Archives for March 2011

Just A Wee Test

Hi, I’m Steve. I’m doing a tiny bit of technological jiggery pokery for the folks who normally entertain you. To make sure it works, I’m writing this. If it does, I won’t need to bother you again. If it doesn’t, I shall cry, and then perhaps bug you at least one more time.

Here goes.

Circling Thoughts

So it’s not even noon here and already I want to turn off the computer and crawl back into bed. I’m not sure why, but for the past week I haven’t been able to return to bed after Huib leaves for work. I guess it’s a good habit to get into, waking up early enough to be awake more of the day than sleeping, but it’s hard when you don’t have anything to look forward to – don’t work and live in the middle of nowhere. I think Cessna is really confused by my new routine, so instead of going back to bed herself, she’s started to join me on the couch. It’s nice to have this one-on-one time with her, but I’m sure she’d much rather have some one-on-one time with the bed instead lol!

Now, to what inspired this entry.

A friend messaged me via Facebook to ask how his friend should go about reporting a service dog handler she has witnessed numerous times mistreating their dog. After writing back to explain that she would first need to figure out where the dog is from and then contact the organization with her concerns, I hit send, but couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.

As I sit here on the couch, with Cessna on my legs and Canyon by my side happily squeaking his new ball, I try to figure out how someone could possibly think it’s okay to treat their dog like they have no feelings or emotions at all. It’s never acceptable, but to do this to an animal who has been trained to help, been taught to trust, to believe that this human being will love and care for them, an animal who does not understand the meaning of hatred, but who will love unconditionally to a fault, is just beyond my ability to wrap my head around. I will admit that I once thought it was okay to use overly harsh chain collar corrections and didn’t understand why my sister or friends would cringe in horror – it was what I had been taught . Cessna changed my perceptions forever though when she showed me the emotional scars which could be left behind. Looking back on the early days of our partnership, the days when she would tense up and shake after a correction or sink to the ground in the hopes of not being noticed when anyone raised their voice, I can’t help but get a little teary. Cessna did nothing to deserve these experiences, but was subjected to things I can only imagine terrified her, in an effort to “make” her “conform” to the expectations of what a dog guide should resemble. I remember calling friends to ask for help and some nights even crying on Huib’s shoulder because I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or what had happened to make Cessna so afraid of me. I had never raised a hand to her, but if I reached over to pet her head too quickly she’d duck and back off. I never corrected her harder than I was taught, but she’d tense up and shake, while looking at me with fear in her eyes. After finally realizing that it wasn’t me who had caused this reaction,I understood that it was still my responsibility to help her move beyond the horrible memories which followed her. These images of my once fearful little girl circle my mind whenever I think about the service dog who’s being mistreated.

Having a service dog is not a right, but a privilege. These amazing canines will walk through hot lava to get to us if we need them, so please treat them with the same respect and dignity you’d give a friend or family member.

Thank you for listening. Think I’ll go grab a fresh Tigger mug full of hazelnut coffee and climb back under the covers on the couch with my old boy. I guess Cessna has Been called back to the bedroom for a nap by the bed lol!

Here are a couple pictures of my sleeping beauty for your enjoyment.

The Timelessness Of Music

Just a quick note before I begin writing. Yesterday I decided to combine “Life and Its Challenges” with “Ruled By Paws” so you will notice some new, but old entries have appeared. When I started “Life And Its challenges” I thought it would be nice to just have a blog dedicated to my personal life and thoughts so they wouldn’t seem strange amongst all of my dog entries, but I just found it hard to keep the dogs separate at times and also didn’t find I had as much to say on a personal level. So, now you will get more of a glimpse into the lives of Huib and myself, instead of just the parts which pertain to our fur babies, as some like to call them.

This morning I’ve been listening to the Lithium channel on Serious radio and the song “What Its Like” by Everlast got me thinking about how some songs just never lose their effectiveness.

From Googling the song I learned it was the first song Everlast did when he left House of Pain. I don’t know his previous band, but I sure do like his first solo. According to Song Facts,
“What It’s Like” is about how society is too quick to judge people. It looks at the lives of three different people and the chorus continually reminds the listener that if they knew what it was truly like then they wouldn’t be so fast to label. Even though this song was written back in 1999, the meaning behind the words still causes listeners to pause and reflect about a social issue which remains unchanged.

