A Milestone

I decided to look up the name Phoenix and see what Google came up with. It is amazing to see how many different meanings there are for Phoenix. Here are a few I’d like to share.

Phoenix is the state capital and largest city in south central Arizona. It was formerly a desert, but with the help of irrigation has become a thriving agricultural area.

A mythical sacred firebird that was thought to burn itself to death and rise from the ashes as a new Phoenix. According to many legends there was only one Phoenix living at one time and it was reborn about every 500 years.

A minor constellation in the southern hemosphere. It is named after the mythical bird and is very faint with only two stars within the constellation that are brighter than magnitude 5.0.

There are several other not so interesting meanings of Phoenix, but seeing the above definitions has made me even more aware of how special my floppy-faced yellow Labrador retriever is.

Now it’s my turn to give my definition of “Phoenix”. Phoenix is an intelligent, independent-minded, devious yellow lab who is full of love and will forever be a part of me. Our 12 years together have created many memories that will be forever etched in my mind. From the second week of being together Phoenix showed me a friendship and loyalty that I could only dream of finding in a human. He has always made sure to let me know when I am being unreasonable or selfish and to this day continues to give me his unconditional love.

In a week Phoenix will turn 14 years old!! This is a milestone I want to celebrate as best I can. To start off the day we will give him a little extra food with some roast beef drippings. Then we’ll make pumpkin spice cookies for him to share with his friends – Cessna, Aspen & Canyon. I’m sure he would rather eat them all on his own, but I will explain to him that he has to share, since they give him some on their birthdays. Huib has to work nights so we’ll have an early dinner with my sister and step-dad coming to help celebrate Phoenix’s birthday. We’re going to make pizza, Phoenix’s absolute favourite. One will be gluten-free with various veggies, apple and pepperoni – this one of course is for the dogs  The second will be for us, so won’t include the apple and will probably have more toppings. We’ll finish our early dinner with some cupcakes, the dog ones being gluten-free with peanut butter icing. I think Phoenix will thoroughly enjoy his birthday and I know for sure the others will too.

Thank you Phoenix for allowing me to share the last 12 years with you. You have taught me the true meaning of friendship and how important it is to live life to the fullest. I hope we get to spend at least another great year together, but just in case you need to leave me sooner, I’ll make sure to cherish every minute we have left.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

Canyon Update


We are still waiting for canyon’s CKc paperwork to arrive, but are hoping it will come soon so we can enter our first obedience trial in November – if Huib’s work schedule allows for that to happen….

Each day I’ve been spending time with Canyon to try and decrease his response time – at this point he’ll sit or lie down immediately if both a verbal and hand signal are used and as long as nothing more interesting is happening around us. I’ve been trying to do a lot of my training during games of fetch – since he’s much more toy motivated than food – getting him to sit, lie down stay until another dog retrieves the toy or stand before I give him the release command and throw the toy. He does well at the staying in a down until Aspen or Cessna brings back the toy (my attempt at teaching him a little self-control), but we still need to work on his immediate obeying of sit, down or stand before being released to play. Since we tend to play fetch for about 15-20 minutes 2-3 times a day, I think Canyon’s obedience response times will soon become immediate rather than occurring after sometimes being asked several times. I know I should just wait him out, but he’s almost just as stubborn as me so after a minute I give in and ask again…

We had Canyon at the vet last week for his rabies vaccine and discussed future breeding. Our vet told us to continue what we’re doing for now and she’ll refer us to the Ontario Veterinary College in June since they would rather not perform health clearances until he’s 2 years of age. This gives us tons of time to make our final decision as to whether we’d like to breed him and to work towards an obedience title or two. We haven’t heard anything from the professional hanlder we wrote a few weeks ago, so at the advice of an acquaintance I’m going to pursue alternative avenues for help with Canyon’s confirmation.

It is really an exciting time for me as I can actually begin to see myself entering an obedience trial with my handsome stud muffin

A Day of Mixed Feelings

It has been 12 years since my mother passed away and 6 years since Huib proposed – such a mixed bag of emotions.

