Tuesday, September 30

Another guide dog denied access

Greetings. The following story comes from a guide dog related email list. Though the incident happened in a business, verses in a cab or at a restaurant, it illustrates that discrimination and denial of access continue happening to guide dog handlers. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.

Teacher quits after wife, guide dog denied access

Woman wasn't allowed to enter reception area

Brantford Expositor
Ontario, Canada
September 27, 2008

A city woman says she was discriminated against because her guide dog was
not allowed in the reception area of a local business.

Lynn Raloff, who is visually impaired, said she was asked to leave the
reception area of the Sylvan Learning Centre on North Park Street Wednesday
night when she arrived to wait for her husband Jeff, a teacher there.

Raloff said the owner, Margaret Mercer, asked her to sit in an outer waiting
area instead.

Raloff explained that her dog was "a working dog" rather than a pet but she
was told it made no difference.

"I was just so surprised and then so upset," Raloff said.

"She refused to listen to me and wanted me to be as far away from the
teaching area as possible."

When Jeff Raloff found out about the situation, he protested and told his
employer that it was illegal to deny access to his wife and her dog.

"When I saw her sitting out where she was, I wasn't too happy."

After arguing with Mercer for some minutes, Raloff, who was in his second
week of employment, became increasingly angry and quit -- with one hour left
in the class.

Contacted Friday, Mercer said she does not allow dogs in the school for
safety reasons.

"It would be a liability issue," she said.

"We are not insured around having dogs."

Mercer said she also is worried that some of her students, who are as young
as three, might be afraid of the dog or have allergies.

"Our kids come first," she said.

"This is not a public place, it's a school."

Mercer said Lynn Raloff was not asked to leave the building but just to move
to an area that was farther away from the teaching space.

"It's not a human rights issue," she said.

"It's a dog issue."

But Afroze Edwards, communications officer for the Ontario Human Rights
Commission, said that's not the case.

"There is a human rights protection in terms of access to services and

The issue of access also is covered in provincial law under the Blind
Persons Rights Act, which says that guide dogs are permitted in places to
which the public is permitted.

Edwards said that applies to all schools, public or private.

"The services are still services to the public," she said.

"People with disabilities who require a guide dog can't be discriminated
against. We're not talking about a pet."

However, Edwards said Mercer did make an effort to accommodate Raloff by
allowing her to sit in another area.

"In a sense, she was accommodated."

Lynn Raloff said she was made to feel like a second-class citizen.

"It's not appropriate to discriminate against a disabled person," she said.

"She has a public service. She can't refuse people with a dog."

Raloff said she worries that parents or students with guide dogs may run
into similar difficulties at Sylvan.

"I don't want them to go through what I went through."

Mercer said she does have one visually impaired student but he doesn't have
a dog.

She said she's not sure what she'd do if a student or parent had a guide
dog, since her landlord does not allow dogs on the premises.

Lance Calbeck, who owns the building, said that's not true.

"I have no idea where she heard that," he said Friday. "It certainly didn't
come from me."

Calbeck said he was surprised to hear that Mercer was reluctant to allow a
guide dog in the school.

"I thought it was required under provincial law."

Mercer said guide dogs aren't used at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind

John Howe, vice-principal of the secondary division, said that's no longer
the case.

Guide dogs have been allowed in the school for the last five years, although
only for senior students.

"We realized that for some of our students who were going to get dogs after
they left us it would be good to get used to the responsibility of working
with the dog."

This year, the school has two students and one instructor who have guide

Mercer maintains that she didn't do anything wrong by asking Raloff and her
dog to sit in the outer foyer, away from classrooms where students were

"It's a tempest in a teapot," she said. Mercer said the request had nothing to do with Raloff's visual impairment. "She would not have been (asked) if
she didn't have a dog."

Monday, September 29

A mainstream accessible MP3 player?

Greetings. Brian Hartgen, a name that many in the AT world either do or should know, has produced a review of the new iPod Nano from Apple. This player, among the sizable new 8 or 16 GB of space, seeks to provide accessible menus to the blind or low vision user. Though it's not possible to pull the player out of the box and have it talk, the process for getting it to talk is fairly straight forward. Since JAWS 10 beta 2 now supports the iTunes 8 software, and since this software is needed to help the Nano talk, along with managing content on the Nano, this is a good sign from Apple, a mainstream company. Whether this development came from an agreement between Apple and the National Federation of the Blind, or from a meeting of the top people in Apple wanting to put a player out there that people with low vision could use and afford, is for others to debate. For me, I'm simply happy that a mainstream company is stepping out and putting out an accessible alternative to the other accessible MP3 players that are geared more for the blind person, such as the Book Port, Book Courier, and others. Hopefully this will spread to the other iPods from Apple and perhaps even to other mainstream companies as more of the general population ages.

After listening to Brian's thorough review of the nano, I've learned that it's not a fully accesible player like the Book Port or even the Victor Reader Stream may be. However, it is a step in the right direction. Would I consider getting an iPod nano? Perhaps, but then again, there are things that my Stream does that the nano can't do yet, such as read and access text and RTF files, and more importantly for me anyway, read the new digital talking books from NLS. I spend more time by far listening to NLS books on my Stream than I do listening to music or other content. However, some of the features of the nano are impressive, such as being able to listen to menu prompts, settings, and song/album information, all while playing music. The Stream also allows one to make audio recordings, something that I'm doing more and more of, such as recording talks with my doctor, a walk down the street with my new guide dog, or other things.

Anyway, if you're interested, you can download Brian's review of the iPod Nano. Enjoy.

Virtual haircut

Greetings. A coworker sent me this YouTube link. It works best if you have some headphones and use your imagination. Turning up the speakers and leaning into the computer worked equally well for me, but then again, I live alone and can do such things. Anyway, have yourself a Virtual Haircut. Enjoy.

Follow that blog!

Greetings. For those that often or regularly check back on this blog to see what I'm posting/talking about, I've added a new feature where you can show your support/reading of this blog. It's a new Blogger feature called, what else, Follow. If you want to "follow" this blog, then you would go to the sidebar, which if you're using a screen reader will appear below all of the posts, and to the heading for "Followers of Wayne's Blog." Choose the Follow this blog link or the Follow button, and a new window will open asking if you want to follow the blog publicly or privately (annonymous). To follow it publicly means that your picture and a link to your blog will appear in this "Followers of Wayne's Blog" section, telling everyone who visits that you're a follower. Those that choose annonymous will not have a picture/link for their blog show up. Either way, a spot in your Blogger dashboard will be set aside for all the blogs that you're following, and will alert you to new posts on those blogs. For more information on this new feature, read the Blogger help article called What is Following?

I believe that you can put a link to a blog even if it's not hosted by Blogger. This feature not only allows the blog's author to see who's reading their blog, but also allows other people to read blogs that they may not ordinarily visit, thanks to the links to other blogs for those that choose "public." When you're viewing your own blog, an additional link called "Manage" will also appear in the Follow section giving you more options. Enjoy, and for those that frequent this and other blogs with this new Follow feature, happy following!

Saturday, September 27

Dog observations

Greetings. As we sit here in the last weekend of September, I can't help but think that 4 weeks ago, I was where between 12 and 24 students are now up in New Jersey, sitting in the common lounge, talking casually with each other, and wondering what kind of dogs they will get come Monday. Many times since then I have sat with my dog, both in New Jersey and here in Texas, stroking her and telling her that I loved her and wondering how I wound up with such a great animal.

I was hesitant to go to my apartment complex's office today, since I was wondering how my dog would do. I walked the route with her a few days ago, pointing out some key spots to her by having her sit and praising her. It's that time of the month, time to pay the next month's rent, and I wasn't sure if she remembered the route. I wondered how I would figure out where we were in the route just by relying on her? When you use a cane, you can easily explore your environment and you know more or less where you are. With a dog, it's a bit more abstract. Unless you really know the environment, things can get confusing. I pondered the possibility of paying the rent next week closer to the day it's due, but then decided that it would be hard to make it to the office after coming home, since the office closes at 6 during Daylight Savings Time.

I then put the harness on the dog, grabbed my telescoping cane, and headed out the door. I figured that if I really got turned around, I could whip out the cane and check things out. However, I needn't have worried. My dog did remember the route, very well in fact, and we turned at all the right places. Soon, she was starting to turn to the left. I began wondering why, but then remembered the age old phrase spoken by many an instructor, which goes, "Follow your dog." So I did, and I soon realized that we had walked up on the front porch covered area of the office. She got lots of praise then.

Okay, we had made the trip to the office; but, what about the trip back? We struck out and we were soon headed back in the direction of the apartment. She did want to make several turns in other directions. I allowed her these, a little, thinking that she was navigating around obsticles or cars. However I made a point of keeping the direction that we were initially going in. As we got closer, she started to go in between cars, looking for the ramp that heads up toward our apartment. After a couple of false tries, she turned right and we were soon walking up the ramp. I stopped her then and gave her more pats and praises. In a few more steps we were in front of the door to my apartment, where she got a big hug. After we had gotten settled inside and i had removed her harness, I gave her a treat. I told her that I wouldn't do this every time we came back from a route, but that I was doing it this time to show my apreciation for her work.

Just when you think you have things figured out, or when you start worrying about your guide, they do things that remind you why you got a guide dog in the first place, such as my trip to and from the office this afternoon. In case anyone's starting guide dog training this weekend or within the next few weeks or months, my best wishes to you and your new guides. May they be everything you want them to be, and more.

