Since moving into our bungalow in the Five Points neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Florida, I have felt safe and comfortable in my home and yard. Last night, though, a woman who parked in front of my house verbally assaulted me for correcting my guide dog.
Other guide dog handlers, trainers and people knowledgeable about the topic all know that one needs a guide dog to obey commands precisely. If I tell Xcelerator to find a curb and, instead, he continues down a wheel chair ramp and into traffic, both of us could die. Yesterday, I gave the no noise command to the X-Dog as I prefer that he not bark when on his leash. When he didn’t obey, I repeated the command using a stronger voice. When he still refused to stopped barking, I used a leash correction and did so repeatedly until he did follow my instruction.
Then, the woman at whom he barked, started yelling at me. I don’t fear public criticism but this woman started with, “You don’t treat a dog that way!”
“Actually, I do. He’s a guide dog and this is part of his training,” I replied without anger. My calm surprised me more than anyone else as, typically, if some nitwit decides to accost me for some standard act of blindness, I really lay into them. I didn’t want to get the dog excited.
“You don’t treat dogs or children that way,” she screamed.
“Actually, I have to, I’m blind and I rely on this dog following orders,” I said in a somewhat more testy voice.
Then, she approached the fence around our yard and yelled, “I’m going to call animal rescue!” She added, “You are a cruel person.”
“I said, “Piss off,” and walked away. Maybe I shouldn’t have added this as a farewell statement but at the moment, I felt both fear and anger. I brought both of the dogs inside and suddenly entered one of my moments of intense fear, doubt and insecurity.
I wondered, “What if she comes back and ‘liberates’ the dogs?” I started to panic.
October in Florida reminds us of why we live here. The mornings are cool, the afternoons sunny and warm. The Prohibitive heat and humidity of August go away and everyone, including our dogs enjoy spending long stretches outside. Baby, our 20 pound Corgi/Yorkshire Terrier mix, enjoys going out into the yard alone and, I imagine, like Snoopy, plays jungle explorer under our fruit trees and in and out of our bushes. Xcelerator enjoys running around off of his leash or harness, sniffing around, chasing and getting chased by Baby, grabbing his rope toy and, with his head, tossing it some distance, grabbing it and, with a friendly growl, swinging it around in his mouth.
As these dog play sessions can last for hours, neither my wife nor I can always watch and supervise them. I never felt, before last night, that some animal freak who hasn’t a clue about guide dog or obedience training in general, would threaten me. This morning, when I took the boys outside to do their business, I have no full time job but, alas, my dogs have business to deal with, I thought of letting them remain outside and coming back in to check email and start my work for the day. Then, I grew fearful, asking, “What if this nut comes back and, like the self righteous animal nuts I hear about on Pacifica and elsewhere, decides to liberate my dogs?”
We’ve had Baby for six years, since he had just turned 3 years old. Baby would feel terror if someone took him from us. Xcelerator, on the other hand, has become one of my great friends. He helps me walk at twice the pace I did before he came home. He weaves me through crowds and finds the barber shop and diner I enjoy. Everywhere else I go, he attracts other people who talk to me which helps enormously with my agoraphobia problems. I haven’t touched my cane in nearly four months and don’t expect to until I take a trip to Asia where bringing the X-Dude would not work well. Feeling the unconditional love from this animal, enjoying his displays of play for the sake of play, splashing with him in the ocean or wrestling with him in the living room, enjoying the admiration he receives everywhere from my yoga class to shopping malls by children, adults, adulteresses, men and women, Republicans and Democrats and nearly any other person we encounter brings me a happiness I haven’t felt in years. Both the dogs and I would be traumatized if someone separated us.
So, keep in mind, I have friends in biker gangs, feel comfortable walking through the PJs surrounded by heavily armed toughs and I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of serious thugs without fear. I think there is a small probability that this screwball woman will return to my yard and try to dognap my animals; the fear of it in even the most remote possibility overwhelms me this morning. How do other guide dog handlers deal with such situations? I’m sure I could hit a person by sound at about 30 yards with a shot gun and about 20 yards with a pistol but I fear that I might hit one of my dogs. Imagine the great Florida headline, “St. Petersburg Woman Shot by Blind Man in Animal Rights Incident.”
As a pacifist, I would use only non-lethal force in a gun pointed at a human. Twelve gauge rock salt in the shotgun, maybe a paintball pistol for the handgun. That way, I could call the police and report her saying that they could recognize her right off as she has a burning ass full of salt and is covered in lime green paint.