Christmas

How was everyone’s Christmas?

Ours was good, but very busy.

I had a friend and her 9 year old yellow lab, Maggie, come visit on the 22nd. Maggie got along well with the dogs, so I can definitely see there being more visits from her and Angela. The dogs were spoiled by them. they got: a package of training treats, rawhide doughnuts that actually look like they have icing on them and a package of greenies.

My sister and brother-in-law came with Dexter on the 23rd. They gave the dogs a long purple and white tug rope for Christmas along with an ornament for the tree. Each ornament was a golden or lab head with their name written on a bone under the dog’s head. I also got a chocolate scented stuffed moose that I put on the tree. These were early presents, Brandi and Mark were staying until the 26th.

On the 24th, Kira and I went to work for a few hours with Huib. We brought Canyon and Arizona with us. We helped cut out material for stockings and then stuffed the finished stockings with clementines and socks or scarves for the residents. After Huib finished work we took Kira home and then headed to the mall to finish off our Christmas shopping. When we got home we rushed around trying to get ready for Kira and her family to arrive with one of Huib and Sam’s co-workers, Elizabeth.

We had an excellent dinner and had a lot of fun opening gifts and watching the others open theirs. We got some pretty awesome stuff: Roots t-shirts, a mug that looks like a rusted camping cup, a cute Roots ornament and some socks, as well as, 2 butter rum scented jar candles and some fruit covered in chocolate. Kira even made the dogs stuffed toys out of felt.

My sister and Mark ended up going home early that evening because of a disagreement, but came back a few days later. From them Huib got a gorgeous black leather bag for work and I got: a sweat shirt and sweat pants from a store in Huntsville that sells Bear Paw clothing, an adorable snowman snow globe and a 25 dollar iTunes card.

My mom’s family came over on the 26th for dinner. We also had Kira and Sam come, so it was wonderful. Most of the family are sick with the flu, so only two of my aunts and one of my cousins with her kids was able to make it. From my one aunt we got a casserole style crockpot. We really enjoyed chatting with everyone and playing board games. My cousin’s kids are cute. Danny is four and Biinizi is eight.

On the 27th and 28th we had the Elora Gorge Kennel Club show. Arizona was a bit of a goof on the Saturday, but she showed quite well on the Sunday. Unfortunately she lost both days. Canyon was his usual professional self, but there was a larger entry of golden retrievers, so the poor guy lost both days as well.

I think we are going to take a couple of months off. Let the dogs relax and our wallet recuperate 🙂

It has been a really nice Christmas. I can’t wait for school to start again though.

Time for a Break

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a break from blogging. I’m talking about a break from school.

As everyone has probably noticed, I’ve been adding some long-awaited updates on a variety of things we’ve been up to. Sorry for the back dating, I just want the blog to sort of be chronological.

I handed in my final assignment for the semester yesterday afternoon and finished marking all of the papers for my two tutorials, so it’s time to start my Christmas break!

It has been a VERY busy semester. Part of it was me trying to figure out how things work as a graduate student, but most of it was the marking and assignments. I’m not complaining though, I loved it all!

I think I did pretty well this semester.

last week I had to hand in a proposal to request permission to do the 2 year thesis option. I’m still waiting for a response. I hope they like my idea.

Hmmm, what else can I tell you.

Next semester I am signed up to take a policy course and another class that will explore the world of animal therapy, so I’m pretty excited about those.

Well, that’s it for school updates. I’m off until January 5th, so I hope to do some work on the blog and post a little more often.

I hope everyone is doing well and I look forward to sharing more of our adventures.

Our First Day

I am now a graduate student!

On Monday, Rogue and I started our new adventure at McMaster University.

Rogue and I walk up concrete stairs. You can just see our backs and you can tell that Rogue is happy because her tail is sticking straight out.

I am doing my masters in the Department of Health, Aging and Society. This semester I am taking two classes and leading two tutorials. I am pretty nervous about all of the upcoming changes, but as long as I have my Roga-Monster by my side, I think I’ll be okay.

We got lost a few times our first couple days, but no matter what happened, Rogue did her job well and kept us safe. It will probably take me a few weeks to become comfortable with the various routes around campus, but as long as Rogue does her job, then I will work hard at doing mine.

