Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Mall and a Movie: Round 3

Destination: Westshore Mall. Timing: lunchtime. We were hoping for an afternoon nap lull to get him through the movie this time as we have been unsuccessful in our previous two attempts to see a movie with Bingo.

This time we had it all planned out. Lunch at Mitchell's. Followed by vigorous mall walking to tire him out. Then a brief bout of staring at the escalator (guide dogs aren't allowed to go on escalators, but they should be brought near them to see them, Bingo was unimpressed). Then on to the movie: Nine (BTW, a more thoroughly joyless and depressing movie, I can't imagine. Please don't go see it. Completely pointless. And heaven forbid, don't take children to see it!). We even had our seats picked out, last row, right corner. We had taped his tags to stop any jingling. We also made sure to have his butt sticking back under the seat and his head poking out by our feet. That way he wasn't sneaking back under the seats licking up stray bits of food, which is very bad for him and just plain gross.

I'm happy to report that Bingo made it through the whole movie! Not one peep from him. That was a real feat for him. The other two movies were plagued with either snores or whines, but he was very quiet the whole way through this one.

We even had a bit of a rock star moment when we were leaving the theater. As we came out, there were a couple of middle school girls and I heard them say, "Oh, that looks like Bingo!" He's a star no matter where he goes. 8-)

He did very well on his mall walking too. This week we have a pep rally on Friday with the Highlander Band playing. I'll take some video of that. Should be fun!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Public Transportation

There is a list. A long list. And on the list are the sorts of experiences that we are supposed to expose Bingo to so that he will become an amazing guide dog. The list includes things like restaurants, theaters, etc. It also has public transportation on it. I think school buses count as public transportation and we took a school bus for a field trip on Friday.

The big yellow school bus is a thing of legend. Big and yellow, it exist almost on another dimension, a clown dimension. The first clownish thing we encountered was actually trying to enter the school bus. "Bingo, stairs up," I said as I tried to go up the stairs at the same time with Bingo and my big canvas bag of field trip necessities, but we all couldn't fit. I became hopelessly wedged in the door, Bingo still on the ground looking up at me with a curious expression. If I were to categorize it, it might fall into that, did you really think you could fit in that space? category, but he's much to sweet a dog to be so caustic. Really. How could a blind person actually use a guide dog to get on a school bus? I don't think they could and get on the bus together. It's too narrow.

Did you know that school bus steps start fairly narrow and then get steadily MORE narrow as they go up? Did you know that they are VERY tall? Taller than normal stairs? This is all very instructive for the small, 18 week old lab who is at my feet looking up at the stairs and thinking, "No, these do not look like any stairs I am used to. I am not going up them. Thanks, but I will not be doing this. I'll sit now."

I give my bag to a student to put on the bus. Then I turn to my recalcitrant puppy. "Really, these stairs are stairs, they are just very clownish stairs on a noisy and smelly and yellow bus. But all the kids you love are on this bus. We should get on this bus too. Bingo, stairs up."

He did it. That first step was a doozy, but he did it. As you can tell from the photo, he wasn't too pleased with the clown bus, but he dealt with it. He also dealt with the walkers and wheelchairs at University Village where we went to see the Veterans for lunch. He's a good boy.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Thursday night we gathered at the River Congo miniture golf for our puppy meeting. When we first arrived it was a bit grey and overcast, but it soon turned into this:

Our fearless leader tried to lead us through a round of stay/recall obedience exercises, but it must have been the storm that had us all a bit agitated and not able to concentrate. Or maybe it was the lingering fear the perhaps those gators in the front weren't so well penned up and perhaps we should get further away from the front entrance. Or it might have been that the thought of playing in the rain held more appeal than staying and paying attention. Whatever the reason, wet and huddled and in the entrance, we tried to stay, sit, and pay attention.

