A Year with Nahla

I would feel guilty about the lack of posting, especially with regard to updating on Nahla, but I’m too overwhelmed by the simple fact that an entire year has gone by.

So much happened in such a short amount of time. The very day before training began, Uschi worked in harness for the very last time. And in the most bizarre twist of firsts, my father took her home with him, separating us for the first time. I’m still not sure who had a more difficult time with this.1

Nahla, doing her customary head tiltOf course, soon enough I was bombarded by my exuberant new arrival: Nahla.

For my part I always find the first day with a new guide dog simultaneously exhilarating and annoying. It’s an indescribable level of wonderful meeting your new partner for the first time, but it’s also so strange to go from a seasoned, well-behaved, and calm older dog to a mass of frenetic fur that is barely more than a puppy. Nahla was no exception. Also, she’s a whiner, which is a made only more obvious and irritating in contrast to Uschi who barely ever makes a peep outside of barking at the mail carrier.

The weeks of training went by in a blur even after Dad returned Uschi and I was officially outnumbered by the shepherds in the household. I don’t know why having double the amount of dogs equals well more than double the amount of work and resources, but let me assure you it does. Honestly, a lot of my two weeks of training was learning how to handle both of these dogs together. Chris, my Fidelco instructor, was bound and determined to leave us in a state where I could independently walk both of the girls securely. I admit I hadn’t even thought about such a thing until he mentioned it and was delighted by the idea if a bit skeptical. Uschi’s biggest issue has always been other animals, specifically dogs, and her reactions had grown progressively more alarming despite my best efforts to keep on top of it. But before we had concluded our training I was not only taking both dogs out to relieve simultaneously, I had also walked several miles with Uschi heeling beside me on my right side as Nahla guided me along.

This all wouldn’t be possible, however, if Nahla wasn’t such a solid guide dog. For one, she is absolutely unfazed by other dogs. At most she shows some awareness of them, but she doesn’t react in any significant way. Moreover as a breed, the shepherds tend to find work reinforcing and Nahla is definitely a prime example of this and is truly focused when in harness. Uschi, for her part, just seems to enjoy that she gets out still and is happy to trot along with us.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering at this point if all was so great and terrific, why the lack of posting? Aside from the usual “I’m busy and time is a thing” excuse, that is. Well, the thing of it is that stuff wasn’t all great and terrific. In fact, the first two months following training were some of the most stressful of my entire life working with guide dogs. There was always at least one dog sick in this house at any given time. Often it was both dogs. Generally, it was just Nahla. This eventually got to a breaking point where I called Fidelco in tears because here on the one hand I had this amazing new partner who was essentially perfect for me in all the ways I could imagine asking for, while on the other she was just constantly sick with this thing or another. Whereas my actually chronically ill dog was more or less fine. After Yara I had made it very clear that health issues were not acceptable and Uschi was only a concession in that her lupus initially didn’t hinder her ability to work.2 I ended the call with Fidelco very aware of our probationary status as a team, but hoping that all of these issues were just post-placement anxiety. Thing is, I’m entirely certain that was exactly the cause because it was like I flipped a switch on this dog. Literally, the next day she was all better and hasn’t had a single issue whatsoever since.

Once the dust of stress settled things just clicked into place in such a way that it’s hard to remember when I didn’t have to wrangle two shepherds. Nahla’s just inserted herself into life here in such a way that I didn’t realize we were missing a piece until she plopped herself into it. She’s a solid partner both in and out of harness. Working with her is smooth, her pace and pull are just perfect for me and I never have to cajole her into going on. If anything I wish I were ten years younger and even more active because this dog has energy to burn! At home she’s . . . well, let’s just say she’s managed to get her way a lot faster than any of my previous dogs. I could have fought her on getting on the furniture — and I was initially very determined that was a retired dog’s privilege alone — but between her very mature and calm attitude about such things and those pitiful stares of hers I caved. Yeah, I’m getting soft. As for Uschi, the two get along famously; they roughhouse when the mood strikes them, but mostly they’re pretty chill and I often find them snuggled up together, napping.

Happy anniversary, Nahla; may we have many more years to look back on and marvel about!

  1. To my credit I didn’t have accidents in the house, but I was most certainly disoriented sans a dog and guide.
  2. Despite showing signs of lupus from the day she arrived here, the erratic and debilitating symptoms didn’t manifest until a few years after her initial diagnosis. Initially it was thought she had a mild case that was easily treatable and wouldn’t affect her much at all.

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