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.

PETA Does It Again!

Today I was reading through some of my e-mails from a list I am on and noticed this story about PETA. After reading the article at, I decided that it was time to post my feelings about this organization. I have posted some of my thoughts in an earlier post, but seeing as the above refers specifically to assistance dogs, particularly “seeing eye” dogs, I thought I would post my thoughts here.

PETA seems to think they are the “know-it-alls” when it comes to how we service dog users treat our canine companions. They are constantly writing articles and posts about how some of us mistreat our dogs, how our dogs are made to work all hours of the day, and how we throw them to the curb when they become too old to work or when the various training programs decide that they are not suited for the job. Well, as a “seeing eye” dog user I can tell you that they obviously don’t have their facts straight and obviously don’t know an assistance dog user. Yes, I will admit, that there are some out there who work their dogs a little too much, don’t give their dogs enough time to just be a dog, and don’t pamper them the way they should, but these people are very few and far between.

I have two “seeing eye” dogs in my house; Phoenix who is 12 and has been retired for 3 and a half years and Cessna who is 5 and works less than she sleeps. I also have a foster puppy who will soon become an autism assistance dog and who I know will be treated with as much caring and love as he has with us.

PETA seems to think, according to the link above, that it is okay for someone to use a hearing ear dog who has been rescued from a shelter and trained, but they don’t feel it is right for a dog to be a “seeing eye” dog. I can see their point about how training programs should stop breeding dogs for “perfection” when there are tons of dogs out there in need of a good home, but I take offense to their comment about the blind not being able to care for their dogs the way that a deaf person can. Yes, we cannot see and therefore it may take us a bit longer to figure out our dogs have something like a bladder infection, but we aren’t stupid, we know when our dogs aren’t feeling well and we know that it is important to take our dogs for regular vet checks or ask our friends if they notice anything different. I cannot see well, but I always know, even before my husband who is fully sighted, that something is wrong with one of my dogs. It is usually me who asks him to check them over or asks him whether he notices anything weird about their behaviour.

I agree that there are probably people out there who cannot take care of themselves let alone take care of a dog, but I don’t think all “seeing eye” dog users out there should be placed into the same category. As with pet owners there are good service dog users and poor ones. There are people out there who should not own a pet and people out there who should not be using a service dog. But, if someone notices something fishy about a person’s use of their service dog then they should not hesitate to call the appropriate authorities for assistance, but for those of us who are doing nothing wrong I think people like PETA should just back off and let us keep living the way we want. We aren’t doing anything wrong and we aren’t causing our dogs any harm – contrary to many people’s belief our dogs actually enjoy what they do and would be bored just staying home.

Take what you want from reading my comments, but before judging me think about where your dog is while you are away. Is he or she with you? Or is he or she at home alone?

Is Your Dog Really Perfect?

“My dog is better than yours” a common phrase heard within the dog owner community. What makes a perfect dog? One that comes when you call, sits when you say, walks by your side as if you are the most important thing to them, waits patiently for your command, ignores other dogs who pass…well get a robot.

Do you sit patiently and wait for your parents, friends, spouse or whoever to tell you what to do? Do you listen intently to people who talk to you as if everything they say is gospel? Then why should we expect our dogs to do this? Like us, our dogs are not perfect and make mistakes and have good days and bad. I have met many more dogs who I would love to spend hours with than humans. Dogs are non-judgmental. Dogs aren’t afraid to show you how they are feeling or to let you know when they have had enough. Dogs don’t try to impress us or hide their desires – the amount of drool hanging from their jowls gives them away.

I don’t want a dog who listens every second of every day. I don’t want a dog who waits patiently for me to tell them what to do. I don’t want a dog who worships me. I want a dog who has spirit. I want a dog who loves doing what they do, not one who does it because that is what they were raised to do. I want a dog who thinks for them self. I want a dog who will tell me no and that I am expecting too much. I want a dog who will test me and give me a reality check when one is needed. That is why Phoenix, Cessna, Aspen and Aiden are four of the most important mammals in my life.

Phoenix wears a colourful party hat at Aspen's birthday party.I have had Phoenix for ten years now and he will be 12 in October. Some people would assume he was a perfect dog given his age and experience, but he is far from it. Phoenix isn’t afraid to give you the “f*** you” look when he isn’t in the mood to listen or feels he is above you. My husband gets the “f*** you” look on a weekly basis from Phoenix and gets little reminders every once in a while that he is third in command, me being the first and Phoenix the second. Don’t get me wrong, Phoenix is and will always be my buddy, he came to me when I was 17 and taught me how to be responsible, what being independent felt like, and what unconditional love truly meant. I can remember the times we’d be at school and I wouldn’t let him do something he wanted, he would give me a dirty look as he walked me full force into a garbage can. I’d correct him and he would just look up with this huge smile and his tail wagging.

