I met Honor, my Labrador guide dog, on September 9, 1997. She was only 18 months old and she too, was disabled. She was born with a stubby tail. She may not have been able to use her tail as a rudder like other labs, but she could still wag up a storm.
Her other talents more than compensated for her little tail. She was the smartest dog I’d ever met. She was completely serious when in harness and working, and completely silly when out of harness. Honor could make me happy just by her presence. I quickly fell in love with her, but it still took us several months before we developed the trust needed to work together as a team. And on one cold, snowy, winter day, Honor proved herself.
Honor and I were walking together along the street by my office. We were joined by an acquaintance with whom I was soon lost in conversation as we walked. We were so engrossed in our chat that neither of us noticed the signals Honor was giving nor did we see the bus that was bearing down towards us. All at once, I felt Honor jump up against me knocking me backwards away from the front wheels. I heard the honk of a horn and felt the whoosh of air blow across my face from the huge city bus that just barely missed running me over. She saved my life for the first time that day. And that day, I began to build my new life. I realized I now had a constant companion who I could rely on and who would guide me through my new life safely. I was no longer alone. From that day on, the trust we had in one another and our bond grew stronger. I began to feel a newfound confidence and courage. I started going out again, just Honor and me. She gave me back my independence.
Honor was with me everywhere. I could count on her all the time. When I found myself seized with anxiety in a noisy, dark restaurant where I could neither see in the dim lighting nor hear above the constant din, I would soon feel her cold, wet nose and warm, soft tongue against my leg and a wave of calm would wash over me. When I got lost and couldn’t find exits or elevators or even my own home, she was there and could guide me. She was better than any sighted person-guide I’d ever walked with. She never wavered in her complete concentration on me. She never made me wait. She was my guide. She was my friend.
Honor and I worked together for many years. I felt safe despite the bumps in the road we faced. It was surprising how many people didn’t know, or didn’t care about the laws protecting service animals. Often we were refused entry to restaurants, cabs, etc. Nonetheless, with Honor by my side, I began to rebuild my life and to find the courage I had lost with my eyesight. However, despite my newfound independence, and a considerable amount of accommodation from my employer, I continued to find the practice of law beyond my abilities and rather than fail in my duty to my clients I decided it was time for me to find a new profession. After many tears and a sad farewell to my colleagues at work, I resigned.
I left my job in 2002, and Honor and I moved from cold, windy Chicago to balmy, sunny Los Angeles. I didn’t know a soul in the City of Angels, I chose LA entirely because of the weather: I chose wisely. I ended up buying a little California bungalow with a yard for Honor and a pool for me. It needed a lot of care. I had to redo everything from the foundation to the roof and everything in between. It became a beautiful home with over 35 screaming bright colors both inside and out. I lived in a great neighborhood, and joined a gym and met some wonderful new friends. My life was good, but I missed traveling.
With Honor by my side, I had the confidence to travel, at least within the 50 States. But how could I manage to venture overseas? On the one hand, I was too nervous to travel abroad with Honor: I wasn’t sure how other countries viewed service dogs and I hated making her sit at my feet in the cramped airplanes for hours at a time unable to pee or walk around. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine facing the world without Honor. So I resolved to give up traveling overseas altogether, until one day in 2005.
Stay tuned for my next post, “Italy 2005,” where I’ll share with you my first adventure to another country with my new portfolio of abilities.