29 June 2011

My Life as a Deafblind Individual

This week, as it turns out, is Deafblind Awareness Week. This was news to me. I decided I would write my thoughts about what it means to me to be deafblind.

There are many variations of deafblindness. Some people are totally deaf and totally blind. That said, that form of deafblindness is rare. Many like myself who are deafblind have some sight and hearing remaining, but can't decipher what they are seeing or hearing or can't do so without much concentration.

I live a secluded deafblind life. I don't have friends IRL who are deafblind because of my MCS and where I live. There is not a large deaf or deafblind community here- so culturally I am like anyone of you. I just have to work hard to fit into a world that functions to high degrees on sight and hearing senses.

I miss the deaf community experiences I had in California. It never donned on me just how much I was leaving behind when I packed up Met and my belongings and headed off to Oregon where I've left that culture behind and have had to live like a hearing sighted person to fit in- especially into family. It hasn't been easy but I have adjusted.

So what's my life like anyway?

I am profoundly deaf. I can make out what some people say as long as they face me, have no accent or speech impediment, and there is no background noise. I can wear hearing aids for the essentials, but due to EMF sensitivity, the consequences of doing this can be high for me; thus I opt against wearing them for anything that I can get by with my guide dogs sense of sound for. Sometimes its great being deaf because I can tune out things that others find really annoying. Other times, sounds that I can hear, send me over my rocker if you know what I mean- like fireworks (but those I hear minimally at best now thankfully!) Progressive deafness has its moments of being a blessing and then moments when it feels like a curse. Most times, I like my quiet- perhaps because I have lived at this level for so many years of my life.

My eye disease is not common, but has the impact of a distorted jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. The pieces I do make out, I have no idea what they really are, how close to me they are, or how far to the right or left they may be. By all measures of functionality, what I do see, does me no good.Its been harder to adjust to my blindness then to my deafness- perhaps because my blindness came later and ended many enjoyable past times, took away my ability to see pictures, and almost took away every hobby I had since my MCS (but not quite)

I don't sit at home and twiddle my thumbs though. grin  Instead I live my life independently. I ride the fixed route bus and max trains, go to the store, to the bank, to the Drs, to the Veterinarians, to take leisure walks, to experience new routes in new locals. I am like anyone else except I just need to use a tactile mobility aid to judge traffic, braille compass to judge directions, and my guide dog to navigate the path we need to take- and yes, every once in a while save me from people who drive carelessly, or who interfere as we are walking down the sidewalk or trying to cross a street because they want to know all about my dog or tell me how they have one just like him at home.

This life I live certainly isn't the one I envisioned when I graduated from highschool, but its a good life. When I am not out in the community, I am home resting, training my dog, doing laundry, cleaning my home, making my meals, sewing new gear for my guide dog or clothes for myself, or best of all- playing with Thane. Playing ball is Thane's most favorite past time thing to do.

In my dreams I would be able to find an ASL teacher to help me learn tactile ASL so I could understand more easily what is being said at appointments, but with MCS that is not in the cards. Before MCS, before service dogs were in my life, before I was legally blind, I had taken two semesters of ASL. I was able to benefit from it in classes but with my visual impairment my comprehension level from a distance was minimal. As a result of this difficulty, I preferred the captioning method.

I don't know what the future holds for me with my progressive dual sensory losses- whatever it entails though, I am sure I will figure a way to continue to live my life in independent fashion- cuz afterall I hate waiting for people to do things for me. I am an independent deafblind gal who just loves to live my life without having to lean on others. I guess its just who I am. grin

26 June 2011

Lyme Disease Strikes Thane

Thane was to be my healthy successor dog to Met- the dog who taught me about everything! We have gone through ups and downs since I got him with his health, but nothing substantially life changing like I dealt with in Met. None of the problems for Thane became too serious because of my knowledge from Met (thank you my angel boy) and the good vet we have on his case.

From a rabies vaccine reaction, to ear infections, to giardia, to fluctuating and changing symptomology of various body systems including a time where it seemed thyroid disease was a part of the plan for us (which it was not)- now the truth has come out to show its ugly self and frankly I don't think its too funny to wait until we finally have beautiful summer weather to do that!

Thane has tested positive for Lyme or actually for the bacterium that causes what we know to be Lyme disease. Before anyone says this happens to dogs who were vaccinated for Lyme disease, Thane NEVER was. Beyond that, I KNOW exactly when Thane was infected.

Though it has been a little over two years since he was infected, I am still hopeful that we have caught it early enough that treatment will be simple for us and not do any sort of damage to his gut issues with the long term need he will have to be on the meds.

I am nervous about this, but hopeful too.

I have to thank Sharon at AfterGadget blog for all her publicity on Lyme disease and the encouragement to pursue regular testing on a dog whose history of Lyme infection was thought to be negligible. Without her, I would NEVER know what was really wrong with my boy. I look forward to meeting the REAL Thane.

For those who think it still can't happen to them or their dog because of the stereotypical views held in the medical and veterinary communities, think again. Thane and I live in NW Oregon about as far from the NE as one could get and still be in the USA. If it can happen to us, it can happen to you!  

Tune in for further updates, as treatment is discussed, pursued, and life moves on as a team once more all thanks to a friend and her own journey on the NE coast.

18 June 2011

Our Chaotic Life--- So What Else is New?!

Life's been very chaotic in our neck of the woods. From shopping for both of us, preparing and freezing extra berries for winter time, and dealing with Lowe's over my freezer arrival (lets just say I won't be shopping with them again), life has been anything but ordinary.

