31 May 2011

Inappropriate Pull on Lead vs Necessary Pull in Harness

Recently in conversation via email with my Dad, I had an opportunity to explain some concepts with him in a good light. The topic though made me realize that when I discuss Thane's pull in harness on lists, tweets, or in blog entries that there may be others who have a misconception of this. I thought this would be a great place to explain some of what Dad and I discussed.

Ideally all dogs but most especially all service dogs should be taught to walk on a loose lead (LLW). That does not mean that all owner trained teams do as there are those unfortunately who bypass foundation training and jump right to task training, never to return to those fundamental essential tasks for their dogs.

My Dad was just being curious and even included in his question his *ignorance* about service dog training and task training but at the same time called me an expert. Of course reading that I cracked up. I definitely do not see myself as an expert, but in his eyes, in realms of training my dogs, he sees what I am able to do and is awed. Quite a contrast to his acceptance of my disabilities as seen in my entry, Independent Travel When Acceptance and Disabilities Collide.

When one gets a dog, unless it comes from a service, hearing, or guide dog program, chances are the dog will pull on the lead. Your new dog will need to be trained to walk nicely using loose leash walking techniques. This is often easier said than done.

Training Thane to walk on leash just about killed my shoulder and as for my hair, I am surprised I did not go bald trying to accomplish it all. We eventually got it. Though we don't practice LLW in public in terms of the pet or non-guide dog position, I do not allow Thane to extend so his leash is taut UNLESS we need to use leash guiding for a narrow area or area that is too steep that could put too much pressure on Thane from the harness girth strap as a result of the tension on the harness handle.

As I was explaining to my Dad, when I discuss Thane's pull, what I am referring to is the tension one feels in the harness handle. At least as a wheelchair guide team, there must be some pull felt in the harness handle. If this does not take place, I would not be able to tell the movements for obstacle clearance that Thane must take. With an ambulatory team, some clearances are done by the guide gently pushing into the handler for obstacle avoidance. This type of movement could be dangerous for a guide dog partnered with a handler in a wheelchair.

There will always be some pull in the guide handle felt by the handler. The pull can be from mild to hard. It can also differ based on length and angle of the harness handle. Everyone I imagine has different definitions for what constitutes a mild, moderate, or hard pull in harness.

My previous service dog was probably half way between mild and moderate where mild would have been too little pull for a wheelchair guide team. We also though used a flexible handle as opposed to the rigid handle I use with Thane as a result of the progression of my blindness that requires me to have much more precise guidance. I imagine that had I use this handle with Met, he would probably have been a moderate pull.

Thane most definitely was a hard harness pull for some time and fluctuated with intervals of hard even after things would settle into the moderate pull range. A lot of this, I see in hindsite, was caused by my own reactions and mood. If I was overly enthusiastic about the outing- boy oh boy! If I was not in the mood to be going, out came the goof ball. In working with Thane, I had to learn not only how to train and respond to him, but how to balance my own emotions.

Another trigger for differing pulls is linked to another of my disabilities. I recently discovered that in the use of my tilt which alters the angle of the harness handle, it also makes a difference in the harness pull. Now that I understand this concept which was discovered during my bout of skin problems when I could not use the tilt for any work in harness until yesterday and then only slight, my approach will definitely change. If I really need more tilt and its triggering a harder pull, use of a longer handle can often reduce the pull I feel in the handle.

The point though of all of this is that pull in harness is to be considered a good and necessary thing. Guide dog schools try and pair their dogs to the pace and strength needs of their candidates. For me, I do understand that Thane is a bit much dog when it comes to pull in harness for me. This all said, some changes with his diet this month have proven most beneficial and calming for him so I am most hopeful that the pull I have been experiencing for the most part the last couple weeks, may in fact be who he has become as a moderate harness pull guide.

If that is not the case, I have in my mind come to an acceptance somewhat for who he is- I mean its awfully hard to judge when his reaction time and harness pull saved our bacon.

Independent Travel When Acceptance and Disabilities Collide

People who are blind rely on other senses to travel safely and independently. As a deafblind individual, I am already down one sense. About 1 1/2 years ago, I decided that my ability to reduce reactions meant more to me than what people might think about my change from a carbon filtered mask to a respirator mask (AKA gas mask). My reactions were greatly reduced though I had to be careful about duration of use because it can induce some oxygen deprivation problems if worn too long.

I love that I can go to town with Thane and come home able to still play with him after some rest time albeit a bit less energetic in my play. I am not left feeling death warmed over. I am not sent to bed for the next couple days. I am not left unable to give Thane the walks he needs or more training. Of course this is the general scope of things. There are still some exposures that do set me back but those are mostly ones that hit in my close home vicinity- ie things that expose my home as opposed to things I am exposed to when shopping or having an adventure.

What I did not realize or anticipate was that I had actually been relying on the smells that were merely subdued by my carbon mask to determine some of my safer navigation. Thane and I had some real roller coaster times during his first couple years of work. Sometimes I took errand runs without him due to health, stress level, or injuries. It was most noticeable in the absence of Thane, just how much the change to the respirator mask altered my awareness of my surroundings. For instance with the carbon mask, I still smelled exhaust and could tell how close it was to me based on intensity of the smell as I approached driveways. With the respirator mask I really have to mentally slow down and feel the changes in the sidewalk surface; paying close attention to the time its taken me to travel without altering my pace which would then alter how long it takes to get to each drive entrance along the sidewalk path.

