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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

REACTIONS: Meeting LD Mike's New Handler


Today's post is my submission to Sharon Wachlser's quarterly ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL, hosted this time on the blog "The Trouble Is..."  The topic for this third Carnival is:  REACTIONS.  To read my submission to the 2nd Carnival, read my post: "Decisions at Beary-Wood Lodge," and to the 1st, read my post: "My First Future Leader Dog Puppy."  When the third Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up for reading, I will post the link so you can enjoy reading about REACTIONS from the various perspectives of Service Dog users, trainers, or other raisers.

Definition of REACTION 
-taken from the online dictionaries Merriam-Webster and The Learners Dictionary.

: a response to some treatment, situation, or stimulus

: the way someone acts or feels in response to something that happens, is said, etc.
: in chemistry: a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance


THE SITUATION

I did not hurry from Anne's, where I stopped to wish her a Happy Birthday and pick up Sofia; rather, I hesitated as long as I could.  I had less than one hour to drive seven miles to drop Gypsy and FLD Gus off at the townhouse, then drive 17 miles more across town to Leader Dogs for the Blind.

My opportunity to meet LD Mike's new handler, Eric, was scheduled for 6:30 pm.

And yet.

I delayed.

FLD Mike was a special puppy.  Loving, intelligent, easy-going.  Sofia, my quiet supporter, stayed my tears seven months ago when we returned FLD Mike to Leader Dogs.  (To read about Mike's return day, check out my post from September 10, 2010.)  My last view of him was his wagging tail as he bounced away at the left side of Mike, a Leader Dog employee, his blocky-Lab head turned up to the other Mike in a grin as if to say, "So, what's next?"

He never looked back.  At me.

I was hoping that Sofia would keep me grounded this day.  I wasn't sure of my reactions.  An unsuccessful match in February send LD Mike back to Leader Dogs in March and my emotions felt like they had been on a Mac Woods Dune ride--the thrill of dieseling up and over the crest of a colossal sand dune only to leave my stomach behind on the weightless descent left my mind scratchy with sand.  I wasn't eager to jump back aboard.


THE STIMULUS

  • What would I feel when I saw this puppy that I had raised for almost a year?
It was important not to jeopardize the budding relationship between LD Mike and Eric, so I did not want the exuberant-body-twisting, tongue-lapping-Lab greeting like Rosie gave me last year when she was career-changed.  But I cannot lie--I hoped he would at least recognize me.

  • How would Eric accept me; what questions would he have of me?
Eric hailed from Barcelona, Spain and could not speak English.  We would have a translator, but I wondered how we would fill our one-hour meeting.  Leader Dogs encourages puppy-raisers to give the handler photographs of our year with the puppy.  I assembled an album from digital pictures on my computer and hoped the Spanish titles translated correctly.  (Did you know that Microsoft Word has a translation function?)  I also brought LD Mike a new dinosaur-shaped Nylabone.

  • What could I say to Eric?
Again, I didn't want to do or say anything that would cause Eric to question his pairing with LD Mike.  I knew that if Leader Dogs was confident that LD Mike was right for Eric, then I must also be confident.


WHAT HAPPENED

A group of puppy-raisers and family members were gathered in the lobby of the Polk Residence at Leader Dogs, where the handlers stay during their 3 1/2 weeks of training.  Sofia and I were the last to arrive.  Bev, from Puppy-Development, gave last minute instructions before we were taken to meet the handlers, all of whom had agreed to meet the puppy-raisers of their newly matched Leader Dogs.

Eric and Mike, another Spanish handler with her yellow Lab Leader Dog, and two translators were staged in the piano-room lounge.  Sofia and I stood in the hallway waiting to be introduced.  "Look," she said, "there's Mike.  He's staring right at us!"

A dark-haired, handsome young man dressed in blue-jeans and an "arty" long-sleeved t-shirt sat on the edge of a black leather couch talking to a woman seated next to him.  A black Lab lay facing us at his feet, on leash, not in harness.

Eric and LD Mike.

The next few moments were a blur.  We were led in and Eric popped to his feet.  LD Mike sprang up next to him, and the woman, who turned out to be the interpreter, stepped forward and asked us our names.  Before I could answer, Eric reached out, I reached out in a mirror-image response, thinking we were going to shake hands.  His hand bumped my arm and suddenly, unexpectedly, LD Mike's leash was in my hand.  Eric took a step back.

Oh no!  I exclaimed.  Please, I said to the woman, Tell him I should not have his leash.  Mike is HIS dog.

