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Leader Dog Willow Finds the Polling Place

February 17, 2022

One among the 22 Percent

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Thanks to a little postcard in the mail, I found out that my polling place changed to not only a new location, but a newly constructed  building.  Except for voting a few times at another location due to construction at the entrance where my guide dogs and I had gone to vote for the past three decades, I, in Milwaukee, had voted at the same location since establishing my residence here.  On a fairly nice day for February 15, my Leader Dog Willow and I set out for our new destination–I, in my mask; she, in her guide-dog harness and leash.  Since voting for only one ward was moved to the new location, no one else was around after Willow and I crossed Milwaukee Street at State.  Although we walk in this area frequently, our path was a little different as we were on the opposite side of the block.  After I told my Leader Dog to turn right, we took a few paces; then, I said, “Willow, find the door”  although I did not know exactly where the door was.  No door to be found.  When I felt the expanse between the classroom building on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus and the dormitory, I knew that Willow had walked past the entrance.  I heard no other pedestrian whom I could ask about the location of the door to the relatively recently constructed building. 

                “Willow, do a U-turn.”  She, as usual, did a graceful U-turn.  As we headed south and she again found no door, I assumed that the building must have multiple glass panels in the façade that make the detection of the doors more challenging.  After a second U-turn, as we headed back to the north, my seasoned guide dog moved into an inset of the building; and with my continuing encouragement for her to “find the door,” Willow angled to the left and next to the right where I reached out and found at her stopping point–a door handle.  Success!  Even before I praised her, Willow was greatly enjoying the realization of her own success.  My Leader Dog was wiggling her body with happiness and wagging her tale exuberantly with joy and pride in her working ability.  What a joy for me also to witness again how much Willow relishes her work as a guide dog!  My heart was warmed as I happily and proudly gave her the words of praise which she richly deserved. 

                As soon as we entered the vestibule, another voter came inside; I confirmed with him that I was at the correct place for voting.  Although He offered to assist me, I thanked him, but explained that we could just follow him to the area for voting.  We did.  Since I was registered to vote, I followed voices to a long table beside which Willow stayed quietly at my side.  Unlike our prior voting place, this entire area was carpeted and must have a lower ceiling because the room was significantly quieter than the other voting location.  After giving the poll workers my information, I took from my backpack my signature guide and a pen.  Since none of these poll workers were the people with whom I was somewhat familiar, I shared how the signature guide should be placed on the ledger so that I could sign on the proper line.  As I completed my cursive signature, one gentleman said, “That’s perfect.”  Well, I doubt that my signature was “perfect,” but I was pleased that it must have been acceptable.  I made certain that the new location had the Automark machine for accessible voting and was glad that the machine was ready for my use.

                Having been given a small sheet of paper with my voting number and a much larger ballot, I told Willow to follow the much older senior citizen to the Automark machine on which I would cast my ballot.  When no sound came from the headset, I asked the poll worker to try another jack on the machine.  Even though he was reluctant to take my advice, the change brought forth the sound.  I knew that the top diamond-shaped button would turn off the computer screen; later, I confirmed with the sighted person that the screen was off:  I like my secret ballot.  After so many years of using an Automark machine for voting, I know the functions of the variously shaped buttons and can also read the braille that is clearly on the machine.  The only difference was that the new polling place offered no chair; nevertheless, I stood relatively comfortably in front of the machine with Willow calmly and patiently at a “sit-stay” at my side.  After listening to the instructions, I cast my ballot as the synthesized voice read all of the information.  After hearing the “summary screen,” I pressed the select button for a final time so that my ballot would be electronically marked.  The older senior citizen returned; after waiting a bit, we decided that I could pull out the ballot with just a slight tug.  At this new location, I was pleased that the place for inserting my completed ballot was near the Automark machine.  With the final step completed, the senior citizen gave me an “I voted” sticker which I always save to place onto the plastic cover of my braille calendar.  

                During the past few years, the noise level at my prior voting place had significantly increased.  Despite my good sense of hearing, I had difficulty with hearing the synthesized voice of the Automark machine; so, a poll worker and/or I had to ask other voters to be quiet–sometimes, more than once at the same voting experience.  Thus, I was quite happy that our one ward was moved to this new quieter location.  Another advantage is that when the weather is inclement, this location is closer to my residence, requires the crossing of only four trolley tracks, and does not include crossing the boulevard with three lanes on either side.  Yes, Willow and I like the change–for a change.

