Here we are in the very last days of 2019 and as I look back at the year gone by I find myself much amazed at all I’ve managed to accomplish despite tech tornadoes and mine and Campbell’s sicknesses. It just goes to show, what a body can do should they set their mind to it and make the effort of putting their nose to that old grindstone.
In short, sometimes you just have to slog through the muck and do it no matter what.
That having been said, one of the projects I’ve been working on this year has been a rewrite of Campbell’s Rambles: How a Seeing Eye Dog Retrieved My Life. It will in fact, be book one of my upcoming trilogy, “Pathway To Freedom: Broken and Healed.”
Today, I’d like to share with you just a bit of what I’ve done. Those of you who have read the original book which by the way can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Patty-L.-Fletcher/e/B00Q9I7RWG Will see a few differences.
I hope you enjoy, and your feedback is most welcome.
FRUSTRATIONS AND EXPLORATIONS
1) PATTERNING AND PERCEPTION…
For the next few days, Campbell and I simply relaxed, getting to know each other and our new surroundings together. Although I’d known pretty much all there was to know about navigating the property with my cane, I learned rather quickly that it was somewhat different with a dog. Campbell avoided things I had used as landmarks, so the first thing I had to get used to was walking in a new pattern around the yard. The way Campbell chose to take me when I put him in harness and worked him around the yard and house was different than when walking around with my cane. Bushes, trees, the downspouts on the corners of the house—all those things, of course, Campbell steered me right away from. Once I got used to it, it was a pretty neat thing. Even once we got good at walking around the yard, and I took him out with him just on his leash and me using my cane, so he could play and sniff, I noted that he would pull me away from certain things. He always has been a rather serious minded guide in his working clothes or not.
After we’d spent a couple of days resting and getting over training, Donnie taught Campbell and me how to get around the block. First I asked him if he’d watched the DVD they had sent about coaching and such. He said he had. We talked about the process anyway.
As we began to go out together I realized we had a lot of adjusting to do, but I have to admit that there was a whole lot more than I’d expected. Part of the reason was that Donnie was always trying to correct the way Campbell worked. He didn’t understand why we walked to the left. I tried to explain it to him, but he never seemed to understand. I explained how walking that way kept us out of a lot of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, but it was no use. Finally I gave up and simply tried to do what I knew was right.
I found that sometimes Campbell and I made mistakes, and when I’d sit at home in the evenings, I’d think them over. I would realize that nine times out of ten, it was because of mistakes I’d made letting Campbell follow Donnie, rather than having Donnie coach from behind. I understood Donnie’s reasons for not doing this. He himself had trouble seeing, and when he walked behind me, he was too far from things in front of us to correctly describe what was coming up. So we tried to compensate by having him walk in front and describe the area as we went through it.
Most times, this worked okay, but on other trips out, it was more of an issue for us. That’s because Donnie had more of a vision problem than I’d previously realized. I now know more about this, things I’ve learned from other high partials, and I always felt that Donnie would have benefitted from a dog. But I wasn’t sure he was cut out for the responsibility of owning and handling one.
2) PROBLEMS AND PARTNERSHIP…
Right from the beginning, Donnie felt I spent too much time with Campbell, and he made no secret of that. We argued about it sometimes, but I refused to back down, no matter the consequences. I refused to allow Donnie and our problems to destroy all the work that had gone into this magnificent dog and into me as a student—now a graduate—of The Seeing Eye school. Drew and others on that team, as well as my fellow students and other staff, had helped to shape me; I was and still am today truly grateful for that. I know that if I had not had the guidance of Drew’s experience to start me on my way, I would never have made it.
During training my attitude changed a lot due to my bipolar. On top of that, if I felt insecure, I could really turn on the sass mouth. Drew tolerated that for only so long, and when he’d had enough of it, I was always clear on that on the first warning, and seldom had to be given a second.
I know I was a challenge for Drew. He was so very kind and patient with me whenever I felt bad. Sometimes by the end of the day, when I would be extremely tired and in a great amount of pain, I would become easily distracted or forgetful. This caused problems with my sense of direction, my ability, and my confidence, and it was during those times that I could become the most difficult. Drew’s way of working with me was fantastic. He knew when I needed him to be tough, and he knew when I was just too tired to go any further. Sometimes he would even make me stop when I really wanted to keep going.
I felt I was very fortunate to have had Drew as my instructor, but when I would talk to Donnie about the things Drew had taught me, although Donnie listened, I knew he wasn’t taking the time or trouble to retain what I was saying. I also felt that he didn’t take me nearly as seriously as I needed him to. Sometimes he would even say that I must be over–dramatizing my descriptions of training. In fact, he said that a lot.
