Archives for April 2011

Perfect For Me

When the topic “reactions” was announced for the upcoming round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival I wasn’t sure I’d be able to participate. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought I had nothing to write about. My family have never reacted poorly to anything to do with my dog guides and I haven’t experienced any noteworthy reactions from the public. But, after a few days of thinking and some more heart-to-heart discussions with Huib about the possibility of raising and training my next guide, I thought of something to write about.

My problem was now finding a way to write without offending others

As mentioned in my previous ADBC entry, I looked at different guide dog programs, but decided on the Lions Foundation of Canada
in 1997 and have gotten my second and third guides from there as well. I like the LFC’s small class sizes. I enjoy their laid back atmosphere. I like that they have very few rules/policies and that they don’t come out unless you call for assistance. In addition to all of this, I love their harnesses and have enjoyed each dog I’ve been matched with. Everyone has their reasons for choosing to go to a particular school, but for some reason; I’ve encountered numerous people who find it necessary to make me aware of their feelings surrounding my decision.

The LFC, like other schools, have had their “growing pains”. They have put out “good” dogs and not so “good” dogs. I think because they are located in Canada, and happen to be in the same province as I currently reside, I get a continuous stream of negative comments regarding their track record. I have had three dogs from the school and would not think twice about returning for a fourth. I think that if I lived in another country, near a different school, that I would more than likely begin hearing the same negative stories. I think people need to stop and think before they begin insulting someone for their choices because maybe that person has not had the problems their friends experienced. Or, maybe it wasn’t the dog’s fault at all and therefore not a result of poor training.

When I first began working with Cessna, I heard some of the worst jokes and criticisms. She was only a year and a half, so was full of spirit and had a lot of maturing to do, but still people bombarded me with negativity about my choice to receive a dog guide from the LFC. I think it was hard for people to separate the images they had of terrible dogs they’d met over the years from the newly working Cessna, because to them she did not fit their image of a fully trained dog guide. She was high energy, easily distracted, slow to obey commands and found it hard to settle.

To most, Cessna looked like a joke, but to me, she was a welcome challenge.

Some, desire a dog who will obey and work well from day one. A dog who they can immediately put a harness on and trust. A dog that will not question their authority or that they will need to put a lot of effort into. This, is not me. I look forward to the challenge a new dog will bring and thrive on being asked to think outside the box. I want my dog to make me work for their trust and respect. Phoenix and I bonded quickly, but it took time for him to realize that I knew what I was doing and that he could trust in my judgments. Cessna and I did not begin bonding until our second week together and weren’t even close to being a true team until a year and a half after “gotcha day”. Both have taught me important lessons that I don’t think I would have learned without them in my life.

So, next time you feel the need to express your opinions surrounding someone’s decision, please remember these final words. Everyone makes decisions in their lives because it’s right for them, not because it’s right for everyone.

Training With Canyon

On Tuesday, Canyon and I had our fourth lesson with the Border Collie lady and it went quite well!

Last week, we worked some more on our positioning for the “heel” and then began trying to walk further and further with him remaining “in position”. He stays right by my side most of the time, but will sometimes get a little ahead, so this week we started saying “wrong” and starting over again. She explained that if I just kept changing directions when he got out of place that he wouldn’t understand exactly where or if he did something wrong. This really made sense to me, so instead of just continuing on for as long as I want, I’m stopping the second he’s out of place, telling him “wrong” and returning to where we started. I found this week to be one of the best sessions because Canyon and I have really begun to understand one another.

This week we also practiced our “fronts”, “sit-stays” and “hand touches”. For the “front”, she has me sit on the very edge of a chair with my legs slightly outstretched to give Canyon a sort of spot to aim for. Then she has me throw a treat and then call him, using my hands to sort of direct him into the centre of my body – not sure this really makes too much sense, so I’ll try and explain how I position my hands. When Canyon is retrieving the treat, I sort of hold my hands together as though I’m praying, but have my arms outstretched, and as he comes I bring my arms towards my body in a sort of “U” motion. For the most part, Canyon tends to come in straight, but stays about a foot or so back. The Border Collie lady thinks this is probably close enough since he’s a big boy, but we are rewarding the times he comes in really close, as opposed to when he is just perfectly straight. His “hand touches” are coming along, but he still won’t really do them on command – it more looks as though he’s just bumping my hand because it was there or because he thinks there is a treat. I’ve made a “touch stick” to try and further his understanding. We made the “touch stick” from a mop handle and put bright yellow and navy blue electrical tape on one end to give him a target. Cessna already knows this game, so I’ve also purchased a button thingy that makes different laughing noises when pressed for her to practice the “touch” with. I want her to get really good at “nose touching” before we move on to learning a new command for “paw touching”.

