The Life of a Party Animal

Well hello readers. It’s Gilbert here again. As Mom told you in the last entry, we are back in school and though Mom has had a lot of reading to do, she says it is nothing compared to last semester. In fact, her work load feels so manageable that she decided it wouldn’t hurt to let me use her computer for a few minutes because I have been itching to write about what an awesome school year it has been for me so far. Just like freshman year, this year started out a little rocky for us because of construction to get rid of a circle driveway and put up a wall by Main Hall. They also rerouted a piece of the sidewalk to make it curvy, which Grandma told Mom was about making it prettier, to which Mom and I both sighed. We don’t go for the whole “pretty” nonsense. We like ease and functionality and live by the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it!” But we were never asked our opinions before the construction was done, so we had no choice but to adjust. We have adjusted well though. The first few days, Grandma, Grandpa or someone from campus safety would accompany us because there were big scary trucks and jackhammers everywhere, the noise of which overwhelmed both of us so much we couldn’t hear ourselves think enough to get around them. Also, the rerouting of the sidewalk was pretty traumatic for me. Mom would command me to go forward, and even though I was trained to follow sidewalks, I missed our old path so much I kept trying to walk her through grass. But now, the jackhammers are gone and I have adjusted to the new path, so we are confidently traveling the campus on our own again. There are a couple things we will need to learn eventually, like another more direct route from the campus center to Main Hall since we always used to cross the circle driveway to find Main Hall from that direction. We are masters at getting from the campus center to Rankin Hall, and from Rankin Hall to Main Hall though, so we could always just walk to Rankin, put our backs to the door of Rankin as if we were walking out of the building and just walk to Main Hall that way. Mom admits this indirect way of traveling must look silly to sighted people, but said I shouldn’t be embarrassed because she has been traveling that way long before I was born. Mom likes to call herself geographically challenged, but she has told me she has gotten better with directions since I came along since I take over for the brain power she used to have to devote to swinging her cane and keeping herself walking in a straight line, and the relief from having to think about those things allows her to focus more on where she is actually going. Of course, there is also the fact that someone has to be the leader of the pack, which is kind of what our team is, so if she doesn’t give me directions, I have occasionally made the decision for her and taken her places she didn’t want to go, resulting in a couple frustrating incidents she didn’t want to repeat, and thus she became more diligent about giving me directions. So with all of the improvement in her geographical confidence I have gotten to witness in my two years so far with her, I bet that if a semester comes when she does need to get from the campus center to Main Hall, we will learn a direct route in no time.

Anyway, adjusting to the new campus design hasn’t been our only source of excitement. Mom and I have also both enjoyed getting back to school to socialize with our friends, and we have both made new friends this semester by joining the Concert choir. Mom was in a women’s choir the first semester of her freshman year, which she brought me to occasionally, but since there was a three hour break between her last class and choir, Grandma usually insisted Mom leave me at home for fear that I might be a disruption by howling along with the music or something, or that I might get stepped on since unlike the typical class where you sit in a desk the whole time, choir involves a lot of standing, stretching, moving to other locations and the occasional choreography. But this semester, there is no time to go home before choir, so I have gotten to go to choir every day. We did have one frighteningly close call on the second day of school because the choir she was in freshman year rehearsed in a classroom in the basement of the music building, whereas this choir rehearses on the stage in the auditorium, and I was not trained in how to guide across stages. So on the second day of school, there was an extended rehearsal as part of a retreat the teacher organized to help the choir get to know each other better and spend some additional time learning music. But that day, Mom and I had to leave early for our Communication Law class. Mom wasn’t sure yet which direction we needed to go to find the stairs leading offstage and didn’t want to disrupt anyone by asking for help. So she quietly picked up my harness to see if I knew the way, but I wasn’t quite sure where to go either, so I took her to the edge of the stage and stopped uncertainly. Since Mom hadn’t been on a stage for two years, and since even when she was onstage, she always had a sighted guide, she was unaware of the fact that there were not stairs in front of her, but a five foot drop to the floor of the auditorium that Grandma and Grandpa told her later could have resulted in broken bones had she stepped off of it. Now I can tell you I wouldn’t have been so stupid as to respond if she had told me forward because I could see the drop and I don’t need any broken hips at my young age. But you never know what my mom will do since she can be pretty absent minded sometimes. Fortunately however, just as she was about to put her foot forward to find the edge, a girl came running up to us, grabbed my mom and said, “You are at the edge,” and then took us safely to the stairs. Now I love my mom and we both have developed a deeper trust in each other with each passing year, and usually we prefer to be left alone to figure things out for ourselves. But that was one moment when both Mom and I couldn’t help thinking, “Thank God for sighted people!” Someday, my mom says she might ask the dog trainer to work with us on stages, but for now, our close call still gives Mom chills, so she has decided to work me up to the stairs leading onstage, and then ask a student to get us across the stage to her chair, and then back to the stairs after rehearsal. But the rest of our choir experience has been wonderful. While people say hello to me and give me a quick pet in all of Mom’s classes, it seems like the choir students especially love me. We usually end up getting to choir a couple minutes early, and while waiting for the teacher to start, there is often a crowd of people surrounding me, petting me and laughing with delight when I flip onto my back for them to rub my belly. I love the fact that Mom allows me to get pets as long as she is not holding the handle of my harness! I enjoy the rehearsals too of course. One girl told Mom she noticed that I don’t fall asleep during rehearsals. This is partly because the high notes are too loud and painful on my sensitive ears to fall asleep, but mostly because the music is so beautiful, and it is amazing to watch my mom who is always so quiet in her regular classes, let loose and nail high notes. Actually, she has always been a show-off, to the point of almost being annoying at home where she is always singing in the shower, singing as she does homework or as she walks around the house, and I have become so used to it that I tune her out. But hearing her voice blend with so many other voices and singing in harmony is too magnificent to sleep through. And no, I am not like Mom’s predecessor Indy who legend says would howl when my uncle tried to practice his saxophone. My mom and her friends joke that I should be trained to howl along, but in reality we both know that I have a different kind of voice that wouldn’t sound right in a human choir, and I am a good boy who would never want to disrupt beautiful music anyway.

