Is It Me?

I’m frustrated.

I’m discouraged.

And, I’m not sure how to make things better.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to set up a training session with the Border Collie Lady. We haven’t had a chance to continue our agility lessons since the end of May because of various scheduling issues. She competes in agility and conformation with her dogs, so a lot of her weekends were full. Then when Phoenix got sick, I really didn’t want to be away from him more than necessary. Over the past month though, I’ve been trying to set up a couple of sessions with her, but keep getting this excuse and that for why she cannot get together.

I understand that she is probably busy, but I also feel as though she is not truly interested in helping me. During our training sessions, I got the impression that she didn’t feel as though I could truly succeed in agility with limited sight, but I thought I could prove her wrong with time. I really enjoyed our sessions and felt as though she had tons to teach me, if I could only get past her preconceived notions regarding my abilities.

As far as I know, she has a sister who is blind, so I thought it would only take a bit of effort to win her over.

Well….

I’m now feeling as though I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think she truly wants to help me. And I’m feeling discouraged.

I really, really want to compete in rally obedience and agility with Canyon, Cessna and Rogue, but I feel as though my skills are somewhat limited. I feel as though I need someone to watch me in action with each of them, and offer suggestions and advice regarding the areas we are struggling. I know I can succeed in these dog sports, but am really not sure I can do it without guidance. I find it helpful to have someone providing training structure and suggesting areas for improvement and new ways of overcoming challenges, but there really is no one else in our area except for the Border Collie Lady and a training program which seems to constantly cancel group classes they advertise on the radio.

After my experiences with the Border Collie Lady and previously Sue Alexander, I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m just too much work. I know Sue didn’t ask me to leave her program because of disability related concerns, but having negative experiences with two dog training programs, has really done a number on my self-confidence.

Is it me?

Are there things I need to change about myself?

Is it them?

Am I expecting too much of other people?

Should I just avoid dog training programs all together, and just educate myself?

These are things I need to consider, because the status quo is not working. If I want to achieve my dreams of competing, then I’m going to have to figure out where the problems lie. And, if it is me, then I need to figure out how to stop and change whatever I’m doing to scare off the people who can help.

Or, figure out a way to teach myself the things I need to know.

Any thoughts? Or words of wisdom?

Coincidental Timing

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

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

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

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

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

Please let’s hope I’m wrong.

Cessna’s Raisers

Over the past six months or so, I’ve been debating whether it’s worth continuing to keep in touch with Cessna’s raisers.

During the first four to five years of being a team, her raisers e-mailed regularly and when I wrote, would ask numerous questions about how she was doing.

Over the past year or so though, this has stopped.

About six months ago, I wrote them to give an update since we had not heard anything in a while. And to let them know Cessna had been diagnosed with tiny cataracts in both eyes. I thought they would have written back worried, wondering whether she would be able to continue working. Instead, I got a message which asked questions about other things I’d told them, and that said “Oh, that would not be good to have a blind guide dog”. They did not refer to Cessna by name. They did not ask what the veterinarian had said about the cataracts. They did not even ask about how she was enjoying winter or how she was doing otherwise.

This message had me concerned and sort of put off in regards to wanting any further communication.

I waited four to five months, to see if they wood write…they didn’t.

So, a day or so ago, I wrote with another update and to let them know Phoenix had passed away. I thought I would try giving them another chance to show me they still cared and even tried to put things into the message that would have them ask further questions.

Well, I got a message back and again there was nothing said or asked about Cessna – I was crushed.

I’m not sure if I’m just being silly, but I really am not sure I want to write them anymore.

Maybe it’s just an accidental oversight on their part.

Maybe they’re so busy with her foster mom’s adult daughter that they’ve had to put other interests on the back burner.

Or maybe Cessna just isn’t as important to them anymore.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that this lack of caring is bothering me.

I’m honestly stuck. I don’t know if I should continue writing and just give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if I should just leave things alone and see how long it takes for them to take the initiative to write.

Back To School

In June, I talked about wanting to return to school. I had decided to register as a non-degree student, and am hoping to take a course or two each semester between now and the fall of 2013. I’m tired of doing nothing, other than training with my dogs, reading books and cleaning the house. I know Huib does not hold my inability to get a job against me, but I still feel as though I’m wasting my life, sitting around.

