Seven Years a Team

Jameyanne and Mopsy cuddling on the floorYesterday, June 21, was our dogiversary.  Seven years ago, my sidekick came wagging into my life. Okay, she wasn’t wagging. She doesn’t have a tail, which is a shame, so I wagged enough for both of us.

 

Since we met seven years ago, my sidekick and I have been all over the world, having all the adventures. Four years of college at Kenyon, where I learned all about literature and Italy and how to sing in tune with my sidekick’s clarinet and also why chocolate chip cookies are bad for me and bounding through the snow is the best. Then a year in Italy, where we conquered the sidewalks cars and motorcycles liked to race on, mastered the art of jumping into trees without dropping any gelato, and taught a small Italian town a thing or two about what a Seeing Eye dog and her sidekick can do given a chance. When we returned victorious from Italy, we spent a year at home. I got to explore where my sidekick grew up and meet her high school friends while we learned about disability rights and applied to law school. And last year, we started law school together at Harvard, which mostly involved my person learning the basics of world-saving (she could have just talked to me) and me reminding her when she’d been studying long enough and it was time to play. We got out and about and explored Cambridge and Boston some too.

 

Towards the end of the spring and at the beginning of the summer, we started going out a lot more into the city, which was fun, but I realized I can’t guide my sidekick as well as I used to. I was nervous in crowds, and even when my sidekick and I had the whole road to ourselves, I got startled when another person or a dog came too close to us. I felt like I had to tell the other dogs to stay away from me because I was so nervous, so I started barking at them and lunging at them. My sidekick tried to remind me that this was not proper Seeing Eye dog behavior. She even tried to bribe me with treats to get me to stop—as if I, a well-groomed Labrador, would stoop to the level of doing things for food. Nothing helped, not even the treats. I just didn’t feel like I was able to guide my person the way I used to, and I wanted her to understand that, because I didn’t want her to be relying on me for her safety. So my sidekick had a talk with the trainers at the Seeing Eye, and then my sidekick and I had a talk. We decided that it’s time for me to retire.

 

Don’t worry, I am not giving up my place on this blog. I have way too much fun writing these posts, I’m looking forward to telling you all about retired life and giving my sidekick’s new superdog partner some friendly advice. I’ll be going to live with my sidekick’s parents and their dog Rocket. Rocket isn’t a superdog because he’s never guided anybody anywhere, but he’s a black lab too, and he’s nice enough, for a crazy puppy. We’ll be good friends, and I like my sidekick’s parents lots too.

 

My sidekick will be going back to Seeing Eye at the end of July to meet her new superdog. I can te’l that she doesn’t know how to feel about it. She’s excited, because she hates using her cane (that long white stick that for as long as I’ve been with her, she only uses to fish one of my toys out from under the bed). But I can also tell that she feels bad for being excited, like she feels like she’s replacing me or something. I want to tell her that’s stupid, and I think she wants to tell herself that’s stupid too. Sometimes feelings don’t listen though. But I don’t want to work anymore, and I want my sidekick to have a superdog partner who will keep her safe, so I’m glad she’s going back. Also I’m sure the new superdog and I will be great friends.

 

And my sidekick and I aren’t done having adventures. We have sunbathing and cuddling to do, ropes and bones to wrestle for, walks and walks and walks to take. And who knows? Now that I’m learning to be a retired superdog, maybe I’ll try that swimming thing again. No promises though. My butt sinks.

Doggy Law School

Our first semester of law school is drawing to a close. In a few hours, we will be taking our first ever law school exam. Well, when I say “we,” I really mean that my sidekick will be typing furiously, and I’ll be there to provide heroic cuddles when she inevitably realizes that she hasn’t talked about the Erie Doctrine so she must have missed something.

 

It’s been quite a semester, and not the most tail-wagging semester ever either. We know we haven’t posted a lot, but it was mostly studying studying studying, and I didn’t want to bore you because I’m bored.

 

We have had some exciting adventures in Boston and Cambridge though. My sidekick went kayaking on the Charles and to see fireworks, but she left me behind for both of those, which was probably a good idea because I don’t like water and it was a tippy kayak. We’ve explored Harvard Square some, and we went to see the tree lighting in Boston before Thanksgiving. Also, our section, which is the best section in the history of Harvard Law School sectiondom, won the 1L cup, which was like a bunch of contests like egg-toss and pie-eating contests (my sidekick would not let me participate in that one), and a three-legged race where my sidekick lost a fight with the ground and almost broke her leg. The ground has this sneaky sidekick called gravity.

