27 April 2011

The Box Helper

Today I was working in the spare room, paring down extra boxes; collapsing the boxes for recycling as many were either musty, worn out, or I had an excessive quantity and just wanted to be rid of some of them.

This is a huge job for me- to go through anything but most especially to get large boxes out to recycling. I must have had at least five large ones and plenty more of smaller more managable sizes.

When all the sorting was through, it was time for Thane's role. He hadn't had much work this week so I knew he would be eager to help out with this task. Once dressed and boxes loaded, we headed out the door for our first trip. Sometimes when he has not had enough work, he can be a bit over-enthusiastic. Its interesting to me though that when we have a load, he is always really slow and cautious as we walk to the garbage and recycling. Today was no different as he slowly maneuvered our way towards the recycling, laid down nicely while I unloaded all the big boxes and then took me on home, with a bit more speed and pull, for the next load. After a few loads in the rain, we finished off with a rewarding game of fetch.

The little Redhead from Indiana

So now that I shared who Met was- where he came from- what he became to me, its time to share about Thane. After all this blog really is his. smile

Thane is one of four puppies born to Scarlet and Finn, both red and white Border Collies out of Indiana. He spent the first nine months of his life as Shane; living with his mom and co-breeder amidst their varied pack of dogs- from toy to giant breed.

Following the passing of Met, he came to live with me in the hopes of becoming my future service dog. The trip from Indiana to Oregon, was tumultuous at best for this Indiana country boy. He had so many changes to adjust to- no longer part of a pack as the low man in it, he became the solitary dog in his new home life. From country to town where just the presence of regular traffic flow was something to be in awe of- he had a lot of adjusting to go through.

Re-named Thane- a type of noble man in the Shakespearean era, this little red and white smooth coat boy, had a long way to go before fulfilling his name.

For me, it was a huge eye opening experience to witness just how much I had at one time taught his predecessor- Thane was close to that of a blank slate. He had, for the most part, pretty awesome household manners and behavior for such a young Border Collie. What he had in manners however, he lacked in training. It was going to be up to me to either make or break him as a potential guide and service dog. Only time would tell though which way this was going to go.

At first, the most we really accomplished were the very basics of obedience training amidst the constant reminders that this little redhead was anything but my Met. He had different mannerisms, different likes and dislikes, different pluses and minuses. He was definitely NOT my dog that I so desperately missed and wanted the void of to be filled in the snap of my fingers.

At first, Thane's real role was that of keeping me busy and giving me someone- something that needed me and my care. I will admit, his early life here was anything but stress free as I wrestled with what I sorta coin *my demons* in the journey of letting go of Met and accepting him for who he was and could become to me. This was anything but an easy process.

I suffered from what is often known as *second dog syndrome*. It is that difficult condition, if you will, of relinquishing your first dog and journey with it- allowing oneself to accept, bond with, and work with the new and often times very different successor candidate. It was the letting go of the innocence one had as they trained, bonded, worked, and lost their first service dog and allowed that self to move on with the lessons of yesterday without allowing them to overshadow the joy and good in what lay ahead.

When one can come to such a *letting go* and *moving forward* in the journey of the bonding process- allowing themselves growth as a trainer and handler in the process towards a successor partnership, amazing things can and often do flourish.

I will be the first to admit that Thane is no Chimette. There may never be again in my life, that magical kind of partnership, bond and love that I had with my first special man. Thane though is very special in his own ways. He is an awesome guide dog when his energy is not busting out his seams. Living in an apartment in rain central USA does not do much for energy expenditure. I've learned to give him the long walks to stores in town or to the bus so that he can expend that energy and thus be more effective in that crucial *crowd* work we often encounter.

Most people recognize Border Collies as awesome hearing dogs, but are quite surprised by a guide dog of the same breed. Thane is an interesting specimen for sure. To date, he has turned out to be a much more responsive guide dog than he may ever be as a hearing dog for me. All of this of course came as quite a surprise to me after my previous dog was just so good at everything along the progressive path of my disabilities over our years together.