There are other songs which come up on the radio from time to time that get me thinking about their meanings and how even with time the message rings true.

Are there any songs out there which make you stop and think?

Canine Memory

So, I know I just posted one yesterday, but after getting a comment on Facebook from Aiden’s boy’s mom, I began thinking the one memory I’d love to forget, from we were fostering him – please don’t choke on your coffee Joanne!

Aiden – The Pulling Machine

Aiden was one of the smartest puppies I’d ever encountered. He seemed to come knowing he had to relieve outside and almost had the “sit” command down within 24 hours of arriving. It took us very little effort to teach him the rest of his basic commands and by the time he was four months, he already knew several tricks and would do them for anyone who asked. Well there was one behavior we were unable to teach him and it actually almost got him washed from the program. No matter how much we worked with him, Aiden just couldn’t understand the concept of heeling.

When he was about eight months of age we were in the mall and he had been overly distracted so I decided it was time to break out the Halti. I got him to sit and then let him sniff it before putting it on. It worked right away. Aiden and I were no longer struggling against one another and he was calmly walking at my side. I was so impressed and thought we had found the cure for the constant sore shoulders we were experiencing. Well, we turned a corner and there, standing in the distance was Amber (his sister) and her foster mom. The second Aiden saw her, he began to pull towards them and I pulled back, first mistake, so he pulled harder. Well, being the dumb ass I am, I did a quick flick of my wrist, trying to get his attention. Instead of accomplishing what I had hoped, the flick caused the Halti to come off his face (he had turned his head) which then caused the leash to follow through with the backward motion of my arm. Well, the Halti, still attached to the leash, flew over my shoulder and just narrowly missed hitting a woman in the face who had been walking by at that exact moment. I didn’t know what to say, and Huib was horrified! Aiden took this moment of confusion to take off running down the hall, where he was caught by Amber’s foster mom. My second mistake of the day, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, was forgetting to clip the leash to both the collar and Halti. From that day on, we never used the Halti again with Aiden and just worked on trying to convince him not to dislocate our shoulders.

Here’s a picture of the siblings from our trip to St. Jacob’s Market in October of 2008.

I’m sure there are other duh moments from my puppy raising days, but you’ll have to wait, because at the moment I can’t think of another.

“turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

Canine Memory

As usual, I haven’t posted a memory in a while so here comes one now!!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go…

I’m sure you all know where this post is going, but just in case you’re still in need of your morning coffee, I’ll give you a little clue…POO!!

Phoenix is the pooping king. He will poop more times in a day than any other being in our home. He does not care where he is, if he has to go and he can’t get your attention, then he’ll just drop his load. Luckily with the raw diet though, his stools are quite dry and easy to pick up. But, I do remember his working days and wanting to die, because he decided it was a good idea to drop a load in front of a crowd of unsuspecting mall goers. I used to dread going into malls with Phoenix. It did not matter how many times he pooped before we arrived or if he had eaten before we left home – it would happen!! We’d be walking along, doing well I thought, and then….he’d begin to slow a little…and before I could react….he’d do it!! I don’t know how many times I’d look around to see if anyone noticed, only to find out we were standing right beside a table of people eating their lunch in the food court. He didn’t keep these little surprises for just the mall either! I also hated taking him to visit friends and family because I knew they would end up convincing me to let him off leash, only to later find out he had left a present in their basement or once in a little girl’s bedroom!! Phoenix’s pooping in public got to be so frustrating near the end of his working career, that I was actually sort of relieved when he decided it was time to throw in the towel and spend his days relaxing on the couch.

Phoenix is not the only one in our household who has left a family member an unexpected surprise – Cessna is just as guilty. Cessna is a little more finicky about where she deposits her treasures, but for some unknown reason, she has left my aunt’s guy friend more than just one present in the only room of the house he does not allow his own dogs to enter. I have never worried about allowing Cessna off leash when visiting or wondered if she would squat in the middle of a public place – she is a reliable reliever. But, after Dean entered his living room to grab a coaster and found a neat little pile of Cessna logs, I’ve been a little more cautious.

