True Equality

“Until the disabled community gets behind the concept of access for all we will never have true equality. Access for most doesn’t count.”

The above statement, was written by our friends over at The Dog House about a week ago – hope she doesn’t mind me posting it here.

Over the years, disability advocates have fought to have the rights of “their” group recognized. Their members bring forth inequalities and the “leaders” begin lobbying the various levels of government for change. Small changes happen each year because of their efforts, but it always seems to be one group working to change policies and practices for their specific “issue” rather than trying to lobby for shifts in policies and practices which will benefit all disabled Canadians. It seems as though the various disability groups are afraid that if they were to ask for changes that will help everyone, then maybe “their” particular fight wouldn’t seem as important.

I did a quick Google search and found these two references that sort of illustrate my above thoughts.

This link, will take you to the Canadian Human rights Commission, where there is a publication that describes different changes that have occurred in the areas of ATM accessibility, equal rights in the tax courts and accommodations for disabled government workers. With further digging, I learned that that in all cases, the changes were brought about because one disability group complained about an inadequacy and not because the “disability community” as a whole saw it as a problem.

This link, will take you to a blog (I think) where the writer discusses changes that have come about over the past 50 years and shows how disability groups campaign against one another in an effort to bring forth “their” plights as being more important and often refuse to celebrate the successes of others.

I’m not sure if you’ll see these links as true illustrations of what I am describing, but they will at least give you a glimpse in the right direction.

Canadians with disabilities are far better off now than they were even thirty years ago, but I think we could have come much further if it were not for the ongoing attempts to outshine one another. In my opinion, no disability group is better or worse off than the other. We all face barriers in our everyday lives, so maybe instead of trying to work against one another, we should try and work together because until then I don’t see there ever being “true equality.”

Theme Songs

While on Twitter yesterday I saw this question, “What would your dog’s theme song be?”, and it got me thinking. I’ve never really thought about what songs would suit the personality and/or character of each of my dogs, so I thought it would be a pretty cool task to undertake.

After a few hours of filtering through the various songs on my computer and discussing each choice with Huib, we came up with the following:

Cessna ~ The Hamsterdance Song by Hampton The Hamster
Canyon ~ Can I Go Nowhere with You by Joel Plaskett
Phoenix ~ What the Hell by Avril Levigne and
Aspen ~ Girls Just Wanna Have fun by Cindy Lauper

If you know anything about our dogs, I’m sure you’ll agree that each of the above songs really fits. But, for those who have not had the pleasure of meeting our wonderful canines, I’ll take a moment to explain why we’ve chosen each song.

Cessna is a very happy, go lucky girl. She is always ready for anything and if she even thinks you’re considering a trip outside, she’s up and ready to go. She loves to swim. She loves to play. And most of all she loves to experience fun and exciting things – for example, our trip to Marineland. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Cessna has forced us to learn new things in order to always remain one step ahead and has challenged every expectation of “what a service dog should be”. I think Hampton the Hamster’s song truly illustrates her lust for life and constant desire to just let it all loose and party!

We chose Joel Plaskett’s song “Can I Go Nowhere With You” for Canyon because it doesn’t matter what he’s doing or whether you’ve been moving throughout the house all day without any real goal, he’ll stop and happily follow along. Canyon is a truly loyal companion and this song demonstrates his love of just being with his family, no matter what’s happening around him.

Phoenix has always been an Avril Levigne fan, when a song of hers would come on the radio you’d see his tail wagging along, so it’s quite funny that her newest song just happens to be a suiting theme for Phoenix. As I’ve said many times before, Phoenix was a wonderful guide and companion throughout my final year of high school and then during my years at the University of Guelph. He was good in classes, never got distracted easily, and for the most part, listened to everything I asked. When he began getting close to retirement I noticed he no longer wanted to do a lot of these things and would test me on even the simplest of tasks. Since his retirement, almost six years ago, he has continued to live his life on his own terms and if we don’t like it he doesn’t seem phased. He’ll just wag his tail and walk on by. It’s as though he’s saying “I was good for a very long time, so it’s time to just let my hair down and enjoy life”. Well, I think I agree with him, he did work hard and definitely deserves to say “what the hell” and enjoy his final years without worry.

