Or should I say "feelings?" The last two days have been incredibly emotional ones, ranging from excitement, joy and anxiety. Oh the thrills and spills of working with a new dog.
Yesterday was the first time Nala and I did the route from our home to the university. It's not a particularly complicated route, but it's long with a bus route. I hate buses. I always have. I always feel like I have no control over what could potentially happen to me. In order to get to university though, a bus ride is needed. Yesterday's adventure went better than today's. So I'll start there.
Yesterday was one of the only days we've got snow that stayed on the ground this year and even the winter before for that matter. When I realised the sidewalks were covered, I hesitated to walk our route and take the bus because so many things could go wrong. Ultimately, I decided that I had to make this trip because if Nala and I could make it in those kind of conditions then we could make it in any.
We set out from my flat, Nala actually slowing down her speed demon pace to accommodate the slippery sidewalks. I was kind of impressed by this because I don't know how much snow work she's actually done. She needed a few gentle reminders to "straight on" since playing in the fluffy stuff around her paws was a huge temptation, but despite frisking sometimes, she stayed pretty focused. Because of the snow cover the landscape of our walk had completely changed.
When working with a dog, a handler uses their feet a lot to "see" landmarks that they may be walking over. All of mine had been obliterated. However, for the most part, we stayed where we needed to be. At one point along the route the sidewalk widens which allows Nala to shove me right and into a sort of parking area. It's not very big and as soon as I heard the traffic sounds drifting further away I told her "over" and we were able to continue on. She stopped at every curb cleanly even though it must have been difficult for her to know exactly where the curb edges were. She even stopped at a few surface changes and sat as if to say "is this a curb or the sidewalk? Watch your step."
As much as I appreciated these, I think they distracted me from how many streets we crossed and somehow when I told her to find the pole to cross the street, we shot right past. I think she was excited and I just wasn't confident enough in telling her what I wanted. It's not a big deal. We're still getting to know each other. I also think she's testing me a bit.
Once I realised the mistake, which I discovered because we had walked much too far, I turned her around and she found the pole from the opposite direction. I didn't even ask her because I really had no idea at which part of the route I was at. We crossed over, found the bus stop and waited. A fellow bus traveler helped me identify which bus I wanted and Nala had no problems finding the door. When I asked the driver to let me know when we had reached the stop I wanted, he told me he didn't know which one it was. Thankfully, a passenger getting on behind me was actually getting off at that stop and so he just let me know when we arrived. All in all it was a pleasant trip with a lot of great help. Aside from our extra, little walk I think we really did a great job. She found the other poles I needed and the classroom as well. Today, however, was a whole other story.
We started out again with the sun shining, but the sidewalks stil covered in snow as well as slick, sheets of ice in certain spots. We made it all of the way to the pole we walked past yesterday and I caught her before we trotted on by. She found the pole no problem, but when we crossed something went wrong. I don't know if we were angled when we stepped off or if there was a big vehicle parked across the cross walk, but we ended up on this little triangular island that we should not have been on. I knew our mistake, but wasn't sure how to fix it. I don't have a good visual image of that island and so we crossed, but I picked the wrong angle of the triangle to step off. We didn't walk very far before I knew what went wrong. I was panicking a bit as I had a meeting with an instructor to discuss my upcoming assignment and was worried we wouldn't get there in time. Not to mention, Nala couldn't quite find the pole to cross back over. Once we located it I was confused as to where to actually cross. A lot of the times the cross walk buttons are on angles, or as in the case here at the university, they are facing in the complete opposite direction of where you should walk. So, even though we had found the pole, I didn't know what direction to walk. Usually there are tactile strips to indicate, but either it was covered by snow or there just wasn't one. It was also a noisy intersection and I was having difficulty hearing people to ask which way to cross. Finally, a woman with a very thick Scottish accent told me there was a "green man." I already knew that because I had my finger on the cone that spins when it is safe to cross. So I asked her which way was the bus stop. It just so happened she was walking in that direction and walked with me.
We arrived at the bus stop and although I was so thankful for her help, I was beginning to worry she didn't understand what I needed. When the bus arrived, I asked the driver about my stop and he, like the driver from the night before, had no idea what I was asking. The only difference was that this guy was quite rude. So, the woman who had already saved me once said she'd tell me when it was time for me to get off. I was hesitant because whenever I told her what stop it was, she rambled on about bridges and street crossings. None of these things are near the stop I needed, but I wasn't sure what to do.
As my bus trip progressed I started to recognise how the bus moved and at the point when I thought I should get off I went to get up, but the woman told me that it wasn't time yet. I believed her since she was the one who could see and was supposed to be watching for a church. The bus moved along even further and I knew something was very wrong. The very steep hill that indicates to me that I'm nearly there flattened out and e started turning. There should not have been turns. I sprung up, hitting the bell in the process, and went to the front of th bus. The driver said nothing to me as I stepped off and I was so flustered that I didn't think to ask him where I was. Judging by his past behavior though, he probably wouldn't have been very helpful.
Just in case my instincts were wrong and I was just being over sensitive because I was a little stressed, I carried on from the bus the way I would have if I had been dropped at the right stop. When there wasn't a hill for us to climb I started to suspect that I had been right. Nala stopped dead and sat and I checked to find a curb and realised I was standing at a busy intersection; so not right.
I praised her of course for finding the curb so well and then turned us around. At one point Nala turned a hard right down a street. I wouldn't have gone, but I heard the beeping of a crossing and walked that way to see if I could catch someone crossing to see if they could help. There always sem to be a plethora of other pedestrians at crossings and so it seemed like my best bet to find help. I asked a man coming toards me and an older woman chimed in. Between the two of them I was headed off in the right direction, but when I reached the street they gave me directions to, I wasn't sure where to go from there. So, I accosted another woman who I could hear coming because she was wearing high heels. It just so happened she was heading to the building I was going to. So she walked the rest of the way with me. I still have no idea where I was or where I came from, but Nala had us going back on the right track; whether by accident or on purpose I guess I'll never know.
To be honest, when it was all happening I sort of felt a bit traumatized. A bit dramatic I know, but my confidence was shot, but once we got to the office I needed I started seeing this whole thing in a different light.
Nala and I are still very new. We are supposed to make mistakes now. If we had done this route perfectly the first two times and then messed up in a month's time, I'd be more concerned that something was going wrong. It also taught me that we can get to where we need, even if we have to ask for help. It actually made me feel more confident about our working relationship because even when I was getting flustered and worried, Nala kept her cool and kept doing what I asked her to. Sure, she pranced by the school building's door, but again, I think she's testing me. Upon me turning her around a few feet from the door, she happily found it. It's only been four weeks and so we'll get there. The trainer is coming by tomorrow which was a scheduled visit and I think we're going to go over the crossing we messed up both days. That should fix our problem. As for the buses? Let's just hope I get more aware bus drivers. Either that or I am going to have to find a new way to identify the stop I want.
PS: Class time and so I must publish. My apologies for typos again.