Donna has to be the most devoted area coordinator SEGD has. She was soaking wet and never once lost her air of enthusiasm. She really is remarkable.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bingo at the Surgery Center

By Fred
I went in for a routine medical exam yesterday that required anesthesia, which meant that Cheryl needed to come drive me home. At first we were unsure about whether she should take Bingo to school since he also would have to come into the surgery center. But the idea is to give him a wide range of experience, right?

As you may have noticed, some people are wound up tighter than others. Most people understand all about service animals, but there are a few bottom feeders out there who, faced with a little puppy in a blue coat, will react in a negative way and not want you to come in. SEGD has a good policy for handling such people: be polite but take names, etc.

After my procedure was complete I decided to tell one of the nurses that Bingo would be coming in with Cheryl. (I was still hooked up to something, so it never hurts to be friendly.) She became very excited and happy, and soon everyone knew he was coming. I grew up with a black Lab, she told me, almost misty-eyed.

Bingo sat right there as the nurse signed me out, and I could tell how much she wanted to pet him. And earlier this week he went with Cheryl on a doctor's visit, so he's getting pretty familiar with the health care system. Maybe we should go visit my insurance company, too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stairs-Up, Stairs-Down

Bingo gets some daily practice with Stairs-Up and Stairs-Down. When he was younger and fearless and believed he could fly, we would carry him up and down the stairs, and that suited him just fine. He would hold out his paw (with this dainty, helpless look on his face) to make it easier for me to pick him up. Soon (I reasoned) he would be ready to learn, but in the meantime the paw thing was pretty cute.

Then one day I saw him and Cheryl walking downstairs as if it were the most normal thing in the world. She laughed and said they had been doing it for several days--while he still was holding out his paw to me. Sneaky.

Chuck, one of our SEGD coordinators, said recently that guide dogs must be able to distinguish between Stairs-Up and Stairs-Down. If, for example, a blind person is approaching a down set of stairs but mistakenly says Stairs-Up, the guide dog should disobey and actually move in front to stop the person from continuing. Wow. But that type of training starts when Bingo goes to school at SEGD--Cheryl and I just work on the basics, to expose him to situations he will encounter in his career.

He still thinks he can fly, though, so we keep a close watch.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tooth and Eye


Wednesday was a high stress day for both of us. Bingo and I had our presentation to the Lower Division students: K - 5. My library caters to grades 6-12 and I don't usually venture into the rarefied world of the little ones. The Bingo Rules however had to be expounded all over the campus and Lower Division had yet to hear them. They had seen glimpses of him, looking very sweet and cute like he does below (photo by Jan Connors, our library assistant).

But they had no idea of real Bingo, at least of the up close and real Bingo. The convocation started with the Lower Division Director asking the music teacher to sing ONE VERSE of There Was a Farmer Who Had a Dog.... Well, Asking Bonnie to sing one verse of anything is a lesson in futility and the kids were wound up like tops, so once they hit B-I-N-G-O, verse 2 came shooting out, followed closely by verses 3, 4, and 5 and these kids had no clue that in 4 minutes a real, live B-I-N-G-O would be in front of them. I had cut my presentation down with the help of the lower librarian so it was lower friendly, but I was still completely nervous and panicked about talking with them. It went really well. The joke about the teachers being the ones who were the worst about following the rules went over really well. 8-)

When I got to the part about bringing in Bingo, the room got really loud. So we practiced library clapping, which is this weird thing lower librarians do where you wave your hands in the air independently so they swoosh around and make no noise. Gotta love those lower division librarians. They think of everything! I brought Bingo in and he was super and the kids were awesome. Evidently, Lower Division kids are little sponges. I received several emails and facebook posts from parents saying that their children went home and recounted all the rules and details from my presentation and that they remembered things that even some of the parents who had been there didn't.

When I walk down the hallway with him I watch the students make eye contact with me, drop their gaze down to him, see the coat and immediately glance back up to me and keep walking. When I took him on a potty break during a rather full study hall yesterday, we stopped a table to chat and then I had to stop at several tables on the way out. It was like walking with a rock star. He may be the most loved dog ever.


