Thursday, July 23, 2009

Doggie Vignettes

So, fans, life's been busy - no time for blogging!

I do have a few quickies, though, funny little stories I think you'll enjoy - mostly from me, but one or two from Tammy...

Tammy takes me most everywhere, and I get to meet all sorts of people... People are just like dogs, you know - they come in all shapes and sizes, all colours and smells, and some even have funny hair!

Little Old Lady
Like the Little Old Lady I met a while ago, while out on a gotta-go-now break; she had PURPLE hair! I haven't seen too many dogs with purple hair, not even in the West End! She was a nice Little Old Lady - and she traveled by wheelchair, so I felt it was my bound duty to go over and say 'hi' - and after all, I was off work. When I sat beside her, she gave my ears a nice scratch - she knew how to do that all right, but she sure stunk like baby powder! That's how I knew she was a Little Old Lady. I made her smile, and she made me smile. I love to say 'hi' to people!

Little Boy
I get to meet a little boy on my evening walks - he's growing fast! He can walk too now, and so he comes right up to give me a pet. When we first met, he was scared of me - I'm pretty big, you know, so he'd hide behind mom's leg and peek out. Now he waves and blows kisses, and we're good friends.

"Poor Dog"
One day a guy got on the elevator with me and Tammy. First he gave Tammy a dirty look. Then he made a funny noise, like this: "tsk tsk tsk..." Then he gave Tammy an even dirtier look and said "Poor dog, I really feel sorry for you!"
Well, clearly he hasn't tasted my treats, or felt the special glow you get from helping somebody! I'm an important dog, and I know Tammy appreciates me and the ways I help her - otherwise I wouldn't get all those good things to eat! And good pets! And good walks! And I get to push elevator buttons and open doors, and I don't have to wait in an old basement all day for her to come home from work - I get to go along with her! Everywhere! So there!

"Bad Dog"
I can't believe the behavior I see sometimes! I went for a pee break downtown one day. We walked to a park where there's a nice hill - we can watch pontoon planes take off and land - they're noisy! It's a good spot to meet other downtown doggies, too - but they aren't service dogs, I can tell you! Some of them are brats - and they wear funny clothes, though I guess that isn't their fault. One spring day it was a bit muddy and slippery at the top of the hill. A couple of us were meeting and greeting - and peeing, of course - when all of a sudden this bitch takes off down the hill at full speed, with her person hanging on to the leash for dear life! She stayed on her feet 'til almost the bottom of the hill, just like a skier. You could see the ruts left by her heels all the way down! Her butt left an even bigger rut! (She splatted in a puddle!)
We made sure the lady was ok - she was, but she sure looked funny!

Gummy Toes
There's a big difference between Gummy Bears and Gummy Toes.
Gummy Bears are apparently good to eat - not that I'd know, Tammy never lets me have any candy. (But she gives me peanut butter treats sometimes: mmmmmmm....)
So, that's Gummy Bears.
You can't eat Gummy Toes, or you'd better not, 'cause if you try, I might have to bite you. You see, Gummy Toes are my toes, and I get 'em from stepping on melted spit-out bubble gum stuck all over the side walk! Yuck!
I had to have my furry feet trimmed to get the nasty stuff off, and I don't like getting my feet trimmed! It tickles - and the scissors scare me.
So please, folks - think of us poor doggies walking along your sidewalks - we don't want to get stuck, or hurt. Woof!

Doggie Brain - by Tammy
You've all heard the term 'baby brain'. Baby brain is an effect of hormonal changes due to pregnancy, and as any mother will tell you, it never goes away. Not even when your kids have grown up and moved out, and not even if your kid is actually a service dog. I call it 'doggie brain'.
An example of doggie brain: on the rare occasion that I leave PADS Service Dog Breeze home while I go out dogless, I overhear myself giving dog commands anyway.
"Let's go", I say to my invisible golden retreiver (or worse, to my attendant...) Or, seeing a tempting piece of KFC-smelling litter on the sidewalk, anticipating an opportunists doggie moment, sternly warning "Leave it!"
I've gotten a few odd looks - is that lady drunk-driving her wheelchair?! Or is she just crazy?
I don't drive drunk...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

9 to 5 With a Working Dog

“Some dogs look like grouches with attitude, some look merely odd, some fit in oven mitts, and some only in the back of pick-up trucks. But say “Golden Retriever” and everybody thinks of long silken hair and feathered legs, kindness, intelligence, attentiveness, loyalty, an easy lope and the best nose in the business, and envies the owner.”