The rest of our session this week was spent learning two new behaviours – backing up and turning left and right. For backing up, she has us toss treats between his front paws and as he goes to move, we say “back”. He really liked this game, but after ten tries was not quite ready to do it without the treat being thrown. Unfortunately, Huib will have to help with this one because the aim needs to be perfect and I need to click the second he moves his paws. I think teaching Cessna this command on my own will be easier though since she is black and there is better contrast between her paws and the floor. she already knows how to back up when on leash, so I think it shouldn’t be too hard to teach her how to do it in other contexts.

Then, to teach the the lefts and rights, the Border Collie lady had me hold a treat above Canyon’s head and with my right hand move him in a counter-clockwise circle while saying “left” and then doing the same with my left hand, but instead having him move in a clockwise circle while saying “right”. He started doing this one quite easily, but we’ll have to practice a bit before I think he’ll do it without the lure. Cessna knows her lefts and rights for working, so again I think it will be easy to teach her in the new context.

Canyon and I have four more obedience lessons with the Border Collie lady before she sets up her agility equipment for the spring/summer sessions. At this point, we’ll be working outside and she’ll have less of a time constraint, so Cessna will begin coming as well. I won’t work the two together, but will have one in the truck while the other has their half hour lesson. I’m hoping to build some of my own agility equipment in the summer, so we can practice what we’ve learned at home.

Advice For Life

This morning, I was reading through blogs I follow, trying to find some inspiration for a post and found it on Rolling Around In My Head. Mr. Hingsburger was writing about a particular book he enjoys writing notes in for presentations or blog entries and how he had come across an old entry from back when he had first learned of his disability. He writes about some of the feelings he had and then ends the post with these three words “live what’s given.”

Tough to do sometimes…

When we’re children, we dream of the amazing life we’ll have as adults. We think about the high paying job. About the big house, expensive car and fancy neighbourhood. We fantasize about the special person we’ll share our fairytale life with an some, will dream of the children they will have.

But…then…we grow up…

We become adults. We quickly realize that achieving that fairytale is impossible. We learn that we were naive to think that if we just followed the rules, our dreams would come true.

Our dreams never included, the road blocks, detours or crashes, that make up real life.

In my fairytale life, I was a successful veterinarian. Living in a large house. With a fancy car and all the possessions I could dream of. I never wanted to have my own children, but thought I would adopt and have a husband willing to be the “stay at home” Dad.

Well at the age of 13, I got my first real life check. I lost most of my vision and could no longer be the veterinarian in my dreams. But, I didn’t want to let this damper my fairytale, so decided on being a lawyer and worked hard in school. I met the man of my dreams while working on my first university degree and thought life was now beginning to work out the way I had dreamed – just a little glitch right? Well, I finished my first degree and after completing the LSAT, decided law school wasn’t really for me, so began applying to various schools for social work. I got into my first choice, McMaster University, and got my next reality check during the search for a field placement. I hadn’t really tried to find work before attending Mac so did not believe friends when they told me it was extremely difficult to find work with a disability. I guess I didn’t want to believe that society could still be discriminatory against people in this day and age. I wanted to believe that having two university degrees would shelter me from this horrible truth and that I would be one of the few who had defied the odds. Well, I was sadly mistaken; I’m still not working after graduating in June of 2007.

When I read Mr. Hingsburger’s post and saw “live what’s given,” I began to think about all the good things in my life that would never have happened if my shunt had not blocked and caused me to lose most of my vision.

