Well, I just got back from my first painful physical therapy session for my ankle. I’m going to work really hard to get back to my pre-attack strength and continue my triathlon training with Elvis at my side. He’s such an awesome pup. His attitude and enthusiasm is infectious, and were it not for this, I probably wouldn’t have left my apartment at all this past week.
Fortunately the Orthopedic surgeon allowed me to swim as my foot and ankle allowed this week, and it feels great to be able to at least get out of the house and do something. The only time of year that I actually don’t mind no longer driving is spring, and I’ve been robbed of my daily walks to run errands, take Elvis to the dog park, and the YMCA- the epicenter of my social life. I feel more isolated than I’ve felt in a long time, and it makes me even more angry each time I look out the window and think, “I’ll go walk for some pineapple at Whole Foods.” Not happening.
My panic attacks at the sound of a jingling collar or barking dog would send me running back to my apartment if only I could run right now. Instead, I do as Kathy from Guiding Eyes for the Blind taught me last week. Stop Elvis, and immediately drop the harness handle that is my instant form of communication between the two of us. The harness handle is a two-way communication device that is extremely sensitive. He can feel everything I’m feeling through that device, and vice versa. So when I’m frightened and feeling panicked, at this point it’s imperative that he not feel that through the handle, to convince him that everything’s ok in the presence of another dog. Allowing him to feel my fear and panic through the handle would have devastating effects on his training and willingness to work in the presence of other dogs.
Guide dogs who have been attacked often develop a fear of the breed or color of dog that attacked them. This fear can lead to detrimental obstacles in their job performance, causing them to shy away from other dogs, walking their handler into an obstacle out of extreme distraction, or even running into the street to get away from an approaching dog, pulling their blind handler into extreme danger and traffic. The other result of such an attack is often sadly aggression towards other dogs, specifically with the type or color that attacked them. Either of these behavioral and training issues would result in immediate retirement of the Guide Dog.
The thought of Elvis retiring after only 4 years of service makes me cry. So, I stand- frozen, shaking, with my head darting left and right, looking for the source of the barking, praying it doesn’t come close to us, all the while, my guide standing next to me at attention, wondering why we’ve stopped our work, confused at my odd behavior. The second step after stopping is crucial. Kathy advised me that I have to carry ‘high value’ dog treats (in Elvis’ case, that’s freeze-dried duck- YUM!) that he normally doesn’t get during a normal work day. I was told to put him into a sit on leash, not harness, and immediately start feeding him tons and tons of duck, giving lots of verbal praise until the dog has passed safely by.
Living in the ‘doggiest’ town in Fairfield County, Greenwich is loaded with all sorts of dogs, from toy poodles to giant Greyhounds. A single block on Greenwich Avenue, where I do a lot of my errands, can mean stopping three or four times in a single block. Needless to say, I’m buying stock in duck, and getting to my destinations VERY slowly between all the stops and hobbling on my ankle.
However, this is progress, as for the first three days I couldn’t even sleep, reliving the attack in my dreams every time my head hit the pillow. I know it will get better. I’m working with local politicians to have a copy of the town and state leash laws listed on every dog license application with a line that each licensee must SIGN to acknowledge that they understand the laws pertaining to control of their animals. While it may not undo last week’s attack, perhaps it will prevent a future one on a person or animal who cannot defend itself, such as was our case. This will be progress….