I continue to stick with my newfound way of life that's making me feel so much healthier than I ever felt on a meat based, junk food diet. It won't take my MCS away. What it does do however is make it easier for my body to eliminate toxicity from exposure because I am not also loading it down with toxicity form the food I eat. As nice side effects of this change, I have lost weight and no longer have any cravings in afternoon or evening.

These changes, have also led to my ability to do more with Thane. Be it working, playing, or training. Its just that when I feel better, I can do more because I have the patience and/ or stamina to pull it off. Don't get me wrong, I still have to structure my life so I don't overdo or over-expose myself, but I guess what I am trying to say is that when we are working, playing, or training I feel more enjoyment in it.

Thane and I are regulars now at New Seasons where I go for my organic diet needs as well as for some of his diet. The route we take there each week, takes us back to the spot where Thane's traffic checking skill was more than appreciated- back to the spot where an idiot nearly ran us down and then sped off as though he had not a care in the world. I was sure I would be apprehensive going back there. I even contemplated other routes we could take, but the sidewalk on the other side of the street is in such disrepair until we get much closer to the store.

I went with it and Thane did too. He showed no apprehension but was more intently focused as though that experience had changed him. I try and get something special there for his diet each time we go that he really enjoys- sorta my way of saying thank you for keeping me safe. Since he has allergies that extend to foods and is a giardia survivor, this is my way of treating him without disrupting his balance. Smile

Today's plans got thwarted thanks to my MCS, the neighbor across the way who started burning before we even got up, and the weather. After being home yesterday to deal with the freezer arrival, I really wanted to be on the go today. Sometimes in life, its a good thing to be able to adapt to the situation at hand. The trip I had planned was not urgent, but Thane sure could have used the work.

Instead we have played, trained some, took pictures of training, and I have spent time placing orders I forgot to make and only realized after printing a blank sheet of paper- a big whoops on the cartridge end of my order needs!

Hopefully tomorrow will be a better weather day for working Thane and getting the errands completed that have been put on the back burner for the last two days. I'm looking forward to being able to buy things without worrying if it will fit in my itsy refrigerators freezer. If the weather is nice enough, Thane will get to wear his blue harness that I just finished the American style loops for. He looks so cool in this powder blue color.

I sure wish summer would come and really stay! Two jipped summers in a row is not cool!

14 June 2011

Approaching Our Training to Produce Success

I've been trying to keep Thane busier during the days that we stay home. With the longer shopping trips we need to take to get my food needs supplied, I usually don't have it in me to go again the next day- not even for a walk. This is hard on Thane and leads to my BC redhead finding ways of entertaining himself- some destructive (chewing himself) while others annoying (barking) or nagging me to play, play, and play some more.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have gone back to training Thane to put things in a basket. This can be very helpful with laundry since my machine- the Wonder Washer has a small tub basket that the laundry needs to go into. It can also be helpful if I can get him to the point of less ball obsession, for him to pick up his toys before bed. This is something I really miss from my partnership with Met. Just maybe we will get there too. grin

There's been a hiccup in the training process however in that after we conclude, Thane chews on himself some. I am suspecting we could be dealing with treat allergy once again. So far, its been kept to a minimum. I plan to continue, but reduce treat size- see how that goes. I hope it does not make us table training - AGAIN. It seems everytime I am training something with him, this allergy rears its ugly face.

Forget the allergies though. Last night in our session there was just so much fun! We had both baskets out- the little basket we are practicing with which is about the size of a store hand basket for shopping, and the larger basket full of dirty clothes. Thane would grab an item from dirty clothes to bring it to me, I'd say I don't need it, put it in the basket at which point he would plunk it in the little basket.  Back to the big basket he would go for more things. It was too funny when he tried to do my thermal shirt. That thing is almost as big as he is cuz I like them large and comfy. He's not ready for big items yet. Oh he can hold up an arm to me so I can retrieve it, but big items just get in the way of doggie feet ya know! LOL

I had put a bunch of little things on the top of the large basket to work with. Thane had other things on his mind though- afterall when a BC makes up their mind to do something a particular way, its quite a task to change that mind! Thane went for that shirt at least three times before I finally put it up so we could ummm make progress. Many trainers would probably have taken the time to just train with it since that was what he was choosing, but I want to think this through more thoroughly. Thane is not a really good free shaper. Often times I wind up asking for help on lists and then realizing that I have to look at things from the way Thane learns- until I figure out in my own head how to teach him to do all of something so big, I've learned its best not to tackle it because I get frustrated- he gets frustrated and it sours the training process of the task altogether.

So for now, we practice with what I call *the littles*. I love seeing Thane get so into what we are doing- his ears all bouncy, eyes probably shining bright- he just really digs new things when I get my head around how to approach the training so he will try things out and succeed.

11 June 2011

Clicker Matched with Full Communication Equals Success!

Today we stayed home. I needed the down time for continued skin healing. I decided to do something different with Thane. There are some tasks that we are way behind where I was with Met based on age. Its OK- I've had other priorities as I train, not to mention this time around I started out with problems that I did not have when I first began training Met.

I have wanted to train Thane to put items in a basket. Though we started trying to train this in the late fall, the concept just was not there for Thane. I got a bit frustrated with myself for not knowing how to approach it differently for him. With Met, it was easy. I just sat over his toy basket with a toy. It did not take long for him to grasp that what got the reward was dropping the item in the basket.

