Musket as a Puppy
Musket: “I was born along with three other puppies in the breeding kennels at Guide Dogs for the Blind on August 27, 2000. My parents were Mitch and Iris. Mom was great, Plenty of nipples for all of us. But even then I was the greedy one.
Mom had to cut me off because I was always at her. Some things never change. I was named by the breeders at the school. All the puppies born in a particular month were given names with the same first letter. I have a sister named Miami. I don’t know why they chose ‘Musket’ but I think it was a cool name. When I was a few weeks old they decided I would be best as a working dog, not breeding stock so they…wow, I can’t even talk about it without shuddering. Well, they neutered me. Never asked me what I thought about it, just ‘snip snip’ and that was it. ‘Sorry pup, your future doesn’t include humping other dogs. Maybe in your next life.’ Birth control in one easy lesson.
Then I was given to Mommy Carrie, a nice lady from Sacramento who raised me. She took me everywhere with her, taught me basic obedience, and helped me become acclimated to lots of different public environments. She took me on buses, trains, into stores, restaurants, offices and everywhere. I’ll tell you more about her later.
When I was about nine months old, she brought me back to Guide Dogs where I was tested and given a very thorough medical exam. I was deemed in good shape so I started guide work training. The instructors taught me to work with the harness, learn the commands, to steer my handler around obstacles and keep him safe. After I completed the training I was tested. Of course I passed with flying colors, then back to the kennels. Months went by waiting to be given to a student. Soon many of my kennel mates had gone away. They all got new mommies or daddies. I was wondering what was wrong with me. Wasn’t I a good guide? Didn’t I ace the test? Wasn’t I cute enough? Who was going to take me home? Every meal I ate was the same, and it all tasted bland. Maybe I was destined to stay there forever and sleep on concrete.
One day a trainer took me into the dormitory. There I met this man.
He wasn’t any different from anybody else I’d met in the last year. He was just another face, another human smell. They all smell different. Sometimes the scent is sharp, especially if they’re excited. And this man smelled that way. He was nice and rubbed me behind my ear. But I didn’t know who he was. I was waiting for someone to come and take me back to the kennels and the cold concrete. Just another day at Guide Dogs.
We went to dinner together, but again I thought it was another part of the training. I guess I shouldn’t have jumped over the bed, but he didn’t seem to be mad, just amused. He called me ‘little buddy’ and played with me, which was nice.
The hours passed and no one came to take me back.
Later that afternoon he filled a bowl with food and put it in front of me. Then the light went on in my head. That was my bowl. Mine.
This was him. This was my new daddy! I had a daddy and I was going to have a home. I ate my food and it tasted wonderful. That night I slept on a warm soft mat next to my daddy for the first time. My new life had begun.
Virginia Piper was an O & M instructor. She was an excellent teacher, helping me to be confident with the cane. I could walk safely in any suburban, urban or rural environment, relying on my other senses. She saved my life, and I don’t say that lightly. She always walked behind me while I took a wrong turn and found myself unable to figure out where I was. Then I heard her sweet-as-pie voice, lightly garnished with sarcasm and just a pinch of professional concern. “What have we here?”
How could I not succeed with support like that?
I’m sure everybody knows blind people develop good hearing, smell, touch, and so on.
In my case it didn’t do squat for my hearing. But I learned to maximize my sense of smell and touch.
Listening at an intersection, the sounds told me which way traffic was moving, either parallel or perpendicular to my route of travel. I could hear the difference between ‘all clear’ and ‘all quiet’ before crossing a residential street.
In the years to come Virginia Piper always came to the CSUN Expo with several of her students when I attended for work.
We met for lunch at Denny’s and talked about our lives and the good times when she was trying to get me killed while I was learning to use the cane.
No, seriously,Virginia was proud of what I’ve done.
And she was pretty fond of Musket too. In fact, I owe my success with Musket toVirginia. I know she’ll read this so from the bottom of my heart, MissVirginia, thank you.
Musket: “Me too, Miss Virginia. Thank you for keeping my daddy alive. And for slipping me those fries the last time we went to lunch.”
A ‘Blind’ Pilot?
The 5-hour flight from San Diego to Chicago was uneventful, with the usual salty peanuts and soft drinks. They offered Musket water, which he eagerly drank. He was thirsty from the dry cabin air.
Musket: “I was getting bored and stiff, and one of the attendants asked if I might to stretch my legs. Daddy said that would be great and the attendant let me walk down the long aisle. I made lots of new friends.
When the attendant took Musket for a walk at 30,000 feet I heard the other passengers exclaiming about how beautiful and well-behaved he was. We just smiled.
Finally we descended into the approach for Chicago’s Midway Airport.
We’-d asked that someone be at the gate to escort Musket and me through security and outside so he could relieve himself. He’d been holding it for at least six hours, reduced food or not.
The flight attendants complimented us on our wonderful dog.
Then we hit the first snag.
The girl waiting for us at the gate had a wheelchair. “Mr. Carlson?”
Jane and I both sighed. “Yes,” I said. “I need someone to escort me past security.”
She didn’t get it. “Why?”
I indicated Musket, who was crossing his legs and clenching his teeth. “Because he has to go and it will take too long for me to find the way outside. We have to catch another flight in 45 minutes.”
The girl didn’t know what to do.