                Leaving this new MSOE building, Willow and I were pleased to do our civic duty.  As we headed to our next destination–Metro Market to do some grocery shopping–I thought of how my dad, in his retirement years, so enjoyed working at the polling place in our small hometown of Blanford, Indiana.  I do not recall my parents ever missing the opportunity to vote.  Unfortunately, for this primary in Milwaukee, only 22 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.  I was grateful that I was able to be one among the 22 percent–a low number when voting for a mayoral candidate, especially when no incumbent was on the ballot.

                One thing I know for certain about the general election in April is that when my guide dog and I return to vote at the new polling place, I trust that my Leader Dog Willow will, without hesitation, take me directly to the entrance door of the new building.  My amazing guide dog learns so very quickly, and she remembers every detail.  My comfort in trusting and knowing the quality of her work is a blessing for which I am most thankful.  If only more eligible voters were as happy as Willow to find the polling place!

Wishing you happy trails this winter!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

February 16, 2022, Wednesday


From → Uncategorized

  1. I enjoyed traveling with you both this morning.
    I had to laugh when the person told you, “It’s perfect.” This is what I hear every time I sign anything in public for someone. I just heard it on Tuesday as I signed papers at my lawyers office. He declared, “It’s perfect.” I replied, “Muscle memory.”

    • Hi, Lynda–“Muscle memory”–indeed!  What a coincidence!  Thanks for
      sharing and for reading this lengthy post!

      With thanks and many good wishes for you and Bob,

      Alice and Willow

  2. I loved your story. My current guide has decided that as much as he loves me, he no longer wants to work at his job. He always required me to give him specific directions every step of the way. Whhen vertigo struck four years ago and I was also diagnosed with a slight hearing loss in my left ear, suddenly I no longer could esily keep from veering, and my echo location was diminished. We began to get lost whenever I was unsure of my exact location. He drifted into diagonal street crossings if I steped off a rounded curb not facing the ramp on the other side of the street. Being Enzo, he took advantage and would do several of these crossings and head back hom by walking me in a gradual circle. This was during the advent of stay at home orders when there was almost no traffic on the residential streets near my home. I started carrying a cane to help me explore the curb cut to orient myself. I worked hard with correction and reward to curb this behavior. However, I have given up on changing his basic temperament. I have put in a request for a replacement dog now that he is approaching his ninth birthday. A dog who knows what he should do is a joy to work, one who likes to go with me, but wants me to do all of the work isn’t. Your girl sounds like a treasure. Mine is beautiful, intimidates the neighbors in a mixed low income area, but I no longer trust him in travel in unknown areas. I can still work him inside of buildings, but am concerned that he is no longer safe on busy streets.



    • Hi, DeAnna–I hope that your next guide dog for whom you have applied
      will work extremely well for you.  Take good care!

          I appreciate your reading my long post and sending a comment.

      Hoping to hear your voice on Sunday evening–Alice and Willow

  3. joanmyles permalink

    Love reading your adventures with Willow…and the description of voting is great! Here everyone uses vote by mail, which allows more time to access voting information and help where needed.
    Give Willow a hug for me, what a great team you are!

    • Hi, Joan–Willow and I thank you for your nice compliments!  We
      appreciate your reading the long post.  I still prefer being able to
      have the choice of going to a polling place:  I like this tradition and
      the sense of community.  I think Willow agrees with me.

      Take care, and enjoy the weekend–Alice and Willow

  4. Susan McKendry permalink

    So happy you and Willow are happy with your new voting location. While Willow loves her work and is exceptionally intelligent, a great deal of her remarkable guiding skills are the result of being paired with an experienced and loving handler. You both get an A+.

    • Good afternoon, Sue–Your very nice comment brought a smile to my face
      on this gray day.  Your kind words are appreciated by both Willow and me.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  5. Annie Chiappetta permalink

    A great example of teamwork. Wags from New York.

    • Hi, Annie–Receiving a comment from a fellow guide-dog handler is always

      Thanks, and enjoy the weekend–Alice and Willow

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