water.  I proceed to the area to park her.  Outside, I carefully follow the leash to her neck, and my hand barely touches her back to determine where her tail is.  I place my left foot pointing to her "deposit".  My hand is frantically searching for a plastic poopy bag to clean up.  My pockets are empty!  "Aaargh!"  What a rookie mistake!  I am now committed to standing in this exact position to identify the location of the "poop for pick-up."  This is my guide dog and it was my mistake to forget the bag.  I try to look casual.  I hear Jesse helping J get Josh outside.  I call to Jesse for a bag.  If I were a repeat offender, she would take notice of my action.  Jesse retrieves a bag for me and checks to ensure that I haven't left any remains.  With this crisis solved, time for lunch!

 

Melinda follows Gardenia and I to a restaurant for lunch.  We take a route I have never walked, so I am listening closely for instructions on the corners.  We arrive at a swank Italian place that has oversized booths.  The manager is familiar with GEB.  He comes to our table and introduces himself.  He asks great questions about our dogs and their names.  He knows some of the instructors at GEB.  The meals are so filling that we ask to take the remainder in boxes , aka "doggie bags", not to be confused with "poopy bags"!

 

After lunch, Gardenia and I work several streets and intersections that I have not previously done.  We work into a building that is somewhat like a mall but probably best described as a retail center with several anchor stores and elevators and a movie theater.  We even walk through a few stores.  We do not shop, but I get to experience Gardenia's pace in the busy aisles.  We even ended up in a Barnes and Noble!  No funny comments from the customers, though. 

 

An interesting phenomena that I noticed today.  Gardenia and I are working through various door entrances and places where she has several door options to choose from.  Twice today, I encountered good Samaritans who opened a door to allow us to pass through.  The problem was that I did not know that the doors were open, and the kind people did not announce that they were holding the door open!  Gardenia will go to the appropriate door and stop so that I know the door is present.  In the first case, I was standing in the foyer of the swank Italian place waving my hand in the air like I was reading a crystal ball!  I was actually searching for the door handle!  I think that the lady holding the door open thought I was giving her a blessing!

 

After we returned to Yorktown Heights, I groom Gardenia.  We do a session of long leash play after dinner.  Gardenia is sleeping.  Our lunch leftovers are in the coffee room refrigerator.  I recall the old saying that we used to quote at work, "No name...fair game!"  for unmarked leftovers.  Looks like I will be enjoying the rest of my lunch tonight!

 

Entry Nineteen Thursday,  March 23

 

It has been two days since my last journal entry.  Yesterday, we trained at Pace University in Westchester County.  The campus was nearly deserted, as it is spring break.  It was a blessing, because Gardenia and I could work the buildings and pathways without the usual associated noise and people obstructions. 

 

The distractions in the agricultural area were waiting for us!   We worked by a variety of yard-birds and farm animals in pens.  A nursery school group in the farm thought that Gardenia was a display of a petting zoo!

 

The pedestrian work that I found so helpful was the maze of walkways on the campus.  I got substantial practice in "suggested" turns, which occur in motion.  We also practiced shorelining on the campus streets that did not have sidewalks.  Gardenia had to decide the safest route to take me around a FedEx truck.  She made the right choice!  Bring on the "lovin train" for Gardenia!

 

After lunch,  I had a practical training session on overhead obstacles.  I won't describe how painful it is to hit your head on a tree limb, pole or sign.  Jesse has placed a reasonable obstacle course outside for us to practice this type of challenge.

 

For dinner, Marie made perogies for me, with broccoli and potato.  Good comfort food!  Sandra Calandruccio (love that name!) from the staff stopped by and sat with Lori and I while I ate dinner.  It was like sitting with two best friends that I had known for years!  It was just what I needed while I have this spike in homesickness.  I was sure to convey to Sandra what wonderful volunteers she has recruited.

 

Today, we had to scratch our planned excursion to New York City.  It was not meant to be.  The old phrase,

"Everything happens for a reason" comes to mind!  I had two empowering and useful training sessions in completely different environments!  In the morning, Jesse took me to a large shopping plaza (outdoors) so that I could practice the most common task of mothers of teenagers- shopping and running errands!  It was the most practical use of training time for me as a parent.  We started early by learning how to work the parking lot, enter the plaza pedestrian area, and use a variety of different commands.  A synopsis of our destinations included the grocery store (salt free pretzels!), Payless shoes (new sneakers), Dressbarn (black turtleneck),and Old Navy ( stuff for my daughter).  I was delighted to have such a useful opportunity. 

