by Bobbi LaChance
This was not a sprinkle or a shower. It was a downpour. We drove from Auburn to Poland Springs Academy. Having never been there before, we had googled to find directions. Their website was very informative.
The school sign was almost hidden by the bushes and trees. Richard, my driver, has great eyesight and caught the sign in his line of vision as we drove by it. Making a U turn, he went back and drove right in. We found our designation and sat in the van listening to the pitter patter of raindrops on our van roof. We were to give a presentation about guide dogs to a combination of school children from kindegarden thru eighth grade.
About ten minutes before we were due to arrive we went inside. The teacher, Melonie, was delighted that we were early and announced to the eagarly awaiting children that they would for go their english lesson until after we had left. The classroom was in a modular, very crowded with not much space. My black lab Kaddy was her charming self wagging her tail in anticipation. You have to understand Kaddy like many other of her guide dog buddies is a ham when given an audience. She put her nose in the first child's hand that reached for her and then lapped another child's offered fingers. I told her to "Leave it," and obediently she did.
Taking charge in the front of the class, I introduced my driver Richard and my faithful friend Kaddy. Kaddy is a six year old black Labrador from Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, California and a faithful member of Pine Tree Guide Dog users. The children were wonderful; they listened intently as I explained the foster Puppy program, went into great detail about the training process, and the team a guide dog and its human partner become. We had brought with us the movie " Willing Walkers" which explains how foster puppies are raised in England and a short movie about GDA called "Partners". Much to everyone's dismay the school's VCR went on the blink, so I left the movies with them and they will watch them at another time after their VCR is repaired.
We demonstrated how guide dogs learn their manners by showing them how a dog does obedience. We did not have a lot of room to move about in, but they got the point. I also showed them how I had taught Kaddy silent obedience and when I pointed to the floor she went from a sit to a down immediately. Also, in addition to talking about guide dogs and their training, I had brailled out each child's name on a three by five card and my niece had printed each child's name under the braille so they could compare braille letters to their print letters. This little detail went over quite well and everyone was quite pleased.
We were at the school for about an hour and a half. After the presentation, the questions came. They wanted to know how long I had been blind. How long did it take me to train with Kaddy. The teacher had done some homework with them and the questions they asked were inteligent and well thought out. It was a very well behaved group. The president of the school came in at the end of our presentation and thanked us. The teacher and the students wished us goodbye and the children watched through the windows as Kaddy and I walked down the ramp and out to the van.
I find it is the children who often teach the adults about not petting a service dog of any kind without asking permission. Once, a long time ago, I realized the value of these small independent munchkins. Through the eyes of a child they each interpret in a different way. Once, when walking a former guide dog, I was coming up a hill and my neighbor's children were quite young and the four year old said to the three year old, "Here comes that Blind dog with the nice Lady!" For sure education is important. We can always teach our public that it is all right to be different. We can speak out for the joy and independence that our four pawed companions give us.
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