It all began when I heard about the puppies. One of our neighbor’s, Nell King’s dog had a litter of puppies a couple of weeks ago. Ever since I started talking, I had wanted a puppy. Now I am twelve years old (My birthday is in February so that’s no help there). Every time I would drop a hint about a puppy, my mother would say absentmindedly, “That’s nice, honey,” and go about her business.
Now my father on the other hand is a completely different story. He always came up with the same excuse, “I have bought two animals already and I do not intend to buy a third!” For Pete’s sake, I had told Dad if I had enough money I would buy the puppy myself. The reason Dad read me the riot act every time I asked was because a puppy was a big responsibility and he did not think I would take care of it.
It wasn’t that my parents didn’t like animals. They had an Irish Setter before I was born named Bailey. She passed away when I was only five months old so I don’t remember her. I always enjoy hearing stories about her thought.
And it wasn’t because my parents didn’t want their children to have pets. When I was three, they got my brother a dog for Christmas. It was a German Shepherd maybe one or two years old. My brother named him Astro after the dog on The Jetsons.
I went to speech therapy twice a week. The therapist asked me what we had gotten for Christmas. I started to tell her about the dog. When she asked me what it’s name was I said Astro, but it came out as a swear word. The therapist looked at my parents and they just shrugged their shoulders. They couldn’t punish me. I was just trying to say the dog’s name.
Astro started to get aggressive. He would snarl, growl and show his teeth. One time, he bit me for no apparent reason and drew blood. Well, that did it. Astro was sent to the shelter. Even after what happened with Astro, I still wanted a puppy.
Anyway my sixteen-year-old brother, Carson, didn’t care whatsoever because girls were only thing on his brain those days. Carson has thick red hair he brushes once a week (if we’re lucky), brown eyes and freckles. As for me, I have strawberry blonde hair that is slightly curly, blue eyes and some freckles, too, but not as many as my brother. I also have glasses and two retainers. I got my braces off about five weeks ago and I’m dying to get contact lenses. Mom always says, “You’re still too young,” which drives me up the wall!
Well, enough about me. Back to May 20th. Four days before that I had heard about the puppies.
Carson was watching “Baywatch” on television, not because he’s interested in the show, but because he’s interested in the “babes”. At least that is what he calls them. Mom and Dad say it’s a phase. If it’s a phase then my name isn’t Christa Lynn Howard.
I asked Mom if I could call my best friend, Robin, since I was bored to death. Robin has a dog of her own. It’s a Great Dane named Sadie. She’s a nice dog, but she is huge and she is still considered to be a puppy. Mom said it was fine so I walked back into the kitchen and dialed Robin’s number.
“Hello, Knickerbockers,” said Mrs. Knickerbocker.
“Hi,” I answered. “ Is Robin there?”
“Just a sec.”
“Hi, Robin, it’s me,” I said when Robin came to the phone.
“Oh, hi,” she answered.
“ I was wondering if you could come over because I am bored to death and Carson is glued to the television.”
“I wish I could, but I am just getting over bronchitis. You know what?” she continued.
“Sadie did the cutest thing yesterday.”
“Oh, what did she do?”
Robin told me Sadie had learned to dance. Robin takes Sadie’s favorite toy, holds it in the air and walks backwards while Sadie gets on her hind legs and follows it. After Robin and I hung up, I went to my room and started to imagine what it would be like if I had a puppy. Then Mom walked in.
“I am going over to Nell’s. She needs some sugar for a pie she’s making. Want to come?”
Did I want to come? Was Mom crazy? I was off my bed like a shot. Hoping to see the puppies, I followed Mom at a quick trot across the street. Nell is around seventy-nine years old. Her husband died around seven years ago.
“Hello, Nell,” Mom called.
“Hello, Suzanne,” Nell answered. “Hi there, Chris.”
“Hi,” I replied.
Mom and Nell chatted for a few minutes. I knew if I didn’t speak up soon, I’d loose a perfectly good chance to see the puppies.
“Uh, Mrs. King? I, uh, heard your dog had some puppies.”
“She sure did. Nora had a fine litter. Would you like to see them?”
“Mom?” I asked. “Can I see them?” Then I remembered to add, ”Please?”
Nell led me through the gate into the backyard. Nora saw Nell, trotted over and licked her hand.
“Hey, there, old girl,” Nell replied.
Nora came over and pushed her head against my hand. I patted her.
Then I saw five fat puppies. Nell handed one to me.
“Do they have names?” I asked.
