The Dog Days of School

Hey readers, it’s Gilbert here! Have you noticed that my mom titled this journal “Gilbert and Me”, but lately all her entries have been all about her, with hardly a mention of me? Well, Mom apologized, admitting that she gets so passionate about some things she gets carried away and doesn’t think about me. So to make up for it, she is letting me write an entry about my thoughts and feelings on life, and she won’t even screen my entry, so I can say whatever I want! Don’t worry. I won’t write a long boring rambling entry like Mom does because I want to get back to sleep as soon as possible, but this is such an exciting opportunity she gave me that I had to take her up on it. So as long as my mom has been on a tangent about how crazy this school year was, especially second semester, I have to say that as stressful as it was for her, she forgot to mention that it was kind of stressful for me too.

I know what you readers are probably thinking. “Quit complaining! Once you get Mom to class, your work is done, and you get to sleep and often get pets from other students.” Alright, I’ll admit this is true. But getting her to class was pretty stressful because unlike every other semester where there is some resemblance of a routine, it seemed like every day was different. One day, we would start at Rankin Hall, and after class there, I would think I was being such a good boy taking her to the campus center so she could study like she did yesterday, only to be reprimanded and directed to Lowry Hall or Main Hall or any number of places. I guess she did have a routine with one set of places on Mondays and Thursdays, another for Tuesdays and another for Fridays. But I wasn’t trained on the days of the week, so how was I supposed to know where she was going when? After a while, I would just take her down the steps of Rankin and wait for her to give me directions. The silver lining of it was that it forced my geographically challenged, incompetent mom to know her darn campus better. I mean we’ve been traveling this campus two years now. It’s about time she did what the trainer said and directed me instead of relying on me to lead the way! But I still felt guilty because my breed is so eager to please, and I so desperately wanted to please, but didn’t know what she wanted.

And then, if she was especially swamped with homework, boy was she cranky! I am a social butterfly, so I will occasionally do naughty things like steer Mom toward the dining room when I know it is not mealtime yet, or stop and say hello to a person who has pet me in the past, or even a stranger who has another dog’s scent on them. Usually, she will make an irritated sigh, give me a gentle correction, and firmly but calmly, and with a smile say no. But this semester, I have really learned to be careful when I push her buttons, because if she is stressed, her corrections are still gentle because she is wimpy and would never want to hurt me no matter how stressed she is, but instead of retaining her calm smiling demeanor, her face gets all scrunched up and I can sense that it is all she can do to restrain herself from screaming at me. But I know she loves me, and when we get home, she always takes a moment to rub my belly and talk sweetly to me, apologizing for her irritation with me.

I felt bad for all of the homework Mom had to do. It must have been a lot since she would turn off the television and put me to bed at 1:30 on many nights and wake me up at 6:30. I didn’t feel the effects of this sleep deprivation of course since I can pretty much sleep all day, but I think I would die with only five hours of sleep a day! Boy am I glad I’m not a human in that regard! Human food is so much more delicious smelling than my food, but I’ll save that lament for another day. But another positive to my not being human is that since I didn’t have any homework to do after school like Mom did, I was in a better position to appreciate the many fun times we had last semester, like when we went to a creek to collect bugs for a science lab, and I actually got to walk through thick mud that came up to my chest, in harness! Well, my mom didn’t find that as fun as I did because she almost lost her balance a couple times and had to have two students on either side of her to hold her up and clear branches and stuff out of the way. But we both enjoyed spending a weekend with a former teacher of hers who has a house on a lake. She enjoyed catching up with this teacher and another blind friend who was also invited, but I enjoyed hanging out with eleven others of my own kind! Well, at first my mom wasn’t sure if this would be fun either because she knows how wild and excited I can get around my own kind, since I am an only child at home. She even busted out the pinch collar which she hadn’t made me wear since training, and held on to my leash so tight the first few hours that if she had held it any tighter, I would have had to yelp “You’re choking me!” But after awhile, when she sensed I was calming down, she eased up, and we all had a blast. Actually, I was only allowed to play with two of the dogs because the other dogs were tiny maltese dogs, poodles and miniature rat terriers, and the teacher and Mom feared that I wouldn’t know my own size around these dogs and would inadvertently kill or injure them. They say I’m so sweet and mellow, yet they still don’t trust me. You humans have such little faith in us, I tell you! (sigh) But I had a blast with the two friends I was allowed to play with. One was a german shepherd, the guide dog of my mom’s friend, and the other was a puppy in training to be a guide dog. They called him Geyser, and he looked like me only he was black instead of yellow. I can only play with him for small amounts of time at once because he exhausts me since he is young and wild, and hasn’t learned how to act professionally yet. I thought about cuddling up to Mom and saying “I’m getting too old for this!” But it was fun to let off some steam with my own kind, and relive memories of when I was a puppy, though I’m sure I was never that wild and mischievous when I was a puppy (smile).

