Archives for January 2011

When I Was Young

Currently I’m reading “Best Friends Forever” by Jennifer Wiener and it’s got me thinking about my days in elementary school and how friends come and go. “Best Friends Forever” is about a woman named Adelaide Downs who has worked hard all her life to be liked. As a child she was overweight and kids at school never wanted anything to do with her. Then a mother and daughter move in across the street and Addie learns what it is like to have a friend. The book chronicles their friendship and the ups and downs that go with such intimate relationships.

So far I’ve only read about seven chapters, but already its got me thinking about my childhood and how I used to dread going to school as a child because I knew what was coming – non-stop name calling and the occasional eraser or elastic in the back of the head. Ever since I was two and a half years old I’ve had no hair. The doctors don’t really know why it fell out, but since a young age I’ve had to deal with the torment that goes along with being different. I remember wanting so badly to be a part of the “in-crowd” and almost wanting to cry when I was overlooked every day. It wasn’t until high school (I had lost my sight during the summer) that I actually learned what it was like to be welcome and a part of a group.

I had friends as a child, but not many stuck around long-term – either they’d move or we’d grow apart. I remember how hard it was at times to make friends and then hoped that they would not end up turning on me in the end because someone decided to befriend them from the “in-crowd”. I think the most heartbreaking friendship I lost, was when I was in grade 7 and had befriended a boy named DJ. DJ was new to the school and became my friend almost instantly. We’d get together after school to toboggan or just hang out at each other’s house almost every day. As our friendship grew, other kids began to tease him and I watched as he started to move away from me out of embarrassment. I actually liked this guy, he was the first guy I truly liked as a child and it was hard to see his behavior change towards me just because others didn’t see what was so worthwhile in being my friend. Even to this day I think about DJ and what great friends we could have been if he had just seen past all the comments made by others.

In high school everyone knew me and would offer help whenever they thought I needed it. I remember kids who had teased me during elementary school running over to be of assistance, only to be turned away because I didn’t want to be their “good deed for the day”. I would eat lunch with a group of kids each day and meet up with others during spares. Life in high school was so much different from the days I spent in elementary school, but still there were friends who came and went – the difference this time was that I often chose to part ways.

As you can see my childhood was quite the experience, but it only helped to make me the person I am today. I’m an independent-minded, caring and welcoming woman, but I’m also not one to let someone walk all over me. Reading “Best Friends Forever” has really gotten me thinking about my past and wondering what the future will bring.

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell

Posted For A Friend

A friend of mine is beginning to raise her 10th puppy for Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (where I received all 3 of my guides) and to celebrate has taken on a special project. It costs approximately 20,000 to raise and train a dog guide, so Sam has decided to begin fund-raising for her puppy’s “scholarship”.

Romero is an 11 week old black lab golden cross and so far has proven to be a very smart and sweet boy. He’ll stay with Sam and her family for the next year and then move on to be trained for one of LFC’s five programs – Canine vision, Hearing Ear, Special Skills, Seizure Response or autism Assistance. If for any reason Romero doesn’t make it, the money she raises will be put towards another Dog Guide team.

Fund-raising ideas are still in the works, but since Romero was named for the Blue Jay’s pitcher, Ricky Romero, Sam has decided to begin with “Pitcher Pledges”. It’s up to you what is pledged, but here are some suggestions – 10 cents for every inning pitched, 1 dollar for every strike out or maybe 1000 dollars if he throws a no-hitter this season…use your imagination! You can send your contact information and pledge to dogguideromero@gmail.com and she’ll contact you when the baseball season is over to collect the donations (tax receipts can be given if desired) – which just happens to be right around Romero’s 1st birthday.

To follow Sam’s fund-raising progress and to see more cute pictures of Romero click here

It’s My Turn

I was on Facebook this morning and noticed an interesting topic for discussion on a service dog group of sorts I’m a part of. I guess a woman had made a statement regarding how her service dog had done amazing things for her and now it was her turn to help him. It got me thinking about Phoenix and all he’s had to go through over the past 5 years with his allergies, ongoing ear issues, age related arthritis, deafness and then his recent episode with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. A friend once asked me how I could spend so much on keeping Phoenix, when it would be easier to just let him go. At the time I didn’t know how to respond, I guess I was in shock at the question, but here’s my answer now.

Well, he’s not suffering, he’s happy and overall healthy and now it’s my turn to be there for him.

