Neutron in Time Square

Jameyanne standing in front of a crowd in Time Square with Neutron at her side. Both person and puppy are smiling.As I write this, I’m flying home from Seeing Eye, with Neutron at my feet under the seat in front of me. This is Neutron’s first plane flight. I’m glad to be going home, but this has really been a fabulous class with a great group of people, and I’m not sure I’m ready to get back to the real world. There have been a lot of things I’ve been putting off while I’m here, saying I’ll deal with it when I’m back from Seeing Eye. Well, I’m almost back from Seeing Eye, so now I’m going to have to deal with all that stuff. (Note: At the time I’m posting this, I’ve arrived home, been mobbed by dogs, and started unpacking, organizing my life, and catching up on sleep).

 

I’ll talk about arriving home in the future, when I’m awake enough to string two words together. This post is about my last week of training with Neutron.

 

We cruised through our second solo. There were a lot of challenges: dog distractions, planned and spontaneous; an idling bus sticking out of a driveway; the facial salon Neutron was intent on taking me into; people not looking where they were going and nearly mowing us down. Neutron was fabulous the whole way through, and we had a lot of fun. I’m not sure when, but somewhere between our first solo and our second, things really clicked into place for us and we just started zooming along.

 

After our solo, we began freelance work. During freelance, we did some standard things as well as work that was similar to what we might face at home.

 

We started with escalators. Yes, it is possible to take a dog on an escalator, and no, the dog doesn’t have to wear shoes to do it (though I must say Neutron has some super snazzy shoes for snow storms and extra hot summer days). The trick with escalators is to keep your dog resting at your left side and reach out along the railing with your right hand, and the second you feel the railing start to flatten, you and your dog start moving and walk off the escallator. If your dog is moving, there’s no chance of their feet getting caught. Neutron is a huge fan of escalators. His tail was wagging all the way, and when we got off, he was all wriggly and prancy because he did it right.

 

Revolving doors didn’t go so well. On our second morning of freelance, we went to do revolving doors. I never learned how to do revolving doors with Mopsy—I always took the regular door—and once I found myself in a situation where the regular door was locked and the security guard refused to open it for me, so we had to wing the revolving door and it stressed everybody out. So I wanted to make sure I actually learned how to work Neutron through a revolving door. We practiced primarily on manual revolving doors, the kind you push. The trick with these is to keep your dog on your right side, rather than your left, so they’re in the widest part of the door. Keep them up as close to the glass in front of you as possible, and push the door with your left hand. I didn’t do so well my first try, and I accidently bumped Neutron’s butt with the door, which caused him to get nervous and not trust me so much on revolving doors. The second time I did better. And yesterday, we went to another, bigger door to practice on (because I wanted more practice to feel confident), and we nailed it. Neutron was super happy about it. We learned how to do the automatic revolving doors too, but we didn’t actually practice on them, and honestly those freak me out so we’re going to generally stick with the regular door to the side, which by law they have to have (so there, random security guard who wouldn’t let me in with Mopsy).

 

We also did work on roads with no sidewalks—country work. Neutron and I walk on the left side of the road, so we’re facing oncoming traffic and I’m between Neutron and the traffic (I’m  more visible and it makes Neutron feel safer). We went to a grocery store and practiced using a cart with Neutron. I said it seven years ago and I’ll say it again: there’s a reason I didn’t pass driver’s ed. We wandered through the Morristown courthouse, which was a maze of interconnected buildings with lots of trick staircases and short turns and narrow hallways. We also went to the pet store, where I got Neutron another bone and an ID tag and we worked through all the distractions (there was literally a wall of dogs). We worked on how to deal with medians in the middle of streets, and we cruised around a shopping mall where we practiced getting directions for different stores and in general dealing with the public. Personally, I prefer Amazon, but we found Neutron some nice lacrosse balls to play with, and we fended off small children who wanted to pet him and people who were trying to take sneaky pictures of him. Folks, I can hear your phone make the little camera noise and I will chew you out for it, because taking pictures of my dog can distract him and possibly endanger my safety, and also it’s just rude and an invasion of my privacy. Flip the situation and ask how you would feel if someone was sneakily taking pictures of you without asking and you get it. Just don’t do it. Rant over.

 

We worked with buses and trains as well, and we used the clicker to get Neutron to target the bus stop (more training me to use the clicker than Neutron). We did a trip in downtown Morristown at night, so I could practice with Neutron when my residual vision isn’t nearly as good, and we rocked it. And of course, we took a couple trips to get ice cream, because ice cream is life and we had to make sure Neutron had proper exposure to ice cream shops with me.

 

Finally, we went to New York City for a day. We started at Port Authority and walked down to 30th Street, where we encountered a lot of construction. I wanted some construction work because there’s a lot of construction in Boston. We worked on how to deal with construction that blocked the sidewalk and funneled you out into the street with a barrier between you and the cars, as well as scaffolding slalom, both things I had to handle this summer on my way to my internship. Then we took the subway up to Columbus Circle. In the subway station, we worked on platform awareness with the dogs in the subway. If you tell the dog forward thinking you’re facing the way to go but you’re actually facing the platform, the dog won’t take you into the platform but will steer you right or left, guiding you along the platform. Neutron brought me close, following my direction, saw the edge, went “oh nope,” and then steered me away. When I insisted, he steered me even farther away from it. All indicators that, if I was confused and thought I was heading somewhere else but was really facing the platform, I would need to reassess where I was. We also did more practice with the clicker, teaching Neutron to target the turnstile to get onto the platform. When we got out at Columbus Circle, Neutron took me right to the turnstiles even though it was a totally different station. From Columbus Circle we walked down Broadway to Time Square, where we worked through the crowds of people and dogs over to a burger place for lunch. And after lunch, we walked back down to Port Authority and went back to the Seeing Eye. Neutron was just flying through New York, weaving around pedestrians, poles, dogs, pigeons, bicycles, mail carts, gratings, and the one guy in a wheelchair with three off-leash chihuahuas in sweater vests. It was really an incredible experience, and I feel like if we could handle that, we can definitely take on Boston.

 

It’s taken me longer to write this than anticipated, because Neutron was a bit anxious during take-off and landing on the plane (it was his first flight and there were so many noises so he tried to climb into my lap). But he was zooming through the airport. I can’t wait to get home so I can see Mopsy again and Neutron can meet her and our pet black lab, Rocket. We’re going to have a relaxing couple of weeks as much as we can, letting Neutron settle in and get familiar with home and my new apartment at school.

 

It’s the sleep-deprivation talking, I’m sure, but all of this still feels really surreal to me. I just can’t believe that I went to Seeing Eye, was matched with this super smart, sweet, curious little boy, and now I’m almost home with him. But we did it. For me, training at Seeing Eye this time was almost all about learning to listen to this new dog, and this new dog learning to work with you. Training’s over now. We’re a team, and off we go.

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Neutronian Physics

Picture of me sitting on the wall outside the downtown training center with Neutron at my feet with a big puppy grin on his face. 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.