Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Verona by the Sea

We navigate the way down a rocky path to the sand. The air is full of beach smells and the sounds of surf and gulls echo off the cliffs as we walk closer to the waterline. Following my sister’s action, I release Verona and she lopes off, her nose to the ground. My friend tells me what she is doing and how far she goes. I call her back a few times as we find a spot near the cliffs to sit and watch the dogs play. Music, my sister’s Golden Retriever, chases Verona into the water. As she turns back to chase him, a huge wave crashes down and for a moment she is engulfed. The wave spits her out onto the beach and she runs to me, weaves in-between my legs and soaks my pants. I look like incontinence has gotten the best of me. Verona seems to say, in her best doggie language, “Hey, mom, what happened?” From then on she doesn’t go near the waves and prefers a safer splash in the wet sand and tidal pools instead.

It’s important to me that Verona has the opportunity to be a dog; so much responsibility is put upon her when the harness is placed upon her back, it seems that this is the right way to let her know how much she has changed my life. As she digs her hole in the sand and flops down to dry off, my heart is content because she is doing just what she’s supposed to be doing–living a dog’s life.

Shortly after our beach adventure, we seek another destination. An hour after we leave San Jose, we reach San Francisco. The drive through mid-morning traffic isn’t as bad as we thought it would be and we soon find a parking garage near the wharf close by Pier 39. Verona’s snorting tells me she’s excited by the new smells and she’s ready to go. Her enthusiasm is contagious and soon we’re out of the garage, walking the sidewalk, and waiting to cross the street.

As we stroll along the promenade toward the Pier, Verona feels as if she’s doing a little dance and I feel her head turning left and right. A few times we weave a bit and I have to check her so she stops. It takes me a minute, but I finally understand what is making her dance around–pigeons. Hoards of them are walking underfoot, across our path, flying up practically under her nose. I’m surprised one hasn’t landed on her back. Myla laughs, saying, “She’s trying really hard to ignore them but they’re teasing her.” Thankfully the winged rats are less plentiful in the pier itself and we spend the time shopping.

Coming to San Francisco with Verona is one of the best parts of traveling with a guide dog. At no time did I feel unsafe, even on the steep wooden stairs leading to the stores on the second level of the Pier. Next year we’re going to Golden Gate Park and Alcatraz.

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