 

We had lunch back at Yorktown Heights.  For afternoon training, we drove to a lovely little village named Katonah. As Melinda and Jesse described in great detail the area I was working in, I envisioned Katonah as a picturesque, immaculate, pedestrian friendly village of Victorian homes and shops.  The people are Katonah are serious about stopping for each crosswalk.  As I waited to cross intersections, all of the vehicles would politely wait, flash their lights, encourage others to be alert, etc.  I commented to Melinda that I have never been in a town of so many law abiding drivers!  If Melinda would wave a driver on so that I may have an "all quiet" (safe to cross, no traffic light present), the driver would persist that I must cross and that he would not budge until Gardenia and I had safely traversed the intersection.  I find it refreshing that this community is serious about pedestrian safety! 

 

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is well known in this community.  As we were waiting at an intersection, a nice woman approached us and asked if I had attended the graduation this past Saturday.  She recognized us, as she had attended the graduation also.  We chatted briefly.  This town is as dog friendly as Annapolis! 

 

At the end of our training route, Melinda, Gardenia and I duck into a tiny corner diner and order milkshakes for everyone for the ride home.  As we are leaving the diner, Melinda asks me if I want a new challenge.  " Not escalators!"  I replied.  She laughed as she knows that I am averse to taking Gardenia on escalators.  Melinda allows me to travel back to the van solo.  She gives me very specific instructions.  No crossing streets.  Left at first curb.  Left at next curb.  Van will be immediately on my right.  Everyone will be waiting.  I have a cell phone, so communication is not an issue.  I cannot make any errors...this is a straightforward route. 

 

I was not walking on the sidewalk, I was walking on the "atmosphere"!  Gardenia and I moved like we were on a mission.  I must have been grinning like a Cheshire cat!  We passed restaurants and shops, residences and offices.  As soon as we turned the final corner to the van, Melinda began humming the tune from "Rocky".  Gardenia was wagging and wiggling as if we had won a gold medal. 

 

Upon our return to Yorktown Heights, I finished relocating my belongings from room 3 to room 7.  I am now wedged between Jesse's and Lori's room.  This is fortunate for me because I can now bang on any wall to get their attention!  At 4PM feed, water, park and pee, I take Gardenia outside to her park area.  After she parks and pees, I start to search for my "park" door (door to the outdoor area) to gain entry to my room.  I opened a door and enter, and am greeted by a large, furry dog with big, pointy ears! "Uh-oh!"  I scamper out and advise Jesse that there is a German Shepherd in my room. "That's my room.  You are the next door down.."  .  Fortunately, Jesse takes mercy on me as this is my first afternoon in a different room.

 

Tomorrow, we may take a short train ride to a town named Cold Spring and finish our training there.  We will be packing on Friday evening. Marie made pasta for dinner tonight (more comfort food!).  I asked the kitchen staff if they would like to come home with me...my family would love it!

 

Entry Twenty Wednesday, April 5

 

Nearly two weeks have elapsed since my last journal entry, when I was preparing to leave GEB in New York.  We spent our last training day in Cold Spring, across from West Point.  We traveled by train, worked the town, ate lunch in “The Depot”, and returned to the train station in Peekskill. 

 

I flew home on Saturday, March 25th.  Gardenia fell asleep promptly on the plane.  We were on an “express”, which translates to “lots of turbulence and chairs the size of a toddler car seat”.  My concerns were exacerbated when Gardenia and I had to walk across the tarmac to the narrow drop-down steps leading to the cabin. 

 

The flight attendant recognized that I was booked to sit in the bulkhead, aka the emergency exit.  Can’t have a blind woman and her guide dog blocking the emergency exit of the plane!  Sounds reasonable- however, the tiny plane had a lot of passengers.  The rest of the boarding process resembled the adult version of “musical chairs” without the music!  The flight attendant seemed to be a seasoned and well humored lady.  She responded gracefully to the occasional complaint from passengers about the seating assignment change.

 

Negotiating the security procedures with a guide dog is new to me.  We were briefed at GEB by Becky, a consumer outreach advocate, about what should occur.  She is a repeat guide dog user, and cautioned us that not all personnel are familiar with the procedures. 

 

At LaGuardia, I remained with a knowledgeable recruit (a spouse of one of my instructors) because a classmate’s flight departed at the same time as my flight.  J’s departing gate was in a completely different section of the airport.  I would never have been able to navigate LaGuardia without a sighted guide!

