Archives for April 2011

Bulleted for Your Convenience

  • I went to Friendly’s twice today. Once in the morning with Alice and Josh for breakfast wherein I had a rather mediocre Belgian waffle. Rather the waffle was just dandy, the strawberries covering it were pretty lacking in flavor and I think were more preserves or jam than fresh berries. Later, I went with Cindy for a hot fudge sundae.
  • Went to the library book sale with Alice. Managed to spend a whopping $2 and got a grand total of two books. But I can actually read everything I purchased this time, so I figure it’s a win.
  • Accompanied Alice while she went car shopping. Uschi and I got to ride along for her test drive, which meant I could give the feedback of “there’s tons of foot room even with 70 pounds of shepherd on the front seat floor.” I’d like to say that alone was her reason to buy that car, but probably things like gas mileage and being an automatic had more to do with it. My version sounds cooler, though. It is, regardless, a very awesome car so I’m super happy for her!
  • After all that we had lunch at Chez Daisie and the most memorable thing about that was the huge boxer mix that was walking its owner to the creperie because he flipped out about Uschi. Hard to find fault with her mild distraction by that, but all things considered she did a far superior job.
  • Did the grocery shopping thing with Cindy. Accidentally attempted to pay for said groceries with my insurance card. Discovered this when the cashier told me the transaction was denied and I had a mild panic attack.1 Seems my insurance card has a debit feature a la flex spending. Of course, I’ve never put money on that so it would be hard to pay for groceries with it and at the time of the mortification I wasn’t aware what in blazes was going on and mostly my poor addled mind was trying to figure out how I got paid yesterday and somehow lost $800 plus what was already in my checking account. Somewhere during this random series of firing neurons I realized the card I was holding was not in fact my bank card and, well, I’m sure you can figure out the rest.
  • I think Uschi has hay fever. She’s basically leaking from every leakable part of her face. And she’s currently asleep at the moment and snoring up a storm. I am hoping, allergies or not, that we’ll get to take a trip to the dog park sometime soon provided the weather continues to cooperate.
  • Tuesday is new book day. I am excited. Also, my birthday is in three weeks! I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I think maybe I’m also excited for that, too.
  • I made buttermilk biscuits and chopped up fresh strawberries. Neither of which were purchased with my insurance card! And now that I’ve given you the highlights of my wacky day, I’m going to go and have myself some strawberry shortcake. I intend to enjoy it thoroughly.
  1. Cindy said she’s never seen someone turn so red before. I’m rather proud I didn’t pass out.

Friday Blah

I’ve had this recap post of our weekend at Dad’s in draft for days now and haven’t had time until today to write it all out. And sadly, I’m in no mood. I wish I could say it was over concern about Uschi’s odd behavior, but I’m more baffled by that than anything else. I can’t even blame it on the irritating and stressful mess school is at the moment and given that I randomly got a bill in the mail for a tuition I paid in full already that is saying something. Alas, it’s my mother, who has some medical issues that are too complex to get into here; whether she intended to or not she’s left me in quite a funk and I haven’t been able to shake myself out of it. Mostly, I’m just exhausted by her. I feel like I tread on eggshells all the time with her and somehow I can still manage to either upset her or piss her off. And, of course, if she hurts my feelings in any way, I just have to deal with it. The whole thing gives me a headache.

So, yeah, less maudlin posts to come at another time. Also, photos.

April 28, 2011

An odd thing has been going on with Uschi since we’ve been back from Dad’s and I’m thoroughly confused by it. All weekend she was her usual energetic and playful self and now that we’re home she almost seems depressed.

She’s gone back to avoiding the kitchen as much as possible; she’s staunchly refusing any food offered to her in that room. In fact, she wouldn’t eat anything for more than a day after we got back. And on the rare occasion she has taken a small treat, she makes a beeline to the livingroom or her crate. She doesn’t even seem all that willing to venture into the kitchen for a drink and when I have called her in and pretty much forced her to stay, rather than turn tail right back down the hallway, she drinks her water like she may never have another chance.

If it were just that I guess I wouldn’t be too worried since we’ve basically been here before, but she’s stopped playing with her toys or even chewing her bones. I didn’t think much of it the first day or two, but when I accidentally stepped on a squeaky earlier today and she didn’t come tearing through the house towards me it piqued my curiosity. I tried to entice her into a game of fetch and instead of chasing after the toy she decided halfway there she’d rather go lie down on her bed. A second attempt resulting in her just lying at my feet acting all stressed out.

Honestly, it’s like she thinks these things are some convoluted distraction test I’m putting her through. She pointedly tries not to look at the food or her toys like she might be punished for showing any interest. It is literally the most odd thing I’ve ever witnessed and I am utterly stumped by it. I did get her somewhat interested in about ten minutes of playtime a few hours ago, but she was hardly enthusiastic about it and not nearly as rambunctious as she usually is. And, of course, she has been eating steadily in her crate, which is a relief on the one hand and infuriatingly frustrating on the other.

Really, I honestly don’t know what to think.