This is certainly true of my Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) Service Dog Breeze, the Golden Retriever.

Back in 2006 I started the process of applying for an assistance dog through PADS. As a quadriplegic woman with cerebral palsy, I am always looking for ways to increase my independence, and I seek every opportunity, tool, and technological advancement that gives me greater independence, especially when I am alone. The idea of a canine assistant to help me cope with the daily challenges of living with a physical disability intrigued me. I knew about PADS and the valuable work they do to raise, train, and place dogs – service, hearing and facility dogs - to become sources of support and independence to people with disabilities across Western Canada.

Even during the application process, I didn’t really think I’d qualify for a PADS dog because I was already pretty independent. My career keeps me busy. My job as a Family & Individual Support Worker for a major disability organization keeps me running around doing advocacy and referral, sitting on committees, running a disability awareness education program for school-age kids, and public speaking engagements. That’s a lot of stuff: not much time left for me, never mind a dog…

But in the spring of 2007 Breeze blew into my life like a hurricane. I should have known something big was up when the voice over the phone asked whether I was sitting down… I’m a quad – I’m always sitting down! The big news was that I had been matched up with a PADS golden retriever named “Breeze.” We were introduced shortly thereafter, and hit if off right away.

We’ve been an efficient working team for over two years now, with only a couple of bumps in the road. She helps me in so many ways – she can turn my apartment lights on or off, open my fridge door, help me get my jacket off, and pick up my TV remote. She can answer my telephone when it rings (well, she brings it to me when it rings – there’s nothing quite like a dog-slobbery telephone receiver…) and she can hand my debit card to a cashier or bank teller. (I haven’t told her my password yet – dogs aren’t known for their fiscal responsibility) And of course she goes well with every outfit; she’s a must-have fashion accessory.

I usually wake up around 7:00 am – but my day doesn’t really begin ‘til my morning help arrives: so PADS Service Dog Breeze’s first job of the day is to distract me from my full bladder. Not a typical service dog chore, but one I greatly appreciate!

She does this by nuzzling my face from the side of my bed – she sits up and lays her beautiful furry golden chin on my mattress. She gets as close as she can without actually breaking the no-bed rule. It’s almost as though she’s reassuring me that my help will be arriving soon, not to worry…

Often I’m planning my day as I lay waiting to be helped out of bed – and PADS Service Dog Breeze seems to listen attentively as I run through my day: “Are all my arrangements in place? Transportation? Meals? Bathroom breaks? Cell phone charged? Water available?” Her wagging tail reminds me – don’t forget the doggie treats!

PADS Service Dog Breeze likes my morning helper – it’s as though she knows this is the person who’s going to get me out of bed, and help us get ready for our day. She answers the door with a growly, tail-waggy, enthusiastic ‘good morning’ bark. And she supervises the morning routine: everything from the first transfer from bed to chair, to the moment I’m washed, brushed, dressed, and about to eat my breakfast.

While my morning routine can sometimes be arduous – it’s not easy for a quadriplegic woman to get into a tailored blazer or fitted blouse – PADS Service Dog Breeze’s dressing routine transforms her from loved companion to no-nonsense professional in the blink of an eye. Or, more accurately, the fastening of a Velcro strap…

When I give the command, she stands at attention, and the PADS vest goes on; that’s when her tail stops wagging, her ears go on high alert, her expression turns serious, and she’s all business.

Then it’s out the door and off to work with PADS Service Dog Breeze by my side.

My work commute means I’ve taken the same train at the same time, several days a week for a number of years. You’d think people would be over the novelty of seeing a dog on the job by now, but they aren’t.

PADS Service Dog Breeze has reached celebrity status, which can be a real pain in the tail when you just want to go home and crash after work, like everybody else. I allow for an extra ten minutes each way now, so that I can accommodate all the folks who want to know about my dog. Sometimes I don’t want to be social, but I always try to smile and use these encounters as opportunities do a little service-dog education. It’s astonishing how many people ask if they can pet my dog, while staring at the large, clear, and graphic “DO NOT PET” sign on her vest…

Even worse are those who don’t ask, and simply ignore the sign…

The fact is, engaging a working animal can be a major distraction, and a distracted dog won’t perform well. Imagine a seeing-eye dog taking its person across a busy street – a distraction could be tragic for both dog and human.

When PADS Service Dog Breeze spends the day in my office, she helps me by picking up the pen I’ve dropped on the floor – and she never seems to get exasperated, even after the fourth or fifth time…

But it’s the times we’re away from the desk and out in the community that she really shines.

