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?

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?

Where Did our Names Come From?

Our friends over at A Glacial Pace
inspired me to write an entry that explains where all of us – yes, me too – got our names.

When my mom was pregnant with me she had decided that my name would be Ashley if I was a girl or Jay if I was a boy. Well the day before the doctors decided I was coming out early, her hospital roommate gave birth to a boy and named him Ashley. I was born via c-section the following morning during the first snowstorm of 1979 and was rushed off to Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital for treatment. Just before the neonatal team took me away, my mom was asked what she wanted to name me and without too much thought she decided on Brooke, a character in a soap opera she enjoyed watching.

I’ll do Phoenix and Cessna together since they both came from the LFC and have a similar naming story. As Jess mentioned in her post
the Lions Foundation of Canada and many other guide dog programs name their dogs according to a letter of the alphabet. Phoenix is from the 1996 “P” litter and Cessna is from the 2003 “C” litter. I don’t know much about Phoenix’s siblings, but do know he had a brother named Piper who began training with him, but was eventually disqualified for being over active. Cessna on the other hand had 8 other siblings and actually graduated with three of them; china, Cole and Cicely. Another brother and sister, Chauncy and Cricket, graduated just a week before her in the Special Skills and Hearing Ear programs. The last three, Cheney, Cowan and Cooper were disqualified for unknown reasons. Even though Phoenix and Cessna were both named for the letter their births came to in their respective year, they both fit their names perfectly. Phoenix has always lived his life the way he chooses and seems to be the dog who will live forever. Cessna on the other hand is small and speedy like the airplane she was named after. Looking at both of them and knowing their personalities I don’t think I could think of more suitable names. Similar to other programs, the LFC does not reuse names (unless they are sponsored ones) until the dog is retired from duty or breeding. Since Phoenix’s retirement his name has been available for use, but so far I am happy to report that no other Phoenix has been able to fill his shoes.

We got Aspen when Phoenix was six and a half years old. He had begun to slow down and seemed disinterested in working, so a trainer suggested we get him a friend. When trying to decide on a name for our new golden princess we tossed around a few, options but could only really agree upon Autumn. Up until the day before I went to see her for the first time we had settled on this name, but during a late night shopping excursion overheard two teenagers discussing the names one of them had chosen for her unborn baby – Aspen. Both of us thought this was a pretty neat name and began to do a little research. The first thing we learned is that Aspen is the name of a tree commonly found in Colorado whose leaves turns a golden colour before they drop – suiting for a golden retriever right? Then we learned that Aspen is also the name of a city in Colorado where people go to ski. This information helped to make our decision because not only is Aspen a city in the US, but Phoenix (our only other dog at the time) is also the name of an american city and she was going to be his new best friend.

Even though I don’t mention them too much on the blog, we share our home with not only four dogs, but two cats as well; Logan and Laya. We adopted the girls from the Guelph Humane Society at the age of 10 weeks. Logan is a short haired female calico and Laya is a small, medium haired maine coon cross. Logan was named after a male black lab who I had met during my training with Gryphon. I had really wanted to be matched with Logan, but this did not happen and his name forever stuck in my mind as one I would someday name a pet of my own. We got Laya about two months after getting Logan and wanted to name her something girly because she was petite and so fluffy. Well, an older Star Wars movie was playing in the background while we worked on homework the night before we picked her up and we decided on the name Laya because of the Princess.

Logan sitting up tall and proud.

Laya sitting on the windowsill of our first apartment together, peaking out from behind the curtains.

Finally, there’s canyon. When we originally got him his name was Sparky – a terrible name!! Luckily he had no name recognition though, so changing it to a more suitable one was easy. When we had given Reece back and thought we were getting a new puppy to raise we had begun thinking of different names and were told that ADS had started using the alphabet to keep track of which puppies were donated when so our next puppy would be a “C”. We had thought of names like cobalt, Cloud, Charm and Coda, but just before we got the dreaded e-mail saying we were no longer needed, we thought of Canyon. This name stuck with us and after some research became our new golden boy’s name. canyon is the last name of one of Huib’s favourite country singers (George Canyon) and is also the name of a city in Texas. I know it’s silly, but we seem to enjoy naming our dogs for cities in the US because of our faithful, old yellow boy!!

So, there you have it! The naming stories behind all of the ruled by paws gang. What’s your story?

A Mishmash Of news

I haven’t really been posting any updates from our gang in a bit, so thought I’d better do one now.

Ever since we learned that Cessna is developing cataracts we’ve been discussing the option of raising and training her successor a little more. I am looking for a small yellow or black lab female who is energetic and willing to learn, but not necessarily please. So far we’ve been looking through the Labrador Owners Club website We prefer the more American style lab to the traditional English lines, so I’ve been getting Huib to look at the breeding stocks and letting me know his thoughts.