Finally, we chose Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as Aspen’s theme song because that’s pretty much how it is. Aspen was our first pet dog and has really never had a true job to do, except for keep Phoenix company and help out with the puppies when we have one. She knows only her basic commands of: sit, down, come, stay, leave it and heel. She’s shown absolutely no desire to learn anything further than to give five and we’re okay with that. Aspen always has a smile on her face and thinks everyone should love her.

So, there you have it, each of the ruled by paws gang, now has a theme song.

Do your fur babies have one?

It’s Our Choice

Last week I was telling a friend about what I’ve recently taught Cessna and Canyon. Instead of the usual questions though, he asked about whether our landlords would care that we had been putting tape on the walls and then finished off by saying he doesn’t get why I do all this with them because they are just dogs. The fact that he seemed disinterested in what I was telling him was frustrating, but what really stuck in my mind was his “they’re just dogs” comment.

I’m sure all other dog owners out there get similar questions and comments, but doesn’t it get tiring to here the same ones over and over again? The ones that really bug me are; “Don’t you think you guys have enough dogs?”, “I don’t know how you guys put up with all the hair…”, “you’ve got your hands busy there…”, Or “why do you bother? They’re just dogs…”. The first one and last one are the ones we get the most from family and friends and are the ones this entry will focus on.

As everyone knows, Huib and I are the proud guardians of four dogs and two cats. Each one has entered our lives at different points and each one has made a difference in their own way. Phoenix was already with me when I first began dating Huib so, when he retired there was no other possible choice than to keep him as our pet. I write a lot about Phoenix and how important he is and has been to making me who I am today, so I will not bore you with more on that. Next came Logan and Laya. Huib was living in a bachelor apartment during our second year of dating and was finding it lonely when Phoenix and I couldn’t come visit. He had only ever had a pet when he was really young, but had become accustomed to our presence so found it hard being alone at times. When his birthday came around, I decided to take him to the Guelph Humane Society and we’d pick out a kitten. We looked at several different options, but settled on a 10 week old female calico who had just been surrendered that morning. She was extremely friendly and just wanted to curl up in our arms and purr. A couple of months later, Huib decided that Logan needed a friend and that I should also have a kitten. We returned to the Guelph Humane Society around my birthday and we picked out a very fluffy little 10 week old female maine coon cross who had been hiding in the back corner of her cage. Laya has continued to be shy, but after a tense couple weeks of her fending off Phoenix’s attention, she began settling into our growing family. In the spring of 2003, Huib and I began talking about how we’d really like to get a golden retriever puppy. Huib really wanted me to wait until graduation, but when the settlement money finally came in from Mom’s malpractice suit she had started before her death, I decided it was the perfect time to get our new golden family member. We called a few different breeders who were listed in the Dogs Annual Magazine and settled on one from Hanover, Ontario. We had left a message on her answering machine inquiring about her prices and whether she had any puppies or was expecting a litter in the summer, so she called us back. She told us about: her dam and stud, where the puppies were born and whelped, what was included in her fees and then asked us to come out and meet everyone in a couple of weeks. Aspen and her litter had been about a week old at this point, so we ended up waiting about a month before we ventured out to pick out our little bundle. I’ve already explained the story of getting Aspen and how she has become Phoenix’s best friend, so I’ll end my discussion about her here. Cessna joined our family when Phoenix retired, so no real exciting background there, but if it weren’t for her I don’t think we would have fostered Aiden and Reece or decided to get Canyon. Phoenix and Aspen are both really laid back dogs, so we never really had to put much effort into keeping them happy or out of trouble. Cessna on the other hand has loads of energy and works best when regularly challenged. I know it’s not necessary to explain to you all why we have brought each one of our four-legged family members into our home, but it helps to give a little background to my explanation I often give to friends and family who ask if we think we have reached our limit.