In addition to the choir excitement, I am also excited to start volunteering again. Mom and I started volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters last year and loved it so much we are doing it again this year. Knowing Mom, she will probably write a sappy entry about how rewarding this volunteering experience is for her, and how she is doing her small part to make a difference in the community by being a positive role model for a child. But us dogs aren’t the sappy type, so I will let her write the sappy stuff, and I will just say that all the kids at the school where we meet our little sister are so adorable that my tail is wagging before we even get to the door, and Mom always lets go of my harness to let little kids pet me if they ask. As for my little sister, she likes to tell her friends that Mom is her big sister and I am her big brother, which makes me feel so delighted and special.

But actually, the most exciting thing that happened this first month of school from my perspective is that Mom has given me the chance to play with my own kind twice recently, an unusual occurrence for me since usually Mom is either too busy, or it is too nasty outside for me to hang out with other dogs. But last Sunday evening, Grandpa, Mom and I were just returning from a walk when I saw my next door neighbor friend Norton, frolicking in the yard. Norton ran over to our house and welcomed me to the neighborhood my first week as a guide dog, and since we are the same breed, and almost the same size, we became best friends right away. But since Mom and Norton’s owner have different schedules, it is rare that we are both outside at the same time. So when I saw Norton, I was so overjoyed I couldn’t help reverting back to my puppy manners, yanking on the leash whining, “Oh Mom! Can I please play with Norton?! Please!” Usually, my mom is all about instilling proper guide dog etiquette by making me ignore other dogs, but since I have been such a good boy in college recently, she stopped, held my leash tight while making sure it was alright with Norton’s owner if I came over to play. I knew this asking for permission was just a formality because Norton’s owner is wonderful, and adores me. In fact, since Norton’s owner delivers mail in our neighborhood, she will occasionally have to come to our door to deliver a package, and if I am home on one of these days, she always gives me a treat. Usually, my mom is very strict about people giving me treats, but makes an exception for this lady since the treats she brings are small, and I burn all the calories from these treats and then some when I play with Norton, or even when I wag my tail and practically break the door down with joy when I see her coming. Anyway, of course the lady was delighted that I came over, so Mom let me off leash, and I was off chasing Norton gleefully around the yard in no time flat. Grandpa, Mom and Norton’s owner had a good time chatting about us as we lounged and ran together. I think Norton is Mom’s favorite neighborhood friend for me to hang out with too because we are both extremely well trained and socialized, so she can chat and trust that we will play nice, and not run away since Norton has been trained to stay within an invisible fence and I like to stick with a pack and thus wouldn’t run away without Norton. Norton and I would have liked to chase the tennis ball a few minutes longer when the humans said it was time for us to go home so they could cook dinner and stuff like that, but we had a blast, so Mom promised to get us together more often.

