Birthday

Yesterday, November 29th, was my 32nd birthday.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already two years into my thirties. I don’t really feel like I’m older than 25 to be honest. I remember feeling older when I reached my 26th birthday, but since then I really haven’t felt much different.

When you are a young child, you can’t wait to be a teenager. Then when you are a teenager, you can’t wait to be an adult. Once you hit 25, you are no longer considered to be even a young adult – you’re just an adult.

Adulthood comes with so many responsibilities. So many regrets. And so many dreams for a better life.

When I was a young child, I dreamed of being a veterinarian, with a husband who wanted to stay home with the kids and dogs, in our beautiful, huge home, while I brought home the paycheck. When I was a teenager, I still wanted the husband, kids, dogs and huge home, but I now fantasized about being a successful lawyer.

Now that I am an adult and the world is real, not just a fantasy, my dreams are different. I already have the amazing husband and dogs, but instead of fantasizing about the huge home and high paying job, I think about realistic things.

I no longer dream, I hope.

I hope for a better future. I hope for a time when Huib no longer has to support me. I hope for the opportunity to do more than just take care of the dogs and go through the motions of being a happy stay-at-home wife.

I hope for realistic things.

Gone are the days when I fantasized about the wonderful world out there, that would give me everything I needed, as long as I put in the effort. The fantasies are now replaced with dashed hopes and the sad reality of a world that only rewards those people who are “normal”. A world that closes doors in the faces of people who cannot meet its expectations. A world that places undo hardship on those who choose to open the door for the “different”.

My first 32 years were filled with ups and downs. I would never trade my life for anyone else’s, but I hope the next 32 years will include a few more ups and a little fewer downs.

November 29th, 2011 was a good day though. I woke up beside my smiling soul mate and rambunctious retrievers. I opened my e-mail to find messages upon messages from friends wishing me a happy birthday. The Rogue puppy allowed me to finish off the second last assignment of my course. Then it ended with a delicious spaghetti dinner The promise of new clothes!

Thirty two may no longer be the age of dreams and childish fantasies, but if yesterday was any hint of what is to come, I don’t care…I’m ready for thirty three.

Just A Little Snow

So far we have only had a tiny bit of snow. It’s quite unusual for this to happen.

Huib decided to take the four dogs out and try to pose them in the snow. Here’s how it went.

Canyon never has an issue with posing for the camera, as long as you don’t mind him bringing a toy along.

Cessna is so used to posing for the camera, so could care less.

Aspen doesn’t mind posing either, but she just can’t seem to look happy about it.

Rogue isn’t as good about posing for pictures…

She just can’t seem to stay still.

Hopefully he’ll have better luck when we get some more snow lol!

City Adventure

On the Saturday (12th) of our trip “down south”, we took Cessna, Rogue and my friend Kelly’s Autism Dog Services foster, Willow, into Toronto on the GO Train. Rogue and Willow were awesome on the train ride, easily settling after just a few minutes.

After a couple of hours of walking around the city, riding the subway, street cars and meeting up with Taz and Caleb for lunch, Huib and I took the girls to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, to meet up with some LFC foster puppies.

Cessna really impressed me at the Royal. She only had to wear her newtrix for the first 20 minutes and she guided like a pro. She barked at a goat and some sheep, but in her defense, they also made noise at her lol!

Rogue on the other hand, was a monster! She pulled like crazy and sniffed everything! Poor Huib was happy when we were ready to return to the city for dinner with his sister.

Independent Woman

I’ve never taken part in the Disability Blog Carnival, but after reading this round’s topic, I was inspired.

I lost my sight in the summer of 1993. I had just finished grade 8 and was excited to begin grade 9 at a new school. It was a total shock. My parents weren’t sure where to turn. I spent my summer indoors, trying to adapt to a life without 20/20 vision.

September arrived and students returned to school. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. She kept me home the first day, and called our region’s Board of Education. She talked to a woman in charge of organizing special services and was relieved to learn that there was a department of sorts designed to help visually impaired and blind students.