Before I received a wheelchair with a headrest on it, my neck would never have been strong enough to withstand the weight of a respirator mask. Thanks to this change which I had qualified for even with my previous chair but rejected because in my mind I was not that disabled. Yes, I was that disabled but its all a matter of perception. I did not want to *look* that disabled. I was still dealing with a lot in my path towards acceptance of my disabilities. I was still living with continued deterioration. I would come to accept myself for who I had become and BAM! another deterioration mode would set in and the grief process would begin anew.

By the time I got my present chair though (and subsequent backup chair), I had come to terms with accepting me for who I was- at least in terms of my quad and para parameters. I would come to realize however that a lot of my acceptance issues were related to my families lack of acceptance. Oh they play a good act, but when it comes right down to the various aspects of the causes of my disabilities and/ or the sensory disabilities- lets just say they live in the land of denial with the largest font all caps one could ever achieve.

About two years ago when I was at my folks place in their yard one summer day, my dad tried to show me something clear across the other end of the yard. Their yard is the length of three yards on their back fence line. When I *reminded* him that I could not see that and was in fact, BLIND, his response to me was that if I could not see that I had no business leaving my home alone. I pointed to Thane laying at my side as I *reminded* him that I did not leave it alone but with a great guide dog! His response to me still stings but I have come to accept that he will just be this way. This is nothing along the lines of parents not wanting their children to suffer, but absolute denial. When my mom had cataracts and entered legal blindness albeit very temporary, you should have heard her carry on about her blindness! MY GOODNESS! In private, I thought it was just TOO FUNNY!

Until I could separate myself from looking for my parents acceptance of who I was, I was not going to be able to accept myself or my disabilities- especially the deterioration in the sensory side of things with my deafblindness. I really have to hand it to my friend Rox'E at The Doghouse, Let the Fur Fly blog. As our friendship grew stronger, I learned to find acceptance of the progression of my dual sensory loss but most especially about my blindness. I had called myself VI for so long- well beyond the point of legal blindness. I could not come to terms with reality- that of the fact that I was blind and the progression at that point was on a fast track.

Through Rox'Es acceptance of herself as a deafblind individual, I began to understand that I did not need my parents acceptance to find my own and thus change my outlook on who I am and could be as an individual with multiple disabilities- many of which were proof of my own tenacity and inability to let anything get between me and living my life.

I count myself fortunate to have the friends I do- they have shown me that I don't need others acceptance, only my own.

MCS Awareness in Form of Medical Alert Training for Multiple Disability Service Dogs

MCS is not just for thirty-one days- it's a 365 day a year variable disease that one lives with and finds ways to cope with and reduce reactions. Its a disease of abstinence of the triggers and parts of life that can and often will bring on symptoms from mild to profound. This is a disease I have lived with for over a decade in the severe to profound form and at least another decade in milder form- not to mention the triggers I can remember from as far back as age 9 and 10. Thanks to my friend Sharon at After Gadget, I learned what this was and how to help myself be as healthy as I can be.

My previous service dog, Chimette (AKA Met) began to naturally alert me when I was getting into trouble. Once this began, fine tuning his alert and follow through saved me many times from severe reactions. When he died, I lost much more than a guide, hearing, and service dog. My MCS stability tanked out. I knew what I had with Met was something very special. Its rare to have a dog who works really effectively for two disabilities let alone to encompass four areas. That all said, I had to live my life believing it would happen again- for after all if I didn't have that hope, what kind of life was ahead for me in finding stability again.

Thane has turned out to be an awesome guide dog, a good service dog, but in the other areas as a hearing dog and medical alert dog for MCS, my hopes were waning. Some of it could be in strategy and training approach. Its a whole different thing to train a dog who is not naturally alerting first to actually alert and follow through than it is to just fine tune and train the follow through phase for MCS alerts.

Some people laugh when they hear me say that a Border Collie is a born guide dog but not so much as a hearing dog. Thane has overcome a lot in the time with me including some intense intervals of sound reactivity. Met was also sound reactive so I don't believe this plays a roll. I have come to terms with the aspect that Thane may very well never make an indoor hearing dog- drat that ball obsession! Its OK and I can get along with other alerting mechanisms in the home. Its certainly not quite as reliable as a hearing dog- but for now, I've taken the pressure off of both of us by tabling this type of training. I once felt the same way about retrieve however and he is now an awesome retriever. Training is not over until the last breath he takes.

Another reason for tabling hearing dog training is that recently I have realized that Thane has become more alert to problems in the environment for me. Where this has really shown up is with smokers that are walking ahead of us, waiting at bus stops, or nearby. Just as I had to do with guide dog training, I am having to learn to trust my dog when he slows down dramatically, speeds up, or chooses a different spot than our usual place to wait for the bus or max. I got myself a hefty reinforcement of this one day last week when I did not trust in Thane's judgment. I thought he was just fooling around and gave him commands which in fact ignored his attempt at alerting me. I paid for disregarding Thane's attempt because I had an older mask on that did not block as completely the toxins around me. That nasty whiff of cigarette smoke was the best thing that could have happened to show me that Thane had a good reason for what he was doing.

Alert training for MCS is much different than other Medical Alert task training. It is trained a lot along the lines of scent training, but with one HUGE difference. The goal in training this for MCS is not for the dog to take you towards the scent but away from. In my situation as a deafblind individual in a wheelchair, the situation does not always allow for my dogs to get me out of the area immediately. Often times the best approach is one where my dog halts and we wait for a bit while the offender/ offensive smell leaves our vicinity as opposed to us increasing our speed and thus me being exposed even more so to the trigger.

