We arrived at Oberlin College & Conservatory, guided by our GPS, after dark on a Sunday after driving from Chicago. The contrast with the big city was startling at first. We felt like we were way out in the middle of nowhere, it was pitch dark, and we had no idea where we were staying.
We found the hotel easily enough -- right across the street from campus. The Oberlin Inn proved graciously accommodating and moderately priced. The next morning, while Betsy (with mom Cathy) made the rounds of the admissions office, took a campus tour, and also met with some professors, Sparkle, little Josh and I mostly hung out in the historic Tappan Square and circled the campus a few times. I was impressed with the friendly intimacy of the campus and the quaint town, which are connected by the grassy, tree-shaded square. And Oberlin is not out in the middle of nowhere, it's about a half-hour from Cleveland.
As the hours stretched on, it was great exposure for Sparkle exploring the college neighborhood. After Betsy was finished, we ate a late lunch at a downtown cafe, then took a final tour around Tappan Square, which was named after Arthur Tappan, an abolitionist who helped keep the college financially afloat in its early years.
While daughter Betsy and I attended the admissions open house in the morning, my wife, Cathy, took Sparkle and young Josh around campus and ventured into the adjoining Hyde Park neighborhood, where they scouted out a likely lunch spot.
After Betsy and I took the student-led tour, we all met up and ate on a sidewalk patio outside a row of shops and restaurants while Sparkle rested placidly at our feet. Since there was a rather high wall around our table, I don't think any of the other diners were even aware of Sparkle's presence. I doubt anyone would have minded anyway, because the mood was rather laid-back and affable.
Later, everyone else begged off to explore an intriguing bookstore that we passed, so I took Sparkle solo and toured all around campus, admiring the buildings and meticulously kept grounds.
While Betsy met with admissions officers and faculty early in the day, Sparkle and I circled the immediate buildings and did a little exploring in town.
Later, we all took a long walk around campus, venturing down to the campus beach and the lake. Classes had not started yet, so the setting was quite serene, unlike the hustle and bustle at Purdue, where school was already in session.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, we joined the puppy-raiser club on an excursion on the Wilmington & Western Railroad in Delaware that was great fun for everyone as well as solid exposure for the Seeing Eye pups.
Sparkle enjoyed the leisurely ride through the leafy countryside and behaved well. Some of the pups were a bit balky about climbing on and off the train and needed some encouragement. Sparkle went down carefully and smoothly, but getting back on after our half-hour picnic break at Mount Cuba, she made a huge leap up the stairs.
She had no problems walking through the crowded train station and meeting up with the other pups.
After Sparkle got bitten through the backyard fence by a dog visiting next door Sunday evening, we whisked her over to the emergency vet and had her lip sutured. (If you are a pet owner, it's prudent to know ahead where the nearest 24/7 vet hospital is and to keep the phone number handy.)
Unfortunately, Sparkle's sutures pulled out a day later. A decision had to be made. Would the vet make another try? Cathy and Betsy e-mailed photos of the wound to the Seeing Eye, and the staff veterinarians studied the close-ups before deciding that a re-suturing would be too difficult and prone to failure. It will be allowed to heal by itself.
This morning, I took Sparkle back to the local vet and had the remains of the sutures removed. She still has a suture on her nose, so we'll be going back next week to have that removed, and she is still wearing the clunky Elizabethan cone collar. She'll be taking it easy the next week, and hopefully, when we go back out with her, she'll still be the same confident, eager pup.
On Sunday afternoon, we went on a relaxing train excursion in Delaware with the puppy club (more on that later) and were puttering around after dinner in the backyard. Our next-door neighbor was having some friends over. Unbeknownst to us, a large dog from down the street was turned out in his backyard. Sparkle went over to the fence line, to say hi presumably, and let out a sharp yelp of pain. I looked over to see her running back toward the house, trembling with fear.
A quick examination revealed she had blood in her mouth, and her lip was split from her nose down to her mouth. We called a nearby 24/7 vet clinic and got her over there quickly. The vet checked her out, stitched her lip, and kept her overnight.
She seemed to be coping OK with the recovery, wearing one of those clunky halo collars that dogs hate so much, but this morning I noticed that the stitches had come free. I drove her back over to the vet, and she confirmed that the stitches had pulled free through the skin.
On our trip to the Midwest last week (well-timed: we missed an earthquake and a hurricane), we stopped in at Cathy's alma mater, Purdue University, and visited old friends. Betsy, a high school senior, is touring colleges, and Sparkle is along for the ride.
Sparkle got in a wide-ranging tour of the sprawling campus, and with school back in session, there was plenty of hustle and bustle. She handled it all with grace and good humor. She went through the bookstore, football stadium and athletic center, and we ate lunch at outdoor tables while she quietly relaxed at our feet. We made sure she had plenty of fresh water, of course.
It was a beautifully clear and mild late-summer day, perfect for just strolling the campus and taking in all the sights and sounds (including a marching band in full swing). Outside the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, Sparkle seemed to really hit it off with the big man on campus himself. An even bigger man, of course, was the Purdue Boilermaker statue.
The morning after we returned from vacation with Sparkle, the Seeing Eye's area puppy coordinator called and said she would soon be at our house to award Sparkle her green vest. It signifies a significant achievement - that Sparkle is no longer a young puppy but is now an up-and-coming future guide dog who has mastered basic commands.
Sparkle seemed to grasp the important of the visit as well, proudly donning her vest and sitting attentively for the Seeing Eye's Christine Higham. The vest is to be worn with discretion, solely when we take Sparkle into places generally off-limits for dogs.
It was a proud moment, particularly when I think of the difference she could make in giving freedom and mobility to a blind or sight-impaired person. Will she make it all the way? We won't know for sure until she completes her training at the Seeing Eye later next year, but this is one gifted pup. Stay tuned!
Joining the family on a trip to southern Indiana, Sparkle takes to the water (a bit gingerly) and hangs out with Duke, the resident yellow Lab at the cousins' place.
Sparkle did superbly on the long drive out and has been enjoying the chance to go off-leash on some great romps with Duke. She also really enjoys riding in the big four-wheel-drive Ford pickup (upfront, of course!) while Duke can just hop in the back country-style.
It's great exposure for Sparkle as she swims in a pond and then walks with us along a rocky creek. It's been much drier in the Midwest than around Philly, so the creek is very low and we can walk from rock to rock while Sparkle and Duke wade through the shallow pools. This is what summer is all about!
The club leaders put the pups and their handlers through their paces once a month at a neighborhood church. When the weather is inviting, we head out into the back parking lot where there's plenty of room to maneuver.
After the puppy-circle training session, we head inside to the fellowship hall for our meeting, where we plan out activities such as field trips and school visits and share any "puppy news" from the Seeing Eye. That news involves the pups that have gone back for training and whether they are graduating, have been placed with a blind person, or perhaps are assigned another job. Some even go to law enforcement for airport safety patrol or other non-aggressive duties. As the Seeing Eye says: "Every dog has his destiny."