That afternoon, I met a woman who would forever change my life.

Stephanie Sommer arrived around noon. She sat with my mom and I, at the kitchen table and asked questions. She had come to assess whether I truly required her assistance. The phone rang at some point during our meeting and after watching me reach past the phone, she took my hand and placed it onto the receiver with a smile.

After mom was finished with the call, Stephanie told us she would start working with me the following day.

Over the next five years, Stephanie would teach me not only the usual lessons of Braille and getting around safely with a cane, but she would inspire me to be an independent woman.

Stephanie never once treated me like I had a disability.

She expected me to act appropriately and study just as hard as every other student in my high school.

She always expected me to give eye contact.

She wouldn’t help me unless I said please or thank you.

And if I got frustrated and attempted to give up, she’d walk away and wait for me to get over it.

Stephanie and I developed more than just a student-teacher bond, we became friends. She told me about her own vision problems and told me how she embarked on an educational journey that led her to working with students like me.

I remember the feeling of comfort that would come over me each time I smelled her perfume, and the smile that would sprout on my face, no matter how bad the day, when I heard her voice. Stephanie was my navigator, guiding me through a world I now found scary and full of unknowns.

She taught me how to read Braille and how to fully utilize the vision I still had.

She showed me how to travel safely throughout my community with a cane, and then when I told her I wanted to apply for a guide dog, she challenged me to first move outside of my comfort zone. I learned how to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend movies and shop alone in their mall. Then, she gave me the biggest test of all, she asked me to learn how to take the bus to Toronto and then learn to take the subway to the largest mall of all (at the time) – the Eatons Centre.

Once I entered my final year of high school, Stephanie was there to help me reach my goal of attending university. She read through university brochures and program descriptions. Then she helped me fill out application, after application because I couldn’t decide on which one to attend. She was there when I received each of my letters of acceptance and then took it upon herself to arrange campus tours so that I could better decide upon the school for me.

After I began university, Stephanie and I talked a couple times a year, but after she attended my wedding in 2006, we sadly lost touch.

I still think about the lessons she taught me. She inspired me how to be the woman I am today, because when no one else did, she believed I could be better.

Levels Progress

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how I had decided to start seriously working through Sue Ailsby’s Levels with Rogue.

Today, I thought I’d give everyone a progress report, and let everyone know where Canyon is, since we also started Level 1 recently.

Rogue has COMPLETELY passed Level 1!

Since implementing the training suggestions I received from the woman in Wyoming, Rogue quickly learned the “touch” command and her recall is improving daily.

Rogue now not only touches my palm, she literally nose-butts it lol!

We have now moved on to Level 2:
Come (from 40 feet, 2 cues)
Crate (enter, open/close door with 2 cues) – Passed
Distance (goes around a pole 2 feet away with 2 cues)
Down (from sit with 1 cue) – Passed
Down Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Go To Mat (from 5 feet away with 2 cues)
Handling (tail, ears, feet) – Passed
Leash (loose for 1 minute with 1 distraction)
Sit (from stand with 1 cue) – Passed
Sit Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Stand (from sit or down with 2 cues)
Stand Stay (without moving feet for 10 seconds)
Target/Touch (nose to marked end of stick with 1 cue)
Trick (can be a very simple one)
Watch (eye contact for 10 seconds with 2 voice cues)
Zen/Leave It (5 seconds in hand & 10 seconds on chair with 2 cues) – Passed

Rogue and I are still doing the short washroom training sessions to learn new things, in addition to short ones in other places to practice her Level 1 behaviours. Since I do not feel comfortable teaching her the “look” command, I have assigned that one to Huib, but have been working on: stand, sit-stay, down-stay and come.

I haven’t started the touch stick targeting yet because I’m trying to decide on a more accurate, blind-friendly way of teaching this one. I’m thinking I might use the bell we have hanging from the outside door for this because she really likes going outside and it would be useful to have her learn to touch the bell when she wants out.

