You’re probably reading this trying to figure out how anyone could possibly involve that most innocent and good-hearted of dogs, the Golden Retriever, in a con, but I did.
Dogs have always been a part of my life and never was I more attached to a dog than to my Golden Retriever Jasmine. Over the years many others have walked beside me, but Jasmine still remains in a class of her own, both in beauty and behavior, she was more than a dog. She had come into my life during my high school years and accompanied me nearly everywhere.
When it was time to go to college I chose a school where Jasmine was welcome too, and I doubt there were many on campus who did not know her. Though the ups and downs of college life she remained, as always, happy go lucky and by my side. She loved the college lifestyle, right down to the weekend keg parties.
Somewhere in my 2nd or third year I began a long distance relationship with a guy who lived in NYC. He often took the train to Massachusetts on the weekends, but when it came time to visit him I was in a quandary, what should I do about Jasmine? There were friends she could have stayed with, but the truth was, I liked having her with me. I wanted to bring her to NY. I had a car, but was not keen on driving (and parking) in the city. After a few memorable (terrifying) experiences in the Bronx getting cars back that had been towed from the streets of Manhattan, I was understandably skittish about giving it a go. I wanted to take the train. I wanted to take the dog.
Only guide dogs for the blind were permitted on Amtrak trains, at least that was the way it was thirty years ago. Fortunately Jasmine was not only the right breed, but she had a stellar temperament and a touch of the actress in her as well. I got myself an authentic looking harness for her, and I wore my Ray-Bans. I would have a friend take me to the station, buy my ticket and “escort” me to the train so that I wouldn’t have to deal with too many details and risk a slip-up. Jasmine enjoyed the train, and I managed to pull off my con without incident. The most difficult part was remembering not to read anything during the trip, and to try and not look out the window! The first time went so well we began making the trip about once a month, sometimes more often.
Except for a few white lies I had to tell when people struck up a conversation with me during the ride, my ruse was never detected. Jasmine was a dog who was hard to think of suspiciously, if the conductors suspected they never said a word.
My objective had been merely to get from Massachusetts to New York City on the train with my dog but I ended up with more than I expected. These trips afforded me an unanticipated benefit: they gave me a small taste of what it must be like to be blind, just because I had to pretend that I was. To not be able to read, except for braille of course, to navigate the outside world via only a trusted canine (or a cane), how brave the blind are, and what a gift a “real” guide dog must be to someone who cannot see. When we would emerge from Penn Station into the crazy madness of Manhattan it would strike me how daunting it must be, to be blind.
More than twenty years later the use of dogs and other animals (even mini horses) for various forms of therapy and assistance is more widespread and growing as we learn more and more how valuable they can be to those in need. What began as a “con” for me turned into a unique learning experience and a lasting empathy. We had lots of great times in New York City with Jasmine, and even though I was fully sighted, she was my guide.