And then, the Saturday before last, Grandpa and his brother went to a college football game, but instead of leaving Mom and I home, they dropped us off at the home of Mom’s teacher who lives on a lake, the same crazy teacher who hosted twelve dogs for a party back in April. Of course, though I still consider myself to be more directionally competent than Mom when walking, I always fall asleep and am thus completely oblivious to where we are going when I am in the car, and for this trip, Mom didn’t pack any dog food or overnight supplies for me the way she usually does when she visits this teacher. So when the car stopped and I could smell all the dogs of Mom’s blind friend in the yard, I was as overjoyed as a child who is the guest of honor at a surprise party. In fact, before the engine had even been turned off, I jumped on to the seat, put my paws on the window and whined longingly again. “Please Mommy? If you open this car door and let me play with these dogs, I will love you forever!” Now usually, Mom loves to use this teacher’s house for discipline practice, but she has come to realize that with me, practicing discipline in this environment is futile without a pinch collar, and since there were only eight other dogs in attendance at this party instead of eleven like there were last time, Mom wasn’t scared straight enough to remember and pack the pinch collar. But since the other dogs were already playing in the yard when we got there, Mom decided to just forget about discipline this once and turn me loose, a plan the teacher had no problem with. Holding still the few seconds it took for her to ask permission from this teacher and take off my harness was torture, but it was well worth the wait when with a sigh that was half laughter and half resignation, Mom unhooked my leash and said “Go get ’em!” But before she had even finished saying it, I was off, thundering through the yard shouting “Free at last! Free at last! I love you Mommy!” For the next two joyous hours, I was literally a party animal! Usually when I play, even with other dogs, I go crazy for two minutes and then get tired and lay down. But perhaps because it was cool outside that day, or maybe due to Mom’s diligence in taking me for walks all summer, I had so much energy that day that when Mom pet me later that evening at home, she laughingly called me the energizer dog! I just kept going, and going and going! Mom could tell because the dogs of her blind friend were either tied up or had bells on them, so every time she heard big dog paws thunder by without a bell, it was probably me! I had an especially good time with the guide dog of Mom’s friend who is similar to my size. We chased a ball and each other all over the yard, and despite the fact that the humans shivered at the mere thought of going in to the lake that day, they threw toys in to the water for us to swim after. Actually, I was the only one who really utilized the lake because the other guide dog is such a girl who didn’t want to get her pretty fur wet and thus only went in up to her ankles, and the other dogs are so tiny and have such thin coats they would have froze to death if they jumped in the lake. But I sure had a blast in the lake myself! I also played a little bit with the pet rat terrier of Mom’s friend, who was obsessed with me and tried to jump on me every time I ran by, which the humans thought was pretty funny. Usually I am not as interested in socializing with little dogs for fear that I might hurt them and then the humans would kill me. But this dog was so cute I would stop my playing and lay down for a second so he could lick me and feel like he was included in the party too. And of course, what’s a party without eating something you shouldn’t? So I had to gorge on grass, which didn’t make the teacher or Mom too happy since later that evening, we were driving back from the grocery store where Mom and her friend debated which ice cream flavors to get for dessert with such seriousness you would have thought they were debating foreign policy, when I puked in the teacher’s new car. I would have puked all over Mom’s lap too had she not heard my warning wretches and frantically lifted her butt off the seat and hung by her elbows until the teacher pulled over and found wet wipes to clean it up. So just like the parent of a naughty little kid, Mom had to apologize for me, but luckily, the teacher loves dogs and forgave me pretty quickly. But what did make Mom happy was that I had played so hard that I was the most brilliantly behaved guide dog who was too tired to chase the other guide dog or the puppy Mom’s friend was training to be a guide dog, and thus guided my mom slowly and carefully when the humans went out to dinner and bought their ice cream at the grocery store.

So Mom and I are both a little bummed every year at this time since the start of school means we both have to work harder. But this year has been so manageable so far that we have found plenty of time to be social and have fun too. So if this first month is any indication of what life has in store for us the rest of the year, I am willing to wag my tail in advance and bet this will be our happiest year yet. And now I suppose I better sign off because Mom is telling me she needs the computer to work on a communication law presentation she will be giving Tuesday. Since I don’t have to do anything for this presentation other than sit beside her at the podium and be cute, something that comes so naturally to me I won’t need to practice, I think it is time for me to get back to sleep.

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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