We’ve contacted:
Bluenorth Labradors
Cooperslane Kennel
Ironridge Labradors
MooseLake Labrador Retrievers
Pinebank Labrador Retrievers
Red Labrador Retrievers

Four of the six have already responded to our inquiry and I am liking Red Labrador Retrievers the most because not only is their stock the less common fox red colour, but they also do an aptitude test with their puppies to determine suitability for working, showing and/or companionship. I have asked them to send me a copy of their test and the pedigrees of their stock in an effort to learn even more. The other three who responded were not only asking about $200 to $500 more for their puppies, but their guarantees are only valid if we feed the puppy what they recommend. I am not in a huge rush to make a decision, so will continue sending out e-mails, because I don’t want to start the process until the fall or early winter when Cessna turns 8.

On another note, I have been in contact with a woman who has recently started an obedience/agility training program in Engelhart, which is about a 20 minute drive from our house. She has competed in agility for years with her boarder collies in the UK and has been competing in Canada for about three years now. Currently, she doesn’t have a building of her own, so she is renting a room in the fire hall for 3 hours, one day a week. Huib works a semi-rotating shift at the hospital so this sort of arrangement does not really work for us, but she has agreed to do a half hour private session after her classes every Tuesday. In the summer she will be setting up an agility course (when the snow leaves) so at that time I’m sure her availability will be a little more frequent. For now though, I’m going to meet with her every other Tuesday to work on some obedience with Canyon and then when the agility lessons begin, Cessna will join us. Huib and I are going to meet up with her for coffee on Thursday to learn a bit about her methods, but so far from reading through her website I’ve learned she uses clicker training. I’ll keep you all posted on how things go.

The rest of the news I have to share isn’t as interesting or exciting, but it’s got a cuteness factor. On Tuesday we drove down to London with the dogs so I could go for my lumbar puncture on Tuesday morning. We stayed with the same friends as our last visit and again the dogs had a good time. When we arrived it was pretty late, but we chatted for a bit before heading to bed and Jen told me the kids (she watches about 4-7 kids during the week) had gotten Phoenix a present. I wasn’t sure what to think, but when she came out of the kitchen she was carrying a little plastic teacup, saucer and spoon!! I guess she had taken a few of the kids shopping after letting them know Phoenix was coming to visit, so they asked if they could get him a present and showed her this little tea set – they’re so cute!! The following day while Huib, Cessna and I were away, Phoenix had his tea party and they even got pictures this time!

Here’s another cute little picture Jen got. She went into the play room to check on everyone and found Aspen curled up on top of a blanket with a teddy – I guess the kids thought she needed a nap…

On Thursday morning before we left I had to go see my doctor for the test results and the dogs again stayed with Jen. This time instead of cute pictures, I came hback to hear about how good my dogs had behaved. I guess she had gotten a new dishwasher delivered and while the repairman was going to grab some of his tools in the hallway by the elevator he left the door wide open and Jen just told the goldens to stay. When the guy returned he was amazed to see them still standing where he had last seen them. Then, just before we got back, she saw the goldens watching the crack under the door and noticed them following a shadow back and forth, so thought she’d open the door to let them see what was out there. Before opening the door she asked them to sit and stay. The landlord continued vacuuming for a bit and then stopped and commented on how well-behaved they were  I was so proud to hear this and was happy that they had listened to someone else giving them a command. Then to make our trip even cooler, before leaving for home, Jen decided to bring out one of her five bunnies for the dogs to check out. Cessna had been so interested in them the entire time, so my friend thought it was time to let them investigate. I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea, but am happy to report that Rue sustained no injuries or life-long trauma  Phoenix and Cessna followed her from room to room, while the goldens sniffed her and then lost interest. I think it would be really cool to have a bunny of our own, but am having trouble convincing Huib to say yes.

As you can see we’ve been pretty busy, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a little more time to update everyone on our adventures.

2011 Winter Fun!!

We finally found our camera and got a chance to load the pictures onto my laptop so here they are!

My friend’s 12 year old son came to visit for a couple weeks at Christmas and enjoyed using Aspen as his pillow for sleeping.

Caleb thought Canyon might want to share his crate, but he was wrong lol!

Here’s a couple pictures from my two night stay at the timmins & District Hospital. I was lucky to have my sister and Huib stay with me, so Cessna didn’t have to leave. she was such a good girl, sleeping on my bed in the Emergency Department the whole time.

Here’s a couple of pictures from our walks down the road near our house that only has someone living at the very end. The trail where these pictures were taken is a snowmobile trail just past the house.

the rest of the pictures are ones taken behind our house as we walk towards the lake which is about a 3-5 minute walk from our back door.

