Archives for June 2010

Moving Forward

Now that things are official with Yara’s retirement and reapplying for my next guide is well under way, I have been slowly sharing the news with people. This included having a meeting yesterday afternoon with my supervisor at work to discuss all of this. In specific, I wanted to talk with her about the two weeks I’ll need to take off for training.

I was actually very surprised at how supportive she was. I didn’t really know what to expect, but historically things at work that involve Yara haven’t always been dealt with in the best way by my superiors. Anyway, she seemed to take everything fine and well. Maybe because she had her own little bombshell to drop.

Turns out that there have been complaints about the smell from my area due to Yara. She was quick to affirm that she personally never noticed anything and none of the people near my desk were aware of any odious smells from my area or Yara herself. Regardless, it had been decided that the carpet under my desk would be cleaned as soon as possible. She also wanted to have an air freshener sprayed around daily to help mitigate any lingering odors.

I really don’t even know. I did mention to her that perhaps this smell that someone is bothered by doesn’t have so much to do with Yara’s lack of cleanliness — which I stressed was unlikely anyway since she’s groomed daily and often sprayed with a coat spray that has a lovely scent of tea tree oil — but rather this might have more to do with the medicated spray she was being dosed with for the sores on her rear end and back legs. I also noted that during the whole of my time at VESID I’d only ever heard such a complaint about my dog stinking one other time and that was in January when she had hot spots — which did smell quite raunchy — and was also being medicated with a topical treatment that wasn’t so pleasant on the olfactory sense.

She admitted she hadn’t thought of that, but even so the cleaning regimen was already in place in spite of the fact that Yara’s healed up from her wounds. Honestly I think they are pretty lazy about cleaning the building anyway so I wasn’t going to make a big fuss about it. I did ask that if they were going to use any scented air fresheners to perhaps only do so on Fridays after I leave so as to limit my exposure to any migraine triggers. Shouldn’t surprise you that suggestion was most agreeable to her. I also told her I’d bring home Yara’s blankets and have them laundered, even though I routinely switch them out every few weeks. Hopefully that will resolve any wayward complaints from random coworkers about any possible smells.

On a sort of related topic, Yara will be off the antibiotics in a few days. Her sores, as I mentioned, are fully healed. I can’t tell if she still has hives, but the steroids seemed to have finally kicked in and relieved the itchiness. She still seems to be sneezing quite a bit, but her nose isn’t all stuffy sounding or drippy. All in all, I think she’s basically on the mend. Fingers crossed that we can get through the rest of our working days with limited interruption in my work schedule because I need all the leave time I can accumulate.

“Home” Interview

Following up with yesterday’s announcement of Yara’s retirement, I’d first like to express my gratitude to everyone for the thoughtful comments, tweets and emails. I can’t begin to keep up with replying back, so please don’t think I’m ignoring you, but as you can surely imagine there is much going on and I’m a bit spent.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m also reapplying for my next guide dog. Fidelco’s process is pretty simple for graduates and the requirements are quite basic: up-to-date medical forms filled out and submitted and a home interview. I already had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Wednesday and figure I can have that all sorted then.

The home interview took place yesterday. Sort of randomly at that. I’d taken the day off because of Yara’s eating strike and the fact that my eyes were hurting a lot and I figured I was getting a migraine. By mid-morning I’d convinced her to eat her breakfast and decided to run a few errands with my free day. This required a visit to Crossgates Mall and while I was wandering around I got a call from Dave who was in the area and wanted to know if I was able to work in my home interview.

I had been anticipating a call from Fidelco, but this one took me quite by surprise as I was expecting my interview to be with Mary sometime next week. She and I had talked last week and in fact she was the one who finally helped me ultimately decide to retire Yara. I’m quite familiar with her and, as she was planning to be in the area over July 4th weekend, had suggested conducting my home interview. Anyway, I told Dave all that and basically expressed some mild confusion as to what to do. In the end, with Mary’s blessing, we all decided the best course of action was to get this all moving as quickly as possible. Or, at least, everyone else decided this and I mostly babbled in confusion, which seemed to be taken as some form of affirmation.

