41: Seeing with the Heart

41: Seeing with the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Seeing with the Heart

Instinct is untaught ability.

~Alexander Bain

We walked onto the school stage, Sage following the sound of my footsteps. I held her leash loosely, for though blind, my Springer Spaniel needed little guidance—she tracked the noise of my boots as I walked the laminate flooring. I stopped and Sage paused; she raised her long muzzle into the air, sniffing the new smells that wafted her way.

A group of fifteen fifth graders sat nearby. I gave Sage a few moments to orient herself. Whenever we made school and classroom visits, I always gave Sage time to acquaint herself, through sound and smell, with our audience and location before embarking upon my presentation. As Sage sat beside me, I began talking with the students about disabilities in pets and how some of the same afflictions that affect people also happen to our pets—such as blindness. As I shared Sage’s story about her disability and the disease that robbed her vision, I noted that my blind dog was inching her way toward the audience. Sage’s affection for people was strong—she enjoyed hearing voices and receiving pats on the head. And children enjoyed obliging her.

Sage sat in the front row for a few moments as I completed my story about how she and I adjusted to her blindness. I noticed a boy sitting farther behind the group of students, drawing circles on the floor with his finger. He did not appear engaged with my presentation, but I chalked it up to the fact some students are more interested in what presenters have to say than others. I sat on a chair and began reading from the book I’d written about Sage: Sage’s Big Adventure: Living with Blindness. I read from the chapter in which Sage becomes lost in the woods, distracted from her human’s campsite by a scurrying squirrel. A few student gasps and other murmurings made me look up and smile as I noted, “But, as you can see, Sage came out of that experience well—she’s still here with us, and she’s doing just fine.”

That’s when I noticed Sage had meandered to the back row and was sitting next to the distracted boy. He was gently and cautiously stroking her leg with his finger.

“Sage had a large gash on her leg from stumbling over fallen timber while she was lost,” I added, taking in the moment. The boy looked up at me briefly.

“When things happen to us, it often takes courage to face those problems—just like Sage,” I said. “I’ve learned that great lesson from sharing life with her. She’s a very brave dog, I think. Don’t you?”

A collective chorus exclaimed a resounding “YES!”

I began taking questions from the audience and in doing so, I glanced back at the boy and my dog. Sage sat statue-still as the boy’s cautious finger brushings became full-hand, and he tenderly caressed her shoulder, head, and back. He then hugged my dog with one arm across both of her shoulders. Sage leaned into him and remained stationed in his embrace while I finished answering questions. Prior to leaving, the boy raised his hand. When I nodded his way, he simply said, “I really like your dog.”

I gave him a large smile. “And she really likes you. Thank you for taking care of her for me while I spoke. Sage likes making new friends.”

As the teacher walked me toward the school entrance, I noticed tears glistening in her eyes.

“That student’s parents are going through a divorce—it’s been really hard on him. I think your dog was just what he needed today. That was amazing what she did, staying there beside him, like she was singling him out.”

I patted the top of Sage’s head. “Sage is pretty intuitive,” I responded. “She sees with her heart.”

I loaded my materials into the car and took Sage for a short walk around the school grounds, once again amazed at my blind dog. I recalled a similar conversation last year with an elementary teacher whose third grade student Sage had also singled out. Just like today, Sage sat next to the youngster as the girl’s timid hand first patted my dog’s head, then stroked her front legs and eventually down her back. The girl remained quiet during the entire forty minutes I was in the room until the end when I asked for questions. She raised her hand timidly, and simply stated, “I like your dog.” I learned afterward from the teacher that the girl’s grandfather had died the week before. Somehow, instinctively, Sage knew this child needed comfort and sought her out among the rows of twenty other students.

I also recollected the note I had received from another third grade teacher earlier in the school year after a visit to her class. One of her students was visually impaired, and the teacher told me in her note how much Sage’s visit to their classroom affected that particular student. The student told his aide that he didn’t know dogs could also have vision problems, and that he and Sage had many things in common. If Sage could be persistent and brave about not having sight, then he could too. I also remembered the countless times Sage lay beside me in my sick bed, providing comfort and companionship. How she learned exactly where to jump to land on the bed or on a chair in the living room was beyond me! Sage was never officially trained as a therapy dog, yet her gentle demeanor and her instinctive abilities led her to offer such services to me and to others.

After getting Sage into the back seat of the car, I placed my hands alongside her cheeks and looked deeply into her sightless eyes. At nine years of age, Sage had been completely blind for most of her life, due to a genetic disease, progressive retinal atrophy. Though she could not see from her eyes, I knew the most important part of her could see.

“You really do see with your heart, don’t you, precious girl?”

A swish of her tail and a lick of my cheek told me what her eyes could not.

~Gayle M. Irwin

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