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More Tales of Guide Dogs

February 21, 2018



Winter Tales of Doggie Boots and Olympic Doggie Dreams


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



While a vast audience was watching the Winter Olympics on February 12 and 13, Willow–my fourth guide dog–and I were keenly attuned to the broadcast of the Westminster Dog Show.  Despite the learned judges’ decisions, I know that my Black Labrador is my “Best of Show.”  Happily, Willow does garner a host of fans and an admiring audience.  For example, whenever she wears all four of her blue boots, my guide dog grabs the attention of even more spectators than usual.  As Willow and I were walking down State Street on a recent wintry day, a group of students from Milwaukee School of Engineering cooed, “Oh, she’s so cute in her blue boots!” and “Ah, that’s so sweet.”


After taking a couple of tours around the block of Red Arrow Park’s ice rink (which Willow finds very interesting this winter), a man who was heading toward his parked vehicle, quipped, “I have never seen a dog in those {boots}.”  Nevertheless, I have heard that such boots are quite common on paws of Chicago canines.  Certainly, Willow is wanting to keep up with the style set in “The Windy City,” “The Second City.”


On a particularly challenging day of February weather, I think each person whom Willow and I passed on our way to Metro Market positively remarked on Willow’s choice of footwear–PAW-wear.  At the supermarket, Willow and her boots received more attention and comments.  On our sojourn home, Willow was spoiled with more compliments for her wearing her blue boots.  I will confess that prior to the onset of comments, I had no idea that this particular set of boots is blue.  Well, believe me, we have had many affirmations that the boots are blue and, therefore, patriotically match her red-and-white coat.


Of course, what bystanders do not realize is that Willow’s sporting all four boots is undoubtedly deserving of a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.  Would the Olympics consider a new event?  The wearing of doggie boots on salt-covered sidewalks?  How about a BLUE medal for such a feat?


The reason I am totally in favor of this new Olympic event and medal is that although my three previous amazing, much-appreciated, and beloved guide dogs worked so especially well for me–they would not wear boots.  I thought I had just not found the right style of boots, so I kept trying through the twenty-seven years of working with guide dogs.  Thus, I accumulated a significant collection of doggie boots.  At times, I have mused that I could start a doggie boot store.


With her Golden-Retriever goodness, my graceful and gorgeous first Leader Dog, Keller, allowed me to put all four red boots on her paws.  Then, she rolled onto her back and pointed all four boot-bedecked paws up toward the ceiling as if she were telling me, “These boots are not made for walking.”  The winters that she was an instrumental part of my life were the harshest winters of my twenty-seven winters that I have spent in Milwaukee.  I recall snowdrifts so high in our inner courtyard that Keller could not guide me through the drift.  To precede to the circle drive where we could take a cab to the technical college where I taught, I had to drop Keller’s harness handle, change from the short leash (used for guide work) to the long leash, have Keller stay while I managed to climb over the snow drift.  As soon as I was safely on the other side of the drift, I called Keller to me; she, agile and willing to please, quickly jumped over the drift.  Should this be an Olympic event–worth a blue medal?  During those early winters of the 1990s, Keller and I had plenty of practice with such wintry feats.


Following in Keller’s pawprints, Heather, my second Leader Dog, saw no reason for wearing boots.  Although Heather was too much larger than my Golden to wear her red plaid coat, Heather gladly and frequently wore one of two fleece-lined coats–but never a boot.  My Yellow Labrador Retriever did happily welcome the application of the paw balm called “Musher’s Secret.”  One at a time, in the proper order, she held up a paw for my rubbing on the paw “protector” and later for cleaning each paw.


Throughout our ten years of working together (along with Heather’s one year of semi-retirement and thirteen months of retirement), my second guide dog and I had many winter adventures–one of which that happened during the blizzard of April 7, 2000 is a whole story of itself on a previous WORDWALK post.  The second most memorable winter feat of my Yellow Lab occurred when we were walking home from the technical college.  At approximately the halfway point on our trek home, we just crossed the historic drawbridge over State Street when sleet began stinging our faces.  We were at a point where turning back was as far as our destination.  The remainder of that long block had no building to enter for cover.  While I could close my eyes behind my glasses with side shields and pull my scarf up for additional protection, Heather had to squint through the pelting sleet to take us to a safe location.  Amazingly, my Leader Dog safely guided me through the next major intersection and up the hill.  The farther we walked away from the Milwaukee River, the more the sleet subsided.  Of all the walking I have done with all four of my guides, that afternoon walk with Heather was the only time one of my guide dogs and I were caught in a heavy sleet storm.  Did Heather deserve a blue medal for safe guiding in sleet?  From my perspective, her work was of Olympic proportion.  As usual, when we arrived home, I thoroughly dried her and thoroughly praised and thanked her for her confidence, commitment, and courage to guide me home under such wintry circumstances.