In time, I have no doubt that Thane will  alert and follow through on my MCS triggers just as effectively as he traffic checks me when drivers try to run us down.

MCS is and always will be until a cure is found a big part of my life. Some days I feel pretty well considering where I have come from- nearly bed ridden when Sharon began her education and support with me, but all it takes is one bad exposure to lower my resistance and bring on the symptoms like what I have been dealing with since this weekends rude neighbor marathon burning episode.

I am just grateful that Thane is beginning the path towards becoming my Medical Alert dog. Its an amazing feeling to have my perception of his capability proven wrong.

29 May 2011

Different Ways for Different Times

As an owner trainer of my service dogs, I get many concepts when it comes to training my dogs. I understand that even within a same breed, individual dogs can learn concepts differently, that they may need me to alter my approach to training, that they may fit within the realm of softness to hardness differently in one type of scenario than they are as a general overall principle for them as an individual, that one dog may have certain areas where they follow your lead and other areas or times where their stubbornness can go off the charts.

I won't say these aspects are always easy or that I work with and through them in a perfect fashion. That has been far from the case. It takes the training of many dogs of different breeds and temperaments for any trainer to be truly skilled at what they do. Much of what I have done, has come through much trial and error. In Thane's case it was also clouded by grief and the mentality of trying to mold Thane into Met.

But this post is not so much about these factors- as these factors concentrate around the dog side of the training and team- much of which at this stage with Thane I have figured out the direction and approach that works best or am flexible enough to follow the lead he is showing me to get to the place I seek to be. I have figured out that he is a soft dog who vibes off me which has made me a much better handler and individual in dealing with stressful situations. This post is about the handler side of things. It is about dealing with multiple disabilities that often bring with them much fluctuation in my functional day to day life.

I don't talk much about my disabilities in my blog because frankly I just want a place where I am seen for the inside pages as opposed to the book cover of the physical shell. That all said, I am beginning to feel the need to let down my guard as others have done. Perhaps its because by letting down my guard, I can share with you the kinds of training that can truly prepare one for the unknown- so here goes.

When you wake up each morning, you probably know what you are going to feel like, how much energy you will have, how your limbs will function, whether or not you can get to point B without smacking into a wall from vertigo or any other myriad of functions that as an able bodied healthy person you probably take for granted. This isn't the side of the coin that I deal with however.

I have multiple disabilities and have for more years than not. I am a deafblind individual living with incomplete quadriplegia, complete paraplegia, MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities), low kidney function as a reminder of my chemo days, asthma that can rapidly spike to a level of it being hard to communicate secondary to a variety of triggers from my MCS, and a problem that to this day no one has the answers to. It comes on with minimal notice and can affect me in a myriad of ways- feeling like blood sugar is crashing or I'm going to pass out without typical treatments of such bearing any changes on the sensation, vertigo, loss of where I am in space, episodes of complete deafness and at the least greater level of blindness, confusion of how I got where I am- like being in a daydream but not having any daydream of thoughts to cause it. Its believed its linked to the cause of my blindness and to the cause of the further deterioration of my deafness but not the initial cause of that condition. I've accepted that possibility since it is viral in nature and the cause of my GI system roller coaster ride.

My disabilities have several causes working together from birth or shortly thereafter to accident causation to disease. The mere fact that I am alive is a testament to my tenacity and stubbornness but at the same time that survival is a factor in the progressive nature of some of my disabilities and even the causation of others.

The month of May has been MCS awareness month. You'd think I would be shouting out about it every day. Instead I sat back and let others do the shouting such as my dear friend Sharon at After Gadget blog. Its stupid I know, but I feel like it takes all the spoons I can muster to live my life with MCS- I'm not going to focus on it in the one place I really have to escape from the trappings of my disabilities and diseases. So there you have it- call it what you will- denial, anger, escape- I just don't want myself to be thought of as the woman with all these diseases and disabilities that it seems too unbelievable to be true that someone like her/ like me can function as independently as I do amidst all this crap that quite frankly, SUCKS!

This is just a fraction- a bit more about what I deal with- but you really can't even begin to fathom what all of this does to one- the amount of energy it takes to do the things I must to live my life. For instance I am severely impacted by smoke, lawn mowing (for up to a week after its been cut), amongst other things. Yesterday the new and very inconsiderate neighbor across the street spent nearly six hours open burning in the field across the way. My lungs are screaming, my voice volume is so low that at times Thane can not hear me and frankly I feel so weak and out of it unable to find my place in space easily if I change position. To say I feel like HELL is an understatement. This is just a really minute piece of what I deal with. If this was not bad enough, mowing has begun both across the street and at the complex I live in. I did other things today that used way more spoons than I had to give, but necessary things nonetheless.

I felt the need to share these aspects before I entered into the real theme of what I am wanting to convey in this post- that of working differently with ones service animal as life's twists and turns bombard you. See some people ask me when I train various skills if they are things I really need or if I am training them to keep Thane's mind stimulated and his stress level from life in an apartment in an area of the country where someone forgot to tell the sky that we should be in summer weather now.

Reality is that some of the skills are only needed on occasion and that some of them are not things that I presently need. I know from experience living in my body though that every day brings with it differences from the previous day or from the next day- surprises essentially. I never know just what I am going to be like before or even after I pull my paralyzed frame out of bed each day.

