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Post-Polar-Vortex PAW-pourri

February 7, 2019


Post-Polar-Vortex PAW-pourri


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



With three snowfalls and Polar Vortex 2019 behind us, as well as two ice storms ahead of us, my Leader Dog Willow and I set forth yesterday morning to check out the height of the snow stack at the southeast curb of Juneau and Jackson.  Although this curb was previously impassable since the twelve-inch snowfall, I thought, after my boot checked out the snowpack, we could proceed north to the post office; and Willow agreed.  Fortunately, the northeast curb was relatively cleared of iceberg-type snow:  so, with a right turn and a “Find the post office” command, Willow took me directly to the proper door of the post office.  “Post office,” I affirmed; then, I praised my British Black Labrador Retriever with “Good girl!”


After we work through the second door, I told Willow, “Find the deposit.”  Of course, she turned left and guided me to the wall where we were confronted by four choices for depositing our mail.  More praise for Willow!


I do think that each of my previous guide dogs left a scent for each subsequent Leader Dog of mine to follow because each learned this post office routine so quickly.  Actually, I distinctly recall that Zoe, my third Leader Dog, went directly to the deposit area on my first command–just as if she had been at the Juneau Station Post Office previously.  At Willow’s first visit to the post office near my home, she also needed no repetitive lessons.  Perhaps, each was able to understand the cue word “deposit” and was able to visually recognize the wall of deposits as the target.  If each of my guide dogs had worked in a post office in Michigan (home state of Leader Dog School and home state of the puppy-raisers of my guide dogs), the Leader Dogs’ abilities to transfer the knowledge to a new location still impresses me.  I appreciate being able to smoothly navigate to a destination–thanks to my four Leader Dogs and their superb training at the school in Rochester, Michigan.


After placing my mail into the chute, Willow and I did a U-turn so that the mailboxes were on my right; I gave my quiet and patient Lab a small dog treat and a few more words of praise.  With my gloves on again, I said, “Willow, find the door.”


Next comes a “Willow moment.”  I think Willow must have realized that I am older than I was under Zoe’s guiding because Willow was my first guide dog who took me precisely in front of a large, square button which automatically opens the door.  I must confess that before Willow, I had no idea that such a button existed beside that door.  Well, since Willow insisted, I pushed the door button and have continued with this pattern at this frequent stop.  Once Willow realized that I had learned about the button, she takes me to the door and is confident that I will use the button which is to my right.


When Willow and I returned to the curb (Yes, a real curb is still at this location!) We waited and then safely cross Juneau, with the four tracks of the streetcar to our west.  Heading south, I knew that my creature-of-habit would guide me a little to the right and maneuver west of the snow pile and up the  diagonal-type ramp.  Once again, I praised my Leader Dog and gave her a little treat (the same type which was used at Leader Dog School during our training).  “Willow, forward, left.”  We took a different and longer route home.


Later yesterday afternoon, I wanted to mail a large envelope before the first of two predicted ice storms; so, our afternoon walk included a second trip to the post office.  However, when my guide dog and I entered the post office, I gave her a different command:  “Find the line.”  Perhaps, due to the post-Polar-Vortex syndrome, everyone in line was especially  quiet.  I always like to confirm that I am in the back of the line when other postal patrons are being too quiet.  During our wait in line, I complimented Willow and petted her.  Periodically, I asked her to “hup up”–move forward a little in line.  At the “island counter,” I “touch base” to confirm my location as we proceeded.  At the end of the island, Willow knows to turn left to face the business counter.  Knowing that I am next in line and only one of four postal clerks is working, I listened for the end of the prior transaction to know when to say, “Willow, forward; find the counter.”  In front of the counter, I greet the postal clerk and hand him my large envelope while Willow patiently waits at my feet.  I was pleased that we had waited in line because my large envelope needed nine cents more of postage.


Our typical exit routine is to return to the near side of the island, then “Find the deposit,” where I put away items in my backpack at the ledge in front of the deposit wall.  Yes, Willow received another treat and praise before “Find the door.”


