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Thankful for Leader Dog Willow

November 7, 2018


A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks


(First in the Series for November, 2018)


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



During the month of November, giving thanks has become a tradition for this WORDWALK blog.  Although I initiated this blog on January 19, 2013, I began this tradition of writing about thanks in November of 2015, when I used the phrases “A Cornucopia of Thanks” and “Altitude of Gratitude.”  In 2016, I began the series “A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks” and now continue with this annual series about gratitude.


Throughout this entire month of November, I hope that you also will frequently pause to notice the altitude of your gratitude, season each of your November days with little thanks and big thanks, write your thanks, and speak your thanks.  For many of us, November is a rather gray month; however, when you are at a high altitude of gratitude, you will feel the sunbeams.  Happy November!


Part 1.  Thankful for Leader Dog Willow


How amazing is the heart that, after being so broken, can open so widely to embrace another guide dog!  After the passing of my extraordinary and much beloved third Leader Dog Zoe, I was given my little British Black Labrador Willow.  Despite her smaller stature, her having such big and amazing paws to fill, and her having to contend with some health issues and long-term and ever-changing construction–Willow has been and continues to be a wonderful and remarkable guide dog for me.  Each day, I am immensely thankful for her guide work, patience, politeness, devotion, and love.


On November 2, “The Hop” (the Milwaukee streetcar) officially began taking riders after three years of construction and then several weeks of practice runs without passengers.  Willow adapted very well and quickly to crossing the tracks, as well as crossing an intersection when one of the streetcars is either at her left or right.  On a daily basis, we walk across streets where we must traverse  four tracks during one street crossing.  On some of our less-traveled routes, we take crosswalks each of which has only two tracks.  I am grateful that Willow naturally shifts her pace so that a paw never touches one of the rails:  I know this habit of hers from the observation of sighted people, including a trainer from Leader Dog School.


Besides the traversing of tracks, Willow demonstrated her fine guide-work abilities by how quickly she learned the new “curbless curbs,” about which I have written in other blog posts.  How thankful I am for her adapting to all of the new tactile markings that once were actual curbs!


As I am writing this post, I hear the horn of the trolley sounding from a nearby street.  The horn, bell, and other sounds which the streetcars make have not at all affected Willow’s work and concentration.


One point which I have never mentioned in previous writings is how Willow is so mindful as we approach a driveway as we are walking down a sidewalk.  Not only do I feel her turning her head to look into a parking garage, but I have also noticed her looking back when a vehicle is approaching to turn into the driveway.  Can you imagine how many times she has stopped at driveways when a Milwaukee driver has not?  Oh, yes, I am thankful for my Willow!


While my first two outstanding guide dogs Keller and Heather were patient, they did not achieve the height of patience of Zoe and Willow.  Our world would be a better place if more people had the patience which Willow regularly demonstrates.  When we have to wait in long or slow-moving lines, she is content with my periodically petting her and praising her patience.  When we are at a restaurant and she lies beside my chair and/or under the table for a prolonged period, her behavior is always exemplary.  Sometimes, she watches the happenings at the restaurant; sometimes, she takes a nap.  When I stand to leave, my Leader Dog stands for her praise and next command (direction).  I am very grateful that Willow’s behavior is always so admirable in a variety of circumstances in all public places; I am pleased that my Leader Dog receives many compliments from strangers, acquaintances, and friends.


On our walks, Willow is the most polite of guide dogs and dogs.  (I think she is a magna cum laud graduate of the Miss Manners’ school.)  In a variety of situations, Willow chooses to stop while other pedestrians pass by; my Lab gives this same courtesy to pet dogs.  I am truly amazed at her level of politeness.  Sometimes, I have to explain Willow’s polite manners to other pedestrians:  I am proud and thankful to do so.  On the other hand, I would like to explain politeness that other people should have to these individuals.  For safety reasons, my Lab also stops when a skateboarder or bicyclist is zooming toward us; somehow, Willow also manages to be polite to the runners and joggers who come bounding toward us or zip around us without saying a word.


On a happier note, as both a guide and companion dog, Willow gives me daily the gift of her devotion which is warm, wonderful, special, and much appreciated.  Due to the depth of her devotion, I easily and constantly trust her.  This trust plants me at a very high altitude of gratitude.


From the first day I met Willow at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan), loving her and accepting her as my guide dog thankfully were feelings that came quickly and easily and that endure.  Through work time and play time, Willow and I are always together:  our lives are intertwined.


Once again, I am happy to write that I am enormously grateful to Leader Dogs School for all four of my memorable and magnificent Leader Dogs–Keller (March 21, 1990), Heather (April 15, 1998), Zoe (June 6, 2009), and Willow (June 7, 2016).  Additionally, I abundantly thank all who donate to Leader Dogs for the Blind for helping to make possible these life-changing and life-enhancing Leader Dogs for so many people who are blind and visually impaired.  Forever thanks to the puppy-raisers and professional trainers of Leader Dogs!


God bless all four of my Leader Dogs!  Thanks, Willow, for being my loving and lovely, daily guide and inspiration!


Wishing you a good month of thanks,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


November 7, 2018, Wednesday



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  1. Sue McKendry permalink

    Thank you Alice, for reminding us to be thankful for the many good things that come our way, big and small. And thank you, Willow, for your patience, vigilance, adaptability, and the abundant love you so obviously have for Alice.–Sue

    • Sue–Thank you for being such a loyal WORDWALK reader who likes to add comments!

         Take care–Alice and Willow

  2. Dear Alice,
    Willow is truly a blessing, and I am so thankful that she is guiding you each and every day! The two of you are a remarkable team–you with your fine skills as a handler and Willow with her excellent training as a Leader Dog. Your love for and devotion to each other touches my heart and fills me with tremendous gratitude.
    With love to both of you on this Thanksgiving holiday,

    • Mary–Thanks for your too-nice comment!  In this post about Willow, I had intended to include a mention of my Labrador’s guiding me to our polling place in a light rain and her being so patient in the noisy and crowded room while I was voting by means of the Automark Machine.  When we first entered the building, I took the time to dry her wet coat and paws with numerous paper towels.  A poll worker commented that my guide dog was so good about being dried off.  Yes, thankfully, all of my four guide dogs have been especially good about being dried or otherwise cleaned after a walk in rainy or snowy weather.

      Enjoy your early Thanksgiving with your Colorado grandchildren!

      Alice and Willow

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