8 Years Already

HAPPY 8TH ANNIVERSARY HUIB!!

It’s hard to believe eight years have already gone by since our amazing wedding day.

I can still remember the stress of planning and then the excitement as the day drew near. I still remember the butterflies I had getting dressed in my gorgeous wedding dress, knowing that in just one short hour I’d be walking down the aisle. I still remember the huge smile I couldn’t hide as I walked with Dad and Uncle Daryl to join you at the front of the room with Reverend Anne. Even though we had been together for 5 years, I still remember how thrilled I was to be told we were now “husband and wife”.

Huib, you complete me. Before you, I was happy and content with my life, but with you I’m whole. I was fine on my own, but with you, I’m perfect.

thank you for 8 wonderful years as your wife, and thank you for 13 unforgettable years as your friend and lover.

Dr. Colleen Dell

Dr. Colleen Dell is the Research Chair in Substance Abuse at the University of Saskatchewan. Her work focuses on research, community outreach and training. Currently, Dr. Dell is working on a research project that incorporates therapy dogs into the field of addiction and substance abuse. another interesting research project she worked on involved horse assisted therapy for youth in treatment.

Rogue and I were invited to a meeting with Dr. dell and various dog-related organization heads on Friday afternoon. Dr. Dell and her therapy dog, Anna-Belle came to Hamilton to talk about her current project and to try and stir-up some interest among other people in the field.

There were about 12 people at the meeting including Huib (who came as my guide) and I. In addition to Rogue, there was Anna-Belle and then another service dog that I cannot remember the name of. He is a 10 year old whippet who helps a woman with mobility issues. It was surprising, but all of the dogs pretty much ignored one another – Good Girl Rogie!!

the meeting began with everyone introducing themselves and then everyone began asking Dr. Dell questions about her research and then asking for her opinion regarding issues they were encountering with their own programs. I really need to work on figuring out how I would like to introduce myself without making me sound unworthy of attending such events. I also need to do some research into the various people that attended the meeting because there are some pretty interesting programs in Hamilton.

In the evening Dr. Dell held a public discussion at an art gallery in downtown Hamilton. In order to make sure Dr. dell and Dr. James Gillett, a McMaster University professor I really want to work with knew I was serious about becoming involved in their research projects, Huib, rogue and I attended the talk. Like the earlier discussion, I found the public talk very informative. I wish I could have seen some of the pictures she showed from her various projects, but otherwise I enjoyed learning about her horse research and about her current research into using dogs in a therapeutic setting.

I will be meeting with Dr. James Gillett on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of assisting him in some service dog related projects he is considering – I’m SO excited!!

The Rogue Lesson

No matter what we think, our dogs are always watching and learning.

This is the most important lesson rogue has taught me.

Let me explain.

As most of my blog readers already know, Rogue is my Guide Dog In Training.

Cessna will be 10 years old tomorrow, so I would like to begin retiring her after Christmas. She could still work another year or so, but I would like to have her enjoy at least a couple years of care-free pet life before she becomes too old to do so.

I began Rogue’s formal guide work training last fall, starting with basic forward guiding in hallways. Over the past year, Rogue has learned how to:

Follow directional cues;
Take me around various obstacles;
Manoeuvre through crowds;
Find doors, curbs and stairways;
Stop at curbs; and more recently,
She has gone on short trips with me.

The past twelve months have not been smooth sailing. It seems as though, for every success, there have been double the obstacles.

First we had the gear issue. rogue has always had a problem with how certain gear feels and it takes her a really long time to get used to wearing something as simple as a new collar.

Then we had the confidence issue. It’s probably pretty normal, but to me, it seems as though rogue takes a lot longer to feel comfortable with a new concept or route. when we begin working on a new route, for example, she will often stop every few steps to check in with me, or if she’s feeling really uncertain, she’ll sit and refuse to move. Even if i can get her moving, it honestly feels as though she is walking with a pickle between her bum cheeks. but, once she feels good about the new route, she picks up speed and walks faster than Cessna’s usual pace.

Our most recent problems though have been my fault. I have forgotten something important. I forgot how easy it is to “teach” a dog something you didn’t mean to “teach” them.

Rogue is very close to being able to take over, at least part-time, from Cessna. We just have one little problem.

Somehow, I taught Rogue that it is important for her to stop three feet back from a down curb and at least a foot back from the up curb – Whoopsie!

