Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shame, Shame on Them

I’m certain my sighted friends and family have wondered how I deal with disability discrimination when it occurs. For the most part, situations present themselves and then rectify themselves without much effort on my part once I call attention to it. Occasionally, however, a situation presents an ongoing and frustrating set of circumstances, like the one I will describe below.

Last month, after starting a new job counseling in a community based mental health clinic, it was recommended that I read a specific book. This book was provided free of charge to our clients, their families and mental health professionals at the clinic. Since I couldn’t read the book in the current format available, (printed material), I contacted the publisher and the author asking for a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, I asked if there was a chance a recorded version could be made and in the interim, perhaps I could be sent the text files of the book so I could read it with my equipment.

In short, the foundation who funded the publication of the book said no and they would not consider a recorded version due to the fact that only one other person asked for it to be recorded. The co-authors asserted that they would not agree to offer the text files as an alternative, stating “…We will not release our text files for individual use.”, which is a form of discrimination if the person asking for an alternative format can prove he/she cannot access the primary materials in the current format. A publisher must, under ADA policy, offer an alternative if one is requested

As it stands, I’ve sent the letter and don’t really know what to do next. I could let it go, but these folks need to know that refusing my request is unacceptable.
Anyway, read on and remember the last line whenever you’re faced with an uncompromising attitude.

To All Concerned;

Let me preface this by stating that I am also a writer and would not allow unauthorized individuals to exploit any of my own work. But I am not attempting to do that with my request. I’m only trying to obtain “equal” access to this particular book. I hope you can appreciate my perspective as I’ve acknowledged yours. I respect and admire the sacrifices undertaken to create and distribute this book and that is why I’m writing this letter. Your book is an essential and valuable tool for ****s, their families, and the general public and should be available to everyone, not just those with vision.

Going forward, what follows this introduction typifies the struggles I face living in a sighted world. I would ask you all to put yourself in my shoes. I am a mental health professional who happens to be blind, assisting combat ****s and their families, some of these ***s may also be blind or visually impaired. I require access to this book in order to help them. I have reached out; put my disability in the forefront in hopes of achieving the goal of finding a cooperative attitude regarding my legitimate request. Imagine my surprise when I’m informed that my request is not going to be granted even though it is the law.

But, let’s go back to my original suggestion, that providing the computer generated text files would be more accessible and most likely cost little or nothing but a few clicks on a mouse in a word processing program and one or two compact discs. If I am wrong, please tell me.
What cost or copyright risk would it be to just send a text file via email? Or burn the text based files onto a disc? I’d pay for the disc and mailing costs just like a regular print book and it would not infringe on the author’s copyright because it’s for my personal use. For proof of this, go to or Barnes & and look at the eBooks just waiting for distribution. Publishers and authors alike seem to have no trouble with releasing books in alternative formats. Additionally, you would be in control of what goes on the disc, including your copyright and the ISBN number, which is your protection from unauthorized distribution of the disc. It is the same as a hard copy book, just in an electronic format.

Incidentally, what would stop a person with your hard copy book from scanning it and making copies for others? Isn’t that what you mean by limiting access to your files?
Going one step further, the entire book could be scanned saved and distributed electronically for people with print disabilities without being a copyright infringement. Just go to What would that cost?

My next thought was, do I need to quote ADA Code and access Laws to obtain equal access to your book? Would you turn away a **** requesting the same consideration?
I think you need to think about your decisions and what they mean to someone like me.
What if I was a disabled **** who could no longer see print? Would I be unable to access your book, which, by the way, was meant for ****s and professionals assisting them? Is the fact that I am blind the single remaining factor in not being able to read your book? If the answer is yes, then that is against ADA policy and a form of discrimination.

“Sorry, we can’t do that.” Just isn’t good enough.

You see, from my line of thought, I don’t believe, even without quoting ADA law, that you can remain a barrier to my request. It would be really disappointing to know that something I know is available to only those with sight is not available to me just because I’m blind.

It’s been 20 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and yet there is a barrier where one would least expect it. I hope you reconsider your hesitation, and, I will send you the internet links to whatever ADA documents you request about literature for the blind and physically handicapped, once I gather the information.

Sometimes the most difficult barrier isn’t a curb or a set of stairs, it’s an attitude.


