Not Like Most

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

This well-known saying, is one I’ve heard regularly over my thirty-two years of life.

Time and time again, people are telling me not to change things if they work.

Most people would listen to the advice, but I’m not like most..

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival buttonI received three wonderful guides from The Lions Foundation of canada Dog Guides. Gryphon only worked nine months because of an unfortunate incident with a car, but Phoenix worked seven years and Cessna will retire after eight.

Given this record, most people would be planning to return for a fourth, but I’m not like most.

As many friends and readers of this blog already know, instead of returning to Dog Guides for my fourth guide, I have decided to give owner-training a try.

Most people would look for a puppy who is calm, confident and shows an eagerness to please, but I am not like most.

Rogue is confident, but instead of being calm and eager to please, she is busy and independent-minded.

Most people would rather not spend the time and money raising a puppy, and would rather have a guide who is fully trained and ready to take on the challenges of guiding a blind person.

Not me, I’m not like most.

I look forward to the challenge of raising and training Cessna’s successor. I enjoy the obstacles Rogue places before me, and believe that her spirited nature makes me a better person and subsequently a better trainer. Together, Rogue and I approach problems with enthusiasm, because I know she’ll forgive me for my faults, and she knows I’ll forgive her for her mistakes.

Most people want a service dog who will perform their tasks when they are asked to do so.

Not me, I’m not like most.

I like dogs who have a mind of their own. I don’t want a dog who will go into robot mode and work the second I pick up the harness handle. I want a dog who will question me, and who will make me work for their respect.

We all have our hopes and dreams regarding what a service dog will bring to our lives. some hope for miracles, but others just hope they can make the partnership work.

When I applied for my first guide, I looked forward to getting rid of my white cane, and to the opportunity to share my experiences with another. I was young and full of dreams, but I knew from the start that I needed a dog who would challenge me, and who would force me to go outside of my comfort zone to make our partnership work.

Phoenix worked well and challenged me almost daily. If he wanted to do something and i didn’t allow it, he’d plan his revenge and I never knew when it would come. In order to keep his work at its best, I not only had to practice his basic obedience a few times a week, but also had to make trips into bigger cities for him to feel challenged as well.

“Marchin’ To Your Own Drum” is something most service dog handlers do, but for some, it is something we take to heart because we’re not like most.

Quick Announcement

Just in case anyone wanted to check it out.

I was asked to prepare a guest post for the blog, Dawg Business: It’s Your Dog’s Health, and you can read it here.

Please don’t feel obligated to do so though 🙂

Gone six Months

I can’t believe that, six months ago, Phoenix passed away.

It’s still hard. I’m still grieving.

I’d give anything to hear him snoring beside me or shuffling around the house at night.

But, I know he’s happier. I know he’s healthier. And I know he made the decision to go.

Phoenix was just two months and eleven days shy of his fifteenth birthday, so I feel guilty wishing he didn’t have to leave.

I know I was blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy Phoenix’s company for so long, but I still wish we had a little bit longer.

There are so many things I would have said to him. There are so many things I would have done with him.

I feel guilty for saying this. I feel selfish for wishing this. But, Phoenix and I were a team. We were partners. We were friends.

I won’t stop missing him. I won’t stop thinking of him. I won’t stop remembering him.

Even though time passes, the memories of my loyal friend stay near

The times I laughed. The times I cried. The times we spent together.

Rest In Peace my faithful friend. You will forever remain in my heart.

A Wild Ride

Since today is the final day of 2011, I thought I’d look back at what has happened.

2011 started out with Phoenix recovering from his acute onset of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. Even though it technically happened at the end of 2010, he was still in recovery mode at the beginning of 2011. All of us, both two and four legged, were grateful to be able to begin a new year with our faithful friend.

Unfortunately, for me, the year did not start out as smoothly. After dealing with migraines and their auras, my vision went almost completely for the first two weeks of January. I was pretty scared by this sudden change, but thankfully it began slowly returning. My vision did not return to the same level of acuity as it had been since the age of 13, but the deficits aren’t too life-changing. The doctors still do not know why it went, or why it returned, but are almost certain it will probably happen again.

