Archives for October 2012

Quiet Moments

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Uschi, especially when she’s not working in harness, can attest to her crazy, playful nature. Honestly, living with her boundless energy is both amusing and exhausting. If anything she keeps me entertained, but I am very glad that she is capable of composing herself in harness and focusing on her task of aiding me in safely traveling independently.

Probably when you think of the term “guide dog” you imagine a blind person walking along being led by a harnessed dog. That’s certainly makes sense since that’s essentially what the dog is trained to do. Personally I think that simple act of walking as a guide dog team is both amazing and beautiful. Through leather and steel there’s a connection between handler and dog that even after all these years I still find truly profound and something without equal. But this isn’t a post about any of that. No, it’s a post about a more common part of working a guide dog, but one that’s often not stressed.

Full body shot of Uschi in harness lying on a white backgroundI’ve mentioned many times before that generally the largest part of a guide dog’s working life isn’t spent actively guiding their blind partner, but are more accurately “down times.” Guide dogs spend a lot of time being stationary. They lie under tables and chairs, tuck themselves under counters or even just sit beside their partner while they do any number of things from eat at a restaurant to standing in queue. Basically, they’re being completely unnatural to pretty much every dog that the public may have ever had contact with.

I hear a lot of comments from random strangers that their dogs would never be so well behaved and that they wish they could bring their dogs with them everywhere. But the reaction I love the most is when the person hasn’t even noticed the dog’s presence until I’ve gotten up to move or something. Considering how often the public’s reaction to my guide dogs is more than a little frustrating, it’s simply a welcome treat.

In a lot of ways, though, it’s just as much an example of what it is to be a guide dog as the aforementioned mental image. Certainly there are calm dogs and those who are well trained who, for instance, could lie under a table in a crowded restaurant for hours at a time without any issue. However, in my experience, that’s not the typical dog and it’s most definitely not the normal behavior for Uschi who has spent the vast majority of the time I’ve taken to write this post alternately chasing a tennis ball around the house and barking at all the trick-or-treaters. Goodness knows I could never sit around that quiet for such long periods of times when I was four. Honestly, I probably still can’t some three decades later.

That said, I find that many people don’t quite understand that a stationary working dog is in fact working. It’s not hard to understand given how we view the concept of work. I can’t imagine many employers would condone having a workday that accomplished nothing and merely consisted of sitting quietly. Of course, the converse is equally true and an employee who is disobedient and not fulfilling their duties wouldn’t be tolerated. Which is precisely why a guide dog “just sitting there” is actually working just as much as if she were leading her handler across a busy intersection.

They may seem less glamorous in relation to the more dynamic and active parts of guide dog work, but these moments of calm, quiet are ones that I truly admire and adore because even during these there’s a trust present. Uschi knows that eventually more actual work is coming — the opportunity to go somewhere or the chance for a car ride — and I have faith that she’ll be a good, obedient companion. Like so much of our partnership, it’s so simple and yet it conveys so much.


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

Hurricane Sandy

We’re fine and well here. We didn’t even lose power, which is a first for us as you’re probably well aware, but if we had the generator was fully gassed and we had tons of food and bottled water. Schenectady County even rescinded the state of emergency it had declared yesterday through Wednesday afternoon. All things considered it’s pretty calm here, but the skies are looking pretty ominous. The winds are still pretty rough, but there isn’t any major damage near me so far as I’m aware. I’ve no plans to venture out for the next day or so either way.

All the loved ones I’ve spoken or texted with seem to be fine — and the ones who haven’t responded I’m assuming are fine given their presence on the Internet within the last few hours. I actually just spoke with my grandparents who fared basically the same as me through the storm. In fact, my grandmother was baking cookies while I was chatting with her, which seems a more productive way to keep busy than my own mother who was out with a leaf blower earlier clearing up all the leaves that had “made a mess” around the property.

Anyway, wishing those of you within the storm’s path well. Stay safe, everyone!

Nearly a Week

It’s been nearly a week since I’ve had Uschi free while doing a yoga routine and she’s still holding strong with her no pouncing record. I’m still baffled by what exactly brought on this new, slightly mature behavior, but I’m certainly not complaining. Yesterday I did catch her inching towards me from her vantage point on her bed, but I gave her a soft “nuh uh” and she just nestled herself there and continued to observe me. So I was even more surprised when she didn’t move an inch while I was lying flat.

This morning she didn’t even bother with that formality and just hung out in her crate after eating breakfast. So, instead my mother was the one to cause an interruption and nearly scared the life out of me in the process. Thankfully I was basically done, but so much for that brief resting period at the end of a practice. Oh, well.

Have my endocrinology appointment later this morning and I need to call my GP and report on how the pain killer is working for me. I was in and out so quick on Friday that I didn’t get a chance to speak with her. Oh, and I should have test results today or tomorrow from the bloodwork that was done. Here’s hoping for some conclusive answers. I’m not entirely sure still if the daily yoga is relieving the stiffness and pain in my neck and left shoulder, but my back is certainly not bothering me even with the guide dog induced strain it receives from all the walking I’ve been doing lately. But I do think it’s probably more the yoga than the pain killer, which only really seems to be giving me a spectacular stomach ache.