Thursday, September 25

Stream video on YouTube

Greetings. I've learned through a tech related email list that HumanWare has put up videos on YouTube regarding several of their products. Follow this link to view the VR Stream YouTube presentation. This is neat to see an AT company doing, and something that more of them should do. You never know who might be browsing the various clips and videos and might see your product promotions. Enjoy.

Monday, September 22

Interesting new features announced in JAWS 10

Greetings. Freedom Scientific will soon be releasing the second beta for the upcoming version 10 of JAWS. Among the new features discussed on the September 2008 edition of FS Cast are the ability to assist someone over a distance in troubleshooting or using their computer, and improved access to iTunes version 8. Depending on your priorities, you will likely find one of these features more valuable than the other. For me, it's the iTunes support and having a more robust media player available, not to mention being able to control and access all of my media (such as music, movies, podcasts, play lists, etc.), with one player. However, those who do more tech support, training, or troubleshooting of other JAWS users computers will likely find the remote control more interesting. This new remote control ability will be called JAWS Tandom, and it sounds like it will really be of help to many people in the I.T. field. If you're interested in either of these features, then do use the link above to download the podcast and take a listen. Prices for the JAWS Tandom service are also revealed in this podcast. Also, watch the FS site for beta 2 of JAWS 10 where you will be able to "officially" use these new features, along with all of the fixes and enhancements made since the first beta released about a month ago. enjoy.

Sunday, September 21

Neighborhood and routine

Greetings. Instead of putting up several posts on different days, I thought I'd try and wrap everything up in this post.

I took the dog out for a first walk on Thursday evening. We were told by the night instructor to have the dog do an easy route, one that doesn't involve busy traffic patterns and one where they are helped to easily succeed. This I suppose is also designed to introduce the neighborhood and other environments to the dogs, as well as burn off some excess energy. Anyway, for my route, I directed my dog down to the bus transfer center that's not too far from my apartment, and we even practiced going up to several busses to see what their numbers were. I'd encourage her to put her front paws on the threshold of the door and then I'd ask anyone nearby what the bus number was. She did fine with the first two busses, but the third bus she all but leaped aboard, and then when I still stood on the outside, she turned around to look at me as if to ask, "Well? ..."

Friday I took her to a doctor's appointment in the morning and then to my work in the afternoon for a short time. What I've really been impressed so far with her has been herh willingness to point things out to me. She will stop or pause in walking, turn her head or body toward something (like a door or an aisle in a store), as if to ask, "Do you want to go here?" Or, even to say, "See, ..." Many of the things she has pointed out have been things that she's seen for the first time, such as all the doors and openings down the main hall of my workplace as soon as you walk in the front door. In fact, she pointed out the front door to me several times when we didn't need it. However, when it was time to go, she almost passed it. I had to remind her where it was and it was as if she said, "Oh, now you want to go there."

One of the things for me in my job, since I work at a rehabilitation center, is being able to navigate around the grater number of cane users. We had our first test of this Friday afternoon at work. I was careful to pick the times when we would be in the hallways so that there wouldn't be a lot of cane users there at once. I don't want to overwhelm the dog on her first few days. Anyway, we did pass by a couple students using canes and my dog navigated around them perfectly. She paused or swerved right, stopped to let them pass, then she started walking again and moving to the middle of the hall. I was very pleased with her. in fact, so pleased that I praised her by saing, "Good girl." At that very moment, there just happened to be one of the students on my left, a woman, who upon hearing me praise the dog and not knowing who I was talking to, she replied with, "Huh?"

One of the things that interested me in the Shepherd breed was something that another German Shepherd guide dog user at work told me, that her dog will often see a potential obsticle, such as a cane user, 40 feet down the hall and instantly sstart working out how to deal with that obsticle. I don't know how far in advance my dog was working out the problem, but by the time we got close to a student with a cane, she had already worked out the solution and was avoiding them. However, getting around two students with canes is one thing; getting around half a dozen or more in a small space is another. We'll see how things go tomorrow when we "officially" go back to work, but so far, they're looking good.

Several people in my office commented how relaxed and calm the dog was when she was laying under my desk. And indeed she was calm. I wanted to do some measuring and see how it would work with her laying under the desk in my cubicle and when she laid under a table in a nearby classroom. She did fine, after she got under the table. The classroom in question has several movable keyboard trays beneath the table and my dog was a little wary about going under the trays. Once I got her under the table though, she was fine and seemed content to lie there.

I took her to apet store yesterday to buy dog food and some other supplies. My driver went off to do some shopping of her own and she left me with a shopper's assistant from the store. As we began walking through the store, my dog was somewhat distracted by all the different smells and things. I had to verbally correct her several times and finally had to give her a mild leash correction to get her attention back on guiding. The shopper's assistant, not understanding, said, "He's just curious." To which I replied with, "Well, he may be curious, but he's also working and can't be distracted." Side note: why do people automatically assume a dog is male? I'm sure this is something that will come up for me on a regular basis, not that it bothers me in the least. If someone wants to think my dog's male, then fine. I've got no problem with that. It's just interesting how that's the first assumption, after, "What a pretty doggie," that comes up. Anyway, once I got "her" calmed down and focused, she did fine in the store. Later my driver made the observation that it's asking a lot to get a dog to ignore all of the sights and smells that a pet store has to offer, which I agreed. Actually, my dog still sniffed plenty after I showed her that she had to pay attention. It's just that she sniffed in a controled manner, while quietly sitting when we waited several times on the assistant to come back with different information about products. That won't be our last trip to the pet store, but it's good to see that she's doing so well.

I took her out again yesterday afternoon for a short walk in our neighborhood, which gave us another chance to work on overhanging tree limbs in one particular spot. I kind of have to pick my battles here since she is a sensative dog. So I might not say anything if a treelimb brushes past my head, but if I get a face full of leaves or if a limb hits near an eye, which has happened, I'm going to poitn it out to her. There were a couple of incidents like that yesterday, and she successfully navigated around them on the second tries. One time she tried to turn around and go back or she would try to go to the street, but I knew that there was enough clearance on the sidewalk for her, so I kept her from doing these things and encouraged her to work the problem out. After she did, she got some good pats and praises.

She did great in church this morning too. I was also pleased because no one came up and petted her. That was one thing that I had a hard time in dealing with when I used my first guide, a yellow Lab. But when driving home, the couple I go with each week commented that people seemed to know that they shouldn't interact with the dog, even the kids. Of course, it might also be because she's a German Shepherd and not a Lab, but I'll take that as well, :)

That's about all for now. Thanks to all that have been reading this blog and commenting to me, whether it be in person or through email or blog comments. I'll keep the label "dog blog" to use for other stories or incidents of the new dog, but the updates will not be daily like they have been. This blog will gradually go back to the personal, tech related, blindness news story format that it was before, but with one more layer added to all that, of the new dog and our travels and experiences. Thanks for reading and see you soon.

Saturday, September 20

Thursday: traveling, leaving Seeing Eye, and more

Greetings. Well, we're up to Thursday. This was an interesting day on a number of levels, not the least of which was that I woke up in the northeast and went to sleep back in my Austin apartment. It started when my alarm went off at 4:25 that morning, and then when the night instructor called for my wake up call 5 minutes later. As I told her, though I was already up, the wake up call was a precaution to make sure I was up and moving. Over the next hour, I fed my dog, took her out for one final park, got dressed, put my luggage outside my room, at which it was delivered by someone else to the front of the building, and I went upstairs to the common lounge to break bread one last time with my fellow retrain students. That last meeting of students was neat, with a good amount of laughter and good conversation as we all realized that this was truly the last time we would eat at the same table. There was the typical continental breakfast items, along with a wonderful banana-chocolate bread thing. And then 5:30 was approaching. At 5:30 each morning, the wake up call goes out over the dorm room loudspeakers for the morning park. Some days, music was played to get us up, such as "The Coffee Song" by Frank Sinatra, or other selections. This day proved to have a sturring good-bye song for all the retrains. I didn't recognize it, but other people did and some of them started singing along. That was a weird reminder of the coming day, hearing the people singing good-bye as my dog and I walked down the stairs and went by our room one last time to collect my carry-on items.

I then walked with my dog down to the front hall that runs from the dining room to the dormatory area, which has lots of offices on the sides and passes by the front door. We walked part way down the hall and then stopped. At this point, I began silently quoting the lyrics to the popular Michael W. Smith song, "Friends," to which the chorus goes:

And friends are friends forever,
If the Lord's the Lord of them,
And a friend will not say never,
'Cause the welcome will not end,
And it's hard to let you go,
In the Father's hands we know,
That a lifetime's not to long,
To live as friends.

Interesting note on this song: though it was never a "radio hit" for the Christian artist, it has been enormously popular among fans and non-fans alike over the past 20 some odd years.

Anyway, that was enough to close the Seeing Eye stay chapter for me and seemed more fitting, especially in light of my new friends I met during training, than the song that was played at 5:30. Upon further reflection, though I was certainly sad to leave, I did not experience the great separation and longing feeling that I went through when I left with my first guide. This time was more of the ending of one part and the beginning of another, and I suppose that's how it should be.

Then we were walking back toward the main stairs, and we met Ralph who was coming down the stairs. He saw us coming and asked, "Ready?" And I answered, "Yes, let's go."

