Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Two: Taking Off

an airplane taking off on a runwayHave you read the first part of Alicia’s Story? Check it out!

My parents drove me to Chicago Midway airport for my flight. I had been a little nervous that morning, but once I realized weather wasn’t going to stop me, excitement took over. The anxiety about my first time flying alone started to fade, and I could sit in the car and enjoy the ride.

A good 45 minutes later, my dad was driving circles in the parking lot while my mom led me inside to the ticket counter. My dad had told me they could get special passes to take me from the ticket counter to the gate, but I said no. “The point of this is for me to do this by myself,” I explained to him. He understood. I think. No matter how old you are, or how much you’ve prepared for something, parents always worry about their kids. Then, add a disability to the mix.

At the ticket counter, I showed my ID and requested assistance to my gate. Mom led me to a seat to wait for airport assistance, said goodbye, told me to have fun, and left.

This was the worst part. What is considered a normal wait time? “I’ve been waiting for like 10 minutes,” I texted my friend Juan in Houston. “Is this normal?” He replied in less than a minute: Yes!” Another friend I texted sent a reassuring reply: “They won’t forget about you.”

And they didn’t.

“Ali?” a man said, standing a few feet away. I stood up, smiling. “Hi! Yep, that’s me!”

“Do you need a wheelchair?” he asked me. I thought for a second. I had anticipated this question — when I asked my blind friends about what to expect from airline assistance, they told me that this wheelchair question is very common. Oddly enough, I didn’t have an answer. I wasn’t sure I wanted the ride. “I mean…I don’t need one, but if it’s faster, sure.”

He helped me into the wheelchair, and I laughed and made some light-hearted joke about how I didn’t know what I was doing. “I’ve never been in a wheelchair in my life!”

We zoomed down some hallways, took an elevator down, zoomed down more empty hallways, and wound up at the front of the security line with two people ahead of us. I was instructed to put my phone in my purse, so I did. The skycap took my things, I stood up, and walked through security.

“Okay, you’re through,” the TSA agent said. She sounded friendly and I could tell she was smiling. I smiled back.

“Okay, awesome!” I said – which, okay, probably isn’t your typical response at TSA, but I was feeling so excited and proud of myself that I couldn’t help but call it the way I saw it: it was awesome. The TSA agent laughed. “Is this your first time flying?”

“Sort of,” I said, explaining this was my first solo flight. “I’ve always flown with my parents.” Just then the airline assistant returned with the wheelchair, my purse and my cane. Once I was seated and situated again, the skycap placed my suitcase on my lap. “Before we go to the gate, can we stop at a restroom?” I asked, letting him know I prefer the family style ones. “Those are one-person, right?”

The skycap confirmed that yes, they were, and we started moving again. “Okay, then that would be great if possible, and not too much of an inconvenience. I just hate public restrooms, you know? Wandering around looking for everything,” I laughed. The assistant laughed, agreeing with me. As we rode along, I pulled out my phone and texted my parents that I’d made it through security.

After the restroom I asked for one more request. “Can we go somewhere to fill up my water bottle?” I apologized after I asked. That’s something I’m trying to work on. His job is to assist me; I don’t need to apologize for said assistance. We filled my water bottle and then headed for the gate.

“Can you let the gate agent know I’m here? I’m doing pre-boarding, so I’ll need help,” I told the airline assistant as I got out of the wheelchair and sat at a regular seat. “Absolutely,” he said.

I tipped him when he returned, and he thanked me and went on his way. A lady across from me called out to me then. “Excuse me, mis?” she said. “I can help you as well, if you’d like.”

“Thanks…the airport provides assistance, though, so the gate agent knows I’m here,” I replied. It’s not that I didn’t trust her, but I felt more comfortable having an airport employee help me on the plane than anyone else, just for the sake of assurance that they knew I was there. Or that I’d actually get on. And that’s when I texted my parents (and Juan) to let them know I was waiting at the gate. I’d promised my parents I would text them with updates along the way.

Stay tuned for Part Three, where Alicia talks about how her second solo flight, the trip back to Chicago from Houston, compared to the first time she’d ever flown on her own, and how it feels now to be a seasoned traveler.

