“I Should Have Known”
The next morning we loaded into vans and the trainers took us all to the downtown training center. One by one each student had their first “Juno walk.” “Okay Sue, you’re next.”
Rising to my feet I waited for Joan to approach. “Are you ready?”
“I’m beyond ready, I replied.
“Okay, let’s do this thing.” Placing the harness handle in my left hand Joan headed for the door.
I took a deep breath as we headed for Maple Street. Soon there would be a dog in the harness. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me but relished the thought. At the intersection Joan said, “Okay, wait a minute, there’s a puddle of snow melt. Let’s move over here.” Side stepping to the right Joan told me to command her forward.
“Juno, forward.” Joan moved out. “Good girl,” I said. Then I laughed, “Good boy?” I chuckled self-consciously. For over thirty years I had been saying, “Good girl.” Would it be a boy?
In the third block Joan stopped. “instead of having your arm straight I want you to bend your elbow and raise your hand.”
“Like this?” I adjusted my hand and arm.
“Yes, that’s it. You want to keep tension on the breast strap of the harness. Yes, that’s it.” And we continued. In the next block Joan had me perform several leash corrections just to make sure I remembered how to do it.
Joan varied the pace and pull then commented, ”Your pace is the same as it’s always been. How does the stronger pull feel?”
“It’s mostly okay,” I replied. After Beverly I know how to use the “steady” command! But after two dogs with a hard pull I’m getting a little protective of my right ankle.”
“Aren’t we all?” Joan laughed. We did the last two blocks at a good clip with Joan exerting a hard pull on the harness.
Slightly winded we arrived at the training center. “Great job, here, the door’s on your left.”
As I took a seat at the table in the training center my emotions bounced all over the place. I knew something “different” was coming. I just didn’t know what it was. Trust. I was trusting an institution with the next decade of my life. The dog I’d be meeting tomorrow would be guiding me through my 60s. It felt big.
His Name is Quan
Sitting on the bed I took a deep breath. I got up and switched to the chair in front of the desk. I took another deep breath.
“Sue,” Joan said as she knocked on the door. Crossing to the door I opened it with a smile on my face. Placing the leash in my hands Joan said, “This is Quan. I leaned over but I didn’t have far to go. “His body is mostly black.” Quan looked up at Joan as she spoke. “He has the classic mask and his legs and belly are tan.”
“Hi Quan,” I whispered. I cleared my throat. “Hi guy…” Placing my hand through the loop of the long leash I knelt. “Hi Quan,” I said in a stronger voice. Looking up at Joan I smiled. “He’s big… Oh Joan, he’s beautiful.”
That afternoon I took my first walk with Quan. It was the Maple Street route.
It happened when we were doing the Elm Street route. “Quan, left.” The big dog swung left. “Quan, forward.” We headed out. Fifteen feet down the sidewalk, wham, I bounced off something, hit the ground, and bounced back to my feet. “Phooey,” I snarled, giving a quick leash correction. Then I picked up the harness handle and commanded Quan to go forward again.
Almost immediately Joan was there. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure what just happened.”
“It was Dave. Your dogs had a Mexican standoff and, you, apparently, were the loser.”
Later, at lunch, Dave sat down next to me and said, “Well, if I had known you were going to bounce off my chest I would have been happy to have grabbed you! I told Joan it was simply a matter of “tonnage.”
The Path To Independence
“Before we go home tomorrow I’d like to see my bricks.”
Glancing up from her plate Joan replied, ”Oh yeah, Yeah, we need to make that happen for you. Have you spoken to Nancy yet?”
“Yes, I spoke with her Monday so I know I’m on her radar.”
“Hi, I’m Nancy.” And she took the seat next to me at lunch. “When we’re done here I’ll take you out and show you your two bricks. It shouldn’t take long.”
As we emerged on the walkway in front of the building Nancy consulted the map she held in her hand. “Okay, just let me get oriented here…” Stepping forward and slightly to the right she murmured, “Your first one should be right along here… Yes, here it is…”
Although Quan wasn’t a seasoned follower I nonetheless said, “Quan, follow forward,” and gave the correct hand gesture. The dog followed Nancy perfectly and I was smiling when we stopped.
“You’re right at it. This is the one that begins with Thank You and lists the names of your four dogs.”
In wonder I knelt and placed my hand on the brick. I traced the letters. Looking up at Nancy I smiled.
“Stay right there,” said Nancy as she snapped some photographs.
“What about Kismet’s brick…” Consulting the map again Nancy moved down the walkway towards the Eustice Lounge.
“here it is. It’s a great brick,” said Nancy as she read the words aloud, Kismet –Beloved –Impish –Brilliant.”
With tears in my eyes I remembered the dog who had died in my arms three days after Christmas.
The next day Quan and I boarded a plane bound for Birmingham and headed home to begin our lives together.