I have also purchased a cheap lime green yoga mat for teaching her and later Canyon to go on to it when asked. Cessna knows this one pretty well, and has generalized it to mean going onto whatever I point to (bed, mat, chair, etc.).

As I mentioned, Canyon and I have also started to move through Level 1 together. He is really interested in having his “special” time with me, so I decided to re-start teaching him “touch”. We’ve only been working on it for two days so far, and he is already able to “touch” my right palm with one cue. He can still only do it when I have my palm right in front of him, but I think its only a matter of time before he can do it as well (maybe not as hard) as Rogue.

Once he is through Level 1, I’m thinking I might try teaching Aspen, but we’ll see what happens. Aspen is a lot more stubborn and sensitive, than the others, so I find it a little more frustrating to teach her new things.

I’ll write another Levels update when I have more to report.

We Can Pose Anywhere!

These are the sorts of things that happen around here when Huib has too many days off work in a row lol!

It’s Halloween!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

This year Huib and I decided to try being artistic, and make a Dr. Seuss themed pumpkin.

Canyon The Wizard

Cessna the Christmas Elf

Aspen The Ladybug

Rogue The Fairy Princess

Only Aspen seemed to enjoy this little game of dress-up.

Wonder what they would all think, if I made them all wear their costumes tonight…

6.5 Month Old Rogue

Huib catches Rogue in a natural position.

Huib tries to get Rogue posing.

Achieving The Confidence

As mentioned in this post, the topic for this round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “achievement”. I have been racking my brain for weeks, trying to figure out what to write about.

I finally came up with the perfect idea.

I’ll write about how I achieved the confidence to begin raising and training my future guide dog.

Are you ready?

Here we go…

On Friday, May 27th, 2005, I was matched with a spunky female black lab named Cessna. From the start, we struggled. She had so much spirit and an endless amount of energy. When she wanted to go, there was really no stopping her. When I wanted to just chill out, she couldn’t figure out what she was supposed to be doing. Cessna’s work was always 100%, but she pulled like a steam roller, and jumped around like a kangaroo when she saw other dogs and small critters. I tried using all of the training methods I had been taught while in class, but our progress was slow and at times seemed to move backwards. To add to our troubles, Cessna had some unknown fears and emotional trauma, which would leave me scratching my head, wondering what I could have possibly done to cause such a reaction.

Fast-forward almost three years.

On Saturday, March 1st, 2008, the Director of Autism Dog Services, brought a 10 week old caramel colour lab to our home. With all of the struggles and challenges I had overcome with Cessna, I felt we could use our knowledge to raise a puppy for a young child with autism. Aiden was a big goof. He had an amazing personality and loved to please everyone. We taught him so much within such a short amount of time. People used to stop and watch us in malls, smiling at the four month old puppy, performing his favourite tricks (roll over, give five and show your belly). By the time Aiden was approaching 7 months of age, we started to search for more direction and training ideas for new skills. This is when I began my training sessions with Dogs In The Park.
Aiden and I participated in the weekly “stay classes”, while Cessna joined me for “Levels”. Aiden had the most reliable “stays” of all his fellow ADS trainees, and I learned how to teach him complex skills and tricks, such as some of Cessna’s more basic guiding commands. By the time aiden was recalled for formal training, on Friday, February 6th, 2009, he was able to confidently leash guide me, throughout our neighbourhood and within quiet stores to find Huib. It was at this point, when the Director of Autism Dog Services, suggested that I think about raising and training Cessna’s successor.

This thought sat in the back of my mind for over a year and a half.

