• Susannah Colt

LESSONS FROM A BLIND DOG



I have noticed a shift in the tenor of the Concord Monitor opinion page from liberal to conservative over the past few months. At first I was getting irate at the increase of the conservative complaints about the call for police reform and racial justice. I was incensed at the introduction of HB 544, abortion restrictions, relaxation of gun control, transgender youth attacks, homophobic comments by legislators, right-to-work legislation, diverting public school money to charter schools, relaxation of the mask mandate in the middle of a surge, and on and on. But then it occurred to me that the conservatives (i.e. Republicans) are merely doing the same thing I was doing during the prior administration when I was complaining about their conservative agenda.


Change is challenging and with the shift in political majorities in the state legislature and in the White House, we in New Hampshire are experiencing symptoms of split political personality. Some may like what’s happening here but not there and vice versa. I have decided, for personal sanity sake, to read all "letters to the editor" and “my turns” with an open mind, trying to understand where the writer is coming from, and ultimately accepting that we can agree to disagree, but not let the feelings rise to the level of hate.


A year ago I wrote an essay about routine, which was published as a “My Turn” on May 3. New Hampshire had been in “stay-at-home” mode for over a month and I was satirically offering myself as a “routine coach,” for those having trouble getting used to the new normal. I explained that my routine was dictated to a certain extent by my dog’s eating habits. We also were regular walkers in the woods. I used the woods and the changing seasons as examples of how routine does not have to be boring.


Like the changing political winds, my routines have also changed because my dog has gone blind for no apparent reason, except possibly aging. I started to notice a change when we went for a walk in our woods last fall and off in the distance I saw a moose. Under normal circumstance my dog would have seen the moose and dashed off to chase it before I even got a chance to see what was going on. All I would notice was the black blur of the moose’s butt and the beat of hooves which sound like a freight train. But this time, because my dog did not see the moose, I got to see the moose in all its glory.


My dog did catch the scent of the moose and I watched as she followed its trail, with her nose to the ground, zig-zagging through the woods toward the location where the moose was standing. Because it was such a slow transition in movement, the moose was not startled and did not run off. It merely ambled away deeper into the woods and out of sight. My dog never saw the moose. I, on the other hand, was the beneficiary of the slowly evolving meeting between two species, which ended peacefully.


The next clue as to the extent of my dog’s blindness was when she did not see the dog cookie I was offering her. I had to tap it on her lips before she would gingerly take it from me. Over the course of a very short time she was bumping into walls and crashing through the underbrush in the woods. I’d taken her to my vet, who gave her a diagnosis of “progressive loss of sight for no apparent cause.” Unsatisfied with that “diagnosis,” I took her to a doggie ophthalmologist who was equally as vague, saying it could be retinal damage or neurological issues. The bottom line is she does not have anything that is fixable and everyone assures me she can live a long fruitful life relying on her other highly developed senses.


She adjusted fairly well. I, on the other hand, had trouble adjusting to the changes. I wanted my sighted dog back so my routines did not have to change. I’d grown accustomed to our walks in the woods when I could lose myself in thought or do some writing in my head and lose track of time and space. I always knew my dog would show up at the end of the walk because her reward was a dog cookie.


Now if I lose myself in thought, I lose track of my dog as well. If she wanders off the beaten path, she could fall into a deep hole or encounter a hostile creature. I have to constantly watch out for her and give her voice directions to follow me. My mindless wanderings are a thing of the past. Yes, I could put her on a leash and make her walk in lock-step with me, but that would take away her need to follow her nose. I call it a blind allegiance to her nose. The difference is I have to be the one to keep her out of trouble now. She’s also much slower, feeling her way with every step she takes, so our walks are no longer exercise for me.


As long as we are able to get through our daily walks, I will continue to do them no matter the obstacles. Once we cross the creek that leads to the large lawn that surrounds my house, my dog feels free to run the last few yards to her cookie reward. Watching her run for just a little bit is reward in and of itself. That is, until she runs smack into the house or barn if I’m not keeping a careful eye on her. I constantly wonder what goes through her head when she crashes into a post or a door frame as she navigates her way in this new life. I laugh and cringe at the same time. I’m a sucker for slapstick.


The moral of the story is change is inevitable and soon the political tides will be shifting once again and so will the rhetoric on the opinions page. Resistance to change is futile and we must adjust as best we can without losing our sense of humanity and humor.


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