This week’s post comes from Alysa Chadow. Alysa Chadow was born and raised in New York, and has taught the blind and visually impaired at all grade levels in both New York and California. This tale about Alysa’s first guide dog is just one of the stories she has been writing since her retiring from the California School for the Blind in 2017, where she spent 18 years as a classroom teacher. In addition to her background in Special Education, she has taught Anthropology and English. She lives with her third guide dog Carmel, a black lab-Golden Retriever mix, and her partner Brian, a retired Civil Engineer.
Sometimes, fitting in can be a real challenge.
I’ve been visually impaired since 16, when a brain tumor damaged my optic nerve. I can see some from my right eye, and none from my left. I used a cane for years, and received both good and bad attention. I decided that having a guide dog would help me blend in. I hoped that the $30,000 spent breeding, raising, and training a dog would do that.
In 1998 I received Patsy, a Yellow Labrador Retriever. She was an excellent guide dog who took me anywhere I needed to go and stayed focused while doing that, except for the times she shoplifted.
First, there was the candy rack caper at my local drug store. Guide dogs are trained to walk on their handler’s left side. I have no vision on my left side. Of course, the candy rack was on my left side. Patsy darted for it, and I gave her a strong leash correction. I made my purchase, praised her, and made ready to leave the store. That was when I noticed a large Nestle’s Crunch bar sticking out of her mouth. I snatched it from her, tossed it onto a nearby check-out stand, and fled as fast as our six feet could carry us.
The local bakery had baskets with bread in them, the lowest level with Patsy’s head. Often, I had to pull her away from the basket while shopping. I got pretty good at it, too. One day after leaving the bakery, I decided to tell Patsy what a good girl she’d been. She looked at me, tail wagging, a huge Kaiser roll protruding from her mouth. People walking past must have seen the roll. I wanted the sidewalk to open up and swallow me, but all I could do was grab that cursed Kaiser roll and throw it at a tree. That was her first bakery heist.
In the second, we were in the grocery store when I busted her. I caught her when I squatted to reach my favorite tea. Imagine the stock clerk’s surprise when finding a soggy Kaiser roll among the boxes of Oolong and Earl Gray.
Suddenly her shoplifting spree stopped. Patsy’s criminal career was over, and we went about our business blissfully blending in. Life was beautiful!
One day, while walking home, Patsy lunged to the left, my blind side. I gave her a strong leash correction, then moved on, satisfied that I had done my job controlling my girl. People passed us, broad smiles on their faces. No doubt they were marveling at what a great dog Patsy was. Now that was the kind of attention I could live with.
We passed someone with a dog. Typically, Patsy would leap at it like a giant salmon. She didn’t. What a good dog!
At a street crossing, a young man on a bicycle pulled up beside us. I could tell he was friendly, and about to complement me on my dog. I could hardly wait!
“Excuse me Miss. Do you know your dog has a piece of pizza in her mouth?”
I stared at Patsy, who looked at me, a huge slice of cheese pizza dangling from her jaws.
That was why she lunged. That was why people smiled. That was why she ignored the dog. Thirty thousand dollars’ worth of training undone by a $3 slice of pizza.
“Patsy!” I said, trying to keep murderous thoughts at bay. “Give me that!” and snatched it from the mouth of my highly trained dog.
“I’ll throw that away for you, Miss.”
“Thank you.” Just the kind of attention I wanted.
We walked the last blocks home without incident…thank God. It was time for Patsy’s dinner, and feeding her took my mind off that stinking slice of pizza.
It was my routine to groom Patsy after her dinner. “Patsy, sit.” She obeyed, and then half closed her dark brown eyes as I ran a brush through her thick yellow coat. Suddenly, something occurred to me. Yes, Patsy snagged a piece of pizza. Yes, she attracted unwanted attention. Yes, she made me feel different.
But mostly, she guided me perfectly across streets, on and off buses, in and out of stores. She made me feel like anyone else. She made me feel in control. She made me feel safe. The value of that was a small price to pay for being a patsy.