Yesterday was the start of course selection, so Huib logged into my student profile, and registered me for this course.

When I was a student at the University of Guelph from 1999 to 2004, I majored in Criminal Justice & Public Policy, which primarily meant I took courses from the sociology and political sciences departments. I really enjoyed the political sciences, so focused mainly in this area when I had a choice, so there are actually very few courses left for me to take now that I am re-entering student life.

I was attracted by this new course, Governing Criminal Justice, because not only will it focus on areas that interest me, but it is also primarily writing based, and there is no final examination. I haven’t done a final exam in over four years, so I thought it would be best to start off taking a course that was writing based, since this is something I’m quite good at. I am not a creative writer, but give me a topic to research and I have no issues producing a paper that might just knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my ability to find employment, but in the meantime I think I’ll try and better my educational background, so that I might be able to complete a masters when we move back to Southwestern Ontario.

Good Luck Dawsen

As of Friday, it’s been two weeks since my sister handed Dawsen’s leash over to a man who fosters for Golden Rescue. Dawsen was with my sister for seven months, but she just found it too tough.

Dawsen is a two year old, rusty colour, golden retriever with moderate epilepsy. He came to Golden Rescue at the age of 22 months, because his family just found his behavior to be too much to handle. According to the family, Dawsen had pretty much spent his life living in a crate, coming out for walks and short wrestling matches with their teenage sons. They said he had only had two seizures with them, but that he’d just gotten to be too much work. His first foster home taught him to sit, lie down and wait before getting his meals, but by the time my sister adopted him, Dawsen was still in the learning phase.

Over the seven months Dawsen lived with my sister, he learned to sit, lie down, wait, give a paw and how to play appropriately with other dogs. It was a bit of a struggle at first, but my sister stuck with it and Dawsen slowly settled into his new life as a beloved pet. As time went on though, there was one thing my sister was not able to break him of – his food obsession. As a result of the medication Dawsen receives for his epilepsy, he cannot control himself around food or anything that appears edible. Therefore, it was really hard for my sister to keep him safe and out of trouble, but for the most part she was successful. When he came to visit us though, he had to stay on leash or where a muzzle because it was impossible for me to feel comfortable enough with his behavior and safety.

Around the beginning of May, my sister learned that her landlord would be selling the home she was living in, so she began the search for a new job and home, in Huntsville, since she was really not happy in Kirkland Lake. She found a job almost immediately and then found a townhouse for our step-dad and her to share.

During the moving process, Brandi took Dawsen on trips to visit family and friends and found it almost impossible to keep Dawsen from stealing food and/or trying to eat anything that looked enticing. She moved in June, and Dawsen’s behavior got even more difficult to tolerate. She was really hoping that she’d be able to accommodate his needs enough to keep him safe, but This was not the case, so after a couple of weeks, she asked me to take Dawsen until Golden Rescue could find him an appropriate foster home. Dawsen stayed with us for over a week, but returned to my sister for a few days when we had to go “down south” for Rogue’s vet visit and the Red Labrador Retrievers’ annual reunion. It was really hard for my sister to be responsible for handing over Dawsen, but I also think it was important for her to meet the man who would be fostering him and see how easily Dawsen took to his pack – 2 golden retrievers, a boxer and toy poodle.

Since leaving my sister, Dawsen has begun to learn off leash recall and has made really good friend’s with the man’s 2 year old male golden retriever, Octane. He has already sent us a couple of updates and has complimented her on the level of care and training she provided. I’m really hoping Dawsen will find his forever home soon, but in the meantime, I know he is having a blast with his new pals.

My sister still cries about the decision she had to make, but I personally think it was the best one for both her and Dawsen because, in order for her to keep him safe, she would have had to either crate or muzzle him when she wasn’t able to be right by his side. I tell her that she isn’t a bad person, that maybe Dawsen needed her to teach him the valuable life skills he’d need to find the family of his dreams, but she still finds it hard to think about.

If we get any further updates on Dawsen, I’ll post them here.

