by Sue Wiygul Martin
On that Friday afternoon I took Quoddy’s harness off for the last time. Of course she didn’t know that it was such an important moment and she ambled off for a drink and then stretched out in front of the glass door to watch the world go by. The time had come for Quoddy to retire. I know I imagined it but I felt that Quoddy breathed a sigh of relief that she no longer had the responsibility for the work she had done so ably for nine years.
The next morning I boarded an airplane bound for New Jersey. It seemed that I had never been without my dog at my side and I kept reaching down to pet and speak to the dog who was not there.
Upon my arrival at The seeing Eye I had barely put my suitcase down when my instructor, Dave, came to take me for my first Juno walk and to orient me to the building and grounds where I would live for three weeks while I adjusted to my new partner. A “Juno” walk is one in which the student and instructor walk together. The instructor holds the harness body while the student holds the harness handle as they will when there’s a dog in the harness. This allows the instructor to gain an understanding of each student’s gait. After touring the building Dave took me out into the open park area. Here, he varied the speed of walking and the amount of pull he exerted. Dave kept walking faster and faster and I moved right along with him. I was so used to Quoddy who had a very light pull. I had learned to adjust to the slightest change in the harness and this was what I did with Dave. Finally he laughed and told me to stop being so responsive. He said he was trying to find out how strong of a pull I felt comfortable with. This was the first hint about my new dog. She was going to have a bit more pull than Quoddy.
That evening we all gathered in the lounge to introduce ourselves and receive our new leashes. So much had happened during that day that I hadn’t really had time to examine my feelings. When my instructor placed my new leash in my hands it suddenly became real. The new leash was a little stiff and smelled of the new leather of which it was made. All I could think of was that I would be clipping it to my new dog’s collar the next day.
After lunch the next day the moment came to meet our new dogs. We all went to our rooms to await our turn in the lounge. I had barely gotten stretched out with my chin propped on my hands at the foot of the bed when Dave came zipping down the hall and called, “Sue, you’re first!” I walked down to the lounge with leash in hand and Dave brought Beverly to me. I snapped my leash on her collar as Dave told me that she was black and tan with a frosty brown splash between her shoulders. After this brief introduction Beverly and I went to my room to spend the afternoon getting acquainted. What I learned that afternoon was that Beverly is a 60 pound bundle of energy with very large ears who was very devoted to Dave. She let me pet her and talk to her but she had most of her attention on the door the entire time waiting for Dave to come back to her.
The next morning we began our training in Morristown. While the sidewalks of the town are where we did most of our walking and traffic training the adjustment to life with our new dogs went on every minute of every day. My primary recollection of the first week is a patchwork of impressions. Beverly worked quite well during training trips. She behaved acceptably during the down times while I visited with other students or just relaxed. The only time she showed strong interest in anything around her was when Dave was nearby. At those times she would perk up and make every possible effort to be close to him. As all of the instructors live at the school during the first week of training Dave was very often close by and I had a real struggle to keep Beverly at my side. During training trips Beverly would pull like a freight train when Dave was in front of her and turn herself into a pretzel when he was behind her.
Beneath these demonstrations of anxiety I could tell that Beverly had the potential to be an excellent guide. I loved her pace and the combination of initiative and caution which she possessed. Yet the high level of anxiety she demonstrated caused my own anxiety level to rise.
At the end of the first week the instructors began to go home at night. My relationship with Beverly began to change that first weekend. She began to relax. She finally began to play with me. By Sunday afternoon I began to think this might work after all.
The next two weeks passed in a blur of training trips, delightful comeradery with my classmates, and the anticipation of going home. I had a few concerns about Beverly's work as she continued to pull hard whenever she saw Dave or approached the end of a training trip. It seemed that when she saw the van from which we began our route or the lounge from which we embarked on longer trips she would get very excited and pull almost too hard for me to control. What I have since come to appreciate is that, no matter how complicated, Beverly can retrace almost any route.
I returned to Maine on a Thursday. Quoddy had had three weeks to be with my husband, Jim. Since I wasn't around she apparently decided that he was an okay guy. It was a huge advantage that Jim could take Quoddy to work with him. By the time I reappeared Quoddy had quite gotten used to the idea that Jim was her person. He left her at home when he came to meet Beverly and me at the airport. The first thing I noticed as Beverly and I began our lives away from The Seeing Eye was that people thought she was very young and very cute. Quoddy was always dignified, stately, and composed. But Beverly is definitely cute. I think it might have something to do with her ears that seem far too large and her obvious curiosity about the world around her. Whatever the case I immediately noticed different reactions to Beverly than those I had come to expect with Quoddy.
The Seeing Eye makes an effort to make the best match possible between dog and student. I'm not at all sure what it means that my two shepherds have had quite different personalities. Perhaps it's because I'm in a very different place in my life than I was in 1989 when I was matched with Quoddy. The only thing I know for sure is that the school matched me with the dog that was right for me at the time.
In late October, barely a month after returning from The Seeing Eye, I traveled to Minnesota for a week long conference. This was when I really began to explore and appreciate Beverly's potential. Neither of us had ever been to this city or hotel so everything was new. At the end of a day of lectures and learning we both felt the strong need to walk and unwind.
I stopped at the desk on my way out of the hotel and asked about good places to walk in the area. After quite a discussion I realized that if I simply exited the hotel and turned left I would be in an office park which went on for quite a distance. As the time was early evening there were few people around so I had the sidewalks pretty much to myself. The office park was not laid out in a nice grid pattern as I expected but seemed to be composed of curving sidewalks and funky intersections. Beverly and I strode out with appreciation of the cool fall air and the end of a long day. I diligently tried to keep track of my turns and street crossings and did pretty well at first. After a while though, I realized that I wasn't sure of my exact route of return to the hotel. I stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and tried to remember how I had gotten to where I was. Falling back on my orientation and mobility training I reversed directions and began to retrace my route. Concentrating intently on the task of returning to my hotel I was surprised to feel a strong pull in the harness. Beverly turned to look at me once and the thought that she had seen a squirrel and was distracted crossed my mind. There were no other signs of distraction though so I went with her. At the first intersection Beverly stopped but pranced in place a little and turned her head to look at me. I’ve since learned that this means that she’s done something for which she feels she should be praised. Not knowing that at the time though I simply commanded her forward and we crossed the street. We continued on at a brisk pace with Beverly exerting a strong steady pull. She seemed so sure of herself that I continued to follow her, although I followed with more faith than certainty. In what seemed a very short time I feel the steady pull on the harness cease. We’ve arrived at the hotel. Astonished, I kneel and praise my dog.
By now I’m realizing that Beverly has become a very integral part of my life. The miracle of The Seeing Eye has occurred again.
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