Mom was a big part of my life up until 1998 when her diabetes got the best of her and she had to leave us for a better place – one without pain and illness. I remember our final night together, it was the Sunday before she went for her usual Monday dialysis. We used to rent movies a lot back then because mom wasn’t always up to doing much more than relaxing and spending time at home. This particular day we decided to rent City of Angels – a great Nicholas Cage movie where he’s an angel and falls in love with a living human, so decides he wants to be alive too. It was such a cool movie, to think we could someday be like the characters and watch over our friends and family. Mom and Dad left the following morning, as usual, but sadly this was the last time we’d see Mom at home. I often think of Mom every time I watch City of Angels and wonder if she is looking down on us, trying her best to keep us safe. There have been times where I know something bad should have happened, but it didn’t and I wonder if it might be her and Granny keeping us out of harms way.

Huib and I have been together for almost 10 years now, but it wasn’t until 4 years into our relationship that he decided it was time to move to the next level. Our relationship has always been one of timing and moving slowly – it’s worked out so far, so why change? I remember the day he proposed, it was so unexpected. We had decided to go visit Granny and stopped at Costco on the way to pick up some stuff. He went in on his own because we had Phoenix and Aspen so didn’t feel comfortable leaving them in the car. When he came out he told me he had bought a surprise but that I couldn’t have it until Saturday (the following day). I was so annoyed, but thought it was just a yummy snack since I remembered him telling me that there were some cupcakes I liked on sale before he went in. the next day we had a good morning and afternoon, but I was eager to find out what my surprise was. He told me I had to wait until dinner, which was frustrating, but I left it alone. When dinner was over though I was full of excitement and told him I’d waited long enough so to hand over the surprise, he told me “I think you have to go pee”. I didn’t want to, but obeyed after Granny told me to behave lol!

When I came out he handed me a card he had brailled along with a box… I wasn’t sure what to think of this, cupcakes don’t fit in a little box… I opened the card and tried to read the note through tears. Granny had asked me to read it out loud and I tried, but had trouble near the end – she just laughed… I guess Huib had asked her if it was okay before he proposed so she knew all along what he had planned. He told me that he wanted to propose then with Granny watching so she could enjoy our special moment – she had heart failure so we didn’t know how long she would be with us. He said he also wanted to make this day more of a happy one, rather than having it continue as a sad one – well it worked. We spent the rest of the weekend planning our big day with Granny and decided upon the date of February 4th since it was as close as we could get to Mom’s birthday (our way of including her as well). Granny passed away the following July so didn’t get a chance to see us marry, but we had no regrets because we knew she had helped us plan it all and had seen the beginning of our special day.

I miss you Mom and Granny, but know you’re in a better place and that you’re never far away.

Cola

Just thought I’d write a quick entry on an acquaintance’s dog who has recently retired. Cola is a 5 ½ year old female black lab from the same school as I received Phoenix and Cessna. Cola was matched with Jackie in October of 2006 and has been a great companion. Jackie had another dog prior to Cola, but due to some unfortunate circumstances had to retire the dog after less than a year of working. When Jackie first got Cola she was full of energy. I remember visiting with her at the training centre and laughing at how wiggly and silly she was. Jackie was up to the challenge though – she worked hard and did all she could to create a fabulous working relationship. Jackie and I talked regularly at first about concerns, but no matter what she thought, I always knew she was fine and just needed to have some confidence in herself. Sadly, Cola has had to retire due to severe allergies and working stress. Jackie and her family will be adopting Cola, so she will get to stay with the family she has grown to love and trust.

About a week ago Jackie returned to the training centre and has been placed with her new partner in crime. I do not yet know what breed, sex or age the new dog is, but will update everyone when I talk to her in October. For now, all I know is that she has been placed with a dog who matches everything she requested and hopefully this time she’ll get to experience a full working life with a dog without issues.

Good luck Jackie and I hope to hear all about your new companion real soon!! I will post pictures of Cola and of jackie’s new companion when I get a chance to ask her for some.

