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

Canine Memory

As usual, I haven’t posted a memory in a while so here comes one now!!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go…

I’m sure you all know where this post is going, but just in case you’re still in need of your morning coffee, I’ll give you a little clue…POO!!

Phoenix is the pooping king. He will poop more times in a day than any other being in our home. He does not care where he is, if he has to go and he can’t get your attention, then he’ll just drop his load. Luckily with the raw diet though, his stools are quite dry and easy to pick up. But, I do remember his working days and wanting to die, because he decided it was a good idea to drop a load in front of a crowd of unsuspecting mall goers. I used to dread going into malls with Phoenix. It did not matter how many times he pooped before we arrived or if he had eaten before we left home – it would happen!! We’d be walking along, doing well I thought, and then….he’d begin to slow a little…and before I could react….he’d do it!! I don’t know how many times I’d look around to see if anyone noticed, only to find out we were standing right beside a table of people eating their lunch in the food court. He didn’t keep these little surprises for just the mall either! I also hated taking him to visit friends and family because I knew they would end up convincing me to let him off leash, only to later find out he had left a present in their basement or once in a little girl’s bedroom!! Phoenix’s pooping in public got to be so frustrating near the end of his working career, that I was actually sort of relieved when he decided it was time to throw in the towel and spend his days relaxing on the couch.

Phoenix is not the only one in our household who has left a family member an unexpected surprise – Cessna is just as guilty. Cessna is a little more finicky about where she deposits her treasures, but for some unknown reason, she has left my aunt’s guy friend more than just one present in the only room of the house he does not allow his own dogs to enter. I have never worried about allowing Cessna off leash when visiting or wondered if she would squat in the middle of a public place – she is a reliable reliever. But, after Dean entered his living room to grab a coaster and found a neat little pile of Cessna logs, I’ve been a little more cautious.

We’ve been really lucky with Canyon thus far. He has not once had an accident that I can remember in someone’s home, but with Aspen….luck hasn’t really been on our side. Jess from At A Glacial Pace will remember this one!

When Aiden was about 8 months of age, Jess and her roommates invited us to come with the dogs for Jetta’s retirement party (I think). Well, my sister was living with us at this point in time so we decided to leave Phoenix at home and bring our other three; Cessna, Aspen and Aiden. Well, Aspen had been having some stomach issues that day, so we probably should have left her home, but thought the Immodium we had given her would keep her belly happy enough – we were wrong!! We arrived before most of the other guests, so Aspen took this time to get in as many Auntie Jess snuggles as possible. Well, I guess her belly began to bother her so she got into Jess’s lap in an effort to get Huib’s attention, he was sitting in a chair to her right, but before anyone knew what she was doing….her bowels let go! Huib grabbed Aspen and ran her outside, while I caught the other two, so Jess and her roommates could get everything cleaned up. I couldn’t stop apologizing and so desperately wanted to crawl under a rock and die! I know it wasn’t Aspen’s fault, but how many people can actually say their dog has pooped in a friend’s lap? Aspen has had bowel issues since a very young age so, we should have known something like this could happen.

Here’s a final Aspen story to further spoil your breakfast. When Aspen was a year old, we were still working on the whole house training because of her overly sensitive bowels. Well, my aunt bought me a huge bag of Jelly Belly’s for a graduation present and stupidly, I left them on our coffee table while we ran out the door for the ceremony. Aspen had been doing quite well with staying alone, so I didn’t think twice about crating her. When we arrived home in the afternoon, my sister immediately saw the empty jelly Belly package on the living room floor and brought it outside for me to see – I had been letting Aspen out. Well, she didn’t seem to be having any issues and her breath smelled absolutely delicious, so we weren’t too worried. That night, I woke up to the smell of poop. I got out of bed slowly and tried to find the source, but was unsuccessful so woke Huib. He looked around for a good five minutes and just before giving up, found it! It wasn’t on the floor, but on top of Phoenix’s crate!! Now, I’m guessing you’re thinking the same thing we did, “how the heck did she get up there?” Well, we had a pretty small bedroom back then so had a Rubbermaid container sitting between the end of our bed and his crate. I guess she had to go, so thought she’d climb up there and poop while looking outside lol! We had been working so hard on teaching her not to poop indoors, that I guess she decided this was the best option since she couldn’t wake us. Well, she didn’t get in trouble that day because first of all, we couldn’t stop laughing, and second, we thought it was pretty smart.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our messy adventures and hope we didn’t ruin your breakfast!

