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.

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.

Itchy Dog Update

Today was a day of dealing with tetchy people on the telephone. Yesterday Yara threw up. Thankfully it was while we were outside taking our lunchtime walk through Lafayette Park. But she continued to sort of dry heave and hack for the remainder of the afternoon. I called the vet to inquire if this might be a side-effect of the antibiotics. She didn’t seem worried, noting that Yara had been on this same antibiotic before without incident. Though, I can’t remember if she had any vomiting during that time – since it was six months ago – and most of the time I attribute any vomit to EPI because it usually happens when she’s skipping meals. But while she’s been reluctant to eat the last few days, she has finished all her meals. Eventually.

Anyway, I was advised to observe her for a day or so and give her some Pepcid for possible acid buildup in her stomach. I ended up leaving work at 3:00 p.m. because she was still acting like she might puke again. And by this morning her stomach was still sounding very gurgly. Since I probably stressed myself into a migraine, I called in. This would be the first of the tetchy calls because one of my colleagues was also out.

Aside from coughing up something and promptly swallowing it, Yara didn’t vomit throughout the day but her stomach was still making churning and gurgling noises at noon, so I ended up having to call and cancel my neurology appointment. I was pretty loathe to do this since I have been having the mega migraines of doom lately and I have been waiting on this appointment for quite awhile now. So, of course, I got a snippy receptionist on the phone who told me with a long suffering sigh that I could have an appointment in two weeks, but I should know that a no-show or a cancel on this appointment would be very inconvenient for their office.


June 14, 2010

I’d hoped that Yara’s allergy issue would get better, but over the last few days I was noticing a few raw areas on her back legs and tail from biting herself from the itchiness. At first, I wasn’t too worried, but this morning her whole rear end was very red and raw. So, I took her to the vet and spent a staggering amount of money to find out that the sores on her legs that I’d initially dismissed were actually the more serious ones. She’s on an antibiotic to fight the infection and the vet also gave me some antiseptic spray for the wounds and a stronger anti-histamine. She seems pretty wiped from the allergy medicine, which worries me a bit with working her. I figure I’ll give her the medicine before bed so she sleeps and doesn’t gnaw on herself while I’m asleep and can’t stop her. And maybe a dose in the morning if she seems itchy; hopefully, that will be early enough to not kick in until we’re safely at work.

That is, of course assuming I have work to go to tomorrow. As it stands the state budget has still not passed nor has an emergency spending bill. If neither of these pass before midnight tonight, the state will shut down as of tomorrow. In all likelihood, mine will be among the positions not required to work. I’m pretty freaked about it, especially given the unexpected vet bill of this morning.

EDIT: The Legislature passed an emergency appropriations bill, so state services will continue as normal. Phew.


After her incident with the hot spots, I’ve been keeping a very careful eye on Yara to see if I could pinpoint whatever had given her the reaction. But aside from the few days or so before I noticed her sores, she’s never been excessively itchy.

Over the weekend at my grandparents’ we all couldn’t help but notice how much Yara was sneezing. And, thinking back, I realized she did have quite a few sneezing attacks at Raechel’s. I’ve always found her sneezes rather comically loud, but these were literally attacks of four or more in a row. I mentioned as much to Nanny, who immediately offered that she might be allergic to cats. I couldn’t help but giggle, since it wasn’t so long ago that I broke out in hives from a cat allergy.

I still don’t know if that is the specific allergy she’s having. But now that we’re home, I’ve noticed that she seems very itchy. Granted, as with every long stay at my grandparents’, I’m very bitten up and assume Yara is as well. So, it could just be that. Though, I kind of doubt it since she seems to be exceptional itchy in those usual thump-her-foot sweet spots all dogs seem to have. And not only was she treated with coat spray before our visit, I also can’t find any bites.

Either way, I put in a call to the vet today to see if she has any suggestions. I did treat her with some Miracle Coat, hoping that would relieve some of her itchiness and any rawness she might be developing from scratching. Poor thing. At least she seems to have stopped with the near-constant sneezing.

In related news, I’m definitely reacting to the cats: I’ve broken out in a very nasty rash (though, they aren’t hives . . . at least not yet) and my head is fully congested. Add to this the one zillion and two bites I acquired both inside and outside during our stay at Nanny and Poppy’s and I’m rather miserable.