If nothing else, this week has been amazing for Rogue and I. Having to learn to navigate a large, extremely busy campus has forced us to trust one another and Rogue has risen to the challenge. This week, she has shown me how ready she is to finally take over fully from Cessna – now we just need to convince Cessna that she is ready to hand over the reins.

Dr. Colleen Dell

Dr. Colleen Dell is the Research Chair in Substance Abuse at the University of Saskatchewan. Her work focuses on research, community outreach and training. Currently, Dr. Dell is working on a research project that incorporates therapy dogs into the field of addiction and substance abuse. another interesting research project she worked on involved horse assisted therapy for youth in treatment.

Rogue and I were invited to a meeting with Dr. dell and various dog-related organization heads on Friday afternoon. Dr. Dell and her therapy dog, Anna-Belle came to Hamilton to talk about her current project and to try and stir-up some interest among other people in the field.

There were about 12 people at the meeting including Huib (who came as my guide) and I. In addition to Rogue, there was Anna-Belle and then another service dog that I cannot remember the name of. He is a 10 year old whippet who helps a woman with mobility issues. It was surprising, but all of the dogs pretty much ignored one another – Good Girl Rogie!!

the meeting began with everyone introducing themselves and then everyone began asking Dr. Dell questions about her research and then asking for her opinion regarding issues they were encountering with their own programs. I really need to work on figuring out how I would like to introduce myself without making me sound unworthy of attending such events. I also need to do some research into the various people that attended the meeting because there are some pretty interesting programs in Hamilton.

In the evening Dr. Dell held a public discussion at an art gallery in downtown Hamilton. In order to make sure Dr. dell and Dr. James Gillett, a McMaster University professor I really want to work with knew I was serious about becoming involved in their research projects, Huib, rogue and I attended the talk. Like the earlier discussion, I found the public talk very informative. I wish I could have seen some of the pictures she showed from her various projects, but otherwise I enjoyed learning about her horse research and about her current research into using dogs in a therapeutic setting.

I will be meeting with Dr. James Gillett on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of assisting him in some service dog related projects he is considering – I’m SO excited!!

Back On Campus

yesterday, I had my first class on campus, after 9 years away.

Nine years ago, I graduated from the University of guelph, with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Policy. Since graduating, I completed a social work degree at McMaster University and have taken three courses online through the University of guelph, but I haven’t taken any courses on campus.

I hope to apply for masters, starting next fall, so I’ve decided to continue taking a class each semester, in order to improve my Grade Point Average.

this semester, I am taking a 4th year advanced topics course that looks at the area of human rights.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about doing a masters thesis relating to human rights, so I thought this course might be a good starting point.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with the labs on becoming familiar with the University campus. Since losing a bit more of my sight almost two years ago, I’ve had to relearn how to work with and trust Cessna, while also training Rogue. Even though I lived in guelph for almost 10 years, and attended the University for 5 of those years, I’ve had to relearn the city and campus, while also trying to regain some confidence.

When Cessna and I arrived at the University, we got off the bus and headed toward the University Centre. We found the first crossing with no problem, but then became disoriented. We were supposed to go over-left a bit and then continue walking forward, but Cessna continued walking to the left and I didn’t realize until I started hearing sounds that told me we were approaching an intersection. I turned around and asked her to go forward and then stopped to listen for sounds that might help me find the correct route. I knew we were close to the spot we needed to be, but couldn’t quite figure it out, so listened for someone to walk by. I heard someone and asked for help, a couple of people walked by, but then a woman stopped and said she was also going to the University Centre. I had Cessna follow her, and was quite amused by the woman. She kept telling Cessna to come along and when we got to some steps, Cessna paused to tell me, and the woman started saying “Up, up, come on, up…”. I almost laughed. Thankfully the woman’s calls fell on deaf ears and Cessna kept me safe. When we got to the University Centre, the woman went her way and I had Cessna find the spot where we were supposed to meet our guide. I ended up having to call my guide, we had missed each other, but we found each other in the end and I made it to class a few minutes before the professor arrived.

Cessna slept through the class and we got back to the bus and home without any further complications.

