On this day back in 1998 a little black Labrador retriever literally bounded right into my lap and totally changed my life! It’s been several years since Dolly passed and even more since we worked as a team, but in some ways she’ll always be missed.
The question from the other day reminded me of another humorous story with Dolly that I thought I’d share here.
I can’t say for certain since I don’t have kids, but first working with a guide dog is a lot like dealing with a toddler. They don’t run shouting “no” at you constantly because wisely we don’t teach dogs how to speak, but the obstinate is there all the same.
One resounding memory I have from training school is the morning ride to our destination. It was filled with a chorus of “sit” as everyone battled their dogs in the ongoing fight against lying down. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with lying down in a vehicle — I’m always glad when my girls decide to because otherwise they’re just using me as a leaning post — it’s that there isn’t enough room for the whole group of dogs to lie down so no one gets to.
Dolly was one of the main offenders in this because she was just not a morning dog. And I think she took this demand to sit up on her own power as a personal affront because she was always a bit reluctant to do so when we were in public. One particular day I was in a restroom stall trying desperately to get her to sit because she was In The Way. She was having none of it despite my repeated and increasingly frustrated command to “sit!”
Her stubbornness made exiting the stall something of a production and was none too graceful. At the row of sinks a woman was watching us through the mirror and let out an audible sigh.
“This whole time I was wondering why you were telling me to sit,” she said. “I mean, I already was.”
“What is the funniest thing your guide dog has done?”
Well, Uschi is a almost constantly hamming it up, so picking the funniest is pretty much impossible. She stands on her head for goodness sake!
However, I do have a humorous memory of Dolly.
As you all probably know I was in college during most of the time I worked with Dolly. Since I transferred so many times I ended up having to fulfill general education requirements twice and at some point I took a mandatory History class. Like most gen-ed classes it was large enough to be given in a lecture hall. By this point I’d been working a guide dog long enough to have come to the conclusion it was best to sit farther back in a classroom. People were less likely to trip over her if we weren’t in the major flow of traffic and often they wouldn’t notice her at all in the back of the room.1
It was early enough in the semester that I hadn’t yet had the chance to introduce myself to the professor. It could well have been the first day of class. In any case, on this particular day he was droning about something or other. I found my mind wasn’t quite on the lecture because I was watching him pace back and forth at the front of the classroom. Now and then he would stop and glance up at us. It wasn’t exactly odd so much as it made it difficult for me to focus on what he was saying.
Meanwhile, Dolly was sprawled out at my feet. The classroom was routine for her by now. To her it was basically a cue to take a nap. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Dolly snored, though, I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten it across that she was loud. Really, I cannot stress this enough. I have some pretty epic snorers in my family and Dolly gave them quite good noise competition. Her puppy raiser told me that Dolly’s crate got moved to the hallway because even as a puppy she was obnoxiously loud. When I trained at GEB the girl on the opposite side of the room next door to mine, through a solid concrete wall, could hear Dolly snoring.
About midway through the class, her snoring got so bad I was starting to notice students rustling around, glancing back at my deeply sleeping dog. Her snores were to a point I was literally having trouble hearing the lecture. So, I lightly poked her with my foot, intending to get her to reposition herself and hopefully stop the lawnmower imitation she was doing in her sleep. Instead she woke with a loud snort, jumped up from the floor and noisily shook herself off. I’m sure every eye in the lecture hall was on us, including the professor’s.
“Oh!” He exclaimed as I tried to get Dolly back on the floor as inconspicuously as possible amid a classroom of gaping students. “That’s who was snoring.” I turned beat red on the spot, fully expecting him to have a fit about the disruption. “This entire time,” he continued, “I’ve been trying to figure out who would dare fall asleep in my class.”
There was a rather long beat, and then the professor just burst into hysterical laughter.
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- Students were often driven to distraction by the dog and it was incredibly unnerving to have them stare at us throughout the entire class. ↩
I would be ever so happy if we got rid of Daylight Savings. I spend the following week after we gain the hour feeling like a zombie that’s been scraped out of my bed and propelled into the morning, but worse is the dog who just can’t grasp the time change. For weeks she tries to make 5:30 happen because her internal clock says that’s the latest I should be sleeping. I want to get mad at her about it, but not only do I lack the ability to convey the issue to a canine, Uschi’s method of rousing me from sleep is so subtle and gentle that it almost makes up for it.
