Partnership Differences

I know the chances are extremely slim that it would have happened, but if Phoenix was still with us, he would have turned 17 this week.

Knowing this has gotten me thinking about the differences in the partnerships I have with Cessna and Rogue, and had with Phoenix.

Each dog has their own unique personality and working style.

Cessna is an amazing worker, but if there’s a squirrel nearby, she’s also a serious critter chaser. but, no matter how distracted she gets, her work is always spot on.

Phoenix was too serious about his work. If he thought something wasn’t safe, then he’d flat out refuse to move. One day it took me 15 minutes to convince him to climb over a snow bank that was blocking our path. Phoenix knew his job was to keep me safe, so he felt it was necessary to keep following the sidewalk until he found an opening he could get me through to cross the road. the only problem was, there were no openings, it had just snow ed and the snow removal people hadn’t gotten around to clearing pedestrian walkways.

Rogue is still in the training process, but already I am seeing similarities between the way she works and Phoenix’s work ethic. If Rogue isn’t sure something is safe, or certain that she is doing what I want, she’ll stop walking and sit down until I explain the request again.

Cessna is a solid worker, but Phoenix and Rogue seem much more serious about their job.

At home, Cessna rarely cuddles with me or follows me around the house. She’d much rather spread out on the couch for a nap or chase squirrels in the backyard.

Phoenix was my yellow shadow. Wherever I was, he was not far behind. If I was sitting on the couch, Phoenix was lying beside me with his head in my lap. if I was doing dishes, he was lying by my feet or a few feet behind.

Rogue is almost an extension of me. the second I move, she’s up and ready to follow. if I’m working on my laptop, Rogue is lying right against me. if it were possible, I think Rogue would climb inside my body.

Other then her bad habit of counter surfing while we’re gone, Cessna could care less about being left behind.

Phoenix went nuts when I left him. it didn’t matter who was with him, he did not like being away from me.

Rogue is not even close to as bad as Phoenix, but she still does not like being left behind. She’ll frequently look out the window to see if I’m coming back, and she’ll whine if she sees me and cannot get there.

Thinking about the differences between my partnerships with Cessna, Phoenix and rogue, I really wonder if maybe a good working dog needs a certain level of separation anxiety…

My Sister’s Wedding

Saturday was my sister’s wedding. I think I mentioned her getting engaged in an earlier post, but I really wasn’t too involved in the planning, so I haven’t talked about it much here on the blog.

On the Friday afternoon, Huib, Dad, Rogue and I packed up the Orlando and headed to Niagara Falls. We arrived around 4:30pm, checked in at the hotel we were staying at and then began bringing our stuff inside. I called my sister to find out what the plan was for dinner, but learned she was not yet in Niagara Falls, so we went to Shoeless Joe’s on our own.

I ordered chicken breast with goat cheese on it, along with a garden salad and some french fries. Dad ordered a baked chicken penne pasta and Huib got a club sandwich with fries. the food was good, but the portions were on the small side and quite expensive.

After dinner, we walked over to the Falls View Casino and went our separate ways. Huib and I took Rogue for a walk down by the falls, while Dad went into the casino to try and win some money – good thing we don’t live too close to any casinos, lol! On our way back to the hotel, I got a call from my sister. They had arrived in town and had met up with Dad. We had planned to all meet back at our hotel room, but somehow the plans were changed without our knowledge, so we went to visit my aunt and her guy friend at another hotel. Each of us were in a different hotel, but none was more than a five minute walk away, so it worked out perfectly.

Rogue trying to get a closer look at the falls. I'm standing to the left looking toward the camera. Rogue has her head underneath the bottom rail.

On Saturday morning, Huib, Dad, Mark (my new brother-in-law) and I met up with my aunt and her guy friend for breakfast. Mark had stayed the night with us, and wasn’t allowed to see Brandi until the ceremony, so he hung out with us for most of the day. For breakfast, I had eggs Benedict, it was delicious! After breakfast, Dean (my aunt’s guy friend) joined Huib, Dad, mark and I on a walk down to the falls. We had planned to do a tour behind the falls, but the next available spot wasn’t until 1pm and the wedding was supposed to start at 4pm, so we thought we had better not chance it. Dad and Mark headed back to the hotel, while we went back to the Hilton with Dean. My sister was staying at the Hilton with two of my other aunts, so Huib and I went up to make sure she was doing okay. Huib also brought our camera and took tons of pictures while Brandi was getting ready.