Met was very much in the game for what he could do for me. He loved his job- sometimes too much. Thane on the other hand, is very much a guide dog in that same light but when it comes to indoor tasks in his obsessive toy environment of our home life, it becomes very much one of *what can I get out of doing this task for her*. I will admit, its not necessarily the kind of work ethic one wants for a multi-disability, multi-environment needed service dog, but at this stage of the game- it works for us because of just how toy obsessed Thane happens to be. I guess in some ways that little obsession of his, is a good thing. LOL Do I wish he had a little more the ethic of his predecessor- sure, but then there is probably a lot of things that he is for me, that he just might not be.

I had said at one point following Met's passing that I never wanted to depend on a dog so much again that in their absence I could not function. Perhaps Thane's gift to me is just that- making me keep my promise to myself that he would never become the *only* functional tool I could live my life by.

For now, I am just grateful for those wonderful people in Indiana who had the ability in their hearts to let go of the little redhead they had raised for the first nine months of his life. For without them and their generosity, my life today would be a very different one. Thane truly was and is a gift- one I hope I never become so accustomed to that I take advantage of what he does for me.

25 April 2011

Through a Guide's Eyes-- Literally

Recently I have been getting some nagging in my gut-- this is the kind no guide dog user wants to acknowledge. The kind that you feel like if you ignore it, it will go away. Unfortunately it is not going away-- not from my gut, and not from life either.

Thane is due for his re-check at the eye vet. He is four years old and as such, this is the time when she can either clear him of the last genetic eye disease to impact his breed, or acknowledge its presence.

I am trying to tell myself that the nag in my gut is just nervous energy about the unknown in our life right now, but reality is that something is different. Different than it was during the winter rains. Different than it was last spring, summer, or fall. If this *different* was only noticeable outdoors as we walked our communities streets that are beginning to come out of hibernation-- coming alive again, I'd completely chock it up to a focus issue due to that new life.

That is not the case though. It happens at home when he is doing things. Sometimes he can't see a toy that is right in front of him but in a shadowy or darkened location. Sometimes I will throw the ball and he has no idea whatsoever that its been thrown-- checks me out for where I hid it. Sometimes he runs so hard into walls, that I am surprised he was not knocked out. Of course this latter he has done a bit all of our life together, but the frequency and severity has increased almost ten fold over the past couple of months.

Granted, Thane is an intense Border Collie when it comes to his toys-- especially his balls. This all said, as a guide dog at my side who I trust in implicitly, I can not ignore my gut nor the little subtleties that placed that *nag* in it in the first place. To do so would be to say that neither my nor his safety out there matters. It would be putting the desire to keep working with him as my partner above his well being. I can not, nor will I stoop to such a level.

The testing for other service animal teams will be free in May. The program though is still not willing to look at ways in which an owner trained team can be proven as legit. As a result, for Thane it is not a benefit we can take advantage of. I had someone tell me that if it were their situation, they would not do it unless the benefit was provided to them. I was appalled! Here, my guide dog could very well have something going on. No, it may not be his eyes, but then it very much might be. As a friend to someone who had a service dog lose an eye to glaucoma, I know the importance of early diagnosis and intervention.

With my previous service dog Chimette, I was naive. I had no idea we had the ability to just take him to an eye vet and be sure his eyes were healthy enough for him to be my guide. When I questioned my now former vet about his eyesight, his response was that I would know when he could not see! PARDON ME! He knew that Met was working as my guide and yet, he acted so callously when HE KNEW that there was an eye vet in our county. I will never act so naively when it comes to Thane's eyes.

It is my responsibility to see that Thane gets all the testing and/ or care that he needs. I would not hesitate to have testing done if he presented with diarrhea, so why would I do that when he is presenting with symptoms that could have to do with the health of his eyes.

If this is eye disease related, finding out now could be the difference between treatment that saves his sight and our partnership and that of retirement because I waited too long and there is nothing that could be done.