Each one of our fur babies have come into our lives for a different reason and we don’t regret bringing any of them into our home. We do not actively search for new additions, but would never say we have reached our limit. We started out with Phoenix and didn’t think we would have the cats, let alone three additional dogs, but they are here. We may want to welcome an addition in the future, but that is for us to decide and is not something other people’s opinions will have any weight upon.

��As for the second most annoying question or comment, “Why bother? They’re just dogs.” To you they might “just” be dogs, but to us they are our family and if they enjoy learning new things, then why shouldn’t we take the opportunity to teach them and learn something new ourselves? Cessna loves to try new things and our working relationship improves when she’s happy, so why wouldn’t I try and teach her new skills or introduce her to something as fun as agility? Canyon is not even two years old so has a pretty empty slate on which I can create an all around talented companion, so why wouldn’t I want to do some training lessons now and competing in the future?

Does anyone else get bothered by friends and family who find it necessary to make comments about their choices in life?

Circling Thoughts

So it’s not even noon here and already I want to turn off the computer and crawl back into bed. I’m not sure why, but for the past week I haven’t been able to return to bed after Huib leaves for work. I guess it’s a good habit to get into, waking up early enough to be awake more of the day than sleeping, but it’s hard when you don’t have anything to look forward to – don’t work and live in the middle of nowhere. I think Cessna is really confused by my new routine, so instead of going back to bed herself, she’s started to join me on the couch. It’s nice to have this one-on-one time with her, but I’m sure she’d much rather have some one-on-one time with the bed instead lol!

Now, to what inspired this entry.

A friend messaged me via Facebook to ask how his friend should go about reporting a service dog handler she has witnessed numerous times mistreating their dog. After writing back to explain that she would first need to figure out where the dog is from and then contact the organization with her concerns, I hit send, but couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.

As I sit here on the couch, with Cessna on my legs and Canyon by my side happily squeaking his new ball, I try to figure out how someone could possibly think it’s okay to treat their dog like they have no feelings or emotions at all. It’s never acceptable, but to do this to an animal who has been trained to help, been taught to trust, to believe that this human being will love and care for them, an animal who does not understand the meaning of hatred, but who will love unconditionally to a fault, is just beyond my ability to wrap my head around. I will admit that I once thought it was okay to use overly harsh chain collar corrections and didn’t understand why my sister or friends would cringe in horror – it was what I had been taught . Cessna changed my perceptions forever though when she showed me the emotional scars which could be left behind. Looking back on the early days of our partnership, the days when she would tense up and shake after a correction or sink to the ground in the hopes of not being noticed when anyone raised their voice, I can’t help but get a little teary. Cessna did nothing to deserve these experiences, but was subjected to things I can only imagine terrified her, in an effort to “make” her “conform” to the expectations of what a dog guide should resemble. I remember calling friends to ask for help and some nights even crying on Huib’s shoulder because I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or what had happened to make Cessna so afraid of me. I had never raised a hand to her, but if I reached over to pet her head too quickly she’d duck and back off. I never corrected her harder than I was taught, but she’d tense up and shake, while looking at me with fear in her eyes. After finally realizing that it wasn’t me who had caused this reaction,I understood that it was still my responsibility to help her move beyond the horrible memories which followed her. These images of my once fearful little girl circle my mind whenever I think about the service dog who’s being mistreated.

Having a service dog is not a right, but a privilege. These amazing canines will walk through hot lava to get to us if we need them, so please treat them with the same respect and dignity you’d give a friend or family member.

Thank you for listening. Think I’ll go grab a fresh Tigger mug full of hazelnut coffee and climb back under the covers on the couch with my old boy. I guess Cessna has Been called back to the bedroom for a nap by the bed lol!

Here are a couple pictures of my sleeping beauty for your enjoyment.

Where Did our Names Come From?

Our friends over at A Glacial Pace
inspired me to write an entry that explains where all of us – yes, me too – got our names.