We’ve been really lucky with Canyon thus far. He has not once had an accident that I can remember in someone’s home, but with Aspen….luck hasn’t really been on our side. Jess from At A Glacial Pace will remember this one!

When Aiden was about 8 months of age, Jess and her roommates invited us to come with the dogs for Jetta’s retirement party (I think). Well, my sister was living with us at this point in time so we decided to leave Phoenix at home and bring our other three; Cessna, Aspen and Aiden. Well, Aspen had been having some stomach issues that day, so we probably should have left her home, but thought the Immodium we had given her would keep her belly happy enough – we were wrong!! We arrived before most of the other guests, so Aspen took this time to get in as many Auntie Jess snuggles as possible. Well, I guess her belly began to bother her so she got into Jess’s lap in an effort to get Huib’s attention, he was sitting in a chair to her right, but before anyone knew what she was doing….her bowels let go! Huib grabbed Aspen and ran her outside, while I caught the other two, so Jess and her roommates could get everything cleaned up. I couldn’t stop apologizing and so desperately wanted to crawl under a rock and die! I know it wasn’t Aspen’s fault, but how many people can actually say their dog has pooped in a friend’s lap? Aspen has had bowel issues since a very young age so, we should have known something like this could happen.

Here’s a final Aspen story to further spoil your breakfast. When Aspen was a year old, we were still working on the whole house training because of her overly sensitive bowels. Well, my aunt bought me a huge bag of Jelly Belly’s for a graduation present and stupidly, I left them on our coffee table while we ran out the door for the ceremony. Aspen had been doing quite well with staying alone, so I didn’t think twice about crating her. When we arrived home in the afternoon, my sister immediately saw the empty jelly Belly package on the living room floor and brought it outside for me to see – I had been letting Aspen out. Well, she didn’t seem to be having any issues and her breath smelled absolutely delicious, so we weren’t too worried. That night, I woke up to the smell of poop. I got out of bed slowly and tried to find the source, but was unsuccessful so woke Huib. He looked around for a good five minutes and just before giving up, found it! It wasn’t on the floor, but on top of Phoenix’s crate!! Now, I’m guessing you’re thinking the same thing we did, “how the heck did she get up there?” Well, we had a pretty small bedroom back then so had a Rubbermaid container sitting between the end of our bed and his crate. I guess she had to go, so thought she’d climb up there and poop while looking outside lol! We had been working so hard on teaching her not to poop indoors, that I guess she decided this was the best option since she couldn’t wake us. Well, she didn’t get in trouble that day because first of all, we couldn’t stop laughing, and second, we thought it was pretty smart.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our messy adventures and hope we didn’t ruin your breakfast!

Letters Sent

A week ago I told everyone about Christina Montada and her fight for life. Today I thought I’d post a copy of the letter I sent to: the Ontario Health Minister (Deborah Matthews), the Ontario Premier (Dalton McGuinty), Parliamentary Assistant to the health Minister (Liz Sandals) and the Halton MPP (Ted Chudleigh) on her behalf. I decided to send letters and e-mails to all of them because each one can make a difference in their own way and I chose Liz Sandals because she just happens to be the MPP for Guelph and someone I met through hosting the Purina Walk For Dog Guides before moving to Northern Ontario.

Here’s a picture from our 2009 walk. If I’m not incorrect Guelph city Counselor, Gloria Kovak, is standing to my left and Liz Sandals beside her.

If you’d like to help Christina, don’t hesitate to leave a comment with your contact information and I’ll make sure not to post any personal information since comments here are moderated.

Dear (Name of Person)
My name is Brooke Sillaby and I am writing to ask for your assistance in helping my friend’s daughter, Christina Montada, receive the lifesaving device called the Vegas nerve Stimulator.

I have known Christina’s mother, Monique Lee-Montada for just over two years and have come to love her daughter as if she were my own. I came to know Christina through my work with an organization called Autism dog Services and even though I no longer raise puppies, I continue to keep in touch with her family. Christina is only nine years old, but has overcome more challenges and health scares than any adult I know.