“No. If I gave them names they would probably get used to them. The people who buy them will probably give them new names.” So Nell was planning on selling the puppies.
All of a sudden, I fell in love with one certain puppy. Like Nora, they were all Golden Labrador Retrievers, but this one had a ring of white fur around its neck.
“Is this one a boy or a girl?” I asked Nell.
“I do believe it’s a girl.”
“Chris, we need to go,” Mom called.
“Okay. Thanks, Mrs. King.”
As we walked home, I asked Mom if we could possibly get one of Nell’s puppies.
“I don’t know,” Mom answered. At least she didn’t come right out and say no.
That evening I took the cordless phone into my room and called Nell.
“Hello, Mrs. King?”
“This is Chris.”
“Hi. I was, uh, wondering how much are the puppies?”
“Well, I really have figured out a price, but I guess I will charge forty-five for the males and fifty for the females.”
“Okay, thanks.” I hung up. “Mom!”
“I was wondering, uh…could I maybe have a raise in my allowance?”
“Well, I was thinking if I could have a raise I could buy a puppy myself.”
“I won’t give you a raise, but you could always get a summer job.”
A Summer Job
“Do you really think I could?” I asked Robin. It was Saturday and I had invited Robin over. Carson had been doing the same thing he did yesterday, the day before that and the day before that. Honestly, ever since girls have come into his life Carson has been totally boring.
“Really, I don’t see why not,” Robin replied. I was asking Robin if she thought I could get a summer job.
“What could I do though?”
“My step-brother washes cars every weekend for three dollars an hour.”
“I doubt I’d be any good at washing cars.”
“Well, you could always look in the newspaper. You might be able to find some job that doesn’t require you to be sixteen.”
At quarter to twelve, Robin had to go home for lunch. I asked Dad if next time he got the paper if I could look for a job. Mom said to do extra chores around the house. About a week later, Dad handed me The Morristown Chronicle. I went into the kitchen and flipped through until I found the job section. Let’s see, truck driver. Wonderful. Health Care Provider…uh, no. Finally, when I had given up all hope of getting a job and buying a puppy, I saw it.
“Baby-sitter,” I read. Mom wouldn’t let me sit for someone we don’t know, but there were plenty of families in the neighborhood who had younger children. I took a health and safety course at the community pool last summer so I think I would be qualified. I ran the idea by Mom and she said to make up some fliers and hand them out.
By Monday, I had a flier that looked like this:
Christa L. Howard
Available summers and weekends
Mom would not let me sit on weeknights when school began. I decorated my flyers with suns, kites, butterflies and musical notes. I went around and put them in peoples’ mailboxes and on Sunday, I handed them out to people at church. About a week went by and I didn’t receive a single call. Mom told me to be patient and give it some time. As each day went by the more discouraged I got.
Then one day the phone rang. I didn’t bother to go and pick it up.
“Chris, could you get that? My hands are full,” Mom called from the laundry room.
“Hello?’ I said not very enthusiastically.
“Hello, Chris? This is Mollie Mead.”
“Oh, hi. I’ll go get my mom for you.”
“Wait, Chris. I don’t want to talk to your mother. I want to talk to you.”
“Yes. My husband and I are invited to a dinner party next Saturday night and I heard you were doing some baby-sitting…am I right?”
“Yeah.” I was beginning to get more interested.
“We were wondering if you would be available to watch the kids?”
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“Great,” Mrs. Mead said. “The dinner party starts at 6:00pm so can you be here by 5:30?”
“I’ll be there,” I said.
The Meads have two children, Amber, who’s five and Ethan (better known by me as Evil Ethan), who is three. I took an old gym bag and put in some children’s books, along with some crayons and a coloring book that only had a couple pages colored in it. I also added some little games like Tic-Tac Toe and Connect Four.
When Saturday came, Mom and Dad walked me over to the Meads. Mr. and Mrs. Mead were sitting on the front porch and the kids were playing in the yard. While my parents and Meads talked, I went over to the kids.
“Hi, Amber,” I said. “Hi, Ethan.”
Amber just gave me a blank stare, but Ethan gave me a big smile and then pulled down his pants right there in the front yard.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Mead said and got up off the porch, came over and pulled his son’s pants up. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I told him. I figured I’d have to give the kid a bath anyway.
After my parents left, Mrs. Mead took me inside and showed me where all the emergency numbers were and gave me the number where they were going to be. She had hot dogs laid out for the kids’ supper so all I had to do was heat them in the microwave. The kids were to be in bed by 8:00pm and they would be back by 9:30pm. Sounded easy enough, right? Wrong.
