Learning Life Lessons From Your Dog

When I lost my vision in October 2007, I lost my career in academia. I was a college professor. I had gone through the Personal Adjustment to Blindness program, a fifteen week in-residence experience at the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation School, Homewood, PA. I lived there on the campus for a fifteen week period. I had to re-learn how to do most things that I had done most of my life, but in new ways. I had to learn how to read, using adaptive equipment instead of my eyes. I had to learn how to walk, using a long white cane. I learned simple things that we take for geranted, like how to put toothpast on a toothbrush when you cannot see it, and how to cut your nails again, or how to apply my make up when I caould no longer see my face. I even learned how to use a sewing machine again. It was a long and painful process at times. I got frustrated sometimes. I even got angry some times. But, all in all, it was the best experience of my life in many ways.
My next bit of training would be to learn how to operate computers and technology once again. As a professor I was very computer literate. Now, I would have to begin again and learn new ways of doing things I had done for years. Before that happened, though, my college decided to terminate me. It was the most shocking and humiliating experience of my life. It was far worse than dealing with sight loss, for I had been a very active scholar all my life and academia had been my life. I had a great career in my field and now it was ended because I had lost my sight. After this devestating situation with the termination of my professional life, I was determined to go on and to build my life anew in spite of my challenges. Though my teaching career was brought to an end, my real life began once again. I had many more life lessons to learn.
Living a guality and successful life once again, after sight loss, takes time. It is not a quick fix. I will never “get better.” You cannot just go to get some rehab and be on your way. You have to learn how to live your life again and how to find value in your life when you can no longer do many things you once did with ease. And, most of all, you soon learn who your true friends really are. There were some disappointments when people I thought were my dearst friends literally shunned me. But, others stepped up and showed me love and support and gave me encouragement. It is great to really know who it is that truly is your friend. I know that now.
Bob and I had not had a dog for 17 years because we were not home very much to take proper care of a dog. I traveled in the summer to Europe, taking students on trips that lasted a month. Then, I gave lectures and presentations at conferences which took me out of state many times. My work schedule at the college was extermely harrowing at times. On many days, I was gone before 7 am and not back home before 9 pm. My hours in the classroom were intensive. Not only did I teach studio art classes which are three hours long, twice a week. I also taught Humanities classes and did art history lectures for them. In addition to all of this, I was in the English Department and I taught culture specific courses in literature and poetry. There would have ben no room in our week for a dog.
After sight loss, we began to think again about getting a dog. I did not want to get a guide dog because I did not want to have to take a dog with me everywhere I went. I live in the country, and do not really need a dog to get around. My white cane is just fine and all I need for traveling about when I am alone.
Our first dog was from a shelter. He is Rocco, a mixed breed dog who was 6 when we adopted him. He is Pomeranean and Shetland Sheep Dog. We got Rocco in January 2008. He was such an easy dog to have. He learned everything so quickly, and Rocco took me on as his special project. I am never out of his sight. Rocco became my personal companion. After 10 months we began to think about getting another dog. We thought Rocco would enjoy another dog and we had room for another one in our home and hearts.
Before we could really go looking for another dog at a shelter, a dog was abandoned near our home. Bob found Mitchell in the woods near our house, dropped off at the beginning of the cold winter frost. People had seen her running about for 2 days before we found her. We got her home and decided that she was the perfect dog for us and Rocco liked her immediately. They became best friends.
In order to be a better dog owner, I recently read the book_Caesar’s Way_ by Caesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer). One important thing I learned from the book is that a dog lives “in the moment.” I began to appreciate this in my dogs. I saw that every outing we take during the day is delightful to them regardless of the weather or conditions. They are filled with enthusiasm at the idea of a walk and the weather does not matter to them at all.
Today, I watched as they romped through the tall spring grasses along the creek where we walk. Rocco loves to lay in the warm sunshine, sniff the flowers, and just be contented as we are outside in the spring morning. Mitchell romps through the tall grasses. She likes to nibble at it, etating flowers, and other plants along the way. She stops to roll on her back in the grass. She smells it, rolls over, and gleefully rolls about on the grass. Time stands still as we experience the spring time here in western PA.
Dogs have so much to teach us humans about what makes life have quality. It is that they can enjoy the moment. We are often thining about the future, or the past, and worring about things that might or might not be…but the dogs are just enjoying their sunshine and grass.
I have come to appreciate the moment myself. Often throughout the day, I now sit and consciously think about the moment and try to stay in it and keep in in my mind and heart. The dogs have taught me so much more in such a short time. It was just a matter of learning to watch them and be aware of the moment along with them each day.
In the photo Mitchell pauses to have a look out the window at her backyard.

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