Today was one of those bad days where so much was wrong, yet with my redhead here, I achieved much. I have not been able to use my tilt for over a week now because the placement of my skin issue from the close call we had over a week ago is such that excessive pressure is placed on it if I tilt. This brings with it extra spasticity and pain as well as more difficulty breathing even without a trigger to my lung function because not only can't I tilt but I can't use positioning belts and harnesses because they too force too much pressure on my skin. Even my digestion has been affected negatively by not being able to use these things. As a result, I must work with my service dog in very different ways. Had I stopped his training, target practice, and not trained the fun for all type tasks into our routine- the errand we ran today never would have been possible.

With extra spasticity comes a need for my dog to ignore sudden thrusts of the harness handle. It also means that he has to be gentler in his approaches with me that require close contact as well as accepting my bouncing leg when he does the paws command or my hands that might accidentally hit him when I reach out to stroke his head. He has to adapt to my functional changes which includes working differently with me in order to get his harness and coat on and off of him- using paws command instead of standing, as well as frequent adjustments and *how high* with each front paw so that various straps can be positioned in just the perfect place. This is not near as easy as it may sound.

With decreased lung function and a gas mask, it also means that my service dog can not hear me make vocal commands. We have spent the last 6-8 months working some key commands in ASL and/ or home sign just for such occurrences. Though his focus and comprehension is still a work in progress with this approach, we can communicate if we take it slow for tasks related to harness work. Foundation and Obedience commands, we are quite a team with.

Today I was a bit disoriented- meaning I wasn't really sure about distances we'd travel and where we were at along that route. That could be dangerous for a deafblind individual. Thane seems to have a sense of how I am doing. On days when I am really lost like this, he seems to get that *goofing off* just isn't OK. Now when I say goofing off, its more little innuendos of harness pull and speed as well as stubbornness about which route we are going to take. In case you are reading this and do not understand the complexities of working a guide dog- harness pull is not the same thing as pulling on lead. Its an important aspect in the work a guide dog performs. A post on this topic is in the works.

Thane spent much of the day realizing I needed just a bit more today- a bit more involvement in household tasks, a bit more involvement in how I play with him, a bit more patience in how much I interacted, a bit more patience with me in realms of errors on my part in communication.

He's a tough and smart little cookie. Without Thane in my life and trained as much as he is (that training is so far from over) I really would not be living the independent life I am today. I would be forced to deal with evaluations for care workers by a worker who doesn't consider my MCS when it comes to her *bathing in everything scented* approach to her own personal care. Basically my disability would make her make changes that frankly she aint going to do. Yes that violates my rights but since I prefer my independent life and could never get workers in our area to comply with whats necessary for life with MCS, I choose not to spend my spoons educating and/ or fighting with a system that is more broke than anyone could fathom. My care worker is my wonderful little redhead smile I hate to think where I would be without this little guy curled up at my feet.

What kind of day will tomorrow bring with it? Will I wake up invigorated or will it be another day to lay at the foot of my bed watching JAG or maybe 4400 re-runs from tapes I made over the years, while telling Thane how sorry I am about not taking him for a walk or to town. Only tomorrow morning will tell that tale.


Thane and I hit the road this morning. It was our first outing in over a week- the first one since nearly getting hit. I kept him in his old harness but discovered his rain coat can be used with it- YEAH!

We had a nice long walk to the bus. Thane's pull in harness for the most part was perfect which I really liked seeing. He did not appear sound reactive which was a surprise to me after he was home in solitude for so long. I opted to use my guide cane for boarding and de-boarding on the buses to keep pressure off of Thane's chest and belly areas which the steep ramp climb would cause. The drivers were good ones who are always patient with me so it worked out well.

Thane really was working great. Neither of us had even a bobble on the crossing that caused our skin issues last week. Thane's work in the store was pretty right on also. It was a bit busy in the produce department but it appeared to not be a day filled with senior citizens who couldn't get out of the way if a freight train were barreling down on them. I hate that kind of situation as there is not a lot of room in that area for us to navigate- and people would rather gaze at my dog, talk to my dog or expect me to just jump over them than move. They have just as much right to be there as us- its just we can't shop well in that situation so I was relieved when today was better.

By the time we checked out and were heading back to the max, I was really feeling it. I can't use the tilt right now so the pain that it diminishes had to just stay- added to that pain though was the pain from sitting on skin that wasn't really ready to be sat on- at least not in the position I am forced to sit in for transportation and working with Thane.

I was glad when we got the max, then the bus and then especially when our stop came up. We were almost home and I could go back to sitting screwy so my skin could get a break.

I am especially glad to have all the new produce though. I'd been without smoothies for two days and I was feeling the ramifications. Our trip there a week ago was not a full shopping. I did not realize it was going to be the last trip we took in over a week- had I realized that, I definitely would have bought more. Of course no one plans to almost get creamed by an idiot either grin

Back home- while Thane snoozed produce was sorted, meat was split up for meals to get Thane through until pay day, and a smoothie was made- AHHHHH smoothies never tasted or felt so good!

The Day From Hell

Yesterday started out alright other than the fact that my skin was in rash mode from the multiple reactions to treatment to heal it. I spent most the day laying on my bed shagging toys to Thane while watching JAG re-runs I had taped in years past.

