Dangerous Exercise

Who would ever think that taking a walk in your neighborhood would be a dangerous endeavor? I have sidewalks that wander for miles within my subdivision. The streets are peacefully quiet after 8:30 in the morning, until about the time school is out. For this reason, I avoid walking from 7:30 to 8:30 on weekday mornings and after 2:30 in the afternoons. Still, I must be vigilant and be aware of any cars idling in driveways. When I approach one, I stop and wait to determine if it is backing out. I wait for a few seconds and then continue walking and waving my right arm in the air like a railroad crossing, in hope of catching the eye of a driver who might be sitting there, preparing to release the brake and back out without a glance toward the sidewalk. I was hit once; walking behind a car that I didn’t know was backing out. I wasn’t hurt, but it made me practice suspicious caution.

Yesterday, it was windy, which makes it hard to hear the purr of a motor, and yes, I probably had let my mind wander for a minute, and sure enough, when I heard the car, it was too late. It was coming right at us. I screamed, jumped back, and pulled Dora out of the way with her leash. If the car had been in front of us, she would have stopped, but being a dog, she can’t calculate that a car sitting in the driveway one minute will become a lethal weapon the next. The woman in the car jumped out and apologized profusely. She wanted to give me a hug. Seriously? She thought a hug would make up for almost mowing me down? I said, “No. Just promise me that the next time you back out, you’ll look.”

Then today, Dora and I had come to a crosswalk, and we waited until 2 cars had passed by. Thinking the second car had left, I gave Dora the forward command. She hesitated, indicating that she didn’t think she should go. Just then, a woman’s voice came to me from the middle of the crosswalk. “Not yet,” she called. For a second, I was confused, and then I heard her accelerate and drive into the intersection and around the corner. Then Dora’s hesitation made sense. She had just done a traffic check. It was the first time she had had to employ that skill since we left The Seeing Eye. During class, we experienced many planned traffic checks. This is where a trainer in a car turns unexpectedly in front of us, and the dog comes to an abrupt halt and might even scoot backwards if the car is coming too close. They joke about it in class, as in, “Well, I tried to run over most of the students this morning. I just have a few left to do after lunch.” If I hadn’t already experienced that thrill of having my dog save our lives that morning, it was fair warning to be on the lookout that afternoon. The instructor working with the student never warns them if they see a traffic check coming, so the student won’t anticipate, and do the work for the dog. It sounds scary, but it really isn’t, because the dogs have been through this many times in their training before their people come to class, and the instructors are right there, within arm’s reach, just in case. It’s always a very emotional experience. You get to see what your dog is made of.

Rarely, do we get the opportunity for Dora to practice her traffic check skill, which is a good thing, so it took me a second to recognize it. I’m writing about it today, as a way of making it up to her for not praising her to the hilt. She hadn’t had a traffic check in 2 months, but she hadn’t forgotten how to do it, this time for real.

Each time we go out the front door, somebody should say, “Be careful out there.”


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