As I navigated through security to my gate, I thought about how much easier and harder plane travel with a dog is. Easier because of help getting through the crowds and obstacles of the airport. Harder because of tight spaces on airplanes. There’s barely enough foot room for a human, and that’s where the dog sits. Yet after a couple of dogless years and an ocean of tears, I was ready to have the added challenge of getting a large dog into a small foot space again.
At the end of a long layover in Atlanta, I met one of my fellow students, David. He lived in Atlanta, so he didn’t have to endure the almost four-hour layover I did. We talked about how excited we were to get our dogs.
“Did you ask for a specific breed?” I asked.
“I told them anything but a German shepherd.” My friend is on her second, and no, I don’t want any part of that breed. A knot formed in my stomach as I thought of how her possessive, hyper, self-trained alpha service female who had given my poor cat PTSD would treat my sweet Juno.
My travel instructions said that someone from Leader Dogs would meet me at the baggage claim. A couple of Lions Club volunteers rounded up four of us who had relatively similar arrival times. We had special tags, so our bags were easy to identify.
I learned how well Leader Dogs was going to take care of me right then and there. I didn’t have to stand at the carousel quasi-looking for (\mostly feeling for) my suitcase. Then in the van, our helpers handed out lunch sacks.
A couple more students from different areas waited in the van. A tech guy I’ll call Orie, an uptight Braille teacher I’ll call Fran, who had never been away from her hometown, David and I got acquainted along the ride. Fran’s twin sister would receive her second dog as a home delivery while first-timer Fran got hers at the training center. I wish I could have had a home delivery, which meant five days of personal instruction instead of twenty-three days in Michigan, but because I had never had a dog from their school, it wasn’t an option for me.
That ninety-minute trip was the fourth conveyance on my thirteen-hour journey, but at long last, we pulled into the Leader Dogs Residence and Training Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I was about to become an inmate, observed nearly every waking minute in a locked campus. We each had to sign in at the desk, get our room assignment and key card. Each key came on a neck strap so we could wear it at all times. If we ever left the grounds without it being part of the program, we had to sign out and back in again upon return.
My room, like any motel, featured a desk, flat-screen TV, bathroom, closet, low dresser, chair, nightstand, and a bed. They must have thought all their students were giants, though, because I couldn’t reach the bed.
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