 

Studies Show You Can’t Trust Diabetic Alert Dogs to Detect Blood Sugar Levels

a heart monitor graph illustrationI have Type 1 diabetes and have never trusted dog-training companies that claim that dogs can help detect low and high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A story called The Hope and Hype of Diabetic Alert Dogs that aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program tells me I was right to have my doubts.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can be difficult to manage. We use handheld glucometers or other technologies throughout the day and night to check the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. Low blood sugars can lead to poor judgment, loss of consciousness, even death; over time, high blood sugar levels can cause kidney disease and sight loss. I was diagnosed at age 7, before home blood sugar monitoring was available. Type 1 diabetes is what caused my blindness.

The story mentions a lawsuit where a group of more than a dozen people with diabetes, each of whom had spent $15,000 for a so-called diabetic alert dog sued a trainer for fraud and won a judgment for $800,000. It also reported that Virginia’s attorney general sued a service dog vendor after customer complaints about its dogs, which were marketed as “backed by science” and “100 percent effective.” The piece referred to research on diabetic alert dogs in a 2017 study done by psychologist Linda Gonder-Frederick at University of Virginia. From the story:

Before the study, their owners believed the dogs would prove more accurate than their glucose monitor devices. That didn’t happen.
“Overall, they really were not that reliable or accurate,” she says.

Another Oregon researcher did a study of diabetic alert dogs in 2016 and found only 12% of the dogs’ alerts happened during actual low blood sugar events, and the dogs also had false positives.

The NPR Story comes right out and says it: diabetic alert dogs can’t reliably detect blood sugar changes from diabetes. More than a million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, and many of us with Type 1 wish desperately that dogs could help. I am grateful to NPR for setting this straight, and leave you with this very important warning for parents from the story:

Her research also contradicted what some believe — or hope — is true: That the dogs can be a good safety net for those who worry about blood sugar dropping as they sleep. Some parents have turned to the dogs to safeguard their children during the night.
“The accuracy just plummeted during the night. Dogs have to sleep too. Obviously, a dog cannot work 24/7,” Gonder-Frederick says.

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part One: Getting to the Airport

I Three luggage bags of different colorlove traveling. I don’t need a big, extravagant trip to feel pleased about my travel abilities, either. Just taking the train to downtown Chicago is enough to make me feel proud of myself, simply because I did it by myself – or at the very least, without my parents.

I’ve taken cabs, buses, Ubers, Amtrak and Metra trains all by myself. I’ve flown many times before, but always with my parents.

I have friends who are also blind and have flown countless times, and thinking about them always left me feeling a mixture of pride and envy. I was proud of them for their independence, but also envious, wishing I had that kind of courage. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I set a goal: this year, 2020, I would fly alone at least once.

A friend of mine who is blind flew out to Chicago from Houston in November to celebrate my birthday with a group of friends, and while Juan was here we discussed my “first solo flight” idea further. I asked him question after question about everything. What airline do you recommend? Any specific airport? Do you do curbside check-in or go to the counter? How did your parents react? Juan’s parents seem similar to mine, especially in how they raised us as children with disabilities. So hearing how his parents reacted to him flying alone gave me the last boost of confidence I needed. Juan invited me to come to visit him and his family in Houston, and I started looking up flights. Imagine how hard it was to get through finals week – my last finals week, no less, as I graduated in December! – spending every minute of my free time looking up airfares. The affordable prices were taunting me.

I was so tempted to act first and think later – buy the tickets, then tell my parents about it. Realistically, I’d never do that, but checking fares and checking my bank account, knowing I could actually afford this…it all amped up the excitement. I can do this!

My parents were very encouraging, and my dad helped me book my flight on the Southwest website. I was pleased that the Southwest website provided me the option to check a checkbox indicating I am blind and needed gate assistance. A few days before the trip I had been waiting so long for, an anticipated snow storm threatened to ruin the entire thing. I spent the day before and the day of the trip asking our Google home device how much snow was expected, already jumping ahead and asking Juan for alternative dates for me to fly from Chicago just in case. He wasn’t worried at all. “This is how Chicago always is!” he laughed. “You’re always supposed to get a storm – it won’t happen.”

And it didn’t!

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Alicia talks about waiting for airport assistance, getting through airport security with a white cane, and, eventually, sitting in the plane ready for take-off.

 

How to Let the Department of Transportation Know Your Thoughts: Service Animals on Planes

A service dog lying down

Late last month the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) concerning traveling by air with service animals. What that means is that the DOT has once again released a document proposing new regulations governing air travel with service animals.

