They say that dogs come into our lives for a reason. I don't know who "they" are, but "they" are right. That statement couldn't be more true on this date ten years ago. It's just amazing to me how quickly those years have passed. Another phrase that contains a strong thread of truth is: "where has the time gone?", or "time flies when you're having fun." Time certainly has flown.
Ten years ago today I was matched with my first guide dog, Jetta. Jetta entered my life the way she attacked her job and every challenge put in front of her: paws flying, tail wagging and skittering past me as if her butt was on fire. She was my little ball of black fury and at the age of 11 and a half, she hasn't changed much. Sure, she's faster to climb back on the couch these days, but take her out to a river to run and she takes off like a shot.
Jetta has been happily retired since 2008. Her working career was only six years, but they were adventure filled years and I can't blame her for wanting a change of scenery. She traveled everywhere with me and for every hour I put in on the pool deck, she did too. Sometimes at early morning practices, when it was just me and my coach, Jetta was allowed to roam free. She would race up and down the deck, keeping just ahead of me so that she could lick my face when I stopped at the end to take a breather. There were some competitions that lasted ten days and there was one meet in Denmark where we spent 17 hours straight on the pool side. Jetta took it all in stride and did her best to be patient.
I think she was a real asset to the team and even the staff took joy in having her around. Our massage therapist was a huge dog fan and would always keep Jetta when I was racing or just needed to take a nap and Jetta had energy to burn, which happened more often than not.
Attending practices and swim competitions were not her only adventures. She went whale watching, riding in a peddle boat, camping, toured the Grand Canyon, climbed ancient Greek ruins and so much more. And although all of that is impressive for a dog, I think the most impressive part about her was that she did all of that while guiding me and making sure I was safe. She even kept me from getting backed over by a semi-truck on my university campus. She worked even harder than she played, and let me tell you, the girl knew how to let her "fur" down.
While on duty she was a rock, confident and stubborn. Off duty though, she was a little trouble maker who had a taste for freedom once the leash was unsnapped. She always took off running and no amount of calling would bring her back until she was ready. She gave me a few panic attacks doing that, but she always came back...eventually. She always found things to get into as well. Once, she knocked an entire tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on to the floor and we found her and our two cats eating them together. She even climbed up on to Tenie's dresser from her bed side table to try to get a hold of a chocolate bar. She ate Carmen's lipstick and left a pink stain on Carmen's white blanket. Jetta was magical in that she could find mischief where there shouldn't have been any.
When she worked, though, she did so with a confidence and satisfaction that made me smile. Her street crossings were always spot on, but if she wasn't feeling like going to the pool that day, I had to argue with her to turn where she should. She was really good at trotting right past a doorway if she wasn't done going for a walk. I learned her little quirks though and we worked well. We had a few rough months in the beginning, but we smoothed those out and she really was a great little worker.
When we were matched, I asked her trainer why he had given her to me and he replied,
"because she's stubborn and always hungry...just like you."
And, he was right. If I hadn't been more stubborn than her, we never would have made it. Plus, I shared her love for food. When we first got on to the university campus, I don't think we made it to class on time, or at all some days, for the first two months. If I said "Jetta, left," Jetta went right or straight or turned around. She had a mind of her own, and still does, and no amount of coaxing on my part was going to change it.
That said, she was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I even got a tattoo of her paw print to commemorate our working relationship. She made so many things possible, including allowing me to attend a conference completely sighted guide free. Things just wouldn't have been the same without her little hip wiggle and wagging tail. I am so grateful for the time that we did work together and glad she has a home that is loving where she can be a chubby retired girl.
Happy anniversary, Jetta. You will always be my special girl.