Archives for posts with tag: guide dog

 

After seven and a half years of work, it was time for Luna, my ninth Seeing Eye dog to hang up her harness.  She was almost ten and feeling less confident about jumping into cars for rides and over snow piles to get us through Midwest winters.  I’ve had Seeing Eye dogs for 46 years (over half the school’s 90 year history) and plan to make the fifty year club.

I went through the application process, including a medical exam and a tuberculosis test and took a walk with a roving instructor to determine my needs.  I’m slower than eight years ago, but still able to work a dog.

I was lucky enough to find the perfect retirement home for Luna, a retired couple south of town with a black Lab and years of raising guide dog pups in their history and two acres of fenced area for Luna to explore.

As I begin to pack and get ready to spend nineteen days in New Jersey, friends stop by to wish Luna and me well on our journeys. They bring treats for Luna and M&Ms and puzzles to fortify me and occupy my mind while traveling.  Luna is blessed at her last Inclusive Ministry Church to help the participants understand that she is retiring and not dying even though I’ll be appearing with a new dog in a couple months.  My retirement wishes for Luna are Facebooked as follows:

Happy Retirement Luna!

Thank you for leading me through seven and a half years of public speaking, community service and the fun of life in retirement. You’ve been a scamp—remember trying to pick the pocket of beloved Fr. Klemick! You are an astute diagnostician, smelling my front end and back end when I’m sick to determine how much cuddling I need.  You’ve made me laugh and remember to appreciate the little things in life like lying in the sun and the last bite of pizza crust.

Bless your new family with your love, humor empathy and intelligence.

By guiding them in knowing they and you are beloved creatures.  Enjoy your new adventures and don’t forget to be in touch!

Love,

Kathie

Because each Seeing Eye dog has taught me so much about life, as well as guiding me safely, this trip seems like a pilgrimage to get a new guide for the next few years of my life in both the concrete and the spiritual senses of the word guide. It’s sad because of the goodbye to the close relationship with Luna, and scary and exciting to see who I meet.  I’ve downloaded several pilgrimage books so I can compare mine with theirs.  Let the journey begin!

I’ve traveled independently all over the United States for the last forty-five years with Seeing Eye dogs. Delta Airlines recently announced new policies for service and emotional support dogs which will make that travel more difficult and won’t solve the problem of fake and poorly behaved service and emotional support dogs that they were meant to address.

I’ve flown with my Seeing Eye dogs to family vacations, job interviews, funerals and professional meetings. I’ve ridden on four-seater planes and jumbo jets. My dogs and I have met mostly wonderful fellow passengers and airline staff. We’ve encountered a variety of other service and emotional support/comfort dogs over the years, most of whom were well behaved and just trying to get where they were going as we were.

In the last few years as more airlines have allowed “emotional support animals” as well as service dogs, there have been more problems with poorly behaved animals and fake service dogs brought into the cabin by someone who just doesn’t want to pay for their dog to travel in the cabin. I’ve encountered a few of these dogs who wanted to attack my Seeing Eye dog as I passed them going to my seat or barked piteously throughout takeoff and landing, clearly scared out of their minds by the plane noises and air pressure changes. The Seeing Eye and other guide and service dog training schools provide a lot of training to us dog handlers about dealing with our dogs in crowded stressful situations like flying is these days. Emotional support dogs and their handlers get no such training and support. For example when I shared a tip about try giving your dog a sliver of ice to suck on while taking off or landing to help their ears, the barking dog quieted and the owner was able to go back to getting emotional support from the animal.

Delta’s new rules, which will take effect March 1, require uploading a proof of rabies vaccination form each year two days before a flight and checking in at the Delta service counter for each flight to have the dog’s status verified. Emotional support dogs must also have a letter from a doctor saying they are needed and will behave in public. Some of the problems with this policy are:

What if I need to travel in an emergency and haven’t registered my dog’s vaccination records with Delta?

What if other airlines adopt this policy? How many do I need to register with to be safe?

What if I’m rebooked from another airline onto Delta and I haven’t registered with them?

