Does Love Lead the Way?
I am so blessed to meet lovely people from all over the world and in all walks of life while online. One such dear soul is Tina. She posted a comment during one of my bookish events, and I thought – I must have this lady on my blog for “Chronicles of Courage.”
Not only is Tina legally blind, but she has struggles with debilitating neck and back pain. She has had multiple surgeries, and is still not able to have another guide dog at this point because a dog yanking on a leash could severely affect her spine.
Despite the constant pain and lack of vision, Tina keeps busy and others-focused. She assists regularly in a class for adults with special needs in her local church. Attendance is anywhere from 20 to 50 members, but Tina always makes sure there is an engaging activity and something to share with attendees. Just about every time I chat with her, Tina is working on a project for those in her class. She has already started to craft their Christmas presents, and is in the process of raising money to take the whole class to the Fort Worth Symphony at Tarleton State in December.
Tina loves learning. She is an avid reader, and is grateful for the Seeing Al and Kurzweil 1000 applications that make it possible for her to devour books. She already has a double masters degree in history and political science, and is enrolled in a class currently. Say a prayer that her back pain won’t keep her from finishing the course.
Here is my interview with Tina:
Tell me a little of your background.
I was a typical blue collar worker in my late 20’s to early 30’s. However as things can go, my life was changed in the spring of 2000. I have always had vision problems, and my eyes would cross. But after FIVE surgeries in four years, I was told that nothing else could be done to correct my vision further. They would get my eyes aligned and three weeks later, they would cross in or out again. I was wearing a patch over my left eye, which was the weaker of the two. Not long after being told that, I was also given the news that I was legally blind.
What was your reaction to this news?
Okay, my life has changed. Is this change for the good or bad? That was my question then. And I will be honest, I was mad that this happened. I no longer could work, drive, or do the things I wanted, like read a printed book. But I was stubborn and wouldn’t take things lying down, or for that fact, even stay down when I should.
Thus my road to learning how to be independent started. Learning braille was interesting ( 6 dots made up the entire alphabet, and more than that, it also was used for numbers and grammar). I was given some really good instruction on how to cook, do housework and just function as I had before.
Fast forward to the next year, I had decided it was time to get what I thought was the best tool for me to get from point A to point B safely, that was a guide dog. I applied to Pilot Dogs in Ohio. I was given the news a month after they received my application that I had been accepted into training at the end of June and it would run to the end of July.
What was the training like?
I arrived on the campus after I was picked up from the airport, taken to my room and proceeded to settle in. Training started the next morning. All the students were taken out on a walk to see their ability, learn instruction for commands, positioning of the feet and how to correct a dog when a mistake is made. All the students did a walk for a few days.
That Wednesday of the first week, I was matched up with a beautiful black lab named JZ. He was huge, or so I thought. Little did I know that he would become not only my guide dog, but also my best friend. He could tell when I was feeling amazing or when I was sick. I later learned that he would be able to tell me, in his own way, that my blood pressure was up. I always said he could be a person’s best friend or their worst enemy; it all depended on what happened to me.
What are some memories you have of JZ?
Not long after getting JZ, he started to put his body right in front of mine to stop me from crossing a busy road. He did this the first time we crossed a road and he continued it right up until I retired him.
Unknown to me and the trainers, JZ had seizures, which forced him into early retirement. However, nothing stopped him from doing his job, to make sure he safely got me where I wanted to go.
What happened next in your life?
After coming home with JZ, my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Our marriage was already in a bad way. JZ was my light and he helped me realize that little things do not matter. My faith in God was stronger, not because I had JZ, but because God knew what I needed at the time. My husband and I separated in February of 2002, after bad circumstances led to me making the decision on what was best for my health, and that of JZ. I later learned that stress was a cause of his seizures.
I have to admit here, I was afraid, I did not like living alone. But, I had two things that I knew would always be with me, God and JZ. I left Missouri and moved back to Texas. Shortly after the move, I moved once again from an apartment to a dorm at Weatherford College. JZ and I thrived there. But the best part, I was able to find a wonderful church home and some amazing friends.
We lived there for about six months when I hurt my knee. Like he always did, JZ adapted to me on crutches. In fact, he adapted better than me. However, what he did not like was another dog coming towards me. On a Monday or Tuesday we were walking from the cafeteria to class. Two dogs were running loose on campus and people had been trying to catch them. However, they were sly and always escaped. These dogs were coming right at us. JZ went into protective mode and made sure they knew not to get close. The only problem is that he also knocked the crutches out from under me and he barked so loudly that professors were coming out of their classes to check on us. I apologized and as soon as he came back from chasing the dogs, we headed straight for student services. Needless to say, the dogs were captured later on that day.
JZ also kept me from getting hit by a car. The driver was backing up and did not bother to pay attention to where he/she was going. By the time I banged on the trunk, the car’s bumper was an inch from me and JZ. JZ was not happy in the least. From that point on, he did not hesitate to get me across the parking lot very quickly and to make sure we went the long way.
This dog, like many of my other guide dogs, knew where classes were located, and how to find a car. My friend Kim would often drive us home. We learned quickly to trust his instinct. He always located her car in the parking lot and was very happy to then lick her in thanks for opening up the door for him to get in.
Have you had other guide dogs after JZ retired?
Yes. Each of my guide dogs have always been loved and wanted. They each have their own personalities and so, I give them their own nicknames to suit them. However, like a person’s first love, my first guide dog will always hold a very special place in my heart. He was given to me at a time when I needed him.
What is something you learned from having a guide dog?
I learned that LOVE LEADS THE WAY. These dogs do what they do out of love and a drive to please. I had seven dogs. My last dog, Kenner, was just about as big as JZ, and he had the same size head and heart. They were both goofy and hardworking. I would not trade what I have gone through to have my sight back. We learn from our experiences and trials. You do not need to have sight to get a full description of something, as long as a person can see it in their mind. I cannot tell you beyond what I have said about JZ as to what he looked like, but I can tell you that he was a wonderful friend and guide.
I have learned that we do not need to question why things happen – and that LOVE does lead the way.
Tina has a heart for others who need a guide dog in their lives. She and Walsh Mountain Publishing are making plans to begin collecting stories for an anthology of stories by those who have been loved and led by canines. The proceeds will go to those who yearn for a guide dog due to life challenges. But Dear Readers, you don’t need to wait, here is the link in case you would like to donate to the cause: https://www.guidedogs.com/