 

And of course we’ve learned law. Lots and lots of law. I don’t pay attention to a lot of it, but I have picked up some useful doggy pointers.

 

For example, if I throw my bone at my person, with desire or purpose or knowledge with substantial certainty that the bone will hit her, then that is an intentional battery. And if I manage to hit the leg that almost broke in her fight with the ground, I am responsible for all the consequences, whatever they may be. On the other hand, if I throw my bone, even if I’m not trying to hit my sidekick, but it’s foreseeable that I hit her, and I do hit her, I was negligent. Good thing my sidekick loves me and would never ever sue me.

 

Also, finders keepers is an actual real thing. Sort of. Someone who finds something someone else lost can keep it. The finder has rights to possess the lost thing against everybody except the true owner. So if the true owner shows up and says “Hey that’s mine,” the finder does have to give it back, but otherwise it’s theirs. So if my person drops her cookie, and I get it, it’s mine. Unless she grabs me fast enough and tells me to spit it out. Then I have to listen. It’s the law.

 

Next, I learned that because I’m a super special service puppy, I get to ignore all the no-pets rules. I already knew that, but now I know how to interpret the laws that say I’m a super special service puppy. I can study the text, and Congress’s purpose, and I can even look at how the agency enacted specific regulation about the statute and whether they did that right.

 

And finally, when we learned about federal jurisdiction in civil procedure, I learned how to make a well-pleaded complaint.

Mopsy lying at Jameyanne's feet in civil procedure class. Mopsy looks sad, and text above her head reads "Please: No More Class!"
Photo by James Sasso

 

The problem, of course, is that once I received a judgment as a matter of law and class ended last week, my person became very stationary and very intense about all the studying. And now here we are, on the brink of exams, almost finished with our first semester. We’ve learned a lot and made some fabulous friends. We are very nervous about exams, but we’ve defeated worse villains. We are very much in need of sleep and a good wrestling match with my rope and some good walks that aren’t to classrooms or the library. And we will get them. For a bit anyway. But first, we need to go kick civil procedure’s butt. Wish us luck.

A Seeing Eye Superdog’s Guide to Orientation and Mobility

My sidekick is packing up our boxes. She’s packing up my food bowls and scavenging under the bed for my favorite toys (I’ve been wondering where that bone got to). She hasn’t packed my bed yet, but it’s coming. And I’m sticking close to her, because I need to be sure she doesn’t forget me. This is really happening, everybody. Next week, we will be moving to Cambridge to start at Harvard Law School. I am wagging my whole butt and grumbling in excitement. But packing isn’t all we’ve done to prepare. For the past two months, we’ve been doing orientation and mobility all over Harvard and Cambridge.

 

For those who don’t know, orientation and mobility is when a blind person is taught the basic layout of a new area, because you know, they can’t read signs and stuff, and that’s not part of my job description as superdog. If a blind person learns their way around, then they can get around pretty much independently. It’s a good thing. See, it’s my job to stop my sidekick from falling down stairs or smacking into tree branches or getting hit by cars, that sort of thing. It is not my job to know where to go. My sidekick decides which way to turn. She decides when to cross the street—I’ll stop her if she’s wrong, but most of the time she’s right, and when she’s wrong it’s because some stupidhead who’s not looking decided to cut us off at the last minute (sometimes I wonder who’s really blind in this situation). It’s true, I will learn the places we go to a lot, like our dorm room or where the food’s at, and if my sidekick overshoots, I’ll give her knee a nudge with my nose—like, hey, we want to go here, don’t we?—but generally it’s up to her.

 

My sidekick and I have been doing O and M together for six years now, so we have a lot of practice. Right after we went home from the Seeing Eye, we went out to Ohio and learned our way around Kenyon College, where we would spend the next four years. We started with Middle path—the path that runs from one end of campus to the other—and we worked outward from there, learning routes from  my dorm to the dining hall, my classrooms and professors’ offices, and the library. Over our four years at Kenyon, we learned more and more new places and new shortcuts, and by the time we graduated, we had it down.

 

The summer after our first year at college, we went to the Alpha workshop near Pittsburgh. Since it was such a short workshop, and since I would mostly be with the group, it wasn’t as important for us to know the whole campus, but we still spent a day learning the important routes.