Ann Chiappetta

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Short Fiction

Surprise Visitor
© 2007 By Ann Chiappetta

I helped Linda in with the last bag of clothing, placing it beside the others in the small bedroom of her new apartment. I looked around at what we’d brought in; all she had was a bed, a table, a computer, and a few boxes of personal things. I wished I had enough money to start her out the right way but I didn’t and even if I did, she probably wouldn’t want it anyway. Linda was proud and didn’t accept charity, not even from her own brother.
“Well, I got my work out for the day.” I said, wiping the sweat off with the arm of my tee shirt. The apartment was on the second floor of an eight unit brownstone in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, close to her new job. A long way from Katonah, I thought, but it was a nice enough area. Linda made the decision to move from up county because she wanted to be independent. Mom and Dad, however, tried to talk her out of it but she moved anyway, saying,
“How can I live my life when I can’t even get to work on my own?”
The truth was that our parents didn’t know how to let go, to deal with Linda’s disability. She and I talked about our parents facing the truth, that they both struggled with what it meant to have a blind daughter. Despite mom and dad’s difficulty accepting her vision loss, Linda wanted to get out on her own, just like any other college grad. She met her blindness head-on, with courage and perseverance. I wished mom and dad could do it, too, but they weren’t ready.
Linda rummaged through a box marked KITCHEN and found two cups. She rinsed them off, filled them with water,and handed one to me.
“I hear it’s the best water in New York state.” She said. Grinning.
“”Here’s to your new place, Cheers.” I replied, touching her cup with mine toasting the occasion.
“Thanks, Danny.” She said, “I couldn’t have done this all without you.”
“I would be insulted if you didn’t ask, baby sister.” I said, hugging her. “I’m so proud of you.”
I drank another cup of water, watching Linda unpack the rest of the items from the box thinking about how much she had overcome. She started losing her vision in high school, the retinal disease progressing until she was left with only a small portion of her sight. It was a long, hard road for Linda, but she walked it and now stood in her own apartment, sparsely furnished but all her own nonetheless.
I went to the nearest pizza place and brought back dinner, then went home.
I was opening the door to my apartment when my cell rang. It was Linda
“Danny, you’re not going to believe this but I think there’s a bat in my bedroom.”
“A what?”
I suppressed a laugh but she must’ve heard the little bit that escaped into the phone
“Stop laughing, Danny, it’s not funny. You know how I feel about those disgusting furry things.’
I closed and locked my apartment door and headed back to my car.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, just stay out of the room and call the super.”
An hour later, we stood at the bedroom door listening to the bat flapping around, its leathery wings fluttering against the walls as if desperate to find a way out.
“Okay, Linda, I’m going to turn the light back on and hope it lands somewhere where we can find it.” I cracked the door open reached in and switched on the light.
Linda crossed her arms and shivered,
“Yuck, I will never understand your attraction to all those furry, slimy animals.”
“I got them just to torture you with them.” I teased, “Besides, I don’t see what’s so slimy about hamsters or bats. They have fur, not scales.”
“Danny, just get the darned thing out of here, okay? I’m going to make some coffee.” She went back into the kitchen, shaking her head in disgust.
I searched the room for twenty minutes but all I could find was a small hole near the radiator. It was big enough for a bat or rodent to squeeze through. I stuffed the hole with a couple of steel wool pads held in place by duct tape. The super would have to plaster the hole but my temporary seal would suffice until then. I tried looking for the bat again and finally found it in the back of the closet. I missed it before because it was only about four inches long and its grey fur blended in with the shadows. I got a towel and threw it over the bat, then I put it in an old shoe box Linda gave me earlier. I carefully poked a few holes in it for air and carried it out to the living area.
Linda was on the phone,
“… I said I’m being chased around by a bat. B-A-T. Okay, thanks, good bye.” She put away her cell phone and turned to me, “Is it in the box?”
I nodded, “Did you call someone to come get it?” I asked.
“Yes, they’re sending a patrol car.”
I almost dropped the box when the banging at the door began,
“Police, open the door.” Came a muffled bellow.
Linda froze. I went to the door and looked through the peephole. Sure enough, there was not one but four officers waiting to be let in and they looked like they meant business.
I opened the door and they rushed in, two of them covering me, one of them covering Linda and one checking the other rooms.
, “We got a call there was someone being chased with a bat.” Said the lead officer, eyeing me.
Linda and I burst out laughing. I held up the box.
“The bat’s in here.” I said, then began laughing again. The officer took the box from me and peeked inside, then he handed it back,
“Holy cow, the sergeant isn’t going to believe this.” He put away his baton and nodded to his fellow officers,
“Hay boys, you’d better come look at this.”
Ten minutes later, officer Halaran shook my hand and grinned,
“Danny, we’re going to be telling this story for months. The other three officers were still chuckling as they left.
Linda thanked them and closed the door but there was another knock. She opened it, finding the super standing there, a confused look on his face,
“Did the cops get the guy with the bat?”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Tribute to Verona

The Booty Dilemma
By Ann Chiappetta
Inspired by Verona, the guide dog
November 2010

Yes, it’s that time of year again, so dust off those fleece lined boots and air out your winter coats, gloves and hats. Don’t forget the lip balm and sunglasses for chapped skin and snow glare.

While we’re on the subject of winter accoutrements for the two-footed species, being a dog owner and most importantly, a guide dog handler, I am reminded to make sure Verona has her winter outerwear as well.

The type of doggie gear I am referring to is the dreaded booties. I don’t think any dog likes them, but rather, dogs tolerate them. Some dogs refuse to wear them. Verona, thankfully, is putting up with them, preferring them to the ice crusting between her toes. Brrr, sounds uncomfortable, right? So, then why do dogs dislike booties? Why, if they are above the grade in intelligence because they are guide dogs, can’t they at least embrace the booties?

This is what I say to Verona when she assumes a defeated posture whenever I bring out her footwear and ask for a paw.
First, the tail drops, then the head droops and the ears hang low, and finally, dejectedly, she picks up her foot and turns her head away from me as if to say she is philosophically opposed to her pretty, insulated red booties. I tell her that I love the fact that her red footwear matches my red coat, and, isn’t that great? She tells me she isn’t moved by my cajoling by keeping her head turned away and sighing.

If that isn’t bad enough, she assumes the duck walk, which is very humiliating for a dignified Labrador. I realized how much she disliked her booties by the mere fact that she will not take the proffered treat after a paw insertion. Thankfully, after ten minutes or so, the duck walk becomes a prance and the tail and head return to almost normal as we tromp outside into the cold, wet, salt sprinkled weather,
“It’s better than cold feet, right?”
I say to her as the wind whips past my collar and stings my face and cheeks. She shakes and I wish I could read her thoughts. My mothering instincts know that her ears are getting colder by the minute. I wonder if someone has considered inventing doggie ear muffs, and if I could get her to wear them.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

love the new job

Okay, so it's going on a month that I'm working for the VA. It's been great so far and I know that I'll be able to finally get my lisence and move forward with my plans for the future. I need to say, however, that my heart is also in a good place, as I feel that I can provide, in a small way, the compassion and understanding Vets deserve for protecting our freedom.