For Thane, toys can be a hindrance in training. During my period of grief following Met's passing, I spent a lot of hours teaching Thane to play and eventually turning his play into obsession unfortunately. Though there are strategies to lessen this drive with his balls especially, I've realized that perhaps the better approach for Thane is to teach him to drop items into the basket that will be common place with this particular task once he gets the concept.

Today, I pulled out the small hand basket I have along with a small wash cloth. I gave Thane the opportunity to see what would get the reward initially. With no click and treat for retrieves, Thane seemed rather perplexed. He tried laying down with the washie- no dice. He tried laying on top of the washie- no dice. He tried sitting proudly with the washie- no dice. Then by accident it dropped into the basket- click and mega jackpot! He tried a few other behaviors that again produced no dice. At this point it seemed the light bulb had gone off- he dropped the washie into the basket- click and jackpot!

Though I realized it could confuse him, I started asking for the washie. He would retrieve it for a click and treat at which point I would drop it on the floor. Once retrieved I would either say thank you or tell him, I don't need that, could you put it in the basket? The initial attempts were accidental I am sure when it landed in the basket, but by the time we ended our session, it was very clear that he was understanding exactly what I was saying and wanting.

There are those who train dogs who believe we need to keep our commands short and precise. I used to be one of those. I have learned a lot through Thane, however, which leads me to believe that he understands what I want so much clearer when I talk to him as though he truly understands what I am saying- giving him normal sentence structure not just that word or two.

When I was attempting this training in the fall, I was using simple one or two word commands- commands that he knows and yet we got very little success. Some would argue that time, my own technique, or any number of things were the reason why progress is being made on this presently- not the fact that I am communicating more clearly with him.

Thane is a very intelligent dog. I have known that from the start. I also know in many ways he may not come off as the smartest apple because of the way in which he learns- a way much differently from his predecessor. This has made me have to really grope for new approaches in which to teach / train. There've been times when I just wanted to throw up my hands and declare myself a failure at reaching him- figuring out how he best learns.

Some dogs are very clicker savvy- they offer numerous types of behaviors until they get the rewards they are after. Other dogs don't make the greatest shapers for behaviors- dogs like Thane where multiple approaches in tandem can bring about the desired outcome.

Today was a demonstration of just this- clicker matched with full communication resulting in a glimpse of understanding from Thane. I am encouraged by what I am seeing. Die-hard clicker trainers may look at what I do and say its just not right. That's OK with me though because those die-hard clicker trainers are not living in my shoes. I have found a way in which Thane really excels and by golly, all that truly matters are the results- the skills that can and do come out of the way in which I train him.

09 June 2011

A Fabulous Day: Work and Weather

Today was great. I felt good from the moment I climbed out of bed. This is a rarity in my world.It was a day to take advantage of. It was cloudy with promise of clearing. The clearing came early as a change from the normal pattern here- leaving behind a glorious day!

Thane got pretty jazzed when he realized we were going to town. A Border Collie just needs to work- especially one with as much drive as Thane has. I was over-dressed per my norm (its hard to get out of the winter layering routine). We took the long walk to the bus. I only had to talk to Thane once about his speed and harness pull. Days like this I cherish. The walk from the max to the store was beautiful and peaceful. I love that walk following the windy sidewalk path amidst the trees and rolling hills of the Intel campus.

I knew just around the bend though was the spot which will forever remind me about the fragility of life.  It will remind me of how awesome Thane was when I needed it. Today though, those were not the thoughts rolling through my head. Today I was thinking about how wonderful a cadence Thane had as we strolled over the hilly sidewalk pathways together. I was thinking about how special things like this are because they are things shared only between Thane and myself; something his predecessor could never have done with his lameness. I was thinking about the good memories I was forming when all of a sudden Thane blocked me.

No worries, just a person who had the belief that a wheelchair could stop on a dime while he blocked our access. Its situations like this though that make me realize just how wonderful it is to have Thane at my side. With a cane, I would never have the luxury of any thoughts beyond the actual navigation of the course I needed to follow. Travelling by cane is stressful, ineffective, and certainly not a mode of travel I ever enjoyed- not with Met and certainly not in the interim between Met and Thane or thereafter.

I returned to my thoughts of Thane and what we have accomplished together for a short duration until Thane let me know we had arrived. Once inside my thoughts went to the items I needed to purchase. I decided to take a new approach with Thane in the store. Thane has pretty much memorized the aisles and locations in aisles where I pick things up. This can be awesome in allowing me to shop a bit more independently, but it also has its drawbacks when I only want a few things or want to skip some aisles entirely. Thane still wants me to go to those spots! ARG!

Today I decided to tell Thane exactly what I wanted next. I often tell him the product names but only after I collect them. What help is it to know where one is headed AFTER the fact? giggle Before I began to use the approach however, Thane had me headed to the granola. It was OK as I needed it. I noticed he was not walking on nails as I talked to him. This was interesting. I have noticed when I forget the Taurine he does this more so, but its also a behavior that the Ophthalmologist equates with retinal changes so its something I've pondered a bit lately since Taurine is also known to provide retinal support.

Placing the granola in the basket, I told Thane, I need beans next. He headed to the end of the aisle, paused for a few people walking by with carts before heading down to the bean aisle with no further direction from me. BOY was this a good idea or what? A staff member was there working on shelving and placing sales notifications on the shelves. He told me my beans were on sale! This was a really grand sale. I was planning to get some but when I heard about this sale- lets just say we cleaned up.

