24.9.10

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.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I never had a dog just waltz up to me first day. That woulda been pretty cool. I remember seeing all the CC dogs and puppies and thought I was in frickin heaven.

    Our Juno rug wasn't even a dog fleece. I think it was actually a rolled up piece of thick carpet. Did they have Wheeler when you were there? I guess he's a big stuffed dog and people practice putting the harness on him.

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