How to Get a New Guide Dog

By now you know that I lost my dear sweet Dora to cancer on April 3 of this year. Without going into the heartbreaking details, I’ll share with you what comes next. As with any kind of grief, I needed a few weeks to recover from this life-changing loss. Eventually, I was so lost without her that I finally contacted The Seeing Eye to apply for my next partner in life.

Most people who have no experience with dog guides, or guide dogs, as they are often called, have no idea of what goes into the preparation for a new partnership. I’ve been asked when I will go pick up my new dog. It’s not a store where you pick one out, plunk down some money and take the dog home. They don’t realize that months of training have gone into making a puppy into a dog guide. It takes many skills, which a lot of people don’t even notice because they are executed so smoothly with gentle commands.

Dog guides lead their humans around obstacles, slow down and stop at intersections, stay between the lines at a crosswalk, show them where the elevator is, find the doctor’s office in a complicated building, stop at the top of stairs, keep them from getting too close to subway tracks, find their way out of restaurants, lie quietly under the table, don’t beg, don’t chase squirrels, waits patiently while her human works out or swims at the Y, sits quietly at the feet of his human on a bus, in a car, or on a plane, and a myriad other tasks that a pet dog would

not know how to do.

When a puppy at The Seeing Eye breeding station is old enough to be weaned, a “puppy-raising” family adopts her, she lives with that family for about a year. She learns her house manners, how to get along with other dogs, children, and baby humans. She gets to go to stores and restaurants, to the library, to church, and many other public places. She learns to walk on a leash and keep on the sidewalk. She learns to ignore squirrels and birds and all the basics of a well-behaved guide dog in training.

The next stage of her education is to return to The Seeing Eye, where she learns how to guide people who can’t see. This process takes about three months. It’s a complicated course of study, because sometimes she is expected to lean into her harness, and at other times, she is expected to lie quietly under the table until it’s time for the next task. Then comes the day when she and about 20 of her classmates each meet a person who will change their lives again. For the next two weeks, her new person will be giving her commands, instead of her trainer. They will learn together to be a team. Sometimes she will make mistakes and will have to do a certain task over, and sometimes her person will make mistakes, and they will work together from 5:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night. There will be times during the day when she will be allowed to play with her person in their room or go for a stress-free walk around the grounds. At night, she will be expected to sleep in her crate without her doggy friends or her trainer, but her new human will be with her always.

And finally, she will board an airplane with her new person and travel to her new forever home. She will learn a whole new set of skills, like knowing which house is hers and where she is allowed to empty. It’s a very exciting time, a lot of work, and a truly rewarding life.

Meanwhile, I wait; wait for an opening in the class and wait for the trainers to find just the right dog for me.

The Wheels Are Turning at the Seeing Eye

My darling Dora died of cancer six weeks ago. While there are times that something sets me off, a word, a song, or just the overbearing feeling of loneliness, and I weep, even sob, in self-indulgent sadness, I know that sooner or later, I must replace her with a new Seeing Eye ® dog. I hate using the word replace, because a dog like Dora cannot be replaced. Yet, I can’t go on needing to hold the arm of a kind person to go anywhere outside my home, and I’m terrible at using a white cane. It’s time to go back to the Seeing Eye to train with a new dog to regain my independence.

In this post, I’d like to describe how the process begins, because most people don’t realize what a process it is. To start with, people seeking a guide dog go to a training school such as the Seeing Eye, which is located in Morristown, NJ and stay there for training with their new dog for two to three weeks. Then you might wonder why the person who has had guide dogs before should have to train each time they get a new dog. Each dog has its own personality, strengths in certain skills and must learn to obey the commands of someone he or she has never met before. Here’s where I come in. The dog needs to put their newly learned skills to use with an actual blind person. At the same time, the blind person must adjust to a completely different dog’s personality. Together, they work on becoming a team.

It’s hard work. Their days start at 5:30 in the morning and continue all day until lights out for the pups at about 8:30. They are tired and go to sleep easily . Throughout the day, there are learning opportunities, everything from guiding a person on the sidewalks of Morristown to stopping at corners to lying quietly under the table at mealtimes.