Those were the big highlights of my semester, but I also found little moments to have fun while my mom was absorbed in homework. Sometimes if the weather was nice and it wasn’t too muddy, Mom would agree to let Grandpa take me out to our two acre yard and let me chase a ball and lie in soft grass for a few minutes. And since the weather warmed up a lot earlier this year than last year, even my mom would pull herself away from homework, and Grandma and Grandpa would accompany us for wonderful peaceful walks on our country road. Now that it is so hot and humid outside, my tail goes between my legs when I sense we are about to go for a walk, but back in the school year, it was warm enough to walk, but still relatively cool outside so we could return from a two mile walk feeling exercised but refreshed, not like now when Mom is dripping in sweat and I am panting a mile a minute. And, since half the purpose of the walks during school was to relax and refresh, she wasn’t overly concerned with going fast and she would let me slow down and sniff the flowers sometimes since she likes to do that herself when she is stressed. When the weather wasn’t very nice, I had some good times indoors too, like standing at attention while Grandpa was cooking meat on the stove in case he needed help cleaning up anything that splattered on to the floor, or looking out the window and barking and wagging my tail at dogs walking down the street.

This semester, I also got on more friendly terms with my sister Snickers, the cat. Did I mention that I was the only child earlier in this entry? Well, that was because at first, I didn’t think the cat should count as a sister because the rules of my dog culture say that we are supposed to be enemies, and that dogs are way cooler than cats! But I was taught as a puppy that I must be nice to them, so I am gentle around her, even though I cannot stand it when she sits in Mom’s lap and Mom talks all sweet to her instead of me! If I am really feeling jealous, I will come up to Mom and stick my nose under her chin, my way of saying, “She is my mommy! Beat it, cat!” With that, she will meow like such a baby you would think I bit her, and then run off. Mom tries to tell me no, but deep inside, I know she thinks this vice of mine is cute because she will sigh, but then reach down and pet me. Yet despite these fights over Mom, we had a lot of fun playing together. She loved to come right up to me and instigate a wild chase all over the house, and we both discovered common ground in the pleasure of standing at the window barking and meowing at animals. And, despite the fact that she is less than one sixth my size, she actually had the nerve on several occasions to sit in my cage if I was lying on the floor outside of it, and just stare at me. Grandma and Grandpa especially found this hilarious, and when they described it to Mom, they said it was like the cat was taunting me saying “Ha! Look at me! I’m in your room! What are you going to do about it?” I pretty much ignored her because I am not going to give that bully of a sister the attention she wants, and there is nothing valuable kept in my cage like food or anything. But I admit it was pretty funny. However, the big thing that proved the cat kind of liked me for a brother despite her bad experiences when her cousin Mojo used to visit was when Mom and I would be chilling out in her room with the door closed, and she would scratch at the door asking to come in too! Isn’t that sweet?