At 3pm, Huib, Rogue and I headed back to our hotel to get ready. I wore black dress pants and black shoes, with a white button down blouse that had some black accents. Huib wore black dress pants, a black tie, black shoes and a dark long-sleeved purple dress shirt. Dad wore a black pinstriped suit with a white shirt, black shoes and tie that had a wolf on it. Dad was giving Brandi away, so he had to look good 🙂

When we arrived at the room where the ceremony was to take place, Huib and I went into the bridal room to wish Brandi good luck. We weren’t able to stay in there too long because her maid of honour and one of my aunts was busy altering her dress and Brandi was crying, so I had to quickly leave – I didn’t want to start crying as well. Even though she had tried her dress on the week before and the seamstress said she had made all of the necessary alterations, the dress ended up being too long and didn’t quite fit properly around her chest area.

When the ceremony began, Dad and Brandi came down the aisle to “When You Kiss Me” by Shania Twain. It was kind of an odd song to play when you are walking down the aisle with your Dad, but I understood the meaning behind her selection. Brandi was beautiful. She said she was concentrating hard on not tripping as she walked and tried not to look at everyone, in case she began crying again, lol! It was probably a good decision, because almost everyone in the audience was in tears, even Mark’s Dad, which got Mark in tears, lol! The exchanging of vows was pretty standard and the minister was pretty interesting. Brandi had wanted the same minister to do their ceremony as Mom, Dad and us had, but with the whole wedding package, the minister was included, so she decided to just go with the one provided. When they signed their marriage license, they had the song “From This Moment” by Shania Twain played, and then when they walked back down the aisle, the rest of “When You Kiss Me” was played.

In between the ceremony and dinner, we had some pictures taken with the photographer and then we had some coffee while catching up with old friends. It was really cool to see the girls we had grown up with, it had been so long since we’d all been together.

At dinner, Mark’s brother said a short speech and then Dad did his. I was supposed to write it for him, but I had gotten stuck, so Dad just did it on the spot. For dinner we were able to choose between chicken and steak, I think almost everyone picked the steak – it was awesome! Along with the steak, they served baby bokchoy and a baked potato, with a salad to start.

Rogue and I sitting at a table covered with a white table cloth. Rogue has her paws up on a chair that is covered with a white material looking toward the camera. I'm sitting behind her. You can see my white blouse with black accents. Rogue is only wearing her purple Haida whale martingale and Cessna's black leather braided leash. You can see the falls through the window behind me.

Brandi and Mark chose Savage Garden’s song “Truly, Madly, Deeply” for their first dance as a couple. brandi has always loved that song, so I think it was an awesome choice. After a bit, Dad and Brandi danced together to some song that I don’t know the name of, but that totally made me teary. It was about a Dad talking about his little girl growing up and how she reminded him of her mother – it was just so fitting. Finally, it was time to cut the cake. Instead of getting a normal cake that no one was going to eat, Brandi and Mark decided upon a strawberry cheesecake. I’m not a fruit fan in my food, but after Huib took off the strawberry topping, I ate the rest of the cheesecake.

After the cheesecake was served, several guests left, so the rest of us started getting ready to go as well. Brandi and Mark only invited twenty people to their wedding, so once most of the guests were gone, it wasn’t much of a party.

we all went back to our respective hotels and then everyone, but Huib and I, met up at a local night club. It was so funny to see Dad and my aunts getting ready to go to a night club. Huib and I didn’t feel it was a good place for rogue to be going, and didn’t think she’d remain quiet in our hotel room, so we stayed in and watched TV. Dad and the aunts returned shortly after leaving though, they had all forgotten their ID and were told that they weren’t allowed to enter, lol! Dad is 64 and my aunts range from 49 to 55, so it was pretty funny to hear their story. We were able to get a hold of Brandi and the others though, so everyone decided to meet at another place. dad didn’t come back to the hotel until the wee hours of the morning, lol!