In February Huib and I took Canyon and Cessna to have their eyes tested and were given some unhappy news. Due to a virus during the first six weeks of life, Canyon has scarring on his retinas. This does not bar him from breeding, he will not pass it on to his offspring, but because goldens are not a rare breed, we have been advised to forgo using him as a stud since it would be highly unlikely that another breeder would want to use him with such a defect. To add to the sadness, we also learned that Cessna is beginning to develop cataracts on both eyes. She has two tiny ones on one eye and three tiny ones on the other. At this point surgery is not an option since the scarring from the surgery would be larger than the cataracts themselves, but maybe in the future. We will have her eyes tested again this spring and are hoping that the cataracts will not have grown.

With the news regarding Cessna’s eyes, Huib and I decided to seriously begin our search for her successor. After researching and then e-mailing numerous lab breeders in Ontario, we settled on Red Labrador Retrievers in maidstone (which is near Windsor). On June 10th, we picked up a 10.8lbs, butterscotch colour female, we named RLR’s Babe In Total Control or Rogue for short.

On August 11th, Huib, Rogue and I said goodbye to our faithful old friend. Phoenix had begun refusing to eat around the 11th of July and went progressively downhill from there. Dr. B offered to run some tests and put him on pain medication, but she felt he had already made the decision for us. It was a sad day, but we also knew Phoenix left on his own terms, just the way he had lived his life.

In September I started an online course through the University of Guelph. It was a bit of a transition getting back into the whole student mindset, but overall I did well. I would have done a lot better if I had not had to take the midterm, but was satisfied with my final mark of 76%.

lastly, after talking about showing Canyon for over a year, Huib and I finally did. Canyon made his debut at the Elora Gorge Kennel Club’s Conformation Dog Show on December 27th and came home with three wins and three second place ribbons. At the Retriever Specialty Huib and Canyon defeated the dog who had been beating them during the All-Breed Shows, and went on to receive Winners Dog and Best of Opposite!

As you can see, 2011 has been a year of mainly downs, but we’ve all made it through with just a few minor bumps and bruises.

Everyone seems to think 2012 will be the year for improvement so, let’s hope for that.

Until next year, the ruled by paws gang, would like to wish our friends and followers a safe and very Happy New Years Eve!

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.

Yesterday

Yesterday would have been Phoenix’s 15th birthday.

Since he’s not here to celebrate with me, I thought I would post some pictures from the 13 wonderful years we spent together. Many, you will have already seen, but I thought I’d also try and add a little story to go along with them.

This picture was given to me by Phoenix’s foster family. Alice, his foster mom, told me that Phoenix’s favourite place to sleep was behind her, in this pink chair. She said that in the mornings, Phoenix wood eat his breakfast, go out for relief, play a bit of bowl hockey and then take an hour nap. She said that as he got bigger though, he began to take up more and more of the chair, until finally, she had to find another place to sit.

Phoenix joined me in my final year of high school. He was probably the most popular student in our year. Everyone seemed to know his name, and at times I’d have random people come over to give him a treat. I think his favourite class was spare though, because we would usually meet up with a friend to go outside and play fetch or leave school to walk around the mall. Unlike Cessna, Phoenix loved to go shopping.

Phoenix and I joined Huib in Vancouver, when he attended a conference. I had a friend come along so that we could tour the universities and visit some of the sights. I think the funniest story of that trip, was when Phoenix met another guide dog. I had been talking to a woman on the web and decided to meet up with her. Phoenix was so happy to see Hula, that he got a little too “excited”. I was so embarrassed!

The only other memorable experience from that trip, was probably when I got to feed a real seal in Victoria. There is a spot where you can go out onto a dock overlooking the Pacific Ocean and feed the seals some fresh fish from a vendor. I held the piece of fish over the edge of the dock and Phoenix watched intently, as a big, fat seal appeared, and took the fish.

Phoenix was always so proud of new “clothes”. He would prance around the house, showing off his new item. It didn’t matter if it was a new bandana, collar, coat or saddle bags, he had to show them off. It also didn’t matter if just Huib and I were home either. I have some other funny pictures of him dressed up, but I’ll have to get Huib to help me find them, to post at a later date.

When Phoenix retired, I knew he wouldn’t be happy just staying at home, so I decided to have him certified as a therapy dog. Phoenix loved visiting with all of the residents at the long-term care home we were assigned to. Unfortunately, school got in the way, and we had to resign after just a year of volunteering.

Phoenix loved going on walks through the conservation area behind our Guelph condominium. He had fun sniffing and investigating, while his buddy Aspen got into any puddle she could find. Luckily, Phoenix hated mud and puddles, so we never had to worry about giving him a bath after a walk.

Phoenix was never a big fan of puppies, but he also had a great deal of patience. When Aiden was really, really young, he used to follow Phoenix around like he was a celebrity. It took Aiden months, but Phoenix finally warmed up to him.

This picture was taken while they were both in “time out” for doing things they shouldn’t have. Phoenix had decided to eat a skeletonized bird carcass, while Aiden wouldn’t stop trying to raid the cooler of another beach-goer.

Phoenix was always food obsessed. He would do absolutely anything for food. When he ate, his bowl was clean within seconds. When I offered a treat, he grabbed it out of my hand. His favourite toys, were anything that had to do with food, so we used to search high and low for new treat dispensing toys. I think by the end, Phoenix had five different balls that dispensed treats, and four different kong products, we could put cookies into. Rogue has since inherited his beloved toys.

One really bad habit Phoenix had, was rolling around in the sand after he was all wet. I used to try so hard to keep him clean, but he always ended up outsmarting me.

Phoenix always loved swimming. He would swim so long, that we’d actually worry about him drowning from exhaustion. As he got older though, he found it more fun to just stand in the shallow parts, cooling off.

We had quite the scare in December, when Phoenix had an acute onset of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. We honestly thought we were going to lose him, but were blessed to have him with us eight more months.

Last year, we weren’t sure Phoenix would be with us to celebrate his 15th birthday, so we had quite the party. My sister and step-dad came over and we all (dogs included) had pizza (gluten-free for the dogs) and cupcakes.

I had the pleasure of spending 13, wonderful years with the most wonderful teacher, helper and friend. Even though we had our ups and downs, I would never change a thing.

Phoenix always lived his life on his own terms, so it’s fitting to think, that he left this life on his own terms.

Though I still miss him every day, I know he’s happier and healthier in his new home.

Rest in peace my mellow, yellow, fellow.

Gone 2 Months

It’s hard to believe I said goodbye to my faithful friend two months ago.

Things around the house are now beginning to change from how they were when Phoenix was here. I didn’t want to change things right away, but know that it’s healthy to start moving on. It’s just so hard to put his things away, and to remove some of the modifications we had made for him to get around easier, like extra carpet runners.

The dogs also seem to be getting back to their regular selves. Aspen isn’t moping around as much and Cessna is not as clingy.

I know we’ll all have our moments of wishing Phoenix was here, but it is nice to see that we can all move past our loss. I know this is what he would have wanted. He will always be in our hearts and the memories will never fade away.

I’ll leave you with a link to Avril Lavigne’s new song Wish You Were Here. Phoenix absolutely loved her music, so it’s kind of fitting that she would release this new song which says exactly what I’ve been feeling.

For those of my readers who are deaf or hard of hearing, here’s the lyrics.

I can be tough
I can be strong
But with you, it’s not like that at all

There’s a girl
Who gives a shit
Behind this wall
You’ve just walked through it

And I remember all those crazy things you said
You left them running through my head
You’re always there, you’re everywhere
But right now I wish you were here
All those crazy things we did
Didn’t think about it, just went with it
You’re always there, you’re everywhere
But right now I wish you were here

Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
here, here, here
I wish you were here.
Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
Near, near, near
I wish you were here.

I love the way you are
It’s who I am, don’t have to try hard
We always say, say like it is
And the truth is that I really miss

And I remember all those crazy things you said
You left them running through my head
You’re always there, you’re everywhere
But right now I wish you were here
All those crazy things we did
Didn’t think about it, just went with it
You’re always there, you’re everywhere
But right now I wish you were here

Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
here, here, here
I wish you were here.
Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
Near, near, near
I wish you were here.

No, I don’t wanna let go
I just wanna let you know
That I never wanna let go

(let go, let go, let go, let go)

No, I don’t wanna let go
I just wanna let you know
That I never wanna let go

(let go, let go, let go, let go)

Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
here, here, here
I wish you were here.
Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
Near, near, near
I wish you were here.

Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
here, here, here
I wish you were here.
Damn, damn, damn
What I’d do to have you
Near, near, near
I wish you were here.

Phoenix, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to have you here…

Coincidental Timing

On Sunday, it will be 13 years since my mother passed away. This anniversary has gotten me thinking about how each time I’ve gotten a new dog guide, someone special has left my life.

Mom passed away two months and two days after I was matched with Phoenix. She had a chance to get to know Phoenix, and thought he was the perfect dog for me. She enjoyed sharing her banana Popsicles with him, and would even offer to babysit if I had to go somewhere alone. She did not share this sort of relationship with Gryphon.

Granny passed away a month and fifteen days after I was matched with Cessna. She also got a chance to meet and sort of get to know her. She thought Cessna was a little rambunctious, but saw potential for a great worker.

Then recently, Phoenix passed away two months and a day after I picked up Rogue. He showed her a patience I had not seen him ever offer another puppy. He let her lick his face. He let her nap on top of him. He let her clean up crumbs he had dropped. And, I’m convinced he left her with a level of wisdom and maturity, I’ve never seen another five month old puppy possess.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s really got me wondering if I should stop getting new dog guides.

Please let’s hope I’m wrong.

Still Hurting

It’s hard to believe Phoenix has already been gone for five weeks and five days.

I still find myself thinking about him each and every day.

Wondering where he is. Wondering what he’s doing.

Wondering if he misses me, as much as I miss him.

I’ve had people message me to say how much they are also missing Phoenix. He touched so many lives, that I know the pain of his absence is effecting not just our family.

I just don’t think people truly understand how empty I feel.

I’ve had people say they know how I’m feeling. But, I’m not sure they do.

I’m not sure how anyone can truly know how much I miss Phoenix. He was my partner for thirteen years. Even before Huib entered my life Phoenix was by my side.

He taught me the meaning of true loyalty.

He taught me the value of unconditional love.

He was with me through the toughest moments in life. He laid at my feet in the ICU, while I talked to my mom during her final hours. He gave me support when I watched my Granny leave this life.

Phoenix was also there during some of my major milestones. He walked me across the stage in high school. He walked me across the stage at the University of Guelph. He was there while I planned my wedding. And he helped Cessna become the companion I needed her to be.

With all the memories and all the love we shared, I really don’t understand how anyone can say they know how I am feeling.

Maybe you had a dog before that you loved, but they were not Phoenix and you are not me.

Maybe you were/are privileged to have shared your life with a service dog, but they were not Phoenix and you are not me.

Maybe you lost a friend who meant the world to you, but they were not Phoenix and you are not me.

Maybe you had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Phoenix, but you are not me and it was not the relationship we shared.

I talked to Huib a little while ago about my feelings surrounding how people keep telling me they know how I feel. I told him that only he could even close to understand the thoughts and emotions which plague me. He said that he could imagine how I was feeling, but that Phoenix and I shared a bond that not even he could explain. He said that even though he lived with Phoenix and watched him age, he could only wish for the relationship him and I developed. Phoenix refused to be anything other than a “Mommy’s boy”. Huib tried to be his buddy when Phoenix retired, but no matter how hard he tried, Phoenix constantly reminded him that he was not me.

Phoenix, Mommy misses you dearly. Even though I know you felt it was time to leave, it’s still hard to believe you’re gone. The house is so quiet and empty without your smile and wagging tail.

The others really miss you too.

Aspen still lies in the kitchen by the sink watching for you to come through the side door, or to appear in your favourite sleeping place.

Canyon has taken on the role of protector over the girls. He knows you’d want him to keep them safe, since that is what you did when you were here.

Cessna is quieter. She checks in with me constantly, making sure I’m okay. And she hates leaving me when we’re outside, worried I might need her help.

Rogue is so different. It’s like you’ve left your imprint upon her. She’s so much older and wiser for her age. And, she has taken over your job of being my constant shadow.

I hope we meet again. It may be a long time before I can be with you, but I know you’ve got people to keep you safe.

So, until then, rest in peace my faithful companion.

Where Were You?

Over the past few weeks leading up to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the same question has been posed all over the radio, television and internet –

“Where were you?”

I’ve thought about this question for weeks. Where was I? What was I doing? Who was I with?

On September 11th, 2001:

• I was starting my 3rd year at the University of Guelph.
• I was living with Phoenix in residence.
• I had been dating Huib for ten months.
• I was looking forward to a bright future.

I remember that morning. I remember walking down the hall from my residence room. I remember hearing a lot of people crying and talking in the lounge. I remember hearing the television. I remember stopping at the door of the lounge to listen. And, I remember the feeling of shock that came over me.

I had not lost anyone that day. I had no real ties to America. But, I knew this day would change my life forever.

September 11th, 2001 is a day that should never be forgotten.

It is a day when we all learned that no one was safe. A day when the world stopped, and cried together. A day when thousands of people and special dogs were lost.

Please take a moment, to remember and thank all who were lost.