One Year!

Time is an odd and bewildering thing. In equal parts I find myself astounded by the length of time that has gone by and disbelieving that it is truly a year to the day that Uschi and I became a team.

In thinking over our time together I find myself at somewhat of a loss; the events that truly stand out seem so far removed from the present. Perhaps that’s a blessing because it seems to have eased some of the less pleasant recollections I have of our past events, such as training during the most horrendous weather while I was incredibly sick and the fiasco at a local bookstore. Though, I don’t I find there’s any less distance between other memories and can hardly fathom that it was so recently we went to the Tulip Festival and the Great Escape!

Me sitting with Uschi in front of a bed of roses at Schenectady Central ParkStanding in sharp relief within my memory is a resounding feeling of trepidation. I didn’t know what to expect of this partnership. I was optimistic that it would prove equal to my previous experiences, but realistically knowing it could be a failure. And while I was quickly smitten with this adorable shepherd and her childlike personality, I found that truly bonding as a team did not come as easily or quickly as with the dogs before her. I’m not positive of exactly when I felt us gel into a team, but I do remember that I had a bit of an epiphany around Easter and realized I had been distancing myself. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to protect myself from the possibility of the partnership failing, however remote. But I think mostly I was preoccupied with concerns over Yara’s well being and it was seeing in person that she was thriving and that both dogs got along so well that seemed to clear out the emotional clutter I wasn’t even aware of.

Reflecting on this last year the most intriguing thing to me is that in many ways Uschi and I have surpassed my previous guide dog teams. Whereas I would generally build up to certain experiences and expectations, I never had much of a need — and more often no opportunity — to ease Uschi into certain tasks. Honestly, upon realizing this I was mildly horrified that I had been so lax about this, but Uschi’s risen to every challenge without fail, including several instances I would consider far more stressful than necessary and would have liked to avoid completely. Much like Yara, she’s had no need for settling into her role as my guide dog. A fact I still find astonishing given her antics when out of harness!

If anything, she certainly keeps me young with her limitless energy and exuberant personality! Every morning she practically throws herself at me for a bit of cuddling and then speeds around the house, bounding over large stretches of floor and flinging herself onto a piece of furniture or one of her numerous beds. Sometimes she will loudly toss her toys about or prance through the house proudly showcasing her dressage mimicry and it’s all I can do to keep from rolling with laughter. She’s nothing if not unique.

Truly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Three Years

Time is a strange thing. There are moments when it seems like three years has gone by in a blink of an eye and yet others when I feel it was more like 300. And to complicate matters more it always seems like it’s nonexistent when you need it most, which certainly is a contributing factor to this anniversary post going up more than two weeks late. Not that it’s the first time; I was a day late for our first year.

Portrait of me and Yara on a white background; Yara is standing beside me with my arms wrapped under her bellyThis last year has been a mixture of good and bad for us as a working team. Yara’s had several relapses with her EPI, another bought of SIBO, and developed severe allergies, but also had the most lengthy times of stability in her health, too. And it was this ongoing struggle that ultimately led to the decision to retire her.

It remains one of the single most difficult things I’ve ever done, which is saying a lot because if there’s one thing I’m not known for it’s being decisive. Having no assurance whatsoever of exactly when a new guide dog match will be made, I’ve spent the last six months trying not dwell on the less pleasant aspects of this. Instead, I’ve done my best to celebrate the time we have left. We had a round of professional photos taken at Washington Park. Three times, in fact. Some of which were chosen when Yara was featured at! I even broke down and got a cake to celebrate her birthday in rare form! I’ve also tried to get in some time with all of Yara’s pals one last time, which of course has included photos.

We’ve done a lot of fun things that haven’t had any involvement in my neurotic and roundabout preparations for Yara’s retirement: we went to the Empire State Book Festival, the Tulip Festival, and the Victorian Stroll (which I still intend to finish a post on). All of these were firsts for Yara — and aside from the Tulip Festival, for me as well! We also took a trip to visit Raechel and James, which included attending this year’s Walk for Fidelco and a trip to Mystic Aquarium for my birthday! Speaking of the Fidelco walkathon, we had Jean take some fabulous photos that became our thank you cards for donors.

Headshot of Yara lying in the grassOh, and we also moved! Which actually did fulfill my hope from last year that this year’s anniversary would be at a much less drama-filled abode. Yara now has an entire house to clomp around in.

More recently, we’ve been preparing for the holidays. Yesterday we even went caroling! Of course there is the usual card, which will be sent out tomorrow barring that my fingers can get through the last 30 or so! The house is all decked out and Yara’s matured enough that I’m not constantly finding ornaments strewn about. In fact, so far the only ornament that’s been knocked off the tree has been by me and that was while decorating it. Unlike last year, we actually managed to get to stores to do some shopping without any unfortunate incidents, though, that hasn’t seemed to help me actually get gifts.

