Archives for posts with tag: Seeing Eye

The day before I traveled to New Jersey in addition to retiring Luna and packing I needed to arrange and be at the euthanasia of my 13.5 year-old retired guide dog Fran. Her people weren’t sure she could or should wait until I get back to cross the Rainbow Bridge. After complaining to a friend about the unfairness of it all, I settled down and did what I needed to to be present for Fran and her retirement people. Fran was well loved and gave much love—a good soul.   A line in the Writer’s Almanac poem for that day “Earl” by Jenkins described what I needed to do to make it through the day:

“Well, how else are you to live except by denial, by some palatable fiction,
some little song to sing while the inevitable, the black
and white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling toward you
out of the deep?”

I pack taking three non-essential objects to ground me:  one of the NYPL lions (probably need Patience more than Fortitude), a black onyx crow and a cross.  Those and M and Ms should get me through.

Goals for the pilgrimage: bond with new dog; see God in the other people on the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage to Seeing Eye began in earnest with a kind neighbor dropping me and my suitcase off before daybreak at the Eau Claire airport.  I was picked up from the Newark airport by a staff member from the Seeing Eye and taken in a van with other pilgrims to the campus.

There were twenty students and five trainers who spent seventeen intense days together. Wake up was at 5:30, breakfast at seven, first walk with the new dog at nine, lunch at noon, second walk in the afternoon, supper at five and last potty break for the dogs at 8:30. Usually there were one or two lectures squeezed in each day on traffic, veterinary issues, handling the public and access issues, dog grooming, etc.  It was challenging for me to spend fifteen hours a day around chatty people and remain positive and kind.

After orientation to the main building, including single dorm rooms (complete with refrigerators and Alexa), a restaurant style dining room, administrative offices, a laundry, library with computers and an exercise room, instructors walked with each student to gauge their speed and strength to help match them with the right dog. I was matched with Calvin, a two and a half year-old black Lab.  From the beginning he was an excellent worker, calm, steady and smart.  I quickly felt at ease with his walking style and we became a fine team quickly.  The last week of training involved going places like grocery stores, a courthouse, on elevators, escalators, a bus, a train church and on a paved trail like I will encounter at home. Calvin took each in stride and even showed me the particular counter we’d gone to when we went back to the grocery store a few days later. The trainers worked hard to make the lessons fun as well as educational.  For example in the big grocery store we visited, I got to go to the juice bar and ordered a beverage of my choice. Just because of the name, I got a “drunken sailor” which was citrus juices mixed with beet juice. Interesting cultural experience but not necessarily one I’ll repeat.  For church I went to a nondenominational church with a gal who didn’t want to go alone.  I’d never been to a rock music church service with music loud enough to feel the drums through your feet—another cultural experience that Calvin was calm and silent through. He also ignored geese my instructor stirred up so I suspect he’ll do well with the ducks and geese that sometimes inhabit parts of the campus.

My fellow pilgrims were amazing folks ranging in age from twenty-something to another seventy year-old. They were authors, teachers, moms, a Paralympian and government workers.  There were a few cliques but in general people gave the training 110% effort and were supportive of each other.  One gal had to leave without the dog because of some medical issues, but when they are resolved a trainer will bring her dog to her and finish the training in her home town. The team of trainers, the waitresses and cleaning staff, the volunteers who served coffee at the lounge where we waited for our turns to go on walks, etc. were dedicated and caring individuals who gave fabulous customer service to each of us.  Amenities of a high class vacation combined with working like a dog to learn to form a partnership with a new Seeing Eye dog.

In addition to the training being physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, it also grew me spiritually.  Calvin had a bowel issue throughout training and I had to work on balancing trusting the experts that it was probably just stress and would resolve with time with advocating for my need to know more specifics and what to do if it doesn’t resolve.  Ultimately I have to trust God that it will work out as it is meant to and I need to take one day at a time.  My worries are balanced with gratitude for the wonderful people I met and the privilege of getting a tenth wonderful guide dog from the Seeing Eye.