How did I teach her such a thing you ask?

It was a little easier than you’d think…

While we were working on learning to stop at curbs, I would dramatically tell Rogue that she had overstepped the curb edge and then immediately turn back and re-do it. the problem came from the distance I tended to walk back to before approaching the curb again. for some reason, I kept walking three feet back from a down curb and about a foot back from an up curb – Double whoopsie!

Now Rogue thinks she needs to stop exactly where we used to stop when re-working the curb…

Here i thought Rogue was having trouble learning what I wanted, when in fact, she was giving me exactly what I had taught her to do – Silly Human!

In order to fix the mistake, I have asked Huib to help me re-teach rogue proper curb approaches. he takes her out, in harness, to practice five up curbs and five down curbs each day. It’s taken her about two weeks, but she’s begun to have a 90% success rate, so we’ve begun going out together and Huib stops me the second Rogue is about to overstep a curb or tells me to keep going if she’s beginning to slow down too soon. when rogue does it correctly, Huib clicks and I give her a treat.

It’s amazing to look back at all rogue and I have accomplished in twelve months, but it’s more amazing, to look back at all of the lessons she’s taught me.

She’s taught me that not every dog learns the same way. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

She taught me that sometimes you need to step back and appreciate what you’ve already learned.

She’s taught me that no matter how well-behaved she can be, she is and always will be a dog.

She’s taught me that I’m not perfect.

and, most importantly, she’s taught me that it may not look like it, but she’s always watching and learning.

The Rogue roller Coaster

The past month has been full of ups and downs for rogue and I.

We are really getting into the tough part of training and it’s been quite the roller coaster.

We’ve had really good training sessions, and then we’ve had okay training sessions. I guess a positive part of all this is that we haven’t had any really bad training sessions.

Rogue is getting really comfortable with her new working gear and she is slowly settling into her guiding responsibilities.

I’ve been really focusing on her curb approaches, directions and confidence.

I’ve been trying to find friends willing to work with us, to give Rogue an opportunity to work without Huib.

I find my dogs get really comfortable with Huib and forget to focus on their jobs. they get into the habit of expecting Huib to take care of me, instead of just working along side him. It’s not just a problem rogue has, but one both Cessna and Phoenix have been guilty of.

Since Rogue and I did a lot of work in malls when we lived in the north, she is extremely confident and her work is almost always spot on. We had two really amazing training sessions that I wish i could have videoed. Her pace was amazing, her obstacle work was perfect, and her precision had me speechless.

Then, when we went to London to see my neuro ophthalmologist, she had me again speechless. She was guiding me around people and through the hospital hallways with such confidence, you’d think she had been there before. she was turning left and right when I asked and she only blew her up curbs by a couple of steps. Huib was with us and was so proud of the work we had done.

Last week I took Rogue and Cessna to the University of Guelph to learn the route from the bus stop to my class. I decided to start by working with Cessna, and then do it with Rogue. I thought Rogue would be able to learn from watching Cessna work – I was completely wrong. When it was Rogue’s turn, her pace was slow, we struggled with our curb approaches but her obstacle work and overall work was okay. I was frustrated because I didn’t understand where my confident little worker had gone.

On Saturday I returned to the campus with a friend to do some more work with Rogue. We still struggled with our curb approaches, she keeps stopping a few feet away from the down curb and then when we inch our way closer, she ends up blowing the curb by a couple of steps. her up curbs were a little better, but she was still taking a couple steps too much. her pace was better though and looking back, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that her confidence level was higher, since we had been to the campus before. We worked on the route from the bus stop to my class and Rogue did well at finding the stairs, finding the doors, finding the ramps and even finding the elevator, but I think the biggest thing I realized was that I didn’t trust her. I was okay when I knew there wasn’t any stairs I could fall down, but as soon as I knew, or even thought, there were stairs coming up, I felt myself tensing and noticed Rogue’s attention drifting.

overall, I’d have to say rogue worked well, but I need work.

After talking to some friends about the work Rogue and I have done over the past month, I came to the conclusion that we aren’t going to get to the point where she can take over from Cessna if I don’t start getting her out daily. If I’m going to trust rogue, like I trust Cessna, then I am going to have to put in the time.

I’m going to get my cane out and use it to help rogue learn exactly where I want her to stop at curbs and stairs, while also using it to give me confidence that we’re safe.

