20 October 2012

Saving a Life or Two

This post is for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival being hosted by Martha at the blog Believe in Who You Are The topic for this carnival is *Moments*

There are so many aspects to Assistance Dog partnership that have their memorable moments- even more so for those of us who are owner trainers. As an individual with progressive deafblindness,  incomplete quadriplegia, and other substantial medical hurdles, the first moments that come to mind are two life saving events- one by each of my combo trained guide, hearing, service dogs. Initially, I was only going to write about the event with my present partnership; however, I realized that both of these events have played a crucial role in shaping who I am as a trainer and handler.

It was around 2004. I was taking Chimette (AKA Met) for our normal routine short walk while my apartment was being vacuumed.  Met was a typical male who loved to mark when I allowed him to, and sometimes tried to do so of his own accord with failing results. As males go, his marking behavior was honestly not that bad though he had a favorite area where he really loved to mark as we turned toward home.

Our path had no big obstacles to deal with that morning- everything was flowing with a calm, peaceful simplicity until Met jerked over under the trees alongside the sidewalk path. Something told me that despite our location, this action was not about marking so I followed his lead moving my chair over under the trees just as a white streak passed so close I could have reached out and touched it. The driver, so out of control, that he or she jumped the curb at the corner using the sidewalk as an extension of the road. I knew the police were not far behind after Met's siren alert so we stayed put.

Met got a jackpot of praise and opportunity to mark, and as Julie Johnson puts it, check all the pee mail he could ever want to check. During that interval I worked on getting my heart to stop pounding so hard that I could feel it in my chest. The realization of just what Met had done for me in that moment remains as clear in my mind some eight years later as it did the moment it occurred. He was indeed my hero who quite literally saved our lives that day.

Life goes on though and one doesn't think every day about each moment of excitement, wonder, or even life saving events. Met aged, passed away, and his successor stepped up to the plate in grand fashion. During this time, my disabilities had all progressed substantially. Still, I didn't think too much about all the moments each day- all the times Thane proved himself as we trained or worked as a green team.

There were so many times when drivers needed a refresher course about yielding for pedestrians, about looking for pedestrians when entering the crosswalk with their vehicles, and oh boy- the stories I could tell about the life saving moments caused by individuals who plain and simply need to have the keys taken away from them.

The one moment though in this partnership with Thane, that really stays in my mind and probably will for all time occurred May 20, 2011 shortly before Thane would collapse from undiagnosed Lyme disease. I included this fact, solely because it makes what he did this day all that much more of a memorable moment forever etched in my mind.

It was a beautiful day and we were going to take advantage of it. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were coming off of our nine to ten months of annual rain and everyone was ready for the kind of weather we had that day. We headed to the trail and then back to New Seasons for a few items. As we were crossing the street with the signal (why are we always in the middle or three quarters of the way across the street when people try and put their 2000 pound or more vehicles to the test against pedestrians- deafblind ones at that), Thane slammed himself across my path at which point I immediately backed my chair some, but not before the unfortunate aspect of wheeling over a paw. With Thane's focus on getting me back, I doubt there was even a whimper at that unfortunate impact we made. I felt the swoosh of the air as a car ripped past us, not even slowing down at our presence. The signal there (and all along that street and too many others) has a yield arrow where cars can turn left when it is clear. The problem being is that they RARELY look for pedestrians.

Once we made it across the street and steadied our nerves, I gave Thane jackpot praise for what I realized immediately was the closest I had ever come to being severely injured or killed since partnered with a guide dog. This event had a greater impact than the one with his predecessor, Met, but each leaving me with gratefulness for the results of hard training and partnership with the dog at my side. I swapped handles (the glue had popped in the forceful re-direction Thane had to make) and we carried on. I've learned many times over how valuable it can be to carry a spare guide handle with us.

As we walked along towards the max station, I noticed Thane's pull in harness was different, but didn't think too much about it since his gait seemed normal. When we got to the max station is when I realized just the extent of what he had done for me. His forceful blocking of my chair had caused a sheering of his skin from the harness straps and forced torque of the guide handle.

My skin didn't fare much better than Thane's did. As we spent some days at home to heal, I tried not to let myself feel as awful as I did about Thane being injured in the performance of his duty. Instead I focused on the fact that we were still there, still together, because he performed his duty to the utmost of his ability.

I've heard a number of heartbreaking stories over the years about service dogs killed while crossing streets or parking lots, many of which were guide dogs. I continue to be grateful for the fast action of Thane that day. I am sure that his training, the repetitive need to use this skill due to distracted or incompetent drivers, our bond that helped me realize his urgency in that split second, and especially his agile build helped keep us safe that day.

That was the day when I realized above and beyond, that Thane was the right dog to have at my side.


  1. Such an awesome post :) I loved reading about the ways in which your boys have saved your life.

    Way to go Thane (and Met).

  2. Great blog Karyn! thanks for sharing it!
    Debbie & Leone

  3. Wow! I hadn't remembered the details of these two events. My heart was POUNDING as I read this. You described it so vividly. I am so grateful to Met and Thane for keeping you alive! What an amazing addition the ADBC.

  4. Wow, what an amazing feat of courage, by both dogs! Thanks for sharing, as a puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I am always encouraged when I hear what these dogs can do for their person. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Both of these moments left me gasping as I read them. Thank you for sharing--you have amazing partners.

  6. Your post gave me goosebumps. I am so glad your dogs were able to notify and protect you from those drivers. Traffic can be so scary. Although my dog is not needed for vision issues, I train with him on walks to look both directions for cars, and to look in parking lots for cars. So he has some awareness that they are really to be avoided. We self train and used a small organization before that--I don't know if larger mobility or medical alert or autism organizations train their dogs to be cautious with traffic.

    There's always the concern something could happen--people pull into that white striped space when we're loading into the van sometimes to give themselves room to turn their vehicle around, for example.

    Dogs are blessings, and I've learned when mine supposedly disobeys, it's often for my own good, and it's perilous for me to not immediately pay attention.