So here’s where you come in: DOT is giving the public 60 days to comment on the proposed regulations, and the NPRM can be accessed here along with a summary created by DOT with the main points. Some tips for locating the section if you wish to comment:

  1. Find a link at the end of the summary with the docket number associated with the NPRM
  2. Hit enter on the docket number and you’ll get to a page with a “comment now” button
  3. Hit that button to get to the form where you can submit your comments

Remember, the proposed regulations are not yet law. So far they are just proposals to change the law. I just flew home to Chicago from Newark a couple weeks ago, so I can vouch for that: laws regarding service animals on planes have not yet changed. The DOT says they will not issue final new regulations until they have reviewed public comments.

All that said, given DOT’s current enforcement priorities, you might want to check on your specific airline’s policies before you fly. Think about keeping your animal’s health record with you when you’re taking a plane anywhere: it is sometimes difficult to determine if a specific airline will ask you to show it, so may as well be prepared.

 

The First National Journalism Contest Devoted Exclusively to Disability Coverage

a microphoneWhile at the Seeing Eye training with my new dog, a woman in a dorm room across the hall introduced herself to me as Katherine Schneider. The name sounded familiar. Guess what? She’s the very Katherine Schneider who funds the Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability. Here from the American Media Institute web site:

The Schneider Award is the first national journalism contest devoted exclusively to disability coverage. It is administered by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, under a grant from Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who also supports the Schneider Family Book Award. That award is administered by the American Library Association and honors the best children’s book each year that captures the disability experience for children and adolescents.

Pretty cool, eh? Katherine was born blind, and at dinner last night she told me the winners of the Schneider Family Children’s Book Award will be announced in a few weeks. I’ll publish a post announcing those winners when that announcement is made.

Winners of the Katherine Schneider Journalism Award have already been announced, and Katherine told me the work for the committee choosing those award winners gets harder every year. “This year they reviewed over a hundred pieces of journalism from all over the world,” she said. Judges for the journalism award make their decisions by considering how well submissions:

  • Explore and illuminate key legal or judicial issues regarding the treatment of people with disabilities
  • Explore and illuminate government policies and practices regarding disabilities
  • Explore and illuminate practices of private companies and organizations regarding disabilities
  • Go beyond the ordinary in conveying the challenges experienced by people living with disabilities and strategies for meeting these challenges
  • Offer balanced accounts of key points of controversy in the field and provide useful information to the general public

Special consideration is given to entries that are accessible to those with disabilities (for example, broadcast pieces that are available in transcript form and text stories that are accessible to screen readers.)

For 2019, first place in the large media market category was awarded to Right to Fail, Living Apart, Coming Undone an in-depth investigation by ProPublica and PBS Frontline in collaboration with The New York Times. First place in the small media market category was awarded to You’re Not Alone, a collaborative documentary between the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee PBS that followed the lives of four young people from Wisconsin as they navigated mental health challenges — the final product included a suicide prevention toolkit at jsonline.com/yourenotalone. Second and third-place awards went to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Radiolab, The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina,
and Searchlight New Mexico. Judges also awarded honorable mentions to The Arizona Republic as well as the Texas Tribune.

Visit Katherine Schneider’s blog, Kathie Comments, to learn more about Dr. Schneider, the Schneider award for journalism, and the Schneider Award for children’s books. What can I say? I always meet amazing people during my stays at The Seeing Eye, and getting to know Katherine has been a real privilege. I’d say more, but it’s time to head outside with our new dogs. Today’s a solo route!

 

What’s it Like to Train with a New Seeing Eye Dog?

a service dog in a harnessEarlier this month, we published a post I wrote about flying to the Seeing Eye School in New Jersey to spend three weeks training with a new Seeing Eye dog. I’m very happy to report I made it safely to Newark International Airport, caught my ride from there to Morristown and have already been matched with a sweet one-and-a-half-year-old female Black Labrador Retriever. Well then, you ask, how’s life at the Seeing Eye? Here’s an account of how a typical morning goes here — this all happened last Friday:

    • 5:30 a.m. Music comes through intercoms to wake us up. The day before we were matched with our dogs it was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” This morning it was The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” Every day, a different song to wake us up.
    • 5:35 Dress up warm, then out to the courtyard for “park time.” Twenty blind people circle their dogs around them, all urging our dog to empty. Trainers are with us and call out to let us know when we’ve had success: “#1 for Dilbert!” and Dilbert’s owner whoops it up to encourage him to always go on command. “Harry has a #2!” And his owner squeals with delight. Today was a red letter day, my dog did her #1 AND #2 fairly quickly: once they do both you can have them lead you back into the building (and warmth!) using the “inside!” command.
    • 5:45 Enter room, command your dog to “Go to your place.” Her “place” is her crate, and you leave your dog in her crate while you dish out one-and-a-half cups dry dog food from the tightly-closed bin on the floor near our dorm room door.
    • Zip open crate, say and repeat the word “rest” as you place the dish in front of her. Keep saying “rest” until you stand up, clap your hands and happily call out, “Take it!” Your dog must stay in the crate by the bedpost until you say those magic words. If they go after the food before those magic words, you pick up the food and go through the entire routine again–she can’t have her food until she stays in her place.
    • 5:50 Your dog inhales her food, then you “heel” her to the bathroom (heel as in walk with leash, but no harness), measure out two cups of water, she drinks what she wants, and you empty
      Photo taken during warm weather of an obstacle course that trainers use to teach dogs how to lead their eventual companions.

      The dogs work hard even before they meet their human companions. Here, a trainer teaches a dog how to lead around common obstacles.

      out any water she didn’t drink. She only gets water when you give it to her, part of the “bonding.” She better follow my commands and keep me safe so that she can have water!

    • 5:57 Clean out empty bowls with a little squeegee thing they gave us to do so, put bowls back on their shelf (above toilet) in bathroom.
    • 6:05 a.m.: I don’t know what others do, but I make myself a cup of instant coffee using this groovy collapsible “hot pot” my husband bought me for my birthday last month.
    • 6:15 Check email.
    • 6:30 Shower.
    • 6:45 Call “6368” on desk phone to hear what the menu for today is, check blood sugar and take appropriate insulin to cover breakfast.
    • 6:55 Announcement over intercom “first floor ladies, head down to the dining room” or “men from upstairs, start heading to breakfast.” We all parade down to the dining room, our dogs leading the way.
    • 7:00 Each student has an assigned seat in the dining room, we give dogs a series of commands to go “left” “forward” or “right” to get to our seat and praise them when they achieve their goal.
    • 7:15 Breakfast. The dining room is lovely, white tablecloths and all. Waiters and waitresses come to get our orders so the dogs will know how to act in a restaurant.
    • 8:00 Off in vans to training center in downtown Morristown.
    • 8:15 Today we are practicing our “solo” route. We’ve been practicing a route around Morristown for the past couple days. The route includes T-intersections, four-way stoplights, a two-way stop sign, talking walk signals, left turns, two right turns. Our “solo trip” is Sunday, and during the solo the trainer is still behind us, but quite a distance.

Uh-oh. Announcement over intercom just sounded: time to head to the vans to downtown Morristown. It’s not even 8:00 a.m. yet!

 

Enjoy the Sounds of Ohio’s Blind Marching Band

members of the marching band hold up banner and play instruments during a paradeWhat? You didn’t see the Ohio School for the Blind (OSSB) Marching band leading the Outback Bowl Parade on New Year’s Eve? I didn’t, either.

I have an excuse,though: I can’t see!

I can tell you this, though: the world’s only blind marching band sure sounded fabulous, and if you missed it, don’t fret:you can see – and hear – highlights here.

Comprised of 7th through 12th graders from across the state of Ohio, the OSSB marching band not only marched in the parade but also performed with other high school bands during the halftime show on New Year’s Day.

Community volunteers act as marching assistants to guide the musicians while on and off the field. “They know their steps already,” a marching assistant named Sandy Wilson explained in a Bay News story about the OSSB marching band. “We just sort of help them make sure they stay in line.”

The Music Intstruction page on the Ohio State School for the Blind web site explains their emphasis on music:

Music is an essential part of the education at OSSB. Since most of our students have little to no vision, music takes on added significance as the most approachable art form in which they can participate.

All students at OSSB take music classes, and students learn to play by ear and read music Braille as well. Guests from the Artist in Residence program present lessons that expose the students to music of other countries, allowing educators to promote cultural diversity and tolerance. The emphasis of music at that school is obvious from their scheduling:

  • Private lessons occur once a week
  • Multiple students with disabilities have music three times a week
  • Jr. High Students have music five times a week
  • High School Choir meets five times a week
  • High School Marching Band meets five times a week, holds a marching practice once a week during football season, and Participants must also attend a week long band camp during the summer

The blind marching band plays at area football games, performs as a pep band at the Ohio School for the Deaf basketball games, and travels to events in and outside of Ohio –they marched in the Rose Bowl parade a few years before appearing at this year’s Outback Bowl. A 14-year-old drummer in the band did a beautiful job expressing the importance of performances like these in that Bay News story: “Some people think that even though we’re blind that we’re not capable of performing,” she said. “I want them to be happy and amazed after our performance, I want them to think like, ‘wow, they really are the only blind band in the world and they can play music and they can do everything just like any other band.'”

Back in high school I was in the marching band.

Back in high school I was in the marching band.

I was in my high school marching band back when I was a teenager. I was a pretty gawky teen, never had a boyfriend, never went to prom. But I had a ball in the band, especially on bus rides to and from performances at other schools and in other states. Many of my closest friends today are kids I met in marching band, and I trust the same will be true for these kids from Ohio. March on!

 

The One Thing People Who Are Blind Have in Common With Search Engines

illustration of a browser viewing an image with a sales tag attached to it saying 'alt tag'Here’s a New Year’s resolution that’s a cinch to follow: vow to start using html code to identify images and graphics for users like me, who are unable to see them. Your reward? You’ll likely increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) scores as well.

Let me try to explain. Many of us who are visually-impaired or blind use screen readers on our computers and smartphones. When we visit a website, as long as you’ve used alt text, our screen readers will read the alt text out loud so we know what images you’ve used. Sites that don’t use alt text correctly (or don’t use it at all) risk leaving us, quite literally, in the dark.

Turns out we’re not the only ones who can’t see images on your website: search engines can’t “see” them, either. Adding alt text and, when possible, describing images in a way that includes a keyword you’re targeting, is a great SEO tactic.

I like to think of this alt text tactic as an example of accessible technology is like accessible design. Like to skateboard? Use luggage with wheels? When you take walks, are your kids in strollers? If so, you have the Americans with Disabilities Act to thank for requiring curb cuts.

The Americans with Disabilities Act also brings you closed captioning, which means bars, restaurants, health clubs and airport lobbies don’t have to crank the volume for people who want to keep up with news events, sports and weather.

So now, with this alt text idea, I can say accessible technology is for everyone trying to increase SEO scores. Who knew? Not me! But just like curb cuts and closed captioning, alt text provides unintentional benefits to people whether they have disabilities or not. I. Love. It.

A little research on all this led me to the Perkins School for the Blind’s Technology blog. I’ll say goodbye here with a recommendation that you read a post there to learn best practices when writing alt text. Then watch your SEO scores zoom upward as search engines – and people who are blind – can read them.

 

Flying Blind

a wide view of an airplane  stationary at an airport, sun low in the backgroundThis Monday I take off for Morristown, New Jersey to spend three weeks training with a new Seeing Eye dog. A post we published here last month explained where my retired dog Whitney is living now, and today’s short post will clue you in on some of the details involved in getting 24 people who have visual impairments arrive at Newark International Airport on the same day from all over North America.

A few of the 24 of us will be training with their first ever Seeing Eye dog, but a majority will be like me: people who retired a guide dog recently and are returning to train with a new dog.

Translation: we are not very skilled with our white canes! To help you understand a bit about how this all works, I give you a bit of the official itinerary sent to me by the Seeing Eye.

Here is your confirmation for your flight on JANUARY 06, 2020. Please make sure that you arrive at the airport with your Government issued photo ID and go directly to the ticket counter for your boarding pass. We recommend you checking with the airline for the current baggage fee policy. You will be responsible for any baggage fee so packing lightly will be to your advantage.

Upon your arrival at Newark Airport you will be escorted by an airline representative to your baggage claim area, where a Seeing Eye Instructor will meet you and drive you to campus. Airline representatives who provide assistance often have wheelchairs with them, but remember you do not have to ride in a wheelchair unless you want to.

We ask that you turn on your cell phone and use the facilities prior to getting to the baggage carousel. There usually is some waiting time while collecting everyone.

Lori will be sending you a Seeing Eye luggage tag via USPS. Please attach that to your checked bag so it will be easily identifiable by the instructor that meets you.

Wish me luck!

 

This Holiday Season, Many Happy Returns

Returning.

idcardThat’s the one word that describes my holidays this year. In a matter of days, I’ll be returning my Seeing Eye dog Whitney to the fabulous family who volunteered to raise her as a puppy. In January I’ll be returning to the Seeing Eye School in Morristown, New Jersey to train with a new dog. And in-between, my husband Mike and I will be returning to New Orleans, one of my favorite vacation destinations.

New Orleans is the only American city I know of where sight takes a back seat to the other senses. So I’ll be listening to live jazz in the streets, feeling damp, dense, warm air on my skin, and following my nose to green peppers and onions sautéing in butter. Oh! The food. Can you say crawfish etouffee? Jambalaya? Gumbo? Muffuletta?

And who knows? After Christmas, I may be returning gifts, too!

But why, you might ask, is my Seeing Eye dog going back to her puppy raisers? Good question. Whitney is healthy. She still enjoys visiting elementary schools with me, and still knows her lefts from her rights. But she’s ten years old now. Walks wear her out. Traveling outside our familiar neighborhood unnerves her. She loses focus.

Whitney has worked long and hard for me, and I don’t like forcing her to do something that makes her so uncomfortable. I love her. And if anyone deserves a happy carefree retirement, it’s Whitney the sensational Seeing Eye dog.

Plan A was for my great-niece in Minneapolis to adopt Whitney. Shelley already has an older dog named Wilson, but she is very fond of Whitney, too. That bond grew stronger when Shelley’s mother (my sister’s daughter, Lynne) died after a long illness. Whitney guided me through the airports to Minneapolis to be with Shelley and her sister Jamie during Lynne’s final days. At the hospital, Whitney was a comfort to all, even placing her head on the mattress so Lynne could reach her soft ears and get an occasional lick.

Since we spent our entire time at the hospital, Whitney never got to meet Shelley’s dog Wilson. A subsequent flight we arranged to introduce the dogs was canceled due to a thunderstorm.

And then I heard from the family who had raised Whitney as a puppy.

The Seeing Eye has a long-standing “closed adoption” sort of policy. They do not give our name or contact information to the volunteers who raise our Seeing Eye dogs for the first year. The school does send a graduation photo to the volunteer families once their puppy has been matched, and Whitney’s photo came with a letter saying Whitney had been given to an author in Chicago.

Whitney’s puppy raiser’s own Golden Retriever, Honey, was two years old when Whitney lived there. The two dogs ran, chased Frisbees, and even slept together. Honey had to be euthanized earlier this year after suffering renal failure. Grief over that loss got the family thinking about Whitney. They Googled “Chicago author Whitney,” and…voila! They found my blog and left a comment there offering to be a “Plan B” if things didn’t work out with Shelley.

You can probably guess the rest.

I called Shelley to tell her I’d heard from the Pennsylvania puppy raisers, that their family dog had died earlier this year, that they were just starting to look for a new dog to certify as a therapy dog to visit nursing homes and libraries.

Then came the hard part. “I’m thinking I might like to have Whitney retire with her puppy raisers,” I told my great-niece, my stomach twisting in worry over how she’d take this news. Her response was immediate. And surprising. “Do it!” she said, a smile in her voice. “I love Whitney, but I have Wilson, and there will be other dogs in my future. Right now, the puppy raisers need a dog to love.”

So off we go.
Mike and I will be returning ten-year-old Whitney to the loving people who raised her back in 2010. They’ve told us, “Getting Whitney back will be the best Christmas gift ever!”

And so, my holiday gifts came early this year. At first, I was very sad about having to say goodbye to Whitney. But that’s diminishing as I ponder how fortunate I am. This is a holiday to celebrate the human spirit – the love, understanding, and generosity that come with helping people we’ve never met.

Think about it: a family gives up an adorable puppy they’ve nurtured for months to assist an unknown someone who needs help. A kind great-niece gives up something she’d been hoping for, showing love, understanding, and empathy for a far-away family she’s never met. A husband has to say goodbye to a dog he loves, too, but he understands why: he wants “both of his girls to be safe.”

I have a lot to look forward to in the new year as well. People at the Seeing Eye are hard at work right now getting things ready for me to train for three weeks with a new, young, enthusiastic dog. Get ready, New Jersey. On January 6, 2020, I will be, yes…returning.