I’m going to take Cessna to campus a couple of times this week to work on our route to the University Centre, so that hopefully on Friday we won’t end up lost.

Our Oakville Trip

As I’m sure everyone has figured out from my earlier posts, we went away for a few days with the dogs.

Our first stop was in Etobicoke to visit with Phoenix’s foster family. Alice and Ray are in their mid-late eighties, so we really try to see them every trip we make south. This visit was quite good. Alice seems to be getting a bit of memory loss, but overall her health is good and Ray seems to also be well.

We had originally planned to stay in guelph with our friends Kelly and Ace, but recently they had a new addition join their family, so we ended up staying with friends in Oakville.

Della and Kelsey live with two female black labs, Hasia and Betty, and three black cats, Tess, Steel and BK. Hasia is a former breeding dog for The Lions Foundation of Canada dog Guides, and Betty was fully trained and just days from being placed with a blind person, when she decided she’d had enough and wanted to go home.

It was a lot of fun to stay with them. Our dogs got along fabulously with one another, and Hasia made herself comfortable with Huib and I at nighttime. Thankfully Della has a queen sized bed because otherwise it would have been almost impossible to sleep with Hasia, Rogue and Cessna insisting on snuggling for the night.

We didn’t really do much on Saturday and sunday after the shows, but Monday we took the labs to Hamilton to get some new McMaster University gear – a black hooded sweatshirt for me, and a black baseball cap and navy blue and grey rugby shirt for Huib. I was hoping to find some dog related gear, but it looks like this year they didn’t make any. After picking out our new clothing, we walked over to Williams Coffee Pub and I got a vanilla bean latte, while Huib got his signature black coffee.

while walking around the university campus and sitting at Williams, I really started thinking about how amazing Rogue is doing and that I had better get moving on her training, because she is definitely ready to go.

Monday evening we headed into Guelph to run a few errands, and then took Aspen for her second Chiropractic adjustment. Dr Leslie was quite impressed with how well Aspen’s first adjustment had held, and said that she only found a couple new areas and did a bit of maintenance work.

Tuesday morning we packed our bags and loaded everyone back into the Orlando. We stopped in Mississauga to grab a couple cases of chicken backs from the Maple Lodge Farms Factory, and then stopped in Barrie to get supplements and stuff at Costco.

Since it was a beautiful day, and because we had no reason to rush home, we stopped at Arrowhead Provincial Park so the dogs could swim. The dogs had a blast. Canyon, Cessna and Aspen swam for over an hour, fetching their new bright blue Jolly ball, and green neoprene turtle. Rogue wore her red life jacket and swam a bit, but mostly bounced around the shoreline, greeting everyone and their dogs that came to the water’s edge. Her favourite, by far, was a male German short Haired Pointer. they played together so well, but the owners weren’t interested in just staying by the water, they had their dogs follow them along the shoreline while Rogue watched. then When her friend returned, she was ecstatic, but it was short lived, because the owners climbed back onto their bikes and headed back to their camp site – poor Roagie!

The rest of our drive home was quiet and uneventful. The dogs were thoroughly exhausted and, I think, really happy to finally see their beds and toys.

Student Woes

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have returned to school. I am taking an online course and am so far finding it interesting. I’m having a bit of trouble getting back into the swing of student life, since I graduated from McMaster in June of 2007, but overall it’s going well.

I forgot how frustrating it can be to work within a group though…

With this course, we do not officially work together, but we do have discussion sections on the course website where we must post our thoughts on each unit’s subject and then reply to others at least twice within that week.

You’d think this was an easy task.

But, it’s not…

The group I have been assigned to, seems to be comprised of worse slackers than myself.

The first unit officially started on the 8th, but no one, including myself, posted their “original” post until late on the 15th. Only one other person posted something along with me, and then nothing else other than my response the following day to that individual, was done until the evening hours of the 18th, and the unit ended at 11:00pm. I had checked the website each day and checked in the afternoon of the 18th, but there was nothing, so I was left without the ability to post my second response.

I went on the site yesterday to see what the topic was for the second unit, and what should I see? Two more people had posted their “original” post around 10:00pm on the 18th, and one of them had posted responses to two people!!!

So frustrating!

I really, really want to do well in this course, but am not sure it will be possible if I don’t have the ability to fulfill my discussion obligations.