They say that hen's teeth are rare, but I've had 7 puppies in my life and I have never seen a puppy tooth. On Thursday, Bingo lost a puppy tooth, a front tooth. Jan, our intrepid, library assistant and amazing photographer actually found the tooth. I saved it for the blog, of course. There was no puppy tooth fairy to leave him a biscuit, though. Oh. I guess that was me. Crap. Well, you can see how really small puppy teeth are. They usually just swallow them, or at least that is what I am told when I ask about them.

When he lost it he had a visitor, one of his most ardent fans, Caroline seen below with him. Since it was a front tooth it was like a little geyser of Tarantino gore. Fortunately, it stopped bleeding fairly quickly and no one got queasy and fainted. As you can see, Caroline wasn't fazed a bit and Bingo has a look that says to me, "Ha, that was a tooth? I felt nothing!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Dog Food Mountain

By Fred
Today at lunchtime Bingo and I went to Petsmart for some dog food, Panera for lunch, and then Target to pick up a few groceries. These places have two things in common to tempt and torment a puppy: sticky floors and stinky smells. The rain opened up as soon as we got to the store, not that Bingo cared. We both got pretty wet.

We'd been to Petsmart before, to get some toys, but today we needed to visit the several aisles that have bags of dog food stacked to the ceiling. Big mountains of dog food loomed over him as we walked, back and forth, around and around until finally he regained some sense of focus and sobriety, at which time I gave him a big hug and his little tail really wagged. I'm doing more hugs now when he can overcome distractions.

In Panera, I found myself holding a tray of food and drink with one hand and holding, with some uncertainty, the leash in my other hand, noticing for the first time how much food and little pieces of paper and napkins that people drop on the floor. But Bingo did fine, even when a man actually dropped a whole piece of bread on the floor as he walked past us.

He was really good in Target, a B+, maybe, with some points deducted for nose diving near the dairy case and for getting too friendly with a bag of tortilla chips. In the checkout line a man rushed up to us and reached out to pet Bingo, but a sweet grandmother nearby yelled "You cain't touch him," causing the man to slink away quickly when he saw that the woman was considering whether to smack him with her fat purse.

Back home, we unloaded the car and he promptly curled up for a nap, his paws soon twitching their way up the big dog food mountain.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bingo the Terrible

My friend Kim is an English teacher at school and I recently helped her with a plagiarism and academic honesty lesson. Of course Bingo got to attend as well. He did what he usually does, which is sleep and be a good boy, so here you see Kim smiling at the wonderful Bingo who has
slept through a rousing lecture and discussion on the perils of cheating! Woe betide those plagiarists! Not a twitch, not one from the sleeping pup. Ah well. Those were the days.

I have to remind myself of those lovely days when I have days like today. I didn't bring Bingo, guide dog extraordinaire with me to school, I brought Bingo the Terrible. First, something was off with his potty schedule, so instead of the two poops that we get before school, we only had one. I took him for a walk hoping for another, but in vain. It was during class, when after a particularly noxious silent but deadly fart he let loose, that I realized his inability to sit still was because he was holding in another poo. Fortunately, I was team teaching and could walk him out to do his business and come back. He slept the rest of class.

Then there was the walk to convo. Or rather the pull to convo. It was as if we had never had a good walk in our lives. I know that Debbie told everyone at the meeting that we communicate our emotion through the leash, but I really don't think I was upset. Whatever I was communicating through the leash, Bingo wanted none of it! There was a lot of correcting going on. This is Bingo giving me the puppy eyes. "I'm not terrible. I'm too cute to be terrible."
I found out they are going to do a column on him for the school newspaper called The Bingo Beat. It will give all his vital statistics and what he has learned so far. So, he better keep on learning and experiencing new things. No more Bingo the Terrible. Perhaps, Bingo the Slightly Grumpy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


By Fred
This morning Bingo and I attended a SEGD meeting without Cheryl, who stayed home to nurse a cold. Normally we would have taken Bingo on a nice, long walk before a meeting like this, just to shave off the edge of his natural exuberance, but we've had a steady rain since before sunrise, so Bingo was wound up pretty tight by the 10am meeting.