Ralph drove me and another student, the one I went to Foster Fields with and the one I had often trained with during freelance training, to the airport. That drive was neat in some ways and nondescript in others. Sure, it was a drive to the airport, but it officially closed the period of training and signaled the soon-to-be-taken flight home. Soon after we started, I thanked Ralph for driving us. It seemed fitting that he would drive us there and get us settled. Kind of like a good friend or even family member driving you to the airport. This wasn't the case for some of the retrains, who had to have instructor's assistants drive them because their regular instructors were tied up with training, or were helping other people get home. So I considered it neat that Ralph carved time out to see us off.

I don't remember quite how it started, but we began talking about Loui Braille and his 200th birthday coming in January. Ralph then proceeded to explain how Loui had a brother named Fernando, and later that Loui's real name was Louis Braille, and that he was Spanish and not French. I commented that this was interesting information, and that it was too bad that my MP3 player wasn't recording the information for documenting purposes. I thens said that I would have to ask the Texas state Braille consultant if she had ever heard of Fernando and Louis Braille.

We got to the airport and then things got interesting. Ralph helped me get through security and find my gate, and then he said he had to go back and help the other student. Since the other guy was going back to Canada, and Ralph had to help him get where he needed to be. He said he was disappointed that he had to leave me so soon, but he did give me some final words of encouragement. At that point, I was grateful that I had said my "thank you's" back in the pizza place the previous Monday. Anyway, Ralph wished me luck, told me to keep in touch and call him with updates, said good-bye to my dog, and then left. Shortly after that they started boarding for my Continental flight.

I usually pre-board, for convenience. However, though the airline was made aware of my travels and though the people at the check-in desk knew I was traveling, and though I was seated where they could easily see me, they forgot. So, when they got to the boarding of rows 15-25, I decided I had to do something, figuring that they weren't going to come for me. I'm all for getting help when needed, but I also think it necessary to be independent when needed as well. Otherwise, you spend more time waiting on people to do things which they may or may not remember that they've been asked to do. Ralph had advised me to remove my dog's harness before boarding, to ease her stress level and ease the process of getting her situated in the row of seats. Remember, when the harness is removed, the dog isn't working and are in essence just a normal dog. I should say here that I've noticed that my dog will pull to the left or right when she's on heel with just the leash, or she will stop for an obsticle, but she's not "officially" guiding me. I noticed these behaviors when walking through the halls in the dorm area of The Seeing Eye when she was being heeled.

Anyway, I get up, gather my things and the harness, get her leash and start walking toward where I hear people walking down the jetway. I quietly told the dog, "Okay, I know you're not in harness but behave," to which she did. Thankfully we didn't have to walk far before an airline person came up to me and asked if I wanted to board, to which I said I did. She then asked why I had not preboarded, to which I said, "Well, I wanted to but you forgot about me." She apologized. I'm not sure if word was passed along to other Continental people about this early incident, but I was treated much better after this and they made sure that I was accommodated and taken care of.

As it turne dout, everyone boarded, luggage was loaded, carry-ons were stowed, but we just sat there at the gate. I don't think the gate door was even closed or the aircraft door. We sat there for awhile, and suddenly the 7:30 departure time came and went. Around 8, the pilot came on and said that he wasn't comfortable in flying the plane due to some seemingly simple maintenance issue, and that our flight would be re-routed to another gate close by. He said that everyone would de-plane and our luggage would be moved from the first to the second plane, and then we could board after the jet was serviced, which apparently would be 10-15 minutes later. So shortly after 8, we all de-planed and went over to the next gate. During the waiting process when we were on the initial 7:30 departure time plane, another man came and sat in the row I was in. I was assured that though I was near the bulkhead (which many think has more room but often it doesn't), and that there wouldn't be anyone in my row, this man was reseated from his first class seat. The reason for this would become clear later during the flight. So this nice gentleman assisted me off the plane and to the next gate two gates down. We found seats in the waiting area and he went off to get breakfast for both of us. After he came back and I was digging into the cheese Danish he had gotten me and enjoying my Diet Coke, who should appear but Ralph. He said that he had gotten the other student on his flight okay and had happened to glance up at the monitors to see if my flight got off fine. Which of course it didn't, so he thought he would swing by and see how I was doing. I was glad that he did since I wasn't sure if I would be leaving at all, or in fact if I would be calling The Seeing Eye and having to ask them for another night's stay while waiting for my flight. Thankfully this didn't happen, but he assured me that they would have taken care of me. This is but another example of The Seeing Eye's care for their students and graduates, and the lengths they will go to assured someone's comfort and state of mind, both in and out of training.

We soon got ready to board, and Ralph left, for the second time, and said, "Bye Wayne, and this time, try to stay on the plane." I joked with the Continental assistant that they really loved me here, and repeated Ralphs parting words. We all boarded, got settled, and shortly after that, thankfully shut all the doors and started taxiing down the runway. There was a bit of a delay before we actually took off, but once we were in the air, I breathed a sigh of relief, as I'm sure a number of people on that flight did. We actually left New Jersey and were headed back to good old Austin. As an interesting note, our flying time was cut by around 45 minutes from the original scheduled 4:20 to around 3:30. I was glad for this.

The flight went fine and my dog did great. Toward the end of the flight, she was anxious and looking around nervously when we went through some turbulance getting close to Austin, but the rest of the time she sacked out on the floor in our row.

I learned soon into the flight that the reason that the gentleman in our row was in our row was because, even though he had a first-class seat, he was late and lost his seat. So he was re-assigned to our row. Though he was initially upset about this, he first stated that he was comforted by petting and talking to my dog. Remember, the dog wasn't wearing her harness so he was allowed to do this. Anyway, I say that this was the case initially. As we went into hours number 2 and 3, he got more and more angry at Continental and simply couldn't understand why they gave his seat away. He even asked me if I knew, which of course I did, but decided not to belabor the point. I just shook my head and offered some generic words like, "Yeah, it's rough."

I had some interesting talks with this man, starting with the question of if I wanted my sight back. I assured him several times that, "No, I don't. I've been blind for 20 some odd years. I know how to be blind; I don't know how to be sighted." He persisted, sayign that research was being done and I could get my sight back. I answered by saying that despite what many people think, not all of the research will help every blind person get their sight back. I finally said, "Look, if I were given a choice between $10 million and my sight, I'd go for the $10 million." He understood this, I think mainly because he freely said that he was "wealthy." Apparently my philosophy about the whole sight thing and my general attitude and mannerisms impressed him, because he later said that he wanted to do something for me. I thought about this a long time and eventually said that if he really wanted to do something, that he could make a donation to The Seeign Eye. I later gave him their phone number and encouraged him to get more information. I don't know if he will end up donating or not, but when you come across someone who "wants to do something foryou," and they've obviously got money, what's the harm in doing a little education and fund raising?

I ended up losing track of him when we left the plane and made it into the Austin airport, but we had exchanged cell numbers so I figure that he'll get in touch at some point. The rest of the time, of going through the Austin airport and reserving a ride with SuperShuttle was pretty routine, with one exception. When I went up to the Super Shuttle desk and was making my reservation, one of the men behind the counter looked over and said, "Ah, Mr. Merritt, I see you've got a dog now?" To which I answered that I did. It's neat being recognized by the local people, which I guess I shouldn't be surprised since I travel through that airport a lot during the year and am a frequent passenger with Super Shuttle. My van left soon after that and I made it back to my apartment fine.

I'll write later about the next portion of the day, and the following few days. I think this entry is plenty long enough as it is. Until then.

Wednesday recap

Greetings. At long last, we've reached the Wednesday recap. I thought I was busy during training with taking care of and being trained with the new dog, taking care of my own needs, which often included sleeping, and other things; and I thought I'd have enough time to do all I wanted to do when I got home. Wrong! Now that I'm home, we've got taking care of the new dog full time, keeping her active and alert with new challenges, settling in, running a few errands, and catching up on rest, along with all the usual distractions for me such as Cable, computer stuff, and reading. In other words, take a few of the last few things I listed here and that's why I haven't posted about Wednesday and the rest of training until now. Some interesting things have happened with "new dog" as far as being home and taking her to work yesterday as well, but we're not there yet.

Wednesday was a neat day and a good one to end training with. In the morning we went to the Morristown Courthouse to practice moving through an office like setting. Anyone who has been in that courthouse remembers that there's all sorts of twists and turns, sets of stairs going up and down, ramps, and narrow passages all over the place. In other words, it's challenging for even the most memory sharpened person to keep track up. What happens is my instructor, named Ralph (I figure that since I'm done with training, I can reveal some names to you), walks behind me and to my right giving me directions, such as, "Go straight, turn left at the end of the hall, and go through the doors which will immediately lead to a set of stairs going down. When you reach the bottom, ..." and so on. Okay, he did break them up a little bit more than that, but you get the idea. The goal here is not for me to memorize the route, but rather to learn to work my dog through these types of office settings and to follow the dog wherever she goes. I'm half afraid though that one of these trainings, we'll go through the courthouse and at some point, the instructor will say something like, "Okay, good job. Now, meet you out front."

Anyway, the dog did very well, even weaving me through some narrow gaps beside people or between spaces from one door to another open doorway. When we were done, we came out on a set of stone steps leading down. I later had Ralph take a picture of this area and of me and the dog with my cell phone. He had taken other pictures in New York the day before. I'm not sure if they're magazine quality, but it was fun. It will be neat to go over them with someone later to see how they came out and look. I mean, all due respect to Ralph, but to see if they really do look good.

