by Linda Yacks
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in Wheat Ridge, Colo. My partner and I rode the number-100 bus from the Federal Center after work to 44th and Kipling, where we disembarked and headed south. At 44th Avenue, we turned to face west in preparation to cross Kipling, a busy street. Since this was long before audible pedestrian signals at traffic lights, a blind or visually impaired individual relied solely on their ears to read the traffic patterns. So I listened, and as soon as the first vehicle passed parallel through the intersection, I gave the “forward” command to my guide dog, Paul. We stepped off the curb, but suddenly, Paul jumped in front of me, almost causing me to fall backward. I realized that a large auto passed awfully close in front of us.
As soon as the culprit was gone, Paul resumed his place by my side and crossed the street, stopped at the curb, and received the “forward” command. As soon as we were safely out of the street, I asked him to halt and lavished loads of praise and hugs on him. He just licked my face. I have often wondered if he was saying, “All in a day’s work, Mom, all in a day’s work.”
I don’t remember how many kind folks stopped to see if we were OK, but I remember that a woman said, “I don’t believe what I just saw. I expected to see you on the ground hurt.” It was from her that I learned that it was a van of laughing teenagers. I often wonder if they ever knew how close they came to a catastrophe that day. You see, I believe there were two miracles. The first is that the young people did not hit anyone or get hit crossing the busy intersection. The second, that my dog or I did not get injured or killed.
Paul was the first of six guides trained at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. There have been many stories of heroics on their part, but this one will always stand out for me. My sixth and last guide will turn 10 in June. Why your last, you ask? As in all of our lives, circumstances change with age and I no longer travel the streets as I did in my younger years. Since a guide dog costs the school over $50,000 from breeding to retirement, I cannot justify the expense of another dog. But my gratitude to those bundles of energy housed in furry bodies with floppy ears, four legs, and the ever-wagging tails is never ending. For the curious, all of my pups have been black labs except for one, who was a delightful chocolate.
No guide dog school receives federal funding. They are supported by the generous contributions of individuals and companies who are also my everyday heroes.