Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation
If you can't trust your own eyes, you need a wise ally. Hint: It has four feet, no hidden agendas, and the canine equivalent of a PhD.
"Trust the hours" goes a line from from Galway Kinnell's poem "Wait." "Haven't they / carried you everywhere, up to now?"
I have counted on time to restore my equilibrium when trust has been betrayed. And I have also relied on dogs, creatures that have never been the source of misplaced trust. I often think of the people who rely on dogs for a lot more than I do. Among the photographs on my desk is a framed drawing of a dog's face, a young Labrador retriever, and it was done by a blind woman, drawn by stroking the dog's face and ears and translating: hand to mind to paper. The dog in the drawing is one of my dog's puppies. I held her in my hands when she was 1 day old. Now this puppy is Iris Grant's guide dog.
Iris lost her sight 15 years ago at the age of 50 because of human error. She went into the hospital for back surgery, a fusion of the C1 and C2 vertebrae. During the surgery she was moved, and her head slipped off the neck rest; she lay with her face pressed into the operating table. After the operation she did not feel "right." What she was feeling was the death of her optic nerves.
Iris was an artist before she lost her sight. She is still a working artist, making jewelry, ceramics, beadwork. I met her when she graduated with her dog, Audie, from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind training school in Yorktown Heights, New York. I have volunteered at GEB—as a puppy raiser, pre-trainer, home socializer, and brood foster—for 12 years. I went to many graduations where I observed the profound relationship between the dogs and the men and women who received them, the blind people whose lives would be changed by them in a partnership founded on trust of the first order. Not long ago, I tracked down four people who were given my dog Wanita's "A-litter" puppies—they all got names that begin with the letter A. I named Audie after a dog I adored who disappeared from my yard years ago.
"I was used to a dog checking up on me," Iris told me, "but not a Velcro dog. She sticks to me, she is with me all the time. The only place she doesn't go is in the shower, though she's mesmerized by water—the shower, fountains, and she loves to sit poolside and watch geckos and geese."
Right after Iris got Audie, she and her husband moved from Michigan to West Palm Beach, Florida, just in time for Tropical Storm Fay. "Audie got drenched for three days—we took her to a shopping mall so she could exercise in a dry place," said Iris.
The second thing that happened was that Iris's first guide dog, Pashley, partially paralyzed and going blind, had to be put down. "When Pashley was dying, Audie licked my tears," Iris said. "If I hadn't had Audie..." she said, not needing to say more.
Iris said she trusted her new guide dog almost immediately. "I took her outside at night to 'get busy,' and suddenly she did a quarter-turn and gave a bark to alert me that someone was there. It was only my neighbor," Iris said, "but Audie had done what she was supposed to do."
We Hear You!