 

As we approached the security deck, my laptop, coat, etc were placed on the belt.  The dog harness always activates  the metal detector.  Normally, the guide dog user will lengthen the leash to an obedience leash, put the guide dog in a sit-stay, and hold the leash as she passes through the metal detector.  Then, the guide dog user will have the guide dog walk through so that when the alarm activates, the guard can “frisk” the dog.  The guard instructed me to pass the dog through first.  Because Gardenia does not walk backward in a harness, this was awkward.  The detector alarm activated, a small cadre of security people patted her down, examined the harness, etc.  Afterwards, I put my shoes and coat on, and joined my sighted guide to find the gate.

 

At BWI, I was instructed to wait on the plane until an escort arrived.  After waiting an extended period, the flight attendant persuaded a supervisor to take me into the terminal.  We waited again at the gate for an extended period.  An airport escort arrived with a wheelchair!  We had a wee bit of a language barrier- as I tried to explain that I did not need a wheelchair, I just need some help finding the baggage claim.  She revealed that she was afraid of dogs, and was unsure of where the baggage claim was located.

I finally hooked up with my friend, Barbara, who had patiently waited in baggage claim!  

 

Gardenia has settled in nicely at home.  I began working her on short routes in our neighborhood.  I have been depending on my family or neighbors to walk with me so that they can point out the streets and turns on the route. 

 

Gardenia was a model guide dog yesterday as I attended a lunch at a local restaurant. Last week, I attended a long meeting in Annapolis.  She had only been home for a few days.  I had not worked her in an office or government environment.  She worked well in the building, and fell asleep under my feet during the meeting.  We also attended a long hearing this week in Annapolis, and her behavior was unimpeachable! 

 

Gardenia and I attended church on Sunday.  We attend the “teen mass” as it appeals to my teenagers.  It is such a popular mass that is tends to be very crowded (cozy).  We were led to a seat in the section reserved for the teen music group who performs during mass.  Their seats are modified for easy egress and do not have the kneelers. I guess you can say that Gardenia is “with the band!”.  Gardenia slept through mass, but her presence was heard from her snoring!  The Priest joked that “she sleeps through the homily just like everyone else!”

 

I aim to post a training update once a week.  Thanks to everyone for their kind words and emails.  While I was in New York, a team of family, friends and neighbors volunteered (okay, maybe they were shanghaied!) to keep the operations here in service!

 

 

 Entry Twenty-One Friday, April 14

 

 

Gardenia has worked in a variety of environments this week.  I have tried to keep the morning routine consistent to the training practices we established at GEB.  I do not need an alarm clock, as I awake to puppy kisses to alert me that the dog bowls are waiting for some action!  Then, Gardenia trots to the backyard for park and pee.  Afterwards, we do our daily obedience exercises.  During obedience, Gardenia is on a long obedience length leash.  The fun factor to this routine is that the family dog, another female black lab, eagerly participates in every drill.  The family dog is significantly taller and larger than Gardenia.  A neighbor waiting at the school bus stop commented that the two dogs look like a slimfast commercial- before and after!

 

Immediately after my teens leave for school, I take the dogs for their early morning walks.  I cannot walk the two dogs concurrently.  Gardenia is speedy and focused.  The family dog walks at the “hakuna matada” pace- slow, relaxed, no hint of urgency.  The result is that I work Gardenia for a route; then take the family dog for a leisure walk.  The exception is if I have a scheduled walk with a neighbor.  Also, my sons will take turns walking the dogs with me.  I enjoy having the company.  With a dog loving walking companion, I can work Gardenia while my family walks Onni.

 

One of the training routes I am working on with Gardenia is the route to our local gym so that I can use the cardio equipment and exercise.  I chose this gym because it is within walking distance and is pedestrian friendly.  She knows about ¾ of the route.  Today, we are going to finish the route.  Once we arrive at the gym, I will work out for about an hour.  A family member will pick us up, so we will not walk home.  I plan on leaving the house at 7- 7:15 AM.  The walk will last 45 minutes.  This plan has not been tested- so adjustments may be necessary!

 

My daughter, Chelsea, and I were shopping in The Gap this week.  As Chelsea was in the dressing room with a stack of clothes, Gardenia and I settled in to wait.  I thought we were tucked out of the way. 

 

When Chelsea emerged from the dressing rooms, I heard, “Mom, I’m ready.” 

I turned to her and extended my hand to touch her forearm. 

In my most motherly-but-not-annoying-voice, I patted the forearm and said, “Now, Chelsea, are you SURE that you don’t want to get anything else while we are here.” 

“Ma, I’m over here.  That’s a mannequin your talking to!” 