Close up of Cessna wearing a white baseball cap.Cessna’s picture should be beside the word “spirit” in the dictionary. She is the true definition of a dog with spirit. She works well and loves her job, but she also loves to just drop the professionalism and go crazy. She is a dog who loves life and makes sure to make the most of it, sometimes it is as if she knows she won’t live forever. I can take her into Toronto and feel absolutely safe following behind her, but then she makes sure to remind me that she is not perfect, jumping around like a kangaroo, all proud of herself for making a flock of geese take flight at once by barking while she walks by. I can honestly say that Cessna makes me smile all of the time.

Aspen is our pet dog, she definitely didn’t pay attention to the lessons Phoenix tried to teach her. She may not have the intelligence of Phoenix and Cessna, but she sure does have her looks. She is cute, affectionate, and extremely happy with life. We have had Aspen since she was 8 weeks old and she just turned 5 in June. We have been trying to teach her for years to move out of the way when someone walks near, but all she will do is lift a leg and look up as if to ask “is that enough room for you to get by?” Her breeder told us to teach her all we could before the age of 6 months and we made sure to work hard on the basic obedience commands, she learned “sit” within hours of arriving. Maybe it was just laziness, but she would sit and look up at us anytime we said something so we just assumed she knew what we wanted. After she turned 6 months it was like the learning part of her brain turned off, it took her to the age of about 2 ½ to learn to swim and to the age of about 3 to learn the game of fetch. Phoenix has tried to teach her how to leash guide, but she just can’t seem to get the concept, Cessna learned in only two short lessons.

And finally we have Aiden. Aiden came to us at 10 weeks of age and has done nothing but absorb skills and mostly positive behaviours from Cessna and Phoenix. He just turned 8 months on Saturday and already he is showing signs of being mature and responsible. Unlike most puppies his age, Aiden is content to sit by my feet and watch the world go by. He loves to learn new things and devotes most of his attention to whoever has hold of his leash. But, just as the others aren’t, Aiden is not perfect. He has an overwhelming love for lotion, attacking whoever put some on with kiss after kiss until they get annoyed. He loves going places and just can’t seem to understand the concept of having a loose leash, even the halti doesn’t seem to make a difference. He is not a strong puller, but still there is tension on the leash.

As you can see none of my dogs are perfect, but I love them each for their personality and quirks. Life would be boring if they adhered to the ideals of the “perfect dog”. What’s the point of having a dog when you aren’t being challenged or made to laugh each day by their antics.

So my message to all you “perfect dog” owners out there is: maybe you should step back and take a closer look at your dog because if it’s :”perfect” then it isn’t really a dog, it’s a robot and what’s the fun in that?

“There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog.”

Life With Dogs

Wake up at 6:30am, take Aiden and Phoenix (they can’t hold it as long as regular aged dogs) out, go back to bed for another couple of hours if lucky…wake up at 9:00am (on a good day) and the chaos of feeding begins! Scoop out a cup for Aspen, put it into her bowl with some water and move quickly before she knocks you over trying to get to her bowl before the imaginary dog beside her gets all the food…scoop out a cup of a different food for Cessna and put it into her bowl, convince her it is okay to eat and that it isn’t her, but Aiden who you are telling to back off and leave the food alone…start process again with Cessna because Aiden has again decided it is his food and not hers. Go back to the food bins, scoop out just over a cup of a different food for Phoenix and dance around Aiden and Phoenix who are trying to get seated right beside the china cabinet where you will be opening capsules of glucosamine, shark cartiledge, and cranberry supplement for Phoenix…try and walk down the hall to the food table without running into Phoenix who is twirling his way down the hall in excitement. Go back down the hall and dodge Aiden, while he tries to jump around and tell you it’s his turn to eat! Go to the living room where his food is kept, scoop out a cup and tell him to “stay” a few times…walk over to the kitchen, put some water into the dish and tell him again to “stay”…wait for a minute or so and tell him it’s okay. Go to the food table down the hall and put some fresh water into the bowl, go into the bedroom and proceed to get dressed because you know everyone will need to go out now.