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.

A golden angel Passes

Yesterday Aries, a thirteen and a half year old female golden retriever took her last breath on earth to make her final journey across the “rainbow bridge” and join her canine friends. Aries had been losing weight over the past few months and had begun to refuse her food just after Christmas. On Friday night, just before her family rang in the new year, she began to tremble, seemed confused, and couldn’t get up or down without help. Her family worried, but couldn’t get her into the vet until Tuesday when they were told she probably had a tumor in her spleen which caused it to rupture – she was dying of internal bleeding.

I met Aries in 2000 when she was working as a dog guide for Lynette (handler of Endora & now DeeDee). They were living in Oakville at the time and I took Phoenix to visit for the weekend, so we could attend Midnight Madness. The Lions Foundation had asked clients to come with their dogs and I thought it was a good opportunity to meet Lynette, whom I had been chatting with online for over a year – we met on a client chat forum the LFC used to run on their website. Aries was a beautiful 3 year old and I instantly fell in love. Now looking back I think she is part of the reason I still have my love affair with goldens. I remember the visit well because it was quite the eventful first day. I had offered to brush Aries for Lynette and was sitting on the floor combing her when Lynette’s former fiance’s dog came over and began to pee in my lap. I’m not sure what got into him, but during the commotion of getting up and trying to clean up the mess, Phoenix went over and peed on his toy creating another mess. It’s funny to look back now at that moment, but I remember being horrified and wanting to take Phoenix directly home because I was so embarrassed. Aries was fine with the whole situation and just sat there waiting for me to return to combing her. The funniest part about the whole thing though, was that Aries was the one who tended to have accidents inside and that day she didn’t have even one.

Aries was never the greatest guide for Lynette, she had too many fears and stressed out easily, so after only 3 years of working she was retired and went to live with her parents in Cape Breton. I sadly never got to see Aries again, but Lynette made sure to keep me up to date on how she was doing over the years. She developed arthritis when she was about 10 and went deaf around the same time Phoenix did, but overall she was doing well in her older years – even her Inflammatory bowel Disease seemed to disappear in retirement. Even though she was never the dog guide Lynette found in Endora, Aries still remained a big part of Lynette’s life and I know she will be truly missed.

Rest in peace our little golden friend, even though you may not have been cut out to be a working companion, you were still a companion and have left your mark on many who knew you. I hope you find your new home to be even more special than the one you left behind.

Canine Memories

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted a memory, so I thought I’d do one now.

Phoenix – The Class Clown

I got Phoenix about a month before starting my final year of high school. I had worked with a dog guide named Gryphon for a year before him, but due to some unfortunate circumstances, he was retired and became a Special Skills Dog Guide.

Phoenix has always been a friendly dog and attracted people from all around us as we traveled the world together. In my high school he was the only dog and therefore everyone wanted to be our friend. The secretaries had Milkbones at their desks and even some of my teachers had their own stashes. I met a lot of people with him that I wouldn’t have on my own and Phoenix made sure to soak up the attention.

No matter how much attention he got though, Phoenix was always a loyal companion and wonderful guide – but, his stomach ruled his mind. Whenever we passed the administration office I had to go in for him to get his cookie or he’d lie down and refuse to move. Other times I’d be able to convince him to move on, but any time we even went close, he’d start pulling towards the office doors. One day my friend and I went in to sign out for the afternoon and Phoenix was so excited to get his daily cookie that he jumped onto the attendance secretary’s desk. He had all four paws on the desk before anyone knew what was happening!

In addition to his love of food, he had a love of people – not just any people, but the people he knew, my friends. We had free periods of time during our schedule where we had a chance to catch-up on homework, but often we just used them as a time for playing cards or grabbing a snack. Phoenix and I had tons of friends we hung out with on weekends or after school, but during our spares we’d sometimes get together with them and chat or maybe go for a short run in the field. One day when I was walking down to the “meeting” place near the cafeteria Phoenix saw a couple of my friend’s at one of the picnic tables and wanted to say hi. I told him no and asked him to continue on into the lunch room so we could grab some hot chocolate before meeting with another for a run in the yard. Phoenix wasn’t happy with this, so walked me straight into a garbage can to show me how he felt – my friends almost died laughing. Another time we were meeting with a bunch of them to play cards and as we approached the table Phoenix got so excited he leaped right onto it to see one of them who was sitting in the very back corner – she almost fell backwards in surprise!

As you can see, Phoenix made my high school days quite entertaining because you never knew what he had in store.