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Thursday, February 27, 2014

A tease about Mr. Norton from Ch. 2 from "Surviving Disability" (c) by Jerry Wolffe

I’ve had at least two angels on duty during my life, others say, but the only angel I really found was my service dog, Norton, a mixture of Golden Retriever and Labrador and all heart with two white patches on his shoulders that look like angel wings against his otherwise tan coat.

He earned the title “Mr.” because he was just an incredible companion. I had to wait until I was in my 60s for Mr. Norton to show up in my life and be my “move” dog. His picture always was with mine in our “Voices of Disability” column that began in The Oakland Press in 1999 and won many journalism and community awards, but also, far more importantly, brought attention to the economic and political plight of the disabled.

When I first saw Mr. Norton with my wife, JoAnn, in 2005 at Paws with a Cause in Wayland, Mich., I thought he was absolutely stunning. He knew he was royalty and I suppose I should have dubbed him “Sir” instead of “Mr.” but so far he hasn’t complained.

Mr. Norton was sitting on a chair with head held high with many people sitting or standing around the walls of the room. Each had a role in training him to serve me. Mr. Norton could pull my wheelchair, pick up items I dropped, open doors, take off my shoes and socks, and make me laugh. Everyone wherever I went or worked loved that dog. If ever there was a chic-magnate, he was it. I regret I didn’t have him when I was young and single, but I probably wouldn’t have made it much past 20, but it would have been a healing process.

Anyway, Mr. Norton always kept me in line. I could flirt but not touch because my wife, JoAnn, was his best pal and the leader of our little pack.

One time in the early 2000s I told a park ranger at the Great Smoky Mountains that the park should have an accessible trail back into the woods that a wheelchair-user could use. Shortly after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed I became one of the 200 or so people picked by the Department of Justice and EEOC to learn it and go back to our homes and teach it so it was enforced. So, I was psychologically weighed down from 1990 forward in trying to make sure buildings, parks and restaurants were following what was called the most comprehensive civil rights law in history. Sometimes I wish I never had that training and received accreditation as an ADA Phase II Implementer from the government because the law is not really being followed. We believed the law would really work, but decades later the jobless rate among the disabled is still absurdly high and a majority of businesses are not accessible – a losing situation for all.

In the fall of 2011 or so, JoAnn and I went back to that park. The Ranger, Katherine, remembered me since I had been an angry asshole in telling her about the lack of accessibility at the park. By the way, federal entities such as the Smoky Mountains aren’t covered by the ADA, but are to be accessible under the Rehab Act.

“So, you came back,” she said to me as we rolled into the park ranger station. “I have some good news. Go down the road about a half-mile and there’s an accessible walkway.”

JoAnn, Mr. Norton and I got out of our Subaru where the ranger told us to go to and found the walkway. It was asphalt covered and about eight-feet wide, a real easy ride for someone like me.

So, I grabbed a hold of Mr. Norton’s harness and he started pulling me as JoAnn walked beside us. It was a beautiful day and we went deeper into the woods, leaving the sounds of the highway behind us.

Next thing I knew was that Mr. Norton had gone off at full speed after a squirrel in the woods. I held on tight to his harness. Bad idea. He dragged me out of my wheelchair and at least 10 feet off of the asphalt and I ended up lying in a bunch of prickly bushes and mud.

“Why can’t you get him for me?” Mr. Norton said with his eyes of the squirrel he had treed. “Damn, Mr. Norton,” I muttered. “Here’s another nice mess we are in because I keep forgetting you aren’t human and run after critters that run through the bushes in forests.

“Oh well, JoAnn,” I said, “I guess you have to go back and get that ranger to help me get out of this mess.”

“Why weren’t you careful?” the ranger said as she and JoAnn got me back in the chair as Mr. Norton sat by watching and apparently very entertained by the entire unfolding scene and oblivious to the bruises his ‘master’ had incurred. “I guess I forgot to be on squirrel patrol,” I quietly said to the ranger as our walk in the park ended for that day.

-- wolffe (Mr. Norton is recovering from nearly being hung by a harness around his neck when he apparently fell off a grooming table and incurred a severe pinch nerve... 2.27.2014). 

1 comment:

  1. I love it Jerry! Mr. Norton should be proud of his accomplishments and living life for you! A best friend indeed, at least... until the squirrel pops into view! GRIN!