I think the first thing I will thank my vision loss for, is Huib. You’re probably wondering why I would give my vision loss the credit for bringing Huib into my life, but if it weren’t for being visually impaired, I’m not sure we would have had the opportunity to meet or become so close. We still would have been at the University of Guelph together, but because of my vision loss I met a lot of different people and learned about many volunteer opportunities via peer helpers who were assigned to help Phoenix and I become accustomed to the campus. It was through these interactions that I found out about the University’s Safe Walk program and later met Huib.

Second, I’d like to thank my vision loss for Gryphon. You’re probably wondering why I’m not giving thanks for Phoenix and the others, but Gryphon was my first dog guide. And, even though him and I did not work for long, he still left an impression on me, that would lead to me never returning to the white cane. In addition to this, Gryphon re-ignited my desire to work with animals. Even though I can no longer be a veterinarian, I have directed my efforts towards learning all I can about training and caring for dogs so that maybe in the future I can begin a breeding program and/or a rescue group.

Finally, I’d like to thank my vision loss for showing me “the humour in life.” Because, without the ability to look back on experiences and smile, I don’t believe I could have become the woman I am today.

I think it’s important to learn how to “live what’s given” because if we spend our whole life thinking about how it could have been, we’ll miss the good things that would not have happened if our childhood fairytales had come true.

Another Fundraiser

Hi Everyone!
It’s Cessna and Phoenix here. Mom is a little busy so, we offered to take over and let you all know about a fundraising project our friends over at Dog’s Eye view are undertaking.

Jack is from Guide Dogs of America, so L^2 has decided to begin their fundraising project for their upcoming 6 month anniversary. If you’d like some more information about the project you can also visit this post. Both Phoenix and I are not from Guide Dogs of America, but think it is important to help out friends when possible. If you’d like to help L^2 and Jack with their project, please visit the links we’ve provided for instructions on how to donate.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Phoenix thinks we should tell you all about the wonderful toys Mommy and Daddy bought us and all about the treats they made.

On Tuesday Daddy came home from work with a big box – I don’t remember there being toys at his work…guess they were hiding them on me! When Mommy opened the box, there were some really fun things: a Galileo Bone, a Nylabone Double Action Revolving Chew, a liver flavor Nylabone, a lime green Tough By Nature Good Cuz, a lot of squeaky Air Kong Tennis Balls,a yellow stuffed duck and white stuffed lamb that honk, an orange and black JW Arachnoid Ball and two new Kong Wobblers that Mommy says is for Aiden and Reece. Canyon really likes the JW Arachnoid Ball and Air Kong Tennis Balls, Aspen likes the yellow duck and Phoenix says he is a little too old to be playing with all that, but finds it fun to grab one and tease canyon – I actually like doing the same thing!!

Then this weekend we got even more surprises! Mommy and Daddy made us new cookies to share. They made some shrimp ones for me by grinding the leftover tails and shells into a paste to mix with some spelt flour and then made some banana/cinnamon ones for the goldens . Then for Phoenix, Daddy made some more dehydrated veggies – turnip, sweet potato and a really weird purple one.

Well that’s all for now, but Phoenix and I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you will try and help our friends sponsor a puppy.

Lots of Labrador kisses and tail wags,

Cessna and Phoenix

Theme Songs

While on Twitter yesterday I saw this question, “What would your dog’s theme song be?”, and it got me thinking. I’ve never really thought about what songs would suit the personality and/or character of each of my dogs, so I thought it would be a pretty cool task to undertake.

After a few hours of filtering through the various songs on my computer and discussing each choice with Huib, we came up with the following:

Cessna ~ The Hamsterdance Song by Hampton The Hamster
Canyon ~ Can I Go Nowhere with You by Joel Plaskett
Phoenix ~ What the Hell by Avril Levigne and
Aspen ~ Girls Just Wanna Have fun by Cindy Lauper

If you know anything about our dogs, I’m sure you’ll agree that each of the above songs really fits. But, for those who have not had the pleasure of meeting our wonderful canines, I’ll take a moment to explain why we’ve chosen each song.

Cessna is a very happy, go lucky girl. She is always ready for anything and if she even thinks you’re considering a trip outside, she’s up and ready to go. She loves to swim. She loves to play. And most of all she loves to experience fun and exciting things – for example, our trip to Marineland. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Cessna has forced us to learn new things in order to always remain one step ahead and has challenged every expectation of “what a service dog should be”. I think Hampton the Hamster’s song truly illustrates her lust for life and constant desire to just let it all loose and party!