But the first step begins with a visit from an instructor at the blind person’s home. Today, I had that visit, and although I didn’t think I was ready for a new guide dog before, I do now. The instructor and I talked about what kind of breed and gender would be my ideal dog. Of course I said I wanted another Dora. I wish they could have cloned her. After a long talk about my dream dog, we took what is called a “Juno” walk. The instructor held the front end of a harness, and I held the handle, as if there were a dog in it, and we started walking through my neighborhood. I gave her commands, so she got an idea of my style of working with a dog. She asked me if this was the pace I liked, or would I prefer a faster pull or slower.

When the Juno walk was over, so was our visit. The instructor will go back to the Seeing Eye for the next step. As the group of 10 dogs in her class mature and learn the basic skills of guiding, she will keep an eye out for one that will fit my needs and will make a good guide for me. The next step is to wait. I wait for the call when they think they have the right dog for me and that there is an opening in a certain class in the coming months. It could be sooner or later. In the meantime, I wait as the wheels are turning at the Seeing Eye. It’s exciting to think that there just might be a young dog in training as I write, who will be the best one for me. Stay tuned. I plan to give you updates on this new chapter in my life. But don’t think for one minute that I’ve stopped loving Dora. She will be there in my heart with every step I take with the new dog. It will be a challenge for me to not compare them, but I’m ready to give it a try.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

Empty Nest Emptiness

Empty Nest emptiness

When a guide dog has been at your side for the past eight years, anticipating your every move, responding to your every request, waiting for your next walk, treat, game, or tummy rub, and in one minute, it’s gone, the hole in your heart is all that is left, or so you think.

Memories of your pride in her remarkable skills at working, her joy in catching a ball by jumping up and grabbing it in mid air, her ferocious bark when the doorbell rings or a squirrel passes by the window, her patience when you were almost out the door when the phone rang or you couldn’t find your key, the expression of love and devotion on her face when she gazed at you, are also there and will be forever. No matter how many future dogs you will love, none will compare to this one you just lost. Your heart is broken, and you think maybe you should never have another dog, because losing her is too painful. But as you wake each morning without a greeting of a lick on the nose or a sniff in your hair, and all you feel in that room is emptiness. And when you think you heard a flapping of ears or padding paws on a carpet, you wonder if her spirit is visiting you, or maybe it’s just the house settling. And now and then, for a split second, you think you should check on her water bowl, or you discover you forgot to put away her leash, or you find a ball under the couch.

In time, you admit that you really don’t like all this silence. You really want a dog to jump into your lap when it thunders, crawl into bed with you when she thinks you’ve rescinded the rule about no dogs on the bed, look up at you with imploring eyes when you’re eating something dogs shouldn’t have, back up to you for a scratch above her tail, jump up and down with joy when you return from being away, dive into her harness when it’s time for a walk, and walk proudly slightly ahead of you, because she loves her job, and she knows she’s the top dog in the neighborhood. You will tire of walking through your door without a leash and harness, talk to yourself and then feel foolish, because there is no dog to pretend to understand you. You will feel selfish when you lie in bed in the morning and then casually go about your routine that does not include taking care of a dog who depends on you for meeting her needs. You will feel lazy and depressed, because you aren’t taking walks in the sunshine. You will feel resentful when you climb on that treadmill, just to keep in shape for that magical day when you go back to training, and you are presented with the next love of your life. Each dog you’ve worked with over the last 40 years has been the love of your life at the time, but when you lose each one, your world comes crashing down once again. Mine did on April 3, when Dora died because of cancer. Since her diagnosis in November, I have dreaded this day. No surgery nor medicine nor prayers could make it go away. Now I wait for the next love of my life to be born, to be trained, and then be taught to be the next best guide dog ever. I pray that Dora’s spirit will be trotting right along with her, giving her tips on how to do it right. Dora got tips from Pippen, Sherry, and Mindy, all angels in Seeing Eye ® Heaven.