I accept right now that this could very easily be a focus, change in lighting with the arrival of spring, even issues with thyroid balance amongst any number of things to be considered including tick borne diseases since there are nine months of his life that I personally was not a part of.

I'm trying not to worry-- live our life as carefully as we can, but not be so careful as to induce anxiety in my *soft* guide dog. In ten days, I will know one way or the other about his eyes. For now, the other will remain as unknowns until we eliminate this first possibility.

In my heart, I want to hope there is a focus and time of year reasoning for it all. Here's to hoping that what my heart wants is the reality!

22 April 2011

Chimette: The Special Man at My Side 1997 - 2007

A friend of mine at the Doghouse-- let the fur fly! blog began something interesting- telling about each of the dogs in their home. I really liked that and thought I would write about my boys. This entry is about Chimette.

After problems with getting a service dog from a program (that's a topic for another entry) and being discriminated against due to disability at the county kill shelter when I tried to adopt a Border Collie mix (more mix than Border Collie), I found myself at an all breed rescue.

A wonderful teacher had recommended them to me. I did not want to be disappointed another time-- you know finding that perfect dog and being told they felt you could only care for a toy breed dog of certain disposition-- ie the couch potato dog. I was told they were a fair organization who truly wanted to find good homes for the animals in their care. I still felt I had to be sure. I called the rescue and explained the situation. I shared how I had my heart set on a Border Collie. Yes, for my first dog! LOL Yeah I was a bit on the naive side to say the least. In all fairness we did have dogs in our life as I grew up, including a Border Collie mix.

The rescue had a Border Collie mix. Was I interested? or Did I want a purebred Border Collie? Was I interested- Oh man alive I was! The animals were fostered in homes and came to the adoption site Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights. I could hardly wait until Saturday came around. When I got there, I found this six month old tri-color boy huddled in the back of the huge wire crate he was in-- ignoring everyone and everyone ignoring him. His card said his name was Archie. He was fully vaccinated, wormed, neutered, and ready for obedience training.

I still think of that song *How Much is That Doggy in the Window* when I think about him. I sat there talking to him for hours. I just could not pull myself away. There were other more suitable dogs including one with full obedience, but there were many reasons why I did not want her. There was one problem with this little BC boy (I'd learn of many more). Our lease required all dogs to be one year old and no more than thirty pounds at full growth. I quite obviously had a problem with him being cross-bred with a GSD. No one there could estimate how big he would get, but if his paws were any indication LOL

Alt Text: Chimette at 6 months showing huge paws

One of the hardest things I did was to leave him behind in that kennel; behind for someone else to fall in love with or for him to return to his foster home.

The next couple of days I could not stand it. I talked with management and was given the green light. I called the rescue where I learned they still had him. I had to wait two more days to bring him home.During that time I stocked my home with as many essentials as I could-- a new crate, toys, bowls, and IAMS dog food. I gag at the very thought of what I did to his poor body with that crap in a bag they called food. I tried to contain my excitement at the prospect that lay ahead for me-- my very first dog who may one day be my ears to the world.

Wednesday night came quickly. A friend and I boarded the bus to go bring my baby boy home. I had no idea what I was getting into really. I knew nothing about dog temperament. I saw Border Collie and I wanted him. This rather reminds me of impulse buying, but only because I was very naive and possibly impatient as well. After all I had already waited eight years on a program that had promised me a Border Collie.

We arrived early so we could see the staff arriving with the dogs that were available. When they opened the doors, we got to his kennel first. While my friend removed his card and went to find some help. I again found myself at his kennel talking to him. He seemed to remember me as he moved a bit forward in the kennel this time.

When the adoption process was complete and he realized he was leaving his foster mom, he tried to jump the table back to her. This was not a good start now was it? giggle Once on my lap, it was the beginning of a journey into the unknown- a journey filled with hope, promise, trepidation, trials, triumphs, and a love between a gal and her dog that was capable of surmounting any hurdle- well almost.

