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Willow in the Wind

March 31, 2021

Willow in the Wind and Other Tales of my Fourth Leader Dog

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                “Cute” was the word that people most often used to describe my fourth Leader Dog during the first three years of our working together.  None of my three previous Leader Dogs were ever referred to as “cute”:  each of them was described as “beautiful.”  I have wondered about Willow’s “cute” quotient.  Her British Black Labrador ears are significantly larger than her predecessors; however, her legs are certainly shorter than Keller’s, Heather’s, and Zoe’s.  In harness, Willow is a “down-to-business” type of guide dog who takes her profession quite seriously and most cautiously.  Basically, cute or beautiful–Leader Dog Willow takes extremely good care of my mobility and me and truly makes my life so very much easier and enjoyable.

                Since I received Willow at Leader Dog School on June 7, 2016, I have realized that she adapts well to changes and to new situations.  Prior to meeting me, Willow had been through even more changes than the typical guide-dog-in-training; thus, I was grateful when she bonded with me so quickly, and I was determined to give her a “forever home.”  Unfortunately, the winds of change blew into everyone’s world last year around this time.  Willow continued to adapt very well.  Masked people around her, my wearing a mask, and fewer people in our circle have not seemed to phase her at all. 

                When we moved to the retirement community for less than six months, she was thrust into a totally different environment from a city-living style.  Nevertheless, I was there; and my philosophy is that wherever the guide dog’s handler is will be “home.”  On the other hand, when Willow and I returned to our “old block” in Milwaukee, Willow was prancing down her familiar sidewalks in an ever-so-happy fashion for at least the first ten days of our re-settling here last October.  Her demeanor made me realize that we had made to right decision to move back to city living:  I believe that Willow relishes the challenges of working in a large city environment.

                Our arrival back in Milwaukee was the day after Willow’s seventh birthday which was the day all of our furniture was loaded onto the moving truck.  In the empty townhouse on October 20, we planned to camp out on the living room floor for one night.  For my sister (who had come from Colorado to help), Willow, and me–we had two sleeping bags and three dog beds because I did not want the dog beds to be on the moving van.  After preparing the “Cadillac” of dog beds for Willow for the night, I thought of an idea for myself.  I placed her longest bed on the floor with her “My Pillow” dog bed at the “head” of my make-shift bed.  Atop this configuration of dog beds, I placed my sleeping bag; atop the sleeping bag, I placed a fleece blanket, similar to the ones I use for Willow during the coldest weather months.  While I did a couple of other things, Willow quietly moved from her bed to my new arrangement.  Of course, she was not familiar with the concept of sleeping bags–all of which must have just appeared to her as another nice doggie bed for her.  I convinced her to move back to her “Cadillac” bed for a few minutes; however, when I did something else, you can guess who returned to the newly created bed.  I did find this situation amusing although getting a little sleep before the movers arrived the next morning seemed like a good idea.  (I must say that the “My Pillow” dog bed made a mighty fine pillow on the floor that night.)

                The only times when Willow became somewhat uneasy was with the rapid-paced moving out and moving in of furniture by the professional movers.  When I could sense he unease, I took her outside for a while and/or took her for a walk.  When we returned, she was fine and able to cope with the commotion around her–even though I tried to stay with Willow at the safest spot for us in the house.  Fortunately, being in other crowded areas and in the ever-present construction areas have never bothered Willow’s concentration on her guide work.  I guess that she, like I, prefers a more stable home environment.

                I can hardly believe that Willow is already seven-and-a-half years old.  On Monday, someone at Metro Market asked me how old Willow is; he thought she was much younger.  Still that “cute” look, you know.  Nevertheless, my fourth Leader Dog continues to work as a mature guide dog.  In an extremely high wind on Sunday, we were walking down the sidewalk along Van Buren Street (an area of a wind-tunnel effect due to the skyscrapers and proximity to the lake and Milwaukee River).  “Find the upsy,” I told her.  Willow stopped for the uplift in the sidewalk, as usual.  Then, I gave her another command, “Find the circle-drive sidewalk.”  The circle drive sidewalk leads to the 23-story tower of our apartment complex on the same block of which is our townhouse; so, Willow is extremely accustomed to this route.  Nevertheless, in the extremely high wind, my British Black Lab employed the use of what Leader Dog School refers to as “intelligent disobedience.”  Willow turned right early and took me via another walkway to a side door which is much more protected by the wind–a door which we had taken only once or twice since May of last year.  My sweet and “cute” little Willow was really thinking to make this smooth change of route.  Of course, as we drew near the alternate side door, I knew precisely what she had done; I praised her, took out my key, and opened her door of choice for our entering the high-rise tower for going to the mailroom. 