We chose Joel Plaskett’s song “Can I Go Nowhere With You” for Canyon because it doesn’t matter what he’s doing or whether you’ve been moving throughout the house all day without any real goal, he’ll stop and happily follow along. Canyon is a truly loyal companion and this song demonstrates his love of just being with his family, no matter what’s happening around him.

Phoenix has always been an Avril Levigne fan, when a song of hers would come on the radio you’d see his tail wagging along, so it’s quite funny that her newest song just happens to be a suiting theme for Phoenix. As I’ve said many times before, Phoenix was a wonderful guide and companion throughout my final year of high school and then during my years at the University of Guelph. He was good in classes, never got distracted easily, and for the most part, listened to everything I asked. When he began getting close to retirement I noticed he no longer wanted to do a lot of these things and would test me on even the simplest of tasks. Since his retirement, almost six years ago, he has continued to live his life on his own terms and if we don’t like it he doesn’t seem phased. He’ll just wag his tail and walk on by. It’s as though he’s saying “I was good for a very long time, so it’s time to just let my hair down and enjoy life”. Well, I think I agree with him, he did work hard and definitely deserves to say “what the hell” and enjoy his final years without worry.

Finally, we chose Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as Aspen’s theme song because that’s pretty much how it is. Aspen was our first pet dog and has really never had a true job to do, except for keep Phoenix company and help out with the puppies when we have one. She knows only her basic commands of: sit, down, come, stay, leave it and heel. She’s shown absolutely no desire to learn anything further than to give five and we’re okay with that. Aspen always has a smile on her face and thinks everyone should love her.

So, there you have it, each of the ruled by paws gang, now has a theme song.

Do your fur babies have one?

It’s Our Choice

Last week I was telling a friend about what I’ve recently taught Cessna and Canyon. Instead of the usual questions though, he asked about whether our landlords would care that we had been putting tape on the walls and then finished off by saying he doesn’t get why I do all this with them because they are just dogs. The fact that he seemed disinterested in what I was telling him was frustrating, but what really stuck in my mind was his “they’re just dogs” comment.

I’m sure all other dog owners out there get similar questions and comments, but doesn’t it get tiring to here the same ones over and over again? The ones that really bug me are; “Don’t you think you guys have enough dogs?”, “I don’t know how you guys put up with all the hair…”, “you’ve got your hands busy there…”, Or “why do you bother? They’re just dogs…”. The first one and last one are the ones we get the most from family and friends and are the ones this entry will focus on.

As everyone knows, Huib and I are the proud guardians of four dogs and two cats. Each one has entered our lives at different points and each one has made a difference in their own way. Phoenix was already with me when I first began dating Huib so, when he retired there was no other possible choice than to keep him as our pet. I write a lot about Phoenix and how important he is and has been to making me who I am today, so I will not bore you with more on that. Next came Logan and Laya. Huib was living in a bachelor apartment during our second year of dating and was finding it lonely when Phoenix and I couldn’t come visit. He had only ever had a pet when he was really young, but had become accustomed to our presence so found it hard being alone at times. When his birthday came around, I decided to take him to the Guelph Humane Society and we’d pick out a kitten. We looked at several different options, but settled on a 10 week old female calico who had just been surrendered that morning. She was extremely friendly and just wanted to curl up in our arms and purr. A couple of months later, Huib decided that Logan needed a friend and that I should also have a kitten. We returned to the Guelph Humane Society around my birthday and we picked out a very fluffy little 10 week old female maine coon cross who had been hiding in the back corner of her cage. Laya has continued to be shy, but after a tense couple weeks of her fending off Phoenix’s attention, she began settling into our growing family. In the spring of 2003, Huib and I began talking about how we’d really like to get a golden retriever puppy. Huib really wanted me to wait until graduation, but when the settlement money finally came in from Mom’s malpractice suit she had started before her death, I decided it was the perfect time to get our new golden family member. We called a few different breeders who were listed in the Dogs Annual Magazine and settled on one from Hanover, Ontario. We had left a message on her answering machine inquiring about her prices and whether she had any puppies or was expecting a litter in the summer, so she called us back. She told us about: her dam and stud, where the puppies were born and whelped, what was included in her fees and then asked us to come out and meet everyone in a couple of weeks. Aspen and her litter had been about a week old at this point, so we ended up waiting about a month before we ventured out to pick out our little bundle. I’ve already explained the story of getting Aspen and how she has become Phoenix’s best friend, so I’ll end my discussion about her here. Cessna joined our family when Phoenix retired, so no real exciting background there, but if it weren’t for her I don’t think we would have fostered Aiden and Reece or decided to get Canyon. Phoenix and Aspen are both really laid back dogs, so we never really had to put much effort into keeping them happy or out of trouble. Cessna on the other hand has loads of energy and works best when regularly challenged. I know it’s not necessary to explain to you all why we have brought each one of our four-legged family members into our home, but it helps to give a little background to my explanation I often give to friends and family who ask if we think we have reached our limit.