Yara and me lying in the grass togetherYara’s been an amazing addition to my life: a phenomenal guide dog and an exceptional companion. Even though the time wasn’t perfect by any means, I wouldn’t trade the experience. Rather, looking back over the last year — and the two before that, I find myself feeling cheated that our time as a team will be so short. There is so much I had planned to do with her by my side, so many things that I am sure she would have enjoyed and even more that I’m intensely curious as to how she would have reacted. I think, for me, the hardest part of letting go is that I didn’t expect it to be so hard. I’ve done the retiring thing before and thought I knew what it entailed and for more reasons than I am able to articulate, this is so very different than before and so much more difficult.

Short as our time has been, I’ll certainly not soon forget how powerful I have found it to be.

Two Years

I’m not known for being often bereft of words, but I find myself lacking the ability to adequately express how I feel about this past year.1 Two years is hardly a lengthy amount of time and I’m sure that I am not alone in feeling that the year has been going by with a breakneck pace. And yet, I find myself mildly shocked that it was only 731 days ago that Yara entered my life. Cliché as it may sound, I almost can’t remember a time she wasn’t by my side, standing on my foot, and rubbing her face on any reachable part of my body.

The faerie dust generally doesn’t fog my mind for too long before something happens to remind me of the truth: I’ll hear a crash in the other room and rush out to find Yara engaged in some intricate game amongst a mass of toys that only she understands. Other times I might catch her, err, having a little too much fun with herself. Sometimes reality is less amusing, like when it’s vomit.

Portrait of me and Yara on a white background; Yara is in harness, lying on the floor beside me, resting her head on my kneeOver the last year, me and Yara have had our share of ups and downs:

  • Most notable has been dealing with Yara’s EPI, but while her unpredictable eating behaviors don’t help the issue, in July she reached 63 pounds — exactly what she weighed when she was placed with me.
  • In celebration of my 30th birthday, we went on vacation to Connecticut and NYC. Sans her lack of desire to eat, Yara was an absolute angel and worked her way through all of the various new places and situations without any issue.
  • On the other hand, the month before I had quite the scare when first Yara injured her foot and then later was attacked by another dog. Thankfully, all turned out fine. But for the record, I’d be fine if none of that ever repeated itself.
  • Meanwhile, after two separate sittings, we did get some nifty new portraits taken. Of course, it’s impossible to get a less than beautiful photo of Yara.
  • We also had to deal with some, well, issues at my work.
  • More recently, Yara had her first “swim” and subsequently her first bath since being placed with me.
  • Along with Sarah and Fay we saw the sights at the State Capitol.
  • We also bopped around to various NaNoWriMo Write Ins where Yara was always quite a hit amongst the local wrimos in attendance. Sadly, she wasn’t very helpful in the word count area, but no one’s perfect.
  • Not too long ago, Jean took more adorable photos of us for holiday cards (which I’m hoping to get out next week).
  • Today we’re off again, this time to CT for the weekend to see an ASL performance by The CRIDDERS!

Looking forward, Yara and I will be having a good number of firsts next year, including trips to conventions and airplane flights. I’m very confident she’ll continue her tradition of impressing me beyond words. And if all goes how I hope, I’ll be writing next year’s anniversary post from a much nicer and less drama-filled apartment!

  1. For those who missed it, or wanted to read it again, last year’s anniversary post can be found here.

Dog Day! Anniversaries

In lieu of being able to write out the post I’d intended, I tweeted yesterday that it marked eleven years since I was partnered with Dolly and a year and a half that Yara and I have been a team. It’s hard to believe how quickly the time has gone by; I still vividly recall meeting both girls. Though, I’ve only ever blogged about Dolly’s meeting (which I’ve no doubt I’ll elaborate on someday). Until now, of course. :-)

“Slaphappy” would be a good word to describe me a year and a half ago. I was so wired from the excitement and anticipation that I didn’t sleep the night before. I tried a few times, but couldn’t get my mind to calm itself enough to give my body any peace. In fact, I spent most of the night and morning preceding Megan’s arrival pestering everyone I knew online via message boards, Twitter, AIM and the like. The only problem with this was that most of my friends that would have understood or empathized with my punch drunk giddyness were sadly unavailable and so I was left with babbling to those who probably didn’t care or only vaguely got how incredible of a day it would be.

Of course, as with anything one anticipates, time was crawling by. I was pretty much out of my mind with impatience by the time noon rolled around . . . and by three o’clock was nearly to the point of panic. The doorbell rang sometime after that and my crazed excitement evaporated immediately into a mess of nerves and trepidation. A million different thoughts zoomed through my head, too many to even fixate on any particular one. So, while I was definitely disappointed that Megan wasn’t standing on the other side of the door with leash in hand, I was actually just the tiniest bit relieved to delay the meeting just so I could collect myself.

