Any blind person who has a guide dog has a number of stories about their animal doing something amusing. Long term readers of this blog and especially BlindConfidential before it, will remember that a lot of the satirical fiction written under the Gonz Blinko moniker had a character who was a yellow Labrador I called the X-Dog. The fictional X-Dog was based entirely on my real life guide dog named X-Celerator, a dog with a five syllable name. X-Celerator, whom I will refer to as the X-Dog for the rest of this article and I had many amusing times together and this essay will describe some of the most funny ones. I will also include some sweet stories about the X-Dog which are a bit sad.
This article will also refer to two other dogs. The first, Baby, was a super sweet Corgi/Yorkshire cross we had when the X-Dog first came home with me and the other is a yellow Labrador named Pepper. She was Mia Lipner's dog when we first met and the X-Dog and Pepper were best friends and we had a lot of fun when we were all together.
Unlike the vast majority of my other articles, this one contains a bit of profanity. It is all used in direct quotes from one of the central figures in this story. I'm sorry if you find profanity offensive but it's actually what the person said in the real life situation and is only three words in this essay. If even that is too much for you, I thank you for visiting the blog and hope you enjoy my other articles as they're published in the future.
Meeting The X-Dog
In June 2006, my lovely wife Susan dropped me off at Southeastern Guide Dogs (SGD) and I entered guide dog school for the first time. A member of the SGD staff showed me to my room and, when the rest of the students arrived, we gathered in the common room for an orientation talk, to meet the trainer with whom we will be working, were handed a leash and were left to ourselves for the rest of the evening. I wrote an entire article about my time at SGD getting the X-Dog and doing our training on BlindConfidential so I won't repeat it hear.
The following day, a person from the SGD staff knocked on my door, entered my room and introduced me to the X-Dog who would be an important part of my life for the next decade.
After the near month long training period at SGD, my wife Susan came back to the school and picked the X-Dog and me up and brought us home. At that time, we had a small and very sweet corgi/Yorkshire cross named Baby who now had a much larger but also much younger brother. Initially, we were concerned about the two dogs getting along but they became very friendly with each other very quickly.
Sometimes, the X-Dog and Baby would play tug. The X-Dog would lay down with one end of a rope toy in his mouth and Baby would grab the other end and pull his heart out. Both of them seemed to find this amusing.
The X-Dog In Our Neighborhood
After we got home with the X-Dog, I started a bit of a routine with him. I'd wake up in the morning, feed the X-Dog and drink my coffee while listening to a bit of NPR. I'd let him out into the yard for a pee, get dressed and he and I would take a pretty long walk together.
One of our favorite places to walk was around a retention pond in a park about eight blocks south of our Florida home. In the park, we'd be recognized by some of the other dog people and we'd often stop for a chat.
One morning, I was talking to a gal with whom I share a common interest in fishing. The X-Dog weighed 85 pounds, a pretty large size for a Labrador. The woman to whom I was telling fish stories had an Airedale, an animal that made the X-Dog look small in comparison. A Canada goose came strolling out of the pond, walked up to the larger dog and bit him on his nose. The Airedale didn't seem too alarmed by the goose but he did stand up and, when the goose saw the size of the big dog, it ran away into the playground where a bunch of little kids were playing. A few seconds later, we would hear, "Honk, honk, scream, honk, honk, scream, honk, scream" which went on until one of the adults was able to chase the goose away from the children. While this may have been scary for the kids and their mothers, my fishing friend and I couldn't stop laughing.
The X-Dog In South Beach
Not long after we brought the X-Dog home, Susan and I drove down to Miami Beach to hang out with my very close friend Tellis Lawson. Tellis was a pretty large African American man, a Viet Nam veteran who liked to say, "I got two belly buttons: one installed by god and the other by the Viet Cong." Tellis and I had a lot of fun together over the years but, sadly, a mistake at the VA hospital led to him dying from an overdose of prescription medication taken as prescribed by the doctors at the VA in 2011.
Tellis came to the nice hotel at which we were staying and he, Susan, the X-Dog and I all headed out to find something to eat. Tellis loved dogs but didn't know anything about a guide dog for a blind person so asked me a lot of questions. I had the X-Dog show off some of his basic skills and Tellis was impressed. As we left our hotel and started walking down the street, I said to Tellis, "Now I'll show you his most impressive bit of training" and then, speaking to my dog, I said, "X-Celerator, find the booty." Tellis laughed and said, "He can't do that"
As we continued to walk down the street, the X-Dog and I were following Tellis and Susan. The X-Dog pulled off to the left and stopped at a table at an outdoor bistro. At the table sat six beautiful young European women preparing for going to work that night. Tellis and Susan turned around and, much to his shock, Tellis saw that the X-Dog had found the booty and exclaimed, "I gotta get myself one of those motherfucking dogs."
A year or two later, the X-Dog and I took a little puddle jumper flight from Tampa down to Miami for another visit with Tellis and we stayed in his little South Beach apartment. One morning, we went out for breakfast and decided to take a walk on the beach. I should mention here that South Beach is topless. For those unfamiliar with Florida or the fashion scene, South Beach is where beautiful people from all over the world come during the season (roughly Thanksgiving until March) with the dream of being discovered and becoming the next major super model, actor or whatever else it is that beautiful people do to earn a living. Because very few of them achieve the dream, South Beach has a bit of a sad side. A woman friend of mine who lives in South Beach who was once a big time model (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and all) likes to say, "South Beach. You arrive on a private jet and you leave on a Greyhound bus."