Our Step-Dad

Dad entered our lives when I was 4 ½ and Brandi was 18 months. Both our sperm donors weren’t “ready” to be fathers so it was up to mom to raise us. She worked as an RNA (now called an RPN) at a local long-term care home and found it hard to meet people with her two young children following behind. She met Dad at a neighbour’s New Year’s Eve party and I guess that’s where it all began.

Over the years Dad has been a sore spot for me at times – not being willing to work longer than a year at a time and often spending weeks on end lying around and making things tough for the rest of us. When mom was getting sick Dad took care of her, but he also made things harder for us as well – financially and emotionally. Dad wasn’t really into children and found it hard to be patient and caring when Brandi and I were causing trouble. I remember asking mom why she put up with him and wondered if things would have been easier if he wasn’t around. Well mom passed away in 1998 and my relationship with Dad became tougher.

When I went away to university I made sure to spend as little time as possible back home and this seemed to suit Dad fine. Our relationship became really rocky though during my second year when I decided he had used up enough of our inheritance and decided to remove it from our joint account. Over the following years we saw very little of one another, but seemed to get along fine during our occasional visits.

Last year Dad came to visit for a couple weeks in Guelph when we decided to hold a birthday party for him. This visit began our new chapter. Since April Dad has been living with Brandi and things have really seemed to improve between the two of us – with him staying here once in a while for a week or so break. I’m not sure if it is his decision to finally deal with his debilitating depression or if he’s mellowed during his older years, but I really do find myself enjoying our time together – which was not something I did as a child.

Dad and Brandi have decided to move into a 3-bedroom house together and we’ve been helping them paint when Huib isn’t working. The house is cute – 2 bedrooms upstairs along with a bathroom and downstairs a small kitchen with a large living room and a third bedroom off that which Brandi has decided to use as her office and a spare room for visitors. The painting process has been a little stressful, with Dad not taking the time he should be with preparation and more careful painting, but Huib has promised Brandi that he will help her and fix what needs to be done better. On the weekend we helped her paint the living room and the house is finally looking presentable. I wasn’t sure about Brandi’s colour choices at first, but now that they are up on the walls – I think they’re great! Tomorrow we’ll go over and finish off the living room before moving onto the sun room or dining room as they will be using it. The upstairs is where Dad is doing his work and from what Huib has said, he sure isn’t the painter he used to be.

When all is done, I will try and post some pictures.

To Show, Or Not To Show…

Over the past 8 months Canyon has grown up to be handsome, confident and a great companion. When we got him in December we signed a contract saying we would not neuter him until he was a year of age, which was on June 3rd – almost 3 months ago now. Over the past couple of months Huib and I have been considering a change in our non-breeding contract, because given Canyon’s looks and temperament we really think it would be a loss to neuter him and have him to just be a regular pet. We have discussed our thoughts with the breeder (Judi Ford of Ramblin Goldens) of his sire (Kashuba’s Ramblin Blaze N Time) and she seems quite supportive of us changing our original plans and helping us where possible.

Some breeders seem really focused on titles so I guess we should consider this for our golden boy…especially if we want some business for our future stud.

Both Huib and I don’t really know much about the whole show dog world – just what we’ve seen on television – so we talked to Judi and she gave us the names of a couple handlers she has used for Blaze and another of her dogs, Gracie (Dove Cottage Grace Under Fire). I have sent an e-mail out to one of them (colin Brownlee) and am awaiting his response. We have not completely decided yet, whether we’ll show Canyon, but at least we’ve started the process. I guess our biggest concern is the effect the show ring atmosphere might have on our golden boy. He’s so laid back and has an extremely soft temperament – will the breeding change this? We’re also not wanting our training methods to change – we’ve used absolutely no collar corrections and have tried to teach him everything through shaping and praise (he actually rarely ever wears a collar at all). Will another person (even if it is just for the show ring) be willing to continue what we’ve started?

Last night I wasn’t really tired and did some research on confirmation and obedience trials. I’ve been informed by fellow dog owners that my visual impairment might cause issues in showing Canyon myself – this is why we’ve decided to look for someone else to help. After reading several websites on showing a dog, I’ve come to realize that Canyon might have a difficult time in the ring because the number one suggestion on every site is that you not teach your dog to sit… When we got Canyon (at 6.5 months) he had a bad habit of jumping up and barging through doors, so we taught him to sit in an effort to eliminate these behaviours. Now I’m stuck wondering if maybe this was not such a good idea after all.