 

When we studied abroad in Torino the summer after our second year at Kenyon, we didn’t really have O and M training. Unless you count an hour with an  O and M teacher who didn’t speak good English and we were super jetlagged and still getting used to how fast Italian really was outside the classroom, and I’m not sure I count that. I have to say, this was one of the craziest things we’ve ever done. And we’ve done some crazy things. When we went to Torino, we just went, and I do not recommend that approach, because we had to depend on the other students to not ditch us. Oh, and they ditched us. A lot.

 

When we went to Assisi to start my Fulbright year, we weren’t taking any chances with Italian O and M teachers—even if we had been able to find one, which we weren’t. My sidekick’s mother came with us for the first three weeks. She’s been watching my sidekick’s O and M lessons since she was little, so she knows what she’s doing. In Assisi, of course, everything we thought we knew about safe independent travel was turned on its head, but that’s another story story.

 

A few points about O and M that I feel I have to make, just so you have a better sense of what I’m talking about:

 

First, my sidekick is using her ears to navigate. I’m using my eyes to guide her, but she’s steering this operation. Note: hybrid cars are pure evil, but I’m all over their silent engines—they are not coming near my sidekick and me.

 

Second, we don’t always cross at the light. Remember, it’s not in my job description to read the walk signs. It’s up to my sidekick to decide when to cross, and she’s using her ears (see my first point). If there isn’t an audible pedestrian signal, or the intersection is too loud to hear the audible signal (some of these new ones that talk are way too quiet), or the audible signal is broken, we cross with what’s called the near parallel surge. That’s when the cars that are closest to us and going the same direction as us have a green light. We watch out for cars that are turning, obviously, but this means that no one will be going on the street we’re crossing, because there’s a wall of cars moving across their path. Sometimes, pedestrian lights line up with the parallel traffic, but sometimes they don’t.

 

Third, if there isn’t a sidewalk, I’m trained to walk on the left of the road, so my sidekick and I are facing oncoming traffic. This means I like to walk on the left of a lot of paths, just to keep myself in practice.

 

Fourth, and finally, and sometimes the hardest for other people to understand about how we travel, is that the shortest route is not always the safest for us or the route that allows us to stay most oriented to our surroundings. For example, we will always choose a route with a good sidewalk over one without (at least in America). Also, we tend to favor straight paths that run along the sides of courtyards or greens rather than diagonal cross-paths, at least while we’re still learning an area. As we become more familiar and comfortable, we’ll probably start taking those cross-paths. If we’re with a group, we’ll follow them, but if we’re by ourselves, we’ll do our own thing. And the only reason we’ll be comfortable taking a different route somewhere with a group than the route we might normally travel is if we know where that somewhere is so if we have to, we can get back ourselves independently.

 

So we’ve done this O and M thing a lot, but getting ready for Harvard was different for us. We’ve been to small town Ohio and small town Italy, and even in Torino we mostly stuck to the city center. Here, we have the Harvard Law School campus, and then the larger Harvard University campus, and we also have the surrounding city of Cambridge. And Cambridge means subways, which we have never done independently, and which we were frankly a little nervous about. Like always, we started small, with the law school campus. Then we worked on the larger Harvard University campus, and then we started on Cambridge and the subway. All right, we only sort of theoretically did it in that order, because we started taking the bus and then the T to get to Harvard for practice.

 

Like we always do, my sidekick made tactile maps of the area. She had the map printed on foam board, and then she and her mother used puffy paint to make raised lines and lock dots—these clear raised bubble stickers—to mark important landmarks. Finally, they made Braille labels for everything. They made tactile maps of the law school campus, Cambridge, and the subway—I watched them work and wagged my tail to cheer them on—and then we took our maps on the road.

 

Now, after working hard all summer, we’re comfortable with the law school campus and the Harvard University campus, and we know all the stops on the Red Line by heart and are even familiar with a few of the stations. We are masters of the subway! As we actually start living in Cambridge, we’ll get a good sense of where we actually go and how we get there, and we’ll start to learn more and more of the area. But for now, we’ve got a pretty good sense of where we are, which is what O and M is all about.

 

This is good, because let me tell you, I am getting sick of this walking back and forth or around in circles thing my sidekick insists we do. I got it, doesn’t she? I know, I know, I sometimes get too focused on just getting to our destination, but don’t tell me the journey’s the important part. The most important part is that the journey is safe, and I am totally on top of that. And if we sometimes have to walk back and forth along the same hallway so my sidekick can be two hundred percent sure she’s got a handle on it, I accept that. Sort of. But now that we know where we’re going, let’s go and get there already.