On Sunday, we met up with Brandi and Mark for breakfast and then headed back here. Canyon and Cessna had stayed with Kelly, Josh and their dogs, so we wanted to get back and relieve them of their dogsitting duties.

Phoenix Loved Avril Lavigne

Last night after Huib left for work, I started listening to Hits 1, on Sirius/XM Radio.

Avril Lavigne has a new song out, called Here’s To Never Growing Up. It began playing as soon as the station tuned in, and I started thinking about Phoenix.

Don’t get me wrong, I think about Phoenix a lot, but hearing Avril made the memories come back stronger.

Phoenix loved Avril. He’d be sleeping on the couch (before he went deaf of course) and as soon as an Avril Lavigne song came on the radio, Huib said Phoenix’s tail would start wagging to the music. It was so strange!

It’s hard to believe he’s already been gone for a year and nine months.

Both Phoenix and Aspen were such a large part of our family. It’s hard to put into words how much their deaths have effected us.

Aspen has only been gone two months, so the pain and tears are still quite fresh, but we still miss Phoenix.

i hope they are running through fields, chasing leaves and enjoying crab apples together.

this is a picture of Phoenix and Aspen from 2007. Phoenix is standing with a very muddy Aspen in the wooded area behind our former condo building.

I hope they both know how much we love and miss them each day.

I also hope they know that they don’t have to worry about us, they did enough of that while they were still with us.

And to think this post all started from a song that came on the radio…

I’m A Cracker Critter!

Even though I’m a “Working Stiff”, Mommy says I fit much better into the “Cracker Critter” category.

What’s she insinuating?

So, for those who do not know me, my name is Cessna and I am Mommy’s guide dog, which explains how I also fit into the “Working Stiff” category.

But, I am not like every other guide dog.

Most guide dogs take their job really seriously, and know how to ignore distractions around them, such as squirrels, birds and other dogs, but not me.

Where’s the fun in that?

I keep Mommy safe, but I also like to have fun and think chasing squirrels should be in my job description!

Don’t you?

Here are a couple examples to illustrate why Mommy thinks I am a Cracker Critter…I’ll let you be the judge.

One day Mommy and I were walking to one of her classes and I was being a good girl. For most of the walk we were walking pretty quick, but then I slowed down a bit. Mommy thought there might be some ice, so was really proud of me.

He he he…

She was sadly mistaken…

In fact, we had come along side a field, and I slowed down (I had to make sure my bell didn’t jingle) to get real close to some unsuspecting Canada Geese.

He he he…

As soon as I was right beside them…I let out a “WOOF!” and the entire flock of geese took flight!

I was so proud of myself!

Mommy says I was jumping around like a fool!

I personally think she just doesn’t realize what she’s missing out on – don’t you?

Onto my next story…

About a year ago, Mommy’s friend invited us on a trip to Marineland. For those who don’t know, Marineland is a sort of aquatic theme park where they not only have rides and games, but also different sea creatures! Well…of course Mommy and Daddy said we’d love to join the group.

The first exhibit we saw, was the sea lions. We had to sit through a show *yawn* where some woman got the sea lions to do different tricks. I had so much trouble sitting still and even though Mommy told me to stay quiet, I kept letting out little “Woofs!” and whining at the top of my lungs! I wanted to go play with the sea lions, but Mommy wouldn’t let me!

Mean Mommy!

When the show was all over, Mommy and I went underground and I got to watch the sea lions swim around the big pool. I really wanted to go play with them though so kept putting my paws up on the glass. Mommy just stood there laughing!

But, then…one of the sea lions came over and scared me!

And what did Mommy do? She laughed even harder!!

Next we walked over to the whale area and I got to watch the killer whales swim and splash the crowd.

This was so, so, so cool!

I of course couldn’t control myself!

Mommy held my leash really tight so I couldn’t jump into the water with the whales – what’s her deal?

And at one point Daddy picked me up so that I could see better – he’s such a wonderful man 

It was SO COOL!

At the end of our trip though, we walked through the deer enclosure and I was so scared!

what was Mommy thinking?