Supper went okay even though Ethan began to throw half his hot dog on the floor. After supper, I put the plates in the sink and wiped off the table. Then I went into the living room and played Tic-Tac Toe with Ethan while Amber colored. I had to let Ethan win every game otherwise he would kick and scream. Then when Amber got tired of coloring, I had to try and play Barbie dolls with her while trying to keep Ethan occupied. When it was time for them to go to bed, Ethan had already fallen asleep. I should have just carried him up stairs because when I woke him up, he started bawling. I was trying everything to get him to stop crying. I told him to listen to Amber who was singing in the shower, in between asking me to check and make sure she had all the shampoo out of her hair. Ethan did quiet down in time for me to give him his bath. Then we had to go through the, “I’m not tired” and “Can I stay up just five more minutes?” scenario. It was going on almost 9:00pm when I was heading back downstairs after reading them a bedtime story.
When the Meads weren’t home by 9:30pm, I figured they had probably got caught in traffic, except that 9:30 became 10:00 and 10:00 became 10:30 and then at 11:00pm, they finally showed up. They really didn’t apologize for being late. Mr. Mead drove me home and paid me three dollars an hour. So after one night of baby-sitting, I had around fifteen dollars. Nowhere near to the fifty dollars Nell wanted for a female puppy.
When I got home, Mom was waiting up for me.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Well, I can tell you I am very glad I don’t have a younger brother or sister,” I replied.
“Evil Ethan strikes again?”
I nodded and told her what happened.
I started getting more and more phone calls. I’ll admit, I had some favorite families to sit for and to say the least; the Meads weren’t one of them. I would sit for them, but occasionally I would turn them down. Even Mom would tell people I was a good baby -sitter and she wasn’t saying that just because I was her daughter. She meant it. I took things for the kids to do and I would spend time playing with them, unlike some baby -sitters who just sat around and watched TV or talked on the phone.
Five weeks later, I had fifty-two dollars. I nearly yelled. I would still continue to baby sit.
“Mom, I have fifty-two dollars. Can we go over to Nell’s and get my puppy now?”
“Slow down, Chris, “Mom said, “Tomorrow we need to go to the pet supply store and get all the necessary items.”
“But…” I whined.
“Chris, we will get the puppy tomorrow,” Mom repeated. And that was the end of that.
How was I ever going to wait until tomorrow?
Tomorrow! It was finally here! Last night, I couldn’t get to sleep for almost three hours and when I finally did, all I did was toss and turn.
“Mom, can we go now?” I asked for the hundredth or maybe thousandth time that morning. I wanted to leave as soon as possible just in case the puppy with the white ring around its neck was still there.
“We will go to the pet store after breakfast, get the things we need and then we will get the puppy.”
It felt like it was Christmas morning and Mom was saying I couldn’t open presents until I had eaten every bite of my breakfast.
When we reached the pet store, Mom told me to pick out the dishes, a leash and a puppy bed while she went to pick out some dog shampoo. I chose a brown dish for the food and blue dish for the water. Then I chose a green leash and a red and white puppy bed. I got a tennis ball and a rubber bone. We also picked up a bag of doggie treats.
Finally Mom sighed, “Okay, let’s go get your puppy.”
I ran for the door and across the street. By the time Mom got there, I had paid Nell and was in the backyard.
“Hi, Suzanne,” Nell said. “I see Chris is real excited about getting a puppy.”
Mom nodded. In the backyard, I saw the puppy with the white ring around its neck.
“Is this the one?” asked Mom.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“She’s got a real sweetie,” Nell said.
As we walked back home, I was carrying the squirmy little puppy. I put her on the floor once we were inside. She trotted around exploring everything and about every ten minutes, she would fall over her wobbly little legs.
“Well, what are you going to name it?” Mom asked.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t even considered a name yet.
“I’m not sure yet,” I admitted. “But it has to be a good name.”
“Maybe you should name it after what it looks like,” Mom suggested.
A few hours later, Dad came home from work. He works for an insurance company.
“Hey, Dad,” I shouted, “Look at my puppy.”
I thought Dad was going to faint. His eyes got as round as fifty cent pieces.
“Suzanne, can I see you in the next room?”
Uh oh. Dad was not happy and it wasn’t good to get him upset.
“What is it, Jay?” Mom asked.
“How could you let Chris get a puppy?”
“She earned all the money. I thought it was only fair.”
Just then my puppy trotted over to Dad and pawed at the tassels on his shoe. Dad smiled.
