Cottleston Pie

Initially, I set out to write this incredibly serious post about public image and the burden it can present as a guide dog team and I had what you might call writer’s block. I knew where the issue stemmed from and all the points I wanted to highlight and yet I couldn’t get much written beyond the title and a paragraph that I wrote and erased more times than I care to admit. Eventually I decided distance would be beneficial and I promptly began procrastinating on the post for something like a month. This worked out beautifully because when I returned to the post I immediately knew what the issue was: I’m partnered with Uschi now and this is not the issue I think of most readily with her. So, this is not a post about public image, which I may well write one of these days but at present there are 100 other draft posts that are vying for that same opportunity. This is a post about Winnie-the-Pooh.

Portrait of Uschi and me on a white background; Uschi standing on her head in front of meOkay, no it’s not. Though, the title is a reference to A.A. Milne’s character. (Albeit I generally think of The Muppet Show as Rowlf is quite famous for singing it.) Rather this is about how Uschi is not anything remotely close to serious and is far more often times the living embodiment of a “fluffy brain.” If Uschi had a theme song, it would be “Cottleston Pie.” (Mine, if you’re curious, is probably the “Cupcake Song.”) Now let me assure you, she does have quite a lot of brain and I’m almost entirely certain she is not full of stuffing. Nevertheless she has moments where I sincerely debate these things as fact. For visual proof, please note the photographs in this post. They are some of my most favorite shots of her because of how adequately they showcase my goofy partner.

In controlled situations I truly do not mind the fact that my guide dog is less a working assistance dog and more closely resembles the Nutty Professor. And by “controlled” I mean any time I am not working with her in public, entertaining house guests, or trying to get anything that could be loosely categorized as productive done. I’m highly amused by her. I was quite adamant when I retired my previous guide dog that I wanted the school to provide me with her duplicate sans health issues. I’m just as positive that they thought I said this with tongue firmly in cheek and what I actually meant was “I want a dog who can keep pace with me, but is small in stature so as not to overpower me and has personality to spare.” So, that’s what I got.

I’ve seen a fair few handlers that have mellow dogs and most of them seem quite happy with this. Call me a snob if you will, but I don’t get the appeal of mellow dogs. I don’t really know why, but for want of words to fill out this post I’ll postulate that it stems from my childhood. We always had at least one pet dog while I was growing up. Unfortunately, most of those were senior citizens and excepting when they were either actively working at creating awesome amounts of poop or physically generating said poop they were little more than furry space heaters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them to bits, but they were not Frisbee catchers or ball chasers or known for trying to stand on their heads. And if any of them were, I was too young at the time to commit this to memory.

Uschi is also a space heater, but that’s the only similarity with my childhood pets. Even in this she separates herself from the pack because her heat output is such that I’m convinced only the fires of Hades can outperform her. At 70 pounds, she’s a tiny thing as shepherds go and like all things that are packaged in a small way she is inherently good. To Uschi, or so my theory goes, “good” means “excessive amounts of energy” which when witnessed is quite impossible to differentiate from what most functioning brains would define as “crazy.” Sometimes this is exhibited by trotting around the house in a very convincing imitation of a dressage horse. Other times she’ll eschew such formality and instead use the length of my house as a racetrack. My personal favorite is when she is so bursting with excitement that she is only capable of processing that she’s very thirsty and so she flits about the house dribbling the entire contents of her water bowl.

Literally and without a drop of hyperbole, she has the most pronounced difference in demeanor when in and out of harness of any guide dog. Not just my girls, but of any guide I have ever known in my entire life. It’s been a year now and I still find myself shocked and amazed that this wild child of a dog actually has the ability to focus and be calm and, you know, work as a guide dog. Oh, and it’s worth stressing this fact: she’s an excellent guide.

Except for when she’s not.

Uschi on a brown background rolling around on her backThree guesses when that is — and the first two don’t count. Right. That whole “crazy” thing. You see sometimes she just can’t help herself and that goofy personality just slips out. Thankfully, a good number of these times have been situations where I’m mostly embarrassed in front of a friend or family member, like when instead of just getting into my friend’s car she literally hurled herself across me and into his lap! More concerning is when her “fluffy brain” turns the most random things into nothing short of intense distraction. Yesterday for instance she spent no less than five minutes completely entranced by one of the garbage cans in my driveway. She actually lunged at it — and very nearly sent me into cardiac arrest because I had no clue what she was reacting to at first. Granted that’s a random example even for her, but sometimes I swear she’s having an incredibly vivid hallucination while she’s supposed to be, well, guiding me. So far this hasn’t caused me anything but temporary confusion at why we’ve stopped for no reason other than for my partner to sit down and observe some elusive thing only she can see. I almost would prefer her wild and intermittent animal distraction. Actually, no. This is at least mildly entertaining and that day in the park was so very not. I used to say that Dolly had a “fifteen minute or two block rule” that was basically her version of needing a cup of coffee in the morning; she needed those minutes or that length of a walk to actually wake up enough to realize she was not asleep and really working. Uschi, on the other hand, is like a three-year-old in her own imaginary play land and sometimes she forgets that the play land is in her mind and it takes over completely. Last year I used that same description save for that she was a two-year-old . . . I’m not sure how long I can justify her childlike (mis)behavior based on age alone. Especially since I don’t think her actual age has anything whatsoever to do with the inner-workings of her stuffing-filled brain. If I had to give a reason, I would say that while her brain may not actually be full of stuff and fluff, it has a specific capacity to hold information that is only rivaled by its ability to be completely overwhelmed by, for lack of a better word, fun. Essentially, she gets carried away with herself and no amount of discipline and obedience is able to fully overcome it.

Let me assuage your fears: her bouts of absentmindedness during work are infrequent. Though, I’m torn between mind-numbing paranoia that one day she’ll fully commit to her Mr. Hyde side and havoc beyond imagining will ensue. However, she is not only almost always spot on when in harness, but she’s shown an amazing ability to stay on her job when other crazy things have happened, like a cat spazzing out on her in a bookstore. So, while the potential exists that she’s going to royally embarrass me in front of more than a few close friends, I’m not wary of her ability to keep me safe even if she is possibly certifiable. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, she proves on a daily basis to be tons more entertaining than my television was all of last year.


This post was written as part of the sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Obstacles” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

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