Guide Dog Take II: Day 4 Building Confidence

This post is for yesterday. I know I said I would be better on posting about each day on that day so that will start now after this post. ;)

Today Wesley and I went walking on our route in Portland. Our first route in the morning went really well. We noted several things to work on including my turn mechanics especially to the left. On our way back to the GDB Portland Center, Wesley and I approached a curb as usual and when I cued him to go forward and cross the street, he resisted. When I asked again, he tried to move to the left so we reset. I asked him one more time but we just decided to go sighted guide across the street. The principle here was to “get to the good” stuff and reward for that. So when we walked forward with my instructor being a sighted guide, Wesley did come alongside me, maintaining the line we were traveling. When we got to the other side, my instructor informed me that there was a large puddle of water in front of the down-curb which was why Wesley did not want to move forward. We noted this as something to pay attention to in our afternoon route. The rest of the morning route finished out nicely and ended on a positive note.

When we went out for our afternoon route, everything seemed to flow a bit smoother. My turns were better but did get a bit sloppy toward the end. The big accomplishment happened when we approached the very scary dog-eating water puddle. Wesley showed me the curb as usual and when I asked him to go forward he didn’t even hesitate. He took a big step and went through the puddle like a champ! I felt like an overly proud mom when we got to the other side and he looked up at me seeking approval and reward. He got that praise in full! It seems like such a small accomplishment but to me it just showed how hard Wesley tries to do good. All the way back on that route, he trotted with a little hop in his step. It was like he was proud of himself too.

With every day that passes, I feel Wesley and I growing in confidence and connectedness. With each moment of praise or encouragement, he works a little bit harder for me. I can’t even describe how good it feels to be behind the harness again and especially with such an earnest and honest partner. Wesley continues to endear himself to me and I just love every second I spend with him. He seems happy to be with me and work as a team.

After dinner, Wesley and I did some snuggling on the floor. He was so affectionate and kept leaning into me as I pet him. He licked my face and laid his head in my lap. I really enjoy how responsive he is to physical praise. I feel like it connects us on a deeper level. We played a little with his bone and kong and eventually he decided it was bedtime and tucked himself in a ball in the corner. Before I went to bed, I made sure to give him some love and tell him how good of a boy he is and how much I love him. This partnership is just plain awesome. I know it won’t be spectacular like this forever but the love I feel between us hopefully will never go away.

Tomorrow we work in Portland in the morning and Fred Meyer in the afternoon for inside work. I’m looking forward to just another day with Mr Wesley.

I’m going to try and get some pictures of us working on some of our routes.

Stay tuned and may your Thanksgiving cooking go smoothly!

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Guide Dog: Take II: Day 3 Playtime

This was technically yesterday. I’ll try to write subsequent posts on the day they happen!

photoToday Wesley and I had some really awesome routes! It felt so good to be behind the harness again. Our paces match perfectly and I absolutely adore the way he works. He needs more encouragement than Retha did but he is so sincere in how hard he tries. Even when he is unsure of what I’m asking, he still tries to do the right thing. Working with Wesley is providing many opportunities for me to learn as well. I am working on making my voice intonation with commands more consistent and confident. This is something I never even realized with Retha but Wesley responds extremely well when my commands are firm but still encouraging. My instructor suggested thinking of Wesley doing whatever I am asking him to do instead of waiting to see if he will actually do it. I found this really helpful. It’s definitely something I will have to keep working on but Wesley is a patient teacher.

In between routes, Wesley is so mellow and relaxed. I had some homework to get done and he just laid quietly at my side even as other dogs came in and out. Occasionally he will become curious about what the dogs near him are doing but when I ask for his attention, he is quick to refocus. This level of consistency is so refreshing and exactly what I need in my life right now. I can already tell that he will do great in a class setting and in the dorms.

After returning back to campus from our away routes today, we received instruction with our grooming kits. This was largely a review for me but still exciting with a new dog. Wesley really likes being groomed but is very sensitive. Sometimes he gets unsure about what I’m doing but just looks around to check it out. His coat is so soft and fluffy and super easy to groom. Selfishly, I admit that I am really happy he has black fur because I can finally wear my large collection of black yoga pants that have been in the back of my closet for too long!!