On this afternoon walk, our next stop was Metro Market.  For this routine destination, some common phrases which Willow understands and executes like the professional she is include:  “Find Metro Market,” “Find the stairs,” “Find the door,” Find the service window” (where I ask for a utility clerk to assist me with shopping), “Find the bench.”  As anticipated, shoppers were stocking up post-Polar-Vortex and pre-icestorm.  After shopping for all needed items, Willow, my shopping assistant Omar, and I wait in a longer-than-usual line to check out.  Since we had not moved in line for a while, Omar explained that someone was having an issue with checking out.  I heard a remark from a woman who was two customers behind me.  Finally, the man turned toward the line and apologized to all of us for the delay.


“Your dog is so patient,” the woman behind me emphasized.


“Yes, she is.  I wish I were as patient as she is,.”  More praise and pets for Willow before our turn at the checkout.


Walking home with a backpack full of items and holding a filled paper shopping bag in my right arm and Willow’s harness handle and leash in my left (gloved) hand, I realized how good we felt to be outside walking, doing errands, and going places post-Polar-Vortex.


Stay safe, warm, and well!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


February 6, 2019, Wednesday (second icy night in a row)



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  1. Alice, you and Willow are amazingly courageous. I don’t dare venture out on foot in this weather for fear of falling on the ice.

    • Hi, Abbie–Thanks for the comment and “like” on this post! Rather than being courageous, I am just a person who likes to avoid “cabin fever” and likes to go outside and walk. Fortunately, Willow is quite good about stopping just before a patch of ice.  I praise her and use the term “ice alert” so that she will continue to inform me of ice patches.  Nevertheless, today’s freezing rain almost seems colder than the Polar Vortex, so today may be more of an inside day for us.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  2. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–Thanks for this description of how you manage in this horrendous weather. It is truly amazing to me how quickly Willow learns and understands her responsibility as your guide. Of course, I thought the same of your other dogs, but it seems that you give more credit to your most recent, and that makes me think that even though these dogs are so well trained, your abilities as a handler have also increased through your practice and experience as well as the unconditional love you have shared with each of them. This is a very inspiring post and I would hope many read it to understand the almost limitless capabilities of leader dogs.–Sue

    • Good evening, Sue–Special thanks for your nice comment on this post!  While this post describes only ordinary, typical, and simple things which Willow and I do together, I do hope that this essay gives a better idea to others of how a guide dog and handler team work.  Oh, yes, I have learned so much more with each passing year with each of my guide dogs:  your comment is so perceptive in this regard.  Both the guide dog and the handler must be life-long learners.  Each one of my Leader Dogs is my favorite for different reasons, and each one has taught me so very much about guide work and living.

          I know you are receiving the worst of the current weather system, so take good care.

      Be well, and be safe!  Warm wishes–Alice and Willow

  3. Fran Rayce permalink


    I am in awe of the intelligence and diligence shown by Willow! What a wonderful gift you received.
    Of course Willow is also fortunate to have such a caring, appreciative master. The two of you are quite a dynamic duo!
    Take care,

    • Good evening, Fran–Many thanks for your too kind comment!  Yes, Willow was and continues to be an extraordinary gift to me–one of those gifts which keeps on giving each and every day.  Her being so extraordinary gives me the opportunity to enjoy the ordinary parts of daily living.

          We are glad that the coming cold snap will last only one day and not be as severe as the Polar Vortex.

      Hoping the remainder of the winter treats you kindly also–Alice and Willow

  4. Dear Alice,
    Although I have walked with you and Willow to these familiar places and explored some new places as well, I continue to be amazed at how you and Willow communicate and work in unison so smoothly and comfortably. Your close relationship is a gift and a tribute to each of you!
    Wishing you and Willow much happiness and fair weather in your outings together!
    Love, Mary

    • Hi, Mary–On our one warmer day today (February 14), on our walks, I was amazed at the very high stacks of snow–despite the significant melting today.  Tonight and tomorrow temperatures will drop again, with below zero wind chills–but nothing like the Polar Vortex.

      Stay warm and well–Alice and Willow

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