Yes, I actually characterized an aspect of this goofy shepherd as “subtle” and no one is more shocked than me. I’ve now worked with her for four years and I am no less baffled, amazed, and amused by her ridiculous antics and boundless energy. She’s certainly a unique dog and it’s been an interesting journey over the years. At this point there aren’t any great revelations to discover like her fondness for standing on her head or preference to eat her meals on a carpeted surface. Unless you count having to deal with the raw skin issues from her allergies. Instead I realized more simple things like how her targeting has transformed from a quick touch with her nose to a soft lick of her tongue.
She’s also become quiet the snuggle-bug and is by far the most exuberant, enthusiastic and willingly affectionate of my guide dogs.
I was a spoiled child. Really spoiled. I mean, spoiled to the point that my father has stated matter-of-factly that the only thing I ever asked for that I didn’t get was a horse. Horses certainly aren’t cheap and my parents weren’t rich by any means, but this wasn’t so much about the expense of purchasing and owning a horse. I never got a horse as a kid because they don’t exactly thrive in tiny third-floor apartments. Instead, I had a bedroom stuffed with Breyer models and My Little Ponies, I had riding lessons, and I was in a 4-H club dedicated to horses.
The 4-H club was a bizarre experience for me. Through it I learned that a passion for horses is all but expected of little girls. I say “passion” because it was clear to me that all the other girls in the club had absolutely no other interest in life except horses. It struck me as a bit odd, but I didn’t find it alienating even though for my part it often was like observing several highly excitable birds flitting about.
For some reason I may not have been privy to or just plainly don’t recall, one meeting was just me and another girl. She was my riding instructor’s niece and we were pretty good friends insomuch as convenient proximity and a shared interest in horses were our only commonalities. Our project that afternoon was building clay models from kits. The kits came with a plastic frame to help shape the body and little tubs of paint to transform the model into a specific breed. In front of my friend was a set to create a palomino and before me was a Labrador retriever.
I didn’t immediately register the difference and I probably wouldn’t even have cared, except as we wrestled the packaging to retrieve the kits. our group leader proclaimed, “Cyndy’s favorite animal is dogs.”
My friend’s head whipped around and she gaped at me in alarm as if it had been announced I would spontaneously sprout wings and dance a jig. I just shrugged my shoulders and pretended to listen as our leader gave us instructions about the models. My friend was placated at least and she busied herself with forming her clay around the spindly legs of the plastic frame. I, however, sat there mulling over the validity of the statement while I fiddled with my mound of clay.
I remember I was honestly a bit insulted to have my own favorite animal announced to other people. I didn’t recall ever stating that dogs were my favorite animal. I didn’t even have a memory of stating I had a favorite animal of any kind. I realized the statement itself was mostly baffling to me because it was actually news! Shouldn’t I of all people know that dogs were my favorite animal? That seemed to confirm they weren’t. Okay. so what was my favorite animal? Horses were definitely the animal I was the most interested in, but I was just as enamored with the white cat meandering her way between my legs as this internal debate raged inside my head. Certainly I wasn’t nearly as obsessed with horses as the other girls in the club, my friend in particular. At that moment she was gushing about the newest entry in a book series about horses that I’d found so below my reading level it might as well have been a cardboard picture book.
Years later I’d answer the question of favorite animal with an unequivocal “penguins,” emphasizing a particular fondness for emperor penguins, but at that precise moment I was utterly befuddled. My sticking point was that I did in fact really love dogs. I’ve had a dog of some sort my entire life. At the time we had three terrier mixes as pets who lived mostly to be de facto garbage disposals and create mischief.1 They weren’t the least bit playful, which was a bit of a letdown for me after having a Golden retriever. On the contrary, they were small enough that I could pick them up and they were awesome snugglers. Even then I couldn’t imagine a life that wasn’t shared in some part with a dog. I used to fantasize that as an adult I’d have a bunch of different dogs and though at that point I hadn’t figured out the logistics I was already certain I’d work with a guide dog.
I forget exactly how it happened exactly. It’s likely I just rudely interrupted my friend as she waxed poetical about bedspreads with horses galloping across them. Perhaps I interjected with one of my favorite stories about our dogs wherein they treated themselves to a frozen pizza feast by raiding the dumpster behind Pizza Hut and dragging it back to our front porch. In any case, what I do remember is that suddenly we were talking about dogs. The conversation took on a life of its own and we never did finish our models.2
The 4-H group eventually ran its course and I’ve long since lost touch with absolutely every person even remotely involved in it. But I’m often reminded of that particular day while out in public working with my guide dog, hearing the conversations bustling around me suddenly turn to the subject of dogs.