Let me go even further and state that underneath I'm a fervent patriot and over the years since 9/11I've felt pulled apart by the current deployments in which our Nation has become involved; this galvanizes my effort to support the men and women coming back . I can't make the government change anything firsthand but I can do my part for our society individually by doing what I can and that's why I love what I do. So, for me its all about serving and purpose and helping others.

Okay, off the soap box.

Now, on to Verona: she has become an unofficial therapy dog when not in harness. She understands when it's time to work for me and when it's time to give to others. It's an amazing thing. Just the other day a Vet was hanging out by my door and I could tell she wanted to ask me something, as she was hesitating. So i asked if she wanted to come in and say hi to Verona and she came straight in and Ro went over and put her head in the woman's lap. It was just ten minutes but I could tell that when she got up to leave, the Vet was less stressed out and for that I am glad Ro could help.

So, I know we're in the right place. It's like coming home.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Moving on

Yes, I'm moving on to ...another job. Actually, Verona and I will be moving on to assist returning Veterans and their families by providing mental health support for readjustment to civillian life. I will be commuting to White Plains, NY, our County seat. The commute to Northwest Yonkers was long and I'm glad to be closer to home. It's probably the same distance, however, it's not across County, thank goodness; a feat which Westchester public transportation authorities haven't figured out how to make easily attainable without it taking 2 hours to go 10 miles. Anyway, I'll be in the hub of activity while also having flexibility on how to get there.

The other great part about this opportunity is that I will finally be able to obtain my family therapy license and most likely sit for my exam next year.

So, I've waited five years and have been rewarded. I can't wait to dig in and get to work.

What I'm leaving is some of the most determined folks I've met in a long time. Specifically, Scott Smith, who, as my acting supervisor, has taught me that a person is foremost and his/her disability secondary. I want to print him a t-shirt that says, "people First", because that's what he promoted by just being himself. He is often held prisoner by his body but hismind and spirit carry on and working with Scott inspired me each and every day. We shared a lot about our love of writing, assessing and assisting folks with mental health/peer counseling and he never discouraged my dream of one day becoming a therapist. Three years later, I'm doing what I was born to do and he has wished me well unselfishly, caringly and with professional dignity.
I'll miss it but it feels like I've graduated from middle school to high school.

Well, time to wrap up thislong post by saying I'm also grateful to those who listened to me bitch and kept a supportive and caring attitude. Smiles and wags from Annie and ro.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

summer Trip 2010

Pennsylvania Here We Come
August 27-September 3, 2010

We left New Rochelle in our new Toyota truck, packed the bed and hoped for the best. I wanted our trip to be rain-free, something we haven’t managed to avoid in years. My prayers were answered, however, and blue skies prevailed as we drove south to the George Washington bridge. The extended cab held my husband, who drove, two large teenagers, myself, and my Labrador with less room than I would have liked, but we didn’t complain. I wished the dog had more room, though.

Our first stop was two days at the Roadway Inn, 25 miles from the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair on the grounds of the Mount Hope Winery. It differed from the festival in Tuxedo, N.Y. for two reasons: the first being that it was spread out on much larger grounds and it was much cooler due to the many shade trees. We hung out with the Queen’s Militia, who were very nice to us and gave us a personal tour of the musketry and defense pikes used during the time. One made eight pence a day, no raises. One also had to have at least two opposing teeth to join the Guard, as it was often that the lead balls could be too large and one had to ground them down by biting on them. Lead poisoning, anyone? Huzzah!

I also learned that wool was the best outerwear because it didn’t catch fire easily when the powder threw hot embers back upon the shooter when firing. Same went for the wide brimmed, wool felt hats that protected the shooter’s hair and face from powder burns.

We listened to minstrels and attended a sword swallowing show. We couldn’t get a good seat for the mud pit show, so we lounged on the grass until the smut show began. What a hoot that one was, the actors were very naughty, indeed. We visited the glass blowers booth and purchased some jewelry and spent a hour in the weaponry store. My son drooled over the war ax and my husband saw a replica claymore he wanted but felt was too heavy to lug around unless it was strapped to his back. I looked for but didn’t find a Lady’s dirk and said no to the spiked brass knuckles my daughter wanted.

My husband and I tasted the home brewed ales and purchased an assorted case and a few bottles of wine for souvenirs on the way out.

After two nights at the Roadway Inn, we packed up and headed west to the Kampgrounds of America’s Pine Grove site where we reserved a one bedroom deluxe cabin. What a lovely campground. The amenities included a walk in swimming pool with water slide, restaurant, store, laundry, dog park, and clean, new cabins with propane grill, front and back porches, air conditioning and a full bathroom. The kitchen area had a small fridge and sink with hot/cold water and plenty of counter/cabinet space for our five night stay. My daughter slept in the loft, my son took the floor on an air mattress, and we had the queen sized bed. My only complaint was that the bed was too hard. We did need to bring our own linens/pillows but since we had the truck and extra packing space, it wasn’t an inconvenience. In fact, it was kind of nice to have my own pillows from home.

Another hidden perk was that we didn’t bring a television and instead played board games, cards, read books, and listened to the ball games on a radio. We talked and joked with the kids and just enjoyed one another. My guide dog, Verona, loved sunning herself on the porch and watching the chipmunks frolic. I never even needed to put her on a tie out, she never left the porch without permission. What a good girl! Daily obedience pays off.

Monday we shopped and settled in and Tuesday we set out early for Hershey Park. It was too hot to stay more than a few hours, but we did manage to get in four rides and an excellent sour cherry slushy. Yum. The best ride was the slingshot like roller coaster, STORM RUNNER, which hit speeds of over 70 m.p.h. and left you weightless on the two drops and slammed you into your seat with serious g force on take off. I’ve been on a lot of coasters and this one is in my top five. For the most part, any of the swinging coasters where your feet dangle are the best thrill for the money. But this one was truly scary for the less indoctrinated. We witnessed one rider go off crying and another chicken out.

