Archives for the month of: February, 2017

I had never even thought of teaching Flash, my second service dog, what to do in a museum.  At home, though he was with me most of the time, it never even occurred to me to take him to a museum.  I simply left him home those days.  But when traveling, there was no place to leave him.  Besides, when traveling, you don’t go to a museum and then go home – or back to the hotel.  You take a walk along the Seine, stop for tea, go to a museum, go out to lunch, window shop, walk in a park and then go back to the hotel to feed the dog and rest a bit before going out to dinner.

What would Flash do in The Picasso Museum, I wondered, our first time in Paris.  I was soon to find out.  Without me saying anything, he padded along next to me, stopping when I did, moving again when I was ready, from painting to painting.  Though there was nothing to interest him, he was interested anyway.  He was interested in me, and in doing his job, being attentive so he’d know when I needed him.

When we got to the gallery where the sculpture was, oh, my.  It took my breath away. And Flash took away the breath and heart of the guard.  The gallery was all but empty, the guard in love with my dog, so we were able to get some wonderful pictures, fun to look at now and remember it all.

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Now Sky travels with me.  She has climbed a smallish mountain in Newfoundland, hiked in the shadow of Denali, visited the Louvre.  Travel not only broadens the human, it makes a service dog more easy going, more flexible, faster to adjust to changes and yes, I think, even happier, especially when a trip means doing something she never gets to do at home in New York City!

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As for me, though it takes planning and work and a third of  my suitcase in order to have my dog with me, there’s an extra bonus besides the necessary care she takes of me.  She makes everything so easy, because anywhere my dog is feels like home.

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It’s not only that I never go anywhere with my (service) dog.  It’s not merely that we are joined at the hip

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It’s more that all my life, my view of the world has been through dog-colored glasses. When I was trying to learn how to walk, it was the family dog who walked at my side, bracing me when I tried to haul myself back up after a fall, running to get my mother if the fall made me cry.  When I wanted comfort, he was there.  My mother had been told that too much attention would spoil me.  But no one told that to Snowflake.  And so comfort became dog.  And so it stayed.

After school, I’d rush home to be with my dog, usually taking him to the beach with me when it was off season.  I grew up at the tip of Brooklyn, in a community called Sea Gate, and we lived two blocks from the sand and the ocean, and it was there that I spend hours and hours following my dog and watching him follow his nose.  When I was a teen-ager, I tried to get a volunteer job at The Seeing Eye and was told they didn’t hire women, not even for free!  I didn’t know how I’d continue to wrap myself around dogs if I couldn’t find work that included them.  So I  bought a puppy for $5 and  sneaked him onto the train I took when I left home for college.

I became a dog trainer by accident on purpose.  It’s what I always wanted to do – to train dogs and to write about them – and both happened in my early thirties and so finally, I had what I had dreamed of – a life where there were always dogs glued to my side.

When I wanted to understand the world, Snowflake was there.  Here’s what you do for a friend, he seemed to be saying, you walk close to their side and so you are there if they should fall, if they should need you.  And then later, another dog said, here’s what you do on the beach, you love the silence broken only by the sound of the waves and the call of the gulls and you find exciting things to wonder about – crabs! footprints in the sand! driftwood to retrieve!  Life is best when it is simple, the dog told me.

And so when I want to record a moment in time, why would I turn the camera on myself?  It is the dog who has my attention, my focus.  It is the dog who is myself, my selfie, my teacher.  Then, now, forever, it is the dog.

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Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.

Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.

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I was having a problem with my service dog, Sky, and it was causing me a lot of grief. Though she was working well, better than ever, in fact, away from home, she had begun pestering me at home, pawing for attention, interfering with what I was trying to do, behaving in a way that was bratty. Or so I thought.  She’s ten now.  Perhaps the work is too much for her, I began to think. I even began thinking about getting another dog, a pup I could train who would start easing into the job so that she could ease out of it.

I was sad.  I was disappointed.  I was grieving.

And then one day, on the way to the gym, seemingly out of the blue, I got it.  The “it” had happened before.  I remembered one time in the movies when Flash was “pestering” me and I was angry at him, wanting him to lie down, not wanting people to think I’d brought an untrained dog to the movies.  And then I “remembered.”  He’s my service dog.  If he’s “pestering” me, he’s trying to help, to get his head on my lap to help me release those good chemicals that lower pain.  And then I noticed (clever me) my posture, how I was crushed into myself with pain, but ignoring it, watching the damn movie.  Because if you have a chronic illness and you don’t get really good at ignoring the side effects, you will not be living a life.  You will be lying on the floor moaning and feeling sorry for yourself.  You will not be one of those brave/foolish humans who thinks, something wrong with me, you say.  Hah.  Not a chance.

So on the way to swim, a little slow on the uptake, but finally seeing the light, I realized that (a) I had fallen into a hole and (b) my good little girl was trying to help me climb out.  Without specifics about the nature of this particular hole I had fallen into, because I am not in the whining mood, I am in the how great dogs are mood, the moment I realized what was OMG wrong with my dog, the problem was solved. I no longer was thinking she was too old for her job or too poorly trained to be a service dog.  Instead, I saw the heroic nature that all good service dogs possess.  Stay calm and carry on.

Thanks for keeping an eye on me, Sky.  I’m only a dim witted human, but I finally got it.

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