“He is kind of cute.”
It’s a she, Dad,” I replied and he just shook his head.
At night we decided to put the puppy bed in the bathroom. As soon as we closed the door the puppy started to scratch at the door trying to get out. Dad said he would not have the puppy scratching up the bathroom door so Mom said she could sleep in my room.
First, the puppy lay in the middle of the bed and then she went up and lay down on my pillow. At 5:00am, Dad came down to my room and told me it was time to take the puppy outside.
By the afternoon, I still hadn’t come up with a name. I asked Carson. He said to name it C.J. or Caroline. C.J. and Caroline are two people on “Baywatch” that Carson thinks are the hottest babes. Next, I went to Dad. Dad liked my puppy more and more each day. He said I should name it what I wanted. I knew what Mom had said, but I asked her again.
“I have tried to think, but the only names I’ve come up with are, Goldie, Sandy and Blondie.”
“Goldie is a nice name.”
I sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” I went over and rubbed my puppy’s white ring. Just like that a name popped into my head. “Hey, why not name her Ringlet because of the white ring of fur around her neck?”
“That sounds like a perfect name to me,” Mom said.
For the first few days, I had to keep a constant eye on Ringlet to make sure she didn’t have an accident in the house. Every time she went to the bathroom outside, I gave her a treat. After she learned that, she would take off running for the house and into the kitchen before I even had a chance to take her leash off. She was house broken in only a week and a half. It got to where I could let her outside without the leash. I didn’t have to go out with her, either. She stayed in the yard and came back to the door when she was ready to come inside. I also taught her how to shake hands. She would sit down and start pawing the air until I gave her a treat. She started offering her paw whenever there was something she wanted.
Since she was still in the puppy stage she liked to chew. She chewed two of the arms off my Barbie dolls, a leg off one of my Care Bears and one of my friends let Ringlet puncture a hole in my inflatable globe. When I would play tug-o-war with her, she would lie on her stomach and just let me pull her across the linoleum floor.
Then one day I couldn’t find her.
“Ringlet,” I called. No Ringlet came. Maybe she didn’t know her name yet. “Puppy!” Still no Ringlet appeared. I got just a little bit worried. “Oh boy, if she’s done something bad, Mom’ll kill me.”
Finally, after checking my bedroom, the kitchen and the living room, I found her in the laundry room…chewing on one of my shoes!
“Ringlet! Bad dog!”
Ringlet picked up my shoe, ran out of the laundry and wiggled behind the couch.
“Chris! What’s the matter?” Mom asked coming into the living room.
“Ringlet’s got my shoe and won’t give it back.”
“Ringlet, “ Mom called. Ringlet kept right on chewing.
“Let’s move the couch away from the wall,” suggested Mom.
Once the couch was moved, I stood at one end blocking it in case Ringlet decide to try and get out that way. Mom was at the other end.
“Ringlet, drop it,” Mom said sternly.
Ringlet tucked her tail between her legs and started cowering. She was scared.
“Mom,” I said, “Ringlet’s afraid.”
“I know. You need to be stern with a puppy so it will mind. If I were you, I would pick up all the papers and everything else you don’t want chewed up,” Mom advised. “It’s time you cleaned out your closet anyway.”
I made a face. I hate cleaning out my closet, but this time I knew Mom was right. I went to my bedroom and cleaned up everything. You wouldn’t believe how many papers I recycled. I had to make about five trips to the recycling bucket.
“Chris,” Mom called just as I was coming back from my fifth trip.
“Dad and I have talked it over and we think it might be a good idea to take Ringlet to obedience school. It will teach her to respond to what we say.”
“Okay, “ I said.
The next day Mom called the Morristown Obedience Training. After about ten minutes on the phone, Mom said we needed to go sign Ringlet up for school. The school had an opening with a lady, who had been there for a few years. After I had filled out the necessary forms I said to Ringlet,” You are going to be going to school in a couple days.”
“Chris,” Mom called.
It was Saturday morning and Ringlet’s first day of obedience school.
I was in the laundry room looking for Ringlet’s brush and leash.
“We need to leave in five minutes,” Mom replied.
I came out of the laundry room with Ringlet’s brush. I sat down and tried to brush her. Ringlet kept trying to bite the brush.
I thought I was going to have to pick Ringlet up, but she jumped right in the car. I made Ringlet sit by pushing down on her and held the leash close to her collar. She fidgeted all the way to the school. When we entered the gym, there were already six or seven dogs in there. A nice looking lady came over to us.
“Hello, I’m Gail Kane. Please, call me Gail. You must be Chris and Ringlet.”
Before Gail could begin, a girl, maybe a little older than me, came into the gym.
“Mom!” she called.
“Excuse me,” Gail said. “What is it, Summer?”
“Duchess isn’t coming.”
“Okay,” Gail said. “My dog is kind of shy so I’ll be right back. Summer, stay here.”
After Gail left, Summer began telling us about Duchess.
“She’s a purebred soft Collie. Duchess isn’t really my dog; she’s my mom’s. She is a show dog.”
Before Summer could continue, Gail came back leading an absolutely gorgeous dog. Duchess’s coat looked about as soft as a rabbit’s fur.
“Okay, class. Summer, go to the end of the line and we’ll begin”
Summer stood next to me. Ringlet went over and pawed at Duchess’s paw. I think she was just trying to be friendly. Obviously, Summer didn’t think so.
“Get your mutt away from Duchess!”
“Ringlet is not a mutt,” I informed her. “She’s a Golden Labrador Retriever.”
“Class, please walk your dogs forward, one at a time,” Gail cut in.
When my turn came, Ringlet came right along and before I knew it she was running.
“Ringlet!” I cried. “Slow down.”
I tried to pull her back, but ended up tripping over my own feet and falling flat on my face. Talk about embarrassing. I didn’t think Ringlet was going to be so strong. Gail came over to see if I was all right.
“Chris, are you okay?”
“Yeah, “ I sighed and sat up rubbing my knees.
“Try holding Ringlet at a tighter grasp next time. You have to show her whose boss.”
After all the other people had walked their dogs forward, Gail taught us how to make our dogs sit.
Gail had Summer bring Duchess over to demonstrate. Gail started out by holding a small treat in her hand and showing it to Duchess. Then Gail placing the treat directly in front of Duchess’s nose and moving her hand with the treat upward and backward.
“Duchess, sit.” Duchess would have sat, even if Gail hadn’t used a treat.
“Not every dog is a well behaved as Duchess,” Summer said.
“Now, Summer,” Gail replied, but you could clearly see Gail’s eyes were shining upon her daughter.
Gail came over and said, “Ringlet, sit,” as I tried to do what Gail had told us.
“Gail said we should practice with Ringlet at home,” Mom told me. I agreed.
Throughout the next week, Mom and I worked with Ringlet on the commands she was supposed to learn. Every time Ringlet would do the right command we gave her a treat. Sometimes it was a doggie treat, but other times we used popcorn or Cheerios. Some commands took longer than others, but sometimes Ringlet could learn a command within three days. We only worked with her a few minutes every day. I started to add some tricks to her routine. I wanted to teach her to sit up, play dead and roll over.
When Saturday came, we took Ringlet back to obedience school. Gail taught us how to make our dogs stay. Teaching a dog to stay may be more difficult than teaching them to sit or come. Gail said for us to start out by telling our dogs to stay when they are already sitting or lying down. Then we would move a short distance away. Then we would call our dog by name.
Believe it or not, Ringlet did really well. I was proud of her.
Practicing with Ringlet at home had really helped. I might be a little bias by saying she was probably one of the smartest dogs there. I didn’t realize how smart Ringlet was until one day when I took her for a walk. The first time I noticed something was when I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. I had turned my head to watch a car go down the street and all of a sudden, I felt Ringlet jerk the leash and pulled me to the side of the sidewalk. I saw if Ringlet hadn’t jerked the leash, I would have run smack-dab into a low hanging branch. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe Ringlet had seen a squirrel or something and wanted to chase it. The second time was when we were heading back home. We had stopped to cross at an intersection. I looked both ways and even though the light was red there were no cars coming. I started to try and cross the street, but Ringlet tugged back on her leash. I turned around.
“Come on, Ringlet, “ I said and pulled at her leash.
Finally, when the light turned green she was more than willing to go with me. I told Mom what happened and she couldn’t figure it out either. She suggested we ask Gail next time we went to class.
“Well, I am not sure I know the answer to that,” Gail said. “I have seen dogs like her being used for seeing-eye dogs. Maybe you should take her to a special school. They would be able to tell you a lot more.”
Mom seemed to be very impressed and said we would try the special school. When she told Dad he said, “Well, we seem to have no ordinary dog here,” and patted Ringlet’s head. On Monday, Mom called the special school and scheduled Ringlet for a consultation.
Needless to say, I was nervous about special school even though the first meeting was only a consultation. I had not expected Ringlet to be so smart. Smart, yes, but smart enough to be a seeing- eye dog? I just wanted a regular pet.
“Come on, Chris, we don’t want to be late for our appointment,” Mom said.
The person we were supposed to meet with was Dr. Kenneth Evans. I silently hoped Ringlet would pass the consultation and then come home to stay. I didn’t want her in dog shows or demonstrations. Why had I agreed to this?
The building we had arrived at looked a little like the obedience school. I felt as of someone else’s feet were carrying me to the door. Those feet walked me inside, down the hall and into a classroom. There were no other dogs in this bleak looking room. Mom and I sat down to wait. About ten minutes later a man came in.
I’m Dr. Evans,” he said.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Mom replied. “This is my daughter, Chris and her dog, Ringlet.”
“So this must be Ringlet. Hello, Ringlet.” Dr. Evans bent down to Ringlet who was sitting. He held out his hand. “Can you shake?” Ringlet raised her paw.
“I taught her that,” I told Dr. Evans.
For the first few minutes, Dr. Evans talked to us about what it took to be a seeing-eye dog and the duty the dog would have to its owner. The dogs would be trained to obey their owners as well as disobey any command that would be dangerous. They also had to learn to guide their master around things, such as low hanging branches and awnings, learn to watch traffic and to only cross the street when it was safe. He told us if Ringlet passed some of the things he was going to have her do she would be eligible to start training classes.
To test her Dr. Evans took Ringlet to the middle of the room and gave her the commands of sit, stay, come and the rest of the ones she had learned in obedience school. He said he wanted to see how well Ringlet responded to someone’s voice. After that he gave her a treat and then used a fake hand to try and take it away from her to see how she would react and whether or not she would try and protect what she thought to be hers.
For the rest of the consultation, I just sat there. This was boring. Finally, Dr. Evans said his test was complete. He would review the test results with his colleagues and then let us know if Ringlet would be eligible in a couple of days. He also gave us some pamphlets to look at.
On Monday, the phone rang and it was the special school. We found out Ringlet had scored within the top three percent and it was good enough to make her eligible for special classes. We discussed it and decided we should try it for a while and see how Ringlet would do. Ringlet’s classes were scheduled for Monday and Wednesday.
During this time the dog will work with an instructor. The instructor work with the dog on the basic obedience commands. It teaches the dog to transfer skills learned from one person to another. This skill will be necessary once the dog is placed with a visually impaired person. This is also a skill, which many dogs do not have so it has to be taught.
Once the dog has learned the basic obedience commands and has learned to follow the commands of a new person, the trainer may begin working on more advanced commands.
The classes took place in the same building the consultation had been in. We went into another bleak looking classroom and sat down to wait. About five minutes later, a man walked in.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Brian. I will be Ringlet’s instructor.”
“Hello,” said Mom. “It’s nice to meet you. This is my daughter, Chris.”
Dr. Brian just nodded at me. He didn’t seem to be real big on introductions.
Since Ringlet had already learned the basic commands in obedience school, Dr. Brian said she needed to learn the more advanced commands.
One of the most important commands was fetch. Dr. Brian started out by holding Ringlet close to him and playing with the ball in front of her before tossing the ball about five feet away. The he gave her the fetch command and released her. At first she went after the ball, but did not pick it up and bring it back to him. However, he rewarded her with treats and praise for even touching the ball with her nose. As time went on she began to go after the ball, pick it up and bring it back to him. He continued to reward her each time she was successful, but also began tossing the ball even farther away. She quickly learned the only way she would get her reward was by bringing the ball back to him. She would then either go back for her ball if she dropped it or she would not drop it in the first place.
“Well, see you on Wednesday, Ringlet. We will continue this exercise next time.”
On Wednesday, Dr. Brian worked on teaching Ringlet the advanced commands again. I sat there thinking of better ways I could be spending my time then watching someone else work with my dog.
For the next few weeks at the beginning of every class, Dr. Brian did the commands with Ringlet no matter whether he was going to teach her something different that day or not. One time he made up an obstacle course. Dogs are also taught to clear both moving and still objects, which will not only prevent the dog from walking into the object, but will also prevent the instructor and finally the visually impaired person from walking into the object as well.
After Dr. Brian had taken Ringlet through the advanced commands, he undid Ringlet’s collar and put a weird looking collar on her.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s an electric collar,” Dr. Brian answered. “We have to train Ringlet how to help blind people across the street. We need to teach her when it is safe. We don’t want the people or the dogs to get hit.”
Some of these commands may include teaching the dog to walk forward, turn to the left or turn to the right. Another common command is stopping at curbs.
Dr. Brian ran a piece of electric wire from one corner of the room to the other. The he had a remote control car that had a little gadget on the top of it. Dr. Brian had Ringlet come and sit. Then he went on the other side of the wire and started the car. When Ringlet saw it move, she started to walk toward it. Her collar made contact with the wire when the car was passing. She jerked back with a yelp. I wanted to get up and see if she was okay, but Mom gave me a look, which meant to stay put. Dr. Brian went over and reset Ringlet’s collar.
“Why did she jerk back?” I asked.
“It is an electric wire as well as an electric collar,” Dr. Brian explained. “We want her to cross the wire after the car, which triggers the electricity has gone passed. If she goes before or as the car is passing, it will give her a shock.”
“It looks like it hurt her.”
“Chris, be quiet. Let Dr. Brian do his job,” Mom cut in.
I sighed and leaned back in the chair. I still thought special school was boring. It might have been different if I was able to work with Ringlet. At least in obedience school Gail had let me work with my own dog.
Every time Dr. Brian started to work with Ringlet I kept telling myself she’ll be coming home for good; she’ll be coming home for good. I also started bringing things with me to keep myself busy. It also kept my mind off what was going on. I didn’t really see why I should care. I wasn’t blind.
After many endless weeks, month’s maybe, Dr. Brian said we would have a special guest coming to the training session.
“What kind of guest?” I asked.
“Up to now, Ringlet has been working only with me. Now, we need to teach her how to work with someone who is actually blind. I have a friend who comes in when the dogs we are working with reach this stage. It also helps the person learn how to use the dog as a guide. The reason we have Tori on staff is because she is actually blind and has a seeing-eye dog of her own. She will be able to give us more information about how the dog is progressing than we are able to tell. She knows what to expect from a seeing-eye dog.”
Half way through the class, the door opened and a Black Labrador was leading in a woman in her mid twenties with dark hair and eyes. I must have been staring because Mom whispered to me not to stare. I didn’t see why it mattered. Tori couldn’t see me anyway.
“Hello, Tori,” Dr. Brian went over to her and took her hand. “I’m glad you could make it today.”
Tori was basically there to test Ringlet to see if she was learning what she was supposed to. She was going to do all of the things Dr. Evans had told us about during the consultation as well as what Dr. Brian had been teaching her. I could tell after the first time Tori came, this was going to take a good amount of time. Tori would be coming twice a week until Dr. Brian had established whether Ringlet had enough knowledge to become a safe and reliable seeing-eye dog. Dr. Brian would work with Ringlet for half the class and then Tori would come and work with her for the remainder of the time.
After what seemed like forever, Dr. Brian told us Ringlet had passed all the necessary tests and had “graduated” from special school. On our way home, I could barely keep the smile off my face. Everything was going to be back to normal now or at least I thought.
A couple weeks later, Mom received a call. It was from Dr. Brian. When she got off the phone she said, “Chris, get Ringlet and your jacket. Dr. Brian said he had something very important to tell us. He wouldn’t tell me on the phone, but he sounded very excited. Come on.”
I had a very queer feeling about this
Dr. Brian was waiting outside for us. I had a hard time believing someone like Dr. Brian could be excited about anything.
“Thank you for coming. I have great news,” he said.
“What is it?” Mom asked.
“I was so surprised I wanted to be able to tell you in person.” Dr. Brian was showing more emotion than he did when Ringlet had passed the tests.
“Tell us.” Mom was getting impatient. I thought it was kind of funny.
“Okay. Well, first of all, I was getting ready to go on my lunch break when the phone rang and it was Tori. She was calling me because she has been helping a blind girl with her studies and has told this girl about Ringlet. She thinks Ringlet could just be what this girl needs. She called because she knows Ringlet’s ability and personality. Isn’t that great?”
Mom didn’t know what to say. You could see she was amazed and at the same time really happy. “That is great news. Isn’t it, Chris?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Wonderful.” I couldn’t believe Dr. Brian and Mom were actually thinking about giving Ringlet to a total stranger!
“Will we be able to meet Tori’s friend?” Mom asked.
“Of course. She lives on Hillside Drive. I’ll call Tori and have her make an appointment for you. I am so pleased. We have never had a dog go on an interview so soon after graduation,” Dr. Brian said as he went to make the call.
Tori’s friend could meet us next week. I was crushed. No one had even asked my opinion. Wasn’t Ringlet supposed to be my dog?