Phoenix was with me when my mom passed away. He was there for me during my final year of high school. Then he attended the University of Guelph with me and never once complained about having to wake up early, stay up late and guide me through all sorts of weather. Phoenix was there for me when I couldn’t find work after completing my degree and never once complained when all I wanted to do was relax and watch some television. Then about eight months before he retired I had surgery on my right palm to remove a precancerous spot and he was there to greet me with Huib when I woke up in recovery. Phoenix has never refused to help me when I’ve asked and has always tried to be with me when I’m sad. He was there during the rough times in my life and during times of change. When he retired he took to his new job of protecting the house and greeted me at the door every time I came home. Phoenix is loyal, he’s full of life and I couldn’t even imagine turning my back on him now that he needs me.

I may have to help him up and down the stairs to go outside. I may have to clean up a turd he dropped on his way to the bedroom. I may have to go out of my way to prepare his meals. And I may have to spend a little more time and money to keep him well, but it’s all worth it. Phoenix is 14, but he’s still eager to live life and help when possible.

I couldn’t imagine life without Phoenix and will do anything to help, because he does the same for me.

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Canine Memories

I haven’t posted one in a bit so here we go…!!

Cessna – the Crazy Nut!!

During the first few months of having Cessna I experienced several moments of wondering “what have I gotten myself into?” Cessna was only 18 months when we were matched so she had a lot of maturing to do…

During class atLions Foundation I was given permission to have Huib bring Phoenix on his Sunday visits. Cessna and I were matched on a Friday so had only been together for a couple days, but I wanted Phoenix to get a chance to meet her at least a couple of times in a semi-neutral environment. When Huib and Phoenix arrived, Cessna and I took them to our room so the other dogs in the class would not be distracted by a new dog in the building. When the door was closed and I had Cessna calm, I took the leash off and told her to “go visit” – she immediately mounted him!! Luckily Phoenix is not a dominant dog so didn’t mind this greeting.

At our graduation Huib brought my friend Kaitlyn because she wanted to meet my new dog and to experience a dog guide grad. Cessna was pretty excited about the whole event and had a lot of trouble settling – there were tons of people, the other dogs were excited and to top it all off her puppy raisers were there! Well Kaitlyn and Huib walked in and as they approached us Cessna began to go nuts because she knew Huib already. Kaitlynn was so caught off guard by her behavior that all she could say was “what did they give you?”

In September of 2005, just a couple months after we were matched, Cessna and I headed to McMaster University where I began my Bachelor of social Work. A big part of my mark in many of my classes was based on group participation so often we’d have to meet in the library or at someone’s place. On one such occasion my group decided we’d meet at my residence since Cessna and I had a fairly large suite – consisting of a kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom. My friend came over early to help me collect stray socks and underwear that Cessna enjoyed stealing from my laundry basket and spreading throughout the suite. While helping me find something I’d dropped behind my dresser we heard the girls begin laughing uncontrollably. My friend walked over to the bedroom doorway and asked what was happening. Well, she began to laugh as well because she saw Cessna with her paws on a girl’s chest while making a humping motion – I was so embarrassed!!!

As you can see Cessna always had a way of making things interesting. From day one, her work was always 100%, but she had a lust for life that needed to be tamed.

Pedigree

This entry has been revised after receiving a comment which pointed out that a statement made previously was unproven – thank you for making me aware of this discrepancy.

On Monday I received an e-mail from Canyon’s sire’s breeder to inform me that she had put all of his information on K9data a website that helps a breeder look at a registered golden or labrador’s pedigree. I had learned about this website a few months ago when researching golden retriever breeders and was hoping that once I received the transfer paperwork for Canyon from the Canadian Kennel Club that I’d be able to enter Canyon’s information. If you are interested in looking at it, you can GO HERE. I’m excited about this development because it means we’re just one step closer to fulfilling our dream of having canyon perform stud services.

After getting this e-mail I began thinking about pedigree and how important it is to look at when considering the breeding process. I was looking at the Blackpool Golden Retrievers website and they give a checklist of things to consider or ask when looking at a kennel or potential puppy. In this checklist they explain that some breeders will try and hide their dog’s lineage in order to hide inbreeding or that they might have gotten their dogs from puppy mills, so to look for breeders who list their dog’s pedigree on their websites. Blackpool sites k9data as a place where they have registered their stock and explain that you can not only find their dog’s lineage, but also their longevity and health clearances.

In an earlier post I discussed the theory behind line breeding so I won’t do it again here, but from my research on the effects of inbreeding on a line, it has been found that the progeny often become weak, small and timid. Some breeders will use this method to fix a specific trait, but given the results, I see line breeding as a much more effective method for fixing traits.

I’m not sure what brought me to write this entry, but I guess all this excitement surrounding Canyon’s paperwork finally arriving and now having him registered on k9data has just got me interested even more on learning all I can about the breeding process. I’ll close this post by saying;

Pedigree equals Quality – Reputable breeders follow a set of breed standards (set by the Canadian Kennel Club in Canada) in order to ensure the best quality dogs go on to be the parents of the next generation.

