Dancing with Dogs
Dax sends me this beautiful story about a man learning to be graceful with his guidedog. A month and seven days till I get my own!Dancing with Dogs
By Cris Anderson
In the late 1980's while an Instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. in
San Rafael, California, I was introduced to a blind Italian gentleman whom I
will never forget. He was a student in my class, prepared to receive his
first guide dog. He went by the friendly nickname of "Chato". Italian was
primary language and even though he could carry on conversations quite well
in English, he did have some problems with certain concepts that came up
training. Some of the guide dog training included technical fine points that
Chato was unable to understand. Also, being newly blinded in the previous
year he was nervous and scared, consequently he was stiff and awkward while
traveling with his guide dog.
His progress was slow, and after just the first week of a month long
training class he began to fall behind. I needed to do something to help him
the concept of following his dogs' body movements in a more relaxed way.
Everyday presented a new opportunity to help Chato work smoothly with his
to feel the pull of the harness, the subtle cues that say "follow me, I'll
take you safely home". Yet, my inability to speak Italian and his limited
of English slowed our progress.
During the quiet evenings in the campus dormitory Chato and I talked
frequently about himself and his loving wife. How they met in Italy, their
and their mutual love of dancing. I could imagine him, sleek and elegant,
joined in a waltz with his beautiful, graceful wife. Dancing.!! Dancing!
I teach this wise Italian gentleman to dance with his dog? It was worth a
The very next evening I asked Chato to meet me in the dormitory dining room
after dinner and to bring only his empty guide dog harness. He expressed his
confusion, understandably I had never asked him to do anything like this
before during our short training time together. I asked him to trust me, he
We sat together in the now vacant room and I reminded him of our talks about
his love of dancing. Just the mention of it brought a sweet smile to his
I asked him if he would dance with me, he beamed. "I would love to dance
with you Cris", he said in his thick Italian accent, "but we have no music".
"That's alright", I boldly countered, "I'll hum". So, to an impromptu
rendition of Starlight Waltz we danced around and around the enormous dining
Chato's delight was obvious and his dancing skills were finely tuned. He was
light on his feet and highly sensitive to our synchronized moves. After a
short break I reminded Chato that he had agreed to trust me, then I asked
the impossible. "Chato", I said, "I want to dance with you again, but now I
you to let me lead". He was awe struck, stately Italian gentlemen never have
the lady lead! I had to plead "trust me Chato, trust me".
Another chorus of Starlight Waltz and we were off. It took only a few
moments for him to learn to follow me. We went left and right, forward and
being responsive to my every move with the grace and lightness of the
skilled dancer he was.
"Now", I told Chato as we slowed to a stop, "I want you to do one more thing
for me". As I took up the empty harness and placed it by his left leg where
his guide dog usually stands, I asked him to hold the harness handle in his
hand and imagine himself waltzing with his dog. "But, Chato", I said, "You
must let him lead!"
Around the room we went again, this tall elegant gentleman stepping ever so
lightly to the moves of the empty harness as I first lead him one way and
another, forward then back. It was at this point that our unusual evening
lesson became clear to Chato. With a glow that took over his entire being,
said, "I now understand that you want me to follow my guide dog as if we
were dancing"! "Yes, Chato", I beamed sharing in his delight, "but you must
Well, from that day forward Chato followed his dog with the elegant, light
steps of a talented dancer. Chato's pride and delight at this newly
concept was thrilling to see. He and his guide dog progressed quickly
through the remainder of training and no less than once a day he thanked me
him to dance with his dog.