Remembering the guide dog rescuer

Many of us have probably read about the golden retriever, Daisy, who saved her blind owner, James Crane, from the burning tower one on September 11.  Daisy not only guided James to safety, she ran back and helped firemen find other people trapped in the snoky hallways.  Before she suffered from smoke inhalation, 4 burned paws, and a broken leg, she was credited with helping to save 967 lives.  She is the first civilian dog to receive the medal of honor of New York City.

            So often people remark that my German shepherds are so loving and attached that they must be wonderful protection for me.  Seeing Eye tries to clarify that claim and state, instead, that they are trained to guide safely, not to protect.  Guide dog schools want to breed for gentleness, not aggression.

            Some of the cats in Pittsburgh may scoff at that claim, since Flossie really sees every feline as an enemy combatant.

            But many of us who have used dogs for our mobility have experienced this same sort of “saving” instinct that wonderful Daisy exhibited on that tragic day.

            My first guide, a German shepherd named Marit, really expressed her name (pronounced merit) one windy, March day.  I had taken my kids to their bus stop and waited with them.  Afterwards, I walked home and felt captivated by the warm, gusty wind.  It was strong enough to consume my attention (never a good thing when traveling blind) and to blow lots of empty garbage cans around our street.  I pictured Marlborough Road, festooned with the cans when Marit began backing into me.  Her backside pushed me hard enough that I stumbled backwards.

            “Pfui,” I scolded.  But she kept pushing me back.

            Just as I  started to scold her again, I heard the car, charging up a driveway, right toward us.

            It was going to hit me.  I turned and ran into our empty street.

            The rear fender knocked the backs of my legs and propelled me forward.  Only then did the driver hit the brakes.

            To this day I don’t know the name of the cowboy behind the wheel.  I imagined it was our neighbor’s teenage grandson.

            My immediate reaction was of anger, and I swept my hand, gesturing for the driver to be on his way, if he were in such a bloody hurry.  I walked home.

            When I tried to put the key in the lock, I realized how close Marit and I had come to being under that car’s wheels.  Marit could easily have broken away from me and save herself.  But her first thought was to get me out of harm’s way.

            No matter how I tried, I couldn’t stop my hand from shaking.  I bent and hugged Marit.  “You’ve saved my life, Girl,” I said.

            And this isn’t uncommon among guide dogs.  What’s unusual is that this time I knew Marit had done something heroic and honorable.  So this Memorial Day I’ll remember our fallen soldiers and the guide dogs that have made my independence possible.  I owe them so much.  Often, our dogs save us, and we don’t even know it.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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