Wednesday afternoon, we went to a really neat place. This was the point at which we would see how my dog would react to horses. Ralph had tried to contact a certain horse farm near The Seeing Eye but wasn't able to connect with them very well. So, he and I and another student and dog team drove out there that afternoon. Ralph went in ahead to ask permission, and then came back to get us. The place was called Foster Fields. It sits on 200 acres on the other side of The Seeing Eye's 70 acres of land. Both The Seeing Eye and Foster Fields are beautifully landscaped and have an equal number of rolling green hills and other scenery, along with the required number of buildings and modern things.

Foster Fields is one of those "old time" farms that allow you to go back to the 1800's or 1900's and see how life was. It was a full farm with roosters, geese, cows, horses, and other animals. There were dirt paths that we walked down, not sidewalks, and it really had a laid back country feel to it. We were basically told we could go wherever. This was one type of training that Ralph said he had not done before. It all went very well though.

When we were walking down one of the dirt paths, we neared a goose. It seemed as though the goose had friends that it was telling of our arrival, and pretty soon, quite a few more geese were crowing and clucking at our passing. Makes you wonder if they had ever seen two guide dogs walk by before and not even pay them any attention. Oh sure, the dogs looked, but they were focused on their work of guiding. At one point, we passed a lot of sheep, at which point my dog, being a German Shepherd, stopped and pointed them out to me turning toward them and showing them to me. I encouraged her to move on and finally had to tell her, "Yes, I know the sheep are there. But today is guiding, not herding. Herding work is tomorrow."

When we found the horses, we were in for a treat. Ralph the instructor then took first the other man and his guide down to meet one of the horses, and then he came back and got me and my dog. He recommended that I heel the dog over there, to ease any stress for her. We had no reason to worry as it turned out. The horse was a tall 17 hand Belgian draft horse who put his massive head down to check the dog out. My dog, doing what the first guide had done, then put her two front paws on the fence and rose up to sniff the horse. It was quite a site seeing those two different species leaning down or up to meet each other, look and sniff. My dog then got back on all fours and sat when I told her to, and she was completely calm about it all. It's like after she checked the horse out, that she decided it was a new thing but nothing to worry about, and then she simply just looked around calmly.

We then were taken to the barn to encounter more horse like smells of hay, leather and things, and to meet the other horse, another Belgian draft horse. The second horse looked at us and walked back and forth in his large stall. The dogs looked at the second horse briefly and were still calm. The people who met us at this area were surprised that the dogs were so calm, especially when around such large horses. In fact, Ralph, me, and the other student were also a little surprised, but Ralph also explained that the dogs and students were finishing up 2 and a half weeks of intensive training with each other. As it turned out, the two horses were called Calvin and Hobbs.

We then started walking back toward our van, but we were intersepted by another worker,a woman, who told us about the cows we were passing. We took the dogs over to check out the cows, and had a similar experience as with the horses, where both species leaned toward each other across a fence. There were no problems though. As we learned, these were Jersey cows which are smaller than other breeds, but apparently produce better, more high quality milk than other breeds. I'm a country guy at heart and it was neat for me to see some cows after many years. I've seen them before, boht in sight and feel, but not for like 15 or 20 years, or more. My grandfather and some other relatives used to have cattle which I was taken to visit when I was young and in my early teen years. So seeign these cows, even if they were shorter and even if there was a fence, was kind of special for me.

Anyway, the woman explained the history of Foster Fields to us and gave a good lesson about some of the more notable figures in their history. Such as a Mrs. Foster who lived to the age of 102, dying in 1979. To my knowledge, this was the first contact between Foster Fields and The Seeing Eye, but I don't think it will be the last.

This was a neat way of ending our training, and we soon headed back to The Seeing Eye. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing, or as I like to call it, organizing. Dinner was a sad and somber time. Toward the end, some of the trainers that we had not seen all that much circulated among the retrains to offer their congratulations. Among them was Tom, the training supervisor for our class. Even though most of us finished dinner at half passed 5, no one wanted to leave. So we all sat around and talked more. Eventually people started trickling out of the dining area, the retrains headed back to their rooms for more packing, and the new students going other places. The night instructor went around to the retrains over the next hour or two, helping them way their luggage and handing out travel packs she had put together with a couple pick up baggies, some treats,and some paper towels for the trip. We had our normal evening park time at 8 and then after that, there was a big gathering among anyone who wanted to come for a good-bye for the retrains. This gathering/party lasted a good 2 hours, and even longer with some people. I stayed for nearly the whole time, not leaving until 10:30. There were brownies, a delicious chocolate/peanut butter desert bar thingie, and what the night instructor called "cake in a cup." There were also sodas and plenty of wine. The wine being supplied by various students. I'm not much for wine, so I didn't really partake in this part of the evening. Plenty of other people did though. Toward the end, Ralph, the night instructor and I partaked in another few rounds of the interpretive lyrics, speaking choruses and verses to popular pop and rock songs. That was fun as well and we all got some good laughs. At about 10, my dog got to play with her best friend, another dog in training. Both dogs were really tight when they were trained by Sue, the northeastern accented instructor,, which is kind of interesting considering that mine is really tall and this other one is short. At any rate, they often played together in the kennels, which included my dog playfully biting the other dog's neck. There was never any fear that my dog would bite hard, it was just one of their games. Another game was rolling around on the floor and wrestling all while making low noises in their throats. Ralph said that this play was still okay and not to worry about. However, it ended when both dogs got too close to a third dog's space and a warning bark was sounded by the third dog. It was hard to leave, but we all had an early morning coming so we had to leave at some point.

Even though I didn't get to bed till around 11 and had a short night of sleep, it was hard to go to sleep with all the good memories from the whole day, especially the afternoon's farm trip and the evening's party still fresh in my head. I finally did fall asleep though with the assurance that I had accomplished all that I needed to do from that morning. It was a good day all around, and a good one to end training with. I'll put Thursday and Friday up in separate entries hopefully by the end of this weekend, or at least before tomorrow night's Cowboys game. Until then.

Thursday, September 18

Happiness and dogs

Greetings. I made it back to my apartment just fine. I'll perhaps write later of my trip back and definitely I'll write of my training and things that happened yesterday. I wanted to put a separate post up on happiness and dogs, specifically my dog.

Several people, be they parents, friends, or other instructors or staff, have asked me at different times during the training if I was happy with my dog. This was a hard question for me to answer, for whatever reason. Any reservations were my own and had nothing to do with the dog or the type of dog. Since I haven't used a dog for so long, about 9 years, this training proved to be challenging for me in various ways. Eventually I gave the answer that I wasn't sure if I was happy with her or not; that I would have to wait until I was integrated into my own environment after the first month or two and then see, and that at that point, I would likely be happy with the match I got. All that changed when I flew home today.

I did a simple thing, go to the restroom, with the help of another man from my row. Wehn we got back to my seat and were settled again, he told me that my dog sniffed bags and other people when I was in the facilities. Some may say, "You should have had your dog at sit," and yes, you're right. however, over the next few minutes this wasn't what I was thinking of. I answered his question, of whether my dog sniffed for drugs before she learned to guide me (this was an interesting man, as you can see, and one I'll write about more later perhaps), and explained that indeed she was just curious and had only been trained to guide me. I then started listening to songs on my Victor Reader Stream accessible MP3 player. One of them that came up in the shuffle mode, which I'm sure wasn't a coincidence, was "His Eyes" by Stephen Curtis Chapman, a Christian artist. The song talks about how we as people are always in God's eyes and how he's always watching over us, no matter what. In fact, the chorus goes something like:

His eyes, are always upon us,
His eyes, never close in sleep,
No matter where you go,
You will always be in his eye,
In his eyes.

I had been sniffling a few times before this song came up, but when it started, I began to silently cry, dabbing my cheeks with some small napkins.

Later when I was safely at home and had taken my dog out to park for the first time, with the door closed and locked, I burried my face in her fur and cried more openly. In the last 10 to 15 years, there have been only two times when I've cried so openly and deeply; the first was the weekend after my first guide died in September of 2006, and the second has been today, when I instead cried tears of joy for having a chance at another. For getting a new guide and being able to start the process all over again. For fully realizing my new independence with a Seeing Eye dog, and thanking God for that gift, both the gift of the dog and the gift of another shot.

I have no idea why this crying has just now happened, or why it didn't happen during training. Perhaps I was blocking it out and just focusing on the training. Or, perhaps, and I put more value in this explanation, God was giving me just enough strength and focus to get through the training, and now that I'm home and have a relatively free weekend, perhaps I now have time to shed these many tears of joy over the new dog. This is hard to write, and I've got tears threatening in my eyes as I write this. When I was crying on the floor this afternoon, after a few minutes, my dog put first one then the other of her front paws on my arms, which I took to mean comfort. Part of me wishes that this emotion came out during training, so I could have shared and gone through it wiht my fellow students and instructors. But, who am I to question or know the ways of God? I'm simply grateful that He knows the best times for me to experience different emotions and that He knows what's good for me, such as a new guide.

So, in answer to the question I started with, I can now say that I truly am happy with the dog I received. She's a perfect match, and has offered me already comfort, joy, tears, and happiness at different times during training and the transition to home process we started today. This could be a tough weekend for me, one where I'm close to crying at any moment, but I don't care; I've got my new Seeing Eye dog and I'm not afraid to let people know of it, whether that be through crying, laughing, or other ways.

Tomorrow morning I'll take her to a doctor's appointment and tomorrow afternoon to work, to start getting her used to my work environment and perhaps introduce her to some people. Look out world, Wayne and Gucci are on their way!