When I’m visiting elementary schools with my Disability Awareness Presentation, PADS Service Dog Breeze comes along. I talk to kids about disability issues – how to recognize mobility challenges, seeing disability as a natural aspect of human diversity, and how to support peers who have disabilities. I also demonstrate some adaptive equipment, including my service dog.

Naturally PADS Service Dog Breeze is the star of every show, and when you mix dogs and kids, you get a lot of ‘awwwwwwwww’ moments. The children love it when she demonstrates picking up a dropped item like a TV remote, which even the lowliest mutt can learn to do. They’re amazed when she takes my jacket off for me, however.

Her very presence helps bring attention to attitudinal barriers, and that’s what I really want to address in my presentation.

People who used to avoid making eye contact with the lady in the wheelchair now initiate conversation because they want to know more about Breeze. So she has become much more than a useful and loyal companion who has greatly increased my independence. She’s also a natural ice-breaker who’s with me during my commute, during presentations, during meetings with clients, and on weekends when I work with youth.

I’m convinced she helps bridge all the gaps between me and the people I encounter every day – the generation gap, the social gaps, the abilities gaps, even the language barrier.

All the wonderful attributes that make her a good service dog are the same ones that make her a good dog – she’s loyal and obedient, and she loves me. She’s a source of real pleasure when at the end of the day her working-dog vest comes off and she goes to play at the park like any other dog. And at bedtime, when we’re alone she’s just my good dog, resting at my feet.

PADS Service Dog Breeze has become an integral part of my personal and professional life, and I can’t imagine doing without her now.

For more information on the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) and to find out how you can help, go to

A Romano By Every Other Name

So, we’re at a meeting the other day: I’m minding my own business under the conference table, when all of a sudden I smell an old acquaintance coming along.
It’s my old buddy Romano, the seeing-eye dog.

He’s getting a bit grizzled around the muzzle, but still very handsome. He’s a true professional, too, absolutely ignores me until he’s settled down under the table.
After that I made sure he didn’t ignore me – I gave him a friendly ‘woof’ (and got in trouble for it) and next thing you know, he’s asking me for my number. Too bad I can’t count…

Romano and I listened in on our peoples’ conversation, and we heard a whole bunch of really boring stuff, and one funny story. Here’s the funny story.

Romano has worked for his man for a long time – almost ten years. And they’ve lived next door to the same lady for all those years. And this lady has called Romano by the wrong name for all ten of those years! Not the same wrong name, mind you – a different wrong name every time!

So Romano has been called Parmesan, Calabrese, Sicily, Lasagna, Ricotta: if it’s an Italian cheese, region, or pasta, Romano has been called it!

Finally his man came up with a very clever idea: he told the sweet old-lady neighbour to just call Romano... ...Diogi. Pronounced Dee-OH-Gee: get it? D. O. G…

I love it, but the funniest part is that she can’t remember that either, so he’s still Tortellini today, maybe Mozzarella tomorrow!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Yesterday was a weird day. I know, because I heard Tammy say so more than once.

You know the kind of day: a day of leaving for work late because of unexpected company; a day of running into an old friend – the kind you can’t just nod ‘hi' to and keep on going; a day of erratic driving,- not by Tammy, but by those crazies making scary left-hand turns; a day of uprights treading thoughtlessly along and almost stepping on my doggie toes.

Then of course there was the case of mistaken identity. On our way home from work we wanted to cross at our usual intersection. I waited, vecroded to Tammy’s side just like she commanded. When suddenly, a lady stepped smartly in front of us, blocking Tammy’s view of the pedestrian signal. The lady was “very helpful”. She began to provide a detailed description to Tammy of the pedestrian signals, the traffic patterns and general flow of the people walking by.

“The little walk-man is flashing,” she exclaimed. “You can’t go! Now the red hand is on! Stay where you are!” She said to Tammy.

So I’m sitting there thinking to myself – I didn’t know Tammy is blind - she leads me everywhere. And, if Tammy is blind, am I a seeing eye dog? because I didn’t get trained for that, and it isn’t in my job description.

I could see that Tammy was stuck somewhere between being annoyed and wanting to laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation. We ended up having to sit through 2 lights while that lady “helped” us - and Tammy just shook her head and smiled sweetly. Aaargh! Finally she let us pass, and as we did, Tammy said, “I like your styling boots!” You should have seen the look on her face!

