The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rosemary Teehan and guide dog teach Carlisle students about inclusion

To celebrate National Inclusive Schools Week (December 7 – 11), Superintendent Marie Doyle invited Rosemary Teehan, who is blind, and her guide dog Velvet to the school to meet with the first, second and third grade students. As the third graders quietly filed into the Grant lobby Teehan read outloud from a Braille version of Harry Potter while Velvet lay quietly by her feet. The students were very interested when Teehan displayed the white pages with the Braille letters.

Rosemary Teehan visits Carlisle School third graders with her guide dog Velvet as part of National Inclusive Schools Week. (Photo by Claire Wilcox)

Guide dogs are working dogs

Teehan explained Velvet, her seeing-eye dog or a guide dog, is a working dog, and has jobs to do. She said that when a guide dog is wearing a harness, it is on the job and should not be petted, no matter how cute it looks. “Velvet likes to be petted,” said Teehan, “but if too many people pet her, then she will be more interested in being petted than in watching out for stairs.” Doyle added, “It’s very important not to pet the dog, unless Ms. Teehan says you can.”

When she and Velvet go out, Teehan explained, Velvet’s “number one job is to stop at curbs. If the traffic is safe, we go forward.” Velvet always walks on her left, Teehan said, and goes to plays, movies, restaurants, subways, buses and even rides the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard when Teehan visits her sister. “There are special laws that welcome guide dogs,” Teehan explained.

Doyle suggested Teehan show the students how Velvet guides her up stairs. Doyle demonstrated the correct way to help a blind person. “Fold your arm and let them take your arm. Walk ahead of the person so she feels your steps,” Doyle said. As Doyle led Teehan and Velvet toward the stairs, the students called out, “There are the stairs!” while the teachers shushed them. Velvet stopped Teehan at the bottom of the stairs and they both climbed up the short flight. At the top Velvet stopped, let Teehan turn around and led her back down the stairs.

Guide dogs are well trained

During a question and answer period student Jillian Chelton asked what Teehan does when a stranger pets Velvet. “Some people do try,” answered Teehan. “There is usually a sign on the harness that tells them she is a working dog.” If Velvet gets distracted, Teehan gives the command, “Leave it” which tells the dog to get back to work. If Velvet is misbehaving, Teehan makes a sound that sounds like “pfew” which means “shame on you.” She said Velvet doesn’t like to hear that sound. If she is very distracted, Teehan can do a “leash correction,” which is a sharp pull on the leash. “Dogs don’t like leash corrections,” Teehan said. She said Velvet made one mistake by not looking up as they were walking and didn’t notice a bar across the path. She hasn’t made the mistake since. Third grader Christopher Ratcliffe asked, “When you walk to a store, how do you know when you are at the store you want?” Teehan said if she is looking for a shoe store, she might open doors and take a sniff. If she smells a restaurant smell, then she knows it isn’t the right place. “If you see a blind person, you can approach her and ask if she needs help.” Kate LaLiberte asked Teehan how she knew what she was buying at the grocery store. “Someone will usually help me,” replied Teehan, by pushing the cart. “One time I told the person I wanted three cans of tomatoes. When I got home and opened them, I found out they were three cans of potatoes.” Third grade teacher Gene Stamell asked Teehan what the hardest thing was to do. “Day to day activities aren’t too hard,” she replied, “because technology helps.” She uses a bar code reader, for example, to identify her spices. She purchases clothes with embroidery so she can feel the difference between articles of clothing. “I have a color detector that helps identify the color of clothes.” Doyle asked, “How do you match socks? Mine are usually missing.” Teehan said she pins socks together. “I can’t do things just like you do, but there is usually a work around.” Doyle thanked Teehan for coming, and the students gave her and Velvet a round of applause. ∆

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