tribute to Tovi
by James Barnes H91
Recently I had to retire my dog guide, Tovi, because of his health. He
has gone to his retirement home, a very nice family in Milwaukee,
and I wont be visiting. That would just confuse him.
In February 2002 I shall return to the Seeing Eye at Morristown, New Jersey,
to train with a worthy canine successor. Meanwhile, I want to try to put
into words what Tovi means to me.
I acquired Tovi in 1992, and he had just turned eleven years old when
I parted with him. A sense of confidence filled me whenever we both set
forth from the house or a College building. I knew that Tovi would take
me wherever I wanted to go with no complaint or hesitation. That included
all kinds of weather. In fact, he was especially capable of plodding through
deep snow, taking me around banks of snow piled up by plows, or stopping
if it was so deep that his chin practically rested on the bank. Then wed
both climb over it, cross the street, and be on our merry way again.
Tovi had an uncanny way of sizing up a situation ahead of us. Perhaps
it was a childs bike on the sidewalk, or maybe a tree limb had come
down overnight. Most dogs would take you up to the obstacle and stop,
awaiting your further instructions to go left or right. Tovi rarely broke
stride but just took me around the barrier.
At home and off-duty, he made a wonderful family pet. Although perpetually
hungry because I kept him on a strict diet, he rarely snitched food from
a kitchen counter or our dining table. Miraculously, he did not chew things,
even when there were stray shoes or toys or other objects on the floor.
To be sure he had a preference for discarded tissues.
Over the years since the time I secured my first dog guide, Kim,
in 1958Ive come to realize how much of my personality and
style as a blind person is wrapped up with my use of a dog. Of course,
many blind people get very good using a cane to get around. But with a
cane, your attention is fixed on locating and avoiding an object thats
in the way. With Tovi, I was often unaware the object was even there.
You learn to trust your dog, and you also learn when the dog is goofing
off and you need to tell him to pay attention. My third dog, Rita, for
instance, accompanied me to a faculty luncheon where Connie Moore had
put her lunch bag down on the floor. Rita helped herself to the dessert!
You can even get situations where youre passing a child eating an
ice cream cone and the dog, without breaking stride, will take a lick
of it. Youre not really aware of it until the child howls.
But Tovi, to my knowledge, never slurped a toddlers ice cream cone.
I trusted him very quickly when we first trained together. With Tovi,
walking was relaxing. There is nothing so exhilarating as briskly walking
down a sidewalk with no care in the world, and concentrating instead on
my thoughts or the warm sun on my face or the chirp of springtime birds.
He gave me the freedom to enjoy those moments.
So heres to you Tovi, for all that you did and all that you continue
to mean to me.
Jim Barnes is professor of history at Wabash College. He will be training
with his new guide dog as soon as he returns from Colorado and a week
of cross-country skiing.
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