Then a wonderful thing happened.
A United Airlines Captain came over. “Hello, I overheard what you were saying. Can I help? What’s his name?”
“His name is Musket.”
He was very nice. Jane explained the situation. He smiled and said he had an idea. “Do you think he’d go with me? I can take him down to the tarmac. Will he go there?”
What did we have to lose? I told the pilot Musket would follow him.
“Hey Musket,” he said, a definite dog lover.
Musket: “He was really nice and said he liked Labradors. I took to him right away. His uniform was dark and clean and I was aching to shed on it.
Daddy told him what to say to me and we went off. He took me through the terminal, past crowds of people. I don’t know why they were all staring at us.”
Imagine it. An airline pilot in uniform wearing sunglasses, walking through an airport terminal with a Guide dog.
Ah, I wish I could have seen it.
And some people probably wish they hadn’t.
Musket: “We went through a door and down some stairs and outside.
The concrete was hot, dry and very big. “Do your business, Musket,” he told me. And boy did I! Peed so much it looked like a lake. But it felt soooooo good. I’m glad I made a new friend.”
Where no Guide Dog has Gone Before
The museum hosted the 40th Anniversary Gala of the December 1968 flight of Apollo 8. Over a dozen of NASA’s most famous personages attended, including Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 8.
Musket and I were invited to be VIP Docents, a true honor. Along with David Hardy, we escorted the gray-haired dignitaries through the collection.
A short man with a Texas accent came up to me and asked to meet Musket.
I happily said yes and the older gentleman, whom I didn’t know, knelt down to say hello. Musket recognized a dog lover right away. His tail beat against my legs.
“He’s very mellow and nice,’ the man said, stroking Musket’s fur. “Very friendly dog.” He said it as ‘dawg.’
“Yes, he is.”
Finally I asked him his name.
“Alan Bean,” he said, shaking my hand. “Glad to meet you, Mark.”
I gasped. “It’s really nice to meet you too, Captain. Welcome to the museum.”
Al Bean was the fourth man to walk on the Moon with Pete Conrad on Apollo 12, and the commander of the Skylab 3 crew, which stayed in space for 59 days in 1973. Today he’s a respected artist of moonscapes and Apollo history.
But at that moment Al Bean, astronaut and artist was a new friend of Musket.
Musket: “He said, ‘I’m sorry Musket I don’t have any treats for you,’ but Daddy took care of that. Daddy seemed real excited about meeting him, but Al was just a nice older man who gave me a treat.”
The press was there, and of course Musket made the news again. He was recovering from some surgery and didn’t have his harness on, instead wearing a red shirt which said ‘Who’s Your Santa?’ Need proof? Go to Youtube and type: ‘Apollo 8 40th Anniversary.’ You’ll hit the video shot by the museum and there is my crazy Guide dog in his Christmas shirt.
Musket: “Daddy was using his cane that day and I was on leash. It felt strange but all my friends from the museum were glad to see I was doing well. There were a lot of cameras and people moving around. I thought they were there to see me.”
The crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders did a re-creation of their famous reading from Genesis on Christmas Day 1968 while in orbit around the Moon.
Musket and I were witness to this historic moment and it sent chills up my spine.
The Star Trek Exhibition was at the museum then, with props and artifacts from all the series and movies. The centerpiece was a full-scale set of the Starship Enterprise bridge. The Apollo astronauts were like kids, sitting in Captain Kirk’s chair and having their pictures taken.
Gene Cernan came over and said hello to me and Musket, and while talking to him I bumped into another man. “Sorry,” I said, moving aside. I asked, “Who is this?”
Cernan smiled. “Neil Armstrong.”
Armstrong held out his hand and I shook it.
Musket and I, on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, met the first man to walk on the Moon, standing next to the last man to walk on the Moon.
Ain’t life grand?
Musket: “Mr. Armstrong was polite but my friend Gene was happy to see me. Daddy for some reason was very quiet.”
An Amazing Dog
The AT Expo was another annual event focusing mainly on mobility and durable medical equipment.
The most memorable moment was when a little girl perhaps five years old with Cerebral Palsy came over in her tiny wheelchair. Her mother was with her and asked, “Can she meet your dog?”
“Sure she can,” I said, dropping his harness and kneeling beside Musket.
The little girl reached out a shaking hand. Musket sniffed it, probably hoping for food. Then he moved closer and without missing a beat, started giving her slurpy kisses. She giggled, and then laughed. She was in love. She kept laughing as he kissed her. Her mother said, tears in her eyes. “He’s wonderful.”
“Yes, he is,” I agreed, deeply moved. A small crowd had gathered, smiling and taking pictures.
“Can I ask you something?”
“How can I get an Assistance dog for her?”
I smiled. “I’ll be glad to help you. I have lots of contacts with Assistance animal schools and I can give you some referrals.” I gave her my card.
“She’s really young, but do you think a dog could help her?”
“Let me see what schools work with children when I get back to San Diego.”
Musket was finally done washing the tyke’s face, and I gave her a treat to give him. He took it, earning more laughs.
Her mother thanked me and they moved on. I was still wiping my eyes and gave Musket a kiss on his head. What an amazing dog.
Musket: “She was sweet. I liked her. She had ice cream on her face so I washed it off. I’m glad I made her happy.”