“I’ve never met a blind dog before,” said the little boy.
He was a foster child, his foster mother was with him. We were all introduced by chance in a public park.
The boy watched my dog, Marigold, walking along, bumping into a nearby fence. We were out for a potty-break. Marigold was trying to find a suitable patch of grass to do what I call, “leaving constructive criticism.”
The boy watched us in rapt wonder. We are a team. Dog and man. Marigold and me.
I am Marigold’s “Seeing Eye” human. My job is to guide her through this world of woe. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m trying.
And at this particular moment, I was following Marigold closely with a plastic baggy over my hand, ready to do my duty.
“Why is she blind?” the boy asked.
I chose my words carefully. Because how do you tell an innocent foster child that somebody took a blunt object to this puppy’s head and destroyed her eyes?
How do you tell a child there are humans out there who would use a length of rebar as a weapon against a soft, floppy-eared puppy?
“Someone hurt her,” I said.
“Not everyone’s a nice person.”
The boy’s eyes grew serious. “Yeah. I know.”
He looked at Marigold prancing along and said nothing. He just observed.
The kid was maybe 6. He wore Levi’s and a striped shirt that showed his little belly. His hair was strawberry. Opie Taylor eat your heart out.
His foster mother said he’s had a rough life. And that is all I’m permitted to tell you about him.
He watched Marigold with great interest. Marigold walks with a cautious gait. Sometimes she high-steps like she’s hiking through tall grass. She does this so she won’t stumble on any sudden obstacles.
We’ve been working on things, every day. When we go for walks, off-leash, I put a bell on my shoe so she can follow me.
Also, I taught her the word: “Step.” This is my cue word for Marigold to be aware of upcoming drop-offs, staircases, curbs, sidewalks, or gutters.
We’ve also been practicing using a leash. Although I’m not sure who is walking whom. She pulls harder than a protagonist from a Jack London novel.
If I were to wear roller skates during our walks, for example, I would be halfway to Québec right now.
Marigold uses her voice a lot, too. Because it’s hard being blind. Her world is all black. Therefore she can’t communicate with body language or eye contact. All she has left is her voice.
I try to remind myself what it’s like to be sightless. A few days ago, I wore a blindfold for 24 hours just to see what it was like. I didn’t take it off. Not even to use the restroom.
It was frightening. Have you ever gone without your sight? I felt alone sometimes. I had to have help getting into the shower. In a word, it was scary.
So that’s why the relationship I have with Marigold is different than any relationship I’ve ever had.
I’ve had a lot of canines in my life. But they were all regular dogs. They could see, hear, smell, eat, run, play, terrorize the UPS guy, and leave constructive criticism on people’s lawns.
But this animal needs me. Marigold needs me to guide along the stairs. In crowded places, she nudges my calf with her nose so she won’t lose me.
At lunchtime, she needs me to tap her food bowl so she can find it. I’ve never been needed before. Not like this.
“Can I pet her?” said the little boy.
“Will she be afraid of me?”
“Not if you’re gentle.”
The boy called Marigold to him. She heard his voice and carefully walked in his direction.
“You’re a pretty girl,” said the boy.
When she came to him, the child held her head in his tiny hands. He inspected the ocular scar where her eye was removed. He used a tender hand to stroke her.
And then he began to cry. Tears slickened his cheeks. I started to feel badly.
“I’m sorry someone hurt you,” the boy said. Then he gave her a hug and wept into her fur.
“I love you,” he said, sniffling his nose. “I love you, love you, love you.”
The things you see as a Seeing Eye human.