So, if you see a dog wearing a jacket/vest with no harness, it’s likely not a guide dog. Also, if my handler is making eye contact with you while you talk and comments on how stylin’ your boots are, it’s probably safe to assume that she or he is not blind!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dogged Perseverence

Personally, I don't watch Jackie Chan movies. That's 'cause I'm a dog; I prefer Lassie. But if I did watch martial arts movies, or think about Karate, I probably wouldn't think of a kid who has cerebral palsy.

But we went to a awards ceremony a while ago to recognize the achievements of a 12 year old
kid who has cp and practices the discipline of karate.

His achievements deserve recognition because of what they mean for every one of us: I'm a dog, and I help a lady who has cp, so I know about going beyond expectations. Nobody expects a dog to open a door, either. Or to run a blog, for that matter...

People who do martial arts typically share certain attributes: things like determination, passion, commitment and stamina, along with physical gifts like strength, agility, a good sense of balance, and speedy reflexes. Most of them probably don’t begin training with the kinds of neurological deficits that come with cp.

Karate is an activity that requires balance, muscle coordination, aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility.. So what do you do if you want to learn karate but you were born without all of these gifts? You use the gifts you DO have, and that’s what this kid did.

He had the determination, guts, and focus to go after what he knew he was capable of, despite appearances. He had enough inner stamina and strength to more than compensate for the physical effects of cp.

He was encouraged by teachers and classmates who treated him like everybody else, but it was his own effort, sweat, and determination that kept him at it. And it was that same - ahem- dogged perseverance that saw him keep at it and win medals and belts!
And so his career continues; this small-town kid who has cp but practices karate anyway, and earns his belts and medals.

Silver and bronze medals, green and purple belts.

This is a kid whose parents were told he wouldn’t walk without leg braces, and that he’d never ride a bicycle.

But he walks, rides, golfs, swims, plays volleyball, cross country skis, and let’s not forget, practices the discipline of karate.

He's one of those people who doesn't stop striving, and that's why his accomplishments deserve to be recognized.

So, kiddo, on behalf of service dogs everywhere who know about learning new skills and not giving up even when stuff doesn't come naturally, congratulations!

Chewy Chewbacca: Morning Song

I love mornings! My morning routine has earned me the nickname Chewy Chewbacca, as in the hairy Star Wars co-pilot. Tammy calls it moaning, groaning, and growling, but really it's singing. I'm an outgoing girl, I'm friendly, why shouldn't I be gregarious and boisterous? Every day is a potential party day for me!

I know what to do - I wake up around 7:15 every morning, poking my nose under Tammy's dangling hand. You see, we know the doorbell is going to ring any minute, and then it's time to start our day. I do sit nicely by her bed, waiting for the 'release' command before I say 'good morning' to the attendant, but first I run in circles and grab my Nyla bone off the shelf to show her, and let her know it's time to go pee.

I stay happy and eager throughout the whole morning routine - I never bark, (of course!) but I talks and sing, and top off my good morning with a double-hug once Tammy's up. A double-hug means both the attendant and Tammy are hugging and petting me at the same time. I really can't decide whose torso my head should be buried in... It's all too good! It's one of mys happiest times, just as wonderful as running in the park, and our mornings wouldn't be complete without it.

Doggie Dine 'N Dash

Let's not forget I'm still very much a dog, and that means I'm an opportunist. One time we got home from an elementary school disability awareness presentation out in the boonies. I was starving - we'd gone to two separate schools that day, spoken to about 600 children, and hadn't had a chance to stop and eat our lunch. (Not to mention the fact that I tend to be -ahem- forgotten at lunch time: how come two legged people eat three times a day, and four legged ones only get two meals a day?! Something wrong there!) I was really looking forward to sitting down and enjoying a nice chicken salad sandwich and chocolate chip cookies... Well, technically they weren't mine, especially the chocolate chip cookies, which I hear are bad for me...

See, Tammy made a quick pit stop to the washroom - and left the sandwich on the kitchen counter. She thought it was out of my reach, but after all, I am a trained professional. It's my job to reach things, and most of the time Tammy's pretty darned happy with my determination and initiative. Anyhowl, by the time she got out of the washroom, all the evidence was gone, except a few crumbs on the floor. Why shouldn't I have a chicken salad sandwich and a couple of cookies...? I worked very hard that day!

But who said life was fair; she grounded me for that one. No food for 24 hours! We both learned a lesson - I learned that I'd better make sure the next sandwich left unattended isn't hers, and she learned that not much is out of reach for a skilled and determined dog!