To see a photo of Dora and to read about the beginning of our journey together, go back to my entry on Feb. 24, 2014.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I just got back from vacation. But I don’t have a tan. I don’t feel smarter after Chautauqua. I don’t feel rested from a cruise. I don’t have sore muscles or feel in tip top shape after cross country skiing. But my daughter Kara gave me the gift of her time and her undivided attention for 4 solid days. Words don’t do justice to the care and love I received last week, but I’ll give it a try.

She came alone, prepared to tackle my to-do list that kept growing, the more I thought of what I needed to accomplish while she was here. Kara is a very perceptive person. She could tell that too many tasks that I couldn’t get done because of the pandemic and the winter storms were weighing heavy on my natural tendency to keep my life in order. I needed help, and she resolved to leave her family for 5 nights and take 2 planes and an Uber to walk through my front door with a smile and her sleeves rolled up.

Day 1: Top on our agenda was a trip to Meijer. Even though I normally use Shipt to have my groceries delivered from Meijer, it was pure luxury to walk up and down the aisles, touching products I was considering, examining them for the features I wanted, and doing a little impulse buying too, which is hard to do when somebody else is shopping for you. I hadn’t been shopping like this for 2 years, and while it was refreshing, it was just the beginning. Because we had taken Uber to Meijer, we loaded up our back packs and walked through parking lots to our next destination. Who needs hiking in the mountains when you have piles of snow to navigate with purchases on your back?

Our next stop was the $ store, where Kara selected all the birthday cards I would need for the year, plus a few other greeting cards to have on hand. Later, she would address them each and put them in order of when they should be mailed. I had resigned myself to not sending cards this year, but I was delighted to get that job done after all. She also picked out bright yellow daffodils for my window boxes, another task that would have to be skipped this year. Later, she would plant them and set the boxes in the window, so that my neighbors would know I was alive after all.

Our last stop that day was to have lunch in a sit-down-wait-on-you restaurant, a treat I hadn’t enjoyed since the last book club I attended in 2021. We even split a bowl of warm peach cobbler, since we had a half hour before our next Uber was to pick us up and take us home.

Days 2 and 3: You might not consider cleaning out an office much of a vacation, but to me, it meant cleaning out the clutter in my life. Like my mother before me, I was starting to buy duplicates of items I couldn’t find. Mom’s items were scissors and shoe horns and hundreds of other things. Mine were ear buds and batteries and other gadgets of technology. I also had several gadgets I needed to learn how to use. Except for having dinner with my son and watching a movie with him, we spent the entire weekend working our way through my list. In addition, Kara volunteered to take Dora for a walk, even though it was bitter cold, but it simply wasn’t safe for me to attempt it.

Day 4: Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to shop, but most of my friends who help me have not returned to shopping for food inside a store. Because Kara shops at her TJ’s at home, she was able to introduce me to even more than what was on my list. But before that happy experience, we had 2 other impulse purchases to make on our retail therapy trip. To make it a true shopping spree, I needed to buy one piece of clothing. Kara knew exactly where to look for the fleece sweater I wanted, and then our last little kick-our-heels-up stop was to buy a fancy doughnut to have for later. After paying for my TJ treasures, we loaded them once again in our back packs and waited for our Uber. How I wished she could have stayed for just one more day. They say that’s the way it should be, so I’ll get back to life as I used to know it, thanks to my getter-done daughter.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

Skating on Thin Ice

Skating on Thin Ice

My last entry about walking in the Metro Parks around Columbus was back in November. Although Dora and I continued to walk around our neighborhood, our trips to the parks came to an abrupt halt, for several reasons. Fortunately, not one of them was for illness or injury. Our winter was not particularly brutle, but we had a lot of rain and wind and generally nasty weather. Then there were the holidays , and Dan went back to working part time. Meanwhile, I managed to get to the pool at the Y twice a week, but no walks in the park. It was a gloomy season.

