The first question during the Q&A part of our presentation at Daniel Street School last Monday wasn’t a question at all. “I have an opinion,” the 8-year-old declared.
What? He didn’t think it was fair to make sweet dogs like Whitney work? He thought all dogs should be allowed on planes, not just service dogs? Maybe a solid -colored blouse would have paired better with my outfit than this busy thing I’d chosen?
I quickly thought through some potential responses, then gave him the go-ahead. “Let’s hear it,” I said, taking in a big breath to ready myself.
”I like your dogdowag!” he exclaimed. I had to laugh. Who wouldn’t like Whitney? She had demonstrated her appreciation for this, her first trip to Long Island, before our presentation even started. As the first and second graders gathered in the gym, she flipped over on her back (not easy to do with a harness on) and kicked her legs in glee. She sat still for most of the presentation, but would periodically pirouette. Chew on her leash. Roll on her back. No surprise that a first grader raised his hand later to ask, “How do you keep your dog calm?”
My previous Seeing Eye dogs – Dora, Hanni and Harper – were stars at sitting still underfoot. Whitney, on the other hand, is a star at urban guiding, and for this I am very grateful. But like most city-dwellers, Whitney can’t sit still for long.
”Whitney and I are still getting to know each other,” I said, acknowledging I am not sure yet what works best when I need her to calm down. I’d been sitting in a folding chair while all this was going on, so my first step was simply to stand up and shake the leash a bit. Whitney turned over and stood up, too. “How about I show you what I do when I want her to get me out of a room?”
“Whitney, outside!” She led me past dozens of spellbound first and second graders to a door to the hallway. “Good girl, Whitney!” The kids cheered. We turned around to go back, but before sitting down again, I put Whitney through her daily obedience ritual in front of the kids.
- ”Whitney, sit!” She sat.
- ”Whitney, down!” She plopped to the floor.
- ”Whitney, sit!” She sat back up.
- ”Whitney, heel!” I walked a few steps, Whitney walked alongside me.
- I walked backwards then, and commanded, ”Whitney, come!” She looped around behind me and sat at my side.
- ”Whitney, rest!” I put my palm in front of her nose for a second, then stepped back a few steps. Whitney stayed right where she was until I returned to her side.
“Good girl, Whitney!” She stayed calm for the rest of the presentation. Francine Rich, my award-winning publisher at Blue Marlin Publications, had picked Whitney and me up to deliver us to the school, and she stayed all morning to help with navigation and book signings. Our Urbana friend Sunny moved to Long Island a year-and-a-half ago and generously offered to pick Whitney and me up after our presentation and drive us to the airport. We had some time before our flight, so Sunny wisely suggested we stop along the way at a state park that had a fenced-in tennis court.
The Seeing Eye discourages us from letting our dogs run free in open parks or fields. Sounds cruel to some dog lovers, but just think about it: without being able to see, we can’t keep an eye on them. If a baseball field or a tennis court is totally enclosed, however, we can turn our Seeing Eye dogs loose and let them run. And that’s exactly what Whitney did. After taking some time to smell the length of the fence, she ran. I called her, she raced back towards Sunny and me, then took off again. Run away, dash back. Away and back. Away and back. Away and back.
Our flight home was delayed, and a worn-out Whitney slept underfoot while I sat at the gate noshing on a breakfast bagel sweet Francine had bought for me that morning. A couple approached to say hello and ask about Whitney. “How old is your dog?” When I told them she was only two, they were amazed. “She’s so calm!”