My Scorpios

We’re still not back online at home so I’ve come to one of the local Mcdonalds to use their Wi-Fi, but here is my submission for the 4th round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

I’ve been tossing around the topic of “the difference” for over a month, trying to figure out what I should write. Do I write about how different my life would be, if I’d actually enjoyed exploring the world with a lifeless, hollow, metal stick, painted a reflective white? Do I explore the differences between the various service dogs that exist? Do I talk about the differences I’ve observed, regarding the ways people view service dogs? Or do I play it safe, and talk about the differences between Phoenix and Cessna.

Decisions…decisions…

Since I’ve had the pleasure of first working seven years with Phoenix, and now six with Cessna. I think I’ll go the safe route, and write about something close to my heart.

I know people always tell you not to compare service dogs, but do you really think they even take their own advice? I don’t…

It’s part of human nature.

We are just programmed to compare.

How often do you look at something or meet someone, and think, now that person reminds me of “so and so”. Or, I had a really cool hat once, I sure wish that one on the shelf was a little more similar.

I’ll start off by saying that Cessna is not Phoenix. And, Phoenix is not Cessna. See? I’m totally aware of the diversities between them. And, to be honest, I actually celebrate their uniqueness.

Now to start the real “meat” of my submission…(Just a side note, I’m going to write this comparison, as though Phoenix is still the younger, working boy, I got over a decade ago.)

Phoenix and Cessna are very different dogs. If you just look at their physical features, you’ll already notice dissimilarities. Phoenix is yellow, whereas Cessna is black. Phoenix is male…Cessna is female. Cessna is about two inches shorter than Phoenix. Phoenix is about 5lbs heavier than Cessna.

If I move away from the physical traits and look at their personalities, you’ll find even more variations. Cessna is highly emotional, whereas Phoenix is very much “go with the flow”. Phoenix is laid back and just wants to be with me at all times, but Cessna is spunky and finds dogs and other animals intriguing. Cessna will sit back and think through a problem, whereas Phoenix will just try and figure out how to get what he wants out of the situation. Finally, Phoenix could care less about how I’m feeling (he’ll actually hide when I’m crying), but Cessna will stick to me like glue, trying to get between me and the pillow to lick away my tears.

My final comparison between Phoenix and Cessna will come from examining their working relationship with me. Phoenix and I bonded within two weeks of being matched, but Cessna and I took close to 18 months to truly mesh. Cessna forced me to learn alternative training methods because of her sensitivity to corrections, whereas Phoenix would literally turn and laugh at me when I corrected him. Phoenix never became distracted by anything other than cats, but to this day, Cessna cannot control herself around other dogs or small animals. Phoenix worked because he didn’t want to stay home alone and because he knew there were treats involved…we still don’t know what motivates Cessna to do what she does. Finally, Cessna needs to be challenged regularly, whereas Phoenix was fine with the status quo.

As you can see, Phoenix and Cessna are very different dogs. From the way they look, to the ways we worked together. There is no one perfect formula to make up a service dog, it’s all in the chemistry and work ethic of both handler and canine.

Phoenix and I would never have worked out, if I was not willing to accept his frequent accidents in malls, or had the ability to laugh at his devious nature – he was always trying to stay one step ahead. I honestly never got the mutual respect from Phoenix, Cessna and I base our relationship upon.

Then, it took a lot of hard work and patience to create a rock solid partnership with Cessna. We both had to earn each other’s respect, and I needed to think outside the box when teaching her new things, or trying to work through problem areas. I’ve had to accept her never ending love for small animals, and she has had to learn to accept my faults as well. Cessna and I, have a relationship that truly overshadows the one I had with Phoenix. I’ve been able to teach her so many new skills, and she’s shown me that it’s possible to have a service dog work because they just love the job and not because it’s what they were bred to do.

I will always love both Phoenix and Cessna for being who they are. Each one came into my life at a time when I needed them most. Phoenix entered just before Mom passed away and just before I started my journey towards adulthood. Cessna came to me just before Granny passed away, and at a time when I needed to be tested and shown that the status quo, just isn’t enough.

I hope you enjoyed reading my submission for the 4th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Rogue Update

Rogue is now 10 weeks old! She’s been with us almost 2 weeks now and has settled into our lives so easily, that its like she has always been a part of the family.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since day nine.

