Exactly one week ago, I was matched with my second Seeing Eye dog. He’s a sweet little black lab golden retriever cross named Neutron. He’s 22.5 inches tall and weighs 55 pounds, and he’ll turn two years old in September. So he’s roughly the same size as Mopsy. I’m actually told that he bears a striking resemblance to Mopsy (based on the pictures I’ve sent home).
It’s hard to believe I’ve only been working with Neutron for a week. It feels like it’s been at least a month, if not longer. Part of that is because I’m tired. We’ve been going from before 5:30 in the morning to after 8:00 at night with very little time to stop, and the last few days the heat has been incredible.
In our first week of training, we do set routes with our dogs. The first route was a big rectangle—down four blocks, left for one block, up five blocks, left one block, and then left again to find the training center. At first we did it with our instructor coaching us through each crossing. Then our instructor backed off until, Sunday morning, we were doing it completely independently. There was a barricade and a planned dog distraction we had to work past as well, but otherwise it was pretty straightforward, and I could focus on learning to feel Neutron’s signals through the harness rather than on where I was going. Even though I know how to work a dog now, Neutron is still different from Mopsy, and we need to learn how to dance together.
After our successful solo Sunday morning, we started our second set route. This one was more complicated both in terms of the crossings and obstacles and the general orientation. It’s like a quarter of a pie with a hook on the end, if that makes sense. The street crossings are wider, and the sidewalks are narrower with trees, telephone poles, and sometimes trash cans. It’s a significantly greater challenge, but this was the point where Neutron and I hit our stride, and we’ve been flying. He’s had to wear his booties a couple times because it’s been so hot, and he goes even faster with those on. Like the first route, there’s a baricade set up to block the sidewalk that we have to work past. This baricade is more complicated, because it blocks the sidewalk but also extends to block us on the left as we approach, so we either have to approach the barrier and turn out of it to get to the street, or we have to turn before we reach the extension at all (that choice is up to Neutron). There’s also a more complicated dog distraction, where we have to work past a poodle who then follows us down the street. I’m pretty sure Neutron thinks poodles are part of a weird religious cult. We’re doing our solo for this second route this morning.
This afternoon we’re going to start our freelance work, where the training is tailored to what we’ll face when we go home. We’ll learn to work escalators, elevators, and revolving doors. Seeing Eye has two rows of airline seats to practice sliding our dogs under the seat in front of us or situating them in the bulkhead (I’d prefer to slide Neutron under the seat in front of me because it’s safer, and I think he’ll fit there, but we’ll see). We’ll work through department stores and shopping malls, and we may practice on roads with no sidewalks, paths through the woods, and college campus settings. We’ll also do buses, trains, and subways, and one day we’ll be going into New York City.
It’s been a lot so far, and it’s going to be a lot to pack into our last week here. Of course I’m also grooming Neutron, cleaning up after him, and playing and cuddling with him. He really is a sweet little lab. He loves belly rubs and cuddles. When he has a toy he likes to run around holding it in his mouth and making little snorting noises. He likes to claim me with his paws, and if I’m sitting next to him on the floor giving him scratches, he’ll put his paw on my arm and sort of wrap it around my elbow like a hug.
And of course there are all the science puns I can do with his name. My favorite nickname for him right now is Neutron Star, and I’ve already determined Neutron’s first law of motion: a Neutron in motion tends to stay in motion; a Neutron at rest wants to get moving.
I’m still considering Neutron’s superdog name (Mops was Mopsy the Magnificent). A friend suggested Neutron the Wonderdog, and I came up with Nuclear Neutron, but I’m not sold on either of those. Any suggestions are welcome.
Obviously at this point we’re both still learning how to work with each other, but we’ve come leaps and bounds in just one week, and I’m sure we’ll go leaps and bounds this week too.