Christmas Shopping with My Guide Dog, Sully

By Janell Groskreutz

I finally convinced my husband, Kevin, it was time to finish our last minute Christmas shopping.  When I say “last minute” it is really just a nicer way of saying we need to hit the panic button and find the store that still holds a gift that may or may not actually be on our list.

Excited for my shopping excursion to the mall, I hurriedly gathered my things, put on my comfortable shoes and grabbed the harness for my guide dog Sully.

Kevin’s attempt to dissuade me from Christmas shopping fell upon deaf ears.  This was my last opportunity to give jolly old Saint Nick a run for his money.

Sully guided me safely up the curb, and then to the mall entrance.  Once inside, I was immediately met with smells of the wonderful scents of cinnamon and evergreens wafting in the air, accompanied by the songs of the season.

We cautiously weaved our way through the mall traffic, slowly but surely.  We feverishly patronized nearly every store in the mall, perused all the kiosk booths (which that alone can be an obstacle course for a blind person using a cane or a guide dog.) We even gave a quick glance at all the monetary gift cards as a last resort.

After several hours of partaking in the Christmas cheer, I am quite sure both Kevin and Sully became a huge fan of the impersonal yet quick and easy gift card solution.  The picture I saw in my head was both Sully and Kevin giving me an exaggerated eye roll, followed by a look of utter disgust when I sternly told them we were not leaving until the last gift was bought.

Kevin surely had his fill of reading tags, figuring out sizes, matching colors and trying to explain them to me.  I think I heard him mutter “even Santa doesn’t have this much patience.”  With a little chuckle, I pretended not to hear and Sully and I meandered to the next stop.

I was contemplating visiting Santa for my first Christmas picture with Sully, until I learned of the number of pint-sized people in line ahead of us. Instead, I asked Sully to guide me to a seat, while Kevin went back for one final gift; secretly I was hoping it may be one for me.

Sully and I sat on the first empty bench he led me to, listening to the Christmas chaos and feeling relieved and very grateful to give our six feet a much-needed rest. In the midst of all this, a very elderly lady asked if she could share our bench.  In a very frail and meek voice she started a conversation with me I wouldn’t soon forget.

Her soft words were: “I have been closely watching your beautiful guide dog maneuver you in and out of stores, guide you around this heavily congested shopping center, not to mention the maze of Christmas trees, signs, and decorations.  He has maneuvered you through the children darting every which way and even the occasional rude shopper not so patiently waiting for your dog to safely guide you to the next store.”

She was very curious about my personal situation and asked a myriad of questions that were inquisitive yet heartfelt and sincere.  She went on to say that this amazing dog was a gift from God, and how lucky we both were to need each other, albeit in very different capacities, but needing each other just the same.

As she rose to leave, she padded Sully several times on his head and said to him, “You were given to this nice lady for a very special reason and please guide her safely in all your adventures.”  Then she turned to me and said, “Thank you for reminding me what blessings I truly have, and they are nothing I will find on sale, and it is certainly nothing I can put a big red bow on and put under the Christmas tree.”

She bid me a very Merry Christmas, and then slowly walked away, leaving me with a smile on my face and a heartwarming story to share with Kevin.  And by the way, he did have a beautiful sparkling pair of diamond earrings tucked inside his coat for me to unwrap Christmas Eve!

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