I think the curb issues stem from something i unintentionally taught her.

To be honest, it seems that most of the issues I have with my dogs are because of something I unintentionally teach, lol!

I’m really going to try and make a conscious effort to get Rogue out daily, even if it means we need to work a bit in the rain.

Books That Make You Think

Have you ever read a book that left you thinking? A book that left you thinking, yes, that is exactly how I feel?

Well, I’m reading a series that is doing just that.

I’ve just begun reading the In Death series by JD Robb (Nora Roberts), from the beginning.

So far, I’ve read the first four books; “naked In Death”, “Glory In Death”, “Immortal In Death” and “Rapture In Death”, and have begun the fifth.

Before I go into what the books are about and my review of them, I’ll explain why the series has me thinking, “Yes! This is exactly how I feel” and “Maybe I should change the way I feel”.

Intertwined with the crime and mystery aspect of the books, is the relationship between Eve Dallas, the main character, and the former thief turned Irish billionaire who loves her, Roarke.

Now, you’re probably wondering, how does this apply to my life…here it is…

Throughout the progression of the relationship between Eve and roarke, she’s constantly asking herself why this man, who could have any woman he wanted, wants her and loves her so deeply. she sees herself as nothing more than a broken child who worked her way up to becoming a superstar homicide lieutenant. meanwhile, rorke is a handsome billionaire who could have any woman in the world.

It sounds so weird, but I find myself asking this same question about Huib. I know he loves me to death, but I keep wondering why. Why did he choose to be with me? Why does he feel content with supporting me and with being responsible for helping me, when he could have chosen to ignore my attempts at making him notice me (almost 13 years ago) and be with someone less demanding of his time and efforts?

I guess Eve and I both share the common feeling of not being worth the effort. Of not being anything special, but ourselves.

After months of trying to make Eve understand why he feels so deeply for her, and to show her that she is indeed worthwhile, Roarke finally gets angry and says it straight out. He tells her that he needs and wants her, and that she needs to learn to just accept that.

This is when I began thinking. thinking about my questions regarding why Huib has chosen me. thinking about what sorts of issues my questions might be causing without me knowing. Thinking about why I shouldn’t feel worthwhile and deserving of Huib’s love and devotion.

Huib has chosen to be with me. We have been together for almost thirteen years. We’ve been married for almost seven and a half years. Does it really matter why he chose me? Does it really matter why he cares so deeply? I do deserve to be with Huib, so I’m going to stop over thinking things and just accept the fact that I need him (not financially, but emotionally) and just maybe, he also needs me.

Instead of going into what each book is about, I’ll just say that I love the series so far. the outcome is a little predictable, but you’re always left wondering who the “bad guy” is up until the end. It’s a little hot and steamy when you get to the parts involving eve and roarke at home, but there’s enough crime and suspense mixed into the book, so you’re not left feeling as though you’re reading a cheesy romance novel.

So far, I have twenty-four books to read from the series, but there are another ten or more after that I need to find.

It’s always fun to have a series that pulls you in, especially one that goes on for so long.

Update From Guelph

It’s time for an update.

We’ve been in our new home for one whole week!

The move from Englehart back to Guelph was relatively uneventful. The only problem we had was with the size of the moving truck. even though UHAUL claimed the truck was large enough to fit a 3-bedroom house, we ended up having to rent a trailer to go along with it.

Since arriving, we’ve set up most of the rooms and probably unpacked about a third of the boxes.

When we left Englehart, the weather had just begun to warm up and the snow was more slush than anything else. But, in Guelph, the trees and flowers are blooming and the temperatures have been in the low to mid twenties. Huib said it best the other day, when he said that he felt as though we were on vacation – the weather is just so drastically different here.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the house, the dogs seemed to settle in. It was almost as if they were also ready to leave the north.

Our friends Kelly and Josh have come over twice with their dogs for play dates, and their visits have made us really feel as though we are finally back home, where we are meant to be.

Moving north was a good experience for Huib, but for me it was the opposite.. I loved the sounds and smells of nature, but that’s about all I loved about the north. I hated the fact that I could never go anywhere independently and I hated the fact that I felt resentment toward Huib.

Now that we’re back in Guelph, I have already begun the process of relearning how to work with and trust Cessna. We had some opportunities to work together while living in the north, but we really never had a chance to work alone, most of the time we were following Huib through stores. It’s going to take a couple of months to really feel comfortable enough to go out on my own, both because of losing some of my sight since moving away and because we barely worked in the north.