The translator spoke to Eric in Spanish and quickly returned Mike's leash to him.  It was an awkward moment.  A flurry of "holas," "hellos," and chair procurement followed and then Sofia and I were seated next to a stiff-on-the-edge-of-the-couch Eric.  The translator sat on a straight-back chair across from us.  LD Mike was on all fours next to Eric, straining to get a sniff of the other Leader Dog who was sprawled out on the floor just beyond his nose.

"Mike, NO," Eric said (in English).  He  tapped his hand on his thigh and gave a little tug on Mike's leash.  Mike turned.

After about ten minutes of tentative questions and short replies between the triangle of Eric, the translator, and me, the prospect of another fifty-minutes seemed interminable.  I offered up the photo album.  Eric's face exploded with delight as the translator described, page by page, the pictures of puppy-Mike's growing up adventures.  I hope the titles are okay, I told her.  She smiled at me and said they were just fine.

I offered up the Nylabone.  Eric thanked me, opened the packaging right away, and LD Mike stole it out of his hands.  Eric laughed heartily when the translator told him how Mike set about chewing off the dinosaur's head.

Maybe it was the photo album (Eric never set it down).  Maybe it was the Nylabone.  Whatever it was, Eric slid back into the couch and began talking.  He talked and talked to the woman, who translated everything back to me.

I learned that Eric's 21st birthday is one day after Mike's birthday, and that there will be a gigantic party in Barcelona this September.  I learned that Mike was the oldest Leader Dog in this month's class, and Eric was the youngest student.  Mike is Eric's first Leader Dog and this was Eric's first time to the U.S.  Eric came here to Leader Dogs for the Blind instead of going to "ONCE" (the guide dog school in Spain) because it was only an 18 month wait instead of four years.  I told Eric that he was brave to come to the United States by himself to get his first guide dog.

Eric lives with his parents (they do not have a dog) and he has a sister; he attends a school that the translator said is like a Community College and studies Administration and Communication.  He also works two jobs--the translator struggled to explain, but said that one job is "like a waitress?" and the other is "massage?"  Eric laughed, saying "Si, si" when I told  him that he could relax Mike with a massage.  He also was amused with my story of FLD Mike snoring during a lecture in my Postmodern Literature class at Eastern Michigan University when he was just a few months old.

Eric knows that LD Mike did not match up with a previous person.  He thinks it might be because of how hard Mike pulls, but he (Eric) is strong, and is very excited, and happy, to have Mike as a partner.

Fifty minutes flew by.  My face hurt from smiling.


WHAT WAS SAID

Eric wanted to know if it was easy for me to train Mike.

YES.

He also wanted to know if I taught Mike to find things.  When Eric drops something, he has trouble finding it.  Mike has been finding whatever it is for him, placing his chin on the item until Eric can feel along him and locate it under Mike's chin.

No.

Eric leaned forward and talked with animation to the translator.

"Eric says that he asked Mike's trainer if she taught Mike to do this, but she said she did not.  She thought that perhaps you did."

No, I said, shaking my head.  I never taught him that.  Maybe Mike is just figuring out how to help you.  We all settled.  And smiled.  Could this be possible?  I, for one, would not be surprised.  At all.


REACTIONS

It seemed as if the match between LD Mike and Eric was meant to be.  Sofia thought that maybe Leader Dogs should consider matching by birthdays--"After all, remember that Rosie's birthday is the same day we moved into Mom's house."  (To read about how career-changed Rosie found Sofia, read my post from April 5, 2010.) 

I was pleased when Eric asked for my contact information.  When I asked if we could take a few pictures he jumped right up to get LD Mike situated.  Then he asked if I would send him copies.  YES!

Our "adios" and "good-byes" felt as awkward as our "holas" and "hellos," but for different reasons.  Eric thanked me for Mike and it was all I could do not to grab him (Eric, not Mike) and give him a huge hug!  I was surprised to feel a mother's instinct and pride.  Instead, I reached out, gave his shoulder a squeeze, thanked him for meeting with us, and wished him all the best with LD Mike. 


Strangers frequently say, "I could never do what you do, raise a puppy like that.  I would get too attached and could never give him up."  I struggle to reply, sometimes saying, It's not what I'm giving up, it's what I'm giving.  And besides, I can always get another puppy!  Or I say, It IS difficult, but you just do it and know he'll go on to help someone.

I will struggle with this answer no longer.

