Seventeen Years Ago

Portrait of Dolly in harness

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.

Sit!

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.”

Funniest Moment

“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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  1. Students were often driven to distraction by the dog and it was incredibly unnerving to have them stare at us throughout the entire class.

Four Years

Portrait of me and Uschi on a brown background; Uschi is standing beside me with my arms wrapped around her

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.

Vale Cemetery and Park

Yesterday Uschi and I took advantage of the utterly glorious weather and walked around Vale Cemetery and Park.

Paved walkway in Vale Park covered with fallen leaves

Unlike a lot of the other parks around the Capital District, Vale is incredibly peaceful. Aside from an ambulance siren I heard somewhere off in the distance it was easy to forget we were in downtown Schenectady. Actually pretty much the only sounds I heard were the various critters in the brush, presumably running away from Uschi. And except for one rather daring squirrel, my sometimes very animal-distracted guide dog was completely focused on her job.

Along the path to the main cemetery we passed by one of the more rural burial sites, which caught Uschi’s attention only because a couple were walking around down there.

Uschi looking through a wooden fence at a set of graves in Vale Park

We continued on and walked through the main cemetery before the sun started to set and the air got just a bit too chilly to be comfortable. It was a shame since Uschi was being so cooperative I thought I might finally get a chance to check out some of the graves.

Maybe next year I’ll go on one of the walking tours.