This news item was broadcast on the Fourth of July, twinty-nine years ago. I was at Seeing Eye, training with my first dog, Sadie. My instructor was Gary Matoon.
NBC News story, broadcast on July 4, 1985.
From Chapter 19, Her Name is Sadie
“Hello Ms. Wiygul, I’m Gary Matoon and I’ll be your instructor,” said the man as we shook hands. “Here, take my arm and I’ll show you to your room. We’re standing in the lobby right now and the student rooms are down this hallway to the right.”
“Taking the proffered arm we zipped down the hallway, turned right, left, right again and went to the end of the hall.
“This is your room here, the last one on the right,” said Gary, or Mr. Matoon as I was to call him.
After orienting me to my room, Gary said, “Okay, let’s get started. The first thing we’re going to do is a Juno walk.”
“A what walk?” I asked.
“We use ‘Juno’ as a sort of generic name for a dog,” said Gary. “I’m going to hold the harness body and walk in front of you. You’re going to hold the harness handle as you will when there’s a real dog in the harness. We’ll do some walking together. This accomplishes several things. I’ll be able to get an idea of your pace and how much pull you can take, I’ll be orienting you to the building and grounds, and I’ll be teaching you some basic commands. We always begin commands with the dog’s name, so you’ll be calling me ‘Juno.’”
Gary placed the harness handle in my hand, positioned himself ahead of me and to my left, and said, “Now, use the command, ‘Juno, forward.’”
“Juno, forward,” I said. And I made a forward movement with my right hand.
“Whoa,” said Gary, “How did you know that hand gesture?”
“Oh,” I said, “Dr. Ponchillia showed me how to hold the harness and leash and explained all about hand gestures when I was in graduate school.”
“Okay, cool,” Gary said, “Now, let’s get going.”
And, get going, is exactly what we did. The pace of training at The Seeing Eye is, in a word, fast. After walking me all around the building, Gary took me outside to what he called the park, a large paved area where we would be taking our dogs at relief time.
“I’m going to really pick up the pace,” said Gary. “I want to see what kind of pace you’re comfortable with and how much pull you can take.” We walked faster and faster. Gary started making, what felt like, swooping turns. It was very exciting. I couldn’t wait until there was a dog in the harness.
I will never forget my first walk with Sadie. On Monday morning, Gary drove us into town. He parked on a quiet street and took us, one by one, for our first walk. Standing to my right and slightly behind me, Gary insured that I correctly positioned the leash around my left wrist. Then he said, “Okay, pick up the harness and let’s do it.”
Picking up the harness handle, I said, “Sadie, forward,” at the same time using the now familiar hand signal. We walked forward fifteen feet and stopped.
“We’re at the intersection of Maple,” Gary said at my right shoulder. “Command her forward.” Sadie stepped off the curb, crossed the street, and paused at the up-curb. I commanded her forward again. “Now, tell her to turn right and then forward,” said Gary.
And we flew. We flew down the sidewalk. I cannot express the wonder of it.
Smiling, I walked into the future.
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