On Monday, Huib, Cessna and I walked to the grocery store together. I worked with Cessna, while Huib walked a few feet behind. It was so awesome to feel the freedom of walking with my little black lab again. even though she will be 10 in October, her work is still amazing and the tension in her harness is perfect. I wasn’t sure for a while if she would want to work anymore, but those worries were soon erased when I felt the pride seeping out of her through the harness handle. She guided me with confidence and only made a couple of very minor mistakes. First, she stopped a few feet shy of the curb edge, then she didn’t quite get us to the correct spot on the curb to cross and finally, she got slightly distracted and started guiding me into the garden centre at the store. these are really minor issues and ones that can be easily remedied.

As a side note, there is a Canada goose who resides on the grass beside the sidewalk on the way to the grocery store. Thankfully, Huib had taken a walk over to the store a few days before, so knew about the goose and warned me to watch and directed me on where to walk in order to avoid any real confrontation. as we approached the goose, I felt Cessna become alert and the tension in her harness increased, I calmly told her “leave it” and directed her to continue walking straight. Huib said the goose was hissing and squawking at us, but that as we walked closer and by him/her, it moved away. I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable enough to walk by it on my own, but with Huib’s guidance, I was able to keep Cessna focused enough to get by the bird. Cessna has a really high prey drive, so getting her to walk by birds and small animals without getting overly aroused can be difficult, but I did it!

I think that’s about it for now. Sorry for the disorganized ramble.

When I Need To Escape

Last week I read about daily blogging prompts WordPress sends out via Twitter and I immediately joined the feed. As many of my blog readers know, finding something to write about the past year has been a bit of a struggle, so any help I can get is greatly appreciated.

today’s prompt is: “Tell us about your oasis. Where do you go when you need a break from life.”

When I’m feeling stressed and need to escape, I go to the internet and begin browsing the websites of golden retriever breeders. Even though I cannot see the pictures, I find it relaxing to read about the various dogs, about their accomplishments and about the current and planned litters.

Huib says that even though he doesn’t always see what I am looking at on the computer, he usually knows from the expression on my face. He says that I seem to always be smiling when I’m looking at a dog-related website lol!

In related news. Huib and I have started filtering through the various Ontario golden breeder websites in order to shorten the list for our potential golden female. Once we’ve eliminated all of the breeders who breed dogs that do not fit our ideal type, then I will begin e-mailing the ones that are left, for information. With the information I receive back, we’ll be able to further eliminate breeders from our huge list.

Now it’s your turn to tell me about your oasis. Where do you go when you need to get away from life?

It Does Exist

For some reason, I haven’t really had the desire to keep up with the various blogs I follow. I regularly read some, but put others off to the side for another day.

Today, I was casually reading through, Rolling Around In My Head, trying to catch up, and saw this entry.

The entry really hit a cord with me because not only have I felt this way, but I remember thinking similar thoughts while in my social work classes.

During my two years in the social work program at McMaster University, I learned about sexism, racism and the importance of child welfare. In total, I took about ten different courses, and even though each one was supposed to prepare us for our future careers in the field of social work, not one looked at disability.

As a person with a visible disability, I tried to voice my feelings and bring forth the fact that people with disabilities also experience discrimination and should be given a voice, like those who experience sexism, racism and homophobia. Unfortunately, my words went unheard, and my voice was drowned out by yet another student bringing up a situation they witnessed where a woman or person of colour was discriminated against.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. And, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned. But, I feel that it is time for people to help us, people with disabilities, have a voice.

Maybe Dave is right, and the able bodied people of the world just think we should be quiet, and thankful for the generosity they are bestowing upon us, but like Dave, I don’t agree.

Just because someone holds a door for someone in a wheelchair, or moves something out of the way for me and Cessna to get by more easily, doesn’t give them the right to feel good about themselves. If I saw someone approaching, I would do the exact same thing, does that mean I should feel good about myself?

Just like there is sexism, racism and homophobia in the world, there is also discrimination happening towards people with disabilities.

and, just like sexism, racism and homophobia needs to stop, so does discrimination against people with disabilities.

The Questions

May 1st is Blogging Against Disablism Day. Please check out the submissions here.