At first, Archie- renamed Chimette AKA Met, seemed to be suffering from lack of socialization. He was timid of men especially and had to learn about everything. He would not go busy in his yard for close to a year- and during a year of floods, I was not too amused by having to walk him when he had a perfectly good yard to use. I did it though and we endured.

Though we experienced a tumultuous time over the years we were together from vaccinosis, he never wavered in his role at my side. He lived for the job of taking care of me-- perhaps, in hindsight, a little too much. For ten years we were together-- either in training or service. He was truly the *very best* of the best IMO when it came to his ability to fulfil all of my needs- from hearing to vision to mobility to medical alert needs-- if I had the need, we figured a way (or he did) to assure a resolution.

In a way, having a dog like Met for one's first service dog, rather raises the bar a bit too high. When Met stepped out of harness and then out of life as well, he left what seemed impossible pawprints to be filled.

If you've read this far and are interested in more about our journey and life together, take a hop over to Pawsitively-K9 where you can read more about our journey (including life with vaccinosis) and the beginning of his successor Thane's as well.

13 April 2011

Peaceful Haven

The other night I had this most remarkable dream- you know the kind; the ones that you wish weren't just dreams when you awoke to life as it is in the morning.

In my dream, I lived in this remarkable place. It was a beautiful MCS safe home with a one floor layout plan. There were no carpets, no toxic press board drawers, cupboards, or shelves. All of these were either glass or stainless steel. There was beautiful flooring double sealed with a safe sealer I did not react to. All the wall corners had these awesome stainless corner guards. Door ways were so wide that the doors had to be custom made but they allowed for ease of entrance and even allowed me to enter my home with my guide dog in harness.

The property was huge- I mean I could train my dogs LLW and harness work by merely walking around the grounds various routes this way and that on the sidewalk pathways. Instead of real grass which takes a lot of maintenance and I am highly sensitive to, much of the grounds were covered in artificial turf of high quality. There was a wonderful area for agility and other dog sports as well as courts for staff to play raquet sports, basketball, and a full track. There were five additional cottage apartments detached from each other with ample separate fenced yard areas for care workers and groundskeepers at a distance from the main house.

My home had three washers and dryers- one set in a separate wing that could be used exclusively for toxic clothing, new item de-toxification and the like. This wing also had a separate entrance from the main entrance so that toxic items could be taken in this way before entering the main home. There was even an additional fully equipped accessible shower for bathing before entrance into the main home. Though it had a separate entrance, there was an airlock set up that allowed for entrance into the main house once toxicity had been handled.

The pantry was so huge, we could probably have done agility courses in there. The entire place was set up with central de-humidification and air purification- despite it being in a much drier climate than this rain central USA climate we now live in.

This awesome home was located in a remote area with mountain and ocean  fresh air. There were wide sidewalk pathways that went right down to the private beach and waters edge so that I could enjoy this as much as any ambulatory person can.

Thane was with me of course, but slowing into retirement at the age of twelve. He had held up well over the years, but it was his time to change focus; helping me to raise the new kids on the block.

And before I forget, this wonderful land and home came with a van service and drivers as well. All staff were MCS savvy and non-toxic to me- their sole jobs were right there in that peaceful haven.Though they rotated shifts and could take vacations from there, no one ever did- who would want to leave such beauty?

Why did I have to wake up?!

08 April 2011

The Comical Side of Thane

Thane is on a raw diet. I feed him in his crate each morning. He receives Nupro Supplement (yeast free form) in a small bowl. It mixes up with water as a gravy which he laps up readily. Lately I have been giving him Tripett as well which makes the Nupro all that much more appealing to him.

This morning was no different than any other morning really. I gave Thane his probi. I made up his Nupro gravy and put the tripett in the bowl with it. I then grabbed his roast and headed to his crate with Thane dancing excitedly awaiting the wonderful morsels of Tripett.

Once the finish was just about licked off the bowl, he promptly sat down as if to tell me he was done. I told him to eat his roast. He acted as if he was thinking very hard about something for a moment. A couple minutes later, he again sat down claiming to be done. During those couple moments, he had picked up his bowl and sat it on top of his roast- All done mom!