But today, I am happy to relay to you another unique experience at our favorite Metro Park. Although we’ve had a snow storm on top of an ice storm, we were fairly confident that by now, the maintenance crews would have cleared the trails, so off we went for a new adventure—walking on ice.

Normally, Dan describes the beauty around us, but on this winter day, he mostly had to keep his eyes on the trail just ahead. Once in a while, we enjoyed relaxed walking on pavement that was dry and cleared of all snow. Then suddenly, we’d be sliding on what is called black ice, a thin layer that is not seen until you’re on top of it and fighting to stay upright. I had considered wearing my cleats, which I attach to my boots, but then I changed my mind at the last minute. Bad decision. I tried to keep my knees bent and relaxed, so that if I did fall, it wouldn’t break anything, a habit I picked up from cross country skiing, and Dan was busy, not only doing the same thing but also making sure I was not going to fall. Meanwhile, Dora was happily frolicking in the snow alongside the trail and wondering why she couldn’t detect those wonderful smells she enjoyed in the summer. She did spot a wild turkey, strolling down the trail, as if he owned the place, and she began to follow him until Dan called her back. I’m sure her intentions were only to investigate what kind of weird thing this was, but I wasn’t so sure about the intentions of that turkey. But he was pretty cocky, pun intended, since the holidays were over.

Because this was our first outing in over two months, we quit at 2.25 miles. I felt like we should have done at least one more mile, to make it worth the drive, but it was wise to quit while we were ahead. A broken hip or elbow surely would have ruined our day. But nothing ruined this day, because we were finally outside in the winter sunshine and doing something good for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. The whole experience reminded me a little of skiing, which made me a little sad, because Ski for Light was cancelled this year. But it also made me a little glad to be out of the house and to smile at the joy that playing in the snow can bring.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

More Than Just a Walk in the Park

When was the last time you peeked out from the inside of a tree? Unless you’re a squirrel, it’s probably been a rare occasion, if ever. This tree might have been hit by lightening, judging by the shapes of the “windows.” It happens that this was my second opportunity to walk inside a tree, the first being at another Columbus Metro Park. Over the last 19 months, my friend Dan has taken Dora and me to a metro park once a week for a change of pace, literally. When we step onto a paved trail, it’s like Dora is trying to win a race. If we have the trail mostly to ourselves, I take off the harness and let her walk freely. Ironically, she doesn’t run ahead but stays about six feet in front of us, walking at our pace.

Even though I get a kick out of Dora’s enjoyment, what I love most about these walks in the parks is stopping to listen, to touch, to smell, and to learn. In one park, we were startled as we walked across a little bridge. We thought we heard a woodpecker under the bridge, but we learned later that it was a squirrel making a warning sound to his forest friends. In another park, I touched the most interesting moss that covered the whole tree. At every park bench we encounter, we stop to read for whom the bench was dedicated. We also take that opportunity to rest my back and give Dora a drink.

On the walk last week, we thought at first that we were hearing a gaggle of geese in the distance, but as they approached overhead, we saw that it was a murder of crows. Murder is a good word for a bunch of crows, because you just know what their motivation is. They flew not in formation like geese but in a bunch, and they made a huge circle, coming back around toward us. For a minute, we thought they might have had murdering us on their minds. But they soon settled down by a pond, where no doubt, there was some disgusting scent whetting their appetites. This week, we returned to one of our favorite parks where hundreds of tall pine trees stand at attention all year. But now that we have cooler weather, their fragrance floats all around, causing us to stop in our tracks and breathe in the memories of Christmas that pine evokes. We stand and sniff the air, just savoring the peace of the pine forest and the quiet that surrounds us. Because not many people know about this sanctuary of trees and birds, we usually have the trails to ourselves. Meanwhile, winter is on its way, and I hope we can visit some of these parks when snow changes the entire scene, and we have a whole new park experience to enjoy.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

Stepping Back in Time

It was like stepping back in time. As we turned onto the street in Norwood, Ohio, where I lived from 1945 or so until 1957 or there abouts, I had the weird sensation of feeling the years melting away.