Each one of our fur babies have come into our lives for a different reason and we don’t regret bringing any of them into our home. We do not actively search for new additions, but would never say we have reached our limit. We started out with Phoenix and didn’t think we would have the cats, let alone three additional dogs, but they are here. We may want to welcome an addition in the future, but that is for us to decide and is not something other people’s opinions will have any weight upon.

��As for the second most annoying question or comment, “Why bother? They’re just dogs.” To you they might “just” be dogs, but to us they are our family and if they enjoy learning new things, then why shouldn’t we take the opportunity to teach them and learn something new ourselves? Cessna loves to try new things and our working relationship improves when she’s happy, so why wouldn’t I try and teach her new skills or introduce her to something as fun as agility? Canyon is not even two years old so has a pretty empty slate on which I can create an all around talented companion, so why wouldn’t I want to do some training lessons now and competing in the future?

Does anyone else get bothered by friends and family who find it necessary to make comments about their choices in life?

General Response

Today I received a response from the constituency e-mail address
of Ontario Health Minister Deborah Matthews. The message sender was not Ms. Matthews, but from one of her helpers. She told me that my message would be forwarded on to Ms. Matthews’ Queen’s park address and that I could always send my inquiry to the Ministry’s general address. I forwarded this message on to Christina’s Mom so she was aware of what I had heard so far and was told she had not gotten any word from the letters she had sent.

Well, this afternoon we both received identical messages from a man named Glenn Oldford, who I guess is in charge of sending general e-mails from some closet within the Ministry called Correspondence Services – our tax dollars hard at work!! I have copied the message below, not because it tells us anything, but because I think it’s important for the world to see how the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care spends our money and responds to a plea for life saving assistance.

Dear Ms. Sillaby:

Thank you for your e-mail message regarding a child’s care at the Hospital for Sick Children. While I cannot comment on the care of a third party, I would like to provide you with some information about hospital funding and operations.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care plays a strategic role in health care, but it does not intervene in the care of individual patients. This involves medical decisions that are best addressed by clinical teams.

The number of procedures that a particular hospital performs reflects the hospital’s decisions about budgetary and operational issues, such as the purchase of prosthetic implants and how to allocate operating room time.

Although the ministry provides funding for hospitals through Local Health Integration Networks, hospitals are independent corporations run by their own boards of directors. Each hospital receives a set funding allocation, and the hospital’s administration decides how to use this funding to best suit the needs of the community it serves. This is set out under the provisions of the Public Hospitals Act and other legislation. The hospital boards are directly responsible for the day-to-day management of their hospitals, including the quality of care provided to their patients.

The hospital administration is best able to provide feedback about a patient’s treatment and its own operations.

Thank you again for writing.

Glenn Oldford
Correspondence Services
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Thank you Mr. Oldford. I can see you put a lot of thought into your response and am so glad my tax dollars are being put towards the employment of such a useless position. I’m pretty sure my dog could have come up with a more creative way of saying “the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is a waste of tax payers money and we don’t care about critically ill children because we just hand out your money and leave it’ up to others to spend it.”

I think I will continue sending e-mails and letters each week on Christina’s behalf because there’s gotta be someone who actually cares out there…