What if I’m traveling with friends or family who want to check in online or use kiosk or curbside check in?

The Air Carrier Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act which both cover parts of my flights through the Friendly Skies already state that the service animal in the public situation must be well behaved or it can be made to leave. They also stipulate that a person with a disability can’t be discriminated against. The extra registration and having to check in at the counter each flight seem like discrimination to me. A letter from a doctor or mental health professional stating that an emotional support/comfort dog is well-behaved in public can be faked and/or written with kind intent but no thought of the actual travel situations the dog will be in.

Apparently the Department of Transportation will roll out some new regulations about “emotional support dogs” later this year for public comment. Please join me in encouraging Delta to put their regulations on hold and let the DOT meet with guide and service dog groups, as well as airlines to work out something that is fair and effective. It’s in all of our best interests to have safe travel and not to have excess burdensome and ineffective rules.

To contact Aviation Consumer Protection Division at the U.S. Department of Transportation with your thoughts, go to https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm,

“The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches between your head and your heart.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.

This quote by a Buddhist monk summarizes the journey I’m taking this Advent, it seems. Amid all the volunteering, gifting, shopping and partying, I’m trying to wait in hope. A few examples:

  • Watching hundreds of students pet my 12 year-old retired guide dog Ivanna and Luna at the library—Luna and Ivanna meet each individual differently and the students left refreshed to face finals.
  • Delivering pet food and supplies to thirty-five households
    • Volunteers contribute a little present colorfully wrapped for each household
    • A friend sews catnip toys for all the cats
    • A volunteer brings me a plate of Christmas cookies
    • A pet food recipient gives Luna a treat—most of all people took time to make it happen.
  • Mary Oliver’s poem, “Making the House Ready for the Lord” pointing out as we welcome all creatures, we are welcoming the Lord inspires me to be more attentive to the people who come visiting.

As an Advent carol I’d never heard before “People, Look East” by Eleanor Farjeon says:

Vs 1: People, look east.

The time is near

Of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,

Trim the hearth and set the table.

People, look east and sing today:

Love, the guest, is on the way.

Every year I read a couple Christmas books. This year’s were: Christmas in Harmony by P. Gulley and On Strike for Christmas by S. Roberts. In the first of these, the Quaker pastor of Harmony, Indiana must deal with a bull in a China shop kind of parishioner who organizes a progressive nativity scene, wondering if a 4-slice toaster is too extravagant a gift for his wife and other complications of the season. In the second book, the women of the knitting circle decide they’re tired of doing it all, the parties, the decorating, the cooking, etc. and go on strike. In both books Christmas spirit and tradition make for happy endings, no surprise there!

As I was trolling around looking for one more heartwarming Christmas story, while babysitting my retired guide dog, I came upon Christmas with Tucker by Greg Kincaid, a coming of age story complete with an Irish setter.

Happy Advent and happy reading—I’ve got to go see how the noble Irish setter makes everything okay!

I was asked to lecture some women’s studies classes about ableism. It caused me to do a lot of thinking about how I could talk about the topic without blaming and shaming the people I want to recruit to the cause of working toward access for people with disabilities to the good life.

I try to make my talk fun and accessible by talking about common experiences like playing Trivia Crack and highlighting small things they are doing to be accessible, like not raising their hands to ask questions.

I talked about what ableism is: “ Ableism is the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. Ableism – a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental,  emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.” From http://www.stopableism.org.

I used a few trivia questions like “Name two U.S. presidents who had disabilities.” and “When was braille invented?” to help the students begin to notice the invisibility of the 19% of Americans who have a disability. After talking about disability words and asking them to use accurate language (“blind” not “visually challenged”), I talked about images and stereotypes. When asked to choose, they overwhelmingly picked the new access symbol over the old. I talk about three models of disability:

  • Moral: disability equals sin; be ashamed and hide the disability.
  • Medical: fix it or teach compensatory skills like braille and assistive tech.
  • Minority: Disability is a part of life; embrace it.

