Thursday, August 2, 2018

GUIDE DOG

         
I want to tell you about Ray, my guide dog. About fifteen years ago when we moved to the condo community in the Litchfield Hills, I experienced a major change in my life. I became blind. Something called Macular Degeneration. I still had some peripheral vision, but I could not see the food on my plate or the toothpaste on the brush. 
         I had led an active life, marketing, cooking, writing fiction, flying airplanes, gardening, fishing, and succeeding in a second career as an expert witness in microbiology and infectious disease. Suddenly, all that changed, and I became dependant upon others for basic functions and getting around. I could only write by dictating to a typist.
         Guide dog organizations in Connecticut and New Jersey rejected me because of my age, but Guiding Eyes in New York State accepted me after a year of tests. 
         Connie drove me to their Yorktown Heights campus. An instructor showed me to my room. The next day, she entered my room carrying a container of dog food accompanied by a handsome, black Lab on a leash. 
         “We think this is the best dog for you,” she said. “He is three, a little older than the others, but then,” she said with a smile, “so are you.” 
         How do they know he’s the best dog for me?
         “Let us know how you make out. His name is Ray.” She dropped the leash, turned and left me alone with the dog. 
         Ray walked over to where I was sitting, dragging the leash and wagging his tail tentatively. I detached the leash and patted him on the head. He sat and looked at me staring into my eyes. Was I getting a message? He was telling me something. If you want me I’ll take good care of you. 
         “Yes, I want you. I need you,” I told him. He thumped his tail rapidly on the floor and lay down at my feet. For the rest of the day, he and I interacted, each growing more trusting. 
         In the days and weeks that followed, Ray and I worked with the instructor. She showed me how to put on his harness and pick up his poop. We rode in vehicles together, worked on city streets learning when to cross, on country roads, in department stores with escalators, and in restaurants. Ray seemed to know all of the commands and responded as if he had done this before. When graduation day finally came, my family proudly watched as Ray and I sat for a photo. 
         At home, Ray quickly became a family member, but he was really my dog. He makes it possible for me to get around, leading me to the post office and on walks through woodland trails. Ray became familiar with the six miles of roads and three miles of trails of our community. After two years my vision worsened, and I am now almost completely blind. Ray sensed this change. I no longer need to use verbal commands for direction when we walk. I am still able to write by dictation to a typist. 
         Ray accompanies me into restaurants, doctor’s offices, ER’s and hospital rooms. He is infinitely patient. 
         Ray and I are very close. Although he has his own bed, he sleeps on the floor next to mine and wakes me gently in the morning with his nose against my neck. He loves when I massage him, rolling on his back with his legs in the air. He understands more than 200 words and phrases of English, responding with body language and his tail. Ray and I have grown closer than two humans. I love him like I love my children, and he loves me. Labs generally live seven to twelve years, and I hope that he will survive me. 
         
         

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