Wednesday, September 17

Almost done

Greetings. We're almost done with training. It's interesting to think that about 3 weeks ago, I was thinking and planning on coming to New Jersey to get the new dog. Now, I've got her and am instead planning and packing for going back home again, and taking all of her stuff and other items that I didn't bring with me. In 24 hours time, I'll be on a plane headed back to good old Austin, Texas, and the heat no doubt. This morning at breakfast, one person at my table said that they wanted to be in a place with 70-100 degree temps, to which I invited him to come down to Austin. So much will happen today, not the least of which is packing and organizing, today and I just hope I accomplish all things that need to be done before my head hits the pillow tonight. It also promises to be another short night of rest. After getting home tomorrow, taking care of the dog, and getting a few things settled, I plan on taking a nice long nap.

However, you're likely wondering what I've been up to over the past 2 days. I meant to post yesterday, but that was a busy and tiring day. So, I submit the following.

Monday: This was a fun day. I was supposed to navigate the Morristown courthouse Monday afternoon, but instead, since it was a pretty day, my instructor and I, and the other students, walked around some downtown streets in Morristown. He took 2 people to a restaurant, had them wait there for him to return, and then he came back to the van to get me and we went to Anthony's which is a pizza place between South Street and Maple Street on Dumont I believe. While I was munching on a very large slice of, what else, sausage, he went back to check on the other students. I eventually joined the others at the restaurant, called the Office, which I think was a bar/restaurant, and those of us left behind at the table had a good time. My instructor was very willing to write all this off as training expenses, so he basically gave the students there at different times the following instructions: "Order whatever you want." Which they did, :) I also ordered a soda, since we were limited to sodas and other similar drinks, and had a great time just sitting there, sipping my drink, talking with the other student, and just hanging out listening to the downtown activity. It's these points in training, or working for that matter, that I really enjoy.

tuesday: This was the day we traveled to New York city. I'll attempt to hit the highlights here, but so much happened that I might miss a few things. We arrived in the city and parked at a lot on 10th and 50th. We agreed to meet at 8th Avenue and 50th, which I later learned was the entrance for a subway. The subways were loud, and when a train was arriving or leaving, it was hard for me to hear what was going on around us. We descended several flights of stairs and then boarded the train. We took the A train up from 50th to 59th, and got off there. We then walked south from 59th and 8th Avenue eventually to 49th and 8th Avenue. I say eventually because different blocks were added onto that route toward the end, but it was a good walk. After the first few blocks, in which my dog did not perform as well since this was a new environment for her and since she was probably picking up on some of my own nervousness, we did fine. She eventually fell quite nicely into her working mode and was completely focused on what we were doing. The areas that we passed through included lots of construction, Times Square, and Hell's Kitchen. We ate lunch at an excellent Italian restaurant named Ciro's. I had an appatizer of fried mozarella, which looked more like the triangles for a sandwich than the sticks of mozarella I'm used to seeing in texas. I also had lasagna and Tartoni, which is a kind of frozen ice cream with a flakey topping and cream. Everything was very good. Though the restaurant didn't let us in initially, since we got there before it officially opened, they eventually let us in and got us seated. Our group was composed of 4 students and dogs, including me, and 2 instructors.

At different points we passed, or were passed by, several horses, be they mounted policemen or carradges. The City was very loud in places and at times, it got a little overwhelming to have to keep up with all that noise and keep track of where everything was coming from, as well as work the dog. I've enjoyed visiting New york when I've been here at The Seeing eye, but this is one of those cities that I'm glad to visit but wouldn't want to live in. I'm quite satisfied with the slower and more laid back pace of Austin, though Austin can have just as much glit and glammer as New York, especially on the music scene. Anyway, we all had a good time I think.

The good times didn't stop when we left though since on the way back, I displayed a party trick I have, of what I call interpretive lyrics. Basically, instead of singing, I speak the lyrics in a slightly monitone, slight disinterested, voice but with different inflections and pauses at various times. It's pretty funny and evidently, everyone enjoyed it. I heard several belly laughs coming from the instructors up in the front. Some songs I just know the chorus and some I know the verses. It was fun pulling rock songs from the radio though and using this interpretive lyrics. At one point, one instructor turned the radio up and down to coincide with my interpretations. Unfortunately, I had stopped my Victor Reader recording at that point, otherwise that would have been a good recording to archive and listen to later.

I had my exit interview with one of the administrative people at 4, and we had another lecture/discussion at night, this time on dog attacks and harassment of guide dogs. We had the option of taking one or more flyers that the school has produced on these topics to distribute and put up at different places. I grabbed a handful of them to take home. I also began organizing my things. Hopefully, I can go home with one piece of luggage and a carry on, which is how I came up here initially. If not, then I'll have to check the carry on and pay the luggage fee that Continental charges for more than one piece of luggage. Oh well. Such are things these days.

This morning we're going to do the courthouse and this afternoon, we're supposed to visit a nearby stable with some horses. This is to see how my dog reacts to the horses and perhaps start getting her used to them, since I'll be taking her to my riding lessons. I don't expect any problems, but this is the time to see about them before I go to my lessons back home. Tonight and today will be more packing and organizing, and I'll likely get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning for the trip back home.

This is probably my last post from Morristown. It's been fun posting my thoughts and experiences here, both for others to read and for me to go back and read at some point later. I'll post what happens today when i get home. I've been using the label "dog blog" to categorize these posts. I will continue using that label when posting things having to do with my dog or things she does in her work. And perhaps, I'll even reveal her name at some point, or perhaps not; we'll see. Until later.

Sunday, September 14

Seeing Eye grads in China win gold

Greetings. I received the following item from an email list. Enjoy.

You can visit the US Paralympics site to learn more about our two grads

Jen Armbruster



Jessica Lorenz


---According to the China Internet, Asya Miller carried the United States to a
gold medal in the Paralympic Women's Goalball competition with a six-goal
haul at the Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium on Sunday. The United
States beat China 6-5.

The two games went goal-for-goal right up to the end, with the deficit never
being more than one goal.

It came down to literally the final minute of play when Miller found the
back of the net with a devastating cross-court throw to give the United
States the lead with 49 seconds left.

It was then a question of defense and the United States was able to hang on
and go one better than its silver medal in Athens.

Sunday morning

Greetings. We made it to Sunday morning, and what a quiet lazy Sunday morning it is. Friday morning we went to a nearby grocery store to see how to work our dogs inside the store. I'm not sure how practical this is for me since up until now, I've done much of my grocery shopping online and have gotten home delivery. However, I am currently between services and am looking for a new service, so I just might be going back to the store soon. Anyway, I saw how my dog can remember where various sections of the store are and how to locate them. Initially she wasn't sure, but she gained confidence each time we went back to the dellie area. I gained confidence as well and saw that I can work my dog in a store, be it a large grocery store or a small convenience store. I happen to go by a fruit counter and hear a woman with a thick New York/Jersey accent say, "Straawberry," which my instructor and I added to our list of New York sounding words.

Friday afternoon we went to a nearby coffee shop and our instructor took us one at a time and we walked through some city streets. The significant thing here is that it was lightly raining. Though walking in the rain isn't one of my favorite things to do, it should be done here at least once to see how the dogs handle the rain. Aside from shaking herself every so often to get the rain out, which didn't make much difference since it was still coming down, my dog did just fine. We did have some trouble with some obsticles and some blended curbs, but she did good over all. I'm slowly learning that since she's a sensative dog, she doesn't need to be scolded very much for things she does wrong. Usually, all that needs to be done is for me to point something out to her, say, "No," or a similar form of correction used, and she remembers for the next time. It's not necessary with my sensative dog to go back and rework things, unless she really runs a curb or bangs me into something very directly. Sometimes this is because she's distracted by something or someone nearby, and sometimes I suppose she's just not thinking. Anyway, she did good in the rain.

Sausage: yes, another sausage incident. This time it was some sausage that we had for breakfast yesterday morning. I asked for another helpig of swausage, and speared one with my fork. Before I could take a bite, my instructor happened by and then he started giggling and brought the female northeastern accented instructor by. They then told me to hold the fork up, we all said, "Swausage," and the female instructor said, "I need an 11 by 14 picture of that!" The day before, this same female instructor stopped us when we were driving back to the school and called out, in her normal thick accent, "Excuse me, do you know where I can get some good swausages?"

Yesterday, we went out to work in a more country setting, one that has no sidewalks and no curbs. When doing this, the dog stays to the left side of the road and the student checks every so often with their cane or a foot to make sure the dog is to the left. My instructor said that this is a tough concept for the dogs, since they treat the street as another sidewalk, and try to walk in the middle. At times when my dog drifted toward the middle, I would tell her left or, "Left, left," to get her to move back to the left side. When we came to a crossing, the dog walks around the corner to the left, a kind of indent, and then the student and og team square off with the edge, and cross the street. When across, the dog walks back out around the corner and is lined up on the left side of the road again. This assumes you're making a straight crossing on the intersecting street. I've heard that the dogs are taught to walk on the left side so they can see and avoid oncoming cars. On the route yesterday, there were several parked cars we had to go around and some barking dogs behind fences we passed. I don't know that I'll be doing a lot of this work in my normal life, but it was a good experience and good exposure.

