Hello, Uschi!

Uschi lying on the living room floor

Above is one of the few photos I’ve managed to get of Uschi today. She’s proving to be quite a fidgety thing and so mostly all I’m getting is a big grey blur where there should be a GSD. While Yara was long and lean, Uschi has a much stockier build. In fact, in every way that Yara was angular and long (body, legs, tail, muzzle), Uschi is short and thick. I’d say she’s probably about equal in size as Dolly was, but with much different in build. She’s a sable, as I mentioned before, but much lighter than Yara with more grey in her coat. Her under side and legs are a very light grey, almost white color.

I mentioned earlier that due to postponing the start of training a day, we had planned to actually get some harness work in. (Actually I think I neglected to mention the harness part, but I do believe I said something on Twitter last night.) Well, thanks to the snow, we didn’t end up doing that. Instead, we did the usual Day 1 stuff: going over paperwork, meet and greet with the new dog, and being left to bond for the night. With a small deviation, we took a trip to my doctor’s office where it has been confirmed I have a sinus infection. Then we went to the pharmacy for what turned out no apparent reason because they didn’t end up receiving the script for my antibiotics and decongestant. It also happened to be when the doctor’s office was closed for lunch, but thanks to a good friend I ended up getting my prescriptions without having to walk through the ice and snow with just my cane. After all that, we were left to on our own until tomorrow morning when the real work begins.

Mostly, I’ve learned that she is very easily excitable, which I think will be one of the big things we’ll have to work on. Definitely she will be a dog that few will have the opportunity to pet because even a little attention sets her off. She’s also a licker. Unlike Dolly she doesn’t seem to want to coat every inch of exposed skin in her slobber. She’s more a stealth licker, managing to get me in the face a few times already today and swipe a glass I was currently drinking from.

She’s already raided the toy bin and found much enjoyment with trying to make me deaf. Seriously, I thought my previous guides could be kind of obnoxious about squeaky toys, but Uschi was going at the noisemakers in the toys to such an extent that Jason and I actually couldn’t talk over her! It’s also looking like she isn’t nearly as responsible with soft toys as either of her predecessors, so I don’t think the giant fleece monkey or bone will survive very long. And that’s assuming she doesn’t force me to toss them just from sheer annoyance. She did find the cow femur in the bin and chewed on that while I ate my lunch.

Let’s see, what else can I tell you . . . oh, right, she is super quiet! I mean, she has literally whined one time all day and that was to tell me she had to take a tinkle. I’m totally in shock. I even mentioned as much to Jason, who confirmed that she’s incredibly quiet. She’s been pretty curious about people coming up to the house, but even when my friend rang the doorbell when dropping off my scripts, Uschi didn’t make a peep.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s tons more to say, but it’s dinner time for the both of us. More tomorrow, I’m sure.

The Call

There are many events in life that are momentous. Guide dog users have a few that are unique to handlers; one of which is the call.

That’s right, folks, they have a match for me! As usual I have precious little notice before my January 6th date to begin training. But I’ll give them props this time: when I was called about Yara, it was the day before Thanksgiving and Dave couldn’t remember her name! So, I spent the entire long weekend going out of my mind with curiosity until Megan called the following Monday.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re all dying to hear the details about Guide Dog #3, so I’ll just spill the beans. She’s a two-year-old sable German shepherd.1 She was described as “small and sturdy” so take that however you like, I’m imagining a barrel with dachshund legs, but I think I’m drunk on the giddy.

Oh, and her name is Uschi. Pronounced “yoo-shee.” I don’t quite know how I feel about it. A quick Google search has shown me there is a singer and a model with the name and that it’s origin is Latin, but used most often in German as the pet name for Ursula. This last bit seems oddly fitting given the sparse description I have of her as yet.

Before you ask, I’m still waiting on some details to be finalized regarding Yara’s retirement, but I will have an update posted on her shortly.