Day Ten

• slept between Huib & I, as well as on pillows until 6:00am
• sat immediately when Huib asked before putting down her bowl
• chased Canyon & Aspen while I played fetch with them
• climbed the 5 steps outside to reach the water bowl I’d brought out
• no accidents until just after lunch when she missed the puppy pad & peed on the carpet
• sat when I asked for a “sit” before giving her lunch & then dinner
• came immediately 3 out of the 5 times I called her while outside (the other 2 times, she came after a minute, but not directly to my hand)

Day Eleven

• slept until 7:00am before needing out, then slept another 2 hours
• still being asked to “sit” before getting her meals
• slept while we ate lunch at Pizza Hut (people must think we eat out a lot lol!)
• rode in cart at Food Basics (new people, strange sounds, strange smells)
• ate dinner in her new crate (made sure to watch & let her out as soon as she was done)

Day Twelve

• cried off & on while in crate overnight, but stopped when I said “Rogue, enough” & slept until about 5:30am (had 2 accidents in crate overnight)
• ate breakfast in crate, barked/cried after done, so we waited until she was quiet for a few minutes
• had a 2 hour nap with Huib (he worked nights)
• played a bit of tug with Canyon
• played with Canyon in the yard at the new house
• watched Huib & Caleb paint (wanted to help so went on tie down)
• fell asleep while Huib finished sanding & plastering the kitchen
• peed at the door of new house, couldn’t get there fast enough to get her outside
• played with the rest of the pack while Huib mowed the lawn

Day Thirteen

• slept in crate until 5:30am, whimpered just a few times before falling asleep, slept another 4 hours with us in bed (no accidents)
• ate breakfast in crate, before coming out we started working on “wait” (I’d begin opening crate & close it if she moved, called her out when she stayed in one spot)
• jumped on to couch without assistance
• hid under couch for a few minutes after Phoenix barked at her
• watched Huib use the power saw to cut baseboards for our bedroom
• chased Cessna while Caleb threw the toy for her
• napped while Huib hammered nails into the baseboards
• ate dinner in crate & sat quietly until Huib let her out
• still not coming when I call her & jetting off when I come towards her (think it’s because she knows I cannot see to grab her)
• responding well to “Rogue, enough” when we don’t like something she’s doing (chasing cats, barking/growling at others to play, scratching/pulling at carpet, etc)
• independently walked up steps again without too much coaxing (not allowing her to do down)

As you can see, Rogue is experiencing tons and doing quite well. I’m beginning to think this whole reporting her daily adventures is kinda boring for everyone, so I think I might switch to just reporting the more interesting things or doing a weekly recap – what do you think?

Monday Is For Music – Don’t Stop Believin’

Today I’ve chosen, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.

Click here to see the music video.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” was first released on Journey’s 1981 album, “Escape”. The song only reached number six on the UK charts and nine in the US. It’s not Journey’s most successful song, but it’s definitely their most popular. “Don’t Stop Believin’” has been used in several different movies, commercials and television programs. It first appeared in the 2003 movie “Monster”, based on the notorious female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. Then recently, the song was remade by the cast of Glee and debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 (Song Facts, 2011).

On Friday, I will begin raising and training Cessna’s successor, so I thought this was a wonderful choice.

Since telling friends and family about my decision to owner-train instead of getting Cessna’s successor from a program, I’ve had an ongoing parade of comments against this choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many friends voice their excitement surrounding the arrival of a new fur baby. But, my family and several other friends do not understand why I would want to bring another dog into our home and go through the headache of training my own guide dog.

They also do not believe it’s possible for me to succeed without a program trainer’s involvement.

Thankfully, Huib is not one of these people. He is fully on board with my decision and actually seems mildly excited about the new family member.

I know that the journey will not be smooth sailing. But, I also know Huib and I have the skills and ability to be successful.

So…Journey…I’m going to follow your advice, and keep “believin’ and holdin’ on to the feelin’”.

4 DAYS TO GO!!

Puppy news & Other Randomness

We got an e-mail from Karen of Red Labrador Retrievers to let us know that she thinks there are two females who might fit our needs. She said that she could be wrong, but from observing the litter, she thinks “ruby” and “pinky” will be a good fit – they name the puppies according to their collar tags. She describes “ruby” and “pinky” as being “very social, happy-go-lucky’s…middle of the road in the hierarchy, brave without being aggressive…they are all (entire litter) quick learners like both their mom and dad…all (entire litter) are happy to please, of course some more than others and they (“rudy” and “pinky”) are middle of the road their also…” We’ll have to wait for the test scores, but at least we know that there is most likely a puppy or two for us to choose from.