Now that we’re home and settling Calvin in to his new home, I’m led to take things a little slower and accept the many kindnesses of friends stopping by with casseroles and offers of rides and training walks with me. I’ve changed my phone message to include Calvin and am letting it take messages when I need extra naps!  I’m enjoying snuggling with and getting to know the wonderful creature that is Calvin. I’m in love.


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!



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!

After seven and a half years of work, Luna is ready to retire.  She’s slowing down and having a bit more trouble getting in and out of vehicles. She has a wonderful home with a couple acres of fenced yard to play in and a retired couple with a black Lab for company lined up.

So I start the several month process of applying to Seeing Eye for retraining.

My medical form has been received by Seeing Eye and my walk with an instructor was just successfully completed. I walk a little slower than I did seven years ago, but nothing else has changed.   If this was a baseball game and getting Young and Foolish was a home run, I’d say I’m solidly on second base. But then I happened to notice what Urban Dictionary says “first base” means, “making out and second base is…”   trust me, this process is not like that!

It’s a huge loss to say farewell to such a sweet, smart, intuitive creature. I’ll see her after her retirement and she may come back and bunk here when her new people are traveling, but she won’t be with me all the time.  As so often happens, in my inbox this morning was the perfect message, a Henri Nouwen meditation on dealing with hurts.  In part he said:

“You have been wounded in many ways. The more you open yourself to being healed, the more you will discover how deep your wounds are. . . . The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your hurts to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you. Your heart is greater than your wounds.”

That’s the next step of the journey for me.  Luna is starting to send me ideas about getting blessed at IM church her last time there, etc. She’s so intuitive, I’m pretty sure she knows change is coming.  Last night she and Mack (a retired Leader Dog) were sprawled butt to butt on a friend’s long sofa, so Mack may well be her retirement coach. If all goes well, I could be in New Jersey in January. If they have snow, I’ll get to practice working in snow before we return to Wisconsin which I’ll guarantee will have snow.

Wish us luck and strength.

Kathie and Luna

The theme of the Inclusive Ministry church this month was the rainbow that God gave Noah after the flood as a sign to all of us that He is with us.  I started thinking about how I would explain the rainbow to one of our worshipers who is autistic and blind. I’ve never seen a rainbow myself and just dealt with it enough to know the colors in order and learn its shape so I don’t sound ignorant living in a sighted world. But as I thought more about it, it began to bother me: God gave this sign to sighted people, what did he give to us blind folks? The answers I’ve come up with so far are the feel of sunshine after a storm, soft breezes and the sound of a chorus of different birds all singing after the storm.

I was reminded of God’s generosity through the generosity of a friend that bore fruit this week.  When I turned seventy I got a big box of silly stuff from a friend including lots of raisins.  I re-gifted them to another friend who also turned seventy and was having knee replacement surgery. I suggested they’d help keep her regular and she reported back that indeed they worked! Only those of you who have been stopped up after surgery will truly know what a gift this was!

The gift from God that Luna’s presence in my life has been over the last seven years is coming to an end.  She’s having more trouble jumping in and out of cars and her work is uncertain some of the time. She’s nine and a half, so about retirement age. I’ve completed application forms, including a tuberculosis test and medical forms. I’ve found a fine potential home for her with a huge fenced yard and another Lab for company. Now I’m in line for a Seeing Eye instructor to visit and walk around with me to determine my needs. Somehow I’m guessing I’ll get invited to school in the January class.  Many people don’t consider New Jersey in January to be their top choice, but I’ll go with it because at least we’ll practice walking in the snow before returning to Wisconsin in the winter.  I’ve retired and retrained with New Dog many times, but it doesn’t get any easier.  Even though I’ll be able to visit Luna, I’ll miss her constant intuitive, intelligent and teasing presence.  I’ve talked to the pastor of the IM services and she will get a send off in one of those services as befits one of God’s beloved creatures.