National Guide Dog Month – Autism Service Dogs

September is National Guide Dog Month. I’m about five days behind, but since it seems to be mainly celebrated in the U.S., I thought my tardiness was acceptable.

Since this blog has been a little lacking in interesting and factual information, I thought I’d post some service dog related entries for the next25 days.

I began
my blogging journey during March of 2008, when we started fostering, Aiden,
for Autism Dog Services.

Here’s a picture of Aiden that was taken in Toronto in June of 2008.

Therefore, I think I will start my National Guide Dog Month entries, with a post on autism service dogs.

Autism service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks, such as help curb unwanted behaviours, encourage interaction with others, and provide independence. Unlike traditional service programs though, such as the ones which train guide dogs, there is a little less consistency surrounding the training of these special canines.

Some of the skills which they have been known to perform are:

• Act as an anchor to keep children from bolting into traffic;
• Alert their child’s guardian to harmful behaviour (such as an attempt to escape);
• Search for their child in the event of a successful escape;
• Help their child calm down and/or handle highly stimulating environments; and
• Provide a bridge for social interactions.

Even though there are many benefits to having an autism service dog, it is important to look at how a dog’s presence might change the family dynamics. Not every child will find a dog comforting. And not every family will find a service dog helpful. Some families will start the process of attaining a service dog, only to find out that the added responsibilities and public pressures are too much. They may also find that their child is disinterested in the dog and that the dog’s desire to be nearby is too overwhelming.

In this article from February of 2003, you will read about two boys (Scotty and Riley), who are learning about how different life can be with their autism service dogs.

In this second article, you will read about Aiden’s sister Amber, and the process Katie’s family went through to find out whether a dog was right for her.

Here’s a picture of Amber with her brother Aiden, that was taken in October of 2008 at the St. Jacob’s Market.

Currently, there are only four programs in Canada which provide autism service dogs.

National Service Dogs;
Autism Dog Services;
Dogs with Wings, and more recently,
The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

With the seemingly endless requests for these special canines, I’m very certain that we will soon see more programs offering autism service dogs, and that it may become just as common to see one as it is to see guide dogs who assist the blind and visually impaired.

Come back tomorrow to learn more about our special canine helpers.

(Just a closing note, I got most of my information through a basic Google search, but also took some points from an article inspired by the book “Animal-Assisted Interventions For Individuals With Autism” by Merope Pavlides)

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!

The 3rd Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Posts

The submissions for this round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival are now up!

Please take a moment to check them out.

Advice For Life

This morning, I was reading through blogs I follow, trying to find some inspiration for a post and found it on Rolling Around In My Head. Mr. Hingsburger was writing about a particular book he enjoys writing notes in for presentations or blog entries and how he had come across an old entry from back when he had first learned of his disability. He writes about some of the feelings he had and then ends the post with these three words “live what’s given.”

Tough to do sometimes…

When we’re children, we dream of the amazing life we’ll have as adults. We think about the high paying job. About the big house, expensive car and fancy neighbourhood. We fantasize about the special person we’ll share our fairytale life with an some, will dream of the children they will have.

But…then…we grow up…

We become adults. We quickly realize that achieving that fairytale is impossible. We learn that we were naive to think that if we just followed the rules, our dreams would come true.

Our dreams never included, the road blocks, detours or crashes, that make up real life.

In my fairytale life, I was a successful veterinarian. Living in a large house. With a fancy car and all the possessions I could dream of. I never wanted to have my own children, but thought I would adopt and have a husband willing to be the “stay at home” Dad.

Well at the age of 13, I got my first real life check. I lost most of my vision and could no longer be the veterinarian in my dreams. But, I didn’t want to let this damper my fairytale, so decided on being a lawyer and worked hard in school. I met the man of my dreams while working on my first university degree and thought life was now beginning to work out the way I had dreamed – just a little glitch right? Well, I finished my first degree and after completing the LSAT, decided law school wasn’t really for me, so began applying to various schools for social work. I got into my first choice, McMaster University, and got my next reality check during the search for a field placement. I hadn’t really tried to find work before attending Mac so did not believe friends when they told me it was extremely difficult to find work with a disability. I guess I didn’t want to believe that society could still be discriminatory against people in this day and age. I wanted to believe that having two university degrees would shelter me from this horrible truth and that I would be one of the few who had defied the odds. Well, I was sadly mistaken; I’m still not working after graduating in June of 2007.

When I read Mr. Hingsburger’s post and saw “live what’s given,” I began to think about all the good things in my life that would never have happened if my shunt had not blocked and caused me to lose most of my vision.

I think the first thing I will thank my vision loss for, is Huib. You’re probably wondering why I would give my vision loss the credit for bringing Huib into my life, but if it weren’t for being visually impaired, I’m not sure we would have had the opportunity to meet or become so close. We still would have been at the University of Guelph together, but because of my vision loss I met a lot of different people and learned about many volunteer opportunities via peer helpers who were assigned to help Phoenix and I become accustomed to the campus. It was through these interactions that I found out about the University’s Safe Walk program and later met Huib.

