Category Archives: animals

Bionic Lady Rescues Wise Advice Chief and Staff!

This just in from Halifax:

Wise Advice chief, HRM (AKA Lablady) and her staff canine, Opal, were rescued on Mumford Road  by Bionic Lady late yesterday afternoon. Ms. ‘S’, better know as Bionic Lady because of her nifty titanium prosthetic leg, noticed  Wise Advice and her trusty pooch trying to navigate home from the Mumford bus terminal. Realizing that there was no way that the self-proclaimed queen of advice-giving would be able to navigate the narrow, windy, and perilously slippery snow tract which pedestrians had created to  replace the sidewalk, Bionic Lady cleverly guided the guide dog and Wise Advice (who tucked in behind the dog) through the rough terrain to safety. Their victorious survival story was recorded by CBC TV crews who happened by on their way to film other snowstorm cleanup and disaster stories all over Halifax.  It seems that Saturday’s storm hit HRM by surprise. The official line from the city is that they had not contracted the snow-clearance teams to work before November 30th and “were caught by surprise” (this despite  the statistics which show that Halifax has recorded snow in November almost every year in its history). Bionic Lady said  to CBC reporter, Mindy Ming, “It’s a bitch out there, ya know? They haven’t even cleared out the bus stops at major intersections yet. The curbs downtown are like, gone”. Wise Advice said she had serendipitously been traveling on the same bus as her neighbour, Bionic Lady. “Yeah, I was standing next to the driver all the way to Mumford terminal with Opal ’cause there was no way those young kids were going to give up their seats for me or anyone else. It gave me a chance to have  a nice chat with the driver, though.  The driver told me (when he wasn’t stopping to dig snow from his bus’s doors at bus stops, so they could close properly), that 48 hours after the snow  storm,  not one street in HRM is plowed properly and even bus stops at busy, main intersections are inaccessible,  and  that there is no way the ALF buses  could  deploy their ramps for the wheelchair users anywhere”.

“Guess they’re  (wheelchair users) screwed for getting to work this winter” the driver announced grimly as he drove his  bus around a string of  cars stuck in a mid-road snowbank. “I feel like Superman and MacGyver all rolled into one” he announced with pride. “Yeah, I had to pull two people out from UNDER my bus who had slipped off the snowbanks as they tried to get on board at a couple of un-cleared stops.  AND I made a nifty shovel out of my lunch pail so that I can dig the doors out when they get stuck!” he added excitedly. Wise Advice told Mindy Ming that she should take the film crew over to city hall and film the undoubtedly well-cleared parking lot there, and interview the mayor and council as they emerge from ‘work’. “Maybe shove a camera in their face and ask them if any of them have time to do double duty as chauffeurs to the thousands of elderly and persons with disabilities in Halifax who are at risk of not accessing medical appointments, employment and necessary  travel because of the dumb asses’ decision that  it’s OK to gamble and allow un-contracted snow crews to get  caught with their ski-doo pants down.  Environment Canada is forecasting rain in the  HRM area for the next couple of days. Prediction? Ice slicks where sidewalk snow paths exist, and ice mounds at curbs. This equals lawsuits and liability. It would have been cheaper just to clean up the snow in the first place, rather than pay for all those broken bones and physiotherapy.” She left for home with Bionic Lady to have a cup of tea.

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‘Opal Winfrey’, ‘Bubba’,’ Ope’…

You’re not REALLY suppose to call dogs by names other than their real, given  name, but sometimes stuff just seems to roll off the tongue…’in the moment’. For example, I often call Opal, ‘Puppet’. This is my special  term of endearment for her. Admittedly, I have occasionally also saddled her with; ‘Little Girl’, “Ope’, ‘Little One’, ‘Opal Winfrey’, ‘Magoo’, ‘Bubba’, ‘Goofy Girl,  ‘Pooping Machine’,  ‘Destructo’, and ‘You Big Galloot’. I’m sure you can figure out how some of these handles developed. She is a petite, compact dog, albeit a bruiser. She can just about knock you off your pins with her powerful tail or swaggering butt. She plays hard, no doubt about it.  A  ‘waif-like’ woman (which I am NOT) would keel over handling this dog.  Good thing CGDB gave her to ME. ‘Opal Winfrey’ was her nickname at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind where we trained (Maybe it had something to do with her being a black, powerful bitch…oops. Did I say that?!). As for ‘Bubba’, that came in a dream… weeks before Opal entered my life.

Several weeks before I left for Manotick , Ontario to train with the dog that would eventually be my guide dog, Opal, I had this dream. Realize that one does not learn any details about the dog which the guide dog training school is planning to match you up with,  until after you arrive on scene.  I  had no idea what breed or sex of canine I was getting, nor did I  know the  name of this dog…until the day we met (that’s for another blog or book chapter). I had been reading the CGDB pre-training material . I listened to  a CD and learned about the expense of training a dog/handler team ($35,000.00+). I worried about the difficulties the school might have in finding a dog for me.  When I lapsed into dreamland that night,  I saw myself at the CGDB training Centre. There I was… sitting in a room,  about to learn the details of my dog’s pedigree. The chief instructor came in and sat on my cot ( apparently they could no longer afford beds for their clients). She  said, “Your dog is an  8 and 1/2 year old miniature collie mix”. I asked her, in horror, why my  dog was so old and so small. She replied, “Money, there’s little of it. We can’t afford pure bred dogs any more. We collect strays and train them”.  She added, “Don’t worry, he’ll take up so little space in your  home”.  Then, I asked  about the dog’s name. “Bubba”, she replied.  Mercifully, I awoke at that point in my dream.   I later mentioned this nutty dream to the real chief instructor when I spoke to her on the telephone, a day or so before leaving for Ontario.