Thankfully I let Thane go busy around noon though as the new neighbor across the way decided he was once again going to take advantage of our towns stupid policy for open burning. If I had known open burning was allowed here when I moved out of California- it never would have happened! ANYWAY I digressed a bit there. This guy is forever mowing, weed wacking, sawing, go-carting, or yes, burning.

Most people who burn do so for maybe 1-2 hours tops but not this guy. Every weekend he ruins one of the days (which also ruins at a minimum the following day for me) and burns for a minimum of 3 hours. Yesterday however he burned for almost 6 hours! I could not open my doors, I could not get my mail from our unsecure mailbox, I could not take Thane busy or change his potty station. We were literally imprisoned in our apartment while he destroyed the environment, air quality, and drove my irritation at him well beyond a good place.

Thane was busting to go busy at 5PM. I pulled out one of the disposable underpads that goes on patio park under his turf and tried to convince him to pee indoors NOT A CHANCE! I trained my dog too well for that one. When I laid the pad down on the floor, he went to it and laid down as if to say- ahhh a new mat huh mom? giggle

Finally I had no choice but to open the door, as every time the fire started calming down, it erupted again so he had to have kept putting more on it. Thane had to go busy. I could not cause him to have an infection just because the fire would make me sick. I put on my mask and let him out to use the dirt. I hated doing this because giardia is rampant in our area this time of year. He has had it every year which is why I trained him to the potty station in the first place. So far this year he has not had it. This was the last thing I wanted to do but I certainly could not sit with the door open letting all that smoke in here while I uncovered and re-covered his potty station. Thane was so relieved when I sent him out to potty. He peed what seemed like forever. His bladder must have been ready to burst.

When I finally was able to change patio park, I left Thane home. I knew the air would be really bad. I was not going to ask him to work in those conditions. Sometimes a service dog team has to make the right choice based on whats right for the dog even if it means the task will be much more difficult. I grabbed my cane and took out the garbage, collected my junk mail, and hurried back inside as quickly as I could. I could smell the smoke through my gas mask- not a good thing for my lungs at all. I tried to imagine how bad it must be out there if I was smelling it through a gas mask. Shudders!

I did use patio park when I took Thane out the final time around 9. He seemed to pee forever again. The smoke in here was bad but we were going to bed soon so I vinegar sprayed and off we went to the bedroom for our last play session and then bed.

This morning I had forgotten about it until I took off my mask after taking Thane busy- ARG! The clouds had come in and held all the smoke down here- it was nasty. All this to save on a trip to the dump or money to the garbage company I guess. I can't imagine that what was going on was all legal burning. I know people DO burn illegal stuff here- I just recently learned that its not for regular trash and I KNOW people do that anyway.

I hate when people who think only of themselves ruin my ability to breath easily like this. If what he has been doing lately is any idea of what the season is going to be like, I just may have to seriously start considering a move to a city that bans this. I would hate to do that as that requires living in a big city but as bad as chimney smoke is, at least its filtered where this crap is right in my backyard practically!

Anyway- back to more re-runs, play and listening to my skin that is seriously yelling at me after I took a trip to New Seasons today. Boy those smoothies are nice to have back in my diet with all the good nutrients- I was feeling so drained without them.

28 May 2011

We Didn't Get Off So Easy

I should be used to this by now. I have spent more of my life in a wheelchair than I did on my feet. I have sporadic sensation at best. I knew Thane took a really hard brunt of that very hard traffic check a week ago. I was very sore and can't stop re-playing that film in my mind- you know the kind that hits when you have had such a very close call. Thankfully it has not robbed me of sleep which my body really needs.

I have been so sore in places I did not even realize I could still feel, but that was to be expected- at least in my mind. What never dawned on me until two days after the incident is that just like Thane, my skin had bore the brunt of that experience- being thrust back like I was by Thane's movement followed by my rapid reverse on the joystick sheared my skin. I have spent the past week in my apartment only leaving it to dump the trash and get the mail- at which point I felt the pain of the required upright positioning the entire time. It figures that where my skin got sheered just happens to be one of those rare places I do have skin sensation in! ARG

So this past week, Thane and I spent our time indoors- I did a lot of laying on the bed watching old TV shows on RTV- you know ones I remember from days when I was sighted, not blind and was just HOH instead of Deaf.

I have gained a new appreciation for this *bust out of the starting block* redhead that I am partnered with- the kind of appreciation that comes when you realize their fast response time (which is much faster than most guides) is the reason why they were not instantly retired from injury or worse.

You really got to hand it to the street crews who put the safety of pedestrians first (NOT) when selecting how they run the signal lights. I tell you, this experience has made me re-think some of the crossings we have used as we try and create variety in our life. Frankly I can think of at least six that will NEVER be used again.

Some people think I am just being paranoid, but when you endure such a close call as we did and have your teamwork put on hold in such a manner because the two of you are injured in the process of your guide doing his job- well it just changes your perspective about what is and is not safe to be doing.

We have no choice about using that same signal light that this close call happened on. There just is no other way to get to point B without using this crossing. I will admit, the first time we use it and probably for sometime, I will have to work really hard at not tensing up as we do the last half of that crossing.

My skin won't be well for some time. Its not as simple as what others who are confined to chairs deal with when their skin breaks down. Being an individual with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities), each element of care is so much bigger of an issue. For years, my recourse in wound healing has been Neosporin. It was the one and only ointment I could still use- that is until now. I never would have thought I would become this allergic to the ONLY thing I could use in infection prevention. When I realized I had broken out in hives all around the skin breakdown, I knew what had seemed like an easy *heal in a week* skin problem, had other plans for me. Lets just say that this IS NOT how I planned on spending my Memorial Day weekend.