Oops!  She was mortified that I had mistaken the life-like mannequin for her.  The saleslady and I laughed openly.  Gardenia is well versed in the teenage shopping routine.  Walk around the store, find the dressing room, melt from a sit into a down, and fall asleep, repeat at the next store.

 

On Thursday, I shared lunch with Gardenia’s puppy raiser and her brother (Erica’s brother, not Gardenia’s brother- he’s in Texas!).  We met at a bustling Italian restaurant in Annapolis.  I like meeting people for lunch there because the staff will save a booth for Gardenia to sleep under and they have Braille menus.  Gardenia saw Erica, and her tail started wagging and rotating like plane propeller.  Good thing her tail can’t fly off!  Gardenia settled in for a fun lunch.  They took photos outside in the sunshine.  I hope that Erica and her brother enjoyed seeing Gardenia work.  The family drives through Annapolis to the Eastern Shore occasionally, and this is an easy spot to meet at. 

 

The next day, Chelsea and I went to a new local restaurant with one of her friends for dinner.  The restaurant, The Big Fish, is a cosmopolitan and trendy seafood place.  They have very attentive and friendly staff.  I usually have the same servers when I go there with friends on Thursdays.  The staff remembers how to identify the food for me, and they orient me to the table.  For example, when the appetizers are served, I are advised that, “Bread is at 2, water glass is at noon, peanut sauce is at 10.”  This is a universal system that vision-challenged people use to know how a table is arranged.  The only challenge I have is finding my way to the main dining room.  I was following Chelsea and her friend as we entered The Big Fish. 

 

The Big Fish is decorated in the under-the-sea motif.  My kids know that when I am following, they must give specific right or left turn directions, not just “over here”.  At some point of following the staff and the girls, they turned right down an aisle, but I didn’t.  Gardenia and I proceeded straight down the hall of diners, until we reached a dead-end of the exterior wall. 

“Gardenia, hup-up”. 

Gardenia could not hup-up, because there was no place to go forward!  I was thinking that she stopped for an obstruction, so I put my arm forward to check.  I found that I was embracing a fish sculpture on the wall! 

“Mom!  What are you doing?!  That’s a fish!” 

“Oh, reeeaaally?”  I replied in an intentionally slow response.

 

Today, Gardenia is meeting extended family.  I will be sure to report the observations of the Easter egg hunt.  Not to worry, no real eggs will be used.  Large plastic eggs with coins, not candy.  Teenagers are not nearly as motivated by little chocolate candies.  Put money in the eggs, and everyone is happy!  Also, I recall a few Easter’s in which some eggs were not recovered.  Finding a candy filled Easter egg 4 months later is just disturbing! 

 

Entry Twenty-Two Saturday,  April 22, 2006

 

Spring showers have finally arrived today.  The ground has been crackling dry; and I dare anyone in my house to complain about the weather!  During the brief breaks, when the rain is suspended, Gardenia and I work a brief route outside.  She is not at all apprehensive about the weather.  She seems to savor the strong breeze and I can feel her head lifting higher to catch the scent.

 

I continue to be on the learning curve.  We have worked to the gym 5 days this week.  We have to depart my house early because the air starts to get humid and warm by mid morning.  I have a backpack with supplies that I carry on my back- sort of like “hands free travel”.  The route that we initially learned to the gym had to be modified.  The last leg of the working route required us to walk on a sidewalk that was flush to a highway here (Rt 424/Davidsonville Rd).  No median separates the highway from the sidewalk.  The area is notorious for speeding.  I knew it was a matter of time before there would be hair, teeth, and eyeballs everywhere!

 

I attempted to take a shortcut through an apartment complex adjacent to the stretch of highway that we travel.  Difficulties arose when I discovered that the sidewalks are not contiguous, and often abruptly stopped in peculiar spots.  Gardenia did her best to work my commands, but I got a wee bit lost in the parking lot of the apartment complex.  Fortunately, a good Samaritan directed me back to my destination.  The next day, I had a family member take me through the complex and we discovered the easiest path to avoid the highway.  It seems silly to find joy in overcoming such small challenges.

 

The gym has been an interesting domain with Gardenia.  She continues to amaze everyone when she falls asleep on the cool floor next to me while I use the elliptical.  Yesterday, I discovered a large room where the abdominal equipment is located.  Additional elliptical and cardio equipment are also located there.  The room was comfortably chilly.  I found my way to a recumbent bike.  I placed Gardenia on my left.  I started peddling, but did not know how to operate or program the bike.  I placed my hands on the panel, but did not feel any Braille or raised buttons.  No audible commands provided directions.  I could not hear anyone else in the room. 