                Like this example from a windy Sunday, I know of so many times when Willow was really thinking through a circumstance.  Indeed, guide dogs are worthy of respect, honor, devotion, and love.  Leader Dog Willow earns her praise every day; every night when she comes to my call to lie on her “Cadillac” of beds for the night, I ask St. Francis of Assisi to bless her; and I thank my Willow for being a very good Leader Dog.

WORDWALK NOTE:  This post concludes my focus on my four Leader Dogs, draws to a close my celebration of thirty-one years of working with four amazing Leader Dogs.  Thank you for following me through these guide-dog memories!  Throughout the month of April, poetry will be in the spotlight on WORDWALK to celebrate National Poetry Month.  After April, I will return to posting a variety of pieces each month until November when a month of gratitude will be celebrated.

Easter Blessings to you and your families!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 31, 2021, Wednesday


From → Uncategorized

  1. joanmyles permalink

    Beautiful, thanks so much dear Alice, blessings and Love to you and Willow! *willows in mist**hummingbirds**children dancing*

    • Hi, Joan–Thanks for reading and commenting on this blog post! So nice to hear from the author of ONE WITH WILLOWS and ONE GLITTERING WING!

      Best wishes for a Happy Passover and spring!

      Alice and Willow

  2. Carole permalink

    I love hearing the “intelligent disobedience” stories about your Leader Dogs! Willow is definitely cute and very beautiful in every way!

    How lucky for Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow in having you as their extraordinarily loving and gifted Leader Dog handler!

    Congratulations and love to you and Willow . . . Carole

    • Hi, Carole–Willow and I thank you for your nice comments. Shortly after I posted the piece, Willow and I were off on an errand; and she gave me another story to write about in the future.  Once again, I was so amazed by her intelligence.  How she does make me smile with gratitude each day!

      Easter blessings to you, Tim, and Bebe!

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  3. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Thanks so much for writing about Willow’s amazing guide work and her charming personality, both of which I have witnessed many times during my visits. The “sleeping bag” incident was particularly cute and gave us some comic relief on what was a very busy day! I’m glad that we talk daily so that I can hear first-hand about your Milwaukee adventures with wonderful Willow!
    Love to both of you,

    • Hi, Mary–Many thanks for adding your comments to this “Willow” post. 

      Willow and I are most glad that those moving days are behind us, and we look forward to a much-awaited visit from you in the not-too-distant future.

      Enjoy Easter with your Colorado grandkids!

      Alice and Willow

  4. Susan M. McKendry permalink

    Dear Alice,
    How nice to read this last post about your four wonderful guide dogs. I’m so happy you and Willow got together after the heartbreak of losing Zoe. Willow is so intelligent, and it is so great that you trust each other enough for her to display her intelligent disobedience and you to believe her. Truly amazing, but as I’ve commented before, your other three guide dogs have honed your skills as a handler, so it’s no wonder that you and Willow are such a superb team!

    • Hi, Sue–As always, we sure enjoy reading your comments. Yesterday, I thought of a Heather story about which I have never written; so, I will share the Heather story on April 15, the anniversary of when I received her in 1998.
      Best wishes to you and your family for a very Happy and Sunny Easter!
      Take care–Alice and Willow

  5. Katherine Binole permalink

    Hi Alice, I loved all your blogs about your beautiful and intelligent Leader Dogs. I think Willow puts a smile on your face every day. Taking you to a different door to get out of wind and deciding she liked your bed better with sleeping bag made me laugh. She definitely takes very good care of you and allows you to be very independent.
    Looking at your beautiful Easter flowers as I write this. Sending Easter Blessings to you and Willow.
    Love Aunt Kathy

  6. Ken Massa permalink

    Wonderful tribute to the fantastic Willow dog and all your leader friends over the years. Pragmatists and scientist like to explain our fondness for dogs (and they for us) in terms of them having the incredible ability to emulate human behavior. Anyone that has dogs as a family member will retort that as bunk. Our dogs feel us and understand much deeper than can be quantified. It is genuine bonding..

    • Hi, Ken–How wonderful to hear from you on this blog post!  Many and

      special thanks for your kind and wise words that you have shared here.

      Best to you, Jo, Jason, and your little pups!

      Alice and Willow

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