You Should See the Other Guy

Last Sunday, I appeared at church with a black eye. Most people pretended not to notice, but a few of my friends asked me in a concerned voice what happened. “Did you fall? Did you bump into something?”

“No,” I said, “I hit myself in the face with a ball.” I was standing outside my screened in porch, throwing the kong, a sturdy rubber dog toy, into the back yard for my guide dog. She loves to chase the kong and bring it back to me, over and over, as if her life depended on it. We do this every morning, to help burn off some of her puppy energy, and she loves it. On this particular morning, I heaved that ball as hard as I could, but instead of sailing into the back yard, it hit the corner post of the porch and bounced right back and hit me in the face. It stung a little, but I didn’t think anything of it until people started asking me what happened. After church, a group of us went out for lunch, and one of them said, “Mary, tell them the story of your black eye.” To my delight, at the end of the story, they all laughed, especially after someone cracked, “You can say, “you should see the other guy. Oh wait. I am the other guy.”

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Over the River and Through the Woods

Every time I travel, I have bazaar stories to tell. The questions aren’t “How was your flight, any turbulance, smooth landing?” But “How did your connections go?” You see, I can’t get to my daughter’s from here, without making a connection. Changing planes in Philadelphia this year, and also in Washington, D.C. were experiences I hope to never repeat.

Remember when they warned us not to travel on the day before Thanksgiving, because many flight would be delayed or cancelled because of winter storms? Well, they weren’t kidding, but I had a ticket to fly on that day, so I had to go. My flight out of Columbus was only about an hour late, which was fine, because my friend Dan and I just went and got a sandwich. But when I got to Philadelphia, I was hit with the news that I would have a 3-1/2 hour wait for a delayed flight to Syracuse. That was distressing enough, but since I was alone, the inconvenience was magnified and multiplied byond my comfort level. The sky cap who delivered me to the gate summarily plunked me down in a seat and informed me that this is where I was to wait. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my phone. Suddenly, I was without connection to information or to help. I asked the sky cap if I could borrow her phone, long enough to call my daughter. She said she would have to take me to Customer Service to use the phone. Oh for Heaven’s sake. Someone in the gate area took pitty on me and offered to let me borrow her phone. As I sank into my chair with gratitude for that small favor, I knew I was in for 3 hours of bordum and discomfort. After I called my daughter and returned the phone to the kind lady, I was faced with no one to talk to and nothing to read. When I tried to listen to my book, the attendant at the gate would pick up his microphone to make an announcement, and by the time I could yank out my ear pods, I had missed what he had said. Thanksfully, my guide Dog Dora, was a champion traveler. She hated flying, trembled all the way, but lieing on the floor in the gate area seemed to be a relief for her. She never asked to go out, although disregarding the hassle that would have been, at least it would have been something to do. I was also annoyed that the sky cap, knowing that I had 3-1/2 hours to sit alone, never offered to escort me to the restroom or to a counter to buy some food or a cup of tea. I would have asked, but I hadn’t known what was in store for me. She just said, “Wait here.” I finally arrived at Kara’s at 1:00 in the morning.

On 2 of the 4 flights on this trip, a man sitting next to me asked to be moved, because he did not want to be so close to a dog. And I must admit, it was close. The seats are jammed so close together these days that you have to stand on your head to get the dog shoved under the seat in front of you, and then you have no room for your own feet. So you have to take off your feet and put them in the overhead. Ha ha On the way home from this thanksgiving trip, I made connections in D.C. which was one of the most frightening transfers I’ve ever experienced. Sitting at my assigned gate, I was suddenly told that there was a gate change, and I was to follow this woman, who practically ran through the airport, through crowds of people all shouting to each other over the din of airline workers making announcements over the P.A.. Out the door we went into a din of motors of huge vehicles with backup beepers that terify me, because I can’t tell where they are, engines of planes, and busses and vans,. I was urged to go up a ramp into a strange vehicle without being told what it was. Afgter a short ride, we had to walk about a half mile bacck through another part of the airport to wait at another gate. I couldn’t hear the woman in front of me, so I was never sure Dora was following the right person, but she did a stellar job.

Stay tuned for my Christmas travel adventures.

Dora Learns Her Way To Giant Eagle

At Giant Eagle

At Giant Eagle with Dora

There’s a Giant Eagle grocery store 1 mile from my house. It’s mostly a straight shot, once you get out of my neighborhood, except for the very end of the route. This is where it gets a bit tricky for a dog, and it’s the place where my previous dog never got it. For that reason, I’ve been very careful to introduce this route well after Dora and I had established our relationship. I also prepared myself better this time for success with the training session.

First, I asked my friend Eve to help me with this project. Before we left the house, I engaged Dora in a short clicker session, while Eve observed in amusement. It is pretty funny to watch a dog get so excited about dinging a bell with her nose and then getting a treat, which in this case was just a piece of kibble. But a kibble out of hand is even more exciting than out of a bowl.

Next we drove to a spot about 2/3 of the way, since Dora already knows that part, and we left the car there. The first part of the new route is to cross the interstate on a bridge. It’s terrifying to me, but a wall prevents Dora from seeing the traffic below us, so she marched on fearlessly. We then have to cross 2 side streets, not a problem, but they need to be observed with a full stop and a wait until I give her the command to cross. Now here comes the first really tricky part. When we turn toward the parking lot, we have to cross 2 islands. In order to execute this route to the door of the store, the dog needs to not wander into the parking lot but to stay on course and take me to each island. I have absolutely no vision, so it is essential for the dog to do this right. On our training session yesterday, I came prepared with treats for each success. Before I asked Dora to guide me to each island, I took Eve’s arm, and I heeled Dora and treated her when we got to each island. Then it was her turn to do the guiding. It took a few tries, because she remembered that once upon a time, we had parked in that section of the parking lot, so she probably was looking for the car. Just a guess, but dogs do remember even one occurrence of an event. After mastering the 2 islands, we strode ahead to the door. Again, I took Eve’s arm, and she led us to the customer service desk, which involved making a wide left turn around a display and then another left turn to the counter. Then, I pulled out the clicker gear, and we practiced targeting that counter. Soon, a little group of onlookers had gathered to watch this process with fascination. No problem. Dora was focused on those kibble treats, and she was determined to please me. Finally, it was time to start from the door and find our way to the counter on our own, with Eve trailing behind my right shoulder. I have to congratulate Eve for not interfering with Dora’s learning process. On this final trip, I suspected that she had gotten distracted and was way off base, but I hung in there with her, and Eve never said a word. In a couple of seconds, Dora zoomed around to the left and came to a screeching halt at the counter. As if it had been planned, there was a cart in the way so she had to take a detour, but she got us there.

The last part of this training trip was to navigate back across the parking lot, crossing both of those islands. Because the first one is a little offset from the sidewalk in front of the store, it’s a little trickier. We have to cross at an angle. Here’s where my shoulders have to be exactly in the right position, before I give her the forward command. After we’ve done this a few times, she’ll do it on her own, but for right now, everything has to be just so, for success. After a few more practice runs, I’ll be able to say, “Let’s go shopping,” and I’ll have to hold on for dear life.