By Randy Pierce
Autumn’s joyous exuberance was evident as she bounded into me on our first meeting on March 16, 2014. Her affectionate, loving approach won my heart immediately but she had some legendary paws to fill in the working world.
I was determined to keep an open mind and remove expectations to let our working relationship develop based upon the skills and qualities each of us brought to the team under the supervision of Guiding Eyes Trainer Chrissie Vetrano. I had some success in this approach as I had transitioned from Ostend to Quinn and understood the benefits of being open minded to the strengths and challenges which each of us bring to any partnership.
I was not without a little baggage of my own I needed to address for the journey. It wasn’t entirely seamless out in the working world and that’s why we have trainers and the guide school support system to help us manage the many possible challenges and ensure we have the skills and tools to work through the difficult days in a steadily improving fashion. Autumn wanted to please me and I wanted my special little girl to succeed with me as well.
Three years later I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I’ve learned to understand her body language to tell when her exuberance is driving her more than her thinking and she’s learned to realize when I’m allowing myself to be a little distracted and need a little correction to her warnings for me. Yes, we both still make some mistakes on our journey but we’ve built an understanding of when we are smooth together, when we are challenged and how to address it so we can do the necessary work even amidst challenge.
Better still, the challenging days are the rarity and the smooth days are so very common. I step out of my home with confidence each day and harness her expecting and receiving the freedom and independence which is such a part of a dog guide team. She gives me hours back each day in the efficiency with which we can do our tasks. Using my cane I find walking to the bus stop is 15 minutes normally, 30 minutes on trash day and “just stay home” on trash and recycle day.
Working with Autumn it is a five minute relaxed and mentally free stroll. She strides eagerly ahead of me and slightly to my left watching for the obstacles and trying to determine which destination is next for us. I try to keep her guessing a little and reflect that it is not just the hours she gives me back each day but the quality of the hours improved by spending my time with her.
So as I celebrate my third year with my wonderful Black and Tan Labrador Retriever, I realize we are in the sweet spot. Our bond is complete and deep, our skills have come to a great understanding, and our eagerness to adventure together is buoyed by our mutual (ahem) youthful approach to the world. I love her work, I love the impact of her work on my life, I love her impact upon my life and so it is not surprisingly how completely and proudly I love my Autumn. Thank you for three wonderful years and I look forward hopefully and eagerly to many more ahead!