“Hellooo!  Is anyone here?  Does someone know how to operate this contraption?’  You can’t be shy about asking for a helping hand or a pair of eyes!

Apparently, a few women were working out in the room.  The silly announcement really broke the ice.  I think that often times, people want to offer help or ask about Gardenia, but don’t know what to say.  Maybe they think that I will be unfriendly (me?).

 

On Tuesday evening, Gardenia and I went for a walk in the evening.  The climate was perfect.  The route that I planned was in our neighborhood, but in a different direction than we usually take.  After thirty minutes, I started to suspect that I had erred.  I did not recognize the sounds, and the curbs were not where I anticipated.  I continued walking, as if I were waiting for a revelation.  After another twenty minutes, I admitted that I was lost in my own neighborhood!  However, in keeping with a cardinal rule of blindness, always carry your cell phone!  “Uh, can you pick us up?”

“No problem.  Where are you?”

“Hmmm, I don’t know!”  I heard someone walking by with their dog.  “Excuse me, excuse me (wave arms and make noise so she cannot ignore me)…where am I?” “I mean, what is the cross street intersection closest to me?”

 

During our class in New York, the students received a lesson from Becky Barnes on how to advocate for oneself during incidents where a guide dog user is denied access.  Every student had a collection of incidents to share describing times that they were refused service or access.  The region where I live has an abundance of restaurants, movies, shopping, etc.

 

Today, my teens and I had lunch at Applebees. 

I was in the vestibule, at the hostess stand, when the waiter said, “We cannot serve you or your dog.”

 “Are you talking to me?!”(emphasize with laughter). 

“Yeh, we can’t serve you.” 

“Sir, Gardenia here is a guiding eyes dog.  I have our identification as a certified team. We have dined here before.  Would you like to check with your manager?  I am sure she can clear this up.” 

A waitress intervened after she recognized Gardenia as a previous visitor to the restaurant, and found a large booth for us.

 

The upcoming week will bring new situations for Gardenia and I.  I have several doctors’ appointments scheduled, including a long visit to the cardiologist.  My feeling is that as a team, we are ready for these new situations and challenges!  Also, next Saturday, we are attending an event in Annapolis.  I will be sure to detail the highlights of our training this week!

 

Entry Twenty-three, Sunday May 14th 2006

 

Several weeks have passed since I last filed a journal entry.  No need to wonder if Gardenia and I have been busy learning!

 

A Sunday in late April was a marathon day.  Gardenia and I attended the Spring Fling in downtown Annapolis.  She represented the puppy raising region of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  Several puppies in training were present.  Navigating the cobblestone streets is a challenge for me (have to remember to pick up my feet!).  The weather was perfect.  Annapolis is a dog loving city, and plenty of family dogs were present to serve as a distraction.  The display was a success, with a lot of foot traffic coming through and asking questions about puppy raising.

 

Afterwards, Gardenia and I were off to attend a soccer game.  She worked very well, even with the balls flying in the air. 

We stopped at home for dinner.  That evening, we attended a wake in Silver Spring.  The funeral home was quite large and percolating with people. I did not realize that other viewings were being conducted simultaneously.  As Gardenia and I entered the foyer, we were somewhat obstructed by people.  Gardenia, not one to allow an obstruction to derail her work, surged around the crowd.  A boisterous and cheerful group of people occupied a room to our right- so, it seemed like the place we wanted to be!  “Gardenia, right.”  Nobody stopped us or asked,” Hey, what side of the family are you on?”  Actually, the jovial group welcomed us.  Gardenia and I were working the crowd.  Unexpectedly, I was alerted to the fact that I was attending the wrong viewing!  Oops!  We were guided to the correct viewing, and found our way to pray over the casket. Gardenia snoozed next to the kneeler while I said the rosary.  In the elevator, the attendant revealed that his son was on his fifth guide dog.  He did not mention where he had trained with them. He was so kind and understanding of my error!

 

            Gardenia and I also attended a benefit in Baltimore a few weeks ago.  A very nice and funny puppy raising couple provided the transportation.  As we were entering the very ornate and posh private club, I was stricken with the thought, “What am I thinking?  What if we get lost?  What if the environment is too overwhelming for Gardenia?”  Not to worry!  We had a delightful time.  Gardenia slept under the table, with a few people streaming by to check her out.  My tablemates were so helpful and kept my plate full!  They were wonderful conversationalists and made me feel like one of the family.