EDIT: Thanks to Alan, via Facebook, I have a picture of Uschi from a newspaper article about a Fidelco “Watch Me Grow” event:

Uschi at a Fidelco "Watch Me Grow" event, lying on the floor in harness

  1. Jason felt the need to add the last bit, so I’m doing the same.

“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.

Our Last Day

Yara’s started just ignoring her breakfast the last few days. Yesterday, she actually vomited while we were out, but she wouldn’t eat any of the treats we bought so I guess she’s fine enough. Last night I gave her two cups of food for dinner rather than the standard cup and a half and she ate it all up, albeit very slowly.

Anyway, we went to Crossgates Mall yesterday. Megan and I both were rather surprised that it wasn’t more crowded, but still we got a good share of pedestrian traffic to work around and a lot of strange obstacle work. Yara did excellent, as always. She walked me into another store front window that kind of jutted out, but all I did was drop the handle and she worked right around it the second time. We did some escalator work (read: gave me heart failure). I loathe escalators with a fierce passion, but Yara didn’t mind them at all. In fact, she kept indicating them when we’d pass by another set and would bring me right up to them even when I’d try to work her passed. It was amusing. We also did our first elevator and I think this time Yara nearly had heart failure as it was a glass one and she seemed rather positive if she got too close to the edge she was going to fall off or something untoward would happen. Poor baby. She was fine once I moved over a bit so she could turn in the opposite direction and not be so preoccupied with her possible demise.

Yara curled in a ball, lying in the corner by the front doorLater on, we went out to dinner at Pinhead Susan’s for our “Fidelco meal” and it was pretty packed. Yara was a total lazy bum and lounged out as much as she could under our table and my chair. Surprisingly, I’d never eaten there before! We’d had a slice of pizza at the mall, and I actually had some breakfast, but I was starving by the time we arrived and hardly could decide on what to get. I had some turkey artichoke dip sandwich thing and it was pretty yummy.

Today was our last official “day” of training and so we did all our paperwork and I signed my contract. Then, since it’s literally freezing out, we went to Walmart and did some laps while we shopped around. Nothing too strenuous and Yara was a total angel the entire time. She didn’t make even one mistake; I’m incredibly proud!

With the exception of a trip to NYC that will happen “sometime” that finished up everything we needed to do for our training. I can’t believe how fast it went! I’m kind of sad, to be honest, but I think it was really a very thorough ten days and I definitely learned a lot. As for Yara, I think it’ll be a wonderful match.

I leave you with one more grainy cell phone photograph above and now I am off for I am quite hungry. More updates on my lovely girl to come.

Lesson #1 In Differences Between Dolly and Yara

I used to say that if Dolly could talk she would weave quite a tale of abuse and neglect by my hands just judging from some of the facial expressions she’d give me in response to commands or corrections.

I’m beginning to feel I really am abusing Yara. The poor girl is just so sensitive, as I’ve mentioned many times. She reacts to just the slightest stumble or slip when we work in harness. I’ve learned that I don’t need a firm hand with correcting her at all, I’ve had to force myself to not take the leash to prod her to get going but to rely only on my voice most times. Even the simple act of dropping the harness handle is enough to get her attention without saying a thing when she’s made a mistake like walking me into something.

Anyway, so I’ve already seen that she enjoys the snow. Sunday she was eating snowflakes while we waited for our taxi and yesterday she got to play in the park. When I took her out to relieve after dinner last night, she jumped right into a snowbank and started tossing snow all over. So I thought it would be just fine to get some shoveling done while she was out there playing.

Uhm. I was wrong.

I tossed a shovel full of snow onto the pile and some of it flew in her face and she literally went into a panic. She did the whole startle and duck and I’m sure anyone that saw us would have sworn I kicked her in the face. I felt so bad. I’m a bit used to Dolly, who literally lives for snow. She burrows under it, she digs through it, she tosses it in the air and shoves her head straight into it. She loves to be in the middle of snowball fights and she will actually chase snow being shoveled1 if she’s around at the time.

I feel like a very poor canine mommy.

  1. A lot like this dog.