About two years ago, Huib and I decided to embark upon the journey towards adopting a child through our local Child & Family Services. We called our local CAS office and an intake worker came to our home for a preliminary interview. She took down all of our basic information and told us that given our backgrounds in nursing (my husband is a registered nurse) and social work (I am a licensed social worker), she didn’t see any reason for the agency to refuse our application. She then told us that in the spring they would be holding a 10 week class for all potential fostering and adoption families to attend if we were interested. Huib and I attended the classes and then began our wait for the home study to begin.

Fast forward two years…

Huib and I had pretty much given up on our efforts to adopt a child. We had not heard anything from our local CAS since our initial worker had left the agency. I had called her supervisor a few months after we completed the 10 week course, but nothing happened.

Then we got a call.

The agency had assigned a worker to perform home studies and they were wondering if we were still interested. Both Huib and I weren’t sure what to say, but decided to start the process.

The worker came out and we discussed the home study process. She told us about the background checks that would be done and the interviews that would take place. She told us about the things that we would need to decide – whether we wanted to foster, foster to adopt or just adopt.

Then the questions about my disability began.

How are you going to handle having an infant or toddler around the house?
Are there organizations you can contact to help you?
How will you keep track of the child?
How will you feed them?
What if they get sick?
What if they get injured?
Do you have a specialist who might write a letter to say that your disability will not affect your ability to be a parent?

The questions went on and on.

All I could think of while our worker asked these questions was:

Do you ask sighted people these questions?
What would you do if your child was sick?
How do you feed your children?
How will my eye doctor know what kind of parent I will be?
Do you really think I am that stupid?

The expression on my face must have given my thoughts away because before I could open my mouth to answer, the worker explained that she needed to ask these questions because I was the first visually impaired person they had ever had experience with.

Before actually getting to the answers she wanted, I made my feelings clear. I was offended by the questions. I didn’t see how such questions could still be asked in this day and age. I told her there were blind people out there having children and raising them successfully every day. I told her that I’m sure there are blind people out there that should not be raising children, but that there were probably more fully sighted people out there who shouldn’t be raising children. I told her that if I could have a child of my own then going through this discriminatory process wouldn’t be worthwhile, but that since having a child of my own doesn’t seem possible, that I guess I will just have to suck it up and answer the offensive questions.

Our worker seemed sympathetic, but said she still needed me to research how I was going to do things, and even suggested talking to friends who are blind and raising children for advice.

It has now been about a month and a half since we started the home study and even though all of our background checks came through fine, the questions regarding my disability are still present. I’m hopeful that the agency will maintain an open mind and that the process will continue to go smoothly, but I still find the questions surrounding my capabilities as a visually impaired parent to be offensive.

How can a profession such as social work, whose mission is to help vulnerable populations, be so judgmental and discriminatory?

Message To A Younger Me

Yesterday on Twitter I saw a tweet asking what you’d say in a message to your younger self, and thought this would make an awesome blog post.

Dear 13 Year Old Brooke,
Despite what everyone says, the world is not a perfect place. Even if you follow the “rules”, you will still have to struggle for independence and prosperity. The world is not made for people who are “different”, but instead, caters to those who fit into the mould of “perfection” and “normal”.

You will find out through trial and error, who is worth making an effort to keep in your circle of friends. You will be surprised at the outcome. You will feel guilty for cutting ties with some, but you will quickly learn that it is necessary in order to live a stress-free life.

You will find it difficult to watch your friends date in high school and university, and wonder if you will ever find someone to love you as more than just a friend. It will happen though. You will meet him in your second year at the University of Guelph, and your friends and family will wish they could clone him. He will treat you like a queen, and stand by your side through the good times and bad. He will never make you feel inferior to him, and even though others outside of your relationship will try to come between you, he will stay true to you. Together, you will build a life full of love, compassion and adventure.

Life will not be easy. You will get frustrated by the limitations you encounter, and you will become discouraged by all of the closing doors around you, but you are strong. You will move beyond the disappointments and find a way to make a difference through your love of dogs, and your desire to help others.

No matter how often you are told by family members and friends that you need to change, you won’t. You know who you are, and know you are meant to become more than just another statistic. Your passion and determination for life is what will keep you going. You will never accept the status quo, and you will never stop marching to your own beat.

As Dr Seuss once wrote: “Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive, who is youer than you”.

No matter what life throws at you, just keep on swimming.

The 32 Year Old Brooke