My regular readers of WORDWALK know that my third Leader Dog, Zoe, was my extraordinary Black Labrador/Golden Retriever Mix whom I always refer to as “practically perfect” for me.  My beautiful Zoe proudly wore two hand-me-down coats from her buddy Heather, as well as a new red coat of her own; however, not even my practically perfect Zoe would wear a doggie boot.  Like Heather, Zoe was very accepting of Musher’s Secret–but no boots.  In all other ways, Zoe would be on the podium to medal in all other canine events.  (I still miss her in Olympic proportions.)


After too few winters with my Zoe, the seasons somehow do go on with my little Willow.  The only “boot-wearer” of the bunch is also quite adept at what I call “Puddle Alert.”  My Black Lab comes to a stop and wants me to feel with my boot the puddle that is ahead.  I praise her, but a blue medal would be nice.  Don’t you think?


For more evidence, I mention last Saturday’s walk.  The sidewalks were finally clear of snow and salt–I thought.  To avoid another construction project, Willow and I turned down a sidewalk where we do not travel as often.  Two-thirds of the way down the double block, Willow came to a dead stop.  I tried a couple of times to have her “hup up.”  She would not.  Then, I discovered the reason:  a wide patch of ice, at least six feet in length, was on our path.  “Ice Alert!  Good dog, Willow!”  Medals or no medals–these guide dogs do know how to impress in Olympic ways!


Blessings for all guide dogs and their handlers throughout the remaining days of this winter!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


February 21, 2018, Wednesday




From → Uncategorized

  1. All four of your dogs deserve gold medals, and so do you! I think the world needs a Leader Dog Olympics for the dogs to show off their superb skills. – Jenna

    • Hi, Jenna–Many thanks for taking the time to read this post and comment!  You and your family have been and continue to be such good and special friends to my guide dogs.

         “Hi!” to Harper.

      More soon–Alice and Willow

  2. Hi Alice. What a nice piece you have given us today. I totally enjoyed reading about all four dogs and how each of them responded to the notion of “boots.” I can imagine what a delight it is for people passing you on the street to see such a lovely sight as Willow in her coat and winter boots.
    It is so true, how dogs have preferences. My 2 dogs have definitely decided what they will wear or not wear and they make sure you understand. I agree, EACH of your dogs earned GOLD MEDAL status for the wonderful work they do in all kinds of situations and weather condition, Willow has very good taste in her fashion statements.

  3. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–“These boots are not made for walking.” Everytime I think of this, I smile. In addition to your tying your post to the Olympics, this musical reference was just too perfect, and despite the many years that have passed, I can visualize Keller on her back with four booted paws in the air. What a day brightener on this gray, blustery day. Many years ago, my mother bought my miniature poodle some boots to make her trips outside more comfortable. There was no problem putting them on, but when we couldn’t help laughing at the stiff-legged attempts to walk–we quickly realized our mistake and lavished praise. After that, we never had a problem.–Sue

    • Hi, Sue–Thanks for adding your comment about your poodle’s experiences with doggie boots!  I am so glad to hear that my writing brightened your day.

         During my “Heather Days,” we went to Festa Italiana where we heard Nancy Sinatra sing “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”–her hit song, as I am sure you recall.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  4. Alice, confidence, commitment and courage seem to have put all of your Leader dogs into the category of blue ribbon status. Those blue boots were indeed made for walking, and in this case, padding along the Milwaukee sidewalks. Bravo to you both, and safe travels throughout the rest of this wintery season. Deon

    Sent from my Windows 10 Desktop machine

    • Hi, Deon–A boot-ful of thanks for your wonderful comment!

      With thanks and good wishes, Alice and Willow

  5. Alice, I was wondering what in the world I would do for my regular Tuesday blog post next week. Thank you for giving me an idea.

    • You are welcome, Abbie.  I will look forward to reading your post.

      Happy writing!  Alice and Willow

  6. Olympic-size congratulations to four deserving Leader Dogs for their gold medal service during the past twenty-seven years with you, Alice! Your loving care, support, and companionship bring out the very best in all of your canine friends! You deserve gold medal recognition, too!
    Love, Mary

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