Puppy On a Mission

It is hot. Really hot. But this morning, I still woke up my sidekick by jumping onto her face and licking her ears. Just like I did almost exactly six years ago when we first met. My sidekick says she can’t believe I’m eight years old. I’m still the same crazy bouncy puppy I was when I was two, apparently.

 

That’s right. Today’s my birthday! I’m eight years old today. Wow!

 

And no I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday.

 

All this year, whenever I take over my sidekick’s blog, I’ve been talking about what we’re doing in the present and connecting it back to things that happened to us before she started letting me write for myself. Today, though, I want to talk about what happened to me before I met my sidekick.

 

Eight years ago, I was born at the Seeing Eye. From the beginning, they told me I was a special puppy. I wouldn’t spend my days chasing down tennis balls or cuddling up in my person’s lap. I would be trained to do all sorts of important work, because the person I would get when I was done training couldn’t see. It would be my job to guide my new person anywhere she needed to go.

 

When I was old enough to leave my mother, I went to a family in Pennsylvania. The little girl in that family took care of me and started my training. I learned to sit and stay and lie down and come when I was told. I learned to park (that’s the Seeing Eye dog word for doing my business) outside. I learned to walk nicely on a leash. I got to go all sorts of places—like school and on the boardwalk—so that when I started my real training, I wouldn’t be scared by crowds or loud noises. I don’t really remember this, but when my sidekick trained at the Seeing Eye with me, they gave her a paper that said all this. It also said that I like squeaky toys, that when I’m really happy I’ll pick up my bed and bring it to you with my tail wagging my whole butt, and that when I have a bone everybody should duck because I’m probably going to throw it (this is all still true).

 

Just after I turned one, I went back to the Seeing Eye. At the Seeing Eye, trainers work with a string of dogs for four months and then they spend another month in class training the dogs with their new people. So I trained for four months. I learned to stop at curbs and steps, to go around obstacles like poles and hanging tree branches, and not to let my person cross the street if there’s a car in front of her (that’s called intelligent disobedience). It wasn’t my job to know where I was going. My sidekick would know where we were going. It was my job to get her there safely.

 

Then my trainer went up to New Hampshire to do a juno walk with a girl who was applying for a Seeing Eye dog. A juno walk is when the blind person holds the handle of the harness, and the trainer holds the part of the harness that is usually on the dog, and the trainer measures things like how fast the person walks, how much pull they want on the harness, how tall they are, stuff like that. My trainer came back to Seeing Eye, and she told me she’d found the perfect sidekick for me. I would have to wait for her, though, because she was still in high school, and she had to finish before she could come get me. So I did four more months of training, just to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything. I turned two. And four days later, I met my sidekick.

 

We trained at Seeing Eye together for a month. Then I went home with her, and we’ve been together ever since.

 

That summer, I was guiding my sidekick into the market when we passed a little kid and their mother. Like all small children when they see me, this little kid cried, “Puppy! Mommy, look, puppyyyyyyyy!”

 

When it comes to what parents say to their kids about me, I’ve heard it all. “That puppy is helping her,” is a common one. So is, “That’s a blind puppy,” to which my sidekick always replies “I sure hope not.” But this mother said, “That puppy’s on a mission.”

 

Best response ever.

 

Because I am on a mission. My sidekick and I have been all over the world together, and it has always been my mission to keep her safe and lead her where she needs to go, whether that was getting to class on time and navigating the dining hall at Kenyon or dodging maniacs with motor vehicles in Italy. Three years ago, my mission became more important when my sidekick lost her right eye, but I stepped up to that challenge too. And now we’re off on another adventure: law school! We’re already learning our way around Cambridge and practicing the subway routes. Adventure awaits! But for now, I’m going to play with my new squeaky football. Or maybe eat a bone.

Artium Bark-alaurei

Six years ago, just after I met my sidekick, we went to Kenyon College. We spent four years there, studying mostly English literature, creative writing, and Italian, though there was some astronomy, calculus, anthropology, and even a political science class thrown in there. I participated in class too—my sidekick says I’m quite vocal with my grumbling—but only when I felt the class discussion really needed it. We played in the band—my sidekick on the clarinet, and me leading the dogophone section. We made wonderful friends, and we played Humans versus Zombees and were tributes in the Kenyon Hunger Games—actually, I just watched my sidekick do those things, because she’s crazy, while my other people gave me scratches. My sidekick and her friends also did this thing where they sat around in a circle and told stories and then talked about the stories (I didn’t really get it, but I liked listening to all the stories).

