Great news! On Monday, yes this coming Monday, I will begin training with a new guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, GEB. I have been without a dog for a year and a half. I’ve never been so long without a dog since I got my first in 1975 at age 17. I’m so excited! I won’t give details until my trainer says it’s okay, but the dog has been living with me since Monday, so we can begin to bond. She is adorable, an absolute darling, and I am already head over heels totally in love! Follow the journey here if you’re interested!
FORTY YEARS AGO
On august 17, 1975, I took my first steps to true independence, my first steps to a new life. I walked into the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I was never the same again.
I was young and innocent, just out of high school, two months from my eighteenth birthday. I’d never been away from home more than an overnight at a friend’s house, and there I was planning to be away for a whole month. I was shy. I was nervous, but oh was I ever excited. This was my dream, had been my dream for ten years. I was finally there, finally getting my first guide dog after waiting so very long.
When I was seven, I read a book about a guide dog. I didn’t understand mobility for blind people then, but I did understand that there were dogs just for blind people. I vowed right then and there that someday I would get one of those guide dogs, no matter how long it took. I loved dogs, and I wanted my own dog. Dad had hunting dogs, but they weren’t my dogs, and I so wanted my own. I wanted a dog that would sleep by my bed, cuddle with me, share my life, be my companion. When I got old enough to understand about mobility,then I wanted a dog for all those other reasons, but also for excellent and safe mobility.
Over the next ten years, I had to fight a lot of battles to achieve my dream, but then, should a dream be an easy conquest. Shouldn’t we have to work for it a bit? During high school, a person in authority, tried all he could to talk first me out of getting a dog, and when that didn’t work, tried talking my parents out of letting me get a dog. Just before high school graduation I broke my leg and had to put off training. I did everything the doctors said to get my strength back after the break. Nothing was going to keep me from getting my dog.
Finally I was there, settled in my room. Long before the era of computers and cell phones, I had my Perkins brailler, a binder full of blank paper, about a hundred cassettes with all my favorite music, taped off the radio of course. I had a ton of cute clothes and comfortable shoes. I was ready, so ready to meet my dog. I was nervous about the other students. I was one of sixteen students in that class, and my shyness threatened to choke me that first day. But it would be worth it all in three days when I would finally meet my dog!
I did get over the shyness, and I made friends. I fell in love with my dog, and I fell in love with a boy. Neither the boy nor the dog were part of my life forever, but the dog set me on a new path of freedom, first of seven, and special for being the first. I learned many things, not all related to interacting with and caring for a dog.
Was it all worth it? The ups and downs, the hard lessons and the good lessons? Today, as I look back forty years, and as I no longer feel that young innocent girl inside me, yeah, I know without a doubt, yes, it was worth every bit of it!
BIANCA’S LAST DAY
When I wrote about Bianca’s passing, I said I’d come back and write about her last day. Honestly, it hurt too much for a long time to think about it. But tonight, something reminded me of her, bringing tears to my eyes. I realized I wanted, needed to write about her. I can’t easily talk about the loss of those I love, but I can write.
What triggered it tonight? A simple silly thing. Watching the video of Jersey Boys. I sang so many songs to Bianca, usually based on her nickname, Beanie Baby or just Beanie. Several years ago, when I lived in San Rafael, I went to see the musical Jersey Boys in San Francisco. I loved it, totally blown away by it. The next day, I was listening to the sound track. Bianca came up to me, just as the song sherry Baby began. I’d grown up hating that damn song, due to people singing it at me in school to tease me. But you know it says,
Sherh eh eh eh eh reee yee bay yay bee. And so on.
Sorry screen reader users, I can’t get it to read that the way Frankie Valli sings it.
But anyway, I had my hand on Bianca’s head, and I started singing it,
Bee ee e e e e nee bay yay bee, beanie baby, Bee e nee, girl you guide me so right, guide guide, guide me so right.
I went on with words like, you’d better ask your trainer. Or why don’t we go out, with your harness on, moving slow and steady, I’m so glad you’re my I ine. And so on.
So, forever after, it became one of the many Beanie Baby songs.
I must hear that in my oldies play list many times, but tonight, listening to the actors singing it on the DVD, remembering how she loved me singing her little songs to her, how she’d wag and wiggle, it just made me cry. I miss her a lot.
The other day, I had something on a paper towel on my desk, and again on the table near my chair here in the living room. Suddenly, it struck me that I need not worry about things like paper towels anymore. Beanie would have grabbed an unattended paper towel, pulling it and everything on it, onto the floor, where she could devour and shred to her little heart’s content. Yes, it’s a relief not to have to dog proof to that degree. Petunia wouldn’t think of grabbing something on a table, of course. But at the same time, it was a little tiny bit sad to know I don’t have to worry about all that anymore.
All this to explain, why tonight, of all times, I wanted to finish the story about Bianca’s last day.
There’s not too much to say really. I took the day off work, and I sent Petunia over to my friends home for part of the day. I made it a fairly normal day for Bianca. Okay, I did feed her twice the normal amount of food she got at meals, actually did that every day since I knew she would be leaving me forever. I also cuddled her a lot, sitting by her and petting her and talking to her about all our adventures, about how much I loved her and how I thanked God every day for the joy and love she brought into my life.
When Joylene came to pick us up to go to the vet, at my request, she brought a bacon cheese burger. Remember, Bianca was a guide dog, then a retired guide dog living with another working dog. She’d never been allowed suche food. That’s not to say Miss Mischief hadn’t snuck a few things over the years. But she’d never been cheerfully given a forbidden burger. I tore it into a few pieces and put it in her bowl. She inhaled that thing! It was gone in about thirty seconds. And she was one heck of a happy dog.
Later, at the vet, just before Dr. Natalie came to begin the process of sending Bianca on to her next great adventure, I gave Beanie the last treat, something she’d discovered to my great horror a few years before, and something she had tried hard to experience again over the years. I pulled a chocolate bar out of my purse and proceeded to feed it to her from my hand. The last thing I could give her.
And the rest, I believe I’ve talked about in another post. I did all I could to make Bianca’s last day something special, giving her time, attention and treats. I miss her, but her antics live on in my heart.
I’m planning to write a book about her, a funny book. Not your typical inspirational guide dog book, but a book about the good he bad, the funny and not so funny parts of living with a dog like Bianca. In fact, I’ve already started it. It will be my final tribute and thank you to a beloved companion. So missed, and never forgotten.