When reading some other websites on obedience titles though, I realized that it would be silly for me not to work towards having Canyon attain at least his Novice (CD). So today I did some refresher reading on clicker training and have decided to try and slowly work through Sue Ailsby’s training levels. I worked on these a year ago with Cessna, almost getting her through level three, but we are a little rusty now.

So, tomorrow’s lesson for Canyon is clicker sensitizing (might not be the right word) and doggie zen. Maybe I’ll even start working through the levels with Cessna again – can’t hurt right? Stay tuned for updates!

“Don’t be afraid to reach for the moon because even if you don’t succeed you’ll still be one of the stars.”

A Month of Visitors

Over the past month we’ve had two young boys visiting us. Corbin is 18 months and Caleb is 12 years old. Corbin was here with his mom and her guide dog DeeDee, while Caleb stayed on his own with us.

During Corbin’s visit we learned that our dogs and cats have a huge amount of patience. Laya and Cessna tended to stay out of Corbin’s way, but the others were patient with his poking and pulling. I wasn’t sure what Logan would do around a young child, but there were times when we weren’t able to catch Corbin in time, so Logan would let out a low growl to let us know she needed our help. Corbin thought Logan was so cool, he liked pulling on her tail and grabbing her ears. Logan never once scratched him, she would just try and get away or call out for help. She isn’t one to hide either, unlike Laya, Logan was out in the open pretty much all the time – guess she thought he’d get the point after a while like the puppies usually do.

Phoenix and Aspen weren’t as into Corbin’s poking and pulling, but would patiently lie under him while he bounced until we caught him or he got bored. Corbin has a dog of his own, his mom’s guide dog, but he still doesn’t really know how to properly treat animals. He’s still young though, so hopefully he’ll learn soon. Canyon was the best with him. He never once shyed away and was always willing to let him pull on his tail, ears and jowls. At one point corbin even had a hold of Canyon’s lips while sticking his thumbs into his nose. Huib caught him in the act and that was discouraged. Even though Canyon didn’t always like what Corbin was doing, he still went up and wanted to play. It’s amazing to see how well cats and dogs can behave around young children – even when they aren’t used to having them around.

Caleb was much better with the animals. He offered to feed the cats each morning and let the dogs out for relief. The dogs loved having him around, but he wasn’t a huge fan of their desire to lick him or be in his face. His favourites were Cessna and Aspen, he’d ask to take them out with him all the time. Canyon was a little much at times for him, but I had to remind him that his energy level wasn’t always helping either. Caleb didn’t realize why Canyon wanted to always jump up on him when he was dancing around or laughing uncontrollably.

Caleb liked taking Cessna with us to the gold mine tour in Timmins and Science North in Sudbury. Caleb and his mom fostered a puppy named Jasper for Autism Dog Services so he was used to taking dogs places, but he still seemed to like seeing how Cessna reacted to the different environments. At the gold mine tour the tour guide showed us how the different machinery worked which freaked Cessna right out. The slusher and drill are extremely loud and with us being underground the rock vibrated and the noise was amplified. She was a trooper though and calmed right down once the machines were turned off.

At Science North I thought she’d be afraid of the noises coming from the dinosaurs and the ones that moved, but she surprised me and didn’t even react once. I think she really liked the insects and animals she got to see. Caleb was able to hold almost all of the insects in the exhibit and made sure to show Cessna, she thought that was pretty cool – I made sure she had her gentle leader on though so I could easily control her excitement. When we were on the animal floor, she was totally enthralled by the skunk who was anxious and walking back and forth in its enclosure. We didn’t take her with us on the second day, but I actually got to touch the skunk – she (Rosie) felt a lot like Cessna, but with fur about the length of Canyon or Laya.

Canyon came with us to Sudbury and Toronto, he was awesome! He settled immediately in his crate while we left him at the hotel – huib looked under the door to see what he what he was doing.