No training takes place from Saturday afternoon through Sunday. My instructor told us that we should enjoy the bordom this weekend; enjoy the downtime, because the next week will go fast and then we'll be back home and introducing our dogs to our home environment. I've been asked if I'm excited to go home soon, and I've said yes and no. I am looking forward to integrating my new dog in my regular life, but I've also tried to enjoy things as they happen here in training and the environment here. Ideally, a person would be in training for only a few weeks every 10 or so years. That's not very long. The Seeing Eye is a special place, from the new people you meet from around the country, the great staff here, the excellent restaurant quality service and food, and many other things I couldn't even begin to list. In short, they make sure that your time here is memorable in many ways and it's a great place to be, even if it's only for a few weeks. I've entertained the idea of working here, just so I could enjoy that environment, or a portion of it, on a regular basis. However, the thought hasn't gone any further than that. I don't know what I'd do if I did work here, since there's no tech instruction. however, as I've learned before in my life, never say never. I never thought I'd be working in a rehab center when i graduated from high school, and yet here I am working in one now. Go figure I guess.

This coming week proves to be short, sweet, and full of great training opportunities, including going to New York City on Tuesday. And then there's the early wake up on Thursday and trip home. I'll write when i can, but some updates might come after I'm home. Anyway, talk later.

Thursday, September 11

Solos, pictures, and more

Greetings. Well, yesterday we had our final solo route. My dog and I did very well, aside from the first block or two. In the beginning, she was doing a lot of sniffing. I didn't find out till further down the block that she was actually looking for a spot to make a deposit. I didn't even realize she was making the deposit until my instructor jogged up to me and asked if I had a baggie with me, which thankfully I did. While he cleaned up the mess, I jokingly said to him, "Well, crap happens." The rest of the route went well. My dog led me around all obsticles and we did great crossings at the corners. We even got a traffic check from what I can remember.

Yesterday afternoon we started the freelance portion of training, which is meant to mirror conditions you will face at home. Freelance is not concerned as much with routes, but rather with behaviors or tasks on those routes, such as working on better street crossings or weaving through aisles in a store. yesterday we worked on these things exactly, going to a Wallgreens store and weaving through the aisles. This morning we went to a building with a revolving door and worked more on street crossings. We also went into a Century 21 store and worked on escelators. My dog was a little wary of stepping on these moving things, but we handled it okay. She handled herself well inside the store again, only running me into one rack of clothes. We also checked out a statue in a nearby park of Morris frank, the first Seeing Eye dog user in the United States and one of the key people who helped pave the way for guide dogs in this country. There's a statue of him from the waste up, life size and in detailed color, working his German Shepherd guide Buddy. Apparently the statue is so life like that from a distance, it look slike he's about to cross the street. My instructor has even told us of drivers in cars that have called out to the statue telling him that he can cross the street, before they realized that it was a statue that is.

This afternoon we took a bus to the nearby town of Madison, and then rode the train back to Morristown and walked back to our ban. This was a neat experience and another one where my dog performed very well. I'm not sure that some of the passengers were crazy about 4 blind students with their dogs getting on the already crowded bus, but apparently they warmed up to us and eventually accepted us. One gentleman even asked me, since we had several German Shepherds in our group, "Are German Shepherds the best Seeing Eye dogs?" to which I answered, "Depends on who you ask; some people say so, and some disagree." Since there was a space beneath my seat, I slid my dog under the seat and out of the way so that only her head and two front paws were sticking out. She seemed quite content with this arrangement. The bus was one of the more comfortable ones I've been on, and one which I wish I could send to Austin.

yesterday morning after our trips and park, we had our pictures taken. One group picture was taken of each 4 student and one instructor class, and then individual pictures were taken of each pair of students and their dogs. The dogs were on a platform and were asked to sit while the shots were taken. The pictures of the student standing by their dogs on the platform are the ones that will be put on each student's Seeing Eye ID card, along with other basic information about the dog and access rights. One more picture was taken with each dog by itself. It's my understanding that these pictures are sent to the puppy raisers with the dog's name, so they can see how their dog turned out. All of this was done with the dogs wearing their harnesses.

Speaking of harnesses, this morning we met in small groups with one of the semi-trainers, or someone who has trained before but may not do so much now, and he helped us put together our new harnesses that we've been oiling for the past 2 days. Upon permission from our instructors, we've been able to start using the new harnesses this afternoon to start breaking them in.

Swausage: Yes, another swausage, er sausage, incident. This time it was when walking back to the van this afternoon. My instructor cued me and told me what he was going to do. he said that a van was coming up with the female northeastern accented instructor driving, and that he was going to make some signs to her. he made the cut throat sign, for "I'm really serious about this; don't mess around with me." Then he pointed to my knee, and he told me previously to start bending over slightly or limping in pain. I must say here that after walking a long ways to and from the bus and train stops, the pain part wasn't that hard to fake. Anyway, the female instructor must have given him a questioning look and he nodded. She pulls the van over and on a pre-arranged signal of him tapping me on the shoulder, I suddenly say, "Swausages!!" She jumped out of the van and responded with something along the lines of, "You, you, you ... !" We all got a good laugh out of that.

I had an appointment this afternoon with one of the Seeing eye vets to go over my dog's health. This was something that I didn't get to do back in 1995, since back then, the state of the art canine health facility was not built or opened yet. However, it is now, So around 4, myself and another student were driven the short distance and taken into the facility to wait for our bet appointment. My dog has good over all health. She has had some minor incidents in her past, but those are all taken care of now and there's no need to worry about them popping up again. I received a hard copy of her health records, the microchip information, and some other things. She received the microchip implant shot, where identifying information associated with a long numerical number was put on a chip and injected into her neck. This is just another safeguard if she ever turns up in a clenic or shelter and needs to be identified. Plus, the chip they're using is an international chip. Which means that with the exception of a very few countries, I can travel with my dog to anywhere in the world. And, this is the same chip that is used in much of the world. If the place in question is not using this chip, she can still be identified. I also received a tag with said information, such as her ID number and the chip database people's number on it, for those that may want quicker access to the information.

In the remaining week or so, there's the trip to New York city on Tuesday, a night trip where I go out with an instructor and see how my dog works at night, and other things. I'm even going to try and take my dog to some stables and expose her to horses since I go horseback riding on a regular basis in Austin. Plus all the other things that happen when in training here. These updates have been coming every other day, which means the next may not be till sometime Saturday. thanks for all your comments and keep them coming. It's neat getting comments and emails from people around the country and world, and even from a puppy raiser, on various things discussed here. I have heard from a few people that have said that they had trouble using the comments section of this blog. if you have trouble, go to my personal site, which is listed in the Sites to Watch section toward the bottom of this page, and find the Feedback Form link on the page that comes up. There you can submit the form and it comes directly to me. Until next time, happy tails.

Tuesday, September 9

Learning continues

Greetings. Well, here we are near the middle of the week. We're going to have our second solo tomorrow. My route is modified from the original due to constant pains in my right knee, but my dog and I will still get some good work with distractions from other dogs, possible people obsticles, traffic checks, and going around other obsticles. We've gotten better as a team, and seem to be communicating better and supporting each other more. I can tell, somewhat, when she's leading me around an obsticle or when she's working out how to navigate around a barrier. One particular barrier has us walking in the street for a short time before we get back up on the sidewalk. This morning, there was a barrier like this and then a short distance later a real construction site barrier, which presented much the same challenge as the first barrier, which was constructed by the instructors to test the dogs. My dog is still struggling with confidence in her decisions, and I've taken the role of encouraging her to make the right decision, or to continue with the decision she's already made. Sometimes, she's wanted to turn around and go back, or go in the grass around the obsticle, neither of which was the right decision. I'm more confident about reading her swerves and interpretting them as real obsticle avoidance responses or simply an attempt to take a shortcut or turn before we get to the corner, which she has tried to do a few times. As an experienced handler, or one that has worked with a guide dog before, these feelings I get through the harness are not as tough to figure out, however there's still that question if she's really avoiding something or just goofing off. For instance, she drifted left when approaching a series of obsticles this morning. I wasn't sure and paused, trying to interpret what her moves were telling me. I was ready to dismiss them as goofing off when my instructor said from behind me, "Go with her." And I did. Later, after we passed through the obsticles, my instructor told me that instead of trying to weave in and out of the obsticles, she chose to take me completely around them to the left. These are things we're still working on though, since she still makes mistakes in her judgment and might compensate for an upcoming series of obsticles, but compensates too much and runs me partly into a pole or trips me on the base of a pole. Over all though, my instructor says we're doing well, communicating well, and beginning to click with each other.

Personally, I'm ready to be done with routes. I know that routes are necessary since that builds the initial confidence in the student and dog, but I'm ready to start applying some of these things to "real life." Tomorrow afternoon starts what they call "freelance," which means that we're given chances to work on those "real life" skills by doing a variety of activities. For instance, we might visit a nearby mall to work on working through crowds, in and out of stores, escelators, and other things. The mall is not on the agenda tomorrow, but the work for tomorrow does sound interesting with a good mix of real life with traditional travel skills, such as crossing and dealing with more complex intersections. One of the goals of freelance work is to give the student conditions that will mirror what they will face at home. So each student's goals for freelance work may differ. For instance, since I go horseback riding on a regular basis, part of my freelance work might be to go to a stable and see how my dog reacts to horses. Or, since I ride busses on a daily basis to commute to and from work, my freelance may include learning how to ride and find seats on busses with a dog.