Vision returning

Over the past week my vision has begun returning to it’s original state, at least the state it was after the age of 13. It’s been a long, slow process, but I’m not complaining because it’s coming back!!

When I woke up to seeing barely nothing on January 5th, it wasn’t terrifying, but when it didn’t resolve itself within a couple days I began to worry. The doctors had no clue as to what was going on and they couldn’t tell me if my vision would ever return, so after a week of no changes, reality started to sink in. I didn’t know what the future held, I didn’t know what to look forward to and I worried about the possibility of having to retire Cessna because I wasn’t sure she could adapt to my new requirements. But, all of these worries are now dissolving because my vision is improving and Cessna has already begun to help me a little more. when I dropped a bottle of body spray, she immediately went over picked it up and After a few tries put it into my hand. This is not a skill her program taught her or even teaches dog guides for the blind, but it’s a skill her puppy raisers taught her in case she might have become a special skills dog.

I’m thankful to have my vision back, but know that unless the doctors figure out why it left in the first place, it could and more than likely will leave again in the future. I just hope next time I remember how well I coped and that it will just take time and patience for things to return to normal.

“If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

raw, Homemade Or Commercial…

Ever since Phoenix was diagnosed with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease on December 3rd, we’ve been trying to make a decision on what to feed him. Dr B does not want him eating kibble because he doesn’t chew his food and worries he will aspirate, but she also wonders if changing to more of a natural diet might also help clear up his ears and get rid of some of the other annoying issues he has from both old age and his pesky life-long allergies.

You’d think this would be an easy decision, but there are several factors which need to be considered – cost, preparation time, safety and our other dogs, just to name a few.

Cost is something I always think about when deciding to change something with my dogs, because I do not work and Huib has been wonderful about supporting me, but I don’t want to push his loyalty too far. We’ve been looking at the possibility of buying a bigger chest freezer and ordering large quantities of meat from local farmers, but so far have run into the problem of where to find reasonably priced beef, pork and lamb – we will continue to get our chicken from the Maple Lodge Factory and whole chickens from the farm down the road. When you live in northeastern Ontario like we do, there is a limited supply of farmers who raise and sell their own livestock. As for finding the veggies at a reasonable price we’ve decided that it will be easiest to get stuff when we’re in Waterloo at Costco and the St. Jacob’s Farmers Market or check out the discount section in the grocery store for a little more variety. Then in the summer we will be able to grow some of our own veggies and catch some pike and bass in the lake behind our house.

Right now we feed Phoenix a mixture of a cup and a half of moistened kibble (Fromm’s white fish & sweet potato) and a can of wet food (either Merrick’s Before Grain or Performatin Ultra) each day so it works out to be about 3-5 dollars a day. In order to feed Phoenix a homemade diet he will need to have a mixture of muscle meat, organ meat, veggies, and a small amount of dairy and grains, in addition to supplements which include a high level of calcium carbonate. This supplement can be highly expensive, even though farmers use it as a part of their fertilizers, so this is one factor that has made our decision to move from commercial food more difficult. In a raw diet, half of the diet should be raw meaty bones (ie. Chicken necks, pork feet or beef tails) which eliminates the need to supplement with calcium carbonate because the bones are ground up with the meat, as opposed to removing them, like in the homemade diet. Taking just cost into consideration we’re thinking that homemade diets are out, but still aren’t sure if a raw diet is right – even though it would also mean we would eat more healthy, since it would be silly only to feed the wonderful veggies and meat to Phoenix.

Next we’ve been looking at preparation time. When feeding Phoenix his current diet of commercial food it takes about 30-45 minutes to prepare because we have to turn on the kettle to boil the water needed to moisten the kibble, then we have to wait for the mush to cool before adding the wet food and necessary supplements (for old age & allergy prevention). If we were to change to a raw diet we would need to think much further ahead and it would take a bit more time to prepare, but if we made more than one meal at a time would it be easier in the end? I think the barrier to feeding raw here would be, what will we do in the case of our visits to Waterloo every six weeks…?

After looking at the above factors – cost & preparation time – we’ve begun looking at the safety of a raw diet. There are many people who would say there are absolutely no risks involved with feeding a raw diet, but with Huib being a nurse and me not having the greatest vision this is something we need to think long and hard about. The University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College hosts a blog where various pet related issues are discussed and they have posted a very informative pdf file on the raw meat controversy, which can be found on their resources page. The main concerns they outline are the possible transmission of infection and disease (for example salmonella), a potential dietary nutritional imbalance and the issue of swallowing foreign bodies (such as bones). Even though proponents of the raw diet would consider these as being a non-issue, Huib and I need to really look at safety as a possible deal breaker in making this change with Phoenix – he needs to worry about his patients and I need to think about my safety as well as the safety of the other animals.