From there we continued on- buffalo for Thane, milk, produce- potatoes to try instead of pasta, my berries were on sale and just came in so were very fresh. It was awesome. This whole walk through the store to gather our food needs and not one comment was needed to *Stay on your feet* which is my signal for Thane to get off his nails and walk normally. The hardest spots are usually the main front aisle and checkouts where floors are often buffed and more slippery but still even in this area, Thane stayed on his feet wonderfully! I was really feeling those excitement goosebumps.

Though it took a while to figure out how exactly I was going to get all this food home, I managed to get organized while Thane patiently waited for me to finish up.

I prefer the back, non-electric door to the front electric doors at this store. The front entrance area is so cluttered with carts, plants, prepared food sales on some days, outside eating tables- well you can only imagine how hard it would be in a power wheelchair with a guide dog trying to navigate there.

We have a system down- we pay for our food and then navigate back into the store to the back door where we can exit without lots of obstacles for a water break in quiet. This is a spot that I can even remove my mask if I am quick about it for my own drink of water and drying of the mask. It makes the trip back to the max-heading for home so much easier as well as keeping Thane off too much grass which is one of his prime seasonal allergens.

There are some curb cuts that have been grated with cross hatches in a weird way. For some reason they are not hard for Thane on the up curb direction, but we have struggled with these curbs from the get-go. Some of these cross hatches are actually on the high curb edge though as opposed to the curb cut. There've been a couple tricky landings as a result. I began working with these through some great insights from my good friend Rox'E at The Doghouse Let the Fur Fly blog. Today, Thane did fantastic! In his approach to get me into the curbcut itself though, he had to follow it up split second by traffic checking me because well--- some people don't know the meaning of a STOP sign. Its not a roll through sign- really it is not! snicker

Though we had been there with plenty of time to spare, the first max collected its ambulatory passengers and took off without us. There is no way he can claim he did not see us. This is not the first time and Thane was hot. I was not happy. Someone pointed out that there was a Trimet utility truck across the tracks so we went and had a talk with him. He tried to call the supervisor but could not get him on the line. I called as soon as I was rested when we came home. Since it only happens at that one stop and only with the new trains, I felt it was time to pull on Trimet's ear a bit to figure out WHY this keeps happening.

The next max went much better thankfully since I was carrying milk and meat (in a cool bag with ice packs but its an hours trip usually extended by the missed train). I prefer a different stop for the bus where only our bus comes to that stop. It is less toxic since fewer people use it, but it also makes it easier for Thane- not having to pop up and alert for every bus. Today though was just too hot for Thane without a way to do icepacks yet. We took the transit center stop and played the pop up, pop down game until the bus that came was ours.

The only part of our day, that was not really great work came when we got off the bus. No matter what I did, I could not get Thane into a slow stance. I tried all the arsenols I have in my bag of tricks except his head halter. I could not believe we did so great all day and the last 150 yards had to be done in a head halter, but thems the breaks. I don't know what the reason was, but once in the head halter, he worked like a champ again. I know there are two parts to this team and the problem may not have just been Thane. Sometimes you just have to manage until you can figure out the *whys*.

I look at this day as a victory day in so many ways that I'm not going to let the last 150 yards be a downer for us. This was a fabulous day that I want to keep alive in my mind.

I am beat, he is beat- but summer is here! Isn't it WONDERFUL!

06 June 2011

Partnership Maintenance- It's Time for a Tune-Up!

Trainers and handlers alike have a big responsibility in the function of their service dog partnership. I've always felt that I was good at this- you know not just at training obedience, skills, and other necessities but at keeping those aspects at optimal levels throughout the year/s.

Recently I have been taking a second and third and fourth look at this team of ours. It has problems I will admit that. I think the biggest thing that impacts our partnership is honestly where we live. Living in rain nine or more months a year, makes it very difficult to take your time as you work. My good friend Sharon at After Gadget blog in her comment reply to me in her post WOOT! Do I Have a Working Dog? said something pertaining to her own situation that stuck with me. She talks about how Barnum had been getting mixed signals in LLW due to other people not having the same requirements of him. I was thinking about the mixed messages and though Thane's work in harness is generally the same year around, I will admit that I am less likely to slow down and work on keeping work at the optimum performance and/ or fixing things that are slipping when its wet and rainy outside.

During wet weather all I want to do is get the errands done as quickly as possible, get inside the dry bus quickly, get inside the max quickly, get inside the store quickly. Are you following the pattern here? LOL Three-quarters of the year, I ask Thane to function in a rushing here, rushing there mode and then when the land dries up and the sky quits dumping its rain, I wonder why I can not get him to slow down! Now its probably not all about the messages I have given to him all year long, but it certainly plays a roll.

In looking at how well we function, not just while Thane is guiding me but in other areas as well, I've come to see areas that we need to address. Some is most definitely from those mixed messages- letting sloppy function slide because I was too tired, too sick, too cold, too miserable in the rain. These things all contribute to the falling apart of teamwork.

Don't get me wrong, our work and partnership are not in jeopardy, but I need to make permanent changes in the *me* end of the partnership to assure that the *Thane* end of it stays in top form. In the process, of getting some of our communication and follow through back to where it should be, I will be working intently on the messages I am giving Thane. Am I myself following through with clarity or am I telling him by my inaction or acceptance of less than stellar form that my commands are mere suggestions.

Thane most definitely still meets criteria for a service dog, but in taking a look at flaws I see (many of which were not there the end of summer) it has also taken me back to see areas that I went through a bit quickly and/ or even may have passed over altogether because at the time I saw no or minimal at most application to my needs from him or that I was so messed up from grief that I skipped things over entirely without even realizing it. Second Dog Syndrome has many features that are easy to miss!