From a young age, Christina has had an ongoing struggle to live. Around the age of seven months she was given a gastro tube for nutrition because she was not meeting the appropriate developmental milestones. Due to the long period of time without sufficient nutrition, Christina has been left with delays in all areas of development. She is not independently mobile and does not have any formal method of communication, so finds it frustrating to get her needs across. In addition to all of this Christina was recently diagnosed with Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome and Tonic/Clonic Epilepsy.

CFC has been a tough diagnosis to accept, but christina’s family is finding it even harder to deal with watching their little angel struggle to survive the numerous seizures that are taking a toll on her little body. Christina has tried several different medications, and is currently on a Ketogenic Diet, in an effort to provide some relief, but nothing seems to work. Recently, her family was informed of a lifesaving alternative, the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, but their excitement was short lived because they were told Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital is only able to perform 8-10 procedures a year. This is not because they do not want to do more, but because OHIP does not cover the units and the money must be taken out of the Hospital’s own surgery budget.

I do not understand why such a device would not be covered when approval for something as trivial as a new computer for someone with a disability (like me) is given with just the okay of a “certified” assessment person. I am not saying my assistive devices are not important for me to live comfortably, but the Vegas nerve Stimulator is often the last alternative children like Christina have for any sort of life at all.

I hope you will read this letter, along with letters from others whose lives have been touched by Christina Montada and take it upon yourself to make sure she receives the device that will save her little life.

Sincerely,

Brooke Sillaby

A Little Improvement

Canyon and I had our second training session with the Border Collie lady and she seemed quite impressed with our work. Last week’s session wasn’t overly successful, so I had really tried to practice what she had taught us, so she wouldn’t think we were a waste of her time. Last week he was really distracted by all the smells left in the room by the other dogs before him and really didn’t seem interested in working for me. This week he was still a little distracted, but at least tried to pay attention to what we were asking him to try. I cut up a couple of chicken hot dogs and cheese strings, so I think he felt it was a little more worth his while. What really got his attention off the smells in the room though, was a small ball on a rope her husband was playing with, so she asked him to toss it over and we used that instead of the treats for some of the more difficult tasks.

This week we did a little more of the “touch” cue – not Canyon’s favourite – and then moved on to using his desire for whatever I had in my left hand to start teaching him a bit about the “heel” and where he was expected to be positioned. I’m not a huge fan of lure training, but Canyon doesn’t really offer many behaviours so if luring him works, I guess that’s what we’ll need to do until he understands what I am asking for. For getting him into the “heel” position, the Border Collie lady had me hold the little ball on a rope in my left hand and bring it from Canyon’s nose area (he was standing in front of me) to behind me, in sort of a counterclockwise circle motion so he’d turn his body and he’d end up straight at my hip – I hope this makes sense. He was quite excited to get a chance to play with the ball so eagerly followed my left hand into position. Once he was in position, she had me take a couple steps and then when she clicked I threw the toy for him to go fetch. I need to work on my positioning when I’m bringing him around my body, but otherwise we did quite well with this exercise. After a bit of “heel” work, we moved on to practicing some “down-stays” and “sit-stays.” Canyon’s “down-stays” are really good because we practice them while playing fetch so that Aspen and Cessna have a chance to retrieve as well, but his “sit-stays” need some work. For this part of the lesson we just used the hot dog and cheese because the toy had him too riled up.

I think that’s about all we worked on, but I thought we covered quite a lot in just 40 minutes. We meet her for half an hour after her classes on Tuesdays because of Huib’s work schedule, but she finds we cover more than she can in her full hour lessons.

I’m not sure what we’ll learn next week, but she has asked me to make a list of some of the things I’d really like to teach Canyon – any suggestions?

Just For Her

Today I’ve decided to write a post dedicated solely to Cessna. Today isn’t our anniversary. It isn’t really a special day at all, but last night her and I had such an amazing informal training session that I needed to write about it.

Huib and I had just planned to practice the touch command with Canyon, in addition to the formal “front” (couldn’t find a good link), but after a frustrating session I decided to bring Cessna into the kitchen for some fun.