 

Then, after four years at Kenyon, we graduated. That’s what my sidekick called it, anyway. As far as I could tell, they got all of us into a big room, there was a lot of talking and sitting and standing and sitting again, and then we lined up and walked across a stage, and my sidekick and I were each given a piece of paper, and then more sitting and standing, and then we were packing up all our things and getting in the car and my sidekick was crying and I didn’j know what was going on. Also, I had to wear a robe and a stupid flat hat that kept falling in my eyes. The piece of paper was important, because both mine and my sidekick’s are now in frames. I didn’t know what was going on that day, but now I know that I received a degree from Kenyon College. “Artium Bark-alaurei,” my diploma says. My sidekick’s says something different, I guess because she’s my sidekick and she can’t bark.

 

My sidekick told me that we were off on a new adventure, but we would come back to Kenyon. Only, we didn’t. Instead, we went to Italy. Some of my people from Kenyon did come to say hi while we were there—they were studying in England that year—and then more of them came to say hi when we were back in the United States and working at the Disability Rights Center.

 

Then, last weekend, we returned to Kenyon to celebrate with a bunch of our people who were getting their Artium Bark-alaurei. I was so happy to be back and to play with all my friends again. I knew where I was going, and I knew the way to all my sidekick’s favorite places. I was sad that she wouldn’t let me go to my favorite place—the dining hall (she said it would be too crowded, and she was probably right). But we did go to all the ceremonies, and I stood and sat and covered my ears with my paws when the people behind us blasted us with their air horn without warning.

 

It was a great weekend, but I could tell that everyone was having lots of feelings—the same feelings my sidekick and I had when we left Kenyon two years ago. We even felt those feelings again, because with most of our friends off to new places, we weren’t sure when we’d be coming back ourselves. And it was sure something to walk the paths we’d walked for four years and no that in the time since we left, we have become completely different, my sidekick and I. I’ve learned, a little unfortunately, that the outside world is not as safe as Gambier, Ohio, and that not everyone likes me and wants to let me come inside with my sidekick like they’re supposed to. And my sidekick has convinced me that our talents will be put to better use defending the world from villains who don’t understand the rights of people with disabilities. (I was getting bored with Italian literature, honestly. Do you know how weird some of those books are?) Still, I could tell that my sidekick was a little sad, being back at Kenyon. She felt like she’d gone off into the world, and the world had systematically crushed all her dreams, and now she was back here, and nothing she’d wanted then had worked out the way she’d hoped.

 

But that isn’t true. Okay, there was a fair amount of dream crushing that happened, for both of us, but that isn’t why we’re going to law school. We’re going to law school because our dreams changed, and that doesn’t negate the dreams we had or even mean they’re impossible. There are still plenty of adventures to be had. And another reason why we were so moved by the graduation ceremony, we’re about to start the first: Harvard Law School, or as I see it, our training to confront evil villains and save the world. Also, I want a framed juris dog-torate degree from Harvard Law School on my office wall, right next to my Artium Bark-alaurei from Kenyon College.

Mopsy Goes to Florida

As you might have guessed from the title, three weeks ago I went with my sidekick, her parents, and her younger brother to Pass-a-Grille, Florida. It was lots of fun. For one thing, it was terrific to escape the never-ending winter-without-snow of New Hampshire. It wasn’t hot enough to swim, but it was still very warm. I got to canoe, terrify some enormous birds on the beach, relax in the sun, and overcome my fear of dogs.

 

Now I know most of you have heard stories of how I’m not a huge fan of boats. I’ve gone kayaking with my sidekick before, and let’s just say it didn’t go so well. She couldn’t do any paddling because I was either trying to drink the ocean—which she tells me is a bad idea—I definitely wouldn’t be wagging my tail if she let me try it—or I was trying to jump into the ocean. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t want to go swimming. I don’t like swimming that much either. I just wanted out of the boat. I really wanted out of the boat. After that, my sidekick usually left me at home when she went kayaking with her family, and I was pretty happy about it. But in Florida, she didn’t want to leave me in our hotel, because I wasn’t that familiar with it and she didn’t want me to get anxious. I might have been fine staying behind, but it turns out I like canoes better than kayaks. There was room for me to flop down on the bottom between my sidekick in the front and her dad in the back, and I got this nice combination of warm sun on my fur on one side and the cool bottom of the boat on my other. My sidekick said she was very proud of me. I did almost tip the boat with my wagging tail.

