Dog Day meet "Gerard"


From the very moment my feet hit the floor Wednesday, Dog day, morning all I could think about is "Who would be here with me when I went to bed? Got up this time tomorrow? What would it really be like to have a real live dog?"

My family had had dogs ever sense before I was born but all I remembered of them is that they were outside dogs that lived in the kennel slash dog run in our back yard.

We had two dogs I could remember. "Mork 'n Mindy" called "Mindy" for short... I named her myself. Hey, I was three or four and loved that show. She was a blonde Cocker. She was with us until she passed away... I was 14 when this happened. My Freshman year of high school we got Maggie Mae, a tri-colored beigle who passed away in June of 2005. Prior to that my folks had dogs but I don't remember anything about them. So this would be the first inside dogI'd ever have.

Of corse I had worries galore... "What if this dog didn't like me?" or "What if it turned hostile?" I was fairly sure that it wouldn't be in a gang...and I was fairly sure the dog wouldn't be demented. At least at the start. I could not say anytthing of the end of our relationship, but having me as it's owner, becoming slightely demented was a very likely thing.

In all honesty though, what if this didn't, for some reason, work out? What if I wasn' t good enough to do whatever it was working with a real dog required? What if I didn't like the dog they picked for me? Gaah! "when would we get ur dogs anyway? This afternoon yes but when?

I got dressed, and as I stepped out, I saw one of our trainers.

They must deal with this every class. Class in and class out. Because they all of them ahd a smart elic joking answer every time any of us asked "So what is our dog going to be?"

I pounced on the poor trainer. "So, what dog did you pick for me???"
"One with four legs."
"Gee thanks..." I laughed.
"We'll tell you about your dogs after lunch."

After lunch! I thought. That's forever away! I'll never make it.

To be honest I do not remember breakfast. I know we ate, or tried to eat but what it was or what we talked about was beyond me.

The morning was spent doing more Juno work. About a hundred sits, downs, and leash corrections later, we started talking about getting our dogs. Staff had gone to each room to put down the fleeses that our dogs would sleep on and the tiedown cable that would attach them to the wall. So they wouldn't rome around at will.

"After lunch we will all meet back in here in the loading lounge and read off everyone's name and what breed, sex and name of the dog everyone is getting. Then you guys will go to your rooms and we'll come and get you one by one and take you to the music room, day room or trainers office. Then we'll bring in your dog and give you the harness and have you harness up your dog. Then you'll take the harness off and take your dog back to your room. You'll need to bring your leash with you."

In disbelief that there could actually be any dog related things in my room I zipped back in right before lunch.

There it was. A fluffy white dog fleese and a tiedown cable hooked to the wall. O my Gosh! It is true. I am hours away from meeting my dog...

Needless to say lunch took for ever. Then the time after lunch until our meeting at 1 in the afternoon took forever... I couldn't focus on anything. I tried reading, and that didn't work. I tried napping. That didn't work. I was afraid I'd oversleep and miss the meeting completley. I didn't want to ring anyone because I needed to preserve my calling card time for the post meeting my dog calls I owed heaps of people.

Finally it was time to g. I went back to the loading lounge and sat down. Other cllassmates came in and we waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited. The trainers took for-ev-er. I kept hearing them going up and down the hall from some closet thing and then off to other parts of the building. I heard chain collars chinking together. What in the world was taking them soooooooooooo long to get here? Finally they started coming in. They had to wait until all the trainers were there. I think one or two had gone over to the kennels to get our dogs.

Our dogs had spent the morning getting bathed and brushed and prettied up for our big day and we were told they still might be a bit damp. Who caredz!!!

They started reading out the list of people. My heart sank straight away as one of the two goldens in our class went to a man who's last name was near the front of the alphabet. Then labs were handed out left and right.

As K came closer and closer I started to prepair myself to hear lab...
"Jenny, you are getting a male..." "oh no a male? Gah!!! As if I didn't have enough males in my life to deal with... Okay okay, let's get on with it.." I glumly thought...
"...named Gerard..."
"What? What kind of name is Gerard?! Well? It isn't as bad as it could be I guess..." I was stopped in mid mental grumble by the next thing I was told..
"...a golden retriever..."
"Oh a la... What!"

Over the past several months and for sure the past several days I had wondered how I'd react to finding out about my dog. Would I burst into tears? Would I jump up and down clapping and screaming like one of those old dumy housewifes on let's make a deal after they won a new washer and dryer?

I did neither of these. In fact me reaction was rather anti-climactic. I just sat there. I said nothing. A huge smile came over my face and I just sat there.

The rest of the class got labs. I did not care. I was happy for them but as far as I thought I already had the best dog in class.

We all retired to our rooms to do yep. You guessed it, more waiting. and waiting and waiting and waiting. Along with a lot of walking, I would soon find out that at guide dog school hurry up and wait.

I looked at the clock, just a bit past half one in the afternoon. Soon. They'll be coming soon. I'll read. Half one. Soon they'll be here soon. I can't focus on reading. I'll sleep. fifteen 'til two. Oh I can't sleep... Time felt like it was going in reverse!

I heard people being called and taken off and returning with th e sound of a jangeling collar, their dogs.

I got up and leaned out the door. Maybe they forgot about me. Maybe if I hung out this door long enough they'd get tired of seeing me? Worth a try... I saw the back end of a golden going into the trainers' office. Who's golden? Mine or the other guy's?

Just as I thought this, the other guy leaned out his door across the hall from me.