Sadly, Karen hasn’t had time to post updated pictures though…

In other news…

We got some very sad news from our friends, the pawpower pack. Mr. Pawpower’s golden companion passed away unexpectedly. Here’s some more details. I haven’t had the experience of losing a beloved companion, but know from losing both my mother and grandmother, that it can be heartbreaking and the wounds will take time to heal. Our thoughts go out to Mr. Pawpower and the rest of the Pawpower Pack. Rest in peace Rudy, you will be sadly missed.

I’ve been doing some research on courses I might want to take through the University of Guelph or McMaster University. I haven’t been able to find work and am tired of sitting around doing nothing, but training with the dogs and housework. I’m thinking that I’ll take a course or two each semester via distance education through one of the above universities and then hopefully re-apply for masters or occupational therapy when we move closer to London (Ontario) in a couple of years. Huib’s contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital is over in a year and if we can get rid of a couple more debts between now and next fall, I think we might look at moving back to southern Ontario, closer to friends and family. It’s been a wonderful experience living here, but it’s just not home.

My sister found out that the woman who owns the house she is renting wants to sell this summer. She doesn’t really like living here and thinks she will try and find work around Orillia or Gravenhurst. She’s going to visit some friends next weekend in Aurora, so has asked me to help her re-design her resume so she can hand some out on her way down. I’m excited to know she will be moving closer to her friends and a place she loves, but am secretly sad that she will be leaving. I know she can be frustrating, but I will really kind of miss having her so close.

I got an e-mail from Judi of Ramblin Goldens this weekend. I had sent her an update on Canyon since she owns his sire and brother. She told me they got their new female golden retriever puppy, Emmie, a couple of weeks ago and are really enjoying her. She hasn’t yet found a new home for Phoenix, Canyon’s brother, but has also not been looking too hard. She wants to work on some of his obedience before sending him off. I really love having Canyon and wish we could invite Phoenix to live with us, but I’m really not sure Huib will go for that lol! He is quite patient with my love of dogs, but has told me that he thinks five is a good number 

Finally, I have been in contact with a woman who runs a program that helps people train their pets to be service dogs. She used to work for the Lions Foundation of Canada as a Special Skills trainer, but has been working on her own program for about five or more years. The program is called Encouraging Paws Service Dogs and their website can be found here. The Director has informed me that her fees are $12,000 for assistance from puppy hood through to certification and follow-up help. This is a little out of our price range, so we have asked her how much she would charge for just help with certification. She said that her price is $5,000 for certification which is ten hours of assessment. To pass, she says that the dog must meet the standards of “the Blind Dog Act Federation” but I think she means the International Guide Dog Federation. She also informed me that her fee for advice and/or consultation is $500 an hour or $8.33 a minute. I’m not sure if we’ll end up going with Encouraging Paws, but at least we know there is someone willing to certify and/or provide consultation during the training process. I have some other contacts who have offered to give me advice and information when needed, so I think we’re finally ready to officially raise and train Cessna’s successor!!

It’s Been Six Years

Today, Phoenix celebrates six wonderful years of retirement.

On Friday, May 13th, 2005, a trainer from Dog Guides came to assess Phoenix. He had begun to slow down and showed very little desire to work. It only took five minutes of walking with us for the trainer to tell me I was right and it was time. She told me that he didn’t seem ill or anything, but that she felt he would completely stop working by the fall. I knew this is what Phoenix wanted, so asked when the next class would take place. Phoenix started staying home more often than coming with us from that day and I left just over a week later to get Cessna.

I’m glad Phoenix was able to tell me he wanted to retire.

I’m glad we’ve had a chance to enjoy one another without the demands of a working relationship.

I’m glad he’s been able to get to know Cessna and teach her some of his unofficial skills.

But, most of all, I’m glad he’s given me six fabulous years as a stellar friend.

I’m not sure we’ll be able to celebrate another full year of retirement, but I hope Phoenix knows how much I appreciate the work he did for me and the unconditional love he continues to share.

“The gift of true friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey.”