And so that was how I found myself at Friendly’s with a kiddie straw feeling a might jittery. I don’t know exactly why, since I’m fully behind my decision to retire Yara and equally so with getting a new dog. But something about confirming that and having everything, well, just happen is vastly intimidating in some intangible way. I spent most of the time waiting for Dave trying to distract myself with pestering friends via text message. Mostly I think I was just freaking my waiter out with how jumpy I was. He was pretty sweet about it, especially when I briefly explained what was going on and why my nerves were strung so tight.

Anyway, after waiting for about an hour, Dave finally showed up. Turns out he got turned around in the mall and had a bit of trouble locating Friendly’s. He didn’t waste any time and immediately started asking about my reasons for retiring Yara and the specifics of her health issues. He also inquired about my plans for Yara in the interim and post-retirement. To which I reaffirmed my desire to work her until I have a match, stressing how very much I didn’t want to repeat such a lengthy wait between dogs as I did with Dolly. And I explained my two as-yet-unconfirmed options for Yara’s post-retirement home, noting that I won’t have any specifics for a few months. Yara busied herself with discretely sniffing every inch of him she could reach without moving from her spot camped on my feet. After, we walked back through the mall so Dave could observe us working inside. And then we then drove to my apartment and chatted some more about my needs in a subsequent guide and what would best work for me with training. I gave him the very condensed version of my issues at work with time off as well. Dave seemed fairly confident that a match wouldn’t be available until at least the end of this year, which we both agreed is both good and bad. He’s made many placements in this area during his career and is quite familiar with the harshness of training during winter. And that’s not even factoring in my bad weather curse when it comes to guide dog training! Though, he did say that an alternative to taking off two weeks from work would be to start on a Friday after work and train the full nine days following. Thus I would only have to take off one week. Personally that sounds fine and great, but I’m not exactly thrilled about ending a day of work only to train for ten days and then go right back to work the very next day. We’ll see.

When Dave was through taking notes on all this, we headed back outside into the lovely summer day and walked through my neighborhood to Price Chopper and back. I joked to Dave while we were out that with my luck in terms of guide dog training and weather they’ll most certainly call in December/January when it’s freezing and snowing or next July/August when it’s sweltering and humid because I’ve yet to train in weather as pleasant as yesterday’s. Anyway, once we were back home Dave concluded that “[we] look really good together and seem very much in tune.” He expressed sympathy that it wasn’t going to work, but he very much understood the reasoning behind the decision and fully supported it.

That was basically it. Once my medical forms are submitted my file will be presented to the selection committee and I’ll officially be on the waiting list for my next guide dog.

It’s all a bit much to grasp for me just yet.

Yara

While I don’t feel the need to share every last detail of my life with the whole of the intarwebs, I’m not exactly a private person. So, the fact that this announcement is not news to a mere five people is saying a lot.

On June 17th I started the process to retire Yara and obtain a successor guide dog from Fidelco. It still feels incredibly surreal to me. Many of you who know me off the web and probably a good portion of you who do not but are familiar with service animals and our particular health struggles are most probably not surprised that this has been a decision I’ve mulled over for quite some time. Actually making the final decision and going forward from there was hardly easy. Not that retiring a guide dog is ever easy.

Aside from her health issues, I sincerely have no complaints about her as a guide. I won’t say that she never has a moment of distraction or doesn’t make a mistake now and again, but from that very first day in frigid downtown Schenectady when we took our initial steps together she has always been my partner. I don’t think I can adequately express it in words without sounding like I’m exaggerating or being boastful so you can believe me or not. So far as I’m concerned, she is without a doubt a wonderful match for me and constantly proves that she’s practically precision in harness and it is because of these things that retiring her nearly breaks my heart.

One thing that I have mostly kept to myself was how rough that first year was while we tried to diagnosis her weight-loss and assorted health issues. There were days that I would just break down and cry because here I had this amazing working dog and for whatever reason she was having accidents all over my apartment on a daily basis. I felt like a failure as a guide dog user because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong that was affecting her so adversely. Worst of all, I felt I was being selfish for wanting to keep her as a guide and cruel for doing so when the reality of it could have been that she just wasn’t cut out to be a guide dog. At least not for me. I was so very near calling Fidelco and begging them to take her back at several points that I remain to this day shocked it didn’t happen. Especially when as I explained once before how she is when she’s being particularly stubborn about not eating.