I described the realities of disability life, which I’ve summarized in the first five letters of the alphabet:

  1. We have to ask/advocate for what we want and need.
  2. There’s a bubble of isolation around us.
  3. It costs more to have a disability.
  4. We experience discrimination in many ways.
  5. The everydayness of disabilities; dealing with unequal access and people’s attitudes are everyday adventures for me. They’re like death and taxes; they’re inevitable.

Then I launched into what they could do about ableism. I covered four reasons why they should do something:

  • Pay it forward because we’re a joinable group.
  • Nondiscrimination is the law.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

I suggest hanging with people with disabilities. Realize you’ll be uncomfortable, acknowledge it, and go out of your comfort zone. I ask the audience to look around their good life, figuring out where people with disabilities aren’t at the table and asking why and working to change it.  Then I wrap up with things you might gain by becoming an ally, like a new perspective on daily events, valuing interdependence and a few good laughs at how awkward we all are with each other’s individualities.

I need some kind of altar call, so this time I tried “name the movement”. That was met with a resounding thud. So I’m left wondering if I changed hearts and minds. If the prof passes on journal entries from the students, that will help me know. If they stop me on campus and chat, that’ll be a good sign. One has already passed on my name to her mom who needs a speaker in her school district. Luna got immediate positive feedback from students who miss their dogs and were glad to meet her.  I guess I’ll call the talk “Only You Can Stop Ableism” until a better title comes to mind. All entries considered!

In 1964 Congress designated October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. The law says: “An operator of a vehicle shall stop the vehicle before approaching closer than 10 feet to a pedestrian who is carrying a cane or walking stick which is white in color or white trimmed with red and which is held in an extended or raised position or who is using a dog guide and shall take such precautions as may be necessary to avoid accident or injury to the pedestrian.”

Some tips when approaching a blind person:

  • You don’t need to shout.
  • Ask if the person needs help, don’t just assume they do. Many blind people are perfectly capable of getting where they need to go without help.
  • If there is a lot of street noise, gently touch the person on the arm to let them know you are speaking to them.
  • If you are giving directions – don’t point. Or say “Over there.”
  • If a person does need help, offer them an elbow they can grasp. Remember to be aware of obstacles they can’t see. They’re trusting you when you lead, so be conscientious.

Now here are three questions and answers about the law, just for fun:

Q: Shouldn’t I just honk instead?
A: Only if you want to raise my blood pressure because I think I’m going to be run down.

Q: What if it’s a black dog instead of a white cane?
A: Law still applies. They’re trained, but you’ll be the one who gets the points on your license and has to clean up the mess if my guide dog and I become your hood ornament.

Q: Why do some white canes have red tips?
A: Good for you for noticing! They have red tips to shoot death rays at those who don’t stop.

All kidding aside, thanks for observing White Cane Safety Day every day of the year.

The last time I climbed on this soapbox was about the story on public radio about echolocation. Now Radio Lab has a story about a gal seeing with her tongue: www.radiolab.org/story/seeing-tongues.

To me both these pieces make us blind folks look like freaks, or at best “interesting specimens”. I get the fact that media does not report on normal people doing normal things, but this makes me worry. If you were an employer, would you hire a blind person to teach, do your taxes, run your nursing home, etc. if these images were all you knew?

Contrast them with my journal of my weekend:

I think fall is my favorite season in Wisconsin. Summer and spring are runners up however. Take this weekend for example:

I went to some friends’ house to help make cider, taking some of my own apples to put in the mix. First the apples go through a bath to sanitize them and someone cuts out any bad parts. Then I got to feed them through the press which was a two stage process. The first stage was grinding and the second stage was pressing. Actually there was a pre-stage which was convincing my friends that I could safely feed apples into a grinder powered by an electric motor! In addition to the cider, pomace (apples minus the liquid) was produced. The pomace will be fed to the friends’ goats so nothing is wasted. Imagine standing outside on a sunny crisp day, joshing with friends, pressing and then drinking cider. The good life indeed!