Now I am eager to take a step back- look at the big picture and make a checklist of areas we should work on with whatever summer we get. I am eager to address these areas with clarity for Thane and as a result to hopefully rid all of those mixed messages I've been handing down to him. The hardest aspect won't be in the re-train/ re-vamp process, but it will be months from now when the hard rains return for us to work in again. My hope is that I will be able to remember what I am seeing happen to our partnership now as a result of lowering my expectations because I just wanted to get things done as quickly as possible.

And for the simply curious, right now I'm working on something with him that I never really put much time or effort into other than to assure he understood my request, that of working on the opposite side of me. No, not in harness, but it could be handy for indoor function and tasks as well as transportation- not to mention that its just sort of fun!

So thanks Sharon at After Gadget for helping me to look more intently at my partnership!

04 June 2011

Its the Little Things that Tip the Scale

As a person living with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities), shopping online has set me free to shop independently from my very own living room (often times with much minimal toxicity) There are definitely the good companies that try hard to go the extra mile for me- places like Filters-Now and Purely Pets are the two that I can think of right off the top of my head. Knowing my needs Filters-Now goes above and beyond what most would do- double boxing my filters to protect them from the UPS drivers toxicity. It actually began when someone in the warehouse double boxed things once. From then on, I requested that. Many places will charge out of this world shipping charges if they do fulfil such a need for a client. Not only are they always happy to help in this manner, but what is even better is they do not send me smelly ads or catalogues via snail mail.

Some other awesome companies I deal with are Dr Natura, iherb, and Amazon. None of these companies use toxic packaging (to me) and they also do not send me smelly ads or catalogues.

I have my list of companies I will never shop with again though. These companies not only have been asked on numerous occasions by both snail mail and email to remove me from their mailing lists due to toxic mailings and the fact that being blind I can not read them anyway, but they have chosen not to comply. Two of the companies I used ONLY for Chimette, my previous service dog. I have not ordered anything from them since August 2007. They still send me their catalogue and sales monthly. Following Mets passing, this just poured salt in the wound- they still to this day will not remove me and I still must deal with their toxic mailings.

Ironically one of the most toxic mailings I get (at least to me) comes from a company built around organics (Lifekind). I have not ordered from them since 2001 and like the others no amount of letter writing by snail or email gets them to comply. All of these companies jeopardize my health EVERY time they send me a catalogue. Not only are the papers and inks they use toxic for me, but they gather further toxicity through the mail system. Something is very wrong when a company continues to send catalogues to a person for years after their last order and multiple requests for removal are ignored. I've tried the mail address to cease unwanted junk mail, but another interesting ironic twist is that after writing there, the junk mail increased! Who wants to get sick just because they got the mail!

There are also some companies that I used to absolutely love. Their packing material was simply paper and then with no notice they changed to styrofoam (a profound sensitivity of mine that can send me to ER) Multiple emails went unanswered as to why the change and whether or not this was to be the permanent change or just for certain items, but most especially if they would be willing to pack differently on my orders. As a result of this, some long loved companies have entered the *never order from* list as well. It saddens me that the customers needs and requests are not always met with the kind of attitude I get from Filters-Now and Purely Pets.

I continue to seek out companies who do not shower me with toxic ads and catalogues; companies who listen to my shipping needs and show that they care by providing me with safe packaging. They truly are the greatest!


Yesterday was a beautiful day, but today is even more so! Summer has come to the Pacific Northwest- even if its just for a few days.

Yesterday I really overdressed! I was dressed for winter with all my MCS protective layering and I was roasting and about ready to pass out from the inability to regulate this excessive heat from my body and layers. I had Thane in his coat, but stripped it before we even got on the bus to head out.

Today I woke up feeling like death warmed over. I had planned to go to New Seasons today but after not getting up until nine coupled with toxicity from dealing with the bank, dealing with the issues associated with re-training my body to the regular harness, and dealing with the heat- I decided we would just attempt to take some new photos of the two of us with the timer that I have the steps memorized for and then take a run to pick up my meds at the local pharmacy outdoor pickup window.

With about forty to fifty pictures snapped, we got about three good ones. LOL It is getting much harder for me to ascertain placement of camera and placement of us in order to get us both in the picture- not to mention my inability to judge when the picture will be going off now. I thought I would share one with you all though since I know I have people following the blog that are very visual folks and sometimes wish there was more than the banner picture of Thane.

Photo Alt Text: Thane looks up at me with eye contact as I hold my left hand in our *stay* sign

Our newly planned outing for today  was a good situation to give my backup chair batteries a good little run. It's dry out and we were not going indoors so I liked the circumstances for doing that without getting it too toxic. I felt the air outside the door to determine how to dress. I put on just one pair of light-weight thermals along with my new organic cotton low impact dyed pants, which are now actually quite big for me (giggle), I grabbed my light-weight pull over organic sweatshirt, harnessed Thane up without his coat and off we went.

I knew by the time we exited the complex that I had over dressed. I was wearing much lighter attire than yesterday, but it was also almost noon by the time we got out of here. I was planning to do the shorter route, but Thane really wanted the long way so I gave in. He was guiding pretty good until I nearly clipped him on a turn. I need to work on the turn programming without altering the forward and reverse speeds. He quickly set back into his normal guide pace with a good pull for me until we got to a spot in the sidewalk of flooding. I had anticipated that would be dry today since it did not rain yesterday. I was not happy about taking my backup chair with new bearings through there. Thane walked through the dirt himself as he very slowly guided me through the yuck. Then off we went at our more normal clip.