We were beginning to wonder where all the trees were going that had been cut down by beavers. the chunks of wood they leave behind are absolutely huge!

I wonder if they realize it’s the lake they’re standing on…

At Least Phoenix Is On the Mend

On Sunday, Huib and I piled the dogs into the truck for a short trip “down south”. We arrived in Guelph around noon and picked up some food and toys for everyone before meeting with the show handler who was interested in showing Canyon for us. The meeting went well and Peter was quite happy with Canyon’s looks, confidence and his ability to walk on a leash. We were surprised about the leash part since we had just begun his lessons, but Peter was impressed and wanted to enter him into the upcoming Sudbury show at the end of March. After the meeting we got back into the truck and headed into Kitchener.

There, we took Canyon and Cessna to a CERF clinic the Kitchener-Waterloo Kennel Club was hosting. We had originally signed up to have just canyon’s eyes tested, but when they learned Cessna was a dog guide we were told hers could be done for free. First Canyon went in and we were told he has scarring on his retinas. The ophthalmologist doesn’t think it is congenital, but he said we will need to do some research on that. He feels the scarring was most likely caused by an infection during the first few weeks of life and said that his litter mates will also have the scarring. Even though this does not officially bar Canyon from breeding, we have decided to forgo both showing and breeding because with this defect there is a very low chance another breeder would want to use him. Instead, we will work on some sporting and obedience titles while looking for our next breeding candidate.

After this disheartening news, it was Cessna’s turn. The ophthalmologist dilated her eyes and found 2 tiny cataracts on her left eye and three on her right. This particular doctor is one of the ones LFC uses to test their puppy’s at 10 months of age so he was well aware of the demands I put on Cessna. He showed Huib the cataracts and told us that they are tiny so Cessna probably doesn’t even notice them and her work will not be effected. He wants to see her in a year and thinks there is a possibility the cataracts won’t get any bigger. We saw our vet the following day and she recommended we start her on a homeopathic regiment and try to prevent them from getting worse. There’s no guarantees it will do anything, but it would bother me even more if I didn’t do it and it could have worked.

Phoenix saw the vet on Monday and was given a clean bill of health for his age. Dr B was impressed with his progress and has given him a homeopathic remedy to try and jump start his immune system and hopefully rid him of the ear issue for good. In order to check him out and watch him move she had him examined in the waiting room because he was able to walk on carpet for traction and seemed to stay quite calm and relaxed. I’m so glad she was able to tell us something good, because I’m not sure I could handle anymore bad news in a 24 hour period. After the appointment we took him to see his puppy raisers and they were also quite happy with his progress. The last time they had seen him was just before we took him to dr b for the IVD diagnosis. Huib had carried him in and I explained what had happened and what we were most afraid of learning – that we may have to say good-bye.

On Tuesday it was my turn to see the ophthalmologist and I also learned some not so happy news – my distance vision is gone. The doctor’s assistant asked me to read various lines on the eye chart and I couldn’t read even the biggest letter. The doctor isn’t sure why this has happened, but has ordered a lumbar puncture to be done in a week and is checking to make sure there is no inter cranial pressure or infection. This is yet another part of my vision saga. While we were at the hospital, Phoenix, Aspen and Canyon stayed with a friend and her daycare kids. My friend said Aspen and Canyon weren’t overly interested in them, but Phoenix wandered into the playroom at some point and when she went to check on everything she found him in the circle of little ones with a teacup and saucer between his paws. I guess the kids decided he should participate in their tea party – I sure wish my friend had gotten a picture! I guess they had tried doing the same with Canyon, but he wouldn’t stay still, so decided to let Phoenix in on the fun.

We headed home that evening and made a stop in Bradford to see my friend Heather, her fiance and her border terrier Harley. The dogs enjoyed playing with Harley’s rawhide bones and ran around in the yard, but Harley wasn’t as sure – I guess she was a little overwhelmed by the number of big dogs that came into the house. Overall our trip “down south” was crappy, but at least we got a chance to see friends and find out how Phoenix is doing.

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.

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.”

Decisions, decisions

This year I’ve decided to take part in the Assistance Dog blog Carnival and the topic is decisions. Over the past 15 years I’ve had to make many decisions in regards to applying for, working with, retiring, and then raising an assistance dog. Not many people can actually say they’ve been involved in all areas of the service dog experience, but here’s my story.

In the summer of 1993 my shunt (a tube which runs from my brain into my abdomen) blocked. This caused the cerebral fluid around my brain to build up and create pressure which damaged my optic nerves. In a matter of a couple weeks, I went from seeing 20/20 to seeing nothing out of my left eye and only through 3 pin holes in the very centre of my right. It was tough at first, but I had the support of an amazing vision teacher who re-taught me everything from completing daily tasks to getting around the world with a white cane, in addition to a mother who refused to see me any different from the daughter she had given birth to 13 years prior. Now that I’ve laid out some background information to my story, let’s move on to the day I decided to apply for my first guide.