 

            Gardenia and I attended the musical production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!”  She was particularly interested in the role of Snoopy.  We sat in the front row, and Gardenia woke up when Snoopy sang his skit for “Suppertime”. 

 

            In other areas of learning and training, I think that the progress has been outstanding.  We had a one week hiatus last week.  Gardenia has slowed her pace down substantially to accommodate me while I am recovering from surgery.  I did not have to give a leash correction to alert her to this concept, she simply slowed her pace as soon as we resumed working together again.  I suspect that her pace will resume to normal when I resume to normal!

 

            Gardenia has completely mastered 3 basic routes of my neighborhood.  I can walk these routes without concern of getting lost.  She has successfully managed the routes in two large medical buildings to various doctor’s offices. I can only state how tremendously proud I am to walk with her.  I am feeling more comfortable and I think it is reflected in our work.

 

            Mother’s Day is today.  It seems appropriate to thank all of the “Moms” who serve as puppy raisers.  I think of Gardenia’s puppy raisers- and I know they think of her with pride. Gardenia’s “Mom” is Erica- Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Entry Twenty-Four, Friday May 26th 2006

 

            The Memorial Day extended weekend is upon us.  Gardenia and I spend a lot of time outdoors working brief routes on sidewalks through the neighborhood.  Her distraction and counter conditioning training is so useful when encountering the many dogs we pass while working.  One particular yard that we pass daily has two or three enormous dogs behind the fence.  I can only surmise their size due to their vigorous and deep barks.  The pattern starts as soon as we enter the up-curb on the short block.  The dogs run the length of the fence repeatedly until we get to the down-curb at the end of the block.  I can hear their panting breath and their paws hitting the ground.  When Gardenia initially starting working this block, she was understandably distracted and curious about the boisterous dogs.  She has progressed to the point where she does not stop or change her pace when the dogs start barking and running on our side.  In fact, I can feel that she keeps her head held high and seems focused on a steady pace to the down curb.  Once we arrive to the down-curb, the fenced dogs retreat to wait for the next unsuspecting pedestrian.

 

            Last Saturday, Gardenia and I were at the Naval Academy to pick up a midshipman that we sponsor.  Annapolis is swarming with tourists this week due to the Academy graduation.  Usually, Gardenia and I will sit on a brick wall at the Main Gate while waiting for our mids.  Some time had passed, and I suspected that we had missed K. as she passed through the gates.  Gardenia and I stood at the down-curb to cross the busy intersection to walk back to the car. I gave Gardenia the forward command.  She entered the intersection.  In a matter of seconds, she turned to the right and began to push me back with earnest.  A vehicle on our left slammed on the brakes.  A collective gasp of witnesses told me that we just had a traffic check!  It seems that a van-taxi was parked illegally on our left and obstructed the offending driver’s view of the stop sign and Gardenia and I.  If you read my journal entries from the traffic check training in New York, you may recall that I would rather have my appendix removed than have a traffic check!   The traffic check on Saturday in Annapolis was of the “Melinda genre”!

 

            At graduation from GEB, the graduate is issued a photo ID card that includes information on the guide dog.  In this security conscious world we live in, I have discovered that the sentry at the USNA gate checks the ID of all occupants of an entering vehicle.  Gardenia’s ID has been checked this week as we passed through the gates. 

 

            Gardenia has guided me through three large medical buildings that she has not visited before.   My daughter had knee surgery, and Gardenia was a model guide dog during the long wait.  In the post anesthesia care unit, she seemed to know the drill, and kept a discreet profile.  My son had a sailing mishap that required a trip to the orthopedist’s office.  Gardenia worked so well that it seemed she must have prior knowledge of the building!

 

            While I can summarize the variety of work experiences that Gardenia and I have enjoyed, it does not describe the “big picture”.  Individually, each successful trip may seem insignificant.  Collectively, however, the sense of confidence in traveling the streets, communities, and buildings is fabulous!  Each new building that we master brings a more relaxed feeling.  I have noticed that Gardenia has outstanding elevator manners.  We board a lot of elevators.  She is so predictable.  She turns to the right twice until we are facing the doors to exit the elevator.  The only two problems are when to exit the elevator (what floor are we on?) and the elevator with exits on two sides. 

 

            The upcoming month promises to bring new opportunities for Gardenia and I to work together.  It may seem that we should be off the “learning curve”.  I disagree.  Learning is a daily living activity!  We have several summer activities on our schedule; graduations, religious ceremonies, and the coveted week at the beach!