After dinner, we were given Wesley’s favorite thing… toys!!! We have a bone-shaped tug toy, a kong and a nylabone. Wesley loves all three and is so gentle when he plays. He has such a soft mouth and likes to just run back and forth with a toy in his mouth. i threw the kong just a few feet away and he playfully ran to get it and bring it back to me. It seems that he really just wants to be close to me when we play. At one point, he was chewing on his bone a few feet away from me and I was sitting on the floor watching him. He then got up and left his bone, walking over to me and nudging my arm around him. He laid down against my side and took a little nap. I almost cried because of how precious this is. After some snuggle time, Wesley got up and went straight to his bed and fell asleep. Again this is just adorable.

Tomorrow we head into Portland to begin our new routes. I’m really excited to practice more with this sweet boy. With every minute of our journey, I adore him even more. Stay tuned!

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Guide Dog: Take II: Day 2 Wesley

Today I met a beautiful soul who happens to be my guide dog partner. I could not be more thrilled with this match. It is only the first day of our journey together but I am already in love.

This morning my classmates and I began with some Juno work. For those not familiar with GDB lingo, Juno work is when an instructor holds the harness or collar and simulates common dog behaviors. Using this method allows for handlers to learn commands and offers an opportunity to troubleshoot through possible distractions. In all honesty, I found that my concrete obedience and guidework were really rusty. I felt like I had forgotten everything and had to start from scratch. My patient instructor helped me to gain confidence and find my “guiding legs” again. The muscle memory started to come back to me and I eventually settled into the rhythm. There are a few other retrains (handlers on their 2nd, 3rd… dog) in my class and they had trouble with Juno as well which made me feel much better about struggling at first. Through doing this Juno work, I did discover that I have some less desirable habits that I’ll be working to correct. But I’m up for the challenge.

The fun really began after lunch. I waited in my room and waited for my instructor to bring my new partner. As I listened to all of my classmates open their doors and welcome in their dogs, my heart beat faster and faster. I ran through whatever name possibilities I could come up with in my head “Alejandro? Donald? Ricardo? Luigi? Frederick?” And as I continued to wait, my anticipation ever rising, I couldn’t help but notice that I was overcome with peace. This surprised me. I would have expected to have metal butterflies in my stomach as is normal for me when something new or important is coming. I attribute this serene feeling to none other than the Holy Spirit. This whole journey of retiring Retha and waiting for another guide has brought me so much closer to God. I’ve faced a higher sense of vulnerability than I have felt in a long time yet these past few months have been different. Instead of being overwhelmed by anxiety or stress I found it relieving and enticing to lay my burdens before the cross. I had full faith that God held me in His hand. He had a plan and however difficult it was at times, I had more trust in that plan than I’ve ever had. As Jesus was with me as I handed over Retha’s leash in August and as He jumped with me when I dove head-first into a new year of school without a dog, I know that He stood at my side today as I awaited my new partner. These past months have been miserable in many ways but the soft blanket of Godly peace I felt today is proof that the struggle was worth it.

After an indeterminable amount of time, I heard the promising knock on my door. I leapt to open it and met my instructor leading Wesley, a stout, male black lab. I knelt to greet Wesley as he affectionately licked my cheek. I held back tears as I ran my hands over Wesley’s soft and fluffy coat, listening as best I could to the information from my instructor. Once we were alone and given time to get to know each other, Wesley flopped over on his side and asked for a good belly rub which I of course provided. He couldn’t have cared less about the numerous smells on the floor. He just wanted my attention and I was glad to give it to him. Automatically I knew that this was my dog; this was the partner that God had readied for me.

Wesley and I worked on heeling and some basic guidework around the GDB campus. I admit, it felt much different from with Retha but I felt with every step that Wesley was trying with all of his heart to do the right thing. We used a lot of food rewards and I discovered that Wesley is highly motivated by them but also thrived on physical and verbal praise. At dinner, Wesley laid at my side like a perfect angel. And now as I sit writing this post, he sleeps next to my bed, positioning himself as close to the bed(where I’m working) as possible. He is so mellow and calm and I absolutely adore that. We seriously have the same temperament. I simply adore him and his old soul.

The real work begins tomorrow and I am excited to get walking with this precious boy. I have a feeling that our journey together will be full of joy and discovery. Of course it will take time for us to bond and become a true team but I just want to enjoy every step along the way with Wesley.