As you might guess, these meetings are full of very nice people (without exception) and very well-behaved dogs (mostly), including many young puppies, sitting or lying down, waiting patiently (mostly).

Debbie, an area coordinator who is partially blind, was there with her new guide dog, and she showed us how happy he was to get into his harness, how dedicated he was to her and to doing his job, how completely focused he was. Someday Bingo will be like this. Someday, but not today.

As we all practiced walking in a circle, Bingo jumped and lunged at the other dogs and generally burned up his energy (perfect timing, right?) despite my efforts to control him. He is completely fascinated with the other dogs and completely distracted by them. I made excuses, saying that he has been walking so well here at home, which is true, but the real world is full of distractions, and we have to work with Bingo on these.

Of course, by the end of the meeting he was all tired out. Cheryl had texted me to ask if I would stop by the grocery store on the way home, smiling to herself, I'm sure, because Bingo was more than a little distracted by smells on our first visit to Publix. But on the drive home from the meeting he gave me a sweet look--I don't know, maybe it was a promise to be good from now on.

I took him in and picked up a basket instead of a big cart (smart). The store was filled with people and children, a sea of unrestrained children, more temptation than any puppy should have to endure. But this is the real world for a blind person.

This morning Debbie said that you transfer your emotions to your dog through the leash: if you are unsure or hesitant or fearful, the dog will sense it. So I walked ahead as though we were out on our normal walk through the neighborhood. He pranced along beside me like a pro and was not even distracted when a little girl rushed at him and attempted to tackle him.

On the way out I heard him laugh when I asked, Why couldn't you do this in the meeting today?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Uncommon Toys

By Fred
The SEGD puppy experts have explained to us that tennis balls, Frisbees and other toys that are likely to be seen whizzing by in the air--on a walk in the park, for example--are not appropriate for guide dog puppies. These toys would prove to be an unfair distraction to a working guide dog in the future, so Bingo needs to make do with less common toys.

Fortunately there is no end to the variety of pet toys, and some are downright strange. One of Bingo's favorites was this combination dog bone/baby pacifier on a ring. I suppose it's natural for us humans to imagine that a puppy might be interested in a pacifier. If Bingo could talk, he would advise us not to get hung up on representational design. I'm into texture, he would say.

Yesterday I noticed he had stripped away a big piece of pacifier and was preparing to swallow it, so I took the toy away and put it in with the other retired toys. Even though these toys are marketed as safe to swallow, I don't like the idea. Time to move to the harder nylabones, maybe something in titanium.

He's still just a puppy but sometimes he looks like a big dog in his photos. Here he is, wondering where the pacifier has gone.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Right About

By Fred
While we continue to work with Bingo on basic commands (Sit, Stay, etc.), we are beginning to work with suggested commands such as Left-Left, Right-Right and (my new favorite) Right About. SEGD calls these suggested commands because the puppy is not scolded when he fails to respond appropriately. Instead, we are supposed to repeat the phrases over and over so that the concepts eventually take hold in the puppy's mind.

Left-Left, for example, is given as you approach an intersection and then turn left. Eventually, the puppy will understand that Left-Left means "take a left at the next likely left turn." Right-About means take a 180 turn and go the other way.

Our dog Willow is a fabulous Frisbee player and all-around good dog, but she doesn't know her left from her right. And to be honest, I still have to peek at my hands occasionally--I can get lost just about anywhere. So I will be very proud of Bingo when he does his first Right-About on his own.

Here we are--not a perfect example because I am fiddling with the camera instead of focusing on him. The command comes too late, and he already has it in his mind to turn around and go home (he loves to go home), but we are still learning:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bingo and Milly

I just got the formal picture the school's photographer took of Bingo and Milly and Mr. and Mrs. Newman and me. I think it turned out pretty good. Of course Bingo is looking off at the kids. He's always looking for kids. He really loves the students. 8-)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's like taking an infant to school.