"Hey, one of our goldens just went into the office." I said.
"Do you think they'll be by soon?" The other guy said.
"I don't know. Maybe. I mean I've heard a lot of people come and go. Each trainer I guess is taking a person, like there are like three different meetings going on at once. Surely they'll fetch us soon. Right? Like there's what? 24 of us? Something like that. and if there are three meeting places going. That's like three meetings at a time. and it's already been half an hour. I'd guess they are over half way through everyone...." I pondered aloud.

Just then a trainer went past.

"Me? Me? Pick me next?" I pleaded. I tried to look, I hoped, pethetic. I'm not good at looking anything and more than likely just looked one of the versions of stupid I've perfected over the years.

"Soon..." the trainer said.

I stepped out in the hall in front of my door and sat. This was the bay area... Not a stranger to a sit in. So I sat. In my doorway. Then fearing this would make the trainers mad at me, making my wait longer I got up and moped around the room.

Finally. A knock on the doorframe.

I grabbed my leash and fairly flew across the hall. The butterfly effect again.

As I entered the office I looked around for a sign of my Gerard.

The trainers in the room described my golden boy. A golden color turning into a peachy cream on his paws, tummy, feathering and tail... Then. They brought Gerard in from the dog run.

I heard him at first before i saw him. He walked up to me and thrust his broad golden head into my hands. lick lick lick lick lick. wag wag wag wag wag wag.

"Hi there, so you're the one stuck with me for the next little while? I'm so glad to see you. And then I kissed his cold wet nose and clipped my leash to his collar.

They handed me Gerard's harness and I harnessed him up and then unharnessed him. One of the trainers walked me back across the hall, Gerard at heel and harness over my right shoulder. I walked into the room. A guide dog user. Mostly.

I showed Gerard around the room. I showed him his bed. And then my bed. I pointed at it and said "That is my bed. You aren't to get on it. Then I whispered in his golden ear. but when we get home, that will be a different story. shshshshsh, don't tell anybody though. I pointed at his bed. That is where you hang out.

"Gerard. Okay I think it only fair if I told you what you're in for. We are going to go to a place called college. It is very very big. There are a load of people there. We have to do dull stuff like go to class. It isn't like here. I gestured around the room, where there is fun stuff going on all the time. You'll just lay around and listen to lots of old people blither on and on about stuff. So, as I think of it, will I.

I couldn't stop looking at Gerard. My guide dog. I sat at the end of my bed on the floor, having moved nearer to the window to get a look at him. Gerard walked up next to me, sat, put a huge golden paw on my shoulder and gave me a huge lick across the face.

I got up a while later and had him lay down near my chair. I then started the round of phone calls back home.

Later that afternoon we did heeling work up and down the long hall. Trainers were stationed every so often in the center of the hall and we just walked around and around talking to our dogs telling them to heel and praising them a lot.

On one of our endless spinns around the hall my mind went completely blank and I forgot Gerard's name.

"Good boy Gardine... Picard, Gorden. George." I called him everything I could think of. Thankfully we passed by a trainer.

"What is this dog called again? I've completely forgot and have been calling him Girdine..."
"Gerard. G-e-r-a-r-d." the trainer said.
"g-e-r-a-r-d. Gerard" I said over and over to myself. When our room passed by I nicked in right quick to write this down.

We watered, fed watered and then put our dogs out into the run to releave.

That next day our real lives together would begin as we'd have our first walks with our new dogs.


Meet Juno, the invisible guide dog.

Monday, our first full day of class...
I got up, got ready for the day and made my waydown the hall to find the line up for breakfast.

I still couldn't believe I actually had made it without suffering a unplanned stop in some random corn field someplace or any other misshap. Things just kept getting more and more awesome by the moment. The evening before I struck out on my own to find the reading machine. I had some papers I wanted read and so...

I was making my way, caneless, that sucker went into the top of my closet as soon as my feet entered my room, There was a hall that was coming up on my left and from out of that hall came a large dog shaped blob. There were dogs everywhere. Everyone had at least two or three. The instructors, the admisions staff. Just dogs. everywhere. And there were pictures of dogs everywhere. If there were ever any doubts as to did they think highly of dogs here? This pretty much answered it and I really liked that.

I also liked the energy of the place, it was so upbeat and happy. You could really tell that GDB respected everyone from dogs, to students, to employees and beyond. I was already warming up to the place and that normally took me a day or so to do at other places for the blind.

So. There I was walking down the hall, and here was this dog shaped blob. It wasn't running wild, barking or anything. It was just walking. "Dum dee dum dee dum dee doo I'm a dog. I'm walking down this hall yea for me. As it got closer I could make out it was a goldy brown color. Maybe? A golden? I put my hand out so the dog could sniff of it. Lick lick lick... Wag wag wag. Clearly a very friendly dog. I patted the pup and found that. Yes! It was a golden! But who's?

"Hey there, where do you belong? You are a sweetie. I hope I get a dog just like you." Then another golden came lumbering down the hall. This dog was seriously old. the dog's face was totally white. Reminded me of those girls in Japan who made up their faces all in white and entertained men. Not in a bad hookerish sort of way, but in a hostest sort of way.

Two random goldens just showing up? This had to be a good sign... The dogs started walking the other direction I had been going and I saw a large lighted door shaped blur. I heard someone talking inside. Aah maybe they could tell me who these little loves are and where they are meant to be.

