28 February 2011

Trimet Max Continues to Shock Guide Dogs

Many guide and service dog teams frequent the tri-county area we live in by reliance upon fixed route bus and max trains. This ability to travel independently gives us freedom to go where we want, when we want, with little concern of safety issues associated with our highly trained dogs at our side. Thats the atmosphere one seems to experience for the most part, however, its not necessarily a true picture from our dogs perspectives.

From as far back as 2000, Guide teams have noted their dogs being shocked when disembarking trains on the westside of the Blue Line. These events seem to happen more frequently during arctic or excessive humidity times. Though claims are often made that the problem is fixed, teams continue to be plagued by the shocks. Various feedback includes putting boots on dogs which can't be done in icey conditions without your dog constantly doing the four way splits, making sure your dog does not walk on rails (now how in the world can you cross the tracks without doing that one?) and the one I laugh the hardest at- don't exit the trains through the doors that have ramps at them - deployed or not, they have a higher incidence of shocking the dogs! It seems to me that something crucial has been missed in the design, track laying, electronics or something in the west side stops- otherwise this problem would be plaguing the east side of the blue line, as well as the red, yellow, and green lines. Tri-met has blamed the electric company before so its possible its not so much about the max trains and rails but the currents. There've been lots of news and blog pieces over the past ten or eleven years detailing the mechanics of how this occurs, but I'm not going to focus on any more of that. I think its important to look at it not from the human and mechanical perspective (or the errors in construction if thats where they lie) but from the perspective of these specially trained guide and service dogs.

Try and put yourselves in the mind of a guide dog. Your waiting in harness with your handler at the door entrance for the train doors to open when the doors do open you receive a hefty jolt. You yelp and lunge forward. For a trained guide or service dog, this kind of action could lead to an accident for your handler. You are a highly trained dog and you do your very best with the stresses of everyday life- big rigs, forklifts, pestering children, teenagers who don't know how to walk a straight course, skateboards, out of control yapping dogs, but to be shocked for doing your job is a stress that many wonderful working teams are traumatiized by which should NEVER happen. 

The result of being shocked just one time can have negative consequences on the work performed. At the very least, rushing the max entrances and exits will be a problem from such a negative experience. Outright refusal to board a max train at all can happen. Both of these may be temporary problems, or they may turn out to end a wonderful partnership- shortening a long career for one of these highly trained dogs that become a disabled persons eyes, ears, hands, feet, medical alerts. 

Depending upon the training method used by the program or owner trainer, there can be differences in how the future unfolds for some dogs.Coercive, corrective, negative stimuli to stop unwanted behavior- such a shock could be considered by dogs trained in this manner to mean you don't pass that path. Can you see where this is going? If you can't pass a doors entrance you certainly can't go about your days routine. For those trained with OC methods- positive reinforcement, non-punishment or corrective measures, this kind of experience can be quite surprising at the best, but can also be difficult to convince them that the bad boogie man won't zap them again. Its especially difficult because you never know when or where on the west side, a dog will be shocked. Certainly not all shockings are reported, but many fortunately are. Irregardless of whether or not the shocking incidence is considered low- one shock to ANY dog trained to perform duties that they are- well its one shock too many. Trimet needs to truly fix this whoops in part of their system that many dogs can attest to the fact that it is far from fixed. 

Though the incident that sparked my interest in writing this piece was not from a shock to Thane, I do believe now that I know the signs of a dog being shocked, that Thane too was a victim of this a year ago. When will Trimet quit looking to blame other things, other people, other conditions and realize that its time for them to take action to put an end to this. Someone told me recently that this will only end when the service dog community bands together and sues Tri-met. I'd like to think, it won't have to come to that. I will admit though that I soul-search the level of need for a trip on max when its really cold and/ or wet out since we rely upon the west end of the line to start and finish our trips.

Hopefully, an end will be seen before any more wonderful dogs are given such a painful jolt.

24 February 2011

The Miracle of Probiotics

We've all heard that probiotics can do wonders for an individual suffering from various intestinal difficulties as well as when placed on antibiotics. 