I know it is only the first week, but it’s still frustrating because I’m wondering if this week’s performance (or lack of) will be a pattern.

Rant is over.

Puppy news & Other Randomness

We got an e-mail from Karen of Red Labrador Retrievers to let us know that she thinks there are two females who might fit our needs. She said that she could be wrong, but from observing the litter, she thinks “ruby” and “pinky” will be a good fit – they name the puppies according to their collar tags. She describes “ruby” and “pinky” as being “very social, happy-go-lucky’s…middle of the road in the hierarchy, brave without being aggressive…they are all (entire litter) quick learners like both their mom and dad…all (entire litter) are happy to please, of course some more than others and they (“rudy” and “pinky”) are middle of the road their also…” We’ll have to wait for the test scores, but at least we know that there is most likely a puppy or two for us to choose from.

Sadly, Karen hasn’t had time to post updated pictures though…

In other news…

We got some very sad news from our friends, the pawpower pack. Mr. Pawpower’s golden companion passed away unexpectedly. Here’s some more details. I haven’t had the experience of losing a beloved companion, but know from losing both my mother and grandmother, that it can be heartbreaking and the wounds will take time to heal. Our thoughts go out to Mr. Pawpower and the rest of the Pawpower Pack. Rest in peace Rudy, you will be sadly missed.

I’ve been doing some research on courses I might want to take through the University of Guelph or McMaster University. I haven’t been able to find work and am tired of sitting around doing nothing, but training with the dogs and housework. I’m thinking that I’ll take a course or two each semester via distance education through one of the above universities and then hopefully re-apply for masters or occupational therapy when we move closer to London (Ontario) in a couple of years. Huib’s contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital is over in a year and if we can get rid of a couple more debts between now and next fall, I think we might look at moving back to southern Ontario, closer to friends and family. It’s been a wonderful experience living here, but it’s just not home.

My sister found out that the woman who owns the house she is renting wants to sell this summer. She doesn’t really like living here and thinks she will try and find work around Orillia or Gravenhurst. She’s going to visit some friends next weekend in Aurora, so has asked me to help her re-design her resume so she can hand some out on her way down. I’m excited to know she will be moving closer to her friends and a place she loves, but am secretly sad that she will be leaving. I know she can be frustrating, but I will really kind of miss having her so close.

I got an e-mail from Judi of Ramblin Goldens this weekend. I had sent her an update on Canyon since she owns his sire and brother. She told me they got their new female golden retriever puppy, Emmie, a couple of weeks ago and are really enjoying her. She hasn’t yet found a new home for Phoenix, Canyon’s brother, but has also not been looking too hard. She wants to work on some of his obedience before sending him off. I really love having Canyon and wish we could invite Phoenix to live with us, but I’m really not sure Huib will go for that lol! He is quite patient with my love of dogs, but has told me that he thinks five is a good number 

Finally, I have been in contact with a woman who runs a program that helps people train their pets to be service dogs. She used to work for the Lions Foundation of Canada as a Special Skills trainer, but has been working on her own program for about five or more years. The program is called Encouraging Paws Service Dogs and their website can be found here. The Director has informed me that her fees are $12,000 for assistance from puppy hood through to certification and follow-up help. This is a little out of our price range, so we have asked her how much she would charge for just help with certification. She said that her price is $5,000 for certification which is ten hours of assessment. To pass, she says that the dog must meet the standards of “the Blind Dog Act Federation” but I think she means the International Guide Dog Federation. She also informed me that her fee for advice and/or consultation is $500 an hour or $8.33 a minute. I’m not sure if we’ll end up going with Encouraging Paws, but at least we know there is someone willing to certify and/or provide consultation during the training process. I have some other contacts who have offered to give me advice and information when needed, so I think we’re finally ready to officially raise and train Cessna’s successor!!

Canine Memories

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

Cessna – the Crazy Nut!!

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

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

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

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

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

Now What?