It was so hot that Verona had to put on her booties to protect her feet. A woman stopped me to ask where I got her slippers. Another woman thought the lavender color looked great with her black coat. My kids kept far ahead of me, teenaged mortification propelling them forward even in the blistering heat. They think that it’s “weird” to be with me when everyone is commenting on the guide dog’s cute shoes. . Verona’s obvious discomfort, my overheated head and The smell of hot tar made me wonder why we came during the day and not at night. Next time, we’ll try going at sunset.

Wednesday we drove into Intercourse and dropped some dollars at the canning store, purchasing, among other things, stuffed sweet peppers, strawberry rhubarb jam, Peanut cream, and marinated mushrooms. We also stocked up on my favorite brand of sweet bologna and strolled around Kettle Village until it got too hot.

Before leaving the cabin, we entered our reflections in the cabin’s journal and read over the other entries, some of which were written by the dogs who stayed there with his/her families. No wonder Verona liked it so much.

I finally tasted and very much liked homemade whoopee pies, purchased from a local Amish farmer selling them in front of a winery. Devil dogs just don’t compare to hand whipped whoopee pie filling.
As we drove back over the GW bridge towards home, I thought of the things we didn’t do and knew we’d be back to do them next year. I’ve been to Western Pennsylvania many times since I was 6 and will return there many more times. It’s rolling hills, fresh air, farming industries, Amish folk, and historic small town charm is like a magnet and that’s why we vacation there more than any other place in the States. Our next trip will be to Gettysburg. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 6, 2010

new poem

Quiet Fall

After the Accumulation
Crack open the window
Admit the illicit cold
Like a secret lover who
Slips in over the sill

Savor The taste of cold skies
Tooth aching

The brace of damp musk
Burns nostrils like arctic smoke

An ear bent to the opening
Hears chilled perfection
the sound, ice on ice
Sweeps the ground, unreplicable

Brigid’s passionate lips
entice the glass

I close the window
End our embrace
covet the maelstrom from afar

leave the cold fire to
reclaim the world with possessivness born
of Nature and frigid Lore.


Friday, July 30, 2010

They Come From a Lesser Kingdom

They come from a lesser kingdom
By Ann Chiappetta

For me, the mystical and curious bond shared among humans and canines began with Charlie Brown, an Airedale we adopted from a local animal shelter when I was five years old. True to his namesake, he was a contradiction; wheaten fur shared real estate with shorter, wiry guard hair, giving him the appearance of fighting with an electric shaver. His ears were upright yet folded over slightly at the tips, like a Collie. He was affectionate, prone to roaming, and would do just about anything for food. But what enthralled me the most about Charlie Brown was his eyes. He had deep, luminous brown eyes that looked directly into mine. We often had staring contest that lasted minutes. At those times I felt special, like he trusted me enough to allow me into his thoughts. Little did I know that I wouldn’t find another canine who allowed me into those luminous brown depths until I met Rocki twenty years later.
* * *
We stood in the kitchen, sorting through the day, when Jerry put up his hand,
“Oh, I almost forgot—remember you wanted me to ask around about puppies?” I nodded, mentally crossing my fingers that someone at the airport had puppies to give away. It was a year since blackie had died and our youngest was old enough to appreciate a dog.
“One of the other inspectors came up to us and asked if anyone we knew wanted a puppy.”
He opened his shirt pocket and drew out a Polaroid snapshot. Before I could say anything else, I fell in love with the only pup looking up at the camera, his eyes blue-hued from the flash; a boxer-like mask covered his eyes and snout. His mostly brown sugar coloring was accented by white in the best possible places, like on his chest, neck, feet, and the tip of his tail.
“I want this one, the one looking up at the camera.”