When we arrived at the the sidewalk for crossing and entrance to Bi-mart, drivers were being plain rude refusing to stop for us. Thane finally had enough of that and stuck up for us MAKING them stop. Don't get me wrong, he was not dangerous in his decision, but had he not done that, we'd probably still be there. I hate Bi-mart weekend shoppers!

The parking lot was not much better than the crosswalk was. Thane decided today we were going to take the path of least resistance. He guided me across the lot going parallel to the main street before taking me towards the store. This area of the lot is always less used and just a safer approach when its busy since Bi-mart is one of the stores that built access to their store around the model of *everyone drives a car*. I was proud of his decision process. He seems to be so much more in tune with this type of decision making since we came so close to being hit.

No one was at the prescription pick-up window when we arrived so Thane got some good resting time in shade while they finished helping someone at the indoor counter. He was quite warm and really appreciated that break. I definitely have to get on a design for a cooling vest that can work with Thane's new harness design.

I have a great idea in my mind- partially in the fabric design and partially thanks to my friend Sharon at After Gadget blog for reminding me about the easy conforming freezer mat that I had planned to get for Thane this summer.

The short route trip home was pretty uneventful until we got to our front door. I took off his lead and handle outside so that when he entered he could get some water if he wanted. I have had to work hard with Thane in regards to his acceptance of other children since his first encounter with my neighbors *mean* grand-daughter two years ago. I did not know they were here today; otherwise I would have taken Thane inside while still on lead mere for proactiveness. You know the methodology, set them up to succeed!

My neighbor  has been told by management to not allow her to interfere with us or other tenants, but this has not stuck. We still have to manage her ourselves. No positive instruction works. No firmness works. No telling her to go back to her grandmothers apartment works for long. The only thing I have found to work is acting as though I am unaware she is there- even when I am aware. This works in situations where Thane is in a better situation- protected by my position (at least partially any way) in relation to his and where she is at-  like today when he was able to escape her by mere millisecond timing of my opening the door just as she slipped past on the rear end without me realizing it and kicked at him. She missed because Thane has lightening speed that she doesn't have.VBG

We have made huge leaps and bounds in the area of children which is just so awesome. He now gets excited when he sees the boys in an apartment across the parking lot from the dumpster. I know I will ALWAYS be what some may consider  as over protective when it comes to her, but after how badly it affected his work around children, I have to put our partnership over her. I'm just glad that today there was not anything to have to re-work with him where other children may be concerned.

We could come inside and reflect on the beautiful outing we took- on how well Thane remained calm in the presence of my neighbor's grand-daughter and of another thing I discovered in keeping his pull nice and even paced- talking to my dog! I don't always keep up conversation on the road as we travel through town because frankly the more I talk in the mask, the faster I become oxygen deprived. For such a short outing though, periodic conversation- especially in that last homeward stretch, really paid off!

03 June 2011

One of My Biggest Pet Peeves

Nothing gets on me more than businesses who have accessible checkouts and counters because the ADA requires it, but that don't keep them open or staffed with someone without you having to go through hassles of getting them to come and help you there.

With the bank, you also have to just deal with them taking your Debit/ Credit cards, ID and whatever else they need to serve you to another station out of your sight, because they won't log in to the accessible station. Its wrong and makes it so easy for one of us to become victims of fraud. It probably won't happen at the bank, but why should we have to put up with that, when able bodied people don't.

They are also one of the hardest places for me to access. The doors are heavier than need be IMO and getting help usually requires people to first see us struggling to huge lengths only to offer their help at a point in this struggle when their help becomes more of a hindrance than a help- ie we are already set in the right mode for entering independently and I lose my one thing that can directionally align me- that of holding onto the door because lets face it, without automatic doors, I can't enter a place with Thane in harness.

The bank is possibly the most toxic place I have to enter as well. I am ALWAYS sick after going to the bank. I MUST go to the bank because I am incapable of using the checkout debit card machines and I can not update my ID card for the state due to the horrendous effects it will have upon both my health and my vision. The primary store that I shop for Thane at does not take credit cards and I do not get enough in food stamps to cover both of our needs. As a result every month I have to expose myself to the toxicity of the bank to collect cash for Thane's food needs and my non-food stamp items. I then put the toxic cash on a Winco gift card so I do not have to handle it every time we need something.

With MCS, I really need to be able to get in and out of businesses as quickly as possible. When businesses such as the bank do not staff their accessibility window, it tells me two things. 1) They think just the presence of the window makes them compliant and 2) They don't value me as a customer very much.

Today I was at the bank and had to deal with this rude scenario for the umpteenth time. I will admit, I lost my cool and made a big scene yelling *Hello, can I get service some time?* That was met with them considering me to be impatient but since they had served not one, not two, not three, but four people who came into the bank line AFTER I had- they deserved it.

I needed some additional help and the way the supervisor was just made me want to scream. Making a comment to the teller that since I had waited to go ahead and do that now- as if I should have waited additional time to have the assistance to activate my new debit card when they don't provide TTY phone numbers for this and there is as of yet no such thing as a deafblind accessible ATM and even the ones accessible to the blind are not accessible to those with MCS.

Now if this was a one time occurrence or happened on occasion that would be one thing, but EVERY month I go through this same ordeal. My folks could probably quite easily cash the check for me and prevent both the MCS exposure and this ordeal but that is not the point- the point is if the accessible counter or checkout is not staffed, they ARE NOT complying with the ADA or treating us like all other customers. Believe me I have tried to use the inaccessible counters but with the barrier created by those line flow obstacles that are used, there is no way I can. If I make it to the teller, I can't get back out until everyone else has completed at their teller and even then there is not enough room for Thane to guide me through the path.