 

 

Entry Twenty-Five, Friday August 25th 2006

 

 

Sadly, summer vacation is coming to closure.  The upside is I can reclaim my computer from my teenagers and resume the training journals.  Gardenia and I had a delightful summer- full of learning experiences.  Rather than bore everyone with the activities we attended or skills we learned, here is the “Reader’s Digest” version of the highlights.

 

June was a fun and active month.  Gardenia was busy working as we attended the end of school year ceremonies.  The whole family took a beach vacation in Fenwick Island, where I discovered the magnetic attraction between Gardenia and open bodies of water.  Word of advice:  for the aquatically inclined dogs, always ensure that a beach or boat ramp is available for your dog to exit the water (not a pier or floating dock).  On the boardwalk in the evening, Gardenia was such a professional.  Imagine the beach crowds, kids with melting ice cream, noisy seagulls swooping down; and she was focused and undeterred.  The routine was that my kids would find a store or shop to visit, Gardenia and I would find a bench, and relax until it was time to repeat the cycle at the next block.  She seemed to enjoy people watching (or seagull watching!). 

 

July was wickedly hot and humid.  We worked outdoors in the early morning (6 AM) or late evening.  During the day, we worked in air conditioned buildings (lots of lunches with friends, doctor’s appts., the gym).  Gardenia is the “go-to girl”.  She is always ready to work.  Observers often comment to me that she seems to really enjoy working.  It always makes me smile to hear such kind and sincere words.  At Gold’s Gym, I began to work consistently with a trainer, who adores Gardenia.  When I work on stretching for a half hour on the mat, Gardenia lays down on the cold hardwood floor and stretches herself out.  On a notably hot day in mid July, I did not take Gardenia to the gym for my workout.  The air conditioning in the building seemed stressed, and the excessive outdoor heat was causing the indoor heat to be warmer than comfortable for her.  I was in the “abdominal room” for my workout.  I was not working with my trainer, just on my own.  I had not realized that I had never been to the gym without Gardenia.  When I give the command, “Gardenia, to the door” she leads me to the exit door safely.  Well, I discovered how difficult it is to find the exit on my own with a cane!  As expected in a gym, equipment and machines line the wall, so I cannot follow the wall with the cane.  Every time I swept the floor with the cane, I whacked into something.  My embarrassment was increasing with every failed attempt to find the wall.  Furthermore, I know that an open cement stairway exists on one side of the room.  I knew that other people were in the room- I could hear them chatting.  My sense of humor overwhelmed me, imagine the appearance of this!  I finally stopped and said, “hey, does anybody know where the door is?!”  A nice guy emerged and helped me to the front door of the gym!  I never got his name, but I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Most people are willing to help once the request for assistance is issued. 

 

August started with a Sunday visit to the local hospital emergency room for my oldest son.  I was a bit wary of how Gardenia would do in a very crowded emergency room.  Nothing is private, and it is not uncommon to wait for hours.  She did a great job.  The patient in the cubby next to us was in severe pain (the screaming type) from kidney stones, and I think my son was more upset than Gardenia was!  She settled nicely beneath my feet (I was standing- no room for a chair).  When he was discharged several hours later, Gardenia received a loving farewell from the treatment staff. 

 

The month was filled with back to school type of doctor’s appointments:  dentist, orthodontist, podiatrist, etc.  Gardenia was especially impressive at the dentist office.  She settled into the corner of the room and slept.  The whirring of dental equipment was not a concern. 

 

The two common themes I have noticed from the journals’ pertaining to Gardenia’s success are:  1)  the ability to wait for extended periods in a peaceful, settled, and quiet manner (even in new and busy environments) and 2)  the ability to “tune out” or ignore loud noises, obnoxious sounds and general noise pollution.  I am not an expert in dog behavior.  I am simply making an anecdotal observation.  Her willingness to settle at my feet allows her to go unnoticed in many environments.  Sometimes, especially in restaurants, she cannot settle under a table if the space is tight and the harness becomes caught on an object.  In those situations, I remove the harness and place it on the seat next to me.  She immediately settles to the floor and sleeps while I dine.

 

I make it my practice to convey the positive experiences in this training journal.  As with any learning experience, and life itself, sometimes a poor outcome occurs.  When a negative interaction occurs, I feel it is not appropriate to include the incident in this journal.  The only exception to this personal guideline are the incidents that are egregious, and can springboard one to initiate a better outcome.

