Clearly I have lost track of how many days we have been in training but it has been going well. Over the last few days, Wesley and I have gotten a lot accomplished and we are starting to really settle into a good partnership. I am finally whole with Wesley by my side and am more grateful for him and his old soul every day.
As we near the middle of Week 2 of training, the group is getting into more specific instruction based on common specific situations and custom work catered to our living and working routines at home. My partner and I did some sidewalkless work with our instructor as it is something we both encounter at home. Wesley did great even when I was a bit uncomfortable with a new environment. We have also walked a night route that went well despite everything looking (and smelling) differently in the dark. Wesley was a champ as always. We worked on an obstacle course with PVC pipe overhead obstructions at head level. Wesley struggled with this but it is a difficult skill for any dog when they have to be aware of the space so much outside their personal clearance. Yesterday we worked on public transportation which will be a major part of my life at home. It was refreshing to feel confident traveling on a bus and train in a relatively unfamiliar city. Today we had a traffic route where our supervisor drove the dreaded Prius in common traffic encounter situations. The dogs are trained to respond to a potentially dangerous situation with any obstacle but especially cars. This can come in the form of a car pulling in front of a team in a driveway, veering in the direction of a team, coming up behind or coming straight at a dog and handler. Wesley did great for all of the situations with only one mistake with the head on confrontation. And might I mention that it was freezing cold outside for this route with a bitter wind chill. I have serious respect and gratitude for my instructor who walked this route six times with each team in such cold weather. He continues to impress me with his dedication to thoroughly training our wonderful guides and walking alongside (figuratively and literally) as we begin to bond and become a true partnership. He has said several times that he is instructing me as if I were an apprentice trainer and I have a lot of appreciation for his acknowledgement of my abilities. Wesley and I are definitely blessed to have such an awesome coach.
Earlier today my partner and I went on a unique route with our dogs and supervisor. We went on a walking trail type route that had a defined path but still involved obstacles, direction changes and surface changes with bridges. My partner and I are both fast walkers so we were cruising through the trees and taking everything in stride. This route in particular was the one that left me feeling empowered. It felt so good to almost jog down the path with full trust in Wesley. It may be cliche but I really felt free; free of the limited speed of a cane; free of any worry or doubt in navigating and most of all I felt free of my own insecurities. I was fully connected with Wesley and that was all that mattered. We were both enjoying the moment and it was refreshing to just let go. I felt like my fearless self again.
We are now nearing the end of training with graduation coming up quickly on Saturday. Although I am happy to be returning home with my new partner at my side, it will be bitter-sweet to leave such an uplifting group of people. My classmates and I have really bonded into our own little family and it will be sad not to banter and hear their stories every day. I will miss the encouragement of our instructors, supervisor and staff but I know that support extends past our training time on campus. I am so amazed by the time and energy invested by volunteers as well and their kindness and generosity is honestly inspiring. Hopefully I will get to meet Wesley’s puppy raisers before graduation and thank them for raising such a loving and gentle guy. Wesley is clearly a reflection of the family that cared for him in his puppyhood. And although I have not met them personally, I feel more connected to GDB donors here in training as I am benefiting and growing from the generous contributions to this one-of-a-kind organization. Their investment lasts for the lifetime of these dogs and I am reminded of what a blessing that is. Guide Dogs for the Blind could not reach such success without any of these integral components that make it such an effective agent to monumentally change lives.