That delay ended up being something like 45 minutes while Megan went over all the various paperwork and equipment she’d brought with her. This all seemed to go by in a blur, though I tried desperately to pay attention. Eventually, whether by reading my lack of interest or because she actually was finished with what she needed to say, Megan put her hands down on the table and looked me straight in the eye, “So, are you ready to meet Yara?”

Yes! I shouted in my head, though I only managed to nod my head, feeling a stupor engulf my brain. I waited inside while Megan first took her puppy, Stella, for a walk and then Yara before lightly knocking on my door to be let in again. I don’t remember what I did during those few minutes, aside from sit at the table fidgetting, but it felt like an eternity had gone by.

The first thing I realized when I pulled open the door was that Yara was a lot bigger than I’d imagined her. Taller. Longer. The second was that she wasn’t remotely what I’d call “grey” as she was described to me over the phone and in her paperwork. But all of that was pushed out of my head almost the instant I thought it as she tried to drag Megan into the house and bounce around all over. I suddenly felt exhausted and old just watching her; how any living thing could have that much energy and not explode confounded me!

Megan had me walk Yara through the apartment to explore and we attempted to feed her. Megan didn’t stay too long after Yara was brought in and all too soon we were left to ourselves. Obviously, if there had been an issue I could have called her and her hotel was not even five minutes from my home. But, believe it or not, I was quite literally scared to have her go and leave me with the crazy beast of a dog! (Go figure, eh?) The very fact this was so stressed me out a bit. As did the constant ear-piercing whining. Eventually, though, Yara calmed down and settled herself.

She spent the majority of the afternoon, evening and night staring at me. It was kind of unnerving, especially in the middle of the night when every move I made caused her to jump up. But strange as it might sound it was also endearing and I grew used to her constant supervision rather quickly.

Truly, she’s a very interesting companion.

One Year

I tweeted that yesterday marked one year since Yara and I became a team. It’s truly amazing to me that it’s actually been a year; it has quite literally flown by in a whirlwind for me. Lots has happened, that’s for certain:

Profile headshot of Yara in harness on a brown backgroundIt certainly has been a very fun and exciting year together with her, but I can’t say it wasn’t without it’s stress. Dealing with the diagnosis of Yara’s EPI alone would be enough to firmly plant this first year into that category, but add in a new job, a big move, and returning to graduate school! Plus all the other zillions of things that have gone on. I’m actually very thankful to have had the privilege of being partnered with a dog that didn’t really ever require a “breaking in” phase. I’ve mentioned it a fair number of times that she’s always just been a guide dog. From our very first walk in harness I’ve felt that way and been continually amazed at how competent and sensitive of a guide dog she has always been. In many ways, I was the one who required the “breaking in” because of this very fact. It was hard to remember at times that she was such a new dog because of how flawlessly she would work through things. In fact, I find it very telling that when she was out here “checking up on us” Becky was rather astonished to see I almost exclusively use a flat martingale-style collar on Yara. At VESID my colleagues were incredibly shocked to discover how short a time I’d been working with her, especially given her excellent behavior. (Well, at least around everyone else sans my boss.) In fact, I still remember the second day of work when I was introduced to our deputy commissioner, Dr. Cort! I’d allowed one of the secretaries to pet Yara and she had rolled onto her back to get her belly rubbed when Dr. Cort had walked out of her office to speak with said secretary. Before I’d even had a chance to recall her with a come to heel, Yara had jumped up and run behind me to sit on my left side. We all just stared at her open-mouthed until I finally joked, “I guess she knows whom to impress!”

Before you go thinking I’ve put her on a pedestal of grandiose proportion, I certainly admit she can be naughty. Honestly, she can be downright annoying at times, especially when she lapses into that famous GSD whine! She’s never yet learned to control where her tail is nor whether her back end can fit in places. I am happy to say she hasn’t broken anything yet, but right before our move to Albany I decided to give up on the coffee table and left it back in Schenectady! And let us not forget that she is a bona fide German shedder extraordinaire who firmly bumped Dolly out of the “sheds the most” title.

Still, as the many pictures attest, it’s hard not to find her adorable beyond words and I’m never surprised to hear someone admire how striking she is. I can’t say much for the comments about her “unique coloring” but I can say it has changed quite dramatically over the last year.

I expect no less than continued excellence as a guide dog from her as we embark on our second year, but I am hoping that it proves to be at least a slightly less stressful one. We’ll be dealing with her EPI, of course, but it seems that will be quite manageable. We have a few fun trips planned,, such as next year’s Walk and Dragon*Con, and tentative plans to visit several people in the next couple months. Not to mention the day-to-day things to keep us occupied, too. :-)