Vol. 21 No. 1
On the Personal Front: A Tale of Two Dogs
the fall of 1998 I realized that the time had come to find a new, younger
service dog. Beatrice, my service dog of ten years, had been struck by a car.
Although her injuries were not serious, the experience caused her to age
rapidly. She was having trouble doing everything I needed her to do. First I
contacted the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and they helped me by
putting me in contact with the National Education for Dog Assistance Services (NEADS).
I filled out the paper work and in a few months received a call to go for an
interview. After talking with three staff members of NEADS, I was given
literature about their program and sent home. I also learned that it would cost
me $6,000 and that I would need to raise the money myself. I felt quite
back I realize that I was feeling resistant from the beginning. Beatrice had
come to me through a private donation and I had worked with a trainer for ten
days in my own home. Bea and I bonded immediately. She seemed to know that she
was home and would have a permanent place in my heart. In my memory it had been
an easy adjustment for both of us. But when I finally got to NEADS in Boylston
to meet my new dog and begin the two weeks of training, it was an experience
fraught with challenges.
off, Daisy Mae seemed really small. She was a scrawny, short haired,
two-year-old Golden Retriever. When I first saw her I longed for the bigger,
thicker haired, healthy looking dog that went to my classmate Liza. Liza’s dog
reminded me of Beatrice. I felt as if I had to earn Daisy’s approval and at
the same time win the approval of the trainer. The dormitory style living and
being away from home was hard for me. I am a loner, not a joiner. And my mind
kept wandering to Beatrice who had been placed in a kennel where they said I
could visit her if I had spare time, but I was still missing her all day long.
For many years Bea had been the one constant in my life.
training began. First we engaged in exercises with the dogs. Daisy and I
practiced turning on and off lights, closing doors, and pushing elevator
buttons. At first I was frustrated when we did not get things right. When the
trainer criticized our performance or made us do things again and again, I
resented it. By the beginning of the second week I was afraid that I might be
asked to leave because of my stubborn streak and poor performance. I called on
friends and family for reassurance but no one took seriously that my skills as a
dog owner might be in question. I knew in my heart that something had to change.
I was suffering a bit from the princess syndrome; part of me wanted to call my
father and just ask him to buy me a dog.
took out my calendar and realized that I had four days left. On that second
Monday, I adopted a new attitude. I saw that I had to do it the NEADS way.
Whenever I was asked to do something over, instead of feeling bad, I asked for
feedback. As I worked with the staff it became easier and less stressful. On
Tuesday we were instructed to prepare for a trip to the grocery store. The staff
would be looking for “dog/client bonding” and how successfully we kept our
dogs away from the shelves of food and droppings on the floor. I did not handle
this task well. On Wednesday, we went to the local mall. I was very nervous that
Daisy and I would screw up. We were being carefully monitored. The trainers
would walk past us and pretend to be strangers offering the dog food and we
would have to respond appropriately and firmly. I held my breath. Surprisingly,
everything went well.
came hide and seek. I was directed to call out to Daisy and she was supposed to
come search for me. All kind of thoughts went through my mind. “Would she know
my voice well enough? Had we bonded enough yet?” I was afraid that when it
came our turn, she would just ignore me. Daisy not only came in response to my
call, she placed first among all the dogs in this activity. I went to bed that
night with a new feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. The next morning I
was greeted with a big “congratulations” and a smack on the back from the
trainer. He seemed to revel in our achievement. The rest of the day I dug in for
more exercises of fetch, hold, come, stay, go, fetch, hold, come, stay, go.
the last day of training came, I had mixed emotions. I was the first one packed
and I did not attend the graduation ceremony. I was thrilled to be returning to
the city and vowed I’d never return to the training campus. Looking back, I am
so glad that I have Daisy. She was worth the psychological and emotional stress
of the training. I have come to adore her and learned not to compare her to
Beatrice. I have learned that each dog has her own qualities and personality.
Daisy is quiet but smart. She is a thinker and wants to do the right thing for
I first started working on this piece, Beatrice has passed away. She was put to
sleep last October. Today Daisy is my constant companion. She has grown into her
role as my service dog. She has earned my respect and my love. “Come, Daisy.
Hold. Fetch. Stay, Daisy. Stay.”
Gorman is a life-long
wheelchair user who lives in Boston and tutors homeless women, children and
adults. She holds degrees from UMass and UCLA.
is located at P.O. Box 213, West Boylston, MA 01583. You may contact them for
additional information, by phone at 978-422-9064(v & tty), or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.