From the first day I was introduced to the white cane I knew I had to get rid of it. I hated the way it felt in my hand, the way people looked at me, the ways it limited me, and well….it was just plain ugly! I made a point of telling my vision teacher this almost every time we had a lesson until the day she told me about guide dogs. I had always wanted a pet dog and to know there was a way of both getting rid of my cane and having a dog of my own, I told her I’d do anything she wanted. She told me that if I worked hard over the next couple of years she’d help me convince my parents to let me get a dog and that she’d help me with the application. It was a long 3 years, but finally in January of 1997 my vision teacher and I began researching programs and decided on the Lions foundation of Canada Dog Guides because it was close to my hometown (Aurora, Ontario) and because the classes were small. I received my first guide, Gryphon, in August of that year and put my white cane on the shelf forever.

Gryphon was a 21 month old tall, slim, male black labrador retriever who weighed about 81lbs. We were matched around August 1st of 1997 and worked together for only a year. Gryphon was not the right dog for me, but he worked well and the trainers felt he was a good fit for a young first time handler, who just happened to be the youngest they’d ever accepted into the program. Gryphon was a great dog and he taught me tons, but we never bonded the way a working team should so, when he was career changed after only a year I wasn’t too upset. Gryphon had become traffic shy after an altercation with a car in Toronto and both the trainers at LFC and myself were unable to get him past his fears. He was later retrained as a special Skills Dog and worked for a while before being retired for health reasons.

Phoenix and I were matched in July of 1998 and worked together for almost 7 years. I remember our time in class together, he was only 20 months and full of personality. From day one he has always had his opinions on how things should be done and has never been afraid to let me know what he’s thinking. We attended my final year of high school together and then completed an entire honors degree at the University of Guelph. Phoenix had severe separation anxiety until he retired so accompanied me on excursions I’d never dream of taking Cessna to – a packed Montreal night club, the outdoor Walkerton Country Music Festival or full day visits to Canada’s Wonderland, just to name a few. Phoenix was always faithful and willing to work at any hour and in any environment, but at the age of 8 and a half he began slowing down and wanting to just chill at home rather than work, so I knew it was time for retirement. It was a hard decision because we had developed such a bond and I worried about hurting his feelings by getting a new guide to replace him. But, most of all I worried about the training process and the hardships involved in bonding with a new working companion.

Cessna and I were matched on May 27th, 2005. She was not truly ready to be responsible for a blind person but the trainers had confidence in my abilities and saw the chemistry between us. Cessna was only 18 months so had tons of maturing left to do. She barked at other dogs out of excitement, jumped around like a kangaroo when she saw squirrels or birds and couldn’t settle in my social work classes without a long run beforehand. This crazy, immature puppy is long gone and has been replaced by a mature, sensitive companion who desires to learn more everyday. Over the past 5 years Cessna and I have worked hard to understand what each other needs and have become a dream team.

With all the skills and experience I obtained “training” Cessna, I began looking for other learning opportunities and learned about Autism Dog Services. Huib and I had talked about what it would be like to raise an assistance puppy and had even gone as far as asking the LFC for a puppy to foster. We were told that instead of having to explain to some clients why they couldn’t raise a puppy when others could, that they had made it their policy to refuse everyone, but they said nothing was stopping us from fostering for another organization. Autism Dog Services was started by a former LFC trainer whom I knew from training with Gryphon and Phoenix. A couple LFC foster families we knew began raising puppies for ADS and suggested we contact them to see if we could also be of help. After a few e-mails back and forth we made the decision to welcome a 10 week old caramel coloured Labrador retriever into our home on March 1st, 2008.

We fostered Aiden until he was 13 months of age and began raising Reece in February of 2009. Our experience with autism Dog Services was both gratifying and heart aching. We loved having Aiden and Reece in our home and are thankful to have been given the opportunity to help ADS in providing independence and safety to children with autism, but this experience has also left us with some lessons. We don’t regret our decision to help raise Aiden and Reece for Autism Dog Services, but wish this experience didn’t have to be another hat placed on the shelf of tough lessons learned.

Since cutting our ties with autism Dog Services we made the decision to purchase a male golden retriever in December of 2009 and raise him as our future stud dog and obedience champion. Canyon is not a service dog, but he has taught me further lessons about loyalty and thinking outside the box. He will go for his health clearances in June and hopefully begin producing offspring who will carry on his temperament and lust for life and who knows, maybe one of them will become an assistance dog in the future.