Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Adventures with my Guide Dogs

walking with black Lab guide
by Ernie Jones

One early autumn morning a while back my brothers, nephew and I decided to walk the four-mile trail that wandered from end to end along Sullivan Lake in Northern Idaho. Though it had rained during the night the morning ushered in blue skies.

Immediately on reaching the trail's head, my then Guide Dog, Melita, took her normal lead position and we set off. The trail was great for one person, but a little narrow for a guide team to squeeze between the wet, drooping bushes crowding the trail.

Although I trusted Melita, I knew my companions were not that convinced of her ability to keep me out of danger. Thus I was not surprised when I heard one of my brothers call out, "Watch out there is a ... " then a pause before adding, "Oh, Melita is watching out." I lost track of the times one of them would start to warn me, only to hear, "Oh, she is watching out for him."

Several times we had to squeeze past large trees growing almost in the trail. In other places we had to cross slides, picking our way across 30 feet of loose rock. The trail would rise up the steep hillside only to drop back down to the water's edge. Loose stones and other debris littered the trail in places but Melita was ever at my left side, guiding me.

Two hours later we were walking over almost level ground, the trail soft from years of leaves and needles decaying under the lofty trees, cushioning our walk. Pausing I said, "I am sure glad we walked this direction for we have the easy trail at the end when we are tired."

"I'm glad we walked this direction, too, but for another reason," replied one of my brothers. "There were long distances where the trail ran almost on the edge of the cliff. For several feet there was a sheer drop of 300 feet straight down to the lake below. That wonderful dog kept you pushed as far as she could away from the bank's edge."

Much later, after Melita had died and I had my new guide, Randy, we were camped out with family for a weekend at Jubilee Lake. After hiking around it a couple of times with my family, I told them that in the morning I was going to walk it alone with Randy.

Immediately, I knew some thought this not a good idea, but I was determined.
Thus the next day after breakfast Randy and I set out. But when I gave him the signal to get on the trail, he took me down the path we had taken the afternoon before, which just led to the water's edge.

Realizing the mistake, I gave the command and we returned to camp where I asked my sister-in-law to direct us to the right trail.

From there we had no problem as my guide confidently led me around large holes in the trail, between trees and over wooden bridges. I thrilled with this freedom.

Later I heard how my brother, wanting to make sure I was safe, had started down the trail to follow us. But since we had to start over, my brother was actually ahead of me, hurrying to catch up with me while Randy and I enjoyed our walk.

Now lest you think my Guide Dog's life is continually work, consider most days. It's been raining or very icy out this winter, so we don't take our morning walk. Most of the day finds me working at the computer while Randy just sleeps. Many evenings Dorothy and I watch several quiz shows on television. If I curl up on the love-seat, very likely Randy will go to his bed. But if he sees me with a pillow and a blanket, he waits for he knows we will be lying on the floor, his body pressed tight against me with his head across my arm or shoulder.

Other times, I get out his rubber ring, which he carries to the front room where we play tug. His growls reverberate through the house. This game continues until I am tired. When I start into the kitchen, he carries the ring to meet me in the utility room and drops it in my hand. If fate is smiling on him, he will get a special doggie treat but, regardless, he is ever ready for a deep drink of cool water.

His life is really quite easy.

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