“A Year Is a Long Time,” Friend, Apr. 1987, 10
I opened my eyes just as the sun started to peek under my flowered drapes. Excitement flooded my body, but for just a moment I couldn’t remember why. Then I jumped out of bed and ran to the window. “Today is the day! Today is the glorious day!” I sang quietly—it was way too early to disturb anyone. I stood there thinking about how wonderful today would be: I was going to get a puppy of my very own. Well, not exactly of my very own, for I would have to give it up in a year. Still, I’d have him practically forever. A year is an awfully long time.
I had always wanted a dog, but Mom said that she had enough to do with me and Jeffy and her part-time job at the library, without having a dog underfoot.
I tried to explain that it wouldn’t be underfoot and that I’d take complete care of it. “I already know how to take care of a dog,” I argued.
For several weeks I’d worked after school at Pete’s Pet Shop. It wasn’t a real job, but Pete said that he’d hire me when I grew up, so it was almost a job. I watered and fed the animals, then played with the pups until it was time to go home for dinner.
One day Pete had introduced me to Mrs. Evans. “Meet my friend Tracy Stevens. She’s my right hand. I don’t know what those dogs would do if she didn’t come in every day and get them fresh food and water.”
“I like dogs, too,” Mrs. Evans had said. “I find people to take care of pups until they are trained enough to give to a person who needs them to see.”
How would a dog help someone to see? I had wondered. After she went out, Pete explained to me that she worked for the Society for Seeing-Eye Dogs. When she picked Blacknose, one of Pete’s dogs, to use in the program, I felt my heart sinking. That meant that I wouldn’t see Blacknose again. He was one of my favorites. They were all my favorites, for that matter, and I felt a little sick every time I came to the store and a pup had been sold.
I listened carefully as Pete explained to me just what Mrs. Evans did, and then I ran home to explain it to my folks. At dinner I told them about the seeing-eye-dog program and that I really wanted Mrs. Evans to choose me to help her. I didn’t think that Mom was listening, because Jeffy threw his potatoes on the floor just then. But she winked at Dad, saying, “Now wouldn’t that be something—a dog to lick up Jeffy’s mashed potatoes.” Then she got serious and said, “I have plenty to do without running after a dog when I get home. No, Honey, I just don’t think that it would work.”
I’d argued and talked, and finally they’d agreed to see Mrs. Evans to hear what she had to say. And today was the day! Mrs. Evans was bringing a live puppy with her while she explained the training program.
I thought that noon would never come. Finally I saw a car drive up. Mrs. Evans got out, shook hands with Mom and Dad, and handed me the cutest little puppy that I had ever seen. Then she started to explain what would be expected of me. “You’ll have to keep him with you as much as possible. You’ll have to show him love without getting him spoiled. You must never let him jump up on you, because blind people can’t anticipate that kind of thing. You must feed him properly—no snacks!”
After Mrs. Evans had explained everything about the program and what my responsibilities would be, Mom and Dad agreed to let me train the puppy.
“I hope that we’re doing the right thing,” Mother said to me as we all signed some papers, “and that it won’t break your heart when you have to give him up.”
“A year is a long time,” I answered. I spent as much time with Chip as I could.
I took him walking where we’d see cats and bikes and dogs. He must never run or bark without a reason. I taught him to heel and sit, and he even learned about traffic. I couldn’t bear the mournful look in his eyes when I ate cookies, so I’d slip him a tiny piece from time to time. That’s why I called him Chip, for chocolate chips.
Then one day we got that awful phone call from Mrs. Evans. “I’ll be over next Saturday to take you and the dog to the center,” she told me.
“The year isn’t up yet, is it?” I wailed.
Mrs. Evans laughed. “Not quite, but I hope that you aren’t getting too attached to that dog. He will have to go in two months, you know.”
“So what will we do next Saturday?”
“He’ll be tested by a professional handler. If he tests out, he’ll be ready to help a blind person.”
“What if he doesn’t test out?”
“We couldn’t use him and would have to give him away,” she answered.