When my mom was pregnant with me she had decided that my name would be Ashley if I was a girl or Jay if I was a boy. Well the day before the doctors decided I was coming out early, her hospital roommate gave birth to a boy and named him Ashley. I was born via c-section the following morning during the first snowstorm of 1979 and was rushed off to Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital for treatment. Just before the neonatal team took me away, my mom was asked what she wanted to name me and without too much thought she decided on Brooke, a character in a soap opera she enjoyed watching.

I’ll do Phoenix and Cessna together since they both came from the LFC and have a similar naming story. As Jess mentioned in her post
the Lions Foundation of Canada and many other guide dog programs name their dogs according to a letter of the alphabet. Phoenix is from the 1996 “P” litter and Cessna is from the 2003 “C” litter. I don’t know much about Phoenix’s siblings, but do know he had a brother named Piper who began training with him, but was eventually disqualified for being over active. Cessna on the other hand had 8 other siblings and actually graduated with three of them; china, Cole and Cicely. Another brother and sister, Chauncy and Cricket, graduated just a week before her in the Special Skills and Hearing Ear programs. The last three, Cheney, Cowan and Cooper were disqualified for unknown reasons. Even though Phoenix and Cessna were both named for the letter their births came to in their respective year, they both fit their names perfectly. Phoenix has always lived his life the way he chooses and seems to be the dog who will live forever. Cessna on the other hand is small and speedy like the airplane she was named after. Looking at both of them and knowing their personalities I don’t think I could think of more suitable names. Similar to other programs, the LFC does not reuse names (unless they are sponsored ones) until the dog is retired from duty or breeding. Since Phoenix’s retirement his name has been available for use, but so far I am happy to report that no other Phoenix has been able to fill his shoes.

We got Aspen when Phoenix was six and a half years old. He had begun to slow down and seemed disinterested in working, so a trainer suggested we get him a friend. When trying to decide on a name for our new golden princess we tossed around a few, options but could only really agree upon Autumn. Up until the day before I went to see her for the first time we had settled on this name, but during a late night shopping excursion overheard two teenagers discussing the names one of them had chosen for her unborn baby – Aspen. Both of us thought this was a pretty neat name and began to do a little research. The first thing we learned is that Aspen is the name of a tree commonly found in Colorado whose leaves turns a golden colour before they drop – suiting for a golden retriever right? Then we learned that Aspen is also the name of a city in Colorado where people go to ski. This information helped to make our decision because not only is Aspen a city in the US, but Phoenix (our only other dog at the time) is also the name of an american city and she was going to be his new best friend.

Even though I don’t mention them too much on the blog, we share our home with not only four dogs, but two cats as well; Logan and Laya. We adopted the girls from the Guelph Humane Society at the age of 10 weeks. Logan is a short haired female calico and Laya is a small, medium haired maine coon cross. Logan was named after a male black lab who I had met during my training with Gryphon. I had really wanted to be matched with Logan, but this did not happen and his name forever stuck in my mind as one I would someday name a pet of my own. We got Laya about two months after getting Logan and wanted to name her something girly because she was petite and so fluffy. Well, an older Star Wars movie was playing in the background while we worked on homework the night before we picked her up and we decided on the name Laya because of the Princess.

Logan sitting up tall and proud.

Laya sitting on the windowsill of our first apartment together, peaking out from behind the curtains.

Finally, there’s canyon. When we originally got him his name was Sparky – a terrible name!! Luckily he had no name recognition though, so changing it to a more suitable one was easy. When we had given Reece back and thought we were getting a new puppy to raise we had begun thinking of different names and were told that ADS had started using the alphabet to keep track of which puppies were donated when so our next puppy would be a “C”. We had thought of names like cobalt, Cloud, Charm and Coda, but just before we got the dreaded e-mail saying we were no longer needed, we thought of Canyon. This name stuck with us and after some research became our new golden boy’s name. canyon is the last name of one of Huib’s favourite country singers (George Canyon) and is also the name of a city in Texas. I know it’s silly, but we seem to enjoy naming our dogs for cities in the US because of our faithful, old yellow boy!!

So, there you have it! The naming stories behind all of the ruled by paws gang. What’s your story?

