St. John's is a tough town to navigate. Almost every sidewalk downtown has some segment that turns, without warning, into stairs. Potholes open up in the asphalt each spring. On garbage day the sidewalks are strewn with green nylon garbage nets.
As a pedestrian, I notice these things. But since Cheryl came to town, I notice them more.
Cheryl is my neighbour Anne Malone's guide dog. Malone is visually impaired; she started losing her sight eight years ago. “I see the world like an impressionist painting,” she says. Her impressionist vision extends to about twelve feet, then dissolves “into a thick fog.” She got Cheryl in November from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.
I went with Malone and Cheryl to the drug store around the corner. Hardly a great journey, since I could see the drugstore through Malone’s kitchen window, but one that involved passing a parking lot, making our way around a massive gravel heap that spills over the entire sidewalk at the corner of our street, and crossing a busy intersection.
As we walked, Malone talked to me about the changes in the way she experiences the neighbourhood with Cheryl at her side, saying, “The thing with neighbourhood relationships is that I have them now.”
Malone has been living on our street for over four years, and in that time she hasn't talked much with neighbours. But since Cheryl came along, people come up and introduce themselves.
The moment we walked through the pharmacy door, I witnessed this myself. A woman who lives on our street said hello, and complimented Malone on her hair. The woman's husband showed up and said hi as well, and they all chatted about guide dog etiquette (when Malone is holding Cheryl by the handle of her harness, Cheryl is on duty and shouldn't be distracted; when Malone drops the handle and takes Cheryl by the leash, it's okay to talk a little doggie-talk).
While we were in the store, every person we passed smiled at Malone and Cheryl.
We're a friendly lot in Newfoundland, but not that friendly.
Cheryl's job is to help Malone get around freely, but it seems that she's helping the rest of us with a few things, too. People who wouldn't normally talk are striking up conversations. And maybe we're taking care of each other a little better, too.
I know Cheryl can help Malone circumvent the sidewalk obstacles, but now I stop and move the garbage nets and fallen branches aside to clear the path. Many of us could benefit from a clear path and not everyone has a guiding Cheryl.
Photo: Anne Malone and her guide dog Cheryl.
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