International Guide Dog Day

Collage of three black-and-white images of Yara, Dolly and Uschi in harness

Retiring Reactions

One of the hardest things a handler has to go through is retiring a guide dog. It’s one of those things that does not get easier the more times it’s done. This past weekend I visited my father, who has very generously given homes to both of my previous guides once they’ve retired. It was my first visit since retiring Yara and the initial introduction she had to my current guide dog, Uschi. I think we were all a little nervous about this, but our worries were completely unfounded because the girls got along wonderfully. This got me thinking about how the guides themselves react to their retirement.

Portrait of Yara and me on a sapphire background; Yara is lying beside me, partially in my lapFrom almost the moment they are born guide dogs have been treated in specific ways to help aid them on their potential journey to working in harness. Before being placed with families who will raise, train and socialize them, they are constantly being held by people and being exposed to new and different objects, sounds and smells. The idea is to help foster confidence and mold those necessary strengths that a guide dog requires. At home with their puppy raisers, their entire lives revolve around learning proper manners and being exposed to situations that might crop up in their working life. And, of course, throughout their training they are being shown exactly what will be expected of them as working guides. Basically, by the time a dog has become a guide, the idea of going out into the big, wide world with their handler is as normal to them as drinking water.

So, while retirement is certainly hard for a handler, it can be almost devastatingly difficult for the guide dog. Guides that are used to going everywhere and having a very active life are not always able to adapt to life as a lazy pet. Even more stressful for them is the very idea of being left alone for extended periods. My first guide dog, Dolly, seemed to fall into retirement rather naturally. She was retired solely due to her age, so I think it was a welcome treat for her to just lounge around the house, eat table scraps, and play with her toys. Since, she and I lived at my father’s for a good portion of her working career as I was in college, in essence it was like coming home for her. She didn’t even pine for me, though she did have some quirky habits that clearly developed during our years living there; for example, when going to bed, she would always walk into my old bedroom first and in fact she spent so much time randomly falling asleep in there that my father finally put a spare dog bed in the room. And while of my three guides she proved to take being left at home the worst — she’d literally get sick — she wasn’t fazed at all by the long hours home alone while Dad and Keith were at work.

Yara, on the other hand, was retired at five for a series of health reasons. Moreover, I think I can count on one hand the number of times she’d been at my father’s before being retired. And after falling so hard for Dolly, who passed away last year, I think Dad and Keith made a concerted effort to distance themselves from this dog. I really didn’t know what to expect of her new life and home. Before visiting, I had several conversations with my father over the last three months about how she was doing and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Most notably, her health was better than ever!

What’s probably more intriguing is how the dogs have reacted to my presence after their retirement. Dolly always seemed rather indifferent to me when I would visit. She’d greet me happily and she was especially obedient, but she was clearly no longer my dog. During this visit with Yara, though it was obvious she was trying to reclaim me. It was so profound that we had a running theory that Yara and Uschi had conversed and decided they were switching places because Uschi seemed quite attached to Keith! When I pulled out the harness in front of Dolly one time, she waddled up to me on her arthritic legs and dutifully stood there waiting but she clearly wasn’t enthused by the idea. However, Yara practically bowled Uschi over when I took her harness out. She got into her excited whining thing and basically justified everything I said above about the normalcy of going places. Dad said that she was a might peeved when I left with Uschi.

Portrait of me and Uschi on a brown background; Uschi is lying upside-down across my lapNot being a dog I can’t really say as to the specifics of why some dogs are able to transition into retirement so smoothly and others aren’t. But in terms of my two girls, I think age has a lot to do with it. Dolly was more than ready to be done with her life in harness, she was nearly ten when I retired her and she had slowed down considerably. She’d developed arthritis and I’m sure it was terribly painful for her and, as I said above, going to my father’s was literally like coming home for her. Not to mention he had been notorious for spoiling her throughout her lifetime. On the flip side, Yara was in her prime as my guide dog and were it not for the health issues I never would have thought to retire her so young. While she definitely enjoys her new sedentary life, she’s always been eager and excited to go anywhere and retirement certainly has not stopped that. So, it doesn’t surprise me that she’s always happy to see her leash (or my harness) being picked up and gets miffed when she’s left behind. I think some of it is also personality. I know there are a lot of days I get up and go to work more on autopilot and because I have to, you know, pay bills and eat than any real desire to go and actually do my job and I really do enjoy being in my career. I can’t say Yara ever had a day that she showcased this, even when she was literally wasting away from her EPI she was always happy and energetic about, well, everything. Dolly, however, always had a bit of a lazy start to her day. It was like she needed a cup of coffee to get herself going; I used to call it her “five block or fifteen minute rule” because whichever came first would be when she really started to work in earnest. And for a completely black dog, she had one of the most expressive faces on a canine I’ve ever seen. Very often it displayed a look of severe boredom or irritation, like she was just too good to put up with the menial task of making sure I didn’t walk into things. Really, I’m not speaking with hyperbole when I say she was vindictive; if she thought I’d wronged her in any way, I could pretty much guarantee my face would collide with something shortly thereafter. It’s one thing I definitely don’t miss about her.

Whatever the reason, though I’m glad that my girls have had the opportunity to have a “dog’s” life after their years of in harness. I think it’s a well deserved treat for them and from what I’ve seen they would no doubt fervently agree.

This post was written as part of the third Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Reactions” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.