My wonderful redhead has reaped their benefits on more than one occasion- from the effects of an aggressive case of giardia to the complications from antibiotic therapy on his gut and teeth.  A good probiotic formula (with prebiotics) was a regular requirement for my then *kibble fed* dog. 

I got to my wits end on the processed food spectrum because there did not seem to be any grain-free food that Thane could in fact tolerate. Grain free is not only a good idea but a necessity for a dog who has had giardia- grains feed remnant spores which eventually can lead to leaky gut syndrome. If you are of the belief that the medications wipe out all the spores, you're sadly mistaken. Been there, Done that belief routine!

With the support of a wonderful friend at The Doghouse-Let the Fur Fly!, I turned to the prey model raw diet for Thane. I got lots of guidance and direction from her and some of the raw feeding forums on the net. Though these forums are awesome for a beginner in establishing a good varied diet, its easy to fall into a mode of accepting everything they say as gospel. I did just that when it came to giving extra supplements. At first, I continued to give Thane the cosequin, probiotics, and nupro (yeast free form) at a reduced dosage. Soon however I had eliminated the probiotics and Cosequin on bone days, placing a belief that the diet was superior enough to provide Thane with everything he needed. Frequent problems with bowels followed. I felt like I was back on kibble with all the issues he had until it donned on me that Thane had become the victim of my nievete. The return of once a week dosing of probiotics seemed to calm things down so I left things there.

Over the early winter however, Thane had numerous issues from low normal thyroid (symptomatic) to staph of the skin. Though things had stabilized on these issues, his skin remained itchy and plaque was building once more. I changed his bathing schedule in an effort to rid him of whatever allergens were making him so itchy never once considering that just as bad bacteria can congregate in the mouth and gut, so can it on the skin. I mean afterall isn't that just what had happened to him with his skin when he had staph?

Ironically, my quest to see if probiotics played a role in dental hygiene issues, led me to an article that discussed how probiotics can play a role in the *itchy dog* by replenishing good bacteria on the skin. Thane and I had little to lose and everything to gain by returning to daily probiotics for him. It took a few days for me to begin to see progress taking place, but here we are at day four since his last bath. By this time the last few weeks, I was correcting Thane frequently for chewing on himself and frankly beginning to lose patience with his newfound past time. Now, he might have one or two quick itches a day, if that. The difference in him is astounding! I know it will still take some time for Thane's skin to become the healthy skin it was pre-staph, but we appear to be off that roller-coaster ride of the last few months and are moving in the right direction.

Fairy Tales Do Come True

We woke up this morning to snow- not just a trace but snow that Thane could actually play in! This was just awesome pawsome! Thane absolutely loves to play in the snow. He has not been able to play out back since the big freeze in November as its been like a swamp out there. I'm sure this added to the pleasure we both felt.

This year, unlike our norm, anytime it snowed in the area, it bypassed us or was just too warm to stick. There were times when the news talked about all this snow accumulation and it felt like they were sharing fairy tales or recycling old momentos of years past! Though the east coast and midwest would probably gladly ship us some snow from time to time, there's just something special to me to wake up to that white winter wonderland- even if it is the end of February!

Before we could do anything today, the task before me was to shovel out Thane's potty station so he could go busy. After that, we grabbed the football and had a wonderful time leaving football and paw tracks here and there as Thane jumped and lunged this way and that to try and catch his football on the fly.

Thane has a wonderful working retrieve, but when it came to his toys he still wanted to nudge them close to me on the floor or better yet, herd me to where he left the toy. Little by little over the past six months but mostly the last month, Thane has begun to be willing to bring the toy up to me so that I could more easily take it from him. Nowhere was this more clear to me, than this morning as we played in the snow together. 

Though, most of the snow has since melted away as a result of the beautiful sunshine that glistened upon it all day, this morning was filled with special moments, seeing my lil' red head playing in the snow. 

Thane holds his snow covered football for me. His face is covered in snow.

14 February 2011

When is Getting a Toy a Helpful Task Rather Than Play?

The rain has returned to the Pacific Northwest and with it our mobility is as well. I'm taking this time to catch up on sleep, chores, playing, and training with Thane. 