Take Aspen out because she won’t go with any other dog around, she’s a golden you know! Try and convince her to “hurry up” without getting too excited or too frantic, be patient while she twirls here and twirls there and finally after twirling in a fifth spot for about 20 figure eights she finally goes! Get all excited for her when she runs back to you and you put the leash back on…of course she won’t go on leash, that just isn’t golden like! Take her in, grab another leash, put Aiden on one and Phoenix on the other while Cessna waits patiently for her turn. Walk up and down the sidewalk trying to convince Phoenix to actually walk onto the grass so he’ll go relieve himself while at the same time trying to keep Aiden calm and out of Phoenix’s way. Finally it is Cessna’s turn, she is so happy to finally be going out for a pee and you get outside and to the sidewalk and she sniffs here, sniffs there, sniffs here, paces a bit and then decides “I don’t need to go yet.” Tell her firmly to “hurry up” because you know it has been almost 10 hours since she last went, she sniffs here and sniffs there and finally to your relief she goes!!! Take out the bag, try to figure out where she started and where she ended…why do dog guides feel it is necessary to walk while pooping and watch while their blind companion tries to find it so people won’t complain. Take Cessna back inside and run to the computer or couch because you know the puppy crazies are soon going to start.

Check your e-mail, go make some breakfast and a coffee because you know it is going to be a long day…sit down at the coffee table to eat and guess what? Aspen needs to go out again! Of course she couldn’t have done both at the same time, that just wouldn’t be golden like. Put your food up on the counter grab your keys, put on your shoes and coat if needed and head out for another golden relief. Walk back and forth along the sidewalk following Aspen while she decides what spot is good for her to squat, finally after about 5 minutes she decides…this process can take double that in the winter because everyone knows that it is important to smoosh down all the snow before squatting and if it touches you then you need to find another spot to begin the smooshing down again. Get all excited with her because she has gone and come back to go on leash again, take her in and return to the kitchen to retrieve your food. Try and convince Aiden that your breakfast is not his, while attempting to finish your food quickly because you know someone will need your attention soon.

Life just wouldn’t be right if I was able to sit back and relax for more than half an hour at a time, what would I do?

It is now afternoon and time for Aiden to eat his lunch, go into the living room while telling him to “stay” and scoop out some food, dance around him while he moves closer and closer to the kitchen while keeping his bum on the floor, well he is “staying” isn’t he? Dodge Aiden while he runs to his bowl before the others can get there, wait for him to finish because he’ll soon need to go out. Grab your keys, put on your shoes, and head out the door for another trip to the sidewalk, only this time you’re with Aiden so there will be no time wasted! Go back inside, head to the computer because maybe, just maybe you’ll get more than a half hour break. Get up from the computer, make some lunch and grab the remote to watch some TV while you eat. Tell Aiden again that this is not his food and firmly tell him to lie down! The puppy crazies begin once again! It is now time to head out to the conservation area for a long walk/run or you’ll surely go insane. Good thing it isn’t raining today because the dogs really do need to burn off a great deal of energy. Grab all the leashes, poop bags and treats, head out the door and try not to lose one in the process of walking to the back. Finally, you’ve reached the conservation area and you let them all off their leashes and it’s chaos once again! Luckily Huib is there or things just wouldn’t go well because it’s hard keeping track of four dogs in all different directions when you can’t see too well. After about half an hour, Phoenix has had enough of sniffing this flower and that blade of grass so to the younger dogs dismay it is time to go home. Round them all up, put them all on their leashes and convince everyone to follow the leash towards home. Unlock the apartment door, head inside and fill up the water bowl for the third time that day. Once everyone has drank to their capacity it is time for a nap, thank God!!!

About an hour later everyone wakes up and guess what? It’s dinner time and the feeding frenzy begins. Scoop food into this bowl, that bowl, tell this one to “sit”, that one to “stay” and then once everyone is full, fill the water bowl once again. Make dinner, sit down and hope to God that no one disturbs you because you just want to eat in peace and watch some TV. Guess what? That is not going to be the case because the food has begun to digest so it is time for relief once again. Grab your keys, some poop bags and put them all on a leash because this time you want to get it done quickly. Ten minutes later you are back inside and everyone settles in for the evening. Ten o’clock comes and you are exhausted so once again you grab your keys, some poop bags and leashes so you can head out for the last relief of the day. You get undressed, put Aiden into his crate, tell Aspen that Phoenix needs his bed, move Cessna so you can get your legs under the covers and pass out only to be woken up at 6:30am again the following morning.

