I got a call in mid July from Ben Cawly, director of admissions at Guiding Eyes for the blind, “How would you feel about having a dog with pointy ears?” My dog is an elf? “As in pointy ears that stick up.” A Vulcan? “As in a German Shepherd.” Oh yeah, I knew that.
I’d never thought about it. Is his name Spock? How cool would that be! “Ben, I want the dog who is right for me and I trust that you all know what you’re doing.” “Well, if you’re coming to class next month, your dog is going to be a shepherd.” Great – I’m getting a shepherd!
I started visualizing that dog at my side, imagining its character and energy – strong, deep, wolfish; don’t mess with me man, I’ve got a shepherd (named Spock).” Yeah, I could do that. I told my aunt that I was getting a shepherd and her first response was “Bill, Wrangler doesn’t have pointy ears. Did you tell them that?” (Oh Ann…) But then we got to talking about the shepherd she and Mom had had growing up, and how much they loved that dog, and soon it was all good.
So we booked some flights and made some plans. I took off for New Hampshire for a retreat with the Avivo team, and returned to North Carolina for a big family reunion. Then I got the next call: the shepherd had developed some “unexpected behavioral issues” (Is that a euphemism?) and needed to be released from the program. OK. These things happen; we always know it’s not set in stone. Ben had actually been pretty up front about that too.
I’m a lecturer in music at Santa Clara University, and fall classes start up in mid September, so just waiting a month for the next dog class was a non-option. (It would sort of be frowned on if I skipped my first two weeks of teaching.) So we were looking at home training. I’d been on that waiting list for two years and was pretty near the top. Maybe I’d take Tighlman (my steady and reliable, nearly 12-year-old intrepid Labrador) back with me to California for one more quarter of work before he retires while we figure out the whole home training thing; can do. So suddenly the end of my summer was wide open and I could plan for a few more weeks of practicing the piano, working on my book (a music text), swimming in the ocean, playing living room concerts, and catching up with family and friends. (Glorious!) An intuitive friend of mine suggested that I focus on getting some rest, as it was going to be a busy month. Busy month?
After four days of gloriously open summer, I got an e-mail from Graham Buck, assistant director of training at Guiding Eyes. Graham trained me with both my previous dogs and I really trust his judgement. “I may have a dog for you, will know more soon; are you still available to come in on August 22?” We shot a dozen messages back and forth about what I’m looking for – 3.4 MPH walking speed or 3.6, moderate harness pull or moderate-strong? Can I handle a dog with a bigger personality? “I want a low maintenance dog who is affectionate.” (I feel like I’m writing a personal ad.) “This dog is affectionate, but it’s more on his terms. He takes time to bond, but when he does bond he bonds deeply.” We finally just got on the phone, which was when Graham spilled the beans. “You’ve probably heard, it seems like half the world has heard, about the dog being raised by The Today Show; well, this is that dog.” Ah ha! “What’s your gut on this Graham?” “If you put the compatibility on a scale of 1 to 10,” (please say it’s above an 8 – would I settle for a 7?) “I’d give it a 9.” Whew! “and I think the things that aren’t there right away will be there after a few months.” “That’s all I need to know.” Graham swore me to secrecy, kind of – asking me not to tell anyone outside of immediate family until the dog and I had met in the flesh and worked together long enough for him to be sure that it was the right match. And so I started referring to my dog-to-be as Anchovy (sorry boy, it just popped out). Mom kept wanting to call him Blue, but it never stuck.
I started doing a little Internet stalking of Anchovy: not a lot – I wanted to keep the focus on meeting the actual dog, but enough to get oriented to the Wrangler phenomenon – and oh what a phenomenon it is! There are some ironies here folks. I often describe getting a guide dog as agreeing to an arranged marriage. We don’t choose our dogs and our dogs don’t choose us; matches are made by the instructors based on compatibility. This is kind of like an arranged marriage with a celebrity. So, ironies: Wrangler has been on television several hundred times. I don’t own a TV and have never been interested in getting one. My dog has hung out with lots of famous people. Reading through the list of names on today.com, I hadn’t heard of any of them. My dog has tens of thousands of followers on social media; I’ve never even sent a text message, had never heard of Snapchat, and am still confused as to how to pronounce Pinterest. Given the choice between promoting my work and practicing scales, I’d chosen the scales pretty much every time, evidenced by the fact that it had been some two years since I’d updated my website. (Maybe I should get on that… and maybe a haircut… new shoes?)
Before you conclude that I’m kind of a boring guy, allow me to share that I love to dance, love to body-surf in the ocean, love playing the heck out of some jazz (fast and furious or deep and heavy – love it either way). I love to luxuriate over really good food with interesting company. I love long novels with swords. I’ve climbed mountains in New Hampshire, trekked around Manhattan, and backpacked with my brother along the Kentucky – Tennessee border. I’m fascinated by dreams and states of consciousness. I play a mean bridge game. I was a drum major in the high school marching band. Yes, I was blind then too. I’ve written music for orchestra, choir, jazz band, rock band, musical theater, and electronics. I teach Musicianship to undergraduates – applied training in melody, harmony, rhythm, ear training, and improvisation. No, my students aren’t also blind. In my intro class I am often teaching students who have never read a note of music in their lives how to read music. (Did I mention ironies?) I have a lot of fun doing this!
Stay tuned for more adventures of Bill and Wrangler…