One way in which we could avoid the risks of swallowing foreign objects would be to ground the bones along with the meat so there would be no possibility of choking or injury to Phoenix’s throat or intestines through splintering. Since eating slowly is not something Phoenix knows how to do, I think making his food into a smoother consistency would be a good idea. As for the risk involved in the transmission of disease, I think it’s reasonable to think that this would be something we’d need to look at in not just his food, but our own as well. I guess all we can do here is to make sure we only buy our meats from a respectable supplier and take care in the storage and preparation process. No matter how careful someone is though, there is always the possibility of something going wrong, so as long as we’re always conscious of safety, I don’t see feeding Phoenix a raw diet as being out of the question.

Finally, there is the consideration of our other dogs. Cessna and Canyon have always been picky eaters and as a result we’ve had to try and think of creative ways of keeping them interested in their kibble. We’ve tried adding canned food or juices and fats from cooking once in a while, in addition to changing their kibble all together on a semi-regular basis. This has worked well in the past, but we’re wondering if by feeding Phoenix differently, we might run into some problems with getting them to continue with their commercial diets. We have thought about changing everyone over to the same sort of raw diet, but Aspen is doing well with her current food and we worry that by changing her we might irritate her sensitive bowel. Then there’s Cessna, our always willing “hunger striker” – would she even consider eating something (raw meat) we ourselves wouldn’t even think of? I wonder this because my aunt’s friend is a hunter and one day while preparing a venison stew for us decided to give Cessna an uncooked piece, she immediately dropped it on the floor and looked up at him in disgust – she ate a piece later though that I offered her from my leftovers before throwing them out. I’m sure Canyon would be totally willing to change over to this way of life, but I’m not so sure about my little Cessnaroo.

I guess it would be easiest and make most sense to just focus on getting a diet ready for Phoenix before worrying about who else might benefit or be willing to change. But, if we’re wanting to use Canyon as a stud it might be something to consider in the future…

I know this post ended up being a long-winded ramble, but I hope it helps others out there who might be considering whether a change to a homemade or raw diet could be better than the commercial food their dogs are currently eating.

A New Perspective

Last Wednesday I woke up with a migraine. This is a semi-normal occurrence so I wasn’t worried at first, but then I went to turn on the lights because it was on the dark side and I realized something was wrong – I couldn’t see… I decided to take some medication for my headache and just chill on the couch, hoping my vision would clear with the pain relief. Well…it didn’t improve, but I still wasn’t worried because I thought of all my friends who get migraines and tell me how their vision is all distorted when they have a really bad one (I have a high pain tolerance so don’t actually recognize the true level of pain I’m in), so I thought “maybe that’s the problem.” Huib got home in the evening from work and I told him about my vision and he said we’d just watch some TV together and see how things are in the morning – it wasn’t any better…

I called my sister Thursday morning and asked her if she was working. She wasn’t, so we headed to the hospital in Timmins to see if they could help me out. When I arrived they had me into the emergency department within an hour and I had a CT scan just a few hours after checking in with triage. The CT scan came back clear, but the doctors were still concerned about my vision and headaches so they wanted to admit me so I could get an MRI done within 24 hours rather than the usual 2-3 weeks. I really didn’t want to stay in the hospital, but my sister convinced me to do it and stayed the night so I could keep Cessna as well. Huib arrived the following afternoon and I was told I would need to stay another night because there was no room in the MRI schedule until the following morning. Brandi went home late Friday night and Huib stayed with me and Cessna (she was amazing, just sleeping on my bed the whole 48 hours). I had my MRI early Saturday and was discharged around 3pm after the results came back. The doctors are still not sure why my vision has deteriorated and whether it will return, but for now they are just treating the symptoms of the headaches.