I’ve often wondered if maybe it was because of Drew’s understanding of my needs as a multiple disabled person and Donnie’s lack thereof, that caused me to desire a continued connection to Drew. Looking back now, I wonder if it was the understanding I desired more than the person.
3) FREEDOM AND FAILURE…
Another thing we argued about was the fact that even though Campbell was now getting small amounts of freedom off his tie–out at home, I was not ready to turn him loose in Donnie’s house. After almost three weeks of Donnie’s constant bitching, one evening just before mine and Campbell’s one month anniversary of being home together I stupidly decided to give in and give Campbell a minute or two off tie–out. My mistake was not putting our dog Rocky out in the garage first. Although Campbell and Rocky had gotten along from the very beginning, right down to their having destroyed our plan of how they would meet one another, I still should have separated them at first. I did not, however, and what happened was a true mess.
Campbell and Rocky chased each other around the loveseat for a minute, and then due to his being over stimulated, Campbell peed behind the loveseat. I immediately corrected him and took him outside. I wasn’t too harsh with him, because I felt guilty; I knew I had set him up to fail.
I didn’t mention the peeing incident when they sent someone down to do my follow–up. I was ashamed of myself. I’d known better, and I felt that I had let the school down, somehow, for having been so weak about it. It would be some time before I told anyone what had happened.
After walking Campbell and taking him back upstairs, I came back in to see how bad it was. Campbell had peed in the carpet. However, considering that the whole house was carpeted except for the kitchen and the bathroom, he didn’t have a lot of choice.
As I came through the door, Donnie raged.
“I thought you said the damn dog was housebroken!”
I stepped back toward the door a little; he seemed to be really angry, and something in his voice frightened me very badly. All of a sudden, alarm bells were ringing. I had a feeling that if Little D. hadn’t been there Donnie might have hit me. Though at that time he very seldom got physically violent with me, something in his voice that day had me on my guard.
A bit shakily, I said, “Well, he is, but that was too much stimulation. I should have done it differently.” I went on to explain about how Campbell should have been allowed about five minutes free with no other animals around, and no more than that.
But Donnie refused to understand. He yelled at me again saying, “I don’t know if I want the damn dog back in the house! Hell, Rocky’s never had any special training, and he’s never peed in the house!.
4) CONFLICT AND CONSEQUENCE…
There were other difficulties as well. Donnie found out that Campbell would jump up and catch French fries. Although I asked Donnie repeatedly not to do that without asking me, and only on very rare occasions, I learned from one of our friends that he was doing things like that when I wasn’t looking. One day, I was quite sure that he was giving Campbell food he wasn’t supposed to have, and I promptly told him to cut that shit out. Later, when I saw he was determined to continue his behavior which I found disrespectful to me and dangerous to Campbell’s training I had enough and firmly put my foot down once and for all.
“Donnie.” I insisted. “You simply cannot do that. If he eats things he’s not supposed to have, especially off a plate, you’re undoing all his food refusal training. He doesn’t understand the difference between eating like that here and in public. Sooner or later, we’re going to be out somewhere, and he’ll take food off someone’s plate. Then what will I do?
Also, if you’ve fed him something he shouldn’t have had, and I don’t know and his stomach gets upset, there’s the possibility he could have an accident while we’re at work. You’re setting both of us up to fail. I mean it. Knock that shit off! A lot of people went to a whole lot of trouble and expense to see that I had a well-trained guide dog and I’ll be damned if you’re going to fuck that up! Make a mess of your dogs if you want but leave mine the hell alone. To me there’s just not much else more important than Campbell and his training.”
“You know?” Donnie observed angrily, “I think you’d choose that dog over me without so much as one thought.”
I stood perfectly still, took a deep breath to calm myself enough that my voice would not shake, and then said softly, but very firmly and clearly, “Donnie, don’t ever ask me to choose between you and the dog, because you will always come out second.”
And that, my friends, was only the beginning of the problems I faced.
If anyone tells you they have never had so much as one problem with a loved one, with a partner, family member, or close friend, they are almost certainly lying to you.