Only a week, I thought. How can I bear to lose him? I had a wild idea: If I could make Chip forget everything, they wouldn’t want him. So why not try to make him act disobedient? “Heel,” I shouted. When Chip obeyed instantly, I yelled at him, “You bad dog! You are so dumb.”
“Sit,” I ordered next, and when he sat, I pulled on his collar and told him how bad he was.
He began to look more and more bewildered as I gave him orders, then punished him for obeying. It broke my heart when I saw his sad eyes looking at me. “Please understand. I’m doing it for your sake,” I told him.
By Saturday Chip was slinking around with his tail between his legs. “What’s wrong with Chip?” Dad asked.
“He’s been acting strange all week,” I answered. I felt terrible about lying like that, but I wanted to keep Chip with me.
When we got to the arena, Mrs. Evans met us and smiled. “Well, here is one of our young handlers. What a fine looking dog. It looks as though you did a good job.”
A man came up and took the leash from my hands. I wanted Chip to sit down and growl at him or do anything except what he was supposed to. But he obediently followed the man to the center of the big floor. I watched as Chip performed perfectly. He came bounding happily back to me with an expectant look on his face, and I realized that I’d failed in my efforts to keep him. “Couldn’t you have run after a cat or something?” I muttered sadly.
As we drove home, Dad chattered pleasantly about the beautiful day, and I sat there wishing that I could crawl into a big hole and just die. I was going to lose Chip. I’d have him for just two more months, and I knew that I wouldn’t try to confuse him any more. I did keep praying that I could keep him, though.
Every Saturday we drove to the center and watched as the handlers put Chip through his paces. They took him into traffic. They had a man run at him with a club. They used horns and whistles and records of screaming crowds. Chip responded perfectly. I couldn’t help but be proud as I watched him work.
Then came the Saturday when Dad said, “You’ve done a superb job. Your work is over now. I’m sure that the person who gets Chip can hardly wait. Imagine waiting for a whole year to finally walk in the sun! You’ve helped someone be able to do that.”
I huddled in the seat with my arm around Chip. I felt miserable. What did it matter that Dad was proud of me? I had lost Chip. Hot tears spilled down my face. Without a word, Dad handed me his handkerchief and squeezed my hand. “We are all born with different talents. Maybe this is one of the things that you were born to accomplish,” he said softly.
When we got to the center, I took Chip’s leash and walked as tall and proud as I could. I didn’t want Chip to be ashamed of me this last day. Mrs. Evans pointed out a young man sitting in a corner. “That’s Mike. He’ll be getting Chip. He’s waited a long time for this.”
The expression on Mike’s face was expectant, and his head was turned slightly. I realized that he was listening harder than most people because he couldn’t see.
“This is Tracy,” Mrs. Evans said when we reached him. “She’s trained your dog for you.”
Mike got up and held out his hand. I took it and felt strong, warm fingers close over mine.
“I want to thank you for everything.” His eyes were bright with unshed tears, and his voice choked in his throat. “What do you call him?”
“I call him Chip.” I hesitated, then added, “I’ll tell you why later.” Then, when Mrs. Evans walked away with Dad, I whispered to Mike, “We aren’t supposed to give him snacks, but I give him a piece of cookie now and then. He loves it.”
Mike laughed and whispered back. “I love cookies too. Don’t worry—I’ll slip him a cookie sometimes.”
Mike reached down and took Chip’s leash. Chip watched me with a puzzled look, whining softly. Mike put his arms around Chip’s neck. I saw Chip wag his tail, and his tongue came out and touched Mike’s hand. I knew that he’d agreed to go with Mike. I suddenly felt warm and light inside. I’d done my best, and I had helped someone. It really felt good.
And after Chip had been gone for a month, the very best thing happened! Mrs. Evans came back and handed me a little ball of fur. He looked something like Blacknose. Mother groaned, but there was a smile on her lips. I remembered that Dad had said that maybe this was one of the talents I was born with. If it was, I always had to do my best. Grateful, I took the wriggling puppy in my arms and thought, I’ll have you for a whole year. And a year is a long time!