When I was in high school and had just recently lost most of my sight I was still naive and thought no matter what, nothing would hold me back from achieving my dreams. When I was picking a university to attend and chose Guelph for their new Criminal Justice and Public Policy program I thought “here’s the program that will start me on my way to becoming a lawyer”. As I was nearing the end of my time at the University of Guelph I still thought I was invincible and that I could do anything I put my mind to. It was that summer (2003( when I realized I was terribly misled 

Just before I finished my degree at Guelph I began studying for the LSAT and applied to potential law schools. I went into the test not knowing how I would do, but left knowing for sure I had failed – my proctor was diabetic and had a low blood episode so incorrectly filled in my score sheet. I decided to take a year off and figure out where to go next and decided on social work.

I got my acceptance letter to McMaster University just before I went to Dog Guides for Cessna – I was so excited!! I got amazing marks throughout my time at Mac and just before the whole placement experience happened I thought, “for sure, social work must be the field for me.” – was I ever wrong!! It took the field placement person over two months to find me my first placement, she talked to over 20 different agencies and each were eager to have me until they learned about my disability… When she finally found an agency willing to take me on the other students had already been working for 2 weeks. My first placement wasn’t the greatest, but I met some interesting people and improve my advocating skills. My second placement was much better, but still I ran into issues – my supervisor was constantly asking me “so, once you’re in the field, how will you do this?” rather than helping me to look for solutions. Don’t get me wrong, she taught me tons and I really enjoyed my time with her, but she also showed me how narrow-minded social workers can be. In addition to all the placement issues I experienced, I was continually running into problems with my fellow students. Not one of my classmates had a visible disability and not one of the instructors looked at issues faced by people with disabilities – they all focused on women, children, poverty and racism. I would constantly raise my hand in class and ask why we were only being taught about these groups and no matter what, I was always brushed aside or made to feel like an outcast for my questions.

In my opinion, social work is based on the belief that people are broken and need to be fixed. I don’t know why we weren’t being taught more about how to work within the systems that hold back society and to help clients achieve their life dreams. If social workers did more of this, rather than just providing bandaid solutions, I think the field would be obsolete and there would be less psychiatric conditions.

Since graduating from Mac in June of 2007 I have applied for several jobs and attempted to attain a masters degree without success. Most social work jobs require a person to either have a driver’s license or masters degree, neither of which I have. All of the job interviews I’ve attended ended in me being told the agency would have loved to hire me, but I just don’t have the experience required – I have tons of volunteer work though… I get the same response from masters programs, you just don’t have the work experience we require for admission – so what now? It’s an endless cycle and no matter what, I can’t seem to get past it!

I got a letter in January telling me I needed to pay my licensing fee before the end of January or I’d have to pay a penalty. I called the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers to explain my situation. Instead of giving me options for remedying the issue, I was told that’s too bad, I guess you’ll just have to pay the penalty – that’s great guys, but I still can’t find work!!!! A month or so ago I got another letter from the College to tell me that I had to pay my fees immediately or I’d be suspended. I called the College again and explained my situation. The woman on the other end told me she wasn’t a social worker, but an administrator and that the College isn’t here to help social workers, but to help the public – if that’s the case, then why does the public need to write a letter explaining their concerns in order to get information on a social worker? You can go to the Ontario College of Nurses website and type in any nurse’s name to find out where they work and if they are actually registered or have any limitations on their job. After hanging up from the useless organization to which I pay too much money to do nothing, I began wondering “do I really want to be a social worker?”

Today I called the Association of Social Workers to ask for their assistance. Guess what? I was told, you aren’t a member, you need to pay $106 and you’ll have access to our social work job bank. Okay, now let me get this straight…. I pay $270 to one organization and get nothing in return, then I have to pay $106 to another organization in order to get access to a job bank and nothing else???? I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve done everything I was told, I was a good girl and successfully completed 2 degrees at 2 different universities and for what? To live on a government pension? To rely on my husband for everything from toothpaste to a place to live? How does this even close to make sense?

Huib called me this evening from work on his break to see how I was doing and I quickly explained what the Association had told me. He said he was sorry to hear this, but sadly he didn’t have much more time to talk. So I’m at a point where I’m seriously wondering, do I really want to go on with this fight and be a social worker? Do I want to find something else to pursue? Is it too late to start over? I’m a 30 year old woman, with a visual impairment, 2 university degrees and nothing to do each day, but take care of the house and train our dogs – is this right