going Steady

“Going steady” has a whole new meaning for me. If you know someone who uses a Seeing Eye ® dog, and you do, because you read my blog, you might hear that person giving her dog certain commands, such as “hup up,” which means “hurry up” or “let’s go,” or “pfui!” which means “Bad girl,” or “Stop sniffing.” And of course, you’ll here the universal commands of sit and down. We say “rest” instead of “stay.” But the one I want to talk about today is the command “Steady.” I’ll get to what it means in a minute.

Since my spinal fusion surgery 6 weeks ago, I have not been able to use my sweet girl, Dora, because of her strong pull. I had to be very cautious when I walked around the house on my own and very slow when I walked with a friend outside. Poor Dora had to stay home from the few outtings I had, such as doctors’ appointments and a rare lunch at a restaurant. I just couldn’t risk having her pull too hard on me and undo the repairs on my back. I certainly did not want to go through that again.

Many friends brought in food and often stayed to have the meal with me, which was very kind. But what pleased me most were the energetic folks who took my athletic dog for good long walks, often with a vigorous game of fetch thrown in. She’d come home panting with a big grin on her face, and that made me happy.

I would have been happier still if I could have taken her out for a brisk walk myself. But no, I had to be the one staying behind, resting, and healing. “Rest” and “Heel” had a whole new meaning for us.

Then almost exactly at the 6-week mark, I decided it was time to try putting on the harness, along with a “gentle leader,” a soft strap that goes over the dog’s nose and mouth, (not a muzzle) just to remind her that she needs to slow down and pull only gently. Putting her harness on her without bending over was a trick in itself. I had to kneel beside her, being careful not to twiwst my body, because that was forbidden too, and then hoist myself back up on a nearby chair, so as not to strain my back. What joy I felt as we stepped out the door into the sunshine and started down the driveway and on up the street. It reminded me of the day I stepped off with my first Seeing Eye, Mindy. It was a joyous occasion. But we did not march off as in our previous days before back pain. No, I gently tugged on that gentle leader and repeated softly to her, “Steady … steady … steady.” There’s that command I mentioned earlier. And she remembered what that meant. Slowing her pace, we managed to walk out for 3 blocks and then home again with no pain in my back. And that’s not all she remembered. I had worried a little that with all the walking with friends, and therefore with no real commands, she’d get lazy in her responses to certain situations. As we stopped at a corner ramp, I gave her the forward command to cross the street, but she stayed put. This is called “intelligent disobedience,” because it was at that moment that a driver who was in a big hurry to beat us to the corner, swung right in front of us and continued making the turn without so much as a hesitation. In our training at The Seeing Eye, we call this situation a “traffic check,” and I was thrilled to see that even though we had not encountered one for years, she was “on it.” She might as well have said, “I got this Mom.”

As we made our way home, at a fairly slow pace, I thought to myself, “Yes, by the time the 12-week recuperation is up, we’ll be back to marching along, but in the meantime, we’re going steady. “Steady … steady … steady.

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