I started out with some basic stuff; sit, down, speak, “give five” and stand – with Huib clicking and me giving her the treat only if she did it immediately. After a few minutes of this, I moved on to getting her to “touch” my hand. We first learned this a couple of years ago when I was taking classes with dogs In the Park so it’s something we often practice during our impromptu training sessions. So far I’ve only expanded the cue to get her to ring a bell, we attached to our sliding door, when she needs to go out or to get her to show me where I’ve dropped something I don’t want her picking up. She only does the “touch” with her nose at the moment, but I’m hoping to get her doing a “touch” with her paw (but with a new name).

But, back to our session… so after she’d done some very basic hand touches, I decided to try something a little different. Huib went and got a piece of navy blue duct tape and I proceeded to stick it to the wall around her nose level. I had her sit and then asked her to “touch” – pointing to the piece of tape. She ran over and bumped the spot with her nose, Huib clicked and I gave her 3 treats with an excited “Good Girl!!” we did this a couple more times and then I asked her to sit and wait again while I moved the target to a spot just a bit higher up. Again I asked her to “touch” and pointed to the spot of navy blue tape. She ran over and hit it with no trouble whatsoever! After a couple practice rounds, she looked up at me as if to ask “what now?” Since she’d breezed through the last two challenges I decided to up the ante and proceeded to stick the tape to the wall around my shoulders, while she sat and waited for the release. I wasn’t sure she’d be able to reach or if she’d even attempt the request, but I asked her if she was ready and then said “touch” in an excited voice, while pointing. Her first attempt was more of a sniff, but she still got a click and treat for trying. Before asking for it again, I told her to sit so she’d calm down a bit and regain her focus – she can get a little exuberant when she knows she’s doing a good job. When she appeared more relaxed, I asked her to “touch” in an excited voice and pointed to the spot again. She ran over to the wall, put her paws up and did it!!! She put her nose right to the centre of the target. Huib clicked the second her nose made contact and I gave her a hand full of treats while we did a happy dance.

I’m hoping to use this new “development” to move onto more useful things like turning off lights, opening/closing doors, and who knows what else – the sky’s the limit! Cessna and I have been together for almost six years, but she still continues to amaze me with her overwhelming desire to learn new things. Huib’s been working on teaching her to pick up her toys and put them into the toy bin, which is another skill we can utilize and expand. She’s been picking up things and giving them to us for years, so we thought we might as well teach her something more she can do with it. I’ll continue to work on her targeting, but may also start teaching her to use her tugging abilities for more than play – maybe some bedroom door opening lessons?? I know Cessna isn’t a Special Skills Dog Guide, but she enjoys learning, so why not teach her some extra skills, right?

Maybe at a later date I’ll write about all the extra skills she currently possesses.

Advocating For Christina

In an earlier post I briefly mentioned Christina and her former autism service dog, Spencer. I’m now going to share the story of this little angel and her ongoing fight for life.

We first met Spencer (now retired), at an Autism Dog Services puppy training session in Waterloo with a 3 or 4 month old Aiden. At the time, Spencer was staying with the program trainer in order to learn what he needed to do for Christina. I remember being given a chance to walk with Spencer and thinking about how lucky this little girl, I did not yet know, was to have him in her life. He was so attentive, confident and wanting to learn.

Fast forward 9 months or so and I got a chance to meet Monique, Christina’s Mom. From the moment I met her, I knew we’d become friends and stay in touch. Monique is an amazing woman. She wants what’s best for her daughter and isn’t afraid to make things happen. When we first met she asked a lot of questions about how we could raise a puppy knowing it would someday leave us for a new family. She listened to what we said and tried to understand why we were doing this. Throughout the outing she’d come over and comment on how well-behaved Aiden was and how she’d love to trade him for Spencer – he liked to give Monique a hard time. We met Monique a few more times and began keeping in touch.