There were like a million deer and they all seemed to want to eat me!

Could you imagine?

Luckily, deer aren’t into eating spunky little black labs…

As you can see, I’m not like every other guide dog.

I’m a Cracker Critter!

*****

This is Cessna’s submission for the Mango Minster 2012 Cracker Critter category.

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.

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…

Eight Years Old

You wouldn’t know from seeing her, but today is Cessna’s eighth birthday.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this.

On one hand, it’s a day to spoil her rotten and to celebrate.

But, on the other hand, it’s a day which signifies the ominous approach of retirement and the future ailments of being a senior dog.

I know I should be cherishing every day I have with Cessna and try not to worry about the future, but having just recently lost Phoenix, I can’t help but feel sad.

Phoenix and I had a wonderful partnership. We enjoyed many memories and pretty much became adults together.

But, Cessna and I have something different. Yes, we have a wonderful partnership. But, there’s more to it, than just the average blind person-dog guide bond.

Cessna has made me a better person.

She came into my life as Phoenix’s successor, but she’s been more than that.

She’s been my reality check.

From the beginning, Cessna and I had to learn different ways of working together. Unlike other dogs in her class, she couldn’t trust. When most clients and their dogs were cuddling and getting to know one another. Cessna and I were sitting at a distance, trying to figure out whether it was worth putting trust in each other. It wasn’t until our second week together, that she actually offered some affection.

From that moment, I knew this little firecracker was going to be mine.

Over the past six and a half years together, we’ve had our ups and downs.

I had an image of what our partnership should look like. But, she showed me differently.

Cessna made me work for her respect. In return, she gave me not only that same respect, but also taught me lessons that will resonate within me for a lifetime.

Not every dog who comes into your life will make an everlasting impression upon you, but I’ve been blessed to have had two very special labs do just that.

Phoenix gave me independence and taught me the value of unconditional love.

Cessna has given me insight and shown me how important treating others (including non-humans) with dignity and respect.

If Cessna had not entered my life, I know for a fact, I would not have become the caring and compassionate animal guardian I am today.

So, without further a due, please join me in wishing my little ball of energy, a very…

Happy 8th Birthday!

Cessna, I look forward to spending many more wonderful years with you, laughing and learning along the way.

Grieving

These entries are probably getting annoying, but I honestly don’t care because this is my blog, and the loss of Phoenix has left a gaping hole in my heart.

It has been two weeks since Phoenix left us, to walk across the Rainbow Bridge.

This means for…

14 days, I’ve woken up several times a night hoping to hear his shuffling feet or quiet snores.

336 hours, I’ve wondered who met him on his journey.

20,160 minutes, I’ve thought about the incredible memories we’ve shared.

And for 1,209,600 seconds, I’ve wished for just one more moment with him to make sure he’s okay.

I know time will heal these wounds, but right now it seems as though I will never be able to move on without Phoenix by my side.

In respect to the other canine members of the family, Rogue really seems to have matured overnight. It’s like Phoenix has left an ever lasting impression upon her. She still has her moments of silly puppiness, but her attentiveness and ability to learn what is expected of her, seems to have sky rocketed beyond her developmental age.

Cessna and Canyon don’t really seem phased by Phoenix’s absence, but I have noticed a bit more protectiveness over me from Canyon and that they just seem to be a little a little less energetic.

Here’s a picture my sister took of Phoenix and Cessna while she was attending Georgian College and we had brought them to visit her in residence.

Aspen is a little more noticeably bothered by the absence of her best friend. She lies by the door or the kitchen sink all day, where she can watch for Phoenix to return to his favourite sleeping spot. Her stomach seems to have improved since our return from London (where she had horrible bouts of diarrhea for days after Phoenix left), but she really doesn’t seem to have much energy to play. And, she doesn’t really want to pay much attention to us or even sleep in our room at night.

This picture was taken in the fall of probably 2007, on a side street near our Guelph condominium.

This picture was taken before I was placed with Cessna, so most likely in the summer of 2004 or spring of 2005.

Rest in peace our friend, we’re all feeling your absence, but know you’ll continue to watch over us for as long as you can.