 

And I almost tipped the boat because of the birds. My sidekick was not so proud of my interest in the birds.

 

They were pelicans. They were everywhere—on the beach, on the piers, out on the water—and they were big. Really big. Huge. Bigger than me. And I kind of liked to leap at them and watch them fly off. I know. Not super good Seeing Eye dog behavior, but how often do you get to chase a pelican?

 

But while I did chase the pelicans once or twice, I was very good about not chasing dogs. I’ve been having some problems with dogs ever since Italy, so this was a big big deal. Lots of tail wags.

 

Here’s what happened. We’re in Assisi. The drivers are crazy people, and they just keep driving where we’re supposed to be walking. They’re pulling in front of us, creeping up behind us, screeching to a stop exactly where we were a second ago. I already let my sidekick get hit by one car—and we were on the sidewalk!—and there’s no way I’m letting it happen again. I will drag her into a hedge or up a tree if I have to (and I had to). So I am seriously wound up, and this is just outside. Inside, we have people yelling at us and blocking turnstyles. My sidekick describes riding the bus on the way to school (with all the students), like a claustrophobic roller coaster where you’re standing up, and she wasn’t the one looking at a hundred kneecaps (she learned to be very forceful with her elbows so that I didn’t get trampled).

 

Add to all this craziness the large dogs—either stray or off-leash—who came charging at me barking, and I forgot my training a little bit. Maybe a lot. Hey, they were scary, and they could understand me. I was working. I had a very, very important job—keping my sidekick alive until we could get home. So I barked back. I’m not supposed to bark ever. I know that. And no way am I supposed to get distracted by other dogs when I’m working. But they were bigger than me, and they were coming at me, and I couldn’t let them distract me from my job, so I had to tell them to stay back.

 

When we finally got home from Italy, my sidekick started working with me to stop the bad behavior, but by this point I had it in my mind so firmly that other dogs were bad—scary, even—that we weren’t making much progress. She called my school, The Seeing Eye, several times. They gave her advice about how to correct me and told me that whenever I barked at dogs she had to put the gentle leader on me. The gentle leader is not a muzzle. It doesn’t keep my mouth closed. It doesn’t prevent me from barking. It just puts pressure around my face on the points where my mommy would pick me up when I was a baby and liked to chew on her ears. It reminded me to stay focused on my job and not bark at the dogs. I didn’t like the gentle leader, and I knew I needed to stop barking at the dogs. I knew when I did it right, because my sidekick would get very excited and give me lots of pets and even kneel down so I could lick her ears. We both thought we were making progress, but then, every time, I would get startled by a dog, and I would bark, and we would be back to where we started.

 

Around Christmas, my sidekick tried a new tactic. Instead of just correcting the bad behavior, my sidekick started rewarding me with kibble every time I was a good girl. We’d gone to New York to pick up her brother from college, and we spent the day walking all over the city with her mother. When a dog was coming, she had me sit and focus on her and the treat until the dog passed, and if I didn’t bark and pull towards the dog, I got the treat. If I did, I got the gentle leader. It was slow going, but now we both felt like we were finally making progress. I don’t need to be afraid of walking past dogs: there are treats on the other side of it. Pretty soon, my sidekick didn’t have to ask me to sit. She could just tell me to leave it, and I would trot right past the dog. We kept practicing, and she starting weening me off the treats, replacing them with pets and cuddles and lots and lots of praise, which I like too, especially if it comes with the chance to chew her ears. (I like chewing ears.)

 

Which brings me back to Florida. We were walking on the beach, when we wandered into a section where dogs were allowed. Now, I’m a special dog—I have a mission—so I’m allowed to go anywhere with my sidekick, even if other dogs can’t. But all of a sudden, we went from having the beach to ourselves to being surrounded. And I mean surrounded. There were maybe fifty dogs, all off-leash, playing in the water, chasing balls, running around with each other. I slowed down a bit and looked at my sidekick. I was a bit nervous about all this. But she said “Leave it, Mops. Let’s go. Good girl!” And I kept right on going, right through all those dogs. I was so proud of myself, and my sidekick was so proud of me! We both knew I’d been making progress, but this really sealed the deal.

