Numb, I sat on the couch staring at the wall in my silent apartment. Elvis rested on the floor, his giant head using my good leg for a pillow. I turned my gaze to the bag of ice resting on my swollen ankle, propped up on the coffee table, cushioned by my good feather pillow, which was slowly getting soaked by the melting ice. Crap, I thought. How the heck am I going to get this back to the freezer in the kitchen without making a mess? I resolved to just let it melt there and deal with the stinky feather pillow later. I looked towards the prescription bottle of Percocet, thinking how grateful I was to have some left over from my eye surgery. At least I would sleep tonight. So I thought.
1am- Soaked with sweat, I threw the covers off to the floor. Elvis sprawled beside me, stretching and yawning loudly at my disturbance. “Sorry buddy, I cooed, reaching my arm around his body, curled into the fetal position. I lay there, stroking his ears, which beared the marks of the attack, covered in dried saliva from our attacker. My eyes filled with tears again. “I’m so sorry buddy. I’m so sorry.”
Each time I began to drift off to a restless sleep, I kept hearing the dog’s growl and my own screams for help. I saw flashes of a woman in dark clothes standing over me, frozen and seemingly deaf. In my dreams, I kept reaching out to her with outstretched arms, begging for help, while she stood watching, her arms folded across her chest. Why? I kept thinking? Why would she do that? My head whipped violently around, right and left, right and left, scanning, searching for the dog. Where was he? Where was he going to grab Elvis next? I was desperate to locate him, and quieted my screams, so I could listen and anticipate the next attack before it came.
This dream continued all night, and by 6am I finally gave up on sleep. It was fruitless. There would be no rest for a while, I dejectedly resolved. I put on the walking cast and hobbled to the kitchen for my morning coffee. Normally, when I’m feeling out of sorts, my ‘therapy’ is a good long swim or an hour spin class to sweat out my anxiety or frustration. I sighed a shaky breath, realizing that my spinning and swimming days were inevitably postponed and that the four walls of my apartment were going to seem pretty small pretty fast.
Social media is just that- social. I needed some people to distract me from my own thoughts and the events of the day before. My Facebook family and Guiding Eyes for the Blind family would become my lifeline over the coming days. My first call was to the training department at Guiding Eyes. I knew that after any trauma, the important objective was to get Elvis out working as quickly as possible, to avoid giving the incident more power over us as a team than it already had. They listened , offered their sympathies, and told me that I should be hearing back from an instructor shortly.
At 9am, I called the Darien Police Department, hoping to catch the K9 Officer who had helped apprehend the woman the day before. The operator said that he would be back in at 3pm and to call him then. Finally, I reached out to my Orthpedic Surgeon, and booked an appointment for the afternoon. Gingerly, I hopped in my cast to the freezer to continue icing my swollen ankle. A new friend and neighbor offered to take Elvis and I to our appointment that afternoon, and I spent the day avoiding the million phone calls from well-wishers that had heard about the incident. Having been a public figure in the wine industry for so long, I am fortunate to have a lot of friends in print and television media. They insisted I get my story out there to warn the public of the dangers of off leash dogs and what that means to those of us who are disabled. I felt I finally had an outlet for all the sadness, terror and anxiety I was feeling.
I reached out to my friends on Guiding Eyes’ email list. The hundreds of graduates from GEB were an amazing support network, and many of them had been through the exact same thing over the years with each of their guides, some even having to retire them after the dog could no longer work. The outpouring of similar stories and support was like a warm bath. With each telling, I felt my nerves settle and my heart beat slower. They GOT it. Elvis is not a pet. I cannot see well enough to protect us from anything. No one except the visually impaired community understands that- not even close. To feel so helpless during such an attack is a feeling I never want to know again. Email after email rolled in, suggesting I invest in pepper spray. I had no idea how many Guide Dog Users carry it- I was shocked.
I had thought about pepper spray in the past during some scary moments in our travels, but feared I would accidentally spray myself or Elvis, unable to determine the nozzle’s direction with my limited sight. Especially in an emergency. I realized that I was perhaps naive in this thinking, and resolved to hit Amazon to search for something foolproof to protect us in the future.
My ankle began to throb, and as I removed the walking cast for the next round of ice and dose of Percocet, I noticed that my knee was banged up with a large cut. I laughed out loud, remembering how adrenaline can cause ‘anesthetized trauma’ where you don’t feel anything until you come down from the frightening episode, and thanked my online friends for the distraction from my beat-up body and scrambled mind. Reaching down, I stroked Elvis’ matted coat, still dry and sticky from all the saliva, and resolved that I would make it off the couch at some point today and attempt a grooming to restore both of our dignities.