Saturday, October 16, 2010

For the Fab Four

I wrote this on January 7, 2008. This marked my tenth anniversary of being matched with my first guide dog, Rhoda. At the time this post was originally written, I was working Gracy, a border collie mix who has since retired and who is living with a friend across town, although she still visits frequently.
January 7, 2008
"And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and
crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them."

Isaiah 42:16-- (KJV)

Ten years ago, January 7th 1998 was a day that changed my life forever. I was at the campus of Guide dogs for the blind in San Rafael California. Around 2 in the afternoon I was introduced to someone who would have one of the biggest impacts on me and on my future.

"The trainer told me that I'd be receiving a female yellow Labrador retriever, her name is Rhoda."

Rhoda, I thought. It sounds like the name of a Jewish house-wife with a fondness for pink furry bathrobes and big hair curlers.

No, not so much. She was wild. If I knew then, what I know now, I wouldn't have taken it nearly so personally that my guide was a complete spaz.
She was the bad dog of the class. All of those people who have been to a guide dog school know what I mean. She wouldn't lay still in lecture, she wouldn't heel by my side. At meals she was constantly diving for food, crawling around under the table and generally causing massive disturbance where ever she went.

Her guide work was horrible; she ran me into a parking meter on one of our first trips. This was hardly a dog to inspire my confidence.

Time passed, we went home. She broke away from me, ran across the road and treed a squirrel our first week home together.

She ate plants in the clothing store where I shopped. She peed at Catholic Mass.
I really tried everything the guide dog school told me to do and after a while things started to jell.

I lost my hearing for the first time. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was so ill from the medication to treat it.
She was there through everything. She was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 3 and a half and died a year and a half almost to the day that we came home from guide dog school.

I wanted to die too; she had been my best friend through so much and after those first few turbulent months she turned into an amazing dog.

The last thing I asked of her before I set her free was to find me another dog. "Please find me a dog who will help me, who will lead me and love me and who will be patient with me because my heart is broken and I surely won't love them right away."

Six days later I met Bristol. She may have had her health problems but her guide work was flawless from the beginning. She loved me when I didn't love her; even when I didn't love myself.

She worked from July of 1999 until August of 2003 when degenerative joint disease shortened her working career.

Gracy and Mill'E were next each teaching me so much; each adding their own personalities to our work together.
They learned by watching Bristol. Sometimes I would come around a corner, and find the three, all laying or sitting in a circle. I can imagine Bristol giving lectures on appropriate public access behavior or the way you indicate a curb with the most amount of style and finesse.
All of them have changed me. Rhoda's illness and subsequent death, Bristol's chronic health struggles have both set me on the path to becoming a herbalist. The fallout after Mill'E's multiple dog attacks and Gracy's emo-border collie idiosyncratic way of learning forced me to adopt another way of training all together.

Rhoda taught me how to laugh, at myself, and at her. Bristol taught me what it means to truly break down all of the barriers in my heart and put complete trust in someone outside myself. Gracy has taught me, and continues to teach me patience, that and to put my shoes up on the dresser if I want to find them in the morning. Mill'E has taught me how to teach in a positive way and to lighten up, for crying out loud.

I would not be the same without them, and hope that I will never have to walk the path of life alone without a dog.

Ten years have come and gone so fast. I am excited to know what lessons and adventures the next ten will bring.

"And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.
Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, "he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who
ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet."
But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades
of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible."

Taken from The Prophet
By Kahlil Gibran

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