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Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Pawprints to Fill

Thursday bright and early we loaded Duck and Trix, Charissa & Katharine, and both us parents into the van for a trip to the Guide Dogs of Texas training center in San Antonio. You know there's gotta be something special going on to warrant this kind of large-scale migration!

Willie, our last guide dog puppy, has successfully completed his training and been matched with a client. Imagine my excitement when Michelle asked me if I'd be interested in coming down, seeing Willie, and doing a blindfold walk with him! After all the sleepless nights with him as a puppy, all our ups and downs in training, and countless walks together, it was an incredibly moving experience to work with him in harness, trusting that he would do his job and see me through!

Sarah, Willie's trainer, has done a fabulous job with him and I was so impressed. She came along with us the whole way -- for my sake, not Willie's! Willie knows exactly what his job is. I, on the other hand, am not very good at being blind! Here Sarah starts off showing me how to hold the handle and leash together.

"Wait, Sarah -- I can't see a thing!" I learned quickly that "blindfold" is a eupehemism for "total face mask." My eyes were open the whole time but I couldn't see at all, not even light. It became a challenge just to keep my balance, much less walk in a straight line! All of a sudden, I was thankful for Willie in a whole new way. But since he can't talk, I was pretty glad Sarah was there too to explain it all!

I may as well come clean and admit that I did fall down. In fact, it was the very first thing I did! Willie didn't steer me wrong or anything -- I just sort of lost my footing all on my own. I found the darkness disorienting and kept sticking my right hand out for balance. But I was fine and the rest of the walk went well.

Along this stretch Willie kept my head from hitting low branches, as well as steering me around the bushes that you can see hanging across the sidewalk a bit.

As we came to a curb, Willie sat and Sarah explained how to slide my foot forward while holding my arm back -- I think they call this "position two." There were so many things to think about at once!

In the insecurity of not being able to see, I constantly felt as if we were cruising along at breakneck pace. As you can see from this little clip, we were actually doing more of a geriatric stroll. I'm sure Willie wondered how I got to be such a slowpoke.

Here Willie stops at a step-up and waits for me to figure out how high it is. Good boy!

This next little maneuver may not look like much, but let me tell you, it was TERRIFYING! Leaving the sidewalk for a rougher and (to me) more unpredictable surface is hard to do. But as you can see, there was a reason. Willie carefully guided me off the sidewalk so I wouldn't scratch my face on the bushes, while keeping enough to the center so that I didn't hit any overhanging branches from the other side either.

Isn't this just the BIG-
GEST curb you have ever seen in your life?! Notice how Willie stops way far back and
stre-e-etches to reach the edge with his tippy toes. That gives me a whole dog length to stop safely so I don't trip on the edge and go flying. I could really feel in the handle how he was stretching up, which helped me know it would be a tall step.

Here we're making a turn...

...and crossing a street where the corners are rounded. Just everyday obstacles, but they take on a whole new significance when you can't see. Sarah took us on a pretty challenging course (at least for a beginner like me!) and we really got to encounter it all...crowds of kids, barking dogs, and all kinds of other situations. It was an amazing feeling to experience first-hand how all the pieces of our training have come together to produce this amazing dog who just loves his work and does it so well. He makes me so proud!

Meanwhile, Tim and the kids followed along in the training van so they could watch without distracting Willie from his work. It was a great experience for all of us.

And what, you may ask, did Dakota do while all this was going on? He and Trixie got to hang out with Sandy, the head trainer, in her office. I understand he escaped over the puppy gate...twice... but nevertheless managed to have a lovely time and even got some special doggie treats out of the bargain! Well, he certainly has something to live up to now! He is such a smart and confident little guy, and already does so well, that I know he'll make us proud too. Here's a doggy kiss -- see ya later!


Erin,Bubs,Tex and Tim said...

WOW that is SO cool, that you were able to have that experiance!!!!

puppyluver said...

What a FANTASTIC entry!! (and great pictures) ;o) thanks for the insightful words from the other side of the handle.