Saturday was full with grocery shopping with another friend, a nap, and Mass. The first week after I do my monthly shopping is full of wonderful fresh choices, so supper was eggroll, sushi and cukes in cream. In addition to getting to watch several babies in church, my guide dog was rewarded with a chew stick after Mass. She knows the drill so well she comes home from Mass about twice as quickly as she goes to Mass.

On Sunday, there was the usual brunch with another friend who reads the week’s cartoons to me in trade for my cooking brunch. Some must cook and some read! Then in the afternoon we took my retired guide dog and my active dog to the Blessing of the Animals in honor of St. Francis Day. Afterwards two dogs and three humans enjoyed treats.

A weekend full of fall, friends, food and frolic. More reliance on friends to help accomplish tasks than if I could see possibly more enjoyment of sounds, smells, and kinesthetic cues than if I could see. Not as exotic as “seeing with your tongue” or echolocation, but much more typical of life for typical blind people. I wish these realities of life as a blind person were on NPR and other media outlets so that when somebody thinks of becoming blind o r hiring a blind person they’d have them in the back of their head as well as the tongue-clicking, “seeing with their tongue” images. It would make their lives easier!

Did you know that September is National Service Dog Month (formerly National Guide Dog Month)? Instead of focusing on all the noble things my guide dogs have done over the last forty-two years, I’d like to tell you a funny story about the life of a service dog when the harness is off.

Sometimes people are surprised that these intelligent creatures that we’re lucky enough to be partnered with are real dogs in their off duty time. My guide dog was showing her Labrador heritage (see food, eat it) by licking plates as I put them in the dishwasher this noon. Gross if you’re not a dog owner, but they do get washed and sterilized, trust me! Somehow the bottom shelf of the dishwasher started rolling out of the dishwasher, turned a ninety degree angle and chased her from the kitchen into the dining room as she retreated in horror. Plates and silverware bounced out in all directions. She ran to the front door of the house and stood stock still in horror and apprehension. After I cleaned up as many dishes and utensils as I could find I went to talk to her. I think she expected a scolding, but I didn’t give one because the unintended consequence of being chased by a rogue dishwasher shelf had taught her far more than I could cover in a lecture. As time passes she’s walked by the evil machine but has showed no interest in pre-rinsing the supper dishes.

So celebrate National Service Dog month with us. Whether you’re a puppy raiser, a contributor to a service dog school, or an observant driver who pauses so we can safely cross a street, thank you.

ADA was well observed by the media including both local newspapers. There were many fine editorials by people with disabilities about the 25th anniversary of the ADA. It was fun to see if the luminaries quoted were people I know from advocate listservs. In one case it was. Steve Brown’s editorial referred to some of his poems: http://www.instituteondisabilityculture.org/examples-of-our-disability-culture-3-of-steves-poems.html

In the “what’s left to be done” category, it’s particularly ironic that on Parents’ Day (also July 26 this year), there are 35 states in which a child can be removed from a parent’s custody due to the parent’s disability status alone.

Now that ADA 25 has been celebrated and pronouncements have been made, it’s time to get back to regular life.

Maybe this post should be called “Monday after the Miracle” like William Gibson’s sequel to The Miracle Worker. In it, Helen Keller has started a successful writing career with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. She must struggle to adjust to Sullivan’s marriage to John Macy and her own emerging sexuality. Monday after the ADA anniversary, the 19% of us with disabilities go on with our lives too, day by day.

I just got done fixing my landline which wasn’t working by talking on my cellphone with a SIRI-like automatic program and aided by a sighted person telling me what color various modem lights were. The sighted friend had to trot up and down stairs and answer my questions. SIRI voice at one point chastised me that I should talk only to her because “she could hear everything and was getting confused.” Apparently she hadn’t considered I might need to ask the sighted person for relevant info. Then when we did fix it, I wanted to hang up and it took us about three minutes to figure out how to end the call on the cellphone; she didn’t want to part with us. If I was a comedian I could do a great skit of it with the sighted person trotting up and down the stairs to answer questions and plug and unplug cords on demand. Progress!

