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Blue Ribbons for Zoe

January 7, 2015


Blue Ribbons for Zoe


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



As this new year of 2015 sprouts in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, I have time to look back at the old year and note a belated announcement.  When this momentous event occurred, the full measure of the consequences could not immediately sink into my mind.  Moreover, in November, I dedicated each of the month’s blog posts to a cornucopia of thanks and did not want to change those plans.  Then, in December, I wanted each blog post to focus on the holiday season.  Therefore, I am finally officially and very happily announcing on Wordwalk that the seemingly never-ending construction project at my apartment complex did end on November 6, 2014–seventeen months and ten days after its onset.  The final ending date was about thirteen months longer than initially anticipated.   For much of this construction era, heavy work was being done on three sides outside my townhouse.  For much too long, work progressed slowly on all four sides of the block at the same time.  Honestly, sometimes, I still cannot believe that the project is actually completed.


In one regard, for Zoe and me, the project ended on December 16, 2014, when a “weather window of opportunity” allowed the landscaping company to remove all the “old” and allegedly once “decorative” (but jagged) rocks from the small area behind my townhouse.  Then, the crew dug down a few inches before placing the new and long-awaited pea gravel.  Thus, on the first day of Posadas, Zoe and I received our best Christmas present–new rocks.  Zoe’s guide dog school does recommend pea gravel as the best rock surface for a guide dog relief area, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Foremost, the pea gravel allows for the best drainage; thus, in the warmer months, odor is not problematic.  Due to the density of the pea gravel, mud is not at all an issue as it was so often with the “decorative” rocks.  Additionally, this new surface must be more comfortable under Zoe’s paws; and for my hands, picking up my guide dog’s “two” with a plastic bag is so very much easier and neater.  Most importantly, I no longer have to worry about the prior sharp rocks causing a problem for Zoe’s paws nor my hands.  If I still had some of the red, plastic, outdoor ribbon, I would have put a few red bows on the little fence that borders part of our rock area.  How happy Zoe and I are with our new rocks–even when they are frozen and covered with snow!


Besides the red bows, I should have a sweatshirt printed with the message “I survived the Yankee Hill construction project.”  Who would see this message since it would be covered by my down coat?  I have a better question.  How did I survive the seventeen months and ten days of ever-changing construction?  The answer is a short one.  Zoe.  Yes, my Leader Dog who is now seven-and-a-half years old adjusted to the sounds, smells, and dust clouds of the major construction work (involving all of the block where my townhouse is located and half of the block north of our residence).  My wonderful Leader Dog guided me safely through or around the construction areas day-after-day for seventeen months and ten days.  Instead of my having a sweatshirt, Zoe deserves a blue ribbon, a trophy, a medal, as well as a citation from the apartment manager, construction company, and the mayor.  Well, since no one has given Zoe a diamond collar for her bravery and intelligence displayed during her outstanding work as a Leader Dog, she and I will be most happily content with our new other kind of rocks.  Of course, I should add that Zoe has been thoroughly enjoying her Christmas gifts of new plush and squeaky toys–a Santa, hippopotamus, and zebra (which now join Justin Beaver, Mark Bellafant, Ducky Lynn Quackers, Moo-moo Cow, and all of her menagerie of more toys than I can now count and which she loves to play  with and carry around our townhouse).


The sometimes playful Zoe certainly knows when her harness is on, she is in serious working mode.  Zoe’s perfect guide work throughout the extremely long construction project is amazing to me.  The trainers at Leader Dog School certainly know how to select the best dogs for guide work and how to train these special dogs to work in such a variety of challenging areas and conditions.  Each day, I give thanks to Leader Dog School and their wonderful trainers.  I trust the efforts of these remarkable trainers, and I trust the guiding work of my Zoe.  The depth and breadth of this trust far surpasses types of trust that one would normally encounter in a lifetime.  When my black lab/golden retriever mix stops at an unusual spot en route, I encourage her only once or twice with the suggestion “forward” because I know she is stopping for a reason.  At times, I can feel, through the harness handle, her moving her head left and right to assess the situation.  Sometimes, she will then guide me safely around the obstacle.  At other times, she is content to wait–especially if Zoe is aware that a person is nearby–a person who may answer my question about the obstacle in our way.  Once in a while, she must just think “no way!” and does a U-turn which results in our taking an alternative route to our destination or for our walk.  Truly, when we encounter an obstacle, I can sense her pausing to think and make a decision.  While praising her is so important, I know that there are times when she takes me around smaller obstacles of which I am not even aware–unless a nearby pedestrian compliments my guide dog’s work.  Then, I echo a hearty “Good girl, Zoe.”  On an extremely rare occasion when she  has completely passed by or through an unusually difficult situation, I bend down and give her a warm hug and/or a little dog biscuit.


Zoe is my pet dog, my companion dog, most significantly my Leader Dog–and yet she is so much more that cannot easily be described in words.  In some legal circumstances, my guide dog is considered to be an extension of me.  In many ways, she is “second sight” for me.  Like my first Leader Dog Keller and my second Leader Dog Heather, Zoe has become and will always be a part of my heart.  Like Keller and Heather, Zoe is thanked every night for all that she does–guiding me through difficult construction areas or leading me through the snow.  What an amazingly  trustworthy working dog!  How fortunate I am that Zoe guided me through the old year of 2014 and remains at my side to lead me into this new year of 2015.



With warmest wishes for a happy January,

Alice and Zoe


January 7, 2015, Wednesday



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  1. Wow, Zoe sounds like an incredible dog. Navigating a construction site can be a pain in the anatomy, but I’m glad it’s finished, and that you two survived. I hope you won’t have to deal with any more construction for a while.

    • Abbie–Zoe and I thank you. We are trying to enjoy the non-construction period as much as possible because two projects may begin in our immediate area of the city in a few months. Stay warm! Alice

  2. Alice. I smiled throughout this entire post, because I could sense your own smile as you wrote. How fortunate you are to have such a companion, a guide, a friend. A remarkable animal, leading and guiding an incredible lady through the obstacles that life has to offer. God bless you both through 2015. A hug for you, and an extra treat for the Amazing Zoey. dp

    • Deon–Zoe and I thank you very much, and Zoe will make certain that I remember to give her an extra treat! Take care–Alice

  3. What a great tribute to your beloved Zoe, Alice! Zoe deserves the Blue Ribbons, Gold Medals, and a Golden Globe Award for her outstanding work and devoted companionship. Zoe, you are a treasured member of our family!
    Love, Mary

  4. We’re thankful the worst is over; and of course, kudos to Zoe the Magnificent! You could always have a T-shirt for warmer weather. 🙂

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