 

Now, you must be wondering what I could be referring to!  I have debated on whether to include this experience. Last Friday, one week ago, I proceeded with my daughter to the Motor Vehicle Administration in Glen Burnie.  She had an 11:30 appointment at the headquarters of the state MVA to take her driver’s license driving exam.  I painstakingly ensured that we had her certified birth certificate, driving school certificate, and her organized driving log of 60 hours on the road.  We arrived early.  We searched for a parking space in the overflow parking.  The headquarters of MVA is a city among itself.  The main building, with its’ several stories of glass enclosed offices, overshadows the multiple trailers that house the driver’s test buildings.  Upon locating a parking space several hundred yards away from the “portable trailers” Gardenia began to lead me to the buildings.  The first noticeable problem was the voluminous broken glass, litter, and hazardous debris.  Secondly, there is no protected or identified pedestrian walkway.  This location of MVA gives driving tests on everything one could drive; school buses, tractor trailers, motorcycles, etc.  The task of reaching the buildings resembled a game of chicken.  My frustration was growing with the “flagship” of the MVA.    We waited almost two hours before my daughter was seated with a driving evaluator.  At this point, we had been to different trailers, and discovered that the main room for driver’s licensing was difficult to navigate.  This adventure was clearly going to last another several hours.  It seemed like a good time to take Gardenia to “get busy.”  The lack of safe crosswalks, in addition to the abundance of broken glass, made it difficult to find a safe place for me to allow her to park and pee.  I continued to walk and search for an area free of glass; an area where I could not hear the tractors and buses.  We continued to walk until it seemed we found a good spot.  No litter.  No broken glass.  No engines running.  Perfect spot!  I began to relax and removed Gardenia’s harness.  I extended her leash and gave the “get busy” verbal command.  Within seconds, I heard people yelling.  The yelling was getting closer- and irate.  I was approached (AKA dog-piled) by MVA personnel who could not be bothered to help me earlier.  I was informed that I was on the driving range!  Normally, I would find something funny to laugh at in this situation.  But, it was not funny.  It was unsafe.  It was humiliating.  The whole circus atmosphere of MVA was not helpful.  How could a blind woman wander onto the driving course?  Why are protective barriers missing?  I am simply searching for a spot for Gardenia to park.  If the driving course is a secured area, where is the security? 

 

The saga continues.  Chelsea passed her test.  We find the building to get the license processed.  Once the door opened, it was obvious that it was not accessible to me.  I tried to get into the information line with my Chelsea, so that she could get a number to be processed (#110, with the current number being processed at #50).  Immediately, I was approached by a security guard who vigorously questioned me about “the dog.”  The guard was so aggressive and inappropriate, and did not have knowledge of the legal rights of my access with Gardenia.  I could feel my face getting hot and the tears welling under my eyelids.  I could not talk.  Have you ever been so frustrated that you cry hot tears?  Chelsea tried to intervene.  I exited the building. 

 

Outside, once again, because I cannot be accommodated inside. This was one of the rare moments where I am angry with myself for not being an effective advocate.  I asked myself, “What would I have done when I had my eyesight?”  I decided to find a supervisor in the main building.  I found a manager’s office.  The lady told me to complete a complaint form- imagine my facial expression as I stood there at her door with my guide dog! 

 

The reason I share this incident in the training journal is because it is imperative for guide dog users to be effective advocates for themselves.  Advocacy does not mean angry and emotional confrontations.  Effective advocacy is clearly conveying a violation or problem in a calm and confident manner.

 

Moving on to more positive news; Gardenia and Chelsea and I went to the uniform store a few weeks ago for Chelsea to be fitted in a new uniform and to order the items.  I called ahead to make sure they would have a clerk available to help her.  As soon as we arrived, a clerk began to work with Chelsea, and the remaining three clerks stood in awe of Gardenia working.  It was enough to make me giggle.  The clerk would lead down a long aisle of shelves and clothes, Chelsea would follow her, then Gardenia guiding me, and I could hear several feet shuffling quietly behind me.  They were very respectful and maintained a wide berth.  After we exited the store, I said to Chelsea, “I think Gardenia has groupies!”

 

A few days ago, my sons were at a doctor’s appointment in Annapolis.  The waiting room was brimming with noisy babies and sick toddlers.  Despite the best efforts of the curious little ones, Gardenia just stared at them curiously.  In the examining room, Patrick complained to the doctor, “It’s the apocalypse out there in your waiting room!”   Gardenia led me out of the building and into the parking lot with no trouble.

 

The weather is more comfortable and we are enjoying working outside.  I am pleased to record the training journal once again!  Enjoy the Labor Day weekend!