Tomorrow, august 20, is the 41st anniversary of when I got my first dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Wow, so much has changed! Not the least of which is me. I was seventeen, just out of high school, young, innocent, yet wiser than my years due to life’s experiences up till then. Getting my first dog was the fulfillment of a ten-year dream. It was also my first tentative steps from girl into woman.
GDB has changed so much since those days. Those who’ve been to class since the eighties and beyond, would hardly recognize the GDB I first knew. And those who have gotten their dogs in the last decade or so, might be inclined to think it was a different school altogether, or maybe a different planet!
I kept a journal in braille that first class. I lived close enough that my dad drove me up there, so I brought a Perkins brailer and a binder full of paper. I wrote that journal every night. I still have the original journal and the original binder, though it’s practically falling apart! Going to GDB was about so much more than just getting a dog, and I show that in my journal.
Anyway, for fun, I thought I’d share the first few days. This post has Sunday through Tuesday. Saving dog day for tomorrow. I’m leaving it as written. Grammar not always so great, lovely wonderful 1975 slang, far out, and comments about everything. So often this type of journal is just about getting the dog. I write that sort of journal now. But this first time, it was my first trip away from home. I was dreadfully shy, to the point that I hardly talked to anyone all through high school. At GDB I took my first tentative chances at reaching out, at overcoming the shyness, at making friends outside my comfort zone. I fell in what I thought was love. (and no, not someone on my radar at all in the first three days.) I’m not that naïve idealistic starry-eyed girl anymore, but somewhere inside me, she exists on some level. I recognize me, as I read about her. So, I’m leaving in thoughts on my instructors and classmates. I’ve edited their names, the classmates that is, but I thought the things I wrote, sometimes changing my opinion from one day to the next. One thing is for sure, when I left GDB, I brought home a new dog, but I also brought home a new sherry.
And just for the sake of all the differences from then to now, enjoy!
First guide dog training, August 1975.
August 17, 1975
Dad woke me up about nine this morning. I slept good, though I’d expected my nervousness to keep me awake. I guess I mean excitement, not nervousness.
I was running around like crazy, trying to remember all the last minute stuff. Stuff like toothbrush and deodorant. Little things. I also wanted to move my cassettes from the outside pocket of my tote-bag to the inside.
Well, everything did get done, and when Grandma and Grandpa I came we took off. The drive went quicker than I had thought it would. Before I knew it, we were in Oakland and then we were here. It went quick because Suzy and I sang old camp songs till we reached the San Rafael Bridge.
Dad didn’t have any trouble at all finding the place. He and Diana went in first and then Mr. Jenkins came out. He took me into the loading lounge and the rest of the gang followed. My room wasn’t ready so we went out to look at the kennels. The first things we saw were some golden retriever puppies that Suzy and Diana went hog-wild over. All through the kennels those two were oooing and aaahing like a couple of idiots. It was fun though. They said they thought a golden or a yellow lab would fit my personality. We’ll see how right they are.
We came back to the dorm and the kids had an orange while Dad went to look at the pool. Orange soda that is. Then Mr. Jenkins said it was lunchtime, and my family said goodbye and I went to the dining room.
Lunch was good—fried chicken and green salad. Two of my classmates ate with me—Mr. Matthews from Canada, and Mr. Wakefield, both older men. Mr. Jenkins ate with us too. Mr. Jenkins loves cherry pie.
We went back to the loading lounge and all sat around and talked. Mr. Jenkins likes to tease—me, at least. He was saying I had five suitcases and had to order a rental truck. Then he said they had started training Chihuahuas this class and that I was getting one, Peanuts. I told him that Kitty would eat it.
Finally, my room was ready and I came down here and unpacked. The rooms are neat but I’ll explain it later. I worked on a tape to barb and Bunny and worked on this part of the journal. I’ll finish later.
My roommate just arrived. She’s super, so far. Her name is Michele and she’s from Texas. She has a gorgeous accent. She’s a diabetic. I don’t know her age, but I think she’s pretty young. I like her. We had a nice talk before dinner.
Barbara called me. She said she’d talked to Diana and she just had to call. It was good to hear from her. I heard the phone ring, and then Mr. Ainsworth knocked on my door and said it was for me. “For me?” I asked, shocked. “Yeah,” he said.
For dinner we had tomato soup and ham sandwiches. I hate ham, but I had two bowls of soup and some butter pecan ice cream, and iced tea. Mr. Jenkins sat at our table again. I told him that no one had brought peanuts in.
The people at my table were Dan B from Utah, Anne L from southern California and Jeff something, (I can’t spell his last name, but it’s something weird.), also from southern California. Mr. Jenkins kept teasing everyone, saying he was charging for the meal. Mr. Ainsworth is great too.
After dinner I didn’t do too much for a while. I tried the coke machine three times but it didn’t work. I thought maybe I had the wrong slot for the money. I decided to ask Mr. Jenkins or Mr. Ainsworth later.