I recall sitting in the lounge at CGDB several weeks later, having just arrived there the day before.  This was the big moment when we (me and  people I was training with) were  being told the details about our dogs. My turn finally came.  I held my breath. The instructor had an impish smile in her voice when she said, “Helen, you’re NOT getting a dog named Bubba…you’re dog is a black lab bitch, named Opal IV.” The rest…is history.

One Seat, One Fare…Many Victorious

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected an application by Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, and Westjet for permission to appeal the new policy imposed by the Canadian Transportation Agency in January of this year.  The CTA  had issued an order to the airlines to adopt a policy of ‘one person, one fare’. In the past, passengers with disabilities and those that are deemed disabled because of obesity, could sometimes be charged two  fares if they required extra space to accommodate their wheelchair, stretcher, or if they required two seats because of their size or if someone required an attendant.  The airlines argued that the CTA order would cause “undue hardship” (implementing this directive would be too costly…the CTA did not buy it and suggested that costs would be recouped by charging an additional 79 cents per ticket).  The airlines will no longer be allowed to charge a second fare to accommodate anyone who requires two seats because of a disability or obesity. This only applies to flights within Canada.

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians president, Robin East, won a  victory complimentary to the “one seat, one fare” decision in a CTA ruling against Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz in June of 2008.  I know this man. He stands over 6 feet 2 inches tall. He travels a great deal…with his guide dog. He explained to me that sometimes, the airlines (Specifically Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz) would not provide him with adequate space for his guide dog when he traveled. (Airlines would  provide an extra seat (or bulkhead seating on Westjet) as a courtesy, only when the flight was not sold out. (I have flown at least once on all three airlines with Opal. Twice I got the extra seat, once I did not. The time I did not? Not too comfy for us…and I’m 5’2″)  Often, Robin would end up scrunched into a center section seat with his dog wedged between his legs, sometimes for hours. This is a horrendous hardship on the dog, the handler and the adjacent passengers don’t care for it much either).  As a result of the ruling, these airlines must now provide sufficient  floor space for registered service dogs who fly with their handlers (within Canada) on all aircraft that have over 30 seats.

It Snowed…and Then, Opal Went Foolish

You gotta love the first snowfall. Deep in your childlike heart of hearts, the excitement of the virgin flakes falling on your face, creates a buzz in you that defies rational thought. You consider hurling yourself into the smallest accumulation to make snow angels…but you don’t. You think, “gee, maybe I’ll take up a winter sport this year”, but you won’t. Your mind takes you  spinning through  potential Christmas shopping trips; You envision pleasant seasonal music playing everywhere, happy, friendly, patient people exchanging polite conversation, beautifully decorated stores filled with helpful staff that have  ‘just the right gift’ for everyone on your list, and then motoring home effortlessly through the picturesque streets to your warm casa. Reality? The music is largely hokey and annoying, the people are ruthlessly shopping for bargains that don’t exist which makes them even crankier. The heat in the stores is oppressive, as people wander hopelessly around in  winter gear causing them to sweat. No one can find a staff person for love or money. The aisles are choked with the usual displays of useless Christmas crap (like Chia Pets), intended for the desperate impulse buyer. These displays impede the progress of anyone in a wheelchair. The long wait at the cash is resonant with the sound of cranky kids, the swish of credit cards being processed, and couples discussing how they are going to get that monstrously large entertainment unit into the car. The car needs to be de-fogged and cleared of snow (once you can open the doors after de-icing the locks with frozen fingers). You wonder why you didn’t take that defensive driver’s course. It would have come in  handy here at  the mall parking lot filled with weary shoppers in cars skidding on summer tires. They seem a little too eager to beat you to the exit and half of them didn’t bother to clean the 2-inch layer of snow off their windshields.  You may or may not get whacked by an SUV full driven by a harried shopper. Traffic in town is crazy and you get stuck behind an accident scene involving a Metro Transit bus and a snow plow. The casa’s driveway requires 45 minutes of shoveling before you can get into it.

Me? I Christmas shop in September or on the Internet, IF  I have any money at the time and an inclination to purchase gifts. I will not subject Opal or myself to the insanity and unpleasantness of a mall in December. I would not have a hope in hell of getting through aisles with her anyway (displays create spaces too narrow for us), and there is rarely staff available in the stores at his time of year to help me  “shop” (ie. find something, read labels…). Instead, when the first snow hits (as it did yesterday), I take Opal outside on her retractable leash and share her profound joy in discovering  the first snow of the season…she seems to forget from year to year about this stuff called, ‘snow’.  But here it is….and the thought bubble over her head reads, “Mum…I think I’m going to go foolish…yes, I believe I must go insane and jump into this  white stuff, run around like a dervish and maybe throw myself upside-down for good measure…NOW!”

Talk To The Animