Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Impassable

After Karen got back to Bloomington with her first Seeing Eye dog, Lyric, she liked to work her for miles a day. Karen and Lyric would often walk from our apartment to Illinois State University, in Normal, a couple of miles away and back.

I've written about Karen's initial meeting of Lyric, but didn't have an opportunity to describe the kind of dog she was. A long-haired German shepherd, she had a delicate, absolutely feminine, beauty. She could speak pages with her eyes, and nuance her eyes' pronouncements with a nearly imperceptible adjustment of the angle of her ears. Everyone who knew her was awed by her beauty and grace, and sensed there was something of the ethereal to her.

After Karen's initial experience with her at The Seeing Eye, Lyric loved her more completely than I've ever known another dog to love a person. For whatever reason, Lyric loved me instantly, but, in general, it took a long time to get to know her. It wasn't that she was in any way unfriendly, she was simply deeply involved with the people she already loved, and, unlike most dogs, you had to earn Lyric's love and trust. Once you did, though, you had a beautiful, smart, athletic shepherd, who would adore you forever and make you feel particularly special for garnering her attention.

Lyric was also manipulative in some ways. Not being a dog with an insatiable appetite, Lyric found that she could mess with us regarding food. She'd refuse to eat kibble for two days, and we'd freak out. Oh, no, she's going to die! So, different foods were brought and rejected, or nibbled and discarded. Lyric loved Milk Bones, though, and managed to extort first two or three, and, before long, eight or nine large Milk Bones a day out of us. Of course she didn't need her kibble, she was living on cookies. When those would be cut back, she'd remain on strike against regular dog food, until we did something special, like pour milk on it.

Understand, Karen and I were young, and Lyric, along with Holden, was our first dog. Of all the dogs I've subsequently owned, or known, Lyric, in her prime, was far and away the most manipulative. She was also gorgeous, the first Seeing Eye dog I'd ever known, and had a magical presence about her. All these factors combined to cause us to spend several years, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, just bending over to kiss her ass. Not that she didn't deserve the best, but she was getting specially cooked chicken breasts, while we were living on frozen burritos.

After a few years, we managed to put an end to the food manipulation. Cookies remained prominent in Lyric's diet, but we got her to eat kibble by remembering the basic maxim, that no dog has ever, in history, voluntarily starved herself to death to make a point. All that seems kind of obvious now, but when you're in your early twenties and on your first dog, it's something you have to learn for yourself, I suppose.

As I've said before, Lyric had a quality that reminded us of a college girl, a co-ed. She loved campuses and quads, and with her long hair and serious minded ways, with those deep, searching, brown eyes that could still secretly dance with mischievous energy, I always thought of her as, perhaps, a graduate student in Comparative Lit, or maybe Renaissance Art. Certainly not in any discipline which would allow one to make a living if they were to ever leave college.

But back to the initial months with Lyric. Every day, Karen would work her for hours, and they both loved it. From the time they arrived home in late summer, they'd leave the apartment on their own every day, whether Karen had any place to be or not, and just walk. This was the time long before Lyric's hips started to hurt, and before Karen became engrossed in school, when they could really concentrate on being with each other and developing as a team. As I think back on it, those months might have been the happiest of Karen's life.

The daily walks continued, never less than an hour, as fall turned to winter in central Illinois, and I saw my two girls turn into a stellar team, never having a problem.

One day, though, in late November, Karen and Lyric left, and, a minute later, I heard barking down the street. By the time I got downstairs, they were back at the apartment.

"Lyric's freaking out," Karen said. "There's something around the corner, and she's just stopping and barking and refusing to take me past it." 

Seeing Eye dogs are taught to refuse to lead their people into danger, even if they are ordered to do so. It's called "intelligent disobedience" and is one of the fundamental principles of guide dog training.

"Maybe there's a big hole or something," I suggested.

"She'd be able to work me around that," Karen said.

Then we got around the corner, and there it was, the impassable. It stood, arrogant in its power over all it beheld. It was a snowman, and it was scaring Lyric horribly. She couldn't dare bring herself to pass it and drag Karen down with her, when the snowman attacked, or whatever Lyric imagined it would do.

Gentle words were used, and avoidance of the snowman was practiced until it was gone. I assume it was somehow the first snowman Lyric had ever seen, but given that we didn't raise her, I can't really know. Maybe it was the first, or maybe, while she was being raised by her foster family, a snowman had broken into the house and eaten the baby. You just never know.

To note again, I have virtually no photos of Lyric (or anything else). Except for the graduation picture, the other shots are purely decorative, and are of dogs with some quality or another that reminds me of Lyric. All the dogs shown here are beautiful, but I wish you could have really seen Lyric. Of course every dog is special, but, Lyric, she was really something extra special, and she was already getting old when the graduation picture was taken. She was still beautiful, but in her prime...

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands


Sharkbytes (TM) said...

This is a beautiful story. Yes, there are some dogs with bonds that are just unbelievable. My Chips, gone now 10 years, was a 1-person dog. He simply could not tolerate being separated from me. See In Memory of Hoover Houdini Chips

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