On Saturday, February 14th, 2009, Huib and I went to a small kennel in St. Agatha, Ontario, to pick up our second ADS foster puppy, Reece. Cessna and I had been participating in the weekly Levels classes for almost 7 months at this point. Our relationship was flourishing, and I had learned new ways of working with her, that did not include leash corrections or any other forceful methods. We began our raising adventures with Reece, trying to closely follow the new training methods I’d learned through my time with Sue Alexander. We used his lunchtime meals for training and taught him everything using the clicker and praise. Reece wasn’t as quick as Aiden in the learning department, but his trainer was delighted with his weekly progress. With aiden we found it next to impossible to teach him loose leash walking, so with Reece, we worked on leash walking from day one. By the time Reece was six months old, he was able to walk on a loose leash with anyone. Unfortunately, around this time he began to develop a limp which seemed to be coming from his left front elbow. It took the program staff five months to make the decision to wash him out.

On Friday, December 18th, 2009, Huib and I picked up a 6 month old male golden retriever from a Mennonite farm in Chesley, Ontario. Canyon (formerly Sparky) had absolutely no name recognition or manners. He mouthed, jumped up on everything, relieved indoors and would pace when he was nervous. We spent the first week teaching him his name and what the clicker meant. We then moved on to teaching him to sit through “capturing”. We knew he loved going outside, so would wait for him to sit before clicking and opening the door as his reward. Once he was sitting reliably, we named the behaviour and started to use it at other times, like before meals and when he’d go to jump up onto something or someone. Through using solely the clicker and treats/praise, we found our relationship with Canyon grew quickly, and his fears subsided easily. Over the next year and a bit, I taught Canyon all of his basic obedience commands without the use of anything other than the clicker and treats. I also continued to work on training with Cessna, teaching her to do various tasks at a distance and expanding her use of the “touch” cue.

During the winter of 2010 and 2011, I began working with a trainer to learn more skills and to try and expand my training knowledge. Through these lessons, I learned how to teach Canyon to turn right and left with a simple gesture, and how to better teach him to walk on a loose leash. Training an older dog, compared to a young puppy, can be a bit more of a challenge. The Border Collie Lady taught me how to do things differently in order to move past some of the obstacles we’d encountered.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to see what Canyon had truly learned through our lessons with the Border Collie Lady. He walked calmly and confidently at my side through the St. Jacob’s Market while Cessna guided us around people and vendor tables. It was such an awesome feeling to be able to smoothly walk through the market with two dogs at my side. He even surprised me at one point when he showed a desire to try some fire escape-like stairs that Huib was showing Rogue and my friend Karen was coaxing her 13 month old foster puppy up. I handed the leash over to Huib and Canyon walked up and down the stairs as if he’d done them a million times.

In February of this year, I learned that Cessna had begun to develop cataracts in both eyes. It was at this point, when I decided to seriously look into raising and training her successor. I researched breeds, looking at the golden retriever, flat-coated retriever and Labrador retriever. After deciding on the lab, I started researching breeders in Ontario. I e-mailed close to 10 different ones, before settling on Red Labrador Retrievers, a small kennel in Maidstone, Ontario.

We picked up our 11.8lbs, female butterscotch colour lab on Friday, June 10th, 2011.

I’m honestly not sure I would have made such a decision if I had not been matched with my little black firecracker. Through my struggles with her, and experiences with Aiden, Reece and Canyon, I’ve learned tons and developed self-confidence.

I’m hoping Cessna will never stop challenging me to become a better person, and that she will help me teach Rogue how to walk in her shoes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada. My step-dad and sister came to visit. Huib has been working a lot this week, so it was really nice to have the company of family. Today we had turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, turnip and corn. It was absolutely delicious!

With it being Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share five things I’m most thankful for.

1. I’m thankful for Huib. He has been an important part of my life since 2000, and I couldn’t imagine being without him.
2. I’m thankful for my dogs. They bring me smiles and laughter each day.
3. I’m thankful for family. Even though we’re a little dysfunctional, I know they will always have my back.
4. I’m thankful for my friends. Each one has added something special and unforgettable to my life. Even those who have moved on, have left me with lessons I would not have learned without their presence.
5. I’m thankful for the challenges I’ve been given in life. I think that if I had not had to deal with some of the “special” circumstances in life, I would not be the person I am today.

If you feel like it, please share five things you are thankful for in the comments section.