I’m so glad to be home and out of the hospital. It’s amazing to see the varying level of care you can receive from different nurses. I’m so thankful that Brandi and Huib stayed with me the whole time because I’m not sure I would have survived on my own. My evening shift nurses were great both nights I stayed, but the day shift nurses on both Thursday and Friday were horrid!! My Friday one was a male and he was so stupid and lazy, I think Huib wanted to slap him a few times – he (not Huib) is an example of why some people don’t like male nurses. I think the worst thing he did other than to just cancel my call bell when I rang without coming to see what I wanted, was when he told my neuro-ophthalmologist in London that I was no longer at the hospital and must have been discharged. He was my nurse and I was literally two big steps from the nurses’ station!! Luckily my ophthalmologist and I were trading e-mails back and forth so when he told me what the nurse had said, Huib went over and clarified with them that I was indeed still admitted and that my doctor wanted to speak to the E.R one in charge of my care. My neuro-ophthalmologist was amazing and made sure to get the Timmins doctor to do all tests and send him the results as soon as they came in. even though it was a weekend, he still checked in via e-mail with me and gave me updates on what he was hearing from Timmins. Thankfully I had someone taking good care of me since my neurosurgeon in Hamilton really didn’t seem to care about what was happening, but that’s a whole other story and the conclusion is I’ll be getting a referral to a different one that my ophthalmologist has recommended.

It’s been an interesting 5 days. I’ve gone from seeing very little – through only 3 pin holes in my right eye – to seeing barely anything – sometimes even nothing. I’ve told some friends through facebook about my ordeal and called my aunt in London yesterday, but I’m not sure what to tell everyone. In the mornings I wake up and it’s almost complete darkness, I can’t tell if the lights are on or off and when I’m outside with the dogs I can’t tell if it is sunny or cloudy. At some point through the day though, not sure if it is related to the level of pain, my vision clears a bit. It’s like looking at the world through a not yet defogged car window I guess… I can see things around me, like the TV, the opening to our bedroom, the fan on our ceiling, motion on the TV, etc, but I can’t always tell people exactly where it is I see it (my hand-eye coordination is off or something) and at times I’m not even sure I’m seeing what I think I am – could it be my mind seeing what I know should be there? I’ve always wondered what it would be like if I ended up losing the rest of my sight and I guess I’m getting that glimpse or could it be forever…?

I guess time will tell, but for now I’m trying to move on and figure out how to do some of the things I enjoy.

A golden angel Passes

Yesterday Aries, a thirteen and a half year old female golden retriever took her last breath on earth to make her final journey across the “rainbow bridge” and join her canine friends. Aries had been losing weight over the past few months and had begun to refuse her food just after Christmas. On Friday night, just before her family rang in the new year, she began to tremble, seemed confused, and couldn’t get up or down without help. Her family worried, but couldn’t get her into the vet until Tuesday when they were told she probably had a tumor in her spleen which caused it to rupture – she was dying of internal bleeding.

I met Aries in 2000 when she was working as a dog guide for Lynette (handler of Endora & now DeeDee). They were living in Oakville at the time and I took Phoenix to visit for the weekend, so we could attend Midnight Madness. The Lions Foundation had asked clients to come with their dogs and I thought it was a good opportunity to meet Lynette, whom I had been chatting with online for over a year – we met on a client chat forum the LFC used to run on their website. Aries was a beautiful 3 year old and I instantly fell in love. Now looking back I think she is part of the reason I still have my love affair with goldens. I remember the visit well because it was quite the eventful first day. I had offered to brush Aries for Lynette and was sitting on the floor combing her when Lynette’s former fiance’s dog came over and began to pee in my lap. I’m not sure what got into him, but during the commotion of getting up and trying to clean up the mess, Phoenix went over and peed on his toy creating another mess. It’s funny to look back now at that moment, but I remember being horrified and wanting to take Phoenix directly home because I was so embarrassed. Aries was fine with the whole situation and just sat there waiting for me to return to combing her. The funniest part about the whole thing though, was that Aries was the one who tended to have accidents inside and that day she didn’t have even one.

Aries was never the greatest guide for Lynette, she had too many fears and stressed out easily, so after only 3 years of working she was retired and went to live with her parents in Cape Breton. I sadly never got to see Aries again, but Lynette made sure to keep me up to date on how she was doing over the years. She developed arthritis when she was about 10 and went deaf around the same time Phoenix did, but overall she was doing well in her older years – even her Inflammatory bowel Disease seemed to disappear in retirement. Even though she was never the dog guide Lynette found in Endora, Aries still remained a big part of Lynette’s life and I know she will be truly missed.

Rest in peace our little golden friend, even though you may not have been cut out to be a working companion, you were still a companion and have left your mark on many who knew you. I hope you find your new home to be even more special than the one you left behind.

Finally!!!

Some very exciting news to share with everyone. Canyon’s Canadian Kennel club paperwork has arrived!! It has been a long year of constantly e-mailing his sire’s breeder to get it done, but it’s been worth it.

Canyon is such a “diamond in the rough” and the delay has given us a chance to polish him up and see him shine.

Now that we have the official ownership transfer, we can begin some serious training and hopefully competing in the near future!!

“I’m going to stop procrastinating…once I get around to it.”