Second, I’d like to thank my vision loss for Gryphon. You’re probably wondering why I’m not giving thanks for Phoenix and the others, but Gryphon was my first dog guide. And, even though him and I did not work for long, he still left an impression on me, that would lead to me never returning to the white cane. In addition to this, Gryphon re-ignited my desire to work with animals. Even though I can no longer be a veterinarian, I have directed my efforts towards learning all I can about training and caring for dogs so that maybe in the future I can begin a breeding program and/or a rescue group.

Finally, I’d like to thank my vision loss for showing me “the humour in life.” Because, without the ability to look back on experiences and smile, I don’t believe I could have become the woman I am today.

I think it’s important to learn how to “live what’s given” because if we spend our whole life thinking about how it could have been, we’ll miss the good things that would not have happened if our childhood fairytales had come true.

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.

Awesome Blog Award

Hi There. It’s Cessna here! Mommy said that I could take over the blog today because she’s busy trying to keep Canyon out of trouble – he seems to think it is necessary to chew the noses and ears off all our toys!!

So guess what? This morning Mommy was reading through the various blogs she follows and saw that our friends, L^ and Jack gave us this awesome blog award. Thanks guys, we think you are stellar too!!

The rules for accepting this award are:
• Link to the person who gave you the award.
• Share 7 things about yourself.
• Then pass the award on to 15 other blogs.

Well, let’s start with 7 things you might not know about me:
1. I was trained in Quebec. Even though Mommy got me from the Lions Foundation of Canada in Oakville, my trainer lived in Quebec and I spent about six months with him there.
2. I am not only Mommy’s 3rd dog guide, but I am also her smallest. Gryphon was an approximately 25 inch tall, slim, male who weighed 81lbs, Phoenix is a 23 inch tall, small male weighing 66lbs when he was working and I’m a mere 21.5 inches tall and weigh less than Phoenix (a woman never tells her true size you know…)
3. I am a very picky eater. I will turn up a meal or treat if I don’t think it’s worth the calories. Mommy once tried to see how long I would hold out for something better and gave in after 50 hours…she should have known that I always win!!
4. My nicknames are Beau (my mom’s name is Belle), Dobby (Daddy thinks I’m cute and loyal like the house elf), Cessnaroo (I love squirrels and will jump around like a kangaroo in harness when I see one), and Torpedo (our old neighbor used to call me that because I’d dive bomb her when she came over).

5. I take my name to heart. I make Mommy walk so fast, she sometimes loses her breath. I also swim faster than every dog I know, so they often don’t want to play with me .But, as a result of my speed, my tail gets swollen and I end up crying whenever I sit or lie down later…Mommy says it’s called Rudder Tail.

6. When I was six months old I caught a bunny and chipmunk before my foster mom could stop me. I didn’t mean to, but I guess I scared them and they both died before I could give them to her.

7. I don’t trust chocolate labs (Mommy says Jack is probably a nice boy though). I’ve had two chocolate service dogs attack me and made friends with a puppy who ended up attacking me when she got older. I don’t get aggressive towards them, but I refuse to interact and wouldn’t even trust Reece, who lived with us from the age of 8 weeks.

Now, here are 15 blogs we think are awesome:
1. At a Glacial Pace By Jess and her Leader Dog Glacier

2. The World As I See It, My Life As It Happens by Lynette and her guide dog DeeDee

3. Paws For Thought by Jen and her guide dog O.J

4. The CRPS Girl by Ashley, as she prepares to receive her new service dog from CARES

5. Pedigree Dogs Exposed a great blog that discusses the myths and problems of purebred dogs

6. Raise A Green Dog an informative blog on eco-friendly products, recipes, and other fun dog related stuff

7. Caring For Your Older Dog a great place to read senior dog product reviews, learn about available therapies and find other useful information

8. Rolling Around In My Head by Dave Hingsburger, “a prolific author and public speaker who has worked in support of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for more than 30 years”

9. Doggy Zen Den a great blog on the holistic approach to caring for your dog

10. K9-Crazy a blog written by someone who has fostered puppies for both National Service Dogs and The Lions Foundation of Canada, but is now focusing on competing with their own dogs

11. Vomit Comet by Carin and her partner Steve, a place to discuss everything and anything

12. After Gadget by Sharon and her service dog in training, Barnum

13. By My Side by Katrin, as she waits for her future Guide Dog Foundation partner

14. From Puppy To Public Access by Linda, her service dog Laurel and service dog in training, hardy

15. Dawg Business: It’s Your Dog’s Health by Jana Rade, in an effort to bring dog health issues to the forefront

I’m sure we’ve chosen blogs that have already been awarded, but Mommy is still new to the whole following thing so if you have a blog out there and we haven’t come to check it out then please leave the address in our comments section.

And to all those people who read our blog, thank you!!

Cessnaroo

Posted For A Friend

A friend of mine is beginning to raise her 10th puppy for Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (where I received all 3 of my guides) and to celebrate has taken on a special project. It costs approximately 20,000 to raise and train a dog guide, so Sam has decided to begin fund-raising for her puppy’s “scholarship”.