A Companion By My Side

Fourteen years ago today, I met my first dog guide, Gryphon.

Gryphon was a very tall, slim, male black Labrador Retriever. His birthday was November 11th, 1995, and his litter had been donated to the LFC by a breeder in Blind River Ontario. Gryphon and his litter mates were sponsored by the Oakville Police Department, so were given “G” names associated with policing. I never got to meet any of his siblings, but heard that only Gryphon and Gentry made it into training. Gentry was renamed Gillis by his handler and became a Special Skills Dog. Their brothers, Gambler and Gunner, had been disqualified.

Since I was a new handler, the trainers decided to give me a “gentle giant”. Gryphon was playful and loving. He obeyed every command, and never really asked for anything. He was a great “learner” dog.

The other people in my class were matched with dogs that suited their needs as well. Jennifer from Toronto, received a spunky little female black lab named Jenna. Jenna was Jennifer’s second dog, so the trainers felt she could handle a more demanding companion. I stayed in touch with Jennifer for several years after we’d been in class together, so it was tough to learn of Jenna’s passing at the age of 11 from leukemia.

Dan, from Newmarket, was matched with a little, male black lab named Brock. Brock was also Dan’s second dog, so his spunkiness was no problem for him. I only kept in touch with Dan for a year after our class, but saw the two of them in newmarket, a year or so before Phoenix retired. Brock was about 10 at the time and had obtained a couple of obedience titles during their working relationship. I heard that Dan was matched with a new dog named Atlas, a year or so after I received Cessna, so I’m guessing Brock has since passed away.

The man from Kitchener, Carey, was matched with a stubborn, two year old male, yellow lab named Winston. Carey and Winston had a rocky relationship from the start, so it was no surprise to hear that Winston had been retired after just a year and Carey had received a new dog named Argus. Argus retired a year or so before Phoenix, so Carey ended up with a small female black lab named Shasta and as far as I know they are still working together.

The older man from Alberta, Earl, received a reissue named Murray. Murray was a big, 4 year old male black lab who had been returned after his former handler became too ill to care for him. It was neat to see how quickly the two of them bonded.

The 25 year old man, Lee, from Alberta received a spunky, little male black lab named Archer. Archer and Lee struggled all through class, so again, it was no surprise to hear that the trainers brought Archer back to the school as soon as they went to do the initial follow-up visit.

Gryphon and I worked well together. He was a great dog to have during my second last year of high school. He sat quietly beside my desk, sleeping through most of my classes. He taught me how to move with ease throughout my town. And showed me what I had been missing, while working with a cane.

Sadly though, Gryphon and I really never truly bonded. I was a beginner, so didn’t realize how detrimental family members could be to a new team. He would leave my room in the night to sleep with my sister – she would come in while I was sleeping and call him out. And if my Dad was in the kitchen, he would run to the fridge for a treat.

He continued to work well for me, but we really never became a true team.

On Good Friday of 1998, Gryphon and I went to Toronto to visit Jennifer and Jenna. We had been to visit them several times before, but this visit would spell the end of our working relationship.

We were walking along behind Jennifer and Jenna and as we were crossing one of the many side streets near her home, Gryphon and I were cut off by a car turning right. The car drove over the tip of my running shoe and bumped Gryphon in the nose. The driver did not stop, so I’m guessing they didn’t even realize their mistake. From that moment on, Gryphon was never the same. He would lie down in the middle of sidewalks when a loud truck or car went by. And would try to race across streets, forgetting to stop at the up-curbs. The trainers took him back for a two week retraining session, but this didn’t work. I even tried sitting on the grass beside busy roads with him to see if this might desensitize him, but nothing changed. After two months of trying to work through his fears, the trainers and I made the decision to retire him from guide work.

It’s tough to admit, but I really felt nothing when I handed his leash over to the person who picked him up.

I returned to the school a week later, and received my stubborn, independent-minded, yellow lab.

Ever since August 3rd, 1997, I have only ever gone a week without a canine companion by my side.

And, I don’t regret my decision one bit!

Canine Memory

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

Aiden – The Pulling Machine

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

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

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

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

“turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey