National Guide Dog Month – Poor Dog…

This is harder than I thought it would be. It’s tough to think of topics to write about each day of the month. I’m only on like day four, and am already beginning to wonder if it is even worth my time. I like educating people about service dogs and dispelling some of the myths surrounding what the public thinks a service dog should be, but it’s really hard to think about what I should write that isn’t written somewhere else already.

If you have any questions for me or about service dogs in general please post them in the comments section and I’ll gladly take a moment to write about them.

So…now….what to write about today….

“Poor dog…”

The above comment is one I hear almost every day. It seems as though people think Cessna works day and night. It’s like they think she’s my slave.

In reality, Cessna works only in public places. And on average works less than 20 hours in a week.

Yes, there are weeks when I may need her to work more, but these are very rare. During those weeks, I spoil her with tasty treats and make sure to maximize the fun-factor during her “time off”.

Most days, Cessna is a couch potato.

She loves to get as much sleep as possible, even on days when she’s done nothing at all, you’ll be sure to find her curled up on our queen-sized pillow top mattress or sprawled out in the middle of the couch.

When she isn’t sleeping, Cessna loves to chase squirrels, birds, chipmunks and even Canyon when he’s retrieving a ball. I know guide dogs aren’t “supposed” to be chasing small critters, but Cessna isn’t your “typical” guide dog.

Cessna isn’t afraid to tell me when she needs a day off either. If she sees me getting ready to go somewhere, she’ll watch intently and if she isn’t in the mood, then I will usually find her pretending to nap on the bed. This is honestly a welcome change from the days I worked with Phoenix, because even if I wanted to leave him home, it just wasn’t going to happen.

Maybe there are service dogs out there who work non-stop, but this is definitely not Cessna.

Most times I will just ignore someone who makes the comment “poor dog…”, but on the rare occasion I have been known to stop and ask the commenter a few questions.

Me: “do you have a dog?”

Joe Public: “Yes.

Me: “May I ask where he or she is?”

Joe Public: “At home.”

Me: “Poor dog.”

Joe Public: “What do you mean?”

Me: “I feel bad for your dog having to sit home alone, while Cessna is out with me having a great time.”

At this point, the person usually just gives me a strange look (why do people give blind people dirty looks?) and walks away.

But, there are those, who will continue on trying to argue that their dogs are much happier than Cessna because they are not expected to “work all the time”.

At this point, I will usually ask them what they think she does, when we’re at home.

This usually makes them think a moment, and I will continue on my way because I’m not interested in listening any more.

In an earlier post, I wrote about an article I had read regarding PETA and their feelings surrounding service dogs.

There are other interesting comments I’ve heard during my public excursions with Cessna, but I’ll keep those for future posting.

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.

Time Moves On

1 week ago…

I lost my friend.

7 days ago…

I lost a loyal companion.

168 hours ago…

I lost a teacher.

10080 minutes ago…

I said good bye to my free-spirited boy.

604800 seconds ago…

I had to leave behind the one, who taught me the true value of unconditional love.

Rest in peace my beautiful, old boy…

Four Months Old

Today Rogue is four months old.

Here are 4 new commands she has learned this month:

1. Down
2. Off (used when she jumps up or to have her get off furniture)
3. Leave It
4. Up (used to have her jump up onto furniture or into the truck)

This past month has been a little stressful with Phoenix, so we really haven’t had a chance to do too much with our little girl.

Other than some training each day at home, we’ve taken Rogue and Cessna to see two movies at a local theatre (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hollows and Pirates of The Caribbean), in addition to the usual shopping adventures, when Huib has had some time off.

Otherwise, Rogue has already gotten four of her very front adult teeth, and has almost grown out of her first collar and puppy coat.

Here are some pictures from our St. Jacob’s Market trip we took last month.

Phoenix Has Taken Flight

I know most of you probably already know, but Phoenix, left us on Thursday afternoon.

I’ve lost…

My beloved companion.

My loyal friend.

And, the one who taught me the value of unconditional love.

It was a tough decision, but I knew it was what he wanted. Dr B felt he was telling us he was tired and needed to rest. She checked him over thoroughly and found nothing obviously wrong, except that his heart was beating rapidly. Huib says his heart was probably filling up with toxins from not eating and using up his own energy reserves. Dr B told us she could do some tests, to check for cancer or give him pain killers to see if he improved, but she felt he had already made his decision.

Phoenix has always lived his life on his own terms, so it just seems fitting that he would be the one to decide when to leave.

It’s been a rough couple of days, but I know he’s enjoying his new home with friends and family of both the human and canine variety.

I know he’ll always be with me in spirit.

And I know it will take time for the wounds to heal.

It’s just lonely around here without hearing him shuffling around or snoring lightly in the night.

Rest in peace my sweet, old friend.

We’ll all miss you, but know you’re in a better place.

I’m still here

I stood beside your bed last night
I came to have a peek
I could see that you were crying
You found it hard to sleep
I whined to you softly
As you brushed away a tear
“It’s me, I haven’t left you,
I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”
I was close to you at breakfast
I watched you pour the tea
You were thinking of the many times
Your hands reached down to me
I was with you at the shops today
Your arms were getting sore
I longed to take your parcels
I wish I could do more
I was with you at my grave today
You tend it with such care
I want to reassure you
That I’m not lying there
I walked with you toward the house
As you fumbled for your key
I gently put my paw on you
I smiled and said “It’s me.”
You looked so very tired
And sank into a chair
I tried so hard to let you know
That I was standing there
It’s possible for me to be
So near you everyday
To say to you with certainty
“I never went away.”
You sat there very quietly
Then you smiled, I think you knew
In the stillness of that evening
I was very close to you.
The day is over…
I smile and watch you yawning
And say “Good night, God bless,
I’ll see you in the morning.”
And when the time is right
For you to cross the brief divide
I’ll rush across to greet you
And we’ll stand side by side
I have so many things to show you
There is so much for you to see
Be patient, live your journey out
And then come home to be with me

Feeling Helpless

It will soon be a month, since Phoenix started refusing food. It’s been a really tough month.

Especially the past few days.

I feel as though I should be doing something.

But, I’m at a loss for what to do.

We’ve tried feeding him anything he will take. This worked at first, but now he’s refusing everything.

We’ve tried forcing him to eat, but this only works to a point. We put homemade beef jerky or hot dogs onto his tongue near the back and wait until he swallows.

Today, we’ve decided to try creating a puree. Huib got some catheter syringes from work so we can squeeze the puree into his cheek and wait for him to swallow. We’ve been doing this with his glucosamine and anti-inflammatory for the past couple of days, and it really seems to be working out, so we’re hoping the pureed food idea will as well.

I know we’re grasping at straws here, but I can’t just sit back and watch him dwindle away because I didn’t try everything possible to save him.

Tomorrow at 1:00pm, we have an appointment with Dr B. I’m not sure what she will tell us, but I don’t foresee it being good. I think we’ll have some blood drawn, and have her look him over, but I’m not sure what else she will do.

Phoenix still gets up to drink water and go outside. But, he spends the rest of the day, sleeping. I try bringing him over to wherever we’re sitting, but often he’ll just get up and go to his favourite spots to sleep.

I really feel as though I’m about to lose my beloved companion.

This picture was taken around Christmas time, a few weeks after his recovery from his sudden onset of Idiopathic vestibular Disease.

I just hope it’s on his terms, and not through a decision I may be forced to make.

Fun In the Sun

Red Labrador Retrievers reunion.

Cessna is really hard to take pictures of, so we rarely get any good ones to post.

Canyon sure does like that toy!

Canyon, Cessna and Rogue joined Huib and I in Waterloo.

Even the old guy wanted in on the summer fun.

Still a Mommy’s Boy.

This was a really neat picture Huib got.

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!

Thirteen years

Today, Phoenix and I celebrate our thirteenth year of partnership. Thirteen years ago, Phoenix’s trainer, gave me a 21 month old male yellow lab weighing just 66lbs.

Today, that yellow lab is three months shy of his 15th birthday and still showers me with the unconditional love he first showed me on July 23, 1998. He’s a lot slower now. And, no longer hears my voice. But, he’s still the deviant, independent minded boy, I’ve always loved.

Thank you Phoenix, for 13 wonderful years.

You’ve been my constant companion through the good times and bad.

You’ve made me smile, when all I saw was rain.

And, you’ve stayed true to your unspoken promise of being my forever, loyal friend.

I’d say, let’s make it 14, but you’re starting to show signs of slowing down.

So, Old Man, let’s just enjoy every minute of the days, weeks, months or years we have left and stop wishing for things so far away. I’m really not sure what life will be like without you by my side, but I do know you’ll always be watching over me.

But, please grant me this one last wish, and start eating regularly so, we can celebrate your big 15.

“Time flies like a poisoned arrow”

I’m not sure where I got the quote which makes up the title of this entry, but it presents such a tragic truth.

This coming Saturday, Phoenix and I will celebrate our 13th year of being together. It should be a day of remembering all the wonderful adventures and experiences we’ve had, but for me, it will only bring home the fact that my loyal companion is getting closer to a time when he will need to leave my side forever. I know I’ve been lucky to have spent the many years with him that I have, but it still doesn’t make things easier to accept.

You’re probably all wondering where this tear filled entry is coming from, seeing as I’ve been constantly bragging about how well he is doing. Well, just over a week ago, Phoenix started to refuse his meals. If anyone knows Phoenix and knows the typical lab, then you’ll know this is serious stuff. I have been doing everything to convince him to eat even one meal a day. For the first few days we were able to hand feed him his raw food, but then he stopped taking it all together. We then started offering him kibble and that seemed to work, but today he wouldn’t even eat that, so Huib fried up some of his raw meat in bacon fat and I hand fed it to him. He ate almost all of the one and a half cups of raw meat Huib had formed into a patty.

I have a phone consult booked for tomorrow morning with Dr. b, but I’m really confused with how well he’s doing otherwise. He still wants to be outside with the others. And still seems so interested in what is going on in the home. He will eat absolutely any treat I offer him and he is drinking quite regularly. He hasn’t had one accident inside, and he still thinks it is his job to tell me when to go to bed. He’ll wait at my bedroom door and walk between his bed and the door until I comply. He’s probably going through a natural aging process, but I’m really hoping Dr. B. will be able to suggest something to trigger his appetite.

As I write this entry, Phoenix is just a couple feet away, sound asleep under the coffee table. I‘m really not sure what life will be like without him, I honestly can’t even remember what it was like before he entered. I just hope that if he must leave us, it’s under his own terms and not because I had to make that decision for him.

I’ll keep you all posted on how Phoenix is doing, but as of right now I think only a miracle could make things better.