"Excuse me? Ummm there are two sweet goldens just, um like you know wandering around out here?"

This nice older lady poked her head out and introduced herself. She was one of the nurses and these two loves were her goldens. It turned out that the younger golden was a litter mate to my friend's golden, the one who started me off on this crazy adventure. For sure a very good sign.

Well back to the breakfast line. We waited until we could go in. We were sat down at the tables, these were to be the tables we'd sit at all the time we were here.

It seemed. Kind of. really. quiet. People were eating I guess or just not chatty or something. I wanted something to drink. I heard drink like sounds around me so tryed to watch for someone going and returning after making drink fixing sounds, to see where the drinks were.

I figured out people were going by this little door. That I gathered was the kitchen but we more than likely were not meant to go in there. I saw a table, sideboard looking thing near the door and figured this must be the place to get the drinks. So I got up and went over and felt around on the sideboard.

One of my trainers asked if I needed something. Not in a "what do you think you are trying to do missy?" sort of way but a nice sort of "can I help you with anything?" way. I explained I was trying to find something to drink. Our trainer said to go sit down and they'd bring me whatever I liked. "Oh no, I can get it. It is no bother, I don't want to put anyone out..." I said. Every other blind place you were meant to fend for yourself to prove you could do it. Being waited on was just. Totally new terratory for me.

"Oh it isn't any trouble. You are here to learn to work with your dog, let us take care of the little things."

Wow. That was awesome. We didn't have to prove anything to anyone. These folks really treated us like paid up members of the human race. Not like poor helpless dumb blind people. The only thing we had to prove was our willingness to bond and work with our dogs. That would not be a problem.

After breakfast we all started to gather in the loading lounge. Everyone was much more chatty.

Somebody from some official department came round and said she was ere to take our dinner and supper orders. Wow! A choice? Dang this was like being at some fancy hotel or something. The choices for both meals were a hot dish, a salad and a cold dish. They respected people's diets, there were meatless options or if there was pork or ham or something there was also another just as yummy porkless choice. Medical diets were handeled too. All the food generally was healthy and safe but things like deserts or whatever I think were changed to something safe.

Then the trainers came in and greeted us for the day. They explained about what we'd do the next few days. This was to be our "Juno" work.

I had read about this in "Emma and I" only over in the UK the pretend guide dog was called Fred or something like that.

I thought that was grand to have a pretend dog to work on so when we got our real dogs we wouldn't totally break them straight out of the box. Er um kennel as it were.

Then we got our leads. Being new leather they were stiff and we were meant to break them in over the coming days. We were shown how to make a long lead and short lead. There were two O ringsattached to the leads via braides. One was just above the end you hooked to the dog collar and the other one was about oh maybe a foot if that from the other end of the lead. To make a short leash you took the clip at the end not connected to a dog and put it on the O ring nearest the dog. Short leads were for things like guide work or for heeling your dog or for any time you didn't want your dog straying too far away. The long lead, where you clipped the dogless end of the lead to the O ring nearer to you was for taking your dog out to releave, for obedience.

The trainers also brought around the training collars. It sounds as if they've changed the type of collars they use now, but back in 1995 and again in 2000 when I trained with Fleming they issued a collar made wholely of small metal links. At each end of these links were O rings. You pulled the chain through one of the O rings. To properly fit it to your dog you held it so it made a print letter "P" shape. You faced your dog and slipped his or her head through the circle part of the "P" with the longer bit of chain coming down on your left side, the dog's right. The ring at the end of this hanging down bit of chain was called the live ring. This is where you connected the lead. The ring that the chain slipped through was called the dead ring. Live as that was the ring that moved and did all the collar action, I'm guessing and dead because that ring didn't do anything much of use.

We put the collar around our leg to feel what a leash correction felt like. To do a leash correction you hold the leash in your right hand and give a quick firm yank on the leash. This causes the collar to tighten on the dog's neck and is like grabbing someone by the shirt front to get their attention. Despite what the public thinks, *This is not abuseive if done correctly and does not hurt the dog*.

We went over the obedience commands. They were "Sit" where the dog sits on his bottem at your left side. Down where the dog lays down on the floor. Heel where the dog walks at your left side without walking out in front or pulling on the lead and Come which is used to recall the dog. You say the dog's name just before giving these commands. "Juno come" or "Juno sit"

Then we met the physical incarnation of Juno. Juno was a rolled up dog flees with a training collar attached. It wasn't anything fancy at all. The trainer held the flees and you attached your lead to the live ring and gave Juno commands. If Juno did not listen you gave Juno a leash correction. Sometimes Juno would get distracted or sniff and you'd again give a leash correction.

A lot of people felt funny talking to a rolled up flees. I didn't. I mean this was guide dog school, everyone on campus knew this and I guessed everyone also knew about Juno, students talking to dogs who weren't there and whatever else we were going to do. Besides that we only had two full days and then a half day of dealing with Juno so who cared if we looked like fools talking to a rug or an empty harness or to a trainer as if he or she were a dog. They didn't mind so why should we. I also figured that this was one step closer to my dog and that chatting up a rug or an empty harness was no more stupid looking than going around with a stick. At least with Juno if someone not connected to the guide dog school saw you, they'd also see you with the trainer and to my way of thinking it was better to be thought of as crazy if there were another person that could be thought crazy right there along side you as aposed to just looking like a complete and utter fool on one's own.

As the trainers went around the room taking people into the hall to do their juno work the rest of us sat around working our leads out of the stiffness and chatting to one another.

I talked to an older lady in her 70s or maybe she was older. She was the oldest member of our class. She was very sweet She had to leave us early because of a health problem but they took her dog to her and finished her training at her home.

Finally my turn came. Juno was pretty good for the most part. The obedience steps were like this.
Juno sit"
"Juno down"
"Juno sit"
Juno down"
"Juno sit"
Juno down"
"Then you converted from the short lead you'd been using into a long lead.
"Juno stay" I think I neglected to say that one up above. Stay sounds like what it means. Juno stays sitting or on a down until you tell him/her otherwise.
"Juno stay"
"Juno heel"
"juno stay"
Juno come"
and then you ended the session by telling Juno "Alright!" and playing with him/her.

This, as I remember, took up a majority of the morning. Then there was lunch. And then? I think we either got introduced to the harnesses, not the ones we'd get on Wednesday, but old harnesses and went over guide work commands.

"Forward" to tell the dog to start walking forward. You also make a sweeping gesture with your right hand from back to forward, the direction you and your dog will set out in.

"Left" to tell the dog to go left. This has some body and foot work. After Gerard and I were together for a while, and the same with Fleming we did mainly moving turns so the body hand and foot work required for the turns is a bit rusty. I think it goes like this... For a left turn you turn and face the side of your dog. So you are standing and the dog is standing in front of you. You say "Juno left" and make the same sort of gesture with your right hand as "forward" but this is across the dog's line of vision in the new direction you want to go.

"Right" I found the gestures and body work for this one to be smoother. You stopped like for a "left" only you brought your right leg and foot back and gestured to the right, stepping back and sort of piviting on your left foot to let the dog move into the proper spot.

"Halt" no foot or body work or gestures, you just tell the dog to halt. It means stop walking.

"Hopup" This word has three meanings and you use it depending on what your dog is or is not doing.
Meaning one, quit screwing around and get back to work. Used if the dog seems slightly distracted.
Meaning two please take me closer to whatever has you halted. This is used, for example, if the dog stopps because there is something like a car parked across a sidewalk or some other obstruction partly blocking the path.
The third meaning means come on and pick up the pace.

Then later on in the afternoon we all went outside onto the grounds and did some harness wguide work with the instructors.

All of us had done a "Juno walk" as part of our application home interview. The interviewer, a guide dog instructor who worked with graduates in the field and did home interviews conducted the walk.

The first part of the walk you, the prospective student did a route that you picked. It had to have street crossings and be a sample of the sort of routes you were planning to do with your guide dog. Half of it, the first part you did with your white cane.

This showed the instructor that you had good o and m skills and could get out on your own with some degree of confidence, that you could plan and do a route and that you could focus on getting from point A to point B. They also could observe your walking speed and gate and see if you had any odd habbits in your walking.

The second part of the walk, the way back you got to use the harness. The instructor showed you how to hold the handle and some of the foot and hand work. The instructor pulled the harness along, walking out about a half step or so in front just like the future dog would do. This gave the instructor a fair idea of what pace, how fast the dog and you can walk and pull, how firmly the dog would pull in harness as well as giving them a good idea of how well you could do the hand and foot gestures.

The instructors took us out one at a time and we told them what sort of pace we liked. I think too, we went to the down town lounge in down town San Rafael to check out where the majority of our days would be spent.

The next day was pretty much like the first. We did obedience with Juno and then we went to the lounge and did harness work. This was the first time I really walked out in public with a guide dog harness. Oh sure there was the interview Juno walk but this... This was as close to the real thing as you could get without getting your dog.

I remember feeling sort of not ashamed of being blind. Following a harness, despite it's utter lacking of a real live dog was already light years better than walking around with a stick. I thought it was funny when we'd be going along and the harness would jerk left or right. This was Juno sniffing or acting up. This required me to tell Juno to hop up. As it turned out the instructors did a damn fine job of acting like a real dog.

That evening we had one on one meetings with the instructors so they could finialize the dogs they had in mind for all of us.

"So tell us about what you do, work? School?"
"Well I'm going to start college next fall. I was meant to go this fall but wasn't about to start, then stop to come out here. I want to give me and my dog a chance to really click before I try that scary huge campus. I also like walking around our block and going shopping." I related how shopping was slightly stressful as there would be times I'd get lost from my party and feel nervous that I couldn't find them or find any way that would lead me someplace useful.

"What trates do you want in your dog?"
"Well? I want a dog that can get on well with all sorts of folks, and kids and everybody because I don't know who I'd be running into in life, better we get an all around good people dog. Also I want a dog who likes to do their job but can also be fun. I want a dog that is snuggley and likes to give kisses and stuff. I want a dog that goes not too fast and not too slow but will be mindful of steps or broken sidewalks or whatever and I don't want a dog that will pull my arm off but not go so slow that I can't read the harness. And I want a dog that isn't hard headed. One hard headed member in our team is enough."

"Do you have any gender or breed prefrences?"
"I'll take what ever dog y'all think is best but if I could have my magic wish I'd want a golden retriever..." I went on to tell them about the golden retriever of theirs I had met and fallen in love with... "...I'd like a girl but will take a boy. I've only ever known girl dogs and I'm a girl so don't know beans about boys or their personal needs but I can learn."

After my meeting I retired to my room and picked out my outfit for the next day. It was important to look as nice as I could. I picked out my favorite royal blue silk shirt and faided bluejeans overalls and my blue stone ear rings. Thinking back on it I fear my dress sense was frightful but I loved the color blue and loved those clothes and ear rings. I then gathered up my toiletries and went to the nurses' office to have a nice bath.

Then I went back to my room and tried to sleep. But couldn't as it felt like Christmas Eve night did when I was a kid... I remember having a dream that I was in this big green field with lots of black and yellow labs and goldens running around. They were crazy, having fun playing. One golden saw me and came over. The dog calmed down and would not leave my side. At around five or so I gave up on sleep and listened to my walkman. The next day I would meet my dog.


The Flight and setteling in.

The first flight, between Wichita and Denver must of been more or less uneventful as I have no clear memories of anything of note that happened.

The "holy crap this is how to kiss your ass goodbye if the aircraft malfunctions or is highjacked" talk at the start did not make me feel good.

The thing that cracked me up was the bit about how, if incase of a water landing, the seat could be used as a floatation device. What? Okay, I was really bad at learning the states and how to find things on or use a map... But... As far as I remembered, there were no large bodies of water anywhere at all between Wichita and Denver.

Besides that, if I ever did crashland in some huge body of water, the sea let's say. My seat doesn't seem like much of a comfort. There I'd be clinging to a seat full of other people's farts, and I'd look like a snacky snack to any passing sharks. Shark: "Oh look yummy human on a cruton." Chomp chomp Me: Aaaaah! glub glub glub..."

The thing that worried me was all that vast land that wouldn't be very forgiving if an aircraft plowed into it at a high rate of speed.

Thankfully everything went off without a hitch and I landed in Denver without a scratch.

I had brought my stick. For only two reasons. 1. I didn't know how the guide dogs people or the ground help that was meant to help me make my connecting flight would know who I was otherwise. Oh I guess my walking really slowly squinting at everything and looking dazed and confused might of tipped of the guide dogs people. The ground help would most likely figure I had one too many of those little bottles of liqure. Or maybe too much preflight parties or maybe they wouldn't give a tinker's damn.

The second reason I brought it was to wack any odd people who might be in a cult that worshiped something really strange like rooster toenails, Father jimmy joe bob roy. or something like the People's Temple. They had good intentions, but that Jim Jones fella was just way mental. I wonder if the term "Jonesin'" has anything to do with Jim Jones? Well anyway I planned on using the stick to wack anyone who wanted me to have a smudgy tract about finding "Thee One True Way!" or anyone else that stood between me and my getting to guide dog school.

The ground help, some man who had an accent came up bringing a fold up wheel chair with him.

"I don't need that sir." I said, pointing at the chair.

"It is a rule you have to use it." He said.
"Well, I don't need it. If we have to use it, here you can put my bag into it."

We ended up not using the chair.

I made it onto the second and longer flight of my trip. I felt a little better because I knew the next stop, hopefully, would be the San Francisco airport... And then it was all four on the floor, no more flying for the next four weeks.

I don't know why I did, still do this. I guess to scare myself half to death or get a head's up on impending doom, but I listened to the ATC traffic for a while. Then I fell asleep. Bad move on my part.
My hair was braded and put up in a bun. It stuck out off the back of my head a bit. It was not comfortable to sleep on and I got a crick in my neck.

Finally hours later, which turned out to be hours earlier, damn time zones. We landed.
I must of floated off that ramp thing. Partly from excitement and partly from all the butterflies in my stomach.

"O god we're here. O God o God o God... Please let my stuff made it with me. Please let these guide dog people be nice. Please let my classmates be nice and not in a gang or be totally demented... Some blinks I knew were like that... Demented, not in a gang. A street gang made up of blinks? Wow. That would be a sight to see. Er ummm... my mind wanders into some pretty strange terratory when I'm nervous, as I was then.

Where is the guide dogs person? O my God. They left me and have gone to the school.

I felt like huddling into a ball under the baggage check shaking and sobbing until, having noticed they were one student short, the guide dogs would of sent someone to get me...

But this never became an issue as the guide dogs person, one of my trainers was right there when I got off the aircraft.

She introduced herself and I followed her to baggage claim. My bags both of them showed up. And I started to think this was going to be alright.

The trainer explained that she had to get other students and I was the first to turn up. She took me to the big bus thing and gave me a bag lunch.

Ugh bag lunches from large places are not most of the time, very good. A soggy name this meat sandwich, some wilted former fruit or a bag of stale chips and some discount soda I expected...

I was right. It was a sandwich. But it wasn't soggy or dripping with mayo or mustard or anything and turned out to be really good. There were some chips. Cheetos? Maybe? They were good. I knew I had come to the right place when I unearthed my soda to find it was Coke Classic. Yessssssss!

The bus was huge. It was about the size of the para-transit vans back home. There were side facing seats at the front behind the driver, like on a city bus, and then several rows of forward facing seats. In the back off to one side was. Gasp! a johnny on the spot thing. "Oh no!" Dunt dunt dunn!

The bag lunch was good but I knew, having heard horror stories from people that portable toilets were gross and stinky and just all around bad news.

Me being the nosey parker that I am figured I'd go have a look at this porthole to oder hell. I carefully opened the door, in the hopes I wouldn't unleash horrid smelling toilet breath out all over everything. Mentally my mind added the sound of a squeaking door hendge as spookey music started up...


but. to my happy shock, there was no oosing slopy port-a-john beltching up heaps of nasty evil toilet breath. In fact. There wasn't much of a smell at all It even looked like it had been cleaned recently. I was happy and knew if I ever did have to use that toilet, It wouldn't be so bad.

The seats. Let me tell you about these seats. They weren't the crap molded plastic seats you get on a city bus. They were fancy fancy, all cushey and everything. And if I remember correctly, they had seatbelts. Not too bad. Not bad at all.

I sat back down to wait on... Whatever happened next.

What happened next was some guard came to stick his head in the bus to tell me the bus had to be moved.

Damn! I thought. This guy must be blind his own self or something... The bus had in huge letters on the side "Guide Dogs for the Blind" on it. I could even read that. Sure there were no guide dogs in evedence but I was part of "the blind".

I told the guy that I was sure someone who could drive the bus would be along... Soon... He then went away.

I was right. Shortly after the guard or whoever he was came along I heard the snick scratch snick of a cane and people talking. Oh goody! A student! please be nice, please be nice, please be nice...

It was a lady. She sat across from me in the other sideways seat and introduced herself.

Turns out she had had a guide dog from another school who didn't work out at all. She said when it was good it was very very good and when it was bad it was bad bad bad.

Oh. I thought, I'm glad I didn't go to where ever this lady had gone. Out of the hand full of guide dogs I had met over the past few years, the GDB dogs were the best acting out of all of them. That's not to say the other schools' dogs were like Cujo or something, they were good. But there was just something about the GDB dogs that set them apart.

Over the next couple of hours other students joined us on the bus. Some of them were coming for a second dog but had not been to GDB before. Some had been but wanted to be in the four week non-retrain longer class. A few, like me were first timers all around and everybody seemed to be nice and not in a gang nor demented as far as I could tell.

This isn't to say we didn't run into some demented folks while we were on class, we did... Starting with Mr. Clueless guard person. But none of us were demented.

Mr. Clueless guard came back several times telling us that the bus had to be moved. We kept telling him we could not drive the bus and didn't know exactly where the people who could were at the moment or when they'd be back.

I finally got fed up with Mr. Clueless and on his forth or fifth trip by I said, "Sir? I don't mean to be rude but you've come by here several times. We've told you several times we can't drive the bus. Oh we could if we had the keys or hotwired it or something, but trust me. You don't want to go there. Really. We'd wind up knocking over the whole airport or something. See the sign on the side of this bus? If you can't make it out I'll tell you what it says. "Guide Dogs for the Blind." We..." I gestured to everyone sitting in the bus. "Are the blind part of this whole thing. So trust me. We will be sure and tellwhoever it is that drives this thing that it needs to be moved." I tried to be nice about it but he must of took it wrong as he walked away sounding cross. Oh well...

Finally some instructors or welcome staff or somebody from the school came and stayed with us. Thank God! As Mr. Clueless came back yet again. I sware he must of had a thing for this bus. I didn't understand what the big old problem was. We weren't bothering or blocking up anything... When I did tell the trainer/welcome person this guy had been by several times she said not to worry about it.

When he poked his head in on his most recent visit to our happy and quickly filling up bus I thought Oh good let somebody else deal with this guy.

I don't remember what the trainer slash welcome person said but Mr. Clueless did not return. Yea!

After what seemed like a thousand years everyone was present and accounted for, bags were stashed away and we were on our way baby!

I gopped at the cars, the multi colored hotel buses and giant purple mountans. At least that is what I thought they were. "Hey, what's up with those Mountans?" I asked. I was quickly told those were in fact hills. They were the biggest damn hills I had ever seen...

And then. We drove onto the golden gate bridge.

Wow! That was awesome! It looked just like how it looked on TV only way bigger. It was very very cool.

Finally finally finally we turned into the drive at the school. I heard many many many barking dogs. I got tickled thinking maybe one of those barks belonged to my dog. But I thought perhaps not. The dogs we'd get were class ready clearly and guide dogs aren't suposed to bark. My Laws how wet behind the ears I was.

We got off the bus and went into something called the loading lounge. That was a very very odd room. It had these really long booth kinda bench seats all around the edges of the room, stopping every so often to make way for the doors outside and the hall. We were to get to know this roomlet quite well over the time we were in class.

After a bit, after everyone had introduced themselves, we were shown to our rooms. My room 6A was directly round the corner of the loading lounge, first door on the right, straight, or nearly so, from the trainer's office. Ah hah, I'm the youngest one here. I bet they put me here so they could keep an eye on me. Or maybe it was just the luck of the draw.

A nice lady showed me around my room. The closet, the built into the wall dresser thing, the phone, the shelf with a light under it and a clock and talking book slash radio thing bolted to the top. What? Did they think we were going to take things? We found the bed, then the spot where the dog would be sleeping. The dog run. And the sinks, the people sink and the doggie floor sink. It all was very cool.My roommate wasn't hostile or a gang member o r demented. She was an instructor in training doing her 10 days under blindfold.

After a bit, when everyone unpacked and decompressed we met in the loading lounge again. We had the welcome to class lecture. I laughed to myself when they said no having sex while on class. Why does every blinky place have this rule? They must of heard about what goes on at yearly conventions of the blind. Or something. I laughed because I had been told there was a bloody lot of walking about and long days. Oh how little I knew how right that was to be. By the end of the first week I thought that no sex rule was rather useless as most people after going through a training day would be too clapped out to be in the mood for anything more rousing than say, falling into bed, sleeping through lectures or staggering about the releif circle for the dog's last outting.

After this they explained about the breeds of dogs and how people who wound up with labs would get one kind of grooming tool and if anyone got a golden. Me... Please? There were two that were class ready for our class, they'd get a slightly different one.

Then the bells started toleing time to eat.

I didn't dwell too much on the food but let me tell you this. The food at GDB both times I went was sooooooooooo gooooooooood.

We then had the rest of the evening off and would start class that next morning.


Preamble or how I became a guide dog user

When I was 18 several things happened that changed my young life. For one I graduated with the class of '95 from Wichita High School West. We were, I guess as Wichita public schools go, a small graduating class, 142 walked across the stage at Century II on 30 May, 1995.

I was meant to go, had actually signed up for classes at Wichita State University in the fall, but as it turned out, I followed my heart and hard head and went to guide dog school instead.

I had been thinking about getting a guide dog for about two years. I figured sighted teenagers get cars, why not a blind teenager getting a guide dog? Independence is independence? Right? Right.
But, I wasn't mean at heart and knew subjecting a guide dog to the zoo that was public high school verged on mean, possibly abusive, for sure not putting the wellbeing of any dog that might guide me around first.

I first heard about guide dogs, I mean really heard about them, I had always just known that some blind people use the stick er um cane and others use dogs. Well. I was listening to a talking book that told all about these things about blindness. It had an entry for guide dog. When I heard the description floating up out of the tape player I was hooked.

I hated, still hate the stick. It was so. not cool. It made me look blind. And it just sucked. I didn't like going out with it. Even today as I wait for training with my third guide dog I hate going out with the blasted thing. It still is not cool and makes me look blind. To say nothing of it always getting stuck in cracks and jabbing me half to death. Gah!

Oh, there was a time that I thought the cane was cool. When I was 12 and at the extended school year program at the state school for the blind in Kansas City I thought canes were cool.

I had a nasty habbit of falling down steps, thinking they were flat ground. Or thinking shadows on the ground were dangerous pits, holes that I could trip on or fall into. When I came in from outside it took an age for my remaining useful eye to adjust to the change in lighting and I was for all intent and purposes completely blind. Same thing at night. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, never mind trying to walk anyplace on my own hook.

I noticed that some students at KSSB, some who saw a lot better than I did, used canes. They did not fall down steps, trip over things, fear shadows or walking at night or in dimly lighted places.

I made up my mind. I had to have one of those canes. As all who know me well can tell you, once my mind is made up it is made up come hell or high water and if I want something enough I'll do whatever it takes to get it. Damn the challenges come what may.

I went to the travel instructor, having noticed a whole mess of white canes in a box in her office. I asked about getting one of those canes and how to use it. I told her more or less what I've said here. Blind in one eye and can't see out of the other... She gave me a cane to take to the dorm, not the one I'd end up with, just a test drive one to see what I thought. She said she'd see me that next afternoon for a lesson and to be fitted for the cane.

Oh! Happy day! No more bashing into things, falling down curbs, or up curbs for that matter, no more thinking shadows were waiting to swallow me whole. Yes yes yes!

That lasted exactly about four hours... That evening my folks called me. I was excited and told my dad. He... Said I didn't need a cane and would be taking one away from someone who needed it really and truly.

I thought about the huge heap of canes in the travel teacher's office and figured canes must come from someplace... If they needed more, I reasoned, they could just call the white cane factory or where ever the canes came from and just get more. It was the Kansas state school for the blind. Right? I did not tell my dad this.
I did however start to feel self-conscious...

I went for my lesson that next afternoon but found myself feeling like an elephant in a small room.

That next year I started to get travel training at school in Wichita. There was that damn cane again. And a teacher, several actually, who wanted me to use it. In public in front of God and everybody no less. Um erm? No.

I did all I could to not have to go to my weekly travel classes. Stayed home from school, forgot the cane, anything I could think of.

Travel classes filled me with fear and still make me uncomfortable. Going someplace strange alone for the first time? Yeah. I don't think so.

As time went on and I got to be a teenager my dislike for "that stick" grew and grew. I remember one day when I was in eighth grade that my V.I. teacher and travel instructor said I had to use the cane at home when I went out with my family. I had a huge non-folding cane with a huge ginormous marshmellow tip. A marshmellow tip is a huge blocky largeish marshmellow looking cane tip that's suposed to do something? muffle the shock of the cane getting stuck in cracks? I don't know. To my way of thinking it was the cherry on the look at me I'm a complete and utter looser cake.

My folks and grandparents Kennedy were going out to eat. Well so did I nad my brother and sister... I remember wanting to take the cane along just so my teachers at school would shut up about it and get off my back. But I was told "You don't need that cane, you have us."
This was my parents. There was no outranking them. So no cane.

It has only been very recently that my mom has encouraged me to bring my cane or, I'm guessing in future my new guide dog. This is a welcome change. If it had been like that when I was younger, I wonder if my life would of turned out different?

In the summer of 1994 I attended the college prep program at the rehab center for the blind, now closed, located in Topeka.

There were all kinds of things, braille, travel, that I didn't like. There were things, cooking and computers and my english 101 class at Washburn that I did like.

One thing that made the braille class more livible was the fact my instructor had a very very sweet yellow lab female. I was taken with the dog straight away and the instructor would let me stroke her dog at the end of the lessons. I asked a few questions about the dog, mostly though, just getting to pat her at the end of class was enough.

I started picturing my grown up adult self with some unnamed guide dog of my own. At that time I didn't have much of a clue as to where you got them or anything about them. I just figured dogs must be better than canes to get around with.