As Tellis and I walked on the beach, two almost naked gals from elsewhere started walking toward us in hopes of petting the dog. I had the X-Dog on his long leash as he wasn't actually working but just taking a walk. When the two beautiful young women got close enough, the X-Dog ran through one of the gal's legs from the front and then immediately through the other gal's legs from behind causing all of us to fall in a pile laughing and tangled in the X-Dog's leash. As we stopped playing beach Twister, both of the gals gave me a big hug and kiss. Tellis, observing this, just crossed his arms, shook his head and said, "I gotta get myself one of those motherfucking dogs."
At lunchtime, Tellis and I walked over to Lincoln Road, one of the most fashionable parts of the already fashionable South Beach and got in line to eat at a place called Books and Books. While waiting to be seated, we stood beside another party's table. A waitress wearing a string bikini top, a thong, fishnet stockings, chaps and high heels bent over to place her customers drinks on the table. As she was bent over, the X-Dog stuck his moist pink nose twixt her buttocks. She spun around saying something like "You damned pervert!" But when she realized that it was a dog, she petted him, gave me a sweet hug and kiss and returned to doing her job. Tellis just watched and said, "I gotta get myself one of those motherfucking dogs."
Thieving Guide Dogs
Here in St. Petersburg, Florida, we have an excellent Italian grocery with a semi enclosed restaurant attached to it called Mazzaros. My friend Mark Wallace and I enjoyed going there for lunch from time to time and, of course, the X-Dog always accompanied us. One time, we entered Mazzaro's, crossed the grocery store part, ordered our lunch at the counter, ate and got up to leave. On the way out, while passing through the grocery store portion of the place, the X-Dog spotted a table loaded with those very expensive dried Italian sausages. With a move of his head so subtle that I didn't notice, the X-Dog grabbed one of the delicacies and held it in his mouth until we were outside. I, of course, didn't see this happen and, as we were following Mark, he didn't either but, when we started walking to Mark's truck, he burst out laughing as he saw the X-Dog with his shoplifted $30 sausage.
One time, Mia Lipner and I went to a San Francisco farmers market to pick up a few things and learn what else they might have for sale. We were standing at a table talking to the man behind it about the produce he sold. All of a sudden, the man behind the table burst into laughter. Knowing her dog well, Mia asked, "What did Pepper do?" When the man stopped laughing he told us. Apparently, Pepper very slowly lowered her face into a barrel of green beans, took exactly one green bean and, very slowly again, removed her head from the barrel and as subtly as possible ate the bean.
A guide dog can be both sneaky and subtle all at once.
A Caring Dog
In early 2016, the X-Dog and I were at Mia's place in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco. Mia and I received horrible news, her cancer had come back and now it was metastatic. Mia was going to die and there was nothing modern medicine could do about it. Mia wanted to call her brother to deliver the news and plan a strategy for telling their parents so I left the bedroom and went to the living room at the front of the house. At this point, the bad news hit me all at once and I started to cry. Both the X-Dog and Pepper came to me with dog toys and pawed at me until I started playing with them. They knew I was very sad and they did their best to cheer me up. I didn't realize dogs could be so kind and generous when one of their people is upset.
The X-Dog's Last Trip To San Francisco
For a number of years, the X-Dog and I spent a lot of time at Mia's place. Both the X-Dog and Pepper had reached their retirement time and Pepper had already moved to live with some of Mia's old friends up near Seattle. Every other time we arrived at Mia's apartment, both she and Pepper would be there to greet us; this time there was no Pepper and the X-Dog seemed quite confused. He started searching the apartment for her. He went to where Mia kept her crate and Pepper wasn't there, he walked to all corners of the small apartment, he asked to go out into the back yard to see if Pepper was there. Clearly, the X-Dog missed his best friend. The following morning, Mia, the X-Dog and I all went to a restaurant on Haight Street called The Grind for our breakfast. The X-Dog and I took the lead and Mia, with a white cane, followed us. As we walked, the X-Dog would look over his shoulder every few seconds to see if Mia was all right and, at every street crossing, he would wait for her to catch up to us as, in his mind, it wasn't safe for Mia to cross a street on her own. The X-Dog was trying to guide both of us at once.
The X-Dog died from bone cancer on September 22, 2016. I have a tattoo of his face on my lower left arm. The X-Dog will always be part of me.
Although I've no actual information about Pepper, I'm going to assume she has also passed as she would be 21 years old now and Labradors rarely if ever live that long. She was a delightful dog with an excellent sense of humor.
Baby died from congestive heart failure while we were in our Cambridge home in 2008. He was the first dog Susan and I ever had and I've loads of fond memories of the little guy and how he loved to play.
A guide dog is not for everyone. They require a lot more work than does a white cane. They can also be more useful than a cane, especially when sidewalks and other walkways are disturbed in some manner.
I feel that the X-Dog and now Jackson, my second guide, have added a lot of good to my life. As I rarely travel anywhere alone anymore, I'm uncertain if I'll get another guide dog when Jackson retires but I'm sure glad I have had 15 years with these two amazing dogs and their friends.