There are so many things that are happenig in training, between instructors and students and the like, that it would be impossible to list them all. Plus, with the current privacy concerns, I would be crossing lines by mentioning people by names, so that's why you will see this man or that woman referenced in these posts. I am enjoying talking with and relating to my student peers and other instructors. Particularly one woman that has a strong northeastern accent. She soundslike the typical New Yorker, or the New Yorker that you've always heard of. instead of saying "coffee" she says, "cwaffee." Yesterday morning said instructor was reading the morning's breakfast menu. I entered the dining area toward the end of this reciting, but with enough time to hear her pronounce sausage, which was more like, "swausage," but spoken forcefully, like "swausage!!" That word and the inflection has become a running joke between my instructor and I. Now, whenever my dog does something right, we start talking about "swausage" or "swausage sandwitch." This may be one of those things that doesn't translate well when reading it, but bare with me. When I took my dog out today for the 4:30 park, and she made her deposit, before I could even start praising her, I hear from the opposite end of the park area, "Swausages!!" To which I start laughing pretty hard and have a hard time praising the dog. I cleaned up and bagged the evidence, harnessed my dog and then started walking over toward the group of instructors. When my instructor called out to me that I had passed the door, I held up my bagged deposits and called back, "I've got some swausages for you!" To which all the instructors laughed.

On Monday at lunch, my instructor was getting me some desert, which happened to be ice cream Sundaes with hot fudge. Apparently he got in an argument with one of the kitchen workers over the size of the cup/glass used for my Sundae. The kitchen worker insisted on a taller glass, but my instructor grabbed a short glass, and even said, "Trust me, Wayne's not going to care. All he wants is the Sundae and hot fudge." He brought me the short glass and I enjoyed the first Sundae. I then ordered a second, which was brought to me by the kitchen worker in a tall glass. After she brought it to me, my instructor came over and gave me some instructions. He then directed another kitchen worker over to me and she asked what I needed. My response, "You know, this is good, but I liked the first glass much better," to which she and several other instructors laughed loudly.

I'm getting to the point where I'm beginning to look ahead to returning home and working with my dog in my own environment. However, I'm still trying to keep my focus here and enjoy all the day's activities as they happen. My training will go through September 17, and then I fly back early on September 18, so I've got about a week left. It will really be hard to leave, not just the new friends from around the country, but also the whole mind set and environment here. ideally, students may only be at The Seeing Eye for their dogs for several weeks of training in an 8-10 year period. However, that short time is fabulous and hard to describe. not just because of the new partnership formed, the training, the great treatment afforded to anyone who stays here and to the staff, but all these, and more. Those that have been to The Seeing Eye or participated with them in any way likely know what I'm talking about here. And, to those that haven't, what I'm talking about and trying to describe, is hard to describe. You really have to be here to experience it. As they approach their 80th anniversary next year, their track record truly shows that they know what they're doing and how to do it.

One of my problems in packing for going back home will be packing all the stuff I brought and stuff I've bought while here. I've ordered some equipment to use at home, which I'm probably going to have shipped ahead of me.

Tonight we learned how to oil our new harnesses. When i came the first time, we were given new harnesses for our dogs. This time though, we're given the body part and the handle, and have been told to oil them each three different times, and to allow ample time to have them completely or nearly dry by Thursday morning, when we'll assemble the two pieces into one.

Not much else to write for now. until next time, happy tails, :)

Sunday, September 7

Weekend update

Greetings. Well,we had our first solo route yesterday and my dog did very well. She drifted into a parking lot on one of the first few blocks, but I was able to redirect her back onto the sidewalk near the street. I thought she was going left around an obsticle, but she kept going left. The important thing was that I was able to correct her and get her back on task. The instructor told me later that he didn't know why she did that. Aside from a few other focus issues in the beginning block or two and from getting a forehead full of wet leaves from a tree, which I showed to her, she led me around all obsticles and did very well. Our instructor told us not to get false hopes if things go well, and also not to get too discouraged if they don't. It's still early in the training yet and there's lots to cover over the next week and a half or so.

One funny thing that did happen was when I came up to a crossing and found a fellow classmate, a woman. I asked her what street this was, since I wasn't sure. I was pretty sure, but needed some confirmation. Her response, "I can't tell you." I then asked, "Are yu going to keep it a secret?" She replied, "Yes." I then decided I would mess with her a little and when she told me I could go ahead and cross, I started making small talk: "So, how's your day going so far?" After a few more comments, she said, very frustratedly, "Just go." Which I did, :)

Rain was heavily forecasted for Saturday morning in the new York/New Jersey area, but thankfully it didn't come till early afternoon. in fact, it rained from early afternoon till late at night. And when isay heavily, I mean heavily, like downpour. It made the afternoon and evening park times less than pleasurable for the dogs, and many dogs refused to park on command, figuring that they would wait until the next time or perhaps wake their masters or mistresses up in the early morning to park. Thankfully, my dog did make her #1 deposit, but held off on the other. I think she had secodn thoughts after attempting to shake the water off, even though the downpour kept going.

I got more doggie details yesterday. I found out that my dog's birthday is on Halloween of 2005, that she weighs 63 pounds, and that she is 26 and a half inches at the shoulder.

Some people have made comments on this blog, which I appreciate by the way, asking why I haven't given the dog's name yet. This is because many of my colleagues from work may be reading this blog, and I want to cut down on potential distractions for when we return to work. I will make another announcement at the next Monday Morning Meeting on September 22, letting everyone know of some guidelines to go by for my dog. Such things as no petting while in harness, no staring at the dog, and so forth, the standard stuff when introducing a dog to a new environment. If you want to know her name, then email me privately and I'll tell you ... maybe, :)

Got to go for the late morning park. My dog didn't eat her breakfast this morning, likely going through more stress from the prior working week or adjustment. When i feed her I also take her into the bathroom for a bowl of water. However, since she didn't eat, I forgot the bathroom trip, so she didn't get any food or water this morning. Hopefully she's not thinking bad thoughts of me, :) Until later.

Friday, September 5

The end of the week

Greetings. Well, today we cemented our knowledge of the route that we will do as a solo tomorrow. My dog did very well. I had to stop her on a couple of curbs and point out an obsticle to her, but she did very well. Truth be told, I pointed out 2 more places to her. Yesterday morning, we came to what turned out to be a pet store, but I sware it smelled like there was some sort of pastry or other baked goodness coming out of there. I sniffed a few times and then asked my trainer. Since then, my pooch has stopped or hesitated there as if asking me if I wanted to go in. Man, these dogs pick things up quickly. You almost have to only show them things once for them to remember. The other place was a chocolate shop. The shop has a French name which i'm not going to attempt to spell, but those that have been to Morristown and are familiar with it, the shop is located on the east side of Dehart between Maple and South Street. Everyone else, come to Morristown and check it out. Anyway, though I didn't remember where the shop was from my first training at The Seeing Eye, I did remember that one existed in Morristown somewhere. I asked my instructor about it yesterday and as it happened, we were a few feet from it. I then pointed it out to the dog, but she hasn't picked up on it yet. I know when the shop comes up because there's a break in the building line and then the chocolate shop is the first building when the line picks back up. I stopped today and tapped the glass and then petted my dog's head. My instructor then came up behind me and said, "Okay smarty, check it out." So I did. I opened the door, stuck my head in and took a long sniff, and then my dog decided to stick her head in and sniff deeply. Then my instructor said, "Okay, let's get going before we scare the locals."

Not much else to report about the route, except that my dog was distracted for the first time by another dog, and led me at an angle slightly to the corner and didn't stop. I corrected her slightly and then my instructor took me back to work the corner again. The secodn time she did it perfectly, taking me right up to the curb and stopping. She seems to have some trouble with curbs. However, she's a sensative dog and doesn't need much in the way of correcting, except for serious infractions. usually if I hit a sign or tree, like happened today once, all I need to is slap or tap the object, draw her attention to that object, and then move on. The next time we come up to it, she's definitely mindful and remembers and tries to stear me around it at all cost. About the only times I have to give her serious corrections are when she's distracted by the woman who trained her initially, at which my dog will wag her tail, and when she plows me into someone. But even these times, all I need say is the hated word of any Seeing Eye dog, which is German for "shame on you," and hopefully she will remember that for the next time. if not, I have no problems with reminding her again.

later, when I was sitting in the van's door area listening to the radio and waiting for my instructor to come back with the others student, I was able to act as a dog distraction. I heard another student coming and right when they were in front of me, I said, "Ah, here's some more people." That was enough to have the dog dart over to me. I felt its hair brush my legs before the owner could correct it, rather severely too, and then the trainer who was following behind identified me, at which we all laughed. When I told my instructor of this incident when they got back, his reply was, "We're going to have to put you on the pay role." That would be fine with me, :)

We have various lectures from time to time during training here. The frequency of the lectures can vary, usually there's a lot in the first week and then they get spread out more through the rest of training. This morning we had one on the dog's senses and how powerful they are. For instance, dogs can tell the foot falls of any person and instantly recognize that person before they appear. Or, dogs can also tell the type of car coming up and who will be in it. The man who gave the lecture said that there's a distinct difference in is dog's reactions to him verses his wife when they drive up at their home. This is truly incredible. If we as a human race only used dogs to their full potential, instead of throwing them away or just allocating them to pets, or dressing them up like little humans, then just imagine what we might be able to do all together. This also comes into play with the sense of smell. It was pointed out to us that our dogs can find a certain room, like our bedroom, not by simply memorizing it but also by its smell. That got me thinking; I only had to show the bedroom to my dog one or two times and every time after that, she will point it out to me or pause as if to ask, "Do you want to go there?" At least this is true when she's in harness. When she's not in harness, she may pause, and she may not pause. In harness though she gets it every time.