Romero is an 11 week old black lab golden cross and so far has proven to be a very smart and sweet boy. He’ll stay with Sam and her family for the next year and then move on to be trained for one of LFC’s five programs – Canine vision, Hearing Ear, Special Skills, Seizure Response or autism Assistance. If for any reason Romero doesn’t make it, the money she raises will be put towards another Dog Guide team.

Fund-raising ideas are still in the works, but since Romero was named for the Blue Jay’s pitcher, Ricky Romero, Sam has decided to begin with “Pitcher Pledges”. It’s up to you what is pledged, but here are some suggestions – 10 cents for every inning pitched, 1 dollar for every strike out or maybe 1000 dollars if he throws a no-hitter this season…use your imagination! You can send your contact information and pledge to dogguideromero@gmail.com and she’ll contact you when the baseball season is over to collect the donations (tax receipts can be given if desired) – which just happens to be right around Romero’s 1st birthday.

To follow Sam’s fund-raising progress and to see more cute pictures of Romero click here

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.

Kyo

Today (November 2nd) marks the beginning of Kyo’s (pronounced Keo) new adventure in life. Kyo is an almost 2 year old great dane/black lab cross who was adopted by a friend from the Guelph Humane Society this past April. Kyo was over 25lbs heavier than he should have been and knew absolutely nothing in terms of obedience or proper house manners. Jes worked hard at teaching Kyo his name and all of the basic commands he would need in order to be a wonderful pet.

Kyo is a very large dog (the great dane in him) so needs a lot of exercise and needs a great deal of attention which is something Jess has had a lot of difficulty giving him. He wants to be with “his people” all of the time and finds it hard to share the attention with his guide dog buddies (Glacier & Roscoe). It became quite apparent that Kyo would need to find a new home about a month and a half ago when Kyo’s behavior changed for the worse and he began destroying things out of frustration. After a lot of research and calling several places, Jess learned about PALS, a service dog organization which accepts private donations of dogs to be trained for things such as mobility and autism assistance. After passing his temperament test, Kyo was sent for x-rays and after a few weeks it was learned that he had passed!

Today Kyo will leave Jess and begin a preliminary six weeks of training before a decision will be made as to whether he’ll continue on or be adopted out as a pet. Good luck Kyo, you are a good boy and deserve the opportunity to become someone’s life changing companion!

“Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back!” – Babe Ruth

Privilege

Over the years I have met many people with service dogs and each person brings a different perspective regarding access to the table. Some people think that everyone should just know the law and regulations regarding service dogs and refuse to educate people. Others feel that people should just ignore the fact a dog exists beside them and allow them to move on with their daily lives without asking questions or wondering why a dog has just entered a public place. Then there are others like me who believe in education and encourage people to come up and ask questions and learn what difference a dog can make. I recognize the fact that some people have health conditions which their dogs assist them with and they do not feel comfortable discussing it with others. And I understand that some people live busy lives and cannot afford the time to stop and answer every question or acknowledge every curious look. But, we have been given a privilege (not a right) that many people do not understand the reasons behind and it is our duty to educate and to understand why this knowledge does not exist.

I have been a guide dog user for 12 years now and have only really had access issues a dozen times. Yes, I use a dog because I am visually impaired and yes, the public is much more educated on the guide dog, but does this matter? – I have still faced access issues. I find the majority of my issues have been due to cultural differences and understanding. I know the people who have refused me should be aware of the laws regarding the refusal of service dogs, but sometimes there is a language barrier and sometimes there is a cultural belief which prohibits one from being around an animal such as a dog. Then there is the fear which exists because in many middle eastern countries dogs are wild and seen as dirty or evil. Therefore, as a guide dog user it is my duty to be polite (at first anyways) and explain what my dog does and what the laws are surrounding refusal of entry. In most cases the restaurant or store owners will relent seeing the fact that they do not have the authority to refuse me, but in other cases I will just choose to leave because the owner continues to ignore the fact that I am speaking. It bothers me when I hear other service dog users ranting about people who refused them and ignoring the fact that they themselves did not take the opportunity to attempt educating before throwing the law at them.

I guess I see having a guide dog and being allowed to take her into public places as a priviledge rather than as a right. If Cessna is barking, misbehaving or causing a scene then I feel the establishments have the right (no matter what the law says) to ask me to leave. If my dog is dirty or smelly then again I feel that restaurant and store owners have the right to ask me to leave. If she is well-behaved, well-groomed and not bothering others then I think that I should be allowed to remain, but if someone does not understand the law or the purpose of her being with me then it is my duty to educate because in many cases people just don’t understand.

I guess the point of this whole entry is to ask other service dog users out there to stop and think before they react to being refused entry into a public place. Ask yourself; is this person being rude? Or is this person missing the information required to understand what my dog does and why they are allowed to enter with me? Sometimes taking a few minutes to explain will avoid further issues later and issues for others who use service dogs as well.