It could be worse, I know that. Thane could have been hit and I could be dealing with that. Instead I have had the time to enjoy Thane for who he is- tell him every day just how grateful I am for him being at my side and on such high alert as we encountered that danger.

Instead of worse, I spent this past week adding two supplements to Thane's regimen which are making a lot of positive changes for him. His coat is getting soft again thanks to the flax oil which he does tolerate (unlike all the other oils including fish, olive, and coconut) and his high drive, bouncing off the wall, unable to focus self that returned when Pet GO failed due to constipating effects, has been tucked back away through the use of supplemental Taurine. He is calm, rarely considers chewing on himself any more and when he does its more like that quick itch. He chooses to snooze or play alone when I am unable to play rather than nagging me all day long with his toys. Don't get me wrong, he is still my silly redhead who remains ball obsessed- he just is able to contain himself when I am not able to play or interact as well.

I don't know when both Thane and I will be completely back to normal. Presently his original harness that is designed a bit differently is meeting our needs by using the add on loops. We are only working on the complex grounds but that has to change soon as I am going stir crazy! His skin has gotten a good break from any tension across where it was sheered though which is a good thing. He sure was glad when I started letting him help me on the grounds again- and frankly, I was barely making it with the cane those couple days he could not help.

I wonder what that IDIOT would think, if he knew what pain and suffering his impatience and speed had caused us.

21 May 2011

Fragility of Life

Sadness swept over the Pawpower household yesterday when Rudy a wonderful and beautiful golden guide who was so full of life and energy passed away unexpectedly at just seven years of age. My heart and thoughts go out to them all. As an individual who has lost a service dog, I know just how hard the days, weeks, and months ahead will be- not just for his handler and wife, but for the pawpack as well. For me, it was different though. I got the chance to say my goodbyes the way I needed to. I can't imagine it any other way.

I'm going to keep this short and let this blog entry, All About Rudy,  tell you just how special he was. The first part sounds like they are talking about Thane- the silly man who thinks he should plot the course.

Hard Traffic Check

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the Pacific Northwest. In my town the temperature got to 77 degrees! It was positively gorgeous- a wonderful day for a pleasurable outing.

Thane and I got started a bit later than I had planned to. Having had to stop the Pet GO for medical reasons, Thane was working alright with a few reminders. We caught the bus to the max and hit the nature trail. It was beautiful. We truly enjoyed ourselves there. We made a quick stop at New Seasons along the route home where we encountered one of those people behind the wheel that make every guide dog handler grateful for the training their guide has. We came about as close to roadkill as we ever have in our training and partnership.

Thane did the most awesome traffic check! True to his training he assured that I was able to stop and he was able to block me without  getting run over. To accomplish this however required some significant torque with the handle and harness. I could care less that it popped a joint in the handle as I always carry a spare one. The sadness to me is the result to Thane's skin while he was so busy saving my hiney from *Mr Hell on Wheels, laws don't apply today because the sun came out* Where are the cops when you need them.

I was rattled a bit. Thane's work was different too. I did not realize until we were waiting for the max that Thane's skin had been impacted by that incident. We took the transit center stop so he did not have to guide me that far for the bus. From there I leash guided on and used my cane to get off the bus. He guided me home alright but we used the shortcut path.

He will be in a different harness for a while giving his skin a chance to heal. There's a time for goofing off and a time for being serious. Behind the wheel is definitely not when its time to goof off. Thane is paying for someones error in judgment.

It could have been worse though- one of us could have been injured by the car or killed. I'm grateful for Thane's quick action.

Today we stay home allowing his skin and my nerves some well needed rest.

13 May 2011

What Are They Thinking?

Thane and I travel our tri-county area using fixed route bus and max primarily because it gives me the independence and ease of leaving the vehicles should I get flared by my MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). By using fixed route, we can also decide to do things spur of the moment or weather dependent.

During nice weather, max can be problematic. There is no one in the cars themselves to police individuals who take it upon themselves to take their pet Fido along. Though some of these dogs are well behaved most are far from that. Pets and dogs trained solely in tasks forgetting about temperament and foundation training, makes our ease of uninterfered work and access tenuous at best. The truth is that at least three-quarters of the dogs we encounter on max are not service animals nor service animals in training. Their owners bring them on using flexi leads that they do not lock at a 6 foot or less length and at the least offence, I am hampered so that I almost miss my stop. In many situations I miss my stop and encounter owners who won't get their dogs out of our way. To say this kind of thing is old is an understatement.  The bottom line is that every single one of these folks are committing fraud. The guidelines are specific that access is given to individuals with disabilities accompanied by service dogs or service dogs in training.

Trimet in their infinite wisdom is waiting on the Department of Transportation to determine if and when they will implement the new ADA changes, but regardless of this, the situations I note above still do not qualify for this access.

It gets better (read sarcasm here). Trimet once again has decided that my life is not difficult enough dealing with the untrained dogs I have to deal with anytime someone decides to take their pet for a ride. For at least the second year, Trimet has opened up the max line to those individuals with pets participating in the Doggy Dash. Now granted, Doggy Dash may be for a good cause but the truth of the matter is here that they could not police these people so they joined them. They have made it quite clear that individuals with disabilities partnered with service animals are their last concern. You would think after the toy breed dogs death on a bus a few years ago that they would get just how quickly an incident can happen.

