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A walk with Lava

dunaway and lavaW

Marlene Dunaway of Davis celebrates Lava's graduation from the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. Dunaway, who lost her vision about three years ago, has had Lava for one year. Courtesy photo

By Marlene Dunaway

It is 7:00 in the morning. I know because my internal alarm clock insists that I open my eyes. The news says the weather will be sunny and warm, and I think to myself, “Yes, let’s take a walk on the greenbelt today.”

As I roll over to the edge of the bed, I feel a soft kiss on my lips as Lava, my black Labrador guide dog, does her graceful “downward dog” stretch, reminding me that I must do that myself. Lava lies down by my bed and patiently waits. Occasionally she groans just to let me know she is there and getting hungry.

When I do get out of bed, she romps around me, tail wagging, and dashes to the kitchen and back again to see if I am also coming. After eating enthusiastically and taking a short outside potty break, she is willing to relax in her bed while I get dressed and do my daily morning tasks. She knows I am getting ready to take a walk.

I get my sunglasses, hat, water and snacks for Lava and me. Then I put on her leash and she glides into the harness with little effort. I give her kisses on the nose and tell her she is now my eyes and I want her to focus and take care of me. She is now in her serious mode and lies down and waits until I get the key in the door, turn off the lights and do a couple of other things I have forgotten to attend to.

Finally, we are on our way. Before I leave the house, I say to myself, “What will we encounter today? I hope there are no loose or aggressive dogs on our walk. I hope the sidewalk will be clear of toys, buckets and anything else.” Then I put all my fears aside and say “forward” to Lava. Immediately, I am propelled at a fast-paced clip in the direction I tell her to go.

We whisk around the pile of leaves in the way. We avoid the small chair sitting in the middle of the sidewalk and stop when a car’s door is left open in our path. I’m not even sure what we are avoiding, but I know I feel a flow of movement and a freedom I cannot get any other time.

I am invigorated as I crunch on the leaves beneath my feet, smell the aroma of the Asian noodles and the teriyaki chicken or the enchilada sauce and chiles simmering as I wind my way past the row of inviting houses. I almost want to knock on a door to get a clearer image of what is really cooking.

Lava sees and hears everything: squirrels darting up the trees, children shouting as they play on the swings, dogs, bicyclists and strollers. Some people say “Good morning” while others avoid getting too close. No matter. Lava dutifully continues her pace without getting distracted by the environment. I praise her as we move, and sometimes we find a bench where she rests and enjoys some extra petting.

I feel brave when I am with Lava. I don’t have to see what is lurking within the pockets of shadows and light. She takes me right through them without hesitation. She remembers where the bench I like to sit on is located, and she knows the correct doors to enter at the restaurants I frequent.

She stops at curbs or stairs to alert me or uses the flat part of a curb so we don’t have to stop. When we go to a restaurant or go shopping, she patiently waits for hours while I talk to my friends or look at items to purchase.

I am so grateful for my lovely Lava that at times I am overwhelmed with emotion. It is a gift I treasure, and I am content to explore my new world with this amazing companion.

— Marlene Dunaway, a Davis resident, lost her vision about three years ago. Because she wanted to remain independent, she left home and attended a school for the blind in Albany for seven months. There, she learned many skills, including mobility and cane travel, which enabled her to get Lava from Guide Dogs for the Blind. She has had Lava for a year.

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