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Blue Ribbons for Willow

September 25, 2019


Blue Ribbons for Leader Dog Willow


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



I have delayed in telling this “Willow Tale” because I had hoped for a conclusion–solution to the mystery.  Still waiting after nearly one month, I decided to relate this “Willow Walk” before the end of September.


On August 30, 2019–the Friday of the Labor Day Weekend, a beautiful and sunny morning in Milwaukee–my fourth Leader Dog Willow and I were in the midst of a walk.  Of course, each day, for longer than I would care to recall, our route depends on where at least three different companies are working to install the famous 5G.  Since substantial work had just been initiated at the intersection located at the northeast corner of the block where Willow and I reside, we headed west for our long walk.


When we walked back toward the east along a double-block stretch of sidewalk which we know very well, my British Black Labrador stopped at a point where she typically does to let me know that a grate is in the sidewalk.  Very fortunately, she did stop; thankfully, I did what I was taught to do.  I reached out to examine the area with my right foot/shoe.  Surprisingly, I felt no grate, but a hole.  With a little more inspection, I could not feel the bottom of the hole.  Then, I reached out with my right arm as my left hand continued to hold Willow’s leash and handle of her guide-dog harness.  I felt the metal grate–left inappropriately in an upright position (on the far side of the hole from where I was standing) with no barricade around the exposed hole.  Can you imagine how much I praised my wonderful Willow?


Since I knew that another construction site had been in progress recently across the street from our location, I waited to see if someone would return to our location.  The construction work being done nearer my home block was about three blocks away.  After encouraging Willow to guide me around the hole and waiting a few minutes, a young man walked toward us.  At first, he was reluctant to stop; but, as usual, I persisted.  I wanted a sighted person to affirm what I had encountered.  He did, and he added that the situation was “not good.”  As I thanked him, he went on his way; but Willow and I waited a few more minutes.


When no one else came by, I decided that we should return home and call to report the problem with the grate.  Walking only a short distance, my Leader Dog and I met a young woman who identified herself as a professor at the nearby college.  She was immediately willing to give her description of the area in question and commented on the danger of the situation.  The professor even said that she was sorry that my guide dog and I encountered such a situation.  Additionally, she and I discussed how dangerous this hole could be for a sighted student who might be looking at a phone screen instead of watching the path ahead.  Before she went on to her destination, I thanked her for her time and help.


Instead of extending our walk, Willow and I went directly home to call the office of the city engineer to report the issue with the grate.  During the three-year construction era for the trolley, I became acquainted with a number of city employees.  Luckily, someone with whom I had become acquainted answered my call and immediately dispatched a city worker to investigate.  Later, I received a phone call to repeat my directions for the location of the grate.  When the situation was found, a city inspector was called.  Unbeknownst to me until Tuesday after Labor Day, this inspector did replace the grate over the hole.


Since that Friday of August 30, I have talked with quite a number of people from not only the city, but from other companies involved also.  While vandals are not suspected, no one has come forth to admit the error of not replacing the grate.  This former reader of Nancy Drew mysteries has not yet given up trying to solve this mystery.


During one of my many phone conversations and some e-mail exchanges in regard to this issue, I did find out that the hole was one foot in depth and that at the bottom of the hole, a locked door leads to an underground passageway for dealing with utility lines and other cables.


If I were to tell these events to a guide dog/mobility instructor (GDMI), I imagine that the guide dog trainer would simply say that Willow did what she was trained to do–but the professional trainer might inwardly be proud and grateful.  Certainly, my gratitude is overflowing for all the training which my four Leader Dogs received at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan).


Over the past twenty-nine-and-a-half years of working with Leader Dogs, I have always been especially grateful for their safely leading me through my life with amazing care and caution, wisdom and grace, joy and love.  While each day and each walk has been special with one of my Leader Dogs, several walks through these nearly three decades stand out and will forever remain memorable in my book of thanks to Leader Dogs Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow.  Like her predecessors–Keller, Heather, and Zoe–my current Leader Dog Willow earned abundant praise and another blue ribbon this past Labor Day weekend for her impeccable labor.


I am most grateful that the grate incident ended as well as it did for all concerned.  Finally, I also do thank Dan and other workers who have given their time and assistance in one manner or another as Willow and I continue to try to walk four miles a day–independently, safely,  and happily.


Wishing you smooth and safe autumnal trails,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


September 25, 2019, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Susan M McKendry permalink

    Wow! I think all who read this will be as impressed as I was by Willow’s display of her training and her devotion to you, Alice. But you, too, are to be commended for the actions you took to make sure that Willow-less pedestrians did not encounter that missing grate. Not sure too many of us would be that caring, even to worry about students looking at their phone instead of where they are walking. Glad to hear you were also a Nancy Drew fan, and glad that this situation ended well for all.–Sue

    • Hi, Sue–Willow and I thank you very much for your nice comment. One of these days, I would like to read a couple of the Nancy Drew books to determine what I think of them now.

      Autumnal blessings, Alice and Willow

  2. Annie Chiappetta permalink

    Go Willow!


    ` Making meaningful connections with others through writing ` or


    Facebook Annie Chiappetta

  3. So proud of how you and Willow meet the obstacles, hazards, and challenges of each day as you strive to safely walk those four miles around your ever-changing (due to construction projects) neighborhood! Thanks a million, Willow, for taking such good care of Alice!
    Love to both of you,

  4. Bravo to Willow! She is such an excellent dog! I am so glad that she is such a great assistant for you, Alice.

    • Hi, Jenna–Willow and I thank you very much for your very nice comment.

          I was glad to hear about the 94th birthday party for Harper’s great-grandma.  What a wonderful birthday cake you made!

      Happy autumn to the three of you!

      Alice and Willow

  5. Carole permalink

    Alice, your guide dogs have never ceased to amaze me! The trainers and Leader Dogs are truly gifts from heaven!

    Thank you, Willow, for taking such good care of your mommy!

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