There are guidelines for those travelling but I definitely DO NOT like them nor do I think they are defined well enough or strict enough. They must use the second car of the train. Individuals in wheelchairs can only use one car on the older trains and more times than not, you got it, it is the second car. They state nothing about them having to wait for the next train if there are service animals aboard something that I feel should be stated. They say they must be leashed but give me a break to the general public a leash is a flexi lead that the dog can easily interfere with a working dogs job. They say that either a muzzle or head halter must be used. Now do you really think everyone is going to muzzle their dog in an unpoliced max car? Give me a break already! There is minimal time as it is for the disabled to de-board when the pet dogs we encounter now are there interfering with us often making us miss our stop and Trimet is now inviting these folks to add fuel to the fire!  What makes it even worse is the day its happening is the last good weather day here for at least a week maybe longer unless the forecast changes and YES we had plans that require the use of max. Now I am really debating the pros and cons here tonight for this trip.

Trimet says they must be completed with their trip by 2PM but I saw it last year and I will see it again this year, following the completion of Doggy Dash there is ALWAYS a big upswing in those taking Fido on the max for as long as they get away with it.  Where are the ticket checkers policing the cars when you most need them?

I wrote to Trimet this time. After an incident that happened today on the max, I was not going to keep quiet about their lack of concern for the safety of passengers with disabilities partnered with service animals. Today Thane and I were riding max. An individual boarded with Fido on a flexi lead. I did not know it at the time. She sat in disabled seating. When it came time for us to de It was most definitely a pet. And to think that Trimet is openly inviting this sort of travel by owners of pet dogs, putting our safety at risk and as a result violating our rights as people with disabilities partnered with service animals for safe travel as we need it- not around their stupidity. They think all these pet owners are going to leave Fido at home when the Doggy Dash has concluded- think again! This is INSANE!

09 May 2011

Who Is This Dog?

Thane has been transformed! The easiest way to describe it from what I can now see in hindsite is that he was wound tight as a top before. I imagine many Border Collies are that way, but without seeing him calm in this transformation, I could not see that this was the problem plaguing us as a team- plaguing the partnership and even recently making me wonder if retirement might not be a bad thing.

The change- this calming of my lil' redhead came about over a period of three days. You see, recently, after much research on a recommended supplement, I purchased the Pet-Go multi-glandular by My Pets Friend for an addition to Thane's diet. I read a lot of great stuff on this particular manufacturer's glandulars including how it can make a prey model diet more rounded by adding the glands that one would ordinarily have available in the eating of prey in the wild. For those whose immune-systems are over-active these can be an awesome answer to relief. Here's a great piece Glandular Supplements and Glandular Therapy Though I purchased Thane's elsewhere, that short piece gave me awesome answers- especially to the quick fix to his recent histamine reaction from a supplement the eye vet prescribed.

When I received the purchase, drop-shipped from the manufacturer as they all seem to do, it was so heinously toxic to my MCS that I had to glove up, put on my gas mask, go outside and dump the contents of the supplement into a small canning jar at which point I immediately disposed of everything in the dumpster and recycling! It was horrible, but I figured I would let him have them this time and just not order again.

Of course after such a magnificent transformation, my thoughts have greatly changed about it. Now instead of not buying it again, my viewpoint is to buy it in bulk and get it during the drier weather so that I can handle all the *hassles* of re-packaging more easily thus enabling Thane to continue receiving this wonderful addition to his diet. Afterall, how could I turn my back on something that gave him so much that he was able to work so calmly, even paced for my actual needs, focused on the task at hand rather than trying to race through life like a freight train? How could I turn my back on how he walked with ease on the slippery tile floor instead of looking like he was trying to walk on ice wearing boots? How could I turn my back on a new-found patience as I rumbled around the produce department feeling all these new found pleasures before making up my mind which ones I'd like to bring home with us- all the while Thane just taking it in stride. The answer to all of this is that I can not turn my back on it- not on any of it because by giving Thane what he needs, he is much better able now to give me what I need. It only took me- ohhh 3 1/2 years to realize it. So I'm a little slow on the uptake eh? Thankfully I'm working and living with a very forgivable redhead.

07 May 2011

More on Thane's Eyes

I have made the decision to get a second opinion on Thane's eyes- probably during the summer when the weather is more predictable for longer trips.

I'm just not comfortable with an eye specialist who does not even dilate eyes to evaluate the retina for genetic diseases like PRA and existing symptoms that could point to some form of retina involvement.

I know from friends experiences with their service and guide dogs, as well as my own eye health, that early diagnosis can be the difference between saving eyesight and thus a partnership and retirement.

After further research on Niacinamide, following return of allergy and gut issues, and some severely cautious, resistant and stubborn effects in work from Thane that something more than a heavy workload for the week was at play. I did not get full disclosure of any side effects to look for, nor ingredients in the tablets they wanted him having at the minimum for three months and at the outset were wanting him taking them for life.

What I discovered (thank you Medline) was that this supplement increases the release of histamine and can be problematic for some with gastrointestinal issues. There were other things as well that just told me that this is not the answer for him. I had already decided that I was not going to pursue this further until I spoke with his regular veterinarian who is much better about thinking about his special needs.