There was another instructor who ran several other classes and had a yellow lab male. She too answered my questions and allowed me to pet her dog. I knew to ask even without being told. It just made sense to me. I regarded people's guide dogs as an extention of themselves. I know I wouldn't like it if random people came up and started patting me without asking or warning so I figured others must feel like this as well.
Still, I think then the seeds of, madness were planted. I didn't give guide dogs much of a thought again until oh that next year, the summer straight after graduation...

I was back at the rehab center. There were the instructors too with labbies, male and female and then. To my joy a student. Who had a golden retriever female.

This new breed of guide dog was so, if you'll excuse the word choice, fetching. I had never seen a golden retriever. She was the most pretty dog I had ever lay eyes or hands to.

My student friend was also one of the kindest, sweeetest people I had ever met. I still remember fondly and have considered asking GDB, this is where her dog was from, GDB, Guide Dogs for the Blind, if they could put us in touch again.

I loved having a real live guide dog right there at the dorm. Unlike the instructors' dogs who I saw in "working" mode. I got to observe a guide dog team right around the clock.

My friend was awesome and not only explained about what went into caring for a dog, she even let me watch and sometimes help out. Never the feeding. I got to watch that but she was the only one who was allowed to feed or water her dog.

She also said having a dog ment getting up early or going out into the rain to take the dog out to do her business.

She told me about the school, GDB, she had received all her dogs from. That place sounded magical. I pictured blue sky day in and day out, palm trees, hippy-ish sort of out there laid back people. It sounded like the place for me. And, unlike the school in Kansas I had been looking into, everything was free. The trip out and back, the dog, the training, and, this was the thing to push me over the edge... They helped with medical expensis, leaving me to provide the dog food, grooming and other not hugely expensive things I knew I could cover.

No? Actually, what sealed the deal was when my friend let me "test drive" her dog. I was simply gobbsmacked at this dog leading me around things. Unlike the stick that was noisy and clattered at every step, the dog was more or less quiet. Oh that was that. To hell with college. I was getting one of those dogs.

I called Guide Dogs for the Blind on 31 July, received the information slash application packet on 2 August which I thought was a good sign as that was my sister Katie's birthday. I filled in and returned the massive amounts of forms and references required by the 15th of August. Had a home interview on 18 September...

I was sure that even after all this, I'd not be allowed to train with a dog at what sounded like the coolest school on the planet. I kept watching the post and kept not seeing anything with the GDB logo, back then a GSD in profile and shadow, on any of the letters.

On Friday, 6 October all that changed. I went to browse the post. Among the bills and letters and junk mail there was a big yellow packet with the GDB logo on it.

O my God! They wrote me back! Oh I didn't get accepted. But wait. It felt like a bunch of papers and a few tapes. Surely they wouldn't of sent such a huge package to say "no", they didn't seem like the sort of outfit to rub someone's nose in bad news. Still...

I ran into the house and tore into my packet. Tapes, and heaps of papers poored out onto the table. My mom asked what I had got and I said something from the Guide Dogs! A lot of something. My mom said she'd look at it and see what the papers said. She read out the cover letter.

I made it. They were inviting me to class in November. Wow. Me a guide dog user. Wow. Wow. woweee wow! Then something in the letter I didn't like. I had to go out to train for four weeks, which was awesome, and would be going to San Francisco. Way way beyond awesome. However the dates I was required to be away were 12 November through 9 December.

What! Were these people smoking pot! That was like over Thanks Giving! They can't do that. Everything is shut then. People have to be with their family. Really?

To say nothing of how the class also ran right on over the dates of my annaversery with my high school sweetheart and his birthday. Gah! I thought about calling them and saying I couldn't do those dates. And then I thought, there will be other Thanks Givings, and other annaverseries, as it turned out my boyfriend and I split up several months after I returned with my guide dog. I thought waiting all this time was hard. Here was a class date and everything so I best grab it when I could.

Oh wow me. class. next month. Aah! My travel packet came in on the 23rd. I remember my boyfriend reading over the packet and he made like they had written to say sorry, just kidding, you aren't getting a dog. Later that evening we were in a car accident. My first thought wasn't oh I hope my boyfriend is okay. It was. Crap! Now I'll really have to call and say I can't make it as I'll be in hospital, in traction no less. Great.

As it turned out no one was hurt, save for the other guy's car. Our car was dingged up too but the other guy, who Tboned the front driver's side by the tire, was totaled.

Finally the day before class came. I didn't sleep. At all. I worried about all sorts of nonsense. What if they lost my bags? What if I got on the wrong aircraft? What if I got lost and missed my connecting flight? What if the aircraft crashed? What if my classmates were hostile or didn't get on with me? What if my roommate was a gang member? It was California after all.

Finally it was time to go. I said good bye to my mom and my boyfriend drove me to the airport.

We made it through all the airport booyeah, a cakewalk compaired to now a days. Ugh I am not looking forward to any of this security blh blah..

We got to the gate and it hit me all at once. I started to cry. I wanted my mommy. I didn't want to go on this scary ass flight. Or to big as hell San Francisco. I didn't want to go to a 24/7 neverending, for the next 28 days, travel lesson.

My bags had been checked and I was expected to turn up at the other end of two timezones and several states later on down the day.

I got on the aircraft and sniffeled and sobbed to myself whilst listening to Nirvana and looking out the window. Then? Were were off...