The life of having dogs, there is no true “my time” there is only “their time”, but of course we love them so continue our days at their leisure.

Social Gathering At Fanshawe College

On Wednesday Aiden (15 weeks) and Cessna accompanied us on a trip to London where we attended Fanshawe College’s social gathering. It was a gathering of aboriginal students from the college and surrounding high schools, as well as some of the aboriginal community members. We missed the cultural teaching workshop in the morning, but were able to partake in the afternoon festivities. The afternoon was filled with traditional aboriginal dancing, with some people even wearing their regalia’s.

Cessna has been to several aboriginal gatherings so the noise of the drums and singing was no surprise to her, she just laid in front of me and slept. Aiden was quite curious at first, wanting to check out what was going on in the centre of the gym. After a bit though he just settled down for a nap…nothing seems to phase this little guy! There were people dressed in all sorts of regalia’s, every First Nations group has their own style and every type of regalia has a meaning.

Jingle Dress dancers are easy to spot because of the tin pieces in the shape of cones sewn carefully to their dress, as well as the jingling noise they make when dancing.
The jingle dress itself is a unique work of art. The dress, usually made of traditional buckskin is sewn in a straight fashion from sleeves to hem. Tradition states that the small metal cones, or the “Jingles” attached to the dress represent several different things. The sounds of the jingles ward off bad spirits and welcome good spirit into the dance.

The Grass dancers’ outfits of today consist of a belt, cuffs, headband and harness with a porcupine roach which adorns two eagle feathers or a set of plumes. The dancer moves his hips, arms, head and shoulders in harmony with the movement of his legs and dance steps. Dancers attempt to imitate nature, resembling the gentle swaying of grass on a windy day. Traditionally, the grass dancers were called out to the place where feasts and special events were to take place. The dancers blessed the ground while they danced in time with the beat of the drum. While the grass dancers danced, they flattened the grass with their feet in preparation for the ceremonies to take place.

The Women’s Fancy Shawl dance symbolizes the life of a butterfly. . Women’s Fancy Shawl dancers have beautifully intricate outfits. The dancer will wear a cape which is usually fully beaded. Also, they have matching leggings and moccasins, hairpieces and jewelry. Distinctive to the women’s Fancy Shawl dance is the way in which they use their shawl as adornment, delicately draping it over their bodies. It is in the movement of her body while she dances and the lightness of her dance steps that makes the butterfly come to life.

The Men’s Fancy Dance was meant for entertainment and still is today. The bright colours of the outfits rind the fast moves of the dancers provide an entertaining sight for onlookers. Men’s Fancy dancers wear two brightly coloured bustles on their backs. Some dancers choose to make their bustles out of man-made feathers while others choose eagle feathers. The dancers also wear a cape made of cloth, ribbon or are fully beaded. They also wear matching front and back aprons. In addition to their regalia, the
dancers wear porcupine head roaches, fur- leggings and bells.

There are Northern and Southern ways of dancing Women’s Traditional. Northern style is danced by remaining in one spot, lightly bouncing in rhythm with the drum. Southern style has the women slowly and gracefully walking around the Circle in time with the drum, gently stepping toe-heel, toe-heel with the feet appearing to “walk on clouds”. Both styles carry a fringed shawl folded over their bent left arm, a purse in their left hand, and a feather fan, usually eagle or hawk, in their right hand. The women hold themselves tall and proud, their bodies straight. The fringe on the shawl is to sway naturally with the movements of the women’s feet, not from upper body bending or swinging. The fan is raised in salute when the women hear the drum giving honor beats. At all times, the dancers are to stay in time with the drum and stop precisely when the drumming ends. The ladies wear knee-length beaded moccasins, leggings, and either a bucksin or cloth dress that has long, open sleeves. There are two styles of buckskin dress; once again, Northern and Southern. The Northern style is to completely bead the shoulder or cape part of the dress, whereas, the Southern style uses beadwork mainly as an accent. Also in bucksin regalia, the moccasins are either fully beaded (Northern) or accent-beaded (Southern).

Men’s Traditional dancers were an eagle feather bustle as part of their outfit. This dancer’s regalia is quite beautiful with colourful beadwork and a roach as a headpiece. Through his dance moves and steps the dancer tells a story of heroic battles or successful hunting trips.

Attending aboriginal gatherings such as Pow Wows is one of the highlights of my summer. I grew up knowing very little about my mother’s heritage, but as I grew older and was able to read about everything, I began to involve myself in my Ojibwe culture.