There are other supplements that are beneficial for eye health including the reduction of cataracts and nourishment to retinal health. One of them- Taurine, I am quite familiar with, after having used it with my previous service dog in part of his regimen for seizure control. Perhaps that's why he never got cataracts that we so commonly see in our senior dogs.

Even if I were comfortable with this eye specialists care for Thane, their obvious structural ADA violation on wheelchair access is not something I am comfortable with continuing to pursue. It was difficult last year when I had a lot more vision than I now have, but even with them opening the door for us, that open edge on the porch being so close to our position for wheeling just is not worth chances. Yes, they should be made to rectify this under the ADA, but I personally do not have what it takes to work with them and the ADA to make this happen.

In the meantime, I will watch for any worsening of the symptoms I have been noting over the last 4-6 months with Thane. I will invest in a pair of doggles and train him to accept them as well. This way when his eyes are dilated, a long trip home will not be problematic for us.

One of the biggest things though that I plan on doing is to appreciate Thane more for what he does for me, realizing there may be a day when his eyes just can no longer be my eyes to the world.

05 May 2011

Thane's Eyes

Today Thane and I took our trip to the Ophthamologist. Though owner trained dogs do not qualify for the free care being offered to program dogs, its still a very important part of a guide dogs veterinary care.

When we got near the clinic, Thane began to act up some. It was frustrating. The setup is honestly quite unsafe. They have a long ramp that comes up along the side of the transformed house, but when you get to the top of the porch there is minimal leeway and no railing of any sort. Frankly it surprises me that they get away with this under the ADA. It truly is an accident waiting to happen. Thankfully when we were at that point, Thane settled just long enough to assure I safely got inside.

I will admit I was nervous and a bit hyper myself. I had forgotten my hearing aids at home which made communication that much harder also. As soon as the receptionist came to ascertain if anything changed- my address, vet in use, etc Thane jumped on her. Definitely not a good start. They have hard wood floors and he was walking on his nails as though it were ice. Why do some dogs have that problem and others do not- ughhhh

We settled down for a long wait as they were running behind schedule. Thane was excellent- laid down and stayed there unless I asked him to move or when he let me know they had come for us. Good Boy!

I was a bit miffed when the vet started to feed treats without even asking. I realized what she was doing before he got it thankfully as Thane was doing the really poised sit I do with him when I am giving *free* treats. I think its very wrong for a veterinarian to do something like that without asking first- especially with a working dog. Many dogs now have severe allergies way beyond what Thane has. I kept thinking about if she had done that to my folks dogs. I did give her a few of his own treats that he could have but still found it really unsettling that she would not ask first. I guess I need to work somehow on teaching him to only take food from me to avoid such a scenario again.

His exam went alright except he kept wanting to lay down with her like his regular vet does to examine him in a more relaxed, easy going manner- its a matter of habit and what he has come to expect rather than misbehavior though.

Thane is free of PRA which was the last genetic eye disease we were needing to clear him of. That said, there may still be visual changes going on with the retina that are not presently detectable through retinal examination based on symptoms and situations that occur that seem to point to this type of disturbance. She prescribed Niacin Vitamin B3 for him. She said this often helps dogs exhibiting his symptoms. I find it a bit odd for him to need more B3 with a raw diet but I will give it a try.

Thane's IOP (intra-ocular pressure) in his right eye has increased a bit. That is disconcerting. He is up to 15. She gets concerned at 20. He was 13 last year. His other eye, however, was 16 last year and fell to 10. His right eye is also the eye that he has been rubbing at. From what I quickly read, rubbing eyes is not considered related to glaucoma but I know when my eyes were so badly affected by the natural ammonia last fall they felt like they were ready to burst. I wanted to rub them, but doing so just made it all that much worse. I've got common sense though to stop doing what makes something worse. Grin  My pressure was pretty high when that was going on, but has since come back down.

I am trying to look at all of this with optimism, but its a bit hard to do that at the moment. Give me a few days, when I've had time to digest it all and hopefully my optimism will have returned.

01 May 2011

Saving Lives or Harming Them for the Long-Haul

After my first partnership was limited at best by severe vaccinosis, I don't hesitate to speak my mind with people- especially those who are completely oblivious and believe that vets would not administer vaccines if they were not safe. My partnership with Met and even the early part of my partnership with Thane prove otherwise.

I've read countless articles, books, and anything I could get my hands on over the years as I worked on changing my own mindset about vaccines. That is that they do far more harm than good for both people and our animals. I honestly would rather lose my dog from one of the diseases that we are indoctrinated to vaccinate against rather than to have them go through a decade of torture before the vaccines finally make it impossible to rally back.

Today on a vaccine list, I read a link that had been shared for an amazing article, The Purdue Vaccination Studies and Auto-Antibodies by Catherine O'Driscoll author of  the books, What Vets Don't Tell You About Vaccines and Shock to the System (both superb books and for my print disabled followers both are available on bookshare). If everyone could take this data to heart, shout it from the rooftops, stand up to vets who continue to do booster vaccines- or better yet to those who want to vaccinate their healthy puppy in the first place, life for our dogs could be so different.

My gut feeling is that after reading this article, if you aren't ready to do away with vaccines (and change your current vet if need be), then to me it feels like you are saying *First Do Harm* instead of *First Do No Harm*. I learned the hard way just how harmful vaccines can be when I watched my beautiful service dog fade away after booster vaccinations. I can't go through that again- nor will I. The lesson plan took- I learned exactly what I needed to through Chimette's journey. I hope you don't ever have to walk a journey like that.