The pizza party and sculpture tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ADA was another good example of every day ADA. I had to change the default temperature on the oven to 425 degrees to cook the pizza. I thought I had learned what buttons to push on the flat screen to do this, but apparently not. So three PH.D.s were trying to figure it out without the manual which we couldn’t find. One friend and I went online but she couldn’t read the fine print because her reading glasses were at home. The other gal stood by the stove pushing buttons, supervised by the two dogs who would have gladly eaten the pizza raw. Somehow she got it working. The pizza was excellent, the sculpture tour was fun and we laughed together about technology. Thank God for friends both two- and four-legged.

In honor of all who mother in one way or another, I offer you this poem I wrote for a poetry class at my local library. The teacher said that it couldn’t rhyme, so here goes:

Family of Nine
By Katherine Schneider

Nine mugs march across the shelf with pictures and names

Reminders of forty-one years of guide dogs.

Sighted friends remember them by color and expression.

I hold dear the adventures we shared.

All have kept me safe, each in their own way.

Trust a dog with your life? Cindy taught me yes!

Beth was bold—shouldering obstacles aside like poinsettias on narrow steps up to the lectern at Mass.

Sugar liberated snacks from people while still guiding flawlessly.

Tatum ripped my heart out; dying in a freak accident.

Carter was noble and steady—a Golden saint.

Garlyn had the work/life balance thing down just right.

Ivanna said “Please like me” to the whole world.

Fran was flexible and cheerful but firmly signaled retirement when her vision started to fail.

Now Luna shines—quiet in public and a lunatic at home.

All have been best friends, eyes, guides and companions on life’s journey.

Will there be a tenth cup?

So far sixty-six is starting out to be a wonderful age to be. I’ve got it all:

Health:

Both my guide dog and I are in reasonably good health. She has to have her teeth cleaned which means a day out of service. But I have the friends lined up to take us to and from the vet and my retired guide dog will be here the night Luna comes home to nurse her through the post-anesthesia jitters. Last time she had anesthetic she cried for six hours straight coming out of it, so they’re trying a different kind.

Work/volunteering:

This week I gave a guest lecture and hosted a breakfast for a guest speaker. I’m working on a couple upcoming speeches including researching the Daredevil comic with its blind male superhero. I baked cookies for the Friends of the Library book sale volunteers. I’m plugging away getting pictures and objects lined up for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act display at the university library. I helped lead a book discussion on All the Light We Cannot See. The members of the book club were receptive to my rant on how blindness really is as compared to how it’s pictured in Doerr’s novel.

Friendship:

I’m lucky to have many friends who celebrated my getting older with meals and gifts. The best gifts were their presences to catch up on what we’d been up to and laugh a lot. To spend time with friends is one of the best parts of retirement to me.

Spirituality:

I’m blessed to have a good church within walking distance, Christian and non-Christian friends tolerant of my views and an app to read me the daily Scripture readings. The time to read uplifting books like Ann LaMott’s Small Victories is also wonderful. This year I’m again going to try to read the Bible cover to cover. Last time I tried I got through five books and stalled out. Being 66 and trying to read the 66 books of the Bible seems auspicious, but time will tell.

Play:

Playing bridge and trivia crack keeps my mind sharp. Isn’t that a righteous excuse for having fun! Trying to encourage votes for Fran (my retired guide dog who is losing her vision) to be one of Wisconsin Lottery’s top dogs by using Facebook tested my social media skills. And then there are my spy thrillers and police procedurals. This week I started attending a four-session poetry class at the public library. I’m so glad to live where we have a good public library and in an era when many more books are available electronically so I can read them than when I was growing up.

Of course the world goes on with wars and crises and elections don’t always turn out as I’d like. But so far I recommend being over sixty-five highly! I may even aspire to hitting a hundred and seeing if I can be as astounding as ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’.

Tip to blog readers: If you’d like a funny blog on interactions between sighted and blind worlds, try “You’ve Got to Laugh Sometimes: ABAPITA Moments”: https://theoutlookfromhere.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/youve-got-to-laugh-sometimes-abapita-moments/>