It’s My Turn

I was on Facebook this morning and noticed an interesting topic for discussion on a service dog group of sorts I’m a part of. I guess a woman had made a statement regarding how her service dog had done amazing things for her and now it was her turn to help him. It got me thinking about Phoenix and all he’s had to go through over the past 5 years with his allergies, ongoing ear issues, age related arthritis, deafness and then his recent episode with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. A friend once asked me how I could spend so much on keeping Phoenix, when it would be easier to just let him go. At the time I didn’t know how to respond, I guess I was in shock at the question, but here’s my answer now.

Well, he’s not suffering, he’s happy and overall healthy and now it’s my turn to be there for him.

Phoenix was with me when my mom passed away. He was there for me during my final year of high school. Then he attended the University of Guelph with me and never once complained about having to wake up early, stay up late and guide me through all sorts of weather. Phoenix was there for me when I couldn’t find work after completing my degree and never once complained when all I wanted to do was relax and watch some television. Then about eight months before he retired I had surgery on my right palm to remove a precancerous spot and he was there to greet me with Huib when I woke up in recovery. Phoenix has never refused to help me when I’ve asked and has always tried to be with me when I’m sad. He was there during the rough times in my life and during times of change. When he retired he took to his new job of protecting the house and greeted me at the door every time I came home. Phoenix is loyal, he’s full of life and I couldn’t even imagine turning my back on him now that he needs me.

I may have to help him up and down the stairs to go outside. I may have to clean up a turd he dropped on his way to the bedroom. I may have to go out of my way to prepare his meals. And I may have to spend a little more time and money to keep him well, but it’s all worth it. Phoenix is 14, but he’s still eager to live life and help when possible.

I couldn’t imagine life without Phoenix and will do anything to help, because he does the same for me.

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Fable of The Porcupine

I got this in an e-mail from a friend and had to share it – a very good lesson.

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold. The
porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their
closest companions even though they gave off heat to each other.

After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the earth. Wisely, they decided to
go back to being together. This way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationship with their companion, but the
most important part of it, was the heat that came from the others. This way they were able to survive.

Moral of The Story: The best relationship is not
the one that brings together perfect people, but the best is when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other
person’s good qualities.

(In other words, learn to live with the pricks in your life.)

Questionnaire

Below are some answers to a thought provoking questionnaire. Even though it doesn’t really apply to this blog’s topics, I still thought I’d post it here for people to see.

1) Name ten simple things that give you pleasure

My dogs
Snuggling with my husband
Spending time with friends
Drinking a warm mug of hot chocolate
Reading a book
Hearing news about my foster puppies – Aiden & Reece
Having a pajama day
Reading about someone overcoming an obstacle
Watching a sappy movie
Cuddling with a puppy

2) Name two trivial annoyances

Having someone comment on dog hair that I missed when lint brushing my clothes – I have 4 dogs, a little hair is no big deal!
Listening to someone talk about another person’s disability as if theirs is so much worse – we’re not comparing!

3) Name the best book you’ve read in the last 3 months

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

4) What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last 3 months

The Ugly Truth

5) When you were 12 what did you think you’d be at your age now

A lawyer with a husband and kids

6) What message would you like to send to the 12 year old that you were

Money doesn’t fix everything

7) If you could see into the future would you want to

No, not at all

8) If you could meet a fictional character who would it be?

Gregory House (from the popular TV show)

9) If you could meet a living famous person who would it be?

There really isn’t anybody famous I’d want to meet

10) What is your most valuable possession?

My dogs – especially my guide dog Cessna

11) If there is a heaven what do you want to find there?

My mom and granny

12) What food do you wish had no sugar, no fat and no calories?

Reese Peanut Butter Cups

13) What three non essential things do you always take when you travel?

My pillow, my laptop and a book (even though I don’t think I’ve ever had time to read one while gone)

14) What do you miss most when you are away from home.

Not having a schedule to follow

15) Last thoughts?

This was a thought provoking questionnaire. Others should post their answers and then leave their blog address in the comments section.