Three weeks later we met Sue & Bob in the parking lot of our apartment complex. They set up the portable, octagon shaped baby-fence depositing the eight pups two at a time. I had to restrain the urge to hop over the fence and sit down and play with them. I saw the pup I fell for and asked about him. Sue had named him Rocky. I bent over the gate and made smooching noises. He perked up, trotted over and licked my hand. I scooped him up and he proceeded to wash my face with his soft, warm tongue. I nuzzled him, smelled his sweet puppy breath and said, “I’ll take him.”
Jerry asked Sue to point out the biggest pup and held him. The pup didn’t look happy and grunted in displeasure. He was white with black ears and mask, his huge round feet and big black nose were oddly alarming to me but I thought then that it was just because Jerry didn’t like my pup. Oh-oh, I thought, he doesn’t like the one I do. My mind raced, anticipating a stand-off. So there we stood, each with our pup, neither one willing to give in. Moments ticked by until I noticed that Sue & bob were beginning to fidget. WE looked at each other,
“Well?” I prompted, “You want that one and I want this one. Can we handle two?”
Jerry stiffened, “Two? It’s a lot of work.”
I sighed, looked once more at the other pups, and made my decision.
“If you are willing to pay their expenses, with no griping, I’m willing to do the work.”
I knew Jerry would be silently calculating how much he would have to spend in order to get his way and if it was worth the overtime and personal sacrifice. We both knew pet care was just as expensive as the health care for humans, at least in our area. But we did have one thing in common; we were both ready to welcome another dog or two into our home. Blackie’s death was especially hard on jerry and I could almost feel him hesitating.
Rocky snoozed in my arms. Gunny snoozed in Jerry’s. Our eyes met and we both shrugged,
“We’ll take both. “ He said.
We named them Rocky Balboa and Gunny Highway. During the next year, Jerry and I often told each other that we were nuts for adopting two puppies. It was usually when we were mucking up urine and feces or painting baseboards and such with bitter apple to discourage chewing. Then we would watch them play and sleep together, and we’d relent.
We did what all dog parents did; try not to get mad when Gunny chewed Jerry’s prized pair of leather boat shoes or when Gunny ate the handles off the wood cabinet. We tried to stay patient when Rocky repeatedly dribbled on Jerry’s boots every time Jerry bent over to pet him. I remember our conversation about Rocky, who had somehow become the smarter of the two. Gunny had become the challenged one, the one we felt sorry for when he resorted to the less appealing behaviors, like being afraid of loud noises, skittering supermarket bags, and leaf-blowers. Rocky, however, soon became the Golden Child, the one for whom we invested our time and emotions. Due to this, when he would submit by urinating on Jerry’s work shoes, we understandably became upset.
I don’t remember exactly when we started referring to them as “the boys” but I do recall correcting them when we went for walks. For instance, whenever they would begin to pull me in opposite directions, I’d snap the leads and chide, “Together, boys.” Hearing this, they would come together, bumping shoulders as if to get back into a better rhythm. I couldn’t help feeling like a Teamster training two miniature horses.
By their first birthday, Gunny outweighed Rocky by twenty pounds. In fact, they did not look anything like littermates. Rocky was a striking 65lb. Sheppard/boxer mix, his brown sugar and white coat neat, soft, and clean. Gunny was a shaggy white 85 lb. giant with too-small ears that flopped when he walked. His paddle like feet, deep chest, curled tail, and huge nose put him more in the sheepdog category. We called him a throwback. The few large spots which came out much later reminded me of an appaloosa’ even the hair texture was different compared to his thick, harsh white coat. In short, Gunny was a shaggy oddball, ungainly and awkward in spite of his striking white and black coloring.
The main difference, however, was in temperament; Rocky was as sweet as his brown sugar hued coat and Gunny was as contrary as his uneven and shaggy, smooth in one spot and harsh in another fur. Rocky kindly tolerated our three year hold’s precociousness by leaving the room when she became overwhelming. Gunny just wasn’t as tolerant and if my toddler got too rough, he would get up and shake her off, grumbling. Generally, though, both dogs were gentle and got along with other people and dogs.
In the fall of their sixth year, Gunny became seriously ill and we found out that he’d been suffering from chronic hypothyroidism. We began medication and a few weeks afterward, he seemed to improve. His chronic ear infections cleared, his coat came back in full, and he lost the weight he’d gained. Then, about six months after we began his treatment, he snapped at my neighbor, someone whom he’d known since he was a pup. Then he began to go after my son. We were mystified; he’d always been such a sweet dog, not at all prone to viciousness. Our vet suggested some tests which all came back inconclusive. One of our vets suggested to do some research on thyroid levels and aggression in dogs. I found a study that suggested some dogs become aggressive with the onset and treatment of thyroid disease. The study stated there was no cure for this form of aggressiveness and the best thing was to euthanize the animal. Gunny was one of the ten percent of dogs who had this reaction to the imbalance and subsequent medication. Once on the medication, Synthroid, his physical health improved but his mental health deteriorated. Once he snapped at me and bit my daughter, I told my husband we had to put him down.
Our vet did her best to find someone who could deal with him and perhaps allow him to live out his life in quiet seclusion but no such person came to his rescue. I stayed with him on that last day, feeling helpless yet relieved to know that death was a release from the torture of losing his mind. This decision came after months of tests, soul-searching, and hoping he’d recover enough to be able to live with us without our family living in fear.
The day before I called the vet to say that we’d pulled out the stops to no avail, I brought Gunny back to our family one more time. He had been in a kennel since attacking my daughter and I wanted them to say goodbye to him. I didn’t want my children to feel responsible for what we were being forced to do. He spent only five minutes with us, then, to our pain and disappointment, growled and began to become aggressive. I left our apartment, tears blinding my eyes. That was it, I thought, he was going to be put to sleep tomorrow.
As the vet comforted me, she reassured me that I was doing the right thing, that if he could tell me he’d say that he wouldn’t want to live in a crate, heavily medicated and no one trusting him. At that moment I flashed back to my initial hesitation in taking him in, and wondered if my intuition was trying to warm me that this day would come. Part of me wished I’d told my husband that I didn’t want two dogs, that all I wanted was one. I stroked his body one last time and kissed his head.
“I’ll miss you, gunny.” I whispered.
As I unclipped his collar and walked out of the exam room, I felt empty and defeated.
For months after his brother was gone, Rocki would stop and look up and down the street as if looking for something. I didn’t think much of it until one day he stopped doing it. That was when I figured out that he was looking for Gunny. I cried that night, not knowing if I’d ever get over losing gunny. ***

I’d just come out of class, my fear stuck in my throat. I hadn’t yet gotten the call from Jerry reporting how Rocki was after surgery. I said a prayer and made the call.
“Hello?” Jerry sobbed into his end of the phone.
“Oh God.” I replied, ‘its cancer isn’t it?”
“It’s bad, honey. Call the vet, she’ll tell you everything.”
For the second time in as many years I had to say good-bye to my pet. Rocki had inoperable stomach cancer and would not live more than three to six months. We made him as comfortable as we could, and put him down on January 10, 2006. Jerry and I mourned for months. He was only seven years old, in his prime, well-trained and an asset to our family. He was the only other dog besides Charlie Brown who let me look into those mesmerizing brown depths, even when he knew he was dying. He helped us heal from losing gunny, surprising us with intelligence and good sense when we least expected it.
I cried over him for a long time that day, sitting beside his inert, cancer ravaged body, and prayed that if we ever took another chance on a dog, that he/she would live a long time.