Without hesitation I can easily reply, If you saw the joy that a new Leader Dog brings to a person, YOU could do it too!

Sofia reaffirmed this when she said, "Anyone could see how HAPPY Eric was to have Mike!  I think they were meant to be together!"


CHEMICAL REACTION

The dog I saw with Eric was no longer MY puppy, FLD Mike.  At some point in our hour I asked Eric if we could pet Mike.  "Of course!"  Mike came to us, sniffed, and let us pet him, but, as Bev observed, it was like he was thinking, "Okay, hi, that's nice.  Now, where's that chew toy?"  LD Mike was a dog who graduated from a challenging training program, encountered a detour, backed up, resumed, and still decided to go on to lead an exceptional life

Leader Dogs for the Blind is the catalyst for the change occurring in LD Mike and Eric.  Like the definition of REACTION in chemistry, the guide dog and the human are combining to form a working team.

LD Mike found his person.  He is Eric's dog (eyes) now!

Eric and LD Mike, with me.
A happy Eric, LD Mike, me, and Sofia!
 

20 comments:

  1. So happy to hear Mike has been re-matched!!! I hope things work out for him this time!

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  2. Thanks Erin! I'm sure they will--Leader Dogs tells me that only the best dogs go to Spain! Yippee!!!

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  3. I am SO happy LD Mike was re-matched!! He is an awesome dog and will always have a place in our hearts. All I can say is: Buena suerte Eric y LD Mike!!! (Good luck Eric and LD Mike)
    Leni

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  4. Thanks, Leni, that means alot to me!

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  5. Oh, this is awesome, Patti! Congrats to LD Mike on his new match. I'm SO happy for all of you.

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  6. Thanks, L^2! Sure seems like these two are meant to be together.

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  7. Awwe, that is a nice story. Hope they get to work together for many years. It is nice to see the puppy raiser's pov.

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  8. We hope so, too! Thanks for reading, Martha!

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  9. Patti, you are so right in your story of you and meeting Eric and MIke. It definately sound as if Eric and LD Mike were meant for each other. You will never truely know what you really gave Eric when you raised LD Mike. Eric has been emancipated from his blindness. The freedom and independence we leader dog handlers gain when we pick up that harness handle and give that "forward" is unbelievable. Finally, Mike will always hold a very special place in Eric's life no matter how many dogs he gets because there is no dog like you first dog. It was 20 years ago last month when I firt pick up a harness handle to freedom and independance. Angela Gibson and RLD Bella (retired leader dog)

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  10. Dear Angela, thank you for your kind comments. Mike was such a special puppy, and Eric is a special young man--it does feel especially good knowing that Mike is Eric's first Leader Dog. I WILL never truly know, as you say, but hearing this from you helps me to realize it a little more. What special creatures our dogs are!

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  11. I admit, I got a bit choked up reading this. It's a wonderful story.

    Thank you for joining in the carnival again!

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  12. Thank you, Sharon, for starting the carnival. (And keep me in mind for a future host!) I am glad you liked my story--I got choked up writing it!

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  13. Patti,
    I'd love you to host! The next opening is Oct. 2012. Would you like that slot?

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  14. Did you say 2012? That's great that you have hosts that far out! Sure, I will be happy to host October, 2012.

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  15. OK, you're on! Yup, we have quite a lineup! You can see the list of hosts at http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/about-the-assistance-dog-blog-carnival/

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  16. Awww what a nice story! You all do a wonderful job :).


    I am so glad that Mike and Errick are well matched! Can I ask though why you had to meet at the campus? Were they still on class?

    Take care, Torie and Ushi.

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  17. Torie--thanks so much for reading. Leader Dogs schedules an evening when the handlers (if they choose) can meet the puppy-raisers. This happens during their training time at Leader Dogs, so yes, they were still in class.

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  18. Okay. We are encouraged to keep in touch if we want with our puppy walkers. I was doing a blog for my guide dogs facebook page at the time i was on class, and my puppy walker commented on one of my entries. That was how I came in contact with Ushi's puppywalkker lol. If we don't want to keep in contact though we don't have to. But puppywalkers/raisers are the main part of guide dogs!

    Xxx.

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  19. Torie, that's fun how you contacted Ushi's puppywalker! As a puppy-raiser, I am thrilled to be able to meet my puppy's handler, but I am also respectful of the wishes of the handler.

    I'm not sure that Leader Dogs has figured out everything about social networking--and there is definitely no way to "control" contact made through FaceBook or other Internet avenues.

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