For Keith

While at Dad and Keith’s over the holidays, Keith and I took the shepherds up to Caroga Lake to check out the changes made to his father’s old camp. The difference is remarkable! Even though everything was under several feet of snow it was very evident that the new owners have done a lot of work on the main house and the cabins.

As per his request, I brought my camera and took a bunch of photos for Keith. Unfortunately, wrangling three dogs who only want to jump around in the snow is not so great for taking pictures that are in focus. But a promise is a promise, even if it’s three months in the making:

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

The problem with blogging more consistently after a long stretch of inactivity and/or sporadic updates is that often everyone has moved on and it feels a lot like you’re talking to yourself. It’s like starting over from the very beginning with gathering readers. It’s harder now, too, because personal blogs have become almost obsolete in the wake of social media and so if you aren’t maintaining an active and very specific blog you’re just not interesting enough to people. Of course, I’ve never put much stock into booming stats or having tons of comments so it’s not all that different for me. Still, it does feel a bit lonely here sometimes. Maybe I should spruce up the design or something.

Anyway, aside from the brief mention of my major depression I haven’t yet gone into detail about my decline in posting. Of particular note to many is that there haven’t been any new photos here in months, which goes in direct contradiction to my proposed plans for getting more serious about my photography. In fact, you might have noticed that it’s been over a year since I had portraits taken, too. Why? Follow the jump or scroll on to find out, but fair warning to those with weak stomachs.

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15 Years (and Then Some) of Learning

Ideally, this would have been posted last June to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of partnering with my first guide dog. In fact, it was my intention to submit it for the twelfth #ADBC. Months later, Brooke even tried to “help” me finally write this in the hopes that I’d participate in the thirteenth #ADBC.

Collage of three black-and-white images of Yara, Dolly and Uschi in harness

Even though it seems to have gone by faster than it should have, fifteen years is a long time. Nearly half my life, in fact.

A lot has changed over that decade-and-a-half. I’ve changed a lot over that decade-and-a-half, which seems cliché but is nevertheless the truth. I’ve written about this previously, of course, and later expanded on the profound differences. But one thing I’ve not really stressed before is just how much I’ve learned as a guide dog handler.

The key things are probably the most obvious: I’ve learned about how to work with a guide dog, what a lifestyle change it involves, and the incredible life-changing effect it can provide. My knowledge of dog training has grown in leaps and bounds and evolved along with the differences that dog training has undergone since my time at Guiding Eyes. And with fifteen years experience as a handler, I have a better understanding of my specific needs and desires in a partner.

Over the years I’ve amassed a wealth of information about public access and discrimination due mostly to personal experience. Nothing on a grand scale by any means,1 but I have been more-or-less thrown out of a few stores, had a few issues with some restaurants, and met with a fair amount of discrimination when hunting for an apartment. My favorite incident is a rather hilarious story involving a liquor store that ended with me arguing with a policeman about NYS access laws.

I wasn’t even aware of how self-conscious I was about being blind before I started working with a guide dog. I coped by trying to hide my limitations, which is practically impossible to do when you are accompanied by the most visible sign of blindness. A fact that was actually the argument more than a few family and friends used as to why I shouldn’t get and didn’t need a guide dog, which is amusing to me since that was basically the whole point for me. At the time I wasn’t quite able to explain it or maybe I was just too much of a stubborn teenager and didn’t want to.

What really stands out to me, though, is what I’ve been taught by my girls specifically. I’ve gained firsthand experience in how profound a bond there is between guide dog and handler and along the way gained more than a few insights on life: Dolly with her joie de vivre reminded me to not forget to enjoy myself, even when it was a simple and small thing. Yara’s serious attitude always makes me think of how I can better do the task at hand. And, in her own unique way, Uschi has shown me that it’s important to embrace who you are, quirks and all.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate out the specific things I’ve gained by working with a guide dog, so perhaps that’s why I feel I should have far more to say on the subject. Which only proves the point that all three of my guides have made me acutely aware of how much I have yet to learn and so the lessons continue on.

  1. Arguably, there has been cause for a lawsuit here and there, but none that have been worth it in my personal opinion.

Breaking the Routine

Yeah, I know, that whole post daily about stuff hasn’t been happening which I’m sure is no surprise to anyone. This is mostly because I haven’t really had anything worthwhile to report and I find it utterly depressing to post essentially the same status update repeatedly. Also, hunting for a job is a soul-sucking pit of despair that I figure no one wants to be burdened with my constant whinging on about.

Nevertheless, Brooke asked for some Uschi antics and there just so happened to be a funny thing I’ve been meaning to share.

In my experience, guide dogs really thrive on having a solid daily routine.1 It’s actually one of the few things about Uschi that is very shepherd-like because she very often makes it her mission that we stick to the predetermined schedule. Most notably when DST ended she started trying to drag me out of bed an hour earlier much to my chagrin.2

Of course, she wouldn’t be Uschi if she didn’t get distracted by everything so I have a few cues that I use to prod her along in our daily activities. And sometimes when I forget to use them I find her monitoring the neighborhood from her vantage point on the back of the sofa or, more commonly, flouncing around the house with a toy. I hadn’t realized how she had come to expect these things until the other day.

We had taken a short walk around my neighborhood and Uschi had stopped a few times to attempt to relieve herself before finally doing her business. I’d sort of given up prodding her along with the usual guide dog handler cue of “get busy” because clearly it was pointless and I knew she understood this walk was for exactly that anyway. When we returned home I removed her harness and leash and she started to run off in the direction of her crate anticipating her morning breakfast. Usually I prod her on with a cheerful “breakfast time!” as I take off my boots and coat. Instead, I said “get busy” and I probably wouldn’t have caught it if I wasn’t looking at Uschi exactly as it came out of my mouth.

She whipped her head around to look at me, which may have caused her to lose momentum in her bound or she was trying to skid to a stop anyway. But she wiped out on the hardwood floor in the dining room and spun around in a full circle before jumping back up and sitting down in that exact spot. It was truly one of the most hilarious things I have ever witnessed, but rather than immediately collapse into giggles I quickly amended my “command” and sent her running off to her crate again.

I know, you’re probably thinking that dogs don’t understand English so there’s no way Uschi could have thought I wanted her to do her business right there in the middle of the living room. And maybe you’re right, but then you weren’t there to witness the utter bewilderment I caused with a simple slip of the tongue.

Also, and not entirely related, but I was typing this up while Uschi was eating her breakfast this morning and honestly it is really unnerving to witness a dog devouring a bone-in piece of meat. Especially when it’s within earshot. Or, at least, I find it unnerving and I admit this might be in part due to the fact that I don’t eat meat.

  1. Daily routines are a pretty common thing for working dogs of all sorts and even pet owners benefit from having a schedule, especially if they have multiple pets.
  2. At least she isn’t as bad as Yara who pretty much constantly expected me to be five minutes earlier than I was for anything. She’s mellowed a bit in retirement, but she does still try to herd people out the door if she thinks there’s a chance she’s going somewhere.

Three Years!

Portrait of Uschi and me on a white background; Uschi standing on her head in front of me

Today marks three years partnered with Uschi and she still amuses and astounds on a daily basis!