I heard Mr. Jenkins passing by my room, so I asked him to show me where the library was. The library is far out! It has four shelves of books on each side of the door. I looked through them all. There are a lot of good ones. I chose Steve and the Guide dogs to start with. It’s in four volumes.
I came back here to my room and started to read. When Michele came in I quit reading and started talking. Then Mr. Ainsworth came in and told us it was time for lecture.
The lecture was an introduction to the school, the rules and the schedule. I found out that Mr. Underwood will be our supervisor. That’s cool. I liked him when he did my interview last year.
After lecture, I asked Mr. Jenkins about the coke machine. He said they’d fixed it and had collected the three dollars I owed him. What a nut! I got an orange soda and came back here. I finished taping to barb and listened to the Beachboys. I think I’ll take a shower and then tape to the family. That’s all for tonight.
August 18, 1975
This morning I woke up about two hours before time to get up. For breakfast, I had cream of wheat, sausage and toast. With coffee and orange juice for my pills. It was all good.
We had our morning lecture at 8—describing obedience. Then we got our leashes and fetch blocks. Mr. Ainsworth showed us how to do short-leash and long-leash. I was glad I already knew that stuff from barb and Bunny.
Then we got to try our hand at doing obedience with Juno. Mr. Ainsworth was my Juno. I think I did pretty good although I was nervous.
We also met Mr. Underwood and Miss Sullivan today. In a few minutes we’re going outside for walking exercise.
I just got back from walking exercise. We were divided into three groups of four each. One instructor took each group. Mr. Underwood took ours. I was with art, Anne and Jeff.
We walked to the road and turned around to come back, about twenty feet. Then we each had to walk in a straight line from Mr. Ainsworth to Mr. Jenkins and back again. Mr. Jenkins said I couldn’t have gone any straighter.
After that, we came back to the loading lounge for more practice with the leashes and fetch blocks.
We practiced obedience twice after the walking exercise. The first time I worked with Juno Jenkins. The only mistake I made was to say “Juno” before the command “stay”. The second time was with Mr. Underwood and I did it perfectly. So that makes three times so far, once with each instructor. Between the two obediences, we got our harnesses, or, the ones we’ll be practicing with till Wednesday.
Oh God, I just can’t wait till Wednesday!
For the afternoon workout, we all took our harnesses and leashes and went into downtown San Rafael. We waited for our turns in the downtown lounge. It’s different than the loading lounge. A narrow room with padded chairs along each wall and a bathroom. Plus fruit and things for the diabetics and a water fountain.
I went out with Mr. Jenkins. He first showed me how to hold the harness and leash together. We’d already learned the commands and hand signals back here at the school. Jenkins was a pretty good Juno. A couple of times he pulled a smart one and stopped for nothing. Usually though, he was a good dog. But I can’t wait to have a real dog in that harness. I don’t remember the route but I liked it. Mr. Jenkins went at a good pace, not too fast, but fast to me. If my dog goes like that I won’t have too much trouble.
Oh! I can’t wait!
It’s now before dinner. We just had another obedience practice. Mr. Jenkins was a super naughty Juno. I worked with Juno Underwood and he was naughty once. When I gave the fetch command, he fetched ok, but when he was going around me to sit at my left side, he just kept going. I had to give the come command again, taking in the slack of the leash quickly. He was a good boy after that.
For lunch we had something called Joe’s special, hamburger spinach and mushrooms, with fries and iced tea. For dinner we had roast beef, mashed potatoes and peas, with peach pie or jello for dessert. I had the pie.
After dinner, I did more taping to catch people up on the day’s activities. Then I read more of the book. Michele came back and we talked for a while. Art came along to ask if I’d brought my dymo tape braille labeler. He wanted to see it. I promised to ask the parents to bring it Sunday.
Michele, Art and I talked about his three previous guides, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, a black lab and a golden.
Then Gary came in to see Michele. I’m not sure but I think those two like each other. Michele said yesterday, that she didn’t want a blind boyfriend, but I’m beginning to wonder about that. Both times he’s been in here today, it sounded like they were kissing. Who knows?
Mr. Jenkins came along and told us to go to the loading lounge for another lecture. The lecture was about the three breed of dogs trained here. After that, we had another obedience practice. Mr. Ainsworth was the only instructor playing Juno. I think Mr. Underwood had already gone home, and Mr. Jenkins just sat and watched. Mr. Ainsworth said that any time a student did something wrong—forgetting the hand motions, voice inflection or praise, or if we said the name with the stay command—Juno would not respond. It was a blast! Michele said later that I had good voice inflection, especially when praising my dog.
Afterward, some of us sat and rapped with Ainsworth about dogs. It was so interesting. I went back to the room with Michele and worked on more tapes, after getting an orange soda. Gary came in and he and Michele went off to the music room.
We were assigned our official tables in the dining room today at lunch. I sit with Marvin, Gary and Kevin. I hate to say it, but I’m not too keen on Gary. He’s like the jerks my brother hangs around with and he thinks he’s tough stuff. My favorites in the class so far are Art Dan and Michele.