Well, that's about all for today. Tomorrow is the solo in the morning and then an afternoon off with a lecture and video tomorrow night. Rain is heavily forecasted for tomorrow, which means nothing for our training. I've heard that the only time they cancel training is when there's turrential rain and strong winds, otherwise it's off to the streets of Morristown. See you later, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps Sunday. Night all.

Thursday, September 4


Greetings. Well, the first week's nearly over and things are over all going well. I didn't put anything up yesterday frankly because I was too tired. It was a tiring day for many students. I heard someone say that yesterday was one of the first full training days for everyone. Anyway, to recap, we worked our dogs along the Maple Avenue route and started experiencing traffic checks, which basically means that cars would pull in front of the dog and it would have to stop. If the dog doesn't stop, then the instructor driving the car may do something like slap the car's door to get the dog's attention. My dog performed very well, both in the traffic "checks" from yesterday and today. I'm told that a "check" means a block, like checking someone in hockey. The checks now are pretty easy, with a car coming into a driveway, however they will get progressively harder as training goes on.

Today's route took us on a larger rectangle from Tuesday and Wednesday and into more pedestrian traffic and potential distractions for the dogs. Mine performed very well in these as well. Where she might have started to slow or pause, I encouraged her by saing, "Hop up," and we kept going. There were two different dogs with other instructors at two different places in the route, and my guide didn't even look over at them. When we went by, my instructor said to the trainer, "You're going to have to do better than that."

Over all, my dog is doing well. We've got some things to work on, such as making sure she stops at all the down curbs and at least pauses at the up curbs, and making sure that she clears obsticles with sufficient space for me. but, my instructor told me that we would work more on those tomorrow. We will walk the same route two more times tomorrow, once in the morning and once in the afternoon before Saturday's "solo" route. Solo meaning I will have to do the route on my own. We've been told that this isn't a test or assessment on our abilities to memorize the route or a pass/fail thing. Rather, it's an indication to the instructor of what we as a dog/human team need to work on, and things to specifically work on with the dogs.

As far as weekend training goes, there's just the Saturday morning training session and then that's it for the weekend, aside from the usual meal/park times. "Park" being when the dog goes out to make their deposits, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the rest of the time is ours, which is great. We're not allowed to leave the campus or take our dogs to the optional church opportunity Sunday morning, but we have the rest of the weekend free. There's various debates about not leaving the campus. I can see both sides, where they don't want the dog to get overly stressed while they're in the transition period, or run into a problem with an inexperienced owner. However, the student also needs to have the chance to work their dog in an environment outside the school and practice some of those basic skills. Anyway, whatever the reason, that's their current policy. I'm strangely able to occupy myself during down times in training. I say strangely because I thought that I would not have much to do during those times. I was wrong. Aside from the variety of entertainment options they have here, such as the Sirious satellite radios, TV's in the various lounges, stereos, books, movies, pianos in several rooms, and so forth; there's also getting to know other blind people from all over the country, and even a few from Canada. Add to that, at least on Saturday, the ability to take walks whenever we want on the leisure path. My dog and I walked the path back on Monday, more to relieve energy from the dog, however after Saturday, we'll be able to go there whenever. It's not very challenging for the dogs, but it's a good walk for the humans. Plus, that path is very peaceful and you can let the worries of the week go when walking it, or when sitting in the gazebo. Anyway, between the socializing, listening to Sirious, training, and some small amount of reading, not to mention the blogging and computer use, I've kept myself pretty busy. We'll see how the weekend works out.

I've heard that this is a pretty significant weekend for the dogs since they're in transition from the old master to the new one. One person has even explained it that the dogs are feeling like they're in limbo, somewhere between the old and the new masters. Even though church is an option for humans, we can't take our dogs with us. The first time I was here back in 1995, I had to leave my dog when we were given the option of going to church. I'm sure I enjoyed the service, but I was told later that Tony cried and whimpered the whole time I was gone. In fact, a fellow student told me that she had to close her door since it was distracting her dog's obedience session. I'm not going to do that to the new dog. My current instructor has said that it's okay and even encouraged to leave the dog for a few minutes to go down the hall or upstairs, but anything longer than an hour or two is not a good idea in his opinion, because the dog is still adjusting and needs the support and companionship from the new owner.

Sunday begins the official NFL season. There's a game on tonight which kicks everythingoff, but most games are on Sunday. That's personally what I'm looking forward to, and being able to flip between games on the Sirious radio. Even though I've written previously on here about not wanting to give up local radio, I'm seriously rethinking that, and just might switch to Sirious satellite radio. Aside from the NFL and other special programming, they've got a wide variety of music and every genre covered. I can understand why people say that you hear things on satellite that you never hear on regular radio; it's true. Plus, as I've discovered, just because it's satellite doesn't mean that the stations don't have DJ's. Some may not but many do.

That's about all for now. I've got two weeks left, leaving on September 18. I'm kind of sad that I won't be here for the full 4 weeks, like new students. However, I'm sure that when the time comes, I'll be ready to go home and get back to my "normal" life, whatever that is. I'm also trying to enjoy my time here and savour every moment since it is so short. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 2

First working walks

Greetings. Well, today was the day that we got to harness our dogs and make the first two trips in town with them working. The route was not very challenging for them, and is mainly designed to build their confidence in guiding a new person. However, it's a step up from the boring leisure path we did on Monday. For those familiar with the walks and routes taught here, we did the Maple Avenue route, making a rectangle on Maple between several blocks. Can't remember off hand which ones. The morning walk was a little fast, and likely the dog and I were both nervous. The afternoon walk went much better and even the instructor said that the edge seemed to be taken off from the morning session.

After the morning walk, I went to the nurses office to get some ice for my right knee and leg. Being pulled by a guide dog is a different sensation and different walking style than just walking by yourself. It's common for students, new and retrains alike, to get treated for leg pains in the beginning. While there though, I asked the nurse what she thought of my dog. Granted, any dog coming out of this school is going to look presentable, even good, meaning they don't put out ugly dogs. This being the case though, the nurse paused, and then in a whisper she said, "She's beautiful. She's gorgeous." Hearing these words spoken in a low voice or whisper nearly made me cry. It brought tears to my eyes, and I nearly broke down right there, and for several minutes afterward. I wanted to get another opinion aside from a trainer's opinion, and did I ever. I've also been told by another instructor, the one who trained the dog, who said she saw us working from the other side of the street and she said that we looked good together. I think that was in reference to the dog's coloring, but it might also refer to our early working relationship.

Even though the dogs are still on leash when walking around the house, I've talked with several people that agree with me that the dogs are already starting to pick up on patterns and point towards certain objects. it's too early to get them to point out chairs or doors, but I've observed several people, including me, talking to their dogs and asking the dog, "Where's the door?" Or, "Find the door," or even just simply, "Door." I even observed one student who's dog stopped her before she ran into a wall. Considering that we're working purely from the leash, this is quite impressive. Makes me wonder what actual guiding in the house will look like. Even my girl is starting to turn in certain places, or anticipate turns if she thinks we're going toward the men's lounge or toward the stairs. She also has gotten into a habit of pointing out, or stopping, at a bedroom on our hall, even though its not our room. I'll simply tell her that it's not ours or something similar, and she moves on.

I made the observation to the trainer at lunch that it's interesting how calm all the dogs were under the tables. Considering that normally, when you take the harness off a guide dog indicating that they're not working, the dog usually goes crazy. Anyone who has seen this knows exactly what I mean. It's like someone flipped a switch and now the dog has a completely different personality from its working one. Anyway, considering that the dogs were all on leash, they over all behave as if they are working. Now consider that there are 20 dogs in this particular class as a whole. That's a lot of calm doggies.

For those interested, here are some quick stats of the dogs that make up this class. There's a lot of shepherds. Out of all the dogs in their pool, which numbered around 50 or 60, about 60 percent of those were shepherds. The rest were a mix of pure Labs, Lab Golden crosses, and a couple of Goldens. For whatever reason they've gotten lots of shepherds recently. I've talked with some people about this and the school apparently goes through phases when they have lots of one or two particular breeds of dog. I don't know the exact number of each dog breed or variation in class, but for those that say the shepherd is going away, that's far from the truth at The Seeing Eye.

Finally, any nervousness I had about working a dog after my 9 year break, is quickly disappearing. the main reason for this is my dog; she's helping me to fall in love with her. Some ways that she's doing this is by, in no particular order: licking and sniffing me all over, especially my face; giving me doggie kisses, and even going so far as to put one or two of her paws on me. Last night she put first one then the other of her front paws on both of my shoulders. When i asked my trainer about this, he said that she's getting comfortable with me, and I suppose in a sense, telling me that I'm hers. She has also put one paw on my hand or leg or shoe at various points in the last 24 hours. She practically laid the front part of her body in my lap today. She's rubbing and leaning against me, and she even used my legs as a tree tunnel earlier this afternoon. I sure hope this keeps up, even after we leave here, because I'm really beginning to like and love this dog, and we havent' even done real guide work yet. Tony wasn't as affectionate with me. We had an understanding, but he never licked me or interacted as much as this new dog. He did rub against me from time to time. Anyway, it's going to be a fun next few weeks here in class.

That's about all for today. until tomorrow, happy tales, er trails, grin.