Family of Nine

By Katherine Schneider

September is National Guide Dog month. Ever since the Seeing Eye was founded in the U.S. in 1929, blind people have had the opportunity of getting around with the help of a guide dog. Having had the pleasure of traveling with a guide dog for over forty years, I know the joys:

  • Being accompanied by another thinking being
  • Having the bubble of isolation that surrounds a blind person burst by people’s interest in the dog and the partnership
  • Having a second opinion in tricky travel situations

I also know the heartaches of retiring a beloved guide, grieving their death and venturing into another trusting relationship with “Young and Foolish” as I call the next dog until I meet them and fall in love again.

In honor of guide and assistance dogs, some friends and I had a statue erected in Centennial Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus a couple years ago. Come see it next time you’re in Eau Claire. If you’d like to read more about these noble guides, consider:

  • Two Plus Four Equals One by Kathy Nimmer
  • Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto
  • Come, Let Me Guide You by Susan Krieger

I wrote the following poem to read at the statue dedication to try to describe the unique bonds between human and canine I’ve had with each guide dog partner.

Nine mugs march across the shelf with pictures and names.

Reminders of forty-one years of guide dogs.

Sighted friends remember them by color and expression.

I hold dear the adventures we shared.

All have kept me safe, each in their own way.

Trust a dog with your life? Cindy taught me yes!

Beth was bold—shouldering obstacles aside like poinsettias on narrow steps up to the lectern at Mass.

Sugar liberated snacks from people while still guiding flawlessly.

Tatum ripped my heart out; dying in a freak accident.

Carter was noble and steady—a Golden saint.

Garlyn had the work/life balance thing down just right.

Ivanna said “please like me” to the whole world.

Fran was flexible and cheerful but firmly signaled retirement when her vision started to fail.

Now Luna shines—quiet in public and a lunatic at home.

All have been best friends, eyes, guides and companions on life’s journey.

Will there be a tenth cup?

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