Its not just banks that do this. Most stores in my area are pretty good and most, if not all, of the checkouts are accessible. Some of the smaller stores though still have the one or two checkouts only that a wheelchair can get through. Its these same stores that do not keep the accessible ones staffed. Its like they still live back in the 70's and 80's. I do have one of these stores trained. Of course I got them trained with a lecture that ended with, *I wonder what the ADA hotline would have to say about whether or not you really are accessible or not* Ever since then, they keep their eyes on us as we are nearing the checkout and jump on over to the accessible one. Too bad the bank has not done that. Now that I would consider good service. Of course keeping it open all the time would be ideal since non-disabled people could easily use the disabled counter but not the other way around. You have it, use it, is my philosophy!

Adjusting to Different Gear

Thane has spent the last couple weeks with minimal walks and work, but in an older harness design which I was able to adapt the add-on loops to. His work was pretty good after a couple walks to adjust to the way the harness differences felt as he pulled into his guiding role.

The other day I found a sore beginning on Thane's lower neck area. I thought it was related to another item I was using but when I played around with his harness, I could tell it was related to it. I had forgotten that when I was using that harness, I had to add extra padding in that area. That is a big whoops.

The regular harness design has the girth strap further forward right behind his front legs. This changes how the handle pulls the harness on his body- making it a gentler pull to him.

Today I put him back in his regular setup as his skin has been healed well for about a week. I could not figure out why his work was so off. It was a beautiful sunny day which often elicits great work from him. We managed to get through our errands although it was a bit more work on my part to keep him focused and navigating well. I checked the area where the sore was and it was not the culprit. I just could not put my finger on the change after he worked so great the other day. It felt like *work* to me to be working him. Don't get me wrong. This was nothing like the hard work while in training, just his navigating was often times resistant and other times he was being overly dramatic about following edges.

I had been home for a little while and realized I felt sore. It was not the normal sore of when he has a harder harness pull as that was not the case today- nevertheless it was noticeably sore. That is when it donned on me. We had not only been working much less lately, but in a harness that was enough different structurally that it changed the angle of the handle, the distance forward positionally that he walked, and the length between connection and loop. Thane was going through adjustment to this change, just like my arm is.

Sometimes I can be a pretty dense handler LOL

01 June 2011

A Little Miracle Called Taurine Changes Thane's Work

Thane has been quite a trooper the last couple weeks. My limitations from skin issues and subsequent MCS exposure and crash have meant that walks and work are the furthest thing from my mind.

Today began like another slowing into living type of day. I could see that the lack of work was beginning to drag on Thane though so rather than settling down to watch some shows on RTV, I harnessed Thane up for a walk and Bi-mart.

In the past, any length of being home for more than three or four days brought with it sound reactivity, a harder pull in harness, poor focus at best, and an overall feeling from me of working with a trainee rather than the skilled guide dog Thane has become.

After some soul searching and trial and error with various dietary and supplemental changes, keeping in mind the possibility of finding a supplement that would not heighten release of histamine in its retinal support, I put Thane on Taurine. Its a supplement that I have lots of experience with from Met. I credit this supplement for making it possible for Thane to be as relaxed and *go with the flow* as he has been the last couple weeks.

When we head out the door now, his pace and pull in harness is awesome. I no longer wonder so much about having a long partnership with Thane. See before with his hard pull, I felt that I would come to a time when for my own structural health, I would have to end this partnership. Things are so different now though. We have not been out since our trip to New Seasons on Sunday. There was no sign of energy bursting to be released like might have occurred in the past. All I received from Thane was a good even pace that pretty much matched my own needs for the day.

It was later than we usually head out which could have been problematic at the store. Instead there really was not a lot of shoppers to negotiate. Thane often has trouble with the polished floors keeping his footing. Though slowing down my speed and reminding him to stay on his feet (as opposed to claw walking) helps a lot, it never completely eliminated the problem. I've also noticed marked improvement in this area as we navigate some *slip and slide* floors.

Though we found nothing of interest at the store today, we apparently spent a short enough time in the store that exposure did not turn into much of a reaction today. That is a really good thing in my book because BI-mart tends to be one of the smelliest stores I need to access.

After leaving the store, I forgot to increase my speed again. Thane stuck to the speed I was moving at despite giving me a bit of an alert that *this slow* wasn't normal in the middle of a parking lot. We took the long walk home to be sure to detox ourselves as much as possible as well as grabbing a bit more exercise to sustain Thane until our next errand run.

Though it might not sound like a lot to others, this change in Thane's work and ability to accept the speed I am moving at are all huge blessings for me in dealing with the issues associated with my disabilities as I work a high energy guide dog.

The Collision of Veterinary Care with MCS for Service Dog Handlers

Those of us with MCS with service dogs, know all too well that when we go out in the community shopping, to the bank, to the Drs, or to the Vets that they may very well become as toxic as our bodies, our clothing and our wheelchairs do.

In many aspects I am very lucky with Thane that way, but with Met it was a real chore to keep him detoxed. Most people finally get my *hands off* rule so its rare anyone pets Thane, but when they do, its into the bath he goes.

Living in the pacific northwest can have its advantages. Three quarters of the year, Thane is swathed in a coat that covers his entire back and chest. This has become a remarkable tool in limiting toxicity on him and thus saving his skin from excessive bathing needs.