Enough for tonight. I have to wash my hair and work on my family’s tape. More tomorrow.
August 19, 1975
Today didn’t start off to well. I bumped my head twice and flubbed up in obedience. My right ankle is swollen too.
We were doing leash correction in obedience this morning. I’ve got to build up strength in my right arm. I just don’t jerk hard enough. Juno Underwood was inexcusably naughty this morning. We’ll be going downtown again soon. Maybe I’ll do better with the Harness. I can’t even braille right!
I did do better with the Harness! I had Juno Underwood. We did all right turns. Well, of course we walked straight down streets and crossed at corners. The only mistake I made was when we were coming back to the lounge. The lounge was on my right. We would go all the way to the corner, then turn around and backtrack a few steps. Then I’d give the command, left inside. Well, I guess I wasn’t paying attention, because I didn’t realize Juno had stopped. I just kept truckin along and stepped right off the curb. We laughed. Juno asked me where I was going, and I said I don’t know. The rest was easy after that. It was funny though.
Back at the school, we had another obedience practice. I had been practicing leash corrections with Dan, when the instructors came in. I jerked so hard on the leash that it flew out of Dan’s hand and fell on the floor. Mr. Jenkins teased me by saying I threw it at him. So, he started with me. And he was a brat, of course.
In the afternoon, we had obedience again. As Mr. Ainsworth led me into the hall, he started quoting the pome that begins with “come into my parlor said the spider to the fly.” He told me I should try to find that poem and recite it to him. He played even more tricks than Jenkins had played. Once he wouldn’t sit, and I had trouble with him on fetch too. But it was a blast.
Then it was time to grab our harnesses and hop on the busses, off to the downtown lounge. I was one of the last one to go out. I went with Mr. Jenkins. We were learning leash corrections in harness. Juno liked to sniff and I had to correct him three times. We also met a cute German shepherd pet dog on the route. When we got back to the bus, Jenkins said I’d done real good and the walk had been nice.
Since yesterday, I’ve talked more to Gary, and now I understand him and like him. Not saying I agree or believe all the things he says, but I like him. He’s crazy! He likes to joke around about eating exotic things, like rattlesnake meat. Yuck.
On the walk today, Mr. Jenkins asked me about my dog preferences. I told him I’d let them decide, since I couldn’t get a German shepherd. He told me Peanuts would be happy to hear it, and I said No way!!!
Oh man, tomorrow we get our dogs! I can’t wait!
By the way, Mr. Bensler sat at our table for lunch today. We had (or I had) two grilled cheese sandwiches and a chocolate roll for dessert. Dinner was okay, pork chops, rice and zucchini. I didn’t eat much, but I did have raspberry sherbet for dessert.
I finished reading Steve and the Guide dogs after dinner. I liked that book a lot, all about a teenage boy raising guide dog puppies. I took it back to the library and then got Mystery of the Pharaoh’s treasure. I also got a copy of the June Guide dog News.
Our lecture tonight was about equipment for our dogs. Tomorrow! Oh God, tomorrow! I can’t wait!
I really like all my classmates. They are all such good people. Anne is the quietest. Hazel is funny. She gives Juno as bad a time as he gives her. Art reminds me of what little I remember of Grandpa Gomes. He kind and comforting but he has a great sense of humor too. I don’t know marshal, chuck or Marvin very well. And Gary is still as crazy as it’s possible to be. He’s going to kill his liver if he really drinks as much as he says he does when he’s at home, but that’s his business. Jeff and Kevin are pretty quiet, though Jeff is quite nervous during workouts. That’s natural.
Michele is great. She’s 25. She’s really different from me, and I feel young and innocent around her sometimes. But I love her. She’s a good friend already.
Dan is my very best person in class. We seem to just understand each other perfectly. I hope that after we graduate, he will let me write to him and his wife Doreen and maybe visit them someday.
After our lecture about equipment. The instructors told us to go do what we want. They will be calling us, one by one, into their room to talk to us about our training so far. While I was waiting, I went into the music room where Dan had some country music on the stereo. We talked and looked through all the records, until Michele called me to go to the instructors’ room.
The instructors were very nice in that meeting. Jenkins asked me if I’d be going right home after graduation. He said the dog they had in mind for me was a “happy little dog” and they referred to it as she. Mr. Ainsworth was a big tease and told me I was very hard to work with and was a spoiled brat. Jenkins said that I am a very understanding person, that I do everything they tell me to do, and that I have good retention of the material. That all made me feel so happy inside. And those clowns kept joking around about Peanuts!
I went back to the music room and talked to everyone there. I danced around and played the Maracas. Then I went back to my room. I’m starved. I must have danced off all my dinner. Think I’ll get a soda and work on tapes.
I feel so sorry for Dan. He’s so lonely for Doreen. He can’t call her very often because he has to charge it to his in-laws’ phone. I feel so lucky that my family is only an hour and a half away, and that I have spending money. I wish I could help Dan and Doreen.
I get my dog tomorrow! Oh damn! I can’t stand the wait! Maybe my stomach will calm down after I get the dog.