I wash my laundry in a small electric wonder washer because with my MCS I can not tolerate public washing facilities. I used to have a spin dryer but the quality of it was less than anticipated. It died recently so I now must wring my clothes by hand and hang dry them with a fan and de-humidifier in the bathroom.

During the course of the day, a number of Thane's toys will wind up in the shower where I hang my laundry. I have shower rods across the shower for hanging the laundry so we can't easily collect them when they roll their way downhill to the drain. The next morning, as I pull the dry clothes off the rods, Thane's task is to go get each of the toys and bring them back to me.

He is so funny with this. He walks down and then stretches himself forward instead of walking all the way to where the item is. Then he rolls it back bit by bit until he is on the more level surface before grasping it, turning around and standing beside me so I can take it from him. Then the task, or game as he considers it, continues until all of the toys are out of the shower.

Usually this is maybe one or two toys, but this morning he had six balls down there- Don't ask me how so many wound up in the shower- perhaps he got bored and wanted to have a lot to do this morning! LOL

So you see, sometimes getting a ball is not really about play, but about helping ones handler when they can't do the task for themselves.

09 February 2011

Real-Life Emergencies

A week ago, Thane and I went through a harrowing experience. I nearly lost my life choking on some roast. One thing I recall thinking once I was out of danger was, what an inefficient design that is to the body where when something is stuck, your life hangs in the balance! This is even more the case in individuals with quadriplegia and some high level paras because we don't have the strength of cough necessary in such circumstances. Choking can literally be a life threatening scenario. This is not the first such occurence and probably won't be my last. This posting however isn't so much about the *me* side of this, but about the horrifying ordeal my guide and service dog went through.

Over this past week, I've tried to come to terms with the experience from the perspective of Thane- of what he went through, what could have become of him had things not turned around. It was horrifying to be in my shoes, but for him- it was an ordeal I hope he never has to experience again.

Initially, Thane came to my side as any service dog would who had been raised and trained as a partner to their disabled handler. My gasping, beating on my chest, and all the other *fight for life* that was taking place however instilled a *flight* response in Thane. The ordeal seemed to go on for a very long time. As anyone who has experienced something as traumatic as this knows- the feeling of time passing and the actuality of how much time really did pass; they rarely concur with each other. There are some aspects I don't remember about it such as getting the first breaths but the part I do remember is how frightened my little redhead was.

I never want him to experience fear like this again- the hiding in the other room under my desk as if that could help him escape what was taking place, trembling, heavy panting, and the obsessive licking and chewing that followed as he tried in his own way to vent the stress from such an unspeakable situation.

What I clearly remember are the soft sniffs and kisses I felt just prior to Thane curling up beside my tortured body. I wanted to somehow assure him that I would never put him or me through such an event again, but yet I knew all I could do was *hope* I could keep such a promise for both our sakes.Though in many ways I have recovered, in others, symptoms of this event remain with me. I can tell you though, regardless of how Thane reacted in this emergency situation, when all was said and done, curling up with my sidekick placing his chin upon my side that night was the best medicine anyone could have prescribed as I dealt with *reality* of my life nearly being cut short.

01 February 2011

Change of Plans

The sun was finally shining here in the Pacific Northwest. I had big plans for the day. After placing some necessary orders for our monthly needs, we were gonna head out for a long overdo adventure. Well, that was the plan, but sometimes plans get interrupted. 

Thane was bothered during the night so we had to readjust our plans for the day. A bath instead of an adventure and our first splendid order to Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow is going to have to wait to ship until this monstrocity of a storm across the nation decides to die down. If I have learned anything through my life with two sensitive Border Collie guides, it is that life can be unpredictable, deliver punches you had not expected, and you just have to learn to go with the flow.

Rather than a fun trip out and about, I was lathering up Thane in a nice blend of shampoo and conditioner- something he was not very fond about taking place. From there it was domestic tasks, further orders, and being grateful for a company that considers the weather before shipping out our perishable goods.

Though we were not able to venture out today, the beautiful sunshine beaming through our door uplifted the spirits of days past brought on by this excessively wet winter. One step outside however and the chill made me grateful that a needed bath had changed our day from one of adventures to one of home necessities.

Now we await our goodie box (if the weather lets up)!