In fact, it was only a few short weeks before she was ultimately diagnosed with EPI that my paranoia over being the cause of her issues was set to rest. I won’t say that the circumstances were especially ideal, but it was such a relief to voice the fear that Yara was possibly too stressed by the job and have a guide dog instructor calmly reply, “She doesn’t look stressed to me,” without missing a beat. And if my own inner-battle as a competent handler wasn’t enough to drive me towards the idea of giving up on our working relationship, there was also the months of going between Fidelco’s suggestions and my vet’s as to Yara’s health.1

Somehow, though, I muddled through it because I just kept coming back to the fact that she’s such an awesome guide dog. And, perhaps naively, I felt that things would get better. She would always have EPI, but once she was recovered and was back to a healthy weight it would no longer rule my life. Except, it totally does. The fact is I have taken off twice as much sick time from work because of Yara than I have for myself. Rather than call in sick, I went to work all five weeks I suffered from a horrendous viral cold last year because of the pressure from my superiors to not use my paid leave. I’ve gone to work with migraines because I have practically exhausted all of my accruals, which only serves to make the headaches worse through strain and stress. I don’t blame Yara in the least for this; she can’t help being sick. But that fact doesn’t make it less frustrating when she stubbornly refuses to eat for days on end and then is sick from not eating and not getting the proper dosage of enzymes in her system.

On top of this she’s also developed some severe allergy issue. My best assumption is that she’s reacting to something at my grandparents’ house, since both of her major attacks have manifested after we’ve spent extended time there. I realized after our most recent trip to the vet that I can no longer risk her health and can’t bring her to my grandparents’ any longer. And the moment that thought passed through my mind, I quite literally had to catch my breath. Many times through the years I have come across two major situations with my guides in terms of taking them places: I didn’t feel comfortable bringing them with me; or, I’ve been told that I can’t bring my dog to such-and-such place. With the first, it’s always been my own initiative to determine this and has more to do with my willingness to subject them to an uncomfortable environment for them (e.g., a loud concert) or me (e.g., a job interview) or a situation where I wouldn’t feel safe working them (e.g., Friday nights during college wherein I’d most assuredly get drunk while clubbing). On the second, I usually find myself responding that I most certainly can and am eagerly waiting for someone to try and argue differently. But never have I been limited by my dog itself in where I could take her. It was with this realization that I came to the conclusion that this partnership isn’t working.

There’s a lot of good, but the few negatives that exist are far too much to handle. If she were a pet, I think I’d feel differently, but because she is a working dog her health issues greatly impact my own ability to use her as a guide dog. I certainly can’t work a dog that is displaying signs of being ill, but as I live alone I have no one else to step in to care for her and I definitely can’t leave her alone for a day while she’s sick. Frankly, I don’t want to not work her and use a cane instead or leave her in someone else’s care since as her handler that really is my responsibility. Still, the fact is that when I made the decision to work with a guide dog I signed on for a healthy animal. The expectation is that the dog will be as dependable as a white cane. And while it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a guide dog will become ill anymore than a white cane being unbreakable, the reality here is that I have gone above and beyond a bit of give-and-take in this respect. I don’t regret any of that; not the money spent or the time off work or the endless hours stressing myself sick. But it has gotten to a point where I have given as much as I can and it’s time to admit there is no more left. And so, the best alternative is for both of us to move on.

This is a bittersweet event, though, because there are many things I am truly happy about. One, I will be working Yara until Fidelco finds a match for me and as it stands currently the earliest they will call is December.2 So, while her retirement is pending, it is still quite a ways off. I plan to soak up as much enjoyment from this fleeting time we have as I can. Two, while there is no firm answer as to where she will go once retired beyond the fact that I am not keeping her3 there are two very viable options for a superb post-retirement home. Either of which will allow for us to remain connected! I’ll natter on that later. Most probably when there is solid news to share. And, third, as difficult as it is to let go of a guide dog, it’s hard to not be excited about getting a new dog. Even if that is still a ways off, I’m still a bit giddy about the prospects of my next guide and making a new friend.

