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9780553802153

Matter of Dignity Changing the Lives of the Disabled
Matter of Dignity Changing the Lives of the Disabled
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  • ISBN-13: 9780553802153
  • ISBN: 0553802151
  • Publisher: Bantam Books

AUTHOR

Potok, Andrew

SUMMARY

DOGS On a sunny day in early spring, Loie and I climb into one of the Seeing Eye's vans for the ten-minute drive from the elegant spread of the guide dog school to the center of Morristown. The Seeing Eye's main residence, its offices and kennels, are situated in the rolling hills outside of town, but the real action happens in the streets of Morristown, a city of nineteen thousand, nestled in a hilly, horsey part of New Jersey. Though I have trained here with three different dogs, the third of them, Tobias, now at my side, I have come this time to rediscover the place from a nonstudent point of view, and, most particularly, to talk at length with Pete Lang, who has been with the Seeing Eye for thirty-five years, the last ten as training manager. The town, as always, is pulsating with activity, the traffic heavy, the nearly half-million residents of surrounding Morris County driving in to work. Upscale clothing, coffee and chocolate franchises have moved into vacated mom-and-pop businesses. Several fourteen-story buildings have risen far above the rest and contribute noticeably to the commotion of downtown. The tree-shaded green, rich with history, lies in the center of the city, girdled by churches. Everywhere you look, you see guide dogs, chugging along at breakneck pace or moving slowly, carefully, dogs being put to one distraction test or another, by a pizza slice left on a sidewalk, by a squirrel, pigeon or cat, or by an unruly barking pet tied to a parking meter outside a coffeeshop. There are dogs weaving their way through webs of scaffolding or police barricades, past spewing diesels parked across sidewalks, dogs picking their way around planters and trees, under flapping flags and low-hung branches, through puddles, ice and snowbanks, in hot weather and cold, from early morning till dusk. And clutching the harness strapped around each dog is the hand of a trainer, or the hand of a blind person learning how to do it for the first time or brushing up and bonding for the second or third. At every corner, nook and cranny of this bustling city, teams are pushing their way through real-life situations. They labor in traffic, on city buses, trains headed to New York, inside the labyrinthine corridors of the county courthouse, in malls, chugging through racks of suits and dresses inside Epstein's Department Store, one of the few remaining family businesses struggling to stay alive. Everywhere you go in this town, you can hear a chorus of "atta boy" and "atta girl" as shepherds and Labs and goldens stop at every curb, then step cautiously into the streets where they are tested by distracted drivers making a right on a red or by choreographed, near-disastrous events imposed upon them by the Seeing Eye's own drivers. Pete Lang inches the huge Dodge van into a large garage attached to an unadorned, turn-of-the-century boardinghouse on Mt. Kemble Avenue, a central city location owned by the Seeing Eye and used as a drop-off point for students and trainers. Eight vans are already parked, each with as many as seven dogs waiting eagerly to be harnessed by a student or trainer for a downtown trip. Several trainers are putting their dogs through the deliberate, careful pace of obedience exercises. Dogs are asked to come, then sit, then fetch a leather glove or a key chain. A dog barks from inside one of the vans and Pete hushes him. Lee, who was my instructor with my second dog, Topper, is leading a pup down the metal stairs. "We built that staircase without risers to be sure that our dogs would not be afraid of open staircases," Pete says. We leave Tobias hitched to the wall and, unimpeded by alpha-dog conflicts, we observe Pete in the streets of Morristown as he retrains Connor, a five-year-old yellow Lab. "I'm working Connor to get him ready for an elderly gentleman with lots of new health problems," Pete says. Connor's been out oPotok, Andrew is the author of 'Matter of Dignity Changing the Lives of the Disabled' with ISBN 9780553802153 and ISBN 0553802151.

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