Written June 2007

Micah's first public service appearance.

By

Leonard A. McHugh

On Tuesday, May 8, 2007 Micah had his first public service appearance. As a result of my letter to the editor written in the third person about Micah accepting employment in Pottsville, Big Responsibilities Face New Guide Dog, I was asked to speak about guide dogs at the annual Goodwill Industries Keystone Area award breakfast.

I started out stating that I have a sickness called second-dog-itis. I explained that I recently had to retire Indy, my first guide dog, and now am partnered with Micah for only about five weeks. I mentioned that both of my guides were trained by Freedom Guide Dogs. In my opinion this is the smallest guide dog training organization with the biggest heart.

I told a very short story about the fact that Freedom was the only school that would place me with a guide dog. At the time I was recovering from paralysis due to a spinal cord injury, no other school had the confidence that I could safely work with a guide dog.

During the talk I relayed some funny situations in which I found myself with Indy. I explained that Micah and Indy were trained to find inside and outside and the logic behind those commands. It is often difficult for the blind individual to locate a building, then figuring out how to enter. I told one particular funny story about Indy performing this command; he led me straight to a freezer door in a food establishment. After all, this door met his criteria, it is a door and has a handle or knob therefore it must lead outside.

I talked about Micah and finding left or right; guide dogs are trained to follow direction commands. Now Micah being a very new dog and learning to work as a team, he reacts to commands instantly . It is probably because of my voice inflection. A few times I told him to "find left or right" and he did exactly that. You could imagine my surprise when I was stopped at a fence, a side of a building and the worst going up a dirt hill. I never knew that the side of one home was a hill. Micah's perspective is probably something like, "Oh! If you want to see this wall I will show it to you" or "if you really want to check out this fence, well ok" and "wonderful! There is probably something up on that hill also for me". I had to learn to talk to him and not make it sound like a direct command.

I spoke about the guide dog's life from puppy raiser through retirement. I explained about the wonderful young couple that adopted Indy. Indy was ten and a half years old when Frank and Christine adopted him; they also have two other rescued dogs. It takes a very special person to accept the responsibility of an older dog. Almost every weekend they take the dogs camping and Indy is having a blast swimming in the river. I do not believe that a better retirement home could have been found for him.

Normally, when I speak about guide dogs, near the end I remove the dog's harness so he can interact with the audience. Since we were together for only five weeks, Micah was not ready for me to let people pet him and I suspected that we may have a few problems in that area. Micah is definitely a social butterfly. He gets very excited when he sees someone when we are walking down the street. I am totally confident that this will all work out ok. I did remove his harness and knelt down demonstrating his ability to change from working mode to play mode. Everyone, including myself, was laughing when Micah started licking my face. When I put him back in harness, he instantly laid down by my side again becoming the perfect well behaved guide dog. .

A friend recently pointed out that she thinks retiring a guide dog is the hardest thing about being blind. I truly agree and relayed that thought. I use to think that the hardest thing about being blind was not being able to drive. Now I am convinced that retiring a guide dog is truly the most difficult thing about being blind. I could not help it, but I did become quite emotional while relaying that part of my story.

When I completed the guide dog portion of my time slot, I did a few magic illusions. My daughter, a manager with the company, had been relentless in having me perform a little magic as part of my talk. Her boss, who requested that I speak, knew that I once was a blind magician. A few years ago I performed a few illusions for them at a small office Christmas party. I know that she asked Kelly to have me include a mini Motivational Magic Show as part of my talk. I used magic as a motivational tool, when you watch a magician, he can see what he is doing and you can not. When you watch me, as a blind magician, you can see what I am doing and I can not. In both cases you can not figure out how the illusion is done. The motivational message is that if I can do this with out vision; just imagine what you can do with sight.

I ended my portion of the program with a typical question and answer period. Since copies of Micah's accepting employment letter to the editor and the Blind Beatitudes, taken from my web page, were made for all members of the audience, this helped generate some fantastic questions. One particularly interesting question was about Micah's name. I explained that the puppy raiser names the dogs and that Micah was named about two years prior to me meeting him. I then explained that each litter is given a consecutive letter of the alphabet for the dog's names. Since Micah is in the "M" group all of the pups in his group have names that start with the letter "M". I then talked a little about Micah's puppy raiser. Fred was (88) eighty-eight years old when he took Micah. Fred has raised quite a few dogs for Freedom and has chosen every dog's name from somewhere in the Holy Bible. Fred is now (90) ninety years old and had accepted another puppy to raise. During the winter snow, Fred would put on snow shoes and take the dogs for a walk on the golf course.

At the close of the program, my daughter's boss announced that for a thank you, Goodwill Industries Keystone Area would be making a donation to Freedom Guide Dogs in my name. She also gave me a wonderful complement. She stated that they had an educational speaker, comedian and a magician all in one package, thanks Laura. At the conclusion of the program when people were leaving, a few others indicated that they also plan to make a donation to Freedom.

Micah was the perfect gentleman, well almost. He did get one slight correction for "licking the floor". Of course he had to goof off during the middle of my presentation again bringing a little laughter. Hmmm! here we go again being, upstaged by a guide dog.

At the time of this writing, Micah and I are on course to become a fantastic working team. Although it takes many months until we really work together, I feel it is coming along very well. I must learn what he is trying to tell me and he must learn what I expect of him. As far as him being a social butterfly, he truly is, however he understands the difference between working and play modes. I can now remove his harness so people can pet him. My biggest problem is that when it is removed he becomes very excited and wants to jump on people. We definitely need a lot more work with that behavioral issue. On a very sad note: Fred, Micah's puppy raiser just returned the puppy that he was raising. Fred now at age (90) ninety is battling cancer and is no longer able to work with the puppy.

I truly wish Fred the best, I am grateful to him and all of the puppy raisers. I can speak for everyone who has ever had a guide dog in thanking these wonderful people that raise and have to give up the dogs when they are about one and a half years old.

Fred holding Micah at 7 weeks old

Photograph of Fred holding MIcah when Micah was seven weeks old. Reprinted with kind permission of Freedom Guide Dogs.

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