At Caleb’s house in Toronto he was interested in the bird and snake, but was easier to re-direct than Cessna who wouldn’t stop going up to the bird cage. On Saturday night I went onto Facebook to see what was new with my friends and family and saw that my friend’s daughter was back in the hospital. Knowing that we were only a few blocks away, I decided that we’d go visit with her before heading back north. Christina has a service dog from Autism Dog Services named Spencer so loves seeing us with the dogs when we visit. The second we entered her room she had a huge smile on her face and throughout our visit never fell asleep or stopped giggling. The funniest part of our visit with her, was to see how she pretended to sleep every time a doctor or nurse entered the room. When you first meet Christina you’d think she was unaware of her surroundings and it didn’t matter what you said around her – well you’d be completely wrong. She is unable to communicate, but from watching her facial expressions and observing her reactions to various incidents you actually understand that she’s quite an intelligent little girl who can’t express herself, but knows how to work the system  Christina’s seizures still seemed to be under control while we were visiting so the doctors were talking about sending her home the following day, so that was pretty exciting news.

Our trip home was pretty uneventful and boring for the dogs, but they were good little travelers as usual. It’s hard to believe, but as of Tuesday we’ve lived in Northeastern Ontario for a year. So far it hasn’t been all that great, but hopefully this year will bring a little more luck and less frustration. Huib has 3 more years left of his contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital, so hopefully the time will go quickly or things will improve dramatically.

Now What?

When I was in high school and had just recently lost most of my sight I was still naive and thought no matter what, nothing would hold me back from achieving my dreams. When I was picking a university to attend and chose Guelph for their new Criminal Justice and Public Policy program I thought “here’s the program that will start me on my way to becoming a lawyer”. As I was nearing the end of my time at the University of Guelph I still thought I was invincible and that I could do anything I put my mind to. It was that summer (2003( when I realized I was terribly misled 

Just before I finished my degree at Guelph I began studying for the LSAT and applied to potential law schools. I went into the test not knowing how I would do, but left knowing for sure I had failed – my proctor was diabetic and had a low blood episode so incorrectly filled in my score sheet. I decided to take a year off and figure out where to go next and decided on social work.

I got my acceptance letter to McMaster University just before I went to Dog Guides for Cessna – I was so excited!! I got amazing marks throughout my time at Mac and just before the whole placement experience happened I thought, “for sure, social work must be the field for me.” – was I ever wrong!! It took the field placement person over two months to find me my first placement, she talked to over 20 different agencies and each were eager to have me until they learned about my disability… When she finally found an agency willing to take me on the other students had already been working for 2 weeks. My first placement wasn’t the greatest, but I met some interesting people and improve my advocating skills. My second placement was much better, but still I ran into issues – my supervisor was constantly asking me “so, once you’re in the field, how will you do this?” rather than helping me to look for solutions. Don’t get me wrong, she taught me tons and I really enjoyed my time with her, but she also showed me how narrow-minded social workers can be. In addition to all the placement issues I experienced, I was continually running into problems with my fellow students. Not one of my classmates had a visible disability and not one of the instructors looked at issues faced by people with disabilities – they all focused on women, children, poverty and racism. I would constantly raise my hand in class and ask why we were only being taught about these groups and no matter what, I was always brushed aside or made to feel like an outcast for my questions.

In my opinion, social work is based on the belief that people are broken and need to be fixed. I don’t know why we weren’t being taught more about how to work within the systems that hold back society and to help clients achieve their life dreams. If social workers did more of this, rather than just providing bandaid solutions, I think the field would be obsolete and there would be less psychiatric conditions.

Since graduating from Mac in June of 2007 I have applied for several jobs and attempted to attain a masters degree without success. Most social work jobs require a person to either have a driver’s license or masters degree, neither of which I have. All of the job interviews I’ve attended ended in me being told the agency would have loved to hire me, but I just don’t have the experience required – I have tons of volunteer work though… I get the same response from masters programs, you just don’t have the work experience we require for admission – so what now? It’s an endless cycle and no matter what, I can’t seem to get past it!