 

The dog problem isn’t behind us. If a dog appears suddenly, I still startle, and I might bark or just pull too hard on the harness, but we’re working on it, and I’m confident I can do it. If I can handle those fifty dogs in Florida, I can handle one, even if it’s giant and sneaky. I got my sidekick through Italy, and I’m going with her to law school, and no dog is going to stop me.

 

So thank you, Florida, for the springtime, for the relaxation, and for showing me that I don’t have to bark at dogs to do my job right.

The Grande Amore of Mopsina and Gastone

This time last year, in Italy, it was just beginning to turn warm. Spring was coming. We could all feel it. I walked down the street with my sidekick, and there was a new lightness in her step, a new smile on her face. Even I felt better. It was the sort of warmth in the air that makes me keep my head up, scenting spring on the horizon, and wagging my tail as I trot along.

 

Today, it’s 0 out. Fahrenheit. So cold the furnace is breaking, the pipes are freezing, the windows are exploding, and I’m curled up in as small a ball as I can be, typing this one letter at a time with my paw.

 

So, happy Valentine’s Day from the frozen tundra of New Hampshire. Valentine’s Day has always been interesting to me. In college, my sidekick read me the poem where Chaucer pretty much invented it—I don’t remember which one it was now—and now I see people getting so worked up over it on the TV shows my sidekick watches. But she’s never gotten worked up over it, so neither do I. But today, I am thinking about Gastone.

 

Gastone is a cat.

 

I know what you’re thinking, but Gastone and I were good friends.

 

In Italy, our landlady, Stefania, had six cats. I’ve met cats before, and I’m usually pretty good with them. There are times, I’ll admit, when I forget that I am a lot bigger than they are and my playing maybe scares them a little. But usually I’m pretty good. But six cats is a lot, even for me.

 

So when I found out there were six cats and no dogs where we were going to be living in Italy, I wasn’t so sure. I might like cats, but usually cats don’t like me. And I’ve always had dog friends, at school at the Seeing Eye, at Kenyon, at home with my sidekick’s parents. Now, there were only cats. Lots of cats.

 

At first, they were scared of me. But then, they started to get curious, especially since I’m a good girl and I don’t bark or growl or leap out at them. One of them, Gastone, really seemed to like me. He was the biggest, maybe ten pounds. He liked to sit on our doorstep, so that every time we left the apartment, there he was, waiting. And when I appeared, he would purr very loudly. And I would wag my tail to say hello. Stefania started talking about the grande amore of Mopsina and Gastone, but it wasn’t really that. Gastone would purr at me, and I would wag my tail. Seeing Gastone did make me happy every morning, because it reminded me that even though I missed my dog friends and my people friends from Kenyon and New Hampshire, I still had friends here. And I still had my sidekick. We weren’t alone.

 

So last year on Valentine’s Day, with spring just around the corner, I celebrated a different kind of love. Thanks to Gastone, who reminded me I was not alone, I celebrated my love for my sidekick. She is my best friend in the whole world. She takes care of me, and I take care of her. I make her laugh, and she scratches all the places I can’t itch myself. I keep her safe, and she takes me new places to have new adventures. So this Valentine’s Day, as we huddle for warmth and try to decide where we will be going to school next fall, where the next adventure will be, I still celebrate that love and that friendship. Wherever we go next, we go together.

 

So thank you, Gastone, for reminding me every morning last year of all my friends.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Hello! I’m Mopsy, Jameyanne’s four-legged, tail-wagging, guiding partner. You may have heard of me, and now my sidekick (that’s how I like to think of Jameyanne) has graceously allowed me to write some blog posts about myself. In general, I’m planning to talk about what I’m up to in life, and what I’ve been up to before, since you have a lot of catching up to do, and of course fun things like bounding through snow and why I love tug-of-war and throwing my bones at people’s shins. Today, I want to talk about sidewalks.

 

I’ve been thinking about sidewalks a lot this week. Mostly, it’s because my sidekick found her book of Shel Silverstein poems and read the one whose title I borrowed for this post. In the poem, the place where the sidewalk ends is like a liminal space (my sidekick talked about these a lot when we were in college, and I pay attention to everything). There is the sidewalk, which I guess symbolizes society, modernity, urban life, what is known about the world. And there is no sidewalk, which would symbolize the opposite, the wilderness, the country, a time before modernity, and of course, the unknown. And then there’s the moment where the sidewalk ends, which is what we’re talking about in the poem, that magical in between space where the world of sidewalks and sidewalk-lovers everywhere changes.

