What a Journey... What a Legacy

When I adopted Chimette, as a six month old unsocialized, timid Border Collie mix puppy in June 1997, there was no way I could have known how dramatically he would change my life.

As an individual with multiple disabilities, I had become accustomed to the *naysayers*- you know- those people who insist you have bitten off more than you could get your mouth around, let alone chew... the ones absolutely positive you will come crawling back to them to hear, *I told you so*.

I have never been a quitter in any facet of my life, but I will be the first to admit that my self-esteem and outlook on life were pretty bleak before Chimette came along. Despite this, I had always been that one individual who finds the only path that will solve the problem- even if it meant traversing a maze of uncharted waters where there was truly only one solution.

My journey with Chimette was to prove no different than any other obstacle I had conquered. I remember in those early months, frequently thinking *what have I gotten myself into*. A number of times I actually considered returning him to the rescue- in fact, one time I was actually on my way back there with him. He was quite literally one royal disaster! This would eventually prove to be much more than that typical *rescue puppy syndrome* which stemmed from the effects of abuse and no socialization (a horrible mixture for any Border Collie) but he also had a severe case of separation anxiety and what would down the road prove to be vaccinosis. His separation anxiety went deeper than a reaction to being left home alone. Just focusing on something other than him for more than a few moments would bring it on like a tornado touching down unexpectantly. I could be busy cleaning up one mess he made while he would lay not 5 feet behind me creating another major disaster. There were moments when even I, the success driven individual, really was questioning the stupidity of adopting that *puppy in the window*

But then just as I was feeling I failed Chimette, a real-life miracle began to unfold. He finally seemed to *get* that hitting would not happen in his new home and that he was here to stay. The ritualistic screaming that was present anytime I groomed him was replaced with absolute pleasure when the brush came out.

Then came that one defining moment- you know the one where you just know you have a brilliant gem on your hands. Being profoundly deaf, I used signal devices for common household sounds such as the doorbell, telephone, and smoke detector. I was resting when the signal device for the doorbell malfunctioned. At that time, Chimette was only 8 months old and not allowed on my bed at all. The device had remained on rather than the bulb turning off at the end of the cycle. Eventually it overheated which led to it smoking. He tried numerous times to get me to *listen* to him. After I still did not come so he could show me what he needed, in desperation he jumped up on the bed refusing to take *no* for an answer. I believe that not only did he save my life that day, but that he also literally changed- taking on his *calling* in my life.

Prior to this event, I had accepted that his *issues* probably made him a poor candidate for public access; however, I knew that he could be a very effective in-home hearing dog. Though I would love to say that from this point forth everything flowed uneventfully, that wasn't the case. In some weird way though I think how hard we had to work together to bring Met to a healthier emotional place has a lot to do with the bond we would continue to develop as the years unfolded. Over the months ahead, I began to see signs that Met was really settling into our home, our life- that the shell he came to me with that refused to let anyone get close to him was beginning to erode and a wonderful, spontaneous, instinctive, intelligent, energetic dog was emerging from within it. It was positively exhilarating to watch this unfold. Though the exhilaration would diminish a couple more times over the years ahead before almost claiming his life, we would finally connect this to a cause: that of vaccinosis. Life with Chimette could never be labeled as boring!

By April 1998, Met had not only overcome most of his hang-ups of baggage he came to me with, but he was helping me to safely navigate so that I could continue with my classes at the local community college. He was still in training, but had proven himself time and again. He was only 14 months old and for a Border Collie that is a youngen'. Unlike some of the other breeds more commonly used for service and guide roles, the Border Collies that do succeed can take a long time to mature into their role as assistance dogs. That meant working a *green* dog for quite some time. I am not sure when it was really that being teamed with him became more benefit than work for me. I believe he was around 4 years old when it really dawned on me how well we worked together. Met had become an amazing combo dog: trained to help me with hearing, mobility, and guide tasks. Initially though I never really felt that I would be able to fully trust him as a guide should my visual loss falter to the point of legal blindness. I felt with his herding dog instincts and desire to check out the world around him, he would never be able to make those quick decisions that are so often necessary for a fully trained guide dog. I did not realize then that my limited expectations were actually limiting us as a team. After our move to Oregon and subsequent continued deterioration of my vision, I joined a list that was to give us the gift of complete independence and safety as a guide team. VI-Clicker Trainers is a list full of other visually impaired and blind individuals who wish to use clicker training principals to train or further develop the skills of their guide dogs. It is here that I learned that Met and I really could succeed completely as a guide team. I was able to be in touch with others who train their guides and not only learn some better strategies but learn from the mistakes I had made so that I could enhance Met's *base* training with much more than I had ever anticipated possible. 

Over the years we made many a journey together to new terrain. During these jaunts, Met proved himself again and again to be a very reliable guide, not to mention the best hearing and service dog I could have ever hoped to be teamed with. There were many incidents of hard traffic checks where Met just knew he had to protect me from some idiotic driver who was acting like there was no one else on the street but them. I can recall one incident so vividly when Met jerked me over quickly to an area where he liked to *busy*, but for an entirely different reason. Had I not trusted that he knew what was right here, I could have been seriously injured when some guy running from the police literally drove up on the sidewalk where I had been not five seconds beforehand. Once my stomach was back down where it belonged out of my throat, Met got a big jackpot of praise and treats for that one believe me. This was to be the shining moment that let me know we had really made it as a guide team- that we could do anything. Since then, Met and I have made several trips on transit navigating areas that we had never dreamed of attempting before. We have dealt with narrow streets that had no sidewalks, forcing us to frequently pull over into the shoulder for cars. Each trip we made out of our normal comfort zone, gave us that much more confidence about our capabilities together. Since then we have even traveled by paratransit to another county by ourselves to get Met the better veterinary care he so richly deserves in his older age- certainly a great accomplishment for both of us.

When I look back over the past 9 1/2 years of devoted service I have received from Met, my main thought is, How could I be so lucky to have such an awesome sidekick! Then I wonder how I made it so many years alone without a wonderful dog like him. It truly has been an incredible journey- one I am sure will never be matched again.

© 1997 - 2013
by Karyn LaGrange