I stood in the middle of the sidewalk and prayed I would not burst into tears. Sidewalks are for walking, but that was not what my guide dog and I were doing. Instead, we'd take a few very hesitant steps. He would stop, look back, and refuse to move forward. I coaxed him. i corrected him. I broke the golden rule of guide dog use and actually stepped out in front of him, hoping this would convince him to move. None of it mattered. He wasn't moving, and that was all.
My friend, who is now my partner, and her guide were up ahead. She knew Acelet and I were struggling, so she turned around.
"Do you want to go back?" she asked me.
"I'd like that, but who knows if he'll move." was my rather curt reply.
Somehow, we made it back to her house. I unharnessed my dog and began to sob. I was done. I simply couldn't handle any more of this dog and his stress and all the things he refused to do for me. I wanted a dog who wanted to work, who was a willing participant in the partnership. Obviously, Acelet was not that dog. I had to let him go.
I called the school, and had a tearful conversation with my instructor.
"Bring him back," she told me. "Working is too stressful for him. We'll find you a better match."
I heard this, and a part of my heart soared. If they found me a better match, I'd get the female dog I'd really wanted. My previous guides had been female, and bad experience taught me to be wary of large, male dogs. Granted, Acelet isn't very large. He doesn't even weigh sixty pounds, but, to me, he was large and male and scary.
As part of my heart soared, another part began to break. He wasn't very good at guiding, but his psychiatric assistance work was wonderful. He was a male, but he wasn't aggressive. He didn't growl at me, or try to bite other people or dogs. There was something about him I found myself loving, even as I hated all the ways this match wasn't working.
We made plans to find me another dog. I would keep Acelet with me until I returned to Long Island for training.
I cried that night. I cried for myself, and for this dog who had seemed like such a good match for me. His trainer had pushed hard for the match, working hard to help me overcome my fear of male dogs. I felt like I had failed, or he had failed, or someone had failed something.
As I cried, the lovely Kristeen's mind began to work. Her previous guide dog had developed the disgusting habit of eating his own fecal matter. Not only would he eat it, but he would strategically plan where he would leave it for easy eating. She solved this by having him wear a relieving belt, and she wondered if this might prove helpful for Acelet. True, he didn't eat his poop, but he was extremely concerned about pooping while he worked. This was the reason for all the stopping, all the looking back, and the refusal to move forward no matter what I did.
Are you wondering what a relieving belt is? It looks like a collar with two buttons on the top and a clip hanging down. You attach the handle of a plastic bag to the clip, fasten the belt around the dog's backside, and put the tail through the other handle of the bag. You then pull the second handle up, and hook it to the buttons that are now resting close to the dog's tail. When done correctly, the dog wears a plastic bag on his butt. The poop falls in. You take off the bag, and throw it away.
We had no way of knowing if this would help, but we figured there was no harm in trying. If it didn't work, things would continue on as planned, but, if the belt could be the answer, Acelet could keep working.
With great trepidation, I put the belt on for our first walk. He'd worn it around the house, and didn't seem to mind the rattling of the plastic bag, but would it be the same once we were outside working?
We walked out the door, and I gave him the forward command. Amazingly, he began to move confidently down the alley toward the street. He didn't hesitate. He didn't look back. He just kept walking like he'd worn the belt and bag all of his working life. I was amazed. My dog was working like a real guide dog. Was it a fluke?
It's been almost exactly a year since Acelet wore the bag for the first time, and I am pleased to report that it was no fluke. I can't tell you why, but I can tell you that the bag has made a world of difference. He still walks by my side, and he does it with confidence. We live near an incredibly busy road, and it doesn't phase him at all. What was once so stressful is now just another part of life, no big deal, certainly no reason to be stressed.
I'm not sure what people think when they see me walking down the street with my little black lab with a purple harness, and a plastic bag covering his butt. My family has laughed about it, and I imagine we get more than a few questioning looks as we zoom by, but I don't care. My dog works for me. He may not work the way most guide dogs do, but he keeps me safe, both physically and emotionally. I couldn't ask for anything more.
This is my entry for week 5 of
Thank you for reading, and, if you think I deserve it, remember me when the polls open tomorrow evening.