 

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this poem, because I have a much more straightforward view of sidewalks. So does my sidekick, I think, especially since she decided she wasn’t going to pursue this English major stuff (I mean, we took some great classes, but I for one am glad we’re going into a more concrete field).

 

Before we went to Italy, the sidewalk meant safety. People walked on the sidewalks, and they didn’t have to be afraid of the cars, because the cars had their own place to drive (the road!).

 

Then my sidekick insisted we go to Italy, and hey, I know Italian and I like adventure, so I didn’t object. But we arrived in Italy, and very quickly (like the third day, when my sidekick was hit by a car on the sidewalk—I pulled her back so it wasn’t so bad, but it was scary and I was very upset with myself) we had to reconsider what sidewalks meant. Which is to say, did they really mean safety? The answer, we soon learned, was not so much. At best, cars parked on the sidewalk, or backed up over the sidewalk to get from a parking lot into the street (this was what happened with the car that hit us). At worst, cars actually pulled up on the sidewalk and used it as an extra lane. I don’t know what they were thinking. It’s my job to make sure we get where we’re going safely. (It’s her job to actually know where we’re going and how to get there. That’s why she’s my sidekick.) I don’t need to know why a car is chasing me down the sidewalk (but, really? Must you? You have the whole street!). I just need to know that hey! There’s a car chasing us down the sidewalk! Let’s walk faster shall we!

 

It is sort of a fundamental fact of orientation and mobility (this thing that people who are blind do with teachers so they can learn where they are) that the best route is always the route with the most sidewalks. In Italy, it was the opposite. It was safer for us to take streets that didn’t have sidewalks, because it turned out everyone already knew this rule and all the people and dogs were taking those streets, so the cars were paying more attention.

 

We survived our year in Italy (obviously, or I wouldn’t be talking to you), and my sidekick and I came back to America, where sidewalks are sacred ground once more. There’s a reason I keep kissing them. But our ideas about sidewalks and roads are fundamentally different now. So when a car pulls up too fast to parallel park beside the sidewalk where we’re walking, maybe I push my sidekick into a hedge. Better the hedge than squished, right? And my sidekick jumped too, so it isn’t just me. And maybe when I hear a car behind me I turn my head a lot until it passes to watch it, just to make sure it’s still where it belongs in the road and not coming after us. It snowed last week. Good bounding snow too, I might add, and sometimes I do bound when I’m wearing my harness. I know I shouldn’t but it makes my sidekick laugh. But anyway, it snowed, and when we had to go out into the street because they just decided not to shovel the last ten feet of the sidewalk, maybe, no (who I am kidding?), we were definitely very twitchy about walking out into the street.

 

But on the whole, we’ve been doing very well. I’ve been doing very well, especially. I know my sidekick was worried that I wouldn’t be okay after Italy, that it would be too much stress and I would be too anxious when we got back home. But I’m okay, and she’s okay. More than okay. We survived! And I did awesome! After that first stupid car hit us, I didn’t let another car come close (and believe me, they tried). They pulled out in front of us and then said “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you.” To which my sidekick responded, “Well, I’m blind, so you should look where you’re going.” This one time, a bus drove right up the wheelchair ramp onto the sidewalk. That time, I dragged my sidekick behind a tree and hoped very much that the tree would hold when the bus hit it. But the bus stopped and said, you guessed it, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there. You can cross now.” To which my sidekick responded, “No, no, you go. I’m staying here.” We both had hiccups for the rest of the day.

 

But now we’re home, and we’re working on not being so jumpy, and we’re getting ready for the next adventure. My sidekick says it will probably be in Boston or New York, and those both sound like wonderful fun to me: busy enough that it’s good work for me, the work I was built for, but the cars stay where they’re supposed to. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Last week, I know my sidekick talked about being brave, and now it’s my turn. For us, the place where the sidewalk ends is not a magical in between. For me, now, it is a place where we have to step away from safety and trust the guys behind the wheels of those giant killing machines. We try to avoid it, but when we have to, I’m getting better at doing it without being unreasonably scared. Now, I do it with my head up and just the right amount of fear. Still, I only trust these guys so far, which is I think how it should be (they are a lot bigger than me, after all), and that’s the way it’s going to stay.