I had just visited my friend Deborah in Cincinnati last weekend for a marathon gab fest, Scrabble, and her coaching me on some technology. and after I said my goodbyes and thanked her for her hospitality, I posed a question to my friend Dan as we pulled out of her driveway. Dan had been kind enough to agree to drive me to Deborah’s, but he also agreed to make a quick side trip to Norwood. Norwood is known for being one of the first cities within a city. It’s a city in southwest Ohio, but it’s completely surrounded by Cincinnati.

I had lived in 3 different houses growing up, but this one was the one where I had my first memories. I walked to school, even starting in kindergarten. Because both my parents worked, my mother arranged for an older girl in my school to meet me at the end of my street to walk with me. As we passed each trigger for a memory, I pointed them out to Dan, as if they were famous sites on a tour. “Here’s the corner where there was a little grocery store. Is it still there? Here’s the drug store where I walked to get a soda and read comic books on the floor and then not pay for them. Here’s the bar, which used to be called The Tap Room. I thought that’s where people went to tap dance. Here’s where my best friend lived. “

As we got closer and closer to the house, I worried that it would have fallen into disrepair. After all, the neighborhood was old even when I had lived there. The street was so rough, it felt like we were driving over cobble stones, but the houses, although old, looked well preserved and as attractive as possible. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed. People even lived in my own old house. I know this, because Dan saw a woman driving toward my house, and to our amazement, she pulled into the driveway. She went into the house and then popped back out to collect her mail. She must have seen us staring at her house, my house, because we drove on down the street, and when we came back past my/her house, the woman was sitting out on the porch steps, watching us. Dan waved and smiled, and we drove on down that ancient street full of memories. If we had had time to get out and walk, I would have asked Dan to walk with me to my school, which I had thought was a very long distance. But we drove and set the odometer, and when we reached the school, Dan said, “Are you ready for this? .5 miles.”

“Half a mile!” I exclaimed. I would have sworn it was at least 2 miles.” That’s what we all think when we’re 6 years old, and we have little short legs, and the street crossings look like crossing into new worlds.

Next on our tour was the house where I lived when I was in junior high. I loved that little house, so much so, that it often appears in my dreams. It’s a tidy little brick ranch that is indicative of my life back then, tidy, small, and yes, square. The happiest years of my childhood were based in that house—the start of serious dance lessons with Jack Louiso, singing in the adult choir, playing wiffle ball with the neighbor kids, and loving my 2 Dalmatians. It was before the death of my adored big brother and my beloved Aunt Lynn.

As we headed back north on I71, I reflected on how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to step back in time and revisit my youth. What a weird feeling but wonderful too. I am grateful to Dan for being willing to make that happen.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

A New Kind of Wardrobe

I used to have a recurring dream that I opened my closet and discovered several brand new dresses. I was delighted, because I love new clothes, especially dresses. Waking up and finding the same old outfits was always a disappointment. Someday, when I return to going to meetings or church or out to dinner, where I might want to wear a dress, I’ll open my closet to find dresses I don’t recognize. It will be just like that dream, only not disappointing. They are not new, but they might as well be. I don’t even remember some of them, even after I’ve held them up and examined them.

I was taken aback when my friend Deborah and I were chatting on the phone, and she asked me what the dresses I had bought looked like. I had to think really hard before I could come up with the vaguest of descriptions.

No, it’s not dementia, or at least, I don’t think so. It’s because for the past year and a half, I’ve worn only shorts and sweats with T-shirts and sweatshirts. There has been no need to look at the dresses in my closet, because I go to church by watching the service from my couch on YouTube. I go to meetings via Zoom. And the only dining out I’ve done has been drive-through fast food places.

It’s been a very weird world recently for many reasons, and the pandemic being one of the most troubling.

But it seems that a lot of people think it’s over, or it never happened at all. As soon as the second summer came around, people thronged in every entertainment venue and restaurant. New eateries are opening all the time, and movie theaters have opened their doors. Some may say that I’ve been overly cautious, verging on paranoid, but I’ve been healthy and have found ways to connect with people without being in a crowd. Once a week, my friend Dan and I take Dora for a good long walk in a metro park, and we are refreshed and rejuvenated every time. We love to stop and listen to birds, examine the plants, and revel in the quiet. Sure, I’d like to go to a festival or a concert, but is it worth the price of a possible deadly illness?