This is the face of my sweet little baby. Getting ready for school is no longer a matter of showering, throwing on some mascara, the outfit, grabbing a large coffe and milk and shooting out the door. No. Now it is a huge process.

Now, we need to plan in advance (fortunately, planning in advance is a genetic thing for librarians). What is astounding to me is how much longer everything takes with him. Of course, he and I have long conversations wherever we go, so I'm never bored. But I don't seem to be moving that slowly. Perhaps, I just stopping more often.

Our morning routine is to go into my office where two of my advisory kids and Bingo wranglers are usually there. Bingo has a special affinity for the table legs and chairs and we keep having stop him from biting the chair legs and substitute a toy instead. The boys are really good about pulling him off the chair legs and getting him interested in the kong. Usually, the walk in has him so wound up that it takes a good 20 minutes to calm him down, so having a first period class can
be a bit dangerous. It's like taking an infant to school and expecting it to behave. RIGHT. That's going to work. That was my schedule on Wednesday. I had class first period, second period, class meeting, library work, fourth period, lunch, fifth period, library work, afterschool work. Yikes!

Strangely, it did work. It worked because Bingo is a chill dog with a very laid back attitude. So, after an initial ten minutes of futzing around in first period, he fell asleep on Alex and Katie's feet (much to their delight). He remained asleep for most of my classes. I would say it is just me, but Tim who team teaches the documentary film class with me is a very exciting and interesting history teacher and Bingo slept right through his lecture as well. So it can't be me. 8-) This is Bingo sleeping through my lecture.

At lunch, he has so many fans that I take off his invisibility cloak and let the teachers and students come up and pet him. The world languages teachers especially are in love with him. Pilar is on the left and Katia is on the right. Pilar has Bingo as her screensaver.

The students in this photo are in my documentary film class. Bingo had a little problem settling down for class. He wanted to chew on the dolly tire, so the girls are trying to keep him away from that. Then he found the chairs. He realized that he could grab a chair leg and pull it and it would go wherever he wanted it to and it made quite a loud noise. Not good, especially, when Tim is lecturing! So I grabbed him, put him on a short lead, put him on a down stay and he fell asleep. Once asleep, he was down for the whole class.

His second full day and he did a great job.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Pig with a Broom

By Fred
I spent one summer in college working as a musician at a theme park in Arkansas, and I got to know a professional animal trainer. He was only about my age, but he was so good with animals that he had his own animal show, probably the most popular show at the park because it had a pig that could sweep sawdust from the floor with a broom, pick it up with a dust pan, and put it in a waste basket. After watching the show a few times I learned that few things will delight a tourist more than seeing a pig with a broom it its mouth.

I became the animal trainer's friend and often went to have lunch with him and his parents on a farm with probably a dozen dogs, many of whom were in the show. I was amazed at how he talked to them and how they listened. But, I asked him, what about the pig?

He said never used food when training animals, except when teaching chickens to play tic-tac-toe (apparently chickens have a short attention span for board games). But, he whispered, a pig is just like a dog, and just as smart--a pig will do anything if you just show them how. Although with pigs it helps, he said, if you get down on your hands and knees when teaching them, and this can get mighty tiresome.

I was glad to learn that SEGD does not recommend using food as a training device. In the end there is one basic truth: dogs will do anything for you, and do it just for your approval.

With Bingo we go through a routine at mealtime to help teach him some patience, working with Down-Stay, which is something that he is reluctant to do at mealtime, considering that it might give the wrong impression about his true feelings.

Fortunately our Chocolate Lab, Willow, is here to provide some leadership and guidance with Down-Stay. Here they are, waiting patiently for breakfast while he licks her like a Popsicle. Of course, Willow knows that breakfast will come at the end of Down-Stay, so she is being extra good. Anything that keeps me off my hands and knees is appreciated.