Christina is 9 years old and has Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome, in addition to tonic/clonic epilepsy. She was originally diagnosed with Noonan’s Syndrome, but after a few years of doctors scratching their heads and finally more thorough tests it was discovered that her seizures were the one symptom which separated Noonan’s from her actual diagnosis of CFC. CFC is a rare genetic condition that usually affects the heart, facial features and skin. Children with this diagnosis may possess the following features –
• relatively large head size
• wide-spacing eyes which may cause decreased vision & acuity
• Sparse eyebrows
• Curly hair
• Areas of thickened or scaly skin
• Small stature
• Heart defect
• Varying degrees of learning difficulty & developmental delay
• Feeding/GI problems (failure to thrive)
• Varying severity of neurologic conditions (seizures, cognitive impairment, etc)
(CFC International, 2010)
Several of the above characteristics are also present in the diagnosis of Noonan’s Syndrome, so it is understandable that it took doctors time to figure out Christina’s true diagnosis of CFC.

CFC was a tough diagnosis to accept, but christina’s family is finding it even harder to deal with watching their little angel struggle to survive the numerous seizures that are taking a toll on her little body. Christina has been put on several different medications and is currently on a Ketogenic Diet in an effort to provide some relief, but nothing seems to work. Recently, they were informed of a life-saving alternative, the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, but their excitement was short-lived because they were informed that Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital is only able to perform 8-10 procedures a year. This is not because they don’t want to do more, but because OHIP doesn’t cover the units and the money must be taken out of the Hospital’s own surgery budget. This news does not sit well with Christina’s Mom, so she has taken it upon herself to begin writing letters to Ontario’s Minister of Health, hoping something can be done to rectify the situation. It’s hard to understand why a life saving surgery wouldn’t be covered, but something like a Gastro Bipass would be approved without a second thought. I’m not saying the Gastro Bipass isn’t important for some people to live a long and productive life, but the VNS is often the last chance these children have for a life at all.

Christina may not be like other children, but she is just as entitled to living a long and happy life with her friends and family. She has had to climb an uphill battle since a very young age and could teach us so much about what it really means to live. She may not be able to get around on her own. She may not be able to enjoy a home cooked meal like the rest of us. And she may not have any formal method of communication, but she has feelings and she knows what’s going on around her.

I know there’s not much I can do for Christina, but I’m hoping that by sharing her story and letting everyone know about the struggles she must overcome each day, maybe someone will stumble across my little place on the worldwide web and start bringing about change. There are so many children out there like Christina, but as of today they’re no longer alone in their fight for life because they have Monique on their side. Christina’s Mom is a strong woman and I know that she will never give up on her daughter because she believes, just as I do, that everyone deserves a chance at life. If you’d like to join us in writing letters to the Ontario Minister of Health, please leave your e-mail address in the comments section and Monique or I will contact you with the details.

I’ll finish this entry with a poem I found on the following website – http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/index.html – I hope the author doesn’t mind me re-posting it here…

The Misunderstood child
by Chelsea-Louise Perry
(England)
I am the child that looks healthy and fine
I was born with ten fingers and toes
But something is different somewhere in my mind
And what that is nobody knows.

I am the child that struggles at school
Though they tell me I’m perfectly smart
They tell me I’m lazy, can learn if I try
But I don’t seem to know where to start.

I am the child that won’t wear the clothes
Which hurt me or bother me too much
I dread sudden noises,
Can’t handle smells and tastes,
There are few foods that I will eat.

I am the child with a broken heart
Though I act like it don’t hurt inside
For I am the child that needs to be loved
And accepted and valued too.

I am the child that is misunderstood
I am different, and I understand that too
But for me to fit in and be accepted
Is totally up to you.

Please help us advocate for Christina and children like her because if we don’t, no one will.

The 3rd Assistance Dog blog Carnival

<img style="display:block; margin:0px auto 10px; text-align:center;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 195px; height: 200px;" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-69hroyrVytI/TYGFHjWReBI/AAAAAAAAAi4/HQRI4JI6zHY/s320/carnival_button_4.jpg" border="0" alt="Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Badge: A dark purple silhouette side view of a large-breed dog with a curly tail against a pale purple-ish pink backround.
Text above the dog reads: Assistance Dog. And text below the dog reads: Blog Carnival”id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5584891377710364690″ />

Just thought I’d let anyone interested know that the 3rd Assistance Dog blog Carnival has been announced over at The Trouble Is…

The topic this round is reactions.

Remember, you don’t have to have a service dog, but just have to write something that’s related to service dogs in some way.

I look forward to participating and hope you all will as well!