Thank you all again for your continued support in this journey! I am beyond blessed to have such a loving community around me and now around Wesley as well. Stay tuned for more updates about our progress in training. Welcome to the family Wesley. image-1

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Guide Dog: Take II; Day 1 Arrival

Some very exciting things are happening! A few weeks ago, I received a call from Guide Dogs for the Blind letting me know that they had an open spot for training November 23 to Dec 6 and they had a dog ready for me. needless to say, I was overjoyed that God had set such a miracle in my path. My prayers had been answered in every way.

So here I am on this lovely Sunday morning, sitting in the back of my best friend Sarah,s car as we drive to Boring, OR for training. I honestly can’t believe this is actually happening but I am so grateful that it is. Tonight I will meet my classmates and settle into my room for the next two weeks. It feels a little bitter sweet making this drive because Retha is not with me but I know she is with a wonderful family and is living the life she deserves. I am so very excited to meet my new partner tomorrow afternoon and am hopeful that we will be a good team.

As I did when I was training with Retha, I will post daily updates of our two-week training so stay tuned hear of adventures with my new best friend.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement through this process. The time I spent without a guide was some of the most lonely and desperate time I’ve experienced. But within that discomfort and struggle, I believe I found myself. I learned that a cane does not define me and it is possible to live a life without sight and still carry myself with grace and humility. I know now that God gave me this time to discover more of my identity as a capable young woman who happens to be blind. I confess that I am thankful this time is over but I understand that all of this is just another part of my journey.

As I enter this new chapter with a new partner by my side, I am confident.
Confident that the lessons I learned without a dog will endure.
Confident that neither fear nor insecurity will hold me back.
Confident that I will persevere as it is my God given habit.

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My Sweet Sarah

Several years ago, I rode and leased a beautiful Paint mare named Sarah. She was in my life for almost 6 years, enabling me to transition from the therapeutic riding environment to the able-bodied horse world with all of its opportunities and intricacies. I have never experienced a deeper or stronger bond with a horse than I did with Sarah. In early summer of 2012, Sarah had to be sold and I was not in a position to buy her. Ever since that day I have regretted letting her slip through my fingers. I have missed her terribly and promised myself that someday I would get her back. Well just a few weeks ago, an opportunity for a second chance arose. Sarah came for sale and I have decided to buy her.

She has changed owners several times since leaving me and it is truly a miracle that she is making her way back to me. Her current owners have poured heart and soul into her and have done everything possible to get her healthy and content. They have done everything that I always wanted to do but couldn’t when I was leasing her. Sarah has been so loved and cared for in this home but just isn’t the right fit for her young rider whose riding aspirations have shifted. Because of this, her family decided to find Sarah a new home. Through connecting with her previous owner through Facebook, simply asking for an update on how Sarah was doing, I learned of her being for sale and instantly jumped on the opportunity to have my girl back.

I am fully aware that owning a horse while being a college student in Seattle isn’t an ideal or convenient situation. But honestly, what in my life is ever ideal or convenient???

I know that this new responsibility will be difficult mainly with finances but I am ready and willing to make sacrifices. All I want is to give Sarah a happy and healthy forever home. Her current owners have helped her become as healthy as she is today and I have every intention of keeping up with what is working for her. I have a boarding situation set up for her at a barn where a friend who lives on my floor at SPU boards her horse. She makes the drive frequently from SPU to the barn so it really couldn’t be more perfect. And this barn is right on a major trail system in a state park. Everything is coming together so perfectly that I can’t help but think that this is what was meant to happen all along. God is bringing Sarah back to me and is providing all of the pieces to make this work.

If everything goes as planned, Sarah will be mine in mid December. After I finish training with my new guide dog and get everything set for her, she will finally come home. Please be praying that everything comes together the way it is meant to especially in terms of finances. I have so much faith that all will be well in the end. I am just so humbled that my sweet Sarah has found her way back to me.

Thank you to Sarah’s past and current owners who cared for her so incredibly well. She is truly lucky to be loved by such wonderful people.