When it comes to vets though, this is an area where MCS and care collide. I don't know what it is about veterinary clinics and hospitals. I don't understand why everything they use from cleaning floors, to laundry, to their hands and clothing must smell like a chemical bath. I don't understand how they can *first do no harm* using so much toxicity when they deal with epileptics triggered by chemicals and those with allergies whose conditions have stability only through great attention by their owners to avoidance of chemicals, cleaners, and the like. This attends to the dog side of the equation but what about the human side?

Individuals with severe MCS can often benefit from service animals to help them avoid exposures or function with the limitations these exposures place upon them, but with this partnership also comes the responsibility to assure the dog is in good health or to get it care when injured or sick. The last thing we as the handler should have to consider is how this care will affect us, but when dealing with MCS it often is the first thing we have to consider.

My previous vet was fairly non-toxic as long as clients did not bathe in perfume or cologne. When it came to the exam rooms, I never had issues with him nor did Met have to be bathed the instant we got home. His surgical setup was definitely toxic though which I learned the hard way resulting in both Met and I paying the consequences from his scented detergent, fabric softener use, and overall chemical laden area. Though surgery is not often required, this vet was also one of those that over vaccinates inducing disease and then follows that up by over treating. After losing my first service dog, I wised up and knew we needed better. I wanted Thane to have a better chance for a stronger immune system and healthier working career than his predecessor Met had.

I do have a much better vet for Thane because I listened to my heart, to a recommendation, and was willing to take a chance with the unknown. At least in realms of Thane's care, she takes the *do as little as required* principle as opposed to drugging him for every little thing. She is open-minded to other gentler approaches when they can be just as effective. She also charges about half what the previous vet did with gains of knowledge and understanding of what is going on that far exceed what I would get from the previous vet. I love this practice where it comes to the actual care Thane receives.

On the other hand, in the three years I have used this clinic there has only been one time when we left that I did not have to bathe Thane and wash all of his gear. It was a fluke but it proved that there is definitely something in use there for hand washing that is at the route of it all. I deal with this because it easily washes out and generally I can plan our visits when I can easily come home and bathe Thane before he contaminates anything- especially our bed. I deal with it mostly because of her care and commitment to Thane and I as well as that she has the understanding that care she may need to implement could impact my life dramatically. She is the most awesome vet for an assistance dog partnership to use. I love her and frankly the biggest hold for me in not returning to California is that we have such an awesome vet looking out for Thane and our partnership.

Not all preventative care for Thane can be achieved through use of his regular vet here in town. Its unfortunate, but its reality. Last month I took Thane for a check with the ophthamologist. This is a crucial part of life with a guide dog. I need to know that his eyes are functioning properly and won't impact our safety. Its also so important when dealing with eye diseases to get treatment sooner rather than later. I knew from my previous visit to the clinic that their idea of accessibility for getting inside the adapted entry/ converted house was not ADA compliant. I did not think much about it when making the appointment. I had forgotten how hard it had been the first time and most especially did not take into consideration the fact that I had lost a substantial amount of vision since our previous visit. Even if I was happy with the care he received, that entrance is not going to happen again. I am not going to be the one who gets injured or killed because they were too thoughtless to gate off the stair entrance for safety of those in wheelchairs when they get to the top of the ramp onto the narrow porch.

This vet definitely did not have Thane's best interest at heart. She knew he was an allergy and giardia dog. She knew that he reacts to synthetic supplements negatively. She knew there were some things going on that may or may not be visually related. Not only did she not dilate his eyes in declaring that he has no signs of a retinal disease, instead opting to say his symptoms may be indicative of early retinal change, but she put him on a supplement that was SYNTHETIC assuring me that there was nothing that could be problematic with it. She nearly gave him double the dose she did. Lets just say its a GOOD thing I talked her out of that! The supplement turned out to have a known side effect of releasing histamine! If all this nonsense was not bad enough, she left him so toxic for me that a bath was not enough. It took a few days for him to fully detox. It was rough on me. It isn't like taking a pet to the vet (though I appreciate how difficult that is for those with MCS). I had need for help from Thane but had to balance between his help he would provide me with and reacting further from close contact with him. I also had to deal with his discomfort from the histamine release that left him in a profound allergy attack as well as GI upheaval that had not been a part of our life for over a year.

I have chosen to share this side of MCS because its something most people do not even realize when they hear about a person having MCS. MCS is multi-faceted. It is a disability that under the ADA requires businesses to make reasonable accomodations. With my present vet, I'd only request this if it were to become a bigger problem. With the Ophthamologist my choice is to find someone else. If I were happy with the care and she took me seriously, I could simply go to her primary office (unless it too is modified in such haste with no regard to safety). There is too much that is not OK though with the care provided. There is no way to provide the type of care required with an exam outdoors and the level of toxicity (mom says they also use air fresheners right where they directed me to sit) coupled with their non-compliance of ADA guidelines in the ramp design is just not OK for me. I am not going to take that chance again. I was in bed for days and low functioning for two weeks. In this situation the risks were not worth the benefits.

Its a game of the scales- balancing MCS exposure and reactions on one side and the care of your assistance dog on the other. In a perfect world the issues with MCS exposure and reaction would not happen, but we don't live in a perfect world. The best we can do is find the best most understanding practice in our vicinity to work with and to hopefully keep our dogs immune system strong through species appropriate diet and minimal chemicals so that visits to the vet become strictly for health checkups as opposed to the frequency they can be when vaccinosis or other diseases set in.