But actually, my favorite times at home were the times when I could just fall asleep on the floor leaning against the couch, so I looked almost like a human asleep in front of the television without a care in the world. Most importantly though, my mom tells me that last semester, I was more than just her guide dog. I was an unofficial therapy dog who kept her going when times were tough, and brought joy to the lives of all students, faculty and even people in the general public that we came in to contact with. I want to tell her that I almost enjoy this unofficial part of my job description even more than my official job of guide dog because I had to be trained for my guide dog duties, but I am just so cute and sweet that being a therapy dog comes naturally to me. So if Mom was sitting in class feeling blue about all the homework that awaited her when class ended, she would reach down beside my chair and pet the top of my head or scratch behind my ears, and even if I was in a deep sleep, I would always lift my head and look at her with loving eyes my best effort to say “No matter how stressful life gets, I am here for you and love you.” If she is feeling this way in the car on the way to school, I can sense it, and will stretch to rest my nose in her lap because my mom is so carefree she doesn’t mind if I leave a slobbery spot on her pants. And if she is really feeling down, I have become an expert in using well timed mischief for medicine. If a politics lecture is especially boring, and Mom is staring at the clock on the braille display of her computer, I loved to let out a huge sigh or groan, or better yet, snore so loud that Mom’s friends tell her they thought it was a chain saw outside until they looked over and realized it was me. Mom would wake me up and pretend to reprimand me so that she wouldn’t get a bad reputation for having a disruptive dog, but I saw that smile in the corner of her mouth, and the whole class, including the professor couldn’t help laughing! If my mom had groaned or snored in class, she might have gotten in trouble, but since humans think us dogs cannot help it or don’t realize the rude implications of such noises, I can tell the professor what I think without getting in trouble.

But Mom’s favorite mischief story that she still laughs about when she pets me was a day in Environmental Science when I let on to the class that I know more english than they thought I did. It was an especially boring day in that class where the teacher was rambling on about global climate change, and to make it even worse, speaking of climate, it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, way too gorgeous for man or beast to be sitting in a stuffy classroom. What a perfect day for some mischief! But snoring and sighing was getting kind of old. I was at a loss for mischievous ideas at first, but then the perfect opportunity presented itself. After watching a short and very boring video with a teacher demonstrating how the locations of animals could shift as climate gets warmer, the professor elaborated by explaining how jaguars, who live in more southern climates could shift to northern climates where people are not accustomed to seeing them. I was just about to tune out the rest of this lecture and go to sleep, but then the professor mentioned that if jaguars are more commonplace where people are living, you could have new problems like jaguars eating dogs! What? Oh no! I didn’t know my kind was at risk of being eaten! I’m supposed to eat, not be eaten! I knew I had no real reason to worry because my mom loves me and would keep any jaguar monsters away from me. But since I am never one to pass up an opportunity for mischief, upon hearing this news, my head jerked up and I let out a mournful groan that set the whole class laughing. I let the teacher finish the class without any more mischief, but it was not as boring because the whole class was smiling at me, and after class, I was showered with pets and a whole bunch of students, Mom and the teacher assured me they would protect me from those jaguars. And actually, this mischief that put the whole class in a happy mood may have contributed to the teacher dismissing class half an hour early so we could spend more time outside, a rare special occasion that I celebrated with even more mischief.

After class, Mom and I went with one of her friends to sit under a tree and chat for awhile until our next class. Since we were outdoors, Mom decided to treat me to a few minutes out of harness so I could sprawl out, get higher quality belly rubs and soak up the sun. Usually, I stand still and patient until Mom has fully unbuckled the harness and lifted it from my back. But that day, I was so excited to be out of harness that she had only gotten as far as unbuckling the strap and had not even pulled the strap through the loop on the other part of the strap when I did a belly flop on to the lap of Mom’s friend who was already sitting in the grass, and rolled myself the rest of the way out of the harness making sure Mom and her friend knew that despite my newfound fear of jaguars, I was still as happy and carefree as ever.

Wow, this entry turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be, so I think I will stop because I am about ready to fall asleep and drool at the computer. I know Mom always ends her entries with some sappy or philosophical thing about how the experiences discussed in the entry have impacted her life, or what her dreams are for the future. But I will just end by saying that I really don’t care what kind of routine she has next semester, or where her career path leads, just as long as she takes me with her.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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