Upward Facing Dog

During my last year of college a friend introduced me to yoga, which turned out to be one of the most difficult and fulfilling workouts I’ve ever done. Over the last decade I’ve kept up the practice, though, not always very regularly. And since the whole issue with my neck started I literally haven’t done anything. I’m sure if I had tried to find some specific movement or modification I could have maintained my daily routine, but for three months I could barely move at all and I definitely couldn’t be in any position for any length of time.

After the more excruciating pain subsided, though, I still didn’t start back up. Part of that was just plain laziness and it’s hardly the first time I’ve fallen out of the habit of working out because of that. But mostly I was scared I’d hurt myself further. Not from the yoga itself, which is virtually impossible to do if you pay attention to your weaknesses and don’t push past your limitations.

No, it was because of Uschi. See all of my guide dogs have shown some degree of interest in watching me while I work out. Dolly just wanted to be right next to me and no matter where I’d put her in a down-stay she would slowly creep her way right next to my mat. I think it stemmed from watching me go through physical therapy for my knee and having to lie by the pool but not being allowed in. She never got in the way, so I didn’t really feel a need to correct her for breaking the down-stay. Actually, there was a great picture I had of her lying across my mat between my legs in a Warrior II stance; unfortunately, like most of her photos they disappeared in the Great ‘Puter Crash of Aught Six. Yara and Uschi are much more obvious about their curiosity of the actual workout. Always the observer, Yara would just sit and watch me, often with her head cocked to the side as if trying to understand exactly what I was doing. Uschi may well be doing the same thing, but what had me so fearful of her injuring me was that without fail whenever I was done and just lying on my mat she would rush right up and happily pounce all over me. Even worse, most of the time she would come at me from behind my head, standing on my hair and pinning me to the floor while she exuberantly licked every inch of me she could reach.

Admittedly, post-yoga meditation is not the only time she does this and in fact she’s quite happy to pounce on me whenever she thinks I’m prone. I’ve mostly gotten her to be less crazy about it, but it hasn’t completely stopped this weird habit of hers and if she’s behind me I have no leverage to shove her off. And it’s really hard to give a verbal correction with the threat of a dog tongue in your mouth. Yes, I could just crate her when I’m running through a routine. For the record, I did expect that this was going to be how we’d start to fix the issue and for the first few days that’s what I’ve done. But for the most part she has the freedom to go in or out of her crate as she pleases and I’d rather not confine her just for this. And really it’s not resolving the actual behavioral issue.

Anyway, I recently had a doctor’s appointment and was quite displeased to discover how much weight I’ve apparently gained. It’s not an alarming amount of weight, but it wasn’t a surprise either given how my pants have been fitting lately. Given that I tend to walk much less during the colder months this was a big motivational push to get back into an exercise routine. So, I started my morning yoga again earlier this week. I did the most baby routine imaginable and even so I felt it to the point that I seriously thought I might have pushed myself too far and hurt myself. I could have let that be my excuse to stop, but I am happy to say that I’ve diligently done at least 40 minutes of yoga every day since. I can’t quite tell if it’s helping the pain issues since it’s still a bit early and I’m also on a pain killer. I can say that I definitely feel like I’ve been working out in pretty much every area of my body. But the most remarkable thing I can report is about Uschi.

On her birthday I gave her a huge raw meaty bone to nom on after breakfast and she contented herself to the task so completely that I didn’t crate her while I went through my routine. When I was finished she was lying on her bed sort of lazily looking at me as best she could from her vantage point, but she didn’t hop right up and maul me with puppy gusto. Now one time is just a fluke, but I did remark that it was kind of amusing that she turned four and suddenly became enough of an adult to realize the taboo. On Thursday she was still on her best behavior and has continued to leave me be. She’s still pretty interested in watching me. In fact yesterday morning she spent a good portion of time doing her own version of Upward Facing Dog while I was stretching that I’m giving serious thought to training her to do it on command and get a photo of us both.

#Firefly10th – “Out of Gas”

#Firefly10th - "Out of Gas"Today’s #Firefly10th is quite possibly my favorite episode of the series. Except, you know, for all my other favorites. ;-) Actually, my old LiveJournal took it’s name from a quote from this episode:

Mal: Looks can be deceiving.

Jayne: Not as deceiving as a low down, dirty . . . deceiver.

Mal: Well said. Wasn’t that well said, Zoe?

Zoe: It had a kind of poetry to it, sir.

I’m an easy sell when it comes to character development and so delving a little into backstories is usually going to make me quite content. But I think what I enjoy the most about this episode is that it really shows how these incredibly different people really mesh as a family. And how they all are tied to Serenity in their own ways.

Continuing next week is the mighty fine “Shindig.”