* * *
There are. Of course, innumerable accounts of how dogs changed the lives of individuals and families. A full history of the dogs who’ve come and gone in my life thus far exceeds single digits. Some of these dogs belonged to others. Some, like rocky and gunny, were rescues, but all were worthy of my time and kindness. Each and every one imparted a unique piece of canine spirit, teaching me how to be a better person

Jerry and I stood in our vet’s office, looking at a shaggy, black RESCUE dog named Sam. WE agreed that he just wasn’t for us, his trauma apparent in his fear and nervous shaking. The vet teck looked thoughtful, then grinned,
“I think I know the right dog for you.” She turned to the other tech, “Why don’t you bring out Neeka?”
She came skittering out on her lead, flopped down belly-up in front of Jerry, her tail wagging. He was smitten. Then, as if she knew exactly what I wanted, she came to me, stood on her hind legs, and said hello. Her warm tongue washing my face. I looked into her eyes and felt the mystical connection surge between us. Her expression seemed to say, “What took you so long?”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review

The Scouts of the Valley
By Joseph A. Altsheler
Historical fiction
MP3 download book review for readhowyouwant
July 2010
By Ann Chiappetta

This is the first book I’ve read by this author. Needless to say, I was so intrigued with it, that I read it twice. The story opens with a chapter in which the protagonist, Henry Ware finds himself being pursued by the English, Canadian loyalists and at least six tribes belonging to the Iroquois Nation.

The author grabs onto the reader from the first paragraph and doesn’t let go until the last page. Loosely based on the French and Indian war, the young Ware and his four Kentucky woodsman companions face blood thirsty enemies and cruel elements with courage and bravery, protecting the settlers and families being attacked and pushed from the Ohio River Valley.

The historic realism is expertly woven into every aspect of the narrative, from the firearms to the horrifying description of Queen Hester wielding her bloody tomahawk.

If you like historic fiction about the American Frontier, this book is for you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Foxwood's Trip

Our First Trip to Foxwood’s Casino
a.k.a., the Bonfire of the Panties
By Ann Chiappetta

I was typing up an email message when my husband tapped me on the shoulder.
“What is it?” I asked, taking out my earpiece so I could hear him.
“Can you get the 7th and 8th of next month off?”
“I think so, why?”
“I just got tickets to see Jethro Tull at Foxwood’s.” he said.
I jumped up and kissed him. I’d wanted to see them for years and never had the chance.
“I figured we’d spend the night, do some gambling while we’re there,” He added.

The plans evolved from that point forward; we were staying in a suite so our 14 year old and mother-in-law could join us. I felt better knowing that my guide dog was in good hands while we were at the concert. I knew my daughter would enjoy being in charge of the dog and that my mother-in-law could gamble to her heart’s content.

On the appointed day we packed the overnight bags and arrived at the Two Trees Inn a few hours before the show. The suite was clean and quiet. The staff didn’t even blink when they noticed my guide dog, either.

We had a great time at the show and even won enough on the slots to keep us happy.

The next day we executed the check out sweep and packed the bags into the car without trouble. My husband came out behind us, clearing his throat to get our attention.
“Excuse me,” he said, “whose are these?” he asked, plucking out a pair of soiled unmentionables, holding them with two fingers.
“Oh, they’re mine,” says mother-in-law, snatching them from his hand and putting them in her purse.
“OMG, gross,” says my daughter.
I burst out laughing, imagining the horrified look on my daughter’s face and the way my husband must have been holding the untidy leftovers. Radioactive tongs come to mind. The most bizarre part of the scene is that mother-in-law doesn’t even slip a hairpin about her 45 year-old son finding her soiled, personal items under the bed in the hotel room. Talk about full circle.

July/August 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Going for it

I'm now a featured contributor for the Matilda Ziegler Weekly Online Magazine. It was something I wasn't expecting and it was interesting the way it happened. I took a chance and queried the editor. He offered to read and post my article. I thought, great, a byline, then I asked if he was looking for paying pieces. He replied that, yes, he was looking for feature articles, and offered me a set sum for each submission. this is the turning point.

Now that I'm receiving freelance fees for my writing, I can branch out. Create my own website and promote my work with more confidence. this is exciting because only a few years ago I was upset about finally obttaining a master's degree and not being able to find a job. It took a year to find a job and it wasn't even in the field I was trained in. I had to come to the disappointing conclusion of putting off my lisence to pay the bills. I still haven't found the right jjob yet, and it's two years later. I'm still making crap and looking for a full time job that has a salary high enough to enable me to get off SSDI benefits.

In the meantime, I'm pursuing my writing. so far, my writing prospects look better than landing a position as a family therapist. thanks to the Ziegler Magazine, I know things will get better.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Zen for the blind

Not sure if anyone else has experience this, but I've found that being blind has made it awkward in houses of worship. I'm not talking about the spiritual process in a personal sense. What I'm talking about is the logistics of the actual ceremony. It's something I haven't gotten used to, even with Ro at my side.

For instance, going up for the host at a Catholic Mass is nothing less than an effort in frustration due to narrow iles.

Catholic calastentics aside, even when I went to our local Zen center, although the monks were helpful and understanding of my disability, I still felt like I was being left out of the ceremony because I didn't know when to bow or find the altar .I suppose as long as I keep at it and work to educate the clergy wherever we go, it will improve. I won't feel like a fish out of water; well, I am a Pisces, so that's quite appropriate.

This is, of course, just one perspective of one blind lady in one city in the huge world.

In the words of a 13th Centry Dogen:
"We study the self to forget the self. When we forget the self, we become intimate with All Things."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

little girl with the little white dog

Dear Little Girl with the little white dog;
I know you think your 3 lb baby on the retracting leash is very friendly. I heard you saying to Fluffy, "Look, there's another dog, let's go say hello." When I heard the leash zing like a trout running a lure, I knew we were in trouble.
I stopped and prepared for the worst, taking Ro's leash in my right hand. We were ready to do battle with the tiny gnashing, growling thing that is supposed to resemble a dog.

