Take Me Home!

Take Me Home!

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Take Me Home!

As I gave Perrier, my black Labrador guide dog, the command, “Forward, inside,” I could feel my heart thumping. Would he obey me and go up the three steps into the waiting train? Moments before, the commuter train had pulled into the station on its way from Philadelphia to Newark, New Jersey. As the brakes hissed and the train came to a halt near us, Perrier sat calmly beside me on the platform. But would he actually guide me on? Not to worry! Perrier conducted himself like a seasoned professional and smartly led me to the stairs and into the club car.

Four days earlier, we had returned home from the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey, after spending three and a half weeks learning to work as a team. At that time I was living with my wife, Phyllis, and daughter, Lori, in a suburb north of Philadelphia. Perrier quickly adapted to life in our apartment, and during the next few days we took frequent short walks around the neighborhood— a new experience without my long white cane. We visited some of the nearby stores and Perrier quickly learned to pause at an ice-cream parlor and see if this was one of those days when we would indulge my creamy passion. Now it was time to return to my job in New York, which would provide a true test of Perrier’s skill.

My favorite conductor, Bobby, was on duty that morning and greeted the two of us with enthusiasm. Like a good old-time railroad conductor, he knew all the regular commuters by name. As I positioned Perrier under one of the tables in the club car, Jim, the waiter, came over to check on whether I wanted my usual coffee and muffin. This initial commute began a routine that lasted for five years, until I moved to New York to live. My commute normally lasted about an hour because it was a typical “local” with many stops along the way. On this first trip, however, several surprises were in store for me. When the train pulled into the first stop, Perrier got up and began pulling me to the exit. Since I knew we had more than an hour to go, I firmly resisted his attempt to disembark and resettled him under my seat. At each of the next few stops the scene was repeated. It finally dawned on me that during our training, all the teams got on a commuter train, went one stop, got off, crossed the platform, got on another train and went back one stop to Morristown. For Perrier, commuting to work meant going one stop and one stop only!

Another surprise was the attention lavished on us by my fellow commuters, many of whom I had been traveling with for several years without exchanging a word. Dog talk abounded, with questions about Perrier and reminiscences about the dogs in their own lives.

Once I reached the Newark station, I had two options: I could catch an Amtrak train fromNewark intoManhattan, a fifteen-minute ride, or transfer to the Port Authority subway system. The advantage of the subway was I would be within easy walking distance of my office at Baruch College when I got off, but it took forty-five minutes. On this first day, as I left the commuter train in Newark, an Amtrak train was just pulling into the station across the platform. I decided to take it. With my “Forward” command, Perrier swiftly crossed, made his way through the crowd waiting to board and guaranteed we would be the first ones to enter the waiting train. During this transfer I realized my new partner was a dog ideally suited for working in New York City.

On arrival in Manhattan, I opted to walk to work, a distance of slightly more than a mile. After walking several blocks south on Eighth Avenue, Perrier veered to the right, and the next thing I knew, he attempted to board a northbound bus! He was giving me a clear signal, which was repeated many times during our eight years of partnership: I’d rather ride than walk! Unfortunately for Perrier, the bus was going in the wrong direction.

Arriving at my office twenty minutes later, I was exhilarated. This thrilling sense of emerging independence was reinforced every time Perrier stopped at a curb, avoided rushing pedestrians and smartly crossed a traffic-filled street. What had been a chore for the last few years was now an exciting adventure!

During our years of intercity travel, Perrier and I shared many unique experiences. Stopping at stairs, avoiding open cellar doors, handling the hustle and bustle of city life, and weaving in and out of cars intruding into pedestrian walkways were all in a day’s work for my magnificent canine partner. The one constant was that life was full of challenges.

One memorable occasion remains forever etched in my memory. On this particular day Perrier’s intuitive guiding skill went well beyond his routine duties. I left the office just as a major blizzard hit the Northeast, and by the time I arrived at the station near my home, more than ten inches of snow had fallen. Stepping off the train, a strange new world encompassed me. Snow is to a blind person what fog is to a sighted person. Accustomed to being met by Phyllis, I listened for the sound of her voice or the car motor. As the train departed, I realized I was alone, since I had been the only passenger to disembark. The suddenness and severity of the storm not only kept Phyllis from picking me up at the station, but also kept all other cars off the usually crowded road. I knew Phyllis was probably stuck at home and frantic, but the road was impassable, even by emergency vehicles. The tiny station was closed, offering no protection from the snow.

With a sinking feeling, I realized that Perrier and I were on our own. Descending the steps of the station platform, it was eerie not to hear a single car moving. Snow, like dense fog, deadens the sounds I rely on for cues about the environment. That suppression of sound combined with the lack of traffic was totally disorienting for me. It was not only eerie, it was downright scary. I realized that I could easily become lost and wander around for hours looking for help. I knew I had to turn right after exiting the station, but had no idea where the sidewalks and curbs were. All I could do was give Perrier the “Forward” command and hope he knew where he was going. I said, “Take me home, Perrier!”

The snow continued falling as I followed my guide’s slow but steady lead. As we walked along, the only sound I heard was the crunching of my shoes as we plodded on. I kept hoping a car would go by so I could determine if we were even on the sidewalk! No such luck. In the immense silence of the falling snow, it felt as if Perrier and I were the last two beings on Earth.

After walking for what seemed an interminable period, Perrier made a sharp right turn. At that point I said to him, “I sure hope you know where you are going.” About ten minutes later he made another short right turn and I followed him up two steps where he unhesitatingly placed his nose on the doorknob of my apartment! Flinging open the door, I was enveloped by the safety and warmth of my home. The tension ebbed from my body and was immediately replaced by an incredible surge of gratitude for the skill and confidence of my canine partner. Dropping to my knees, I buried my face in Perrier’s wet fur and whispered to him, “Thank you, buddy, for rescuing me!” His response was a warm tongue on my cheek.

Ed Eames, Ph.D.

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