It reminded me of those childhood years of scattering things around on the plate or hiding them in the napkin so as to not eat them. It was just too funny. After I rolled away to do morning chores, he did eat his roast with no further antics.

This will be a memory I won't readily forget-- my four year old acting just like I would have at four, five, six years of age.

07 April 2011

Access for Some

Service Dog owners more times than not, are people of limited means. Its the crux of life with disability. Some are able to get from under that and work lucrative jobs, but certainly not most. This is where programs that assist in costs of service dog care are so awesome.

Take for instance IAADP (International Association of assistance Dog Partners) This program works tirelessly to obtain resources for us- benefits from companies who care about our service dogs enough to provide their products free of charge or at a significant reduction of cost. During my tenure with Met, we benefitted greatly from some of these benefits- Veterinary Care Grants, Cosequin, boots from Ruffwear.These companies did not concern themselves with whether a team was from a national program with ADI qualifications, whether they were trained privately, or even whether they were owner trained.

Many years ago while I was still in California, the Assistance Dog Special Allowance discriminated against owner trained teams. Rather than providing you with the funds for your service dog, you were provided with a list of programs that qualified one to be recognized as a program trained dog that one could receive the benefits for. It was not right, but what could one do? Sue! And that is just what someone did. When the judgment came down, all the previously denied teams received an application. Many states have their own versions of the program in California, but unfortunately in Oregon it requires a person also be receiving careworker services- something that is prohibitive for me with my profound MCS and that would cost the state thousands of more dollars every year.  Now if I received SSI rather than SSDI then I would qualify outright just because I have a service animal.

Presently there is a program once more playing favorites- providing access for some, but certainly not all. ACVO and Merial Service Animal Eye Exam provides free eye exams for those from Nationally recognized programs. Service animals for the disabled from around the USA are one of the beneficiaries of this program. Others include Police Dogs, Search and Rescue and Therapy Dogs. Its a wonderful program if you don't happen to be partnered with an owner trained dog.

The claim of the program as to why they have this closed-minded approach  is that they were defrauded by individuals who claimed pets to be service animals. I find it rather interesting since I tried to register the very first year and was not allowed to. Registration happens a month prior to any actual service being rendered so how they can claim they were defrauded is beyond me.

As a circumvent around this, some with owner trained service animals have chosen to have their dogs registered with a national therapy dog group instead of banding together to help the organization running the program come up with a better way in which owner trained teams can be given the same and equal access as teams stemming from dogs trained by national organizations. If the organization realized just how much they are being defrauded under the category of therapy dogs by owner trained service animal teams, those too would most likely be eliminated from the program.

I don't dispute that fraud happens. Oregon has some of the most prolific service animal fraud in the nation with people claiming their pooch in their purse or their pet on lead does this, that, or the other thing. What I do have a problem with, however, is having a program that is supposed to assist service animal handlers in better providing the care their dogs need and not having any means in which a bona fide owner trained team can prove their dogs training. This has nothing to do with certification of service animals- a concept I am completely against. This has to do with being able to prove ones dog is what they say it is for the purposes of a program that team can benefit from. Ways for this to happen might include training logs, relying upon the vets in the program to recognize when an animal really isn't what the person says it is, or even allowing organizations such as IAADP to be participants in the program- something they presently will not allow for.

Some individuals in the service animal world, think those who owner train should essentially shut up and be grateful the program exists. Of course these people have a service animal from a nationally recognized program so they receive the benefit or they have the means to easily get such care for their service animals without even thinking about it. They can't see it from our perspectives because simply they don't walk in our shoes.

I have had to fight hard for every program, every benefit I get with my owner trained service animals. I get many of these benefits and assistance because I know how to fight the bureaucracy or because I get connected with the right individuals who help me do so. Some days I just wonder though if there ever will be *Access for All* (as the ADA calls for) in the same ease as there is this access for those with service animals from nationally recognized programs.