Just for the record, nut job drivers–red lights mean stop! They’re not optional; they’re mandatory. They’re not suggestions for some people; they apply to everyone. Those of us in the crosswalks with our children have the right-of-way. Always. Blaring your obnoxious horns at us because we slow you down by a few seconds won’t change that fact.
Oh, and you in your gray car, the one that came within three or four inches of taking the nose off my guide dog last Tuesday evening as I crossed the street with my nine-year-old daughter Sarah, congratulations! My yellow Labrador, Anlyn, was so shaken up by nearly eating your bumper, she puked a few blocks further down the sidewalk. She’s physically okay now–we all are–not that you stopped to check or anything. But on the inside, she’s a mess.
That’s right, dogs can have mental and emotional issues just like people. My guide dog is suffering from post-traumatic stress. She may not be able to work anymore because of your recklessness. I hope you got where you were going in such a big hurry.
Horns of Fury:
On the fateful Tuesday evening, Sarah and I approached the nearby stoplight. With both the parallel traffic and the audible signal in our favor, we started to cross the street. Sarah is sighted, so she can watch for the visual walk signal, but I’ve been teaching her to read traffic patterns as well.
We had no sooner left the sidewalk, Anlyn a half a step ahead, when you turned right on red just inches in front of us, horn blaring as if we were in the wrong. You flipped off my fourth grader—how mature of you—and sped off down the busy street as if you owned the world.
Anlyn jerked me backward onto the sidewalk, hard, exactly as she’s been trained to do. I yanked my daughter away from the street and hugged her, long and fiercely, till she finally pulled back and said, “Mom, I’m fine. Quit hugging me.”
In the next moment I knelt on the pavement and threw my arms around Anlyn, holding her tight and blinking back tears. Anlyn bathed my face with sloppy wet kisses and wagged her stout Labrador tail till I wondered if she would wiggle herself in half. As soon as I could get my act together and assure myself everyone was okay, we started home.
A few blocks later, Anlyn stopped and puked all over the sidewalk. I chalked it up to nerves. She seemed all right after that, so we kept walking.
Trauma Changes Behavior:
For the next two afternoons, everything appeared fine. When it came time to pick up my daughter from school, I grabbed Anlyn’s harness, tossed a small handful of kibble in my pocket, and said enthusiastically as always, “Hey, let’s go get Sarah!”
Anlyn was game. She and Sarah are tight, and she knows the route to the school well. It’s easy, not much traffic, and her best bud is waiting at the end of it. Besides, she gets pieces of kibble along the way for passing yappy dogs without pausing to play and finding certain landmarks such as fences and telephone poles. How much better can life be for a guide dog?
But Sunday morning, disaster struck. I called Anlyn and Sarah so we could all walk to church. Anlyn, who had no idea where we were going, panicked when I tried to put her harness on. She ducked her head, bolted away, even attempted to run as best she could with her leash on. The scene was heartbreaking. I ended up having to leave my trusty guide at home and walk to church with my white cane.
Monday came with no improvement. Anlyn kept bolting from the harness she had once accepted eagerly. A call to the school where she’d been trained confirmed my worst fears. My dog is suffering from severe stress about unfamiliar routes caused by the trauma of the traffic event. She may or may not recover. Good going, reckless driver. A few seconds of your careless behavior may have ended the career of a guide dog that took seventy thousand dollars and a year and a half to train and put into service, and broken a bond of trust between the two of us that has been cemented over three years of effort, patience, and love on both of our parts.
So far, I’ve tried feeding Anlyn her meals in harness to help her associate her harness with positive experiences, rather than negative ones. Feeding her in harness has not gone well. She’s started throwing up after meals because of the stress, and I’ve had to drop that strategy for now. I’m taking her out in public on leash, instead of in harness, to keep her used to social environments. Eventually, I’ll ease her back into working on the one route she enjoys, picking Sarah up at school, so she can be confident and successful. Which means that for now, I’m going to a lot fewer places. It’s cramping my style in a big way. It’s like I’m grounded because of the poor behavior of one inconsiderate driver. How fair is that?
An Inconvenient Reality:
For now, I’m having to use a cane instead of a dog for traveling. It’s a major inconvenience. I’ve lost my most efficient way of getting around and one of the sweetest, most affectionate travel buddies I ever had, at least temporarily, because you, big shot in your gray car, couldn’t take a few seconds and wait for a blind chick and her little girl to cross the street. I’ll do my level best to get my guide dog over this hurdle and back to work because she means the world to me and my family. But if I can’t, if it’s too much for her and she has to retire and become a household pet, you’ll have cut six or seven good years off her career for no reason. I’ll have to get on the waiting list for a new guide dog, which will very likely take several months or even a year, and then travel out west for training and start over building a bond with a new partner. I’m worried and unhappy. Oh wait, no, I’m scared to death and absolutely furious, just so you know.
Now that you’ve all heard how to ruin a guide dog in the blink of an eye, here’s how not to.
Please, people, watch for blind pedestrians—well, all pedestrians—at crosswalks. Slow down. Pay attention. Walkers and bicyclist always have the right-of-way, but especially keep your eyes out for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, who may need a few extra seconds at stoplights. A little time and patience crossing the street isn’t too much to offer them, with grace and willingness, no less. Thanks for your cooperation.
Have you had a bad experience with your guide dog and a careless driver? Leave a comment below.