I was going to get into the specifics on the retirement/reapplication process, but this post has gotten a might long, so I’ll save that for a subsequent post. Instead, I want to end this with a very heartfelt thank you to the handful of people who have been “in the know” about this entire situation. I was hardly in the best frame of mind before this became official. I had many qualms about this and a list as long as my arm of questions that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get answered. And without those few ears and shoulders I probably would have shattered into pieces. But just as important was that these same glorious people were around after the decision was made to listen intently to my play-by-play of the most finite details and reassure me. Everyone should be so fortunate to have such a great support system as you. <3

  1. I won’t even get into the aftermath of her diagnosis here because just thinking about it sets my teeth on edge.
  2. I am not entirely happy about the very real possibility of training during the winter again.
  3. Much as I would love to, keeping her as a pet wouldn’t alleviate the issues of her health impacting my life. Also, as spacious as my apartment is, it’s not an ideal home for two big dogs.

NY Budget Woes Continue

The budget crisis here in NYS seems to have no end. The newest announcements of woe are that state workers may not receive our paychecks on time. Another article I read stated that since the emergency appropriations bill wasn’t signed by the 5 p.m. deadline that banks that only update each day probably won’t credit the pay until Thursday or after. With my luck, mine is probably one of those banks. My assumption is that payroll checks and pay stubs will still be given out today since I’ve heard nothing from SED to say otherwise, so perhaps this is not something to be worried about. In the very least, if paychecks are delayed, I hope they don’t take too long to go through: I have bills to pay!

Still it seems that things may get much worse, Patterson has already stated that if a budget isn’t passed by next Monday, he’ll push through his own. Based on the many threats of spending cuts and tax hikes, I can’t imagine it will be all that pleasant an option. What baffles me is a lot of his ideas for getting money aren’t entirely sound. Take for instance his cigarette tax increase. Not that it personally affects me as I don’t smoke and I somewhat agree that it certainly has the potential to aid health statistics within the state. The fact is there is already there is a huge illegal market for cigarettes in NYS because of the outrageous price. Though, the extender bill does contain a provision to collect $150 million in taxes from Indian reservations selling cigarettes to non-residents, it all is just a short-term solution. Sellers will be the ones hit with the initial tax, which I believe doesn’t go into effect until September anyway, and after that initial burst of revenue I’m sure sales will dramatically drop when smokers continue to buy cigarettes out of state, online or through black market channels.

Doggy Allergies

On the bright side, whatever stomach thing she was having earlier this week seems to have cleared itself up; however, after a week on her new antihistamine meds, Yara appears absolutely no less itchy. Though, her runny nose has cleared up.

We went to Dad’s on Saturday for Poppy’s Father’s Day meal and my father noted that her ears looked very red. Upon closer inspection we realized she’d developed hives inside her ears. I called the vet immediately and we decided to put Yara on Prednisone. Again. She’s reacting pretty much the same way as last time: she’s panting constantly, she’s drinking more water, her appetite is ravenous (which for her is saying a lot) and she has to pee every 45 minutes like clockwork. It’s so fun. I don’t know how I did this through the frigidness of winter last time. Especially the 2:30 a.m. potty runs.

Her itchiness hasn’t really subsided just yet, but if I recall from the last time it didn’t really stop completely until we were tapering down the dosage. Her vet would like her to be on the steroids for less time than she was in January — and I’m all for that — but we’re still observing at this point before we’ve truly determined one way or the other.

Personally, I feel for her. I’ve had a milk allergy since I was born and it’s kind of come and gone with severity in terms of how much cow’s milk I can tolerate before reacting and how bad the reaction is. It can be anything from a small rash to a huge Poison Ivy type skin reaction to hives and a bunch of things in between. But one thing is consistent, it itches worse than anything. I used to wake up in the middle of the night as a child with my hands drenched in blood from scratching myself raw during my sleep and I wouldn’t even notice the pain, I’d just be aware of how fricken itchy I was! I’d take chronic, excruciating pain over being itchy any day of the week. At least with pain you can get rid of it or ease it or mask it, but when you’re itchy there isn’t really anything that takes it away. It can be maddening.

Sadly, I can’t really explain this to Yara. And instead I get evil looks when I tell her to stop biting or scratching herself. Poor girl.