I write of this and I’ll write of other difficult things as well, because I want you to realize that if you are going through such, you’re not alone. If the one you’re having trouble with really loves and respects you, or if you’re friends, and the other person truly respects and cares for your friendship, you’ll work it out. If you don’t, you probably didn’t need that person in your life anyhow. That’s harsh, but it’s how I feel. No one and nothing has or will ever come before Campbell, or before any other dog I have after him. To this day, I’ve never regretted that decision. Many people have come and gone in my life since my bringing Campbell home. Some are gone by their choice, some are gone by mine, but through all the loss, the one constant in my life, the one thing I have always been able to rely on has been Campbell. If you love and handle your guide dog correctly, no matter what challenges you endure in your life, you’ll never be alone.
5) POSITIVES AMONG THE NEGATIVES…
At the same time that I was experiencing these conflicts with Donnie, I was also doing very positive things whenever possible. They included going back and forth to work on my own, and those trips were fun. Campbell and I had learned to walk safely to the bus stop. At that time, we had to cross three side streets, the first of which had a stop sign. This could be both good and bad, but mostly bad. That is, people don’t generally come to a full stop at a stop sign, and so even though this sign gave me the right of way, the area drivers didn’t always obey it. So I had to be sure before I crossed that street or any other.
You just never know if a driver actually sees you. That’s in spite of the fact that I wear reflective or brightly colored clothing, and the guide dog’s harness has reflective tape on it. So I never understand when a driver honks and then shouts, “Sorry, I didn’t see you!” I want to shout back, “Well, what the hell were you looking at instead?” But thanks to Drew’s long ago lesson while learning to cross streets, most times I don’t. I just go on and hope for the best. Campbell’s work was without flaw, so my morning walks to the bus stop and then home again in the afternoon were a wonderful way for us to build our confidence together.
Once I got to work, I then had to make my way into the building. Just as it had with walking around the property at home, walking into work changed suddenly and completely, now that I was no longer cane traveling. Things I had gotten hung up in with my cane seemed to have disappeared; I simply never perceived them, because Campbell zoomed on past them without a second glance. I began to learn about freedom in a way that I had never thought possible.
It was the coolest thing ever the first time I walked on my own with Campbell from the bus stop and then into work. To get into the building, we had to pass this little area where there’s a trash can on one side and a stone column and bench on the other. The sidewalk in between them is a bit narrow but going through that area with Campbell was so effortless that I didn’t even think about it much anymore after the first few days. I was so proud to be doing this, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about what we could do.
As the weeks passed, I began to get back into the swing of things at work, and I was slowly getting used to doing things out and about. Campbell and I would go out to eat with Donnie, or we would go shopping and walking downtown to pay bills. And we were getting good at it, at least for the most part.
However, as the summer progressed, I began to want to do more. With just a bit of help from Donnie, I taught myself and Campbell how to walk to our little corner convenience store. I was very proud of having done that, and I wanted to tell everyone. I even wrote about it on the email lists I belonged to. Some shared my excitement, but there were others whose attitude was that I would soon get used to it, so I should just shut up instead of going on and on about it.
I’m happy to say that I have never stopped being excited about new triumphs, no matter how trivial they may seem to others, and I doubt that I ever will. At least I hope not. I’ve said it from the beginning: When I stop being amazed by these dogs, when I stop caring about learning new things, it’ll be time to hang up the harness for good.
It saddened me, though, to see that as I became more and more functional, Donnie didn’t really seem to share my joy. Sometimes when we were going out, he would ask me if I couldn’t leave Campbell at home. And sometimes he would say to me when we were hanging out together, “Do you always have to have him with you?”
These things hurt me, but a lot of people told me that it would get better with time. People who had partners said that there was always a bit of jealousy at the beginning, and that it would pass. Nonetheless, I wondered. It seemed to me that Donnie simply did not like the fact that he no longer got to decide when and where I went and how I got there.
At the end of my workday, if I decided I wanted to stop somewhere on my way home, I no longer called to ask if he had time to meet me somewhere to help, I simply called and let him know I’d be late. If, in the evenings I decided I wanted a six-pack of beer or a pack of smokes, I no longer asked, “Donnie, can we walk to the store?” I simply stopped by his house on my way out to say, “I’m going to the store. Want anything?”
I know, because of his reactions to such things that though he tried hard to hide it from his son and his friends, it griped him to no end that he could no longer decide for me many things which I did every-day.
For me, it was as if I’d been shown a door and given a magik key, and no matter what he did there was no way to stop the transformation taking place in me or my life.
I couldn’t do any of the work I do without those who sponsor me.
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Claire and I hope to have Pathway To Freedom Broken and Healed: Book One How a Seeing Eye Dog Retrieved My Life out in Spring of 2020.
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David and Leonore Dvorkin edited and assisted with the publishing of the original book.
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Thanks for reading, may harmony find you and blessid be.