I got a letter in January telling me I needed to pay my licensing fee before the end of January or I’d have to pay a penalty. I called the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers to explain my situation. Instead of giving me options for remedying the issue, I was told that’s too bad, I guess you’ll just have to pay the penalty – that’s great guys, but I still can’t find work!!!! A month or so ago I got another letter from the College to tell me that I had to pay my fees immediately or I’d be suspended. I called the College again and explained my situation. The woman on the other end told me she wasn’t a social worker, but an administrator and that the College isn’t here to help social workers, but to help the public – if that’s the case, then why does the public need to write a letter explaining their concerns in order to get information on a social worker? You can go to the Ontario College of Nurses website and type in any nurse’s name to find out where they work and if they are actually registered or have any limitations on their job. After hanging up from the useless organization to which I pay too much money to do nothing, I began wondering “do I really want to be a social worker?”

Today I called the Association of Social Workers to ask for their assistance. Guess what? I was told, you aren’t a member, you need to pay $106 and you’ll have access to our social work job bank. Okay, now let me get this straight…. I pay $270 to one organization and get nothing in return, then I have to pay $106 to another organization in order to get access to a job bank and nothing else???? I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve done everything I was told, I was a good girl and successfully completed 2 degrees at 2 different universities and for what? To live on a government pension? To rely on my husband for everything from toothpaste to a place to live? How does this even close to make sense?

Huib called me this evening from work on his break to see how I was doing and I quickly explained what the Association had told me. He said he was sorry to hear this, but sadly he didn’t have much more time to talk. So I’m at a point where I’m seriously wondering, do I really want to go on with this fight and be a social worker? Do I want to find something else to pursue? Is it too late to start over? I’m a 30 year old woman, with a visual impairment, 2 university degrees and nothing to do each day, but take care of the house and train our dogs – is this right

Canine Memories


Some of my friend’s have been doing something similar on their own blogs, but instead of talking about me, I thought it might be interesting to post my favourite canine memories.

Aspen: The Drama Queen

Since I always seem to focus more on my other four-legged family members I thought it might be cool to begin this segment of my blog with a memory I have of Aspen.

We got Aspen when she was 7 weeks old. She was an adoreable little golden girl – looking more like a lab than a golden back then. We picked her up on a Friday and brought her directly home. Phoenix wasn’t much into getting to know her at first, but once we got her home and he saw that she was staying, he was eager to get her playing. He would run and she would be hot on his heels, but then he’d turn and begin to chase her which was fine until she would stop and sit… Phoenix wouldn’t be able to stop as easily, so would plough over her, sending her yelping and crying to us. He never actually hurt her, but from her cries you’d think she was dying.

On the Sunday after we picked her up Phoenix and I went to camp. My aunt came along for the drive and promised to help Huib with our new little golden bundle. She carried Aspen all over the camp while Huib helped Phoenix and I with our luggage. Once we were all unpacked, Phoenix and I walked Huib and Auntie back to the car. Aspen was in Auntie’s arms and loving all the attention as they walked down some steep stairs. As they neared the bottom though, Auntie tripped. As she fell she worried about little Aspen so made sure to have her roll from her arms as they went down. Aspen rolled a couple feet away from where Auntie dropped and wouldn’t move even a whisker… She laid there for over 3 minutes while we panicked. My Aunt was so worried that she had injured our little puppy, but all of a sudden Aspen jumped up and began running around our feet, so proud of herself.

From that day on we knew we had a little drama queen on our hands 

Twelve Years Together


Phoenix and I celebrated our 12th year together on Friday (July 23). We didn’t do anything special, but I made sure to give him a little more love and attention whenever he was in reach. Now that he is almost 14, he tends to sleep a lot and isn’t as likely to come for attention. He no longer brings me toys to play tug with or throw, but he will play with canyon if he tries to pass with a toy. Phoenix’s favourite thing is still food and he’ll sometimes find his treat ball and give it to us to fill. It’s funny to see his reaction when you take the ball and throw it back into the toy bin – “what did you do that for? I wanted you to fill it stupid!”

I know I’m not guaranteed to have Phoenix next year, but we’ll take it a year at a time and enjoy every minute we still have together.