Maybe I’m extra careful, because I am of the age where we are most at risk I got a massage last week for the first time in two years. I asked the therapist if he had been fully vaccinated. He said he had not, because he didn’t think enough testing had been done. I was furious. Who does he think he is? If I had had a way home, I would have left right then, but at least he wore a mask.

If I live long enough to see the end of this pandemic, I think I should buy a whole new wardrobe and fill my calendar with lots of fun things to do. But I will never give up my comfortable sweats and my relaxing walks in the parks.

Mary Hiland

www.seeingitmyway.com

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir

And

Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available from Amazon

Non Virtual Virtual 5K for K9

Two years ago, I posted a video of Dora and me crossing the finish line with Dan behind us, at the fund-raiser for sick and injured dogs at the shelter. It was a 5K out-and-back walk with dozens of dogs with their people on a path that took us along the Alum Creek Dam. Just a few weeks ago, I was there kayaking with my family, but on this day, it was a family of folks who love their pets and raise money to help the little guys who are waiting for their forever homes. 

You might remember my writing about the pet pig named Kevin Bacon. We met him at the first event, but we didn’t see him at the second one. Then along came Covid, and the in-person/dog event had to go virtual. We still got beautifully designed shirts when we paid our registration fees. All the dogs pictured on the front were wearing masks.

This year, sadly, it had to be virtual again, but we wanted to walk the walk whether or not there would be winners of prizes and free stuff like toys and treats. It was a beautiful day, and we were not alone. Almost everybody we met along the trail had dogs with them, friendly hellos, and even some opportunities to pet their happy dogs. As you can see on our smiling faces that we were having a great day with Dora, and she was thrilled to be photographed between her two favorite people. My only regret is that we should have taken that picture in front of the sign that said “No dogs allowed.” But the good people who maintain this interesting State park must have a soft spot in their hearts for this worthy cause.

This time was different from the others for another reason. We weren’t in a hurry, so we stopped to read the educational signs. They told us what kinds of birds to look for and how the dam works. What a great way to spend a Saturday. Maybe you’ll join us next year.

Three Generations Kayaking Together

A few weeks ago, my son Steve and his friend Terri introduced me to the peaceful sport of kayaking. One usually doesn’t use the adjective “peaceful” for a sport, but it applies here. Once I got the hang of paddling and the slight anxiety of being almost down in the water in a bathtub-like boat, I absolutely loved it. I’d paddle for a few minutes and then rest and revel in the quiet of the lake and listen to the occasional call of a bird, a bird I never hear in my back yard.

The sound of the water parting as my paddle came up and sprinkled a little over my legs on its way over to the other side was a soothing sound.

I loved it so much that when my daughter’s family came for a short visit after not having seen them for a year and a half, the first activity just had to be kayaking or paddle boarding or just riding on the boat with Steve. Steve and Terri were our instructors and coaches, and it was great fun to see how the two older girls took to the kayak and the paddle board. Their dad Scott, who works out daily, was a natural at the paddle board.

After I had paddled in Terri’s kayak across the lake and back, I was happy to trade with Terri, so she could coach from the water and have a little fun too, while I relaxed on the trolling boat with my face to the sun and my attention to Steve’s description of how they were doing. I loved the gentle rocking as we rounded an island, following the others in the water. Everybody loved the experience. Too bad my daughter and her youngest are victims of motion sickness, because I know they would have loved it otherwise.

As we climbed back into the car with our wet clothes and filthy water shoes, I was reminded of a saying I often quote. We must have had a good time since we’re wet and dirty. The rain held off too, and the oppressive heat backed off, so we could have dinner on the patio. What a perfect start for their long-awaited visit. Thanks to Steve for providing entertainment, so a visit to Grammie’s would be fun.