----- Original Message -----
From: Vickie Kennedy
To: Robert Thomas
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 7:05 PM
Subject: Training with my new guide
Many of you already know that I am retiring my precious guide, Freida. She has been my eyes for now 7 years 8 months. Just as she has given me the gift of sight all these years, now it is my turn to give her the gift of quality retirement. Freida, who is also a cancer survivor, has slowed down and she has given me signs that she needs to retire from guidework. So as not to stress her as she gets older, I will retire her as of next month. Believe me, I have been thinking about this for over a year and it was a very painful decision to make. Freida will now be a full time therapy dog at Honolulu's largest and best hospital - Queens Medical Center, which is also a trauma hospital. Freida has already made 10 visits there and has seen 126 patients. They love her as she brings joy and comfort to them and the nurses and doctors welcome her as well. Freida also visits a few patients at St. Francis Hospice and they also welcome her.
Last week, while I was attending Board Committee meetings at Guide Dogs, I was able to meet my new guide to be. The trainers wanted me to meet her and work with her a bit to make sure she would be the right one for me. Being that she will be a guide in the state of Hawaii, many preparations have to be done to the dog to meet the State Agriculture requirements.
I met my new guide to be and she is a sweetheart, full of energy. I have an analogy to give an idea of my two dogs. Freida is a beautiful Buick Park Avenue - conservative, sedate and comfortable. My new dog is like a red Miata sportscar - energetic, perky, and wants to zip around town. They are also teaching her how to take steps going down by slowly stepping then stop and wait for me due to my bad back. Freida, in her own special cautious way, has learned to help me over the years.
During that visit, Freida was able to meet my new dog and Freida went up to her wagging her tail and kissed noses. Freida is a good judge of character so I was happy that they both like each other. Now, Freida will have a younger sister and I am sure that she will be rejuvenated by her.
I just received my acceptance packet in the mail with my E-ticket confirm, luggage tags, and 7CDs with training lectures. I will be flying back to California on Saturday, February 16th as class begins on the 17th. I will begin training with my new guide on Monday. I will be at the GDB campus for 3 weeks and if all works out well, I will be graduating with my new partner on March 8th. Flying back to California will be especially hard on me as I will be doing it without Freida. It will be a very hard, long and lonely trip for me. I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this for Freida and the best part is that she will still be with us as the Queen of our household. Our bond is so incredible and powerful as she has been my perfect guide, partner, companion and soulmate for so long. She will forever have a very special place in my heart. Now, I am not closing a chapter, but I am opening another chapter in my heart and my life with my new guide.
I am not allowed to give you her name at this time, but she has a beautiful name befitting a guide. So you will have to wait till I am in class. Just as Freida is a gift from heaven, this new guide will be another gift from heaven as well
Please keep me in your prayers as I will need them during this time of transition. I will be taking my laptop to GDB so I will keep in touch. Take care and thank you all for your support and for loving my precious Freida. Freida sends you lots of aloha kisses and tail wags your way.
Mahalo and aloha,
Vickie and Freida
Vickie Kennedy Team Training with Second Guide Dog Angela
It has been a full week since I have been in class here at GDB. Here's what is going on with my training with Angela.
My computer server in Hawaii didn't allow me to connect to the system here. On Thursday, an IT tech, after several attempts, worked his magic and I am online again.
Last Monday, I was introduced to a beautiful female yellow lab. Her name is Angela. When our trainer read the names of our dogs to us, tears rolled down as I knew that I was going to get another pair of beautiful eyes and I will no longer feel so blind. She is a perky, confident, very alert little dog. She stands at 20 1/2 inches at the withers. She is 51 lbs. My precious Freida stands at 21 1/2 inches and she weighs 67 lbs. So, I have a little Mighty Mite. Angela is a very confident and energetic little guide.
I feel so good here as it is my second home. The dorm staff take such great care of us. The food is excellent. We are spoiled.
When I left Hawaii last Saturday, it broke my heart to leave my Freida. The night before, I kissed her and asked myself if I was doing the right thing. Afterall, Freida has been my constant companion, partner, and soulmate for 7 years 8 months. She opened so many doors for me and instilled in me, a great sense of confidence and independence, but most of all, she gave me peace of mind and an inner peace, enabling me to accomplish anything I set out to do.
When saying goodbye to Freida, I tried my best to keep a "stiff upper" so she wouldn't get so depressed, but Freida sensed that something was up and she was very sad. She had big tears drops coming from her eyes as Jim and I left the house. When we got to the airport, I had to use the cane and that was so difficult. You see, the cane doesn't see as well as Freida does and it sees upon impact. The freedom of working with a guide is something so incredible and beautiful. As I said goodbye to Jim, I had to go down the jetway with my cane and I knew that would be so awkward that I welcomed the assistance of the ATA gate rep. I really felt so blind and a sense of helplessness and loneliness came over me. The flight to Oakland was very difficult and very lonely as my precious "foot warmer" was not at my feet for this trip. During the flight over, I reflected on the many wonderful things that I have done with Freida and what she has done for me. I had to now start to focus my attention to my training and to my new guide.
A trainer from GDB picked me up at the airport and she brought me to my "home" and I felt instantly so safe. We started our first orientation/lecture Sunday evening and then we started lectures and juno exercises on Monday in preparation for our dogs.
Angela and I had a rather rough start on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I bumped into garbage cans, stationary planters, and benches. I got quite depressed and very frustrated. While working with Freida, I used a long harness handle which was also ergonomic. Our supervisor decided that the long harness handle wouldn't work with Angela and he changed it to a short regular ergo handle. That made all the difference in the world. Working with the regular handle, it brought me closer to her right side and that made me follow her the right way. My trainer and I worked through all sorts of routines and on Friday, Angela and I started to really "gel" together. Saturday morning, we were given a semi independent route which took us from the bus to our lounge area. The trainers were at each intersection to make sure that we were traveling safely with our guides. Angela did beautifully and we only had one little glich. I felt so very good about the exercise and my confidence level is now on track.
This week, we will be going to San Francisco, do night walks, do escalators with our dogs wearing booties, traffic checks and more independent and free lance walking in downtown San Rafael.
Our trainers are so incredible and they are on top of everything. They not only train our dogs, but they are so tuned into our individual needs and make all of our workouts fun and exciting.
We have two more weeks of class and then graduation on March 8th. I am looking forward to working more routes with Angela and becoming a very good and fluid team together. I feel so very blessed with the two angels that Guide Dogs has given me. I give you a progress report. Hopefully it will be full of wonderful events.
The weather has been a bit of a challenge. It is cold, damp and very wet here. We have worked in rain and the sound of traffic has been quite difficult at times, but all of us try our best and our dogs have guided us safely. Thanks to Jim, he got me waterproof jacket and pants to wear so I am very dry and comfortable. Even Angela has a cool raincoat. I purchased it from GDB.
Please keep Angela and me in your prayers that we will be successful in all of our exercises. Also say a special prayer that my precious Freida will get out of her depression soon. Jim is doing his best to care for her by grooming her, massaging her, and keeping the routines she is used to, but although she loves her Dad, he is not her Momma.
Thank you for all of your support. Until next week, aloha and God bless.
Vickie, Freida and little Angela
Freida's Fan Mail
Freida's Arizona Puppy Raiser Daddy
aka evesmaster, aka lanesmaster, aka
Robert M. Thomas
Arizona State University
Improving lives of people with little or no sight!