I went to visit Sarah yesterday for the first time in 3 years. I was so worried that she wouldn’t remember me but my worries were unnecessary. As I walked up to her, she instantly recognized me, nuzzling my hands and never taking her eyes off me. She also remembered my parents who were with me. It felt so good just to be with her again. When we eventually went to leave, it was heartbreaking to walk away as she watched me go. I have faith that we will be reunited again soon though. There really isn’t anything sweeter than being back with my best friend; my equine soul mate.

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One Lost Sheep

My sophomore year has begun!!! I am finally back on campus and getting into the rhythm of things! After arriving to to the beautiful (and brand new) Arnett Hall a week early, I participated in the annual Leadership Conference fro all student leaders on campus. I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my Emerson/Arnett Hall Council members and we are planning some exciting things! Once we had all moved in to our rooms, our next project was to plan and prepare for new student check in and orientation which was only three days away. Too say the least, it was a highly stressful and exhausting few days! Thankfully new student check in went remarkably well in both Emerson and Arnett and I think we were able to create a really positive atmosphere to our new residents. I am really proud of this team and can’t wait to get more work done!

On a personal level, I have had a large burden on my heart since getting back to SPU. After meeting our new residents and those returning, we held our very first Arnett Hall tradition. New students started on the first floor lobby before moving up floor by floor while completing a different group game or activity on each floor. Once they reached the 5th and final floor, all of Arnett’s student leaders were there to congratulate them on working together to get to the top floor. This celebration turned into a dance party where I began to feel burdened. In “dance party” type situations, I am highly uncomfortable. There is so much going on around me and I am beyond overwhelmed. This anxiety hit me harder than expected on the night of tradition and I honestly felt paralyzed by fear. I began to think of all of the other students who may be feeling the same fear in that situation.

From the 5th floor, we returned to the lobby for a sparkling cider toast which was followed by yet another dance party. Eventually I became too uncomfortable to stay where I was and I made the decision to separate myself from the situation and go back to my room and go to bed. Once I was alone, I absolutely lost it. The anxiety was so overpowering and the whole thing felt like a great big trigger of my social struggles in high school. I felt as if I was alone in the crowd and felt the same kind of isolation that was all too real for me in high school. My heart breaks now for even one student who felt that kind of fear or anxiety that night. That experience may have turned an otherwise exciting evening into a highly negative and devastating time. I hurt for the one or more students who may have gotten back to their room and broken down as I did. College is scary enough without an activity that highlights upon many people’s fear. That night, I of course called my pastor-at-heart momma who gave me some incredible advice.
She asked me, “Ali do you remember the story in the Bible about when the shepherd leaves the flock of 99 to go find and secure the 1 lost sheep?”

Through the tears I muffled “yes” and began to understand what she was getting at.

I have been that one lost sheep. I know exactly and completely what it is to feel such an extreme level of discomfort, isolation and fear. In this way, I was hurting right there with the students who felt consumed by fear during the dance party.

It is not okay to leave that one sheep behind. I want to be the shepherd who is dedicated to securing and comforting the lost sheep. As a member of hall council, I have the ability to be a voice for the lost sheep. I have the opportunity to create situations, programs and events where it is easier and more comfortable to keep the otherwise lost sheep in the herd where they can feel included and valued. As student leaders, it is our responsibility to be these shepherds and I am blessed to be in a position with the ability to positively effect lives. I am beyond grateful to take up this cross and lead for those whom I can empathize so deeply with.

Luke 15:4 NIV
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

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Rolling with the Pottery Wheel

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to be a counselor for one of our overnight 5 day camps with teens with visual impairments or physical disabilities. One of our activities included going to a beautiful pottery studio where we all got to make small pinch pots and help make one large pot on the pottery wheel. I was super intrigued by the process of making things on the pottery wheel and our wonderful instructor invited me back to work one-on-one on the wheel! I was super excited for the opportunity and had the chance to have my first lesson this past week!

I had an absolute blast! It was so much fun to learn the strokes and methods involved in creating different things. It felt so good to be able to work on something and not have to use my vision. I was actually much more effective without sight!

I cannot thank my lovely teacher enough for her generosity and enthusiasm in teaching me! She was so wonderful in helping me to learn the process and I thoroughly enjoyed just spending time with her. We got to create some awesome pieces that I will be bringing to school with me! I definitely have the perfect ice cream bowl now! I will try to post pictures of the completed products!
Maybe I’ll have to make this another one of my many hobbies!

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