"Hello." I say, correcting Ro as she puts her head down to say hello to the snapping, growling thing.
"Are you blind?" the little girl asks, letting Fluffy get closer.
I back away, doing my best to judge distance and taking the chance there is nothing else to my right as I side step Fluffy.
"Yes, and this is my guide dog." Ro is wagging her tail, but holding steady, realizing this thing will bite her ear just like the other one did a few months ago.
"If you could put your dog closer to you and let us pass, that would be great."
She doesn't move and fluffy lunges. I step back one more step.
"How did you know we were here?"
I sigh, not sure how to answer. So I prepare to run the risk of Ro getting bitten and start to pass her, saying,
"I heard you."
As we go quickly by, fluffy lunges again and I leash guide Ro forward until we're safely past. Once we're back to a good stride, I think, that if I even thought her parents were around, I would have laid into them. How irresponsible of them to allow a 5 or 6 year old manage even a little dog in public, alone and untrained. Sheesh, it could have been lunch for some other dog with less manners.

Ah, life and the streets of suburbia.

Be Well, Annie C. & Verona, dog guide extraordinaire My blog:

I write to find out what I think. -- Stephen King

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ro and I on the Go

On March 13, I celebrated my 46th birthday by taking my first solo flight guided by Verona. We left during a rain storm which, after blitzing us with wind gusts, kept us from taking off and we waited 11 hours at the airport, only to go home again. The airport is a sociological phenomenon unto itself and I did a lot of people watching and listening. Going back the next day meant a much better chance of finally taking off and after a four hour delay, we did so. Ro planted herself against the seat when we angled up into the still grey and windy sky. Her ears were positioned in the, "what the heck?" pose and she put her head in my lap. hehehe. We leveled off and she slid back to the floor and was asleep before the kid in the nexr seat.

We arrived six hours later to a very friendly airline employee who got us to the pet potty area ASAP and Ro did her business, just like a lady. When we heard Mom, ro pulled me right to her and we had a great reunion. She knows her family when she sees them.

My sister Lauri was crying when she finally met Ro, and Ro knew she was important, too. I could swear she was thinking, "packmate". LOL

At the Motel in Los Gatos, my best friend, Myla, was there to meet us and we had another "packmate" moment, and we were all hugging and laughing. Ro made herself right at home and jumped on the bed and got belly rubs.

Each day after that, we all had our moments when we thought Ro was great; the time she led us out of a confusing high school campus, her ability to know the new location of our room after we had to move into it. Then there was how she greeted the cats, her gental respect for the elderly one, and her offering the ball to the other, younger cat and doing the "let's play" bow. LOL. That one was very funny.

She respected the other house dogs in my sister's house, too, never challenging them.

My favorite part of our vacation, aside from my loved ones finally getting to meet her, was how she remembered where to go in the airport. Once the airline attendant got me seated, I sat for a while, then had to use the facilities. I asked another employee for directions and we set off. Ro found the door, I asked if it was the ladies' room and a woman said yes. We went in, she led me to an open stall, then to the sink, and then to the trash. As we left, I said to her, find the way. She led me back to the right gate and even to the right seat. I was dumbfounded, but somehow I knew she could do it or I wouldn't have tried it. I've since concluded traveling with a guide dog is much easier than with a cane.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

book review

I wrote my first digital book review for the ReadHowYouWant program. To read it, go to the Accessible Librarian link on this page. I will be posting reviews as regularly as possible, thanks to Bradi and the easy downloads from the site.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Poem

In those dark moments
When eyesight doesn’t matter
Where light burns and stars stay undiscovered

The grip of the handle
Eases the panic like a mother’s hand
Before the fear rises
Warm nose finds the way down the hall, up the stairs, into the store

Like the familiar sounds of morning
The light click of toenails on tile reassures
I grip the handle and follow
the soft jingle of leather and brass
and faint canine scent
conveys that
in those darkest moments
I am not alone.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The First Year

The First Year
Buy Ann Chiappetta
January 2009-january 2010

It is a brisk autumn day; rich aromas of wet leaves mixed with wood smoke greet us as we approach the corner south of our home. My guide dog, Verona, stops a few inches from the curb and turns toward me, indicating there is an obstacle other than the step down to the street. I put out my tow and hear the splash of water. I probe a bit more and realize it’s a large puddle, filled with debris from the rain from the previous night’s storm.
“Good girl. Forward. ” I say and give the hand signal.
She backs us up, then turns right, taking us on to the grass, avoiding the huge puddle. She stops at the edge of the opposite sidewalk.
“Good dog.” I say, praising her before moving on to our destination.

The above description is just a typical moment for us. We work well together, and after our first year of teamwork, our mistakes are few and minor. How do we do it? Well, I can’t read my dog’s mind, but I do read her body language. The movements are given to me through the harness handle, much like the reins of a horse. Suffice it to say that the stiff handle provides her with a way to tell me where to go. I, too, can get my point across through the handle. The use of a leash and voice and hand commands are also other means of communicating when working with a guide dog. When the dance is done well, the feeling of freedom is remarkable.