At 2:30pm the next week, Mom and I went to meet the blind girl. Mom rang the doorbell and soon after a big black woman answered it.
“Hello, I’m Rita Winters. I’m the Maxwell’s housekeeper,” the black woman said.
“Hello,” Mom replied. “I’m Suzanne Howard and this is Chris and her dog, Ringlet.”
“Please, do come in. You must be here to see Michelle. She’s in the living room.”
Rita lead us into a cheerful living room where I saw a girl, probably two maybe three years older than me, sitting on the couch. She had light brown hair about shoulder length and clear blue eyes. I also noticed Tori was sitting in one of the armchairs off to the side.
“Micki, this is Mrs. Howard and her daughter, Chris,” Rita told her.
Mom shook Micki’s hand. “We brought Ringlet with us.”
“Oh, where is she?” Micki asked.
Mom led Ringlet over to Micki’s extended hand. She patted her and Ringlet licked her hand.
“She seems to be very friendly.”
“Oh, she is,” Mom replied.
I stood there sulking. I didn’t want to be here. What was the point? Micki couldn’t even see what was going on.
“Tell me about Ringlet, please.”
Mom turned to me. “Chris?”
“Uh, well she’s a Golden Labrador Retriever with a white ring of fur around her neck.” I didn’t know what else Mom wanted me to say. “She’s a sweet dog. She basically likes almost everybody.”
“From what Tori has told me, Ringlet sounds very intelligent,” Micki said.
“Sounds?” I repeated.
“Most dogs aren’t this smart at a young age. Ringlet is the youngest dog I have met,” Micki explained. “ I have had many dog interviews.”
For the rest of the time, Tori helped Micki walk around the living room with Ringlet. She had Micki loop her hand around Ringlet’s leash. Then Tori took hold of Micki’s elbow so she could walk with her. Tori explained this was to help Micki get the feeling of being led around by Ringlet. Each dog has their own rhythm.
What do you think of her?” Mom asked.
“She is very nice. I like her a lot. I will have a difficult decision.”
“About what?” I asked.
“I will be attending a school for the blind in the fall just until this thing with my eyes clears up.”
“She’s still in denial,” Rita whispered.
“ Since my teacher will not always be with me, Tori suggested a seeing-eye dog would be helpful and I agree. It just has to be the family’s decision. That’s all I ask,” Micki answered.
“Very well,” Mom said. “Thank you for meeting with us.”
“Sure thing,” Micki replied.” I’ll try and let you know of my decision as soon as I can. I still have a few more dogs to meet.”
“I think Micki is very nice,” said Mom. Since we found out Ringlet was so smart Mom seemed to think everyone was very nice. Dad thought this whole thing was great. Carson, you couldn’t get him off the couch because there was a “Baywatch Marathon” on.
For the next couple of weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would hold my breath every time the phone rang. As it turned out, I was the one that answered it when Micki called.
“Hello, is the Chrissy?”
“My name is Chris.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Chris. This is Micki Maxwell. I met your dog a couple weeks ago.”
“I remember,” I said.
“Well, I have talked it over with Tori and my father and we all think Ringlet would be the best dog for me. Being as young as she is we would be learning together. Just remember it’s up to you.”
“If you could let me know within a couple of days, I would really appreciate it. Just incase you say no, I will have time to choose another dog.”
“Okay,” I said again.
“Thanks,” Micki answered. ”Bye.”
“Who was that?” Mom asked coming into the kitchen from the living room.
“Micki,” I replied, “and she wants Ringlet.”
“Well, you are the one who has to decide. After all Ringlet is your dog.”
I was all set to say “no”, but something inside me told me I needed to give it a lot of thought. I scare myself by acting so grown up sometimes. If I did end up saying “no” then Ringlet’s training would have been a waste of time and money. I spent day and night thinking it over and then I heard myself say something I never thought I would. After all I have wanted a puppy for as long as I can remember.
“Micki can have Ringlet.”
I think Mom was surprised by my decision, but she said, “Okay.”
On Thursday we took Ringlet and all her supplies over to Micki.
“Thank you for giving Ringlet to me,” Micki said. “You can see her anytime you want,” she added generously.
I felt like I had done a good thing. When we got home, it seemed strange no Ringlet was there to greet us. No one likes to say good-bye to a pet, but since Ringlet was going to help a blind person it was okay. I know it seems like I am out of my mind, but I knew in my heart I had done the right thing, not only for Micki, but also for Ringlet. That I was sure of.