How I’ve learned the dance and made the transition from a cane user to a guide dog handler is an odyssey of sorts, beginning with some dark moments. I didn’t become profoundly visually impaired until after I graduated from a master’s program in the spring of 2007 at the age of 38. In 1993 I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and declared legally blind. Then, in late 2007 the ophthalmologist discovered advanced macular degeneration in my right eye. I was now down to less then five degrees of vision. It was then that I finally put some serious thought into applying for a dog

Years ago, before I went to graduate school, someone asked me if I thought I’d ever give up my cane for a dog. I told them that, no, I didn’t have what it takes to work with a guide dog. Back then, my confidence was low and I wasn’t ready for blindness, let alone a guide dog and the responsibility that came with it. I was also under the impression that guide dog users had to be totally blind, or close to it, which at the time, I wasn’t. I was a low partial, using what sight I could when I could.
I’m not even sure when my perceptions changed but I know as my vision worsened, my curiosity about using a guide dog increased. One of the mitigating factors was that I struggled to maintain an active, independent lifestyle. I was raising a family and pursuing a master’s degree. I routinely struggled with many things, including losing more and more of my vision while studying and participating in campus life. It was at those times, when I felt the most frustration that I wished for a dog. Once, while navigating through a parking lot at night, I almost lost my cane down a sewer grate and stumbled, dropping my book bag into a puddle. Humiliated and wet from the rain, I picked up my wet bag and managed to extricate my cane from the grate without breaking the tip. I thought, if I had a dog, that wouldn’t have happened. another time I was tapping my way down the street to the college library and walked right into a saw horse. My cane slipped under it and I almost flipped right over it. It is moments like that which compelled me to apply for a dog.

Three years after the saw hoarse incident, I get the news: I’m going into the January 2009 class at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York. Practically in my own backyard and rated one of the best schools in the world, it is my first choice and I am excited and relieved to be accepted. The elation I feel is similar to that of being accepted into graduate school or winning the lottery. I know that once I make it through training, my life will change for the better. I’m ready for whatever lays ahead.
I begin packing right after Christmas. The only thing concerning me about is how my 13 year old daughter and pet dog will handle my month-long absence. The former is very attached to me and the latter pines for me whenever I’m gone for more than an hour. My husband and son have their work cut out for them, for sure. Somehow, phone calls and a few short visits must suffice. My husband and I both know I need to do this in order for my life and career to successfully progress; this was another sacrifice with its hidden merits. My family wanted to see me become more independent and in order for this to happen, I had to commit to the 26 day training away from home.

I report to the training residence program on January 2, 2009, not sure what to expect thankfully, the class supervisor finds me in the lobby and introduces me to one of our class instructors who shows me to my room. The orientation and friendly manner of the staff relaxes me and soon I am unpacked and ready to meet my other classmates.
Day one and two introduces us to the daily routine we will follow for the next twenty six days: a wake up call at six a.m., then breakfast. Mid-morning we ride to the actual location where we train in downtown White Plains, New York. It is here that we are given pre-dog evaluations, called Juno walks, and lunch. After the evaluations are completed, we drive back up to the main campus for dinner and lectures.

Day three is dog day. When lunch is over, we’re told to go to our rooms and wait for one of the trainers to bring us our new dog. The night before we find out the names of our dogs by playing a guessing game. One of my classmates gets a dog with the same name as his ex-wife. Another woman, who already has a penchant for shopping even while at guide dog school, finds out her new dog’s name is Visa. It seems to me that we each are given a dog with a name that suits us. My dog’s name is Verona. What a great name to go with my Italian surname. I can’t help smiling. It just sounds so good together.

Later, in my room, I fidget and pace; what color is she? How big is she? Will she like me? Will I be able to trust her? Part of me knows the questions are just the symptoms of nerves and waiting for that knock. What I didn’t know was that once my dog put her big, glossy head in my lap, my life would be forever changed and blessed by a loving, loyal, companion.

She quickly earns my respect; she is obedient, affectionate, and all business when in harness. On the second day of a training walk, she prevents me from being hit by a car backing into the crosswalk by pulling me out of the way. When I discover what she has just done, I want to cry. I take a breath and praise her, feeling more confident than just a few hours ago. She kept me safe, and now it is my turn to learn how to let her do her job.

That was the turning point for me. Verona proved her intelligence and soon we were learning how to work together. Some new students like me had similar experiences. New teams seem to need a situation like a traffic check to bond them and to increase the mutual trust. Verona and I were, for the most part, typical and for that I was grateful.

Our most challenging training experience was my clumsiness taking left turns. I’d stepped on her paws twice in one training walk and to avoid me, Verona would swing away from me. I got so frustrated that I started to cry right there on the street. The instructor comforted me and got me going again. That evening I went for extra training and eventually we overcame our turning snag.

I had to keep my steps small and go with her and the mantra, “baby steps” is always a reminder to not overstep my boundaries.

I’ve also discovered Verona loves to visit the children’s hospital. I volunteer once a month and make presentations to the school program for medically fragile children ages K-12. Ten minutes before we end the presentation, I take off her harness, do some obedience, then heel her around the room so the kids can pet and meet her. I even taught her to jump onto a bench so one child could pet her from his hospital bed.
She’s provided me with a much better sense of self-discipline, too. We have a rigid feeding, walking, and training/exercise schedule that only varies slightly when either on vacation or inclement weather. We are always traveling and I even find my anxiety about going to unfamiliar places has lessened. Her ability to instill confidence at times when I need it most is probably her best attribute. She takes charge in crowds, stores, and when we find ourselves faced with an obstacle that isn’t easily solved.
What I mean is that because of Verona, I have developed a routine which supports our relationship in many positive ways. The dark moments are far fewer now; I no longer fear unseen sewer grates, saw horses, holes, stairs, and low hanging branches and signs. With Verona at my side, my ability to do more is multiplied. I reflect back on that horrible night when I dropped my bag into the puddle and can now say with certainty that the situation was the first stumble to the path of obtaining a guide dog. People with disabilities are faced with independence challenges every day and having Verona avoids the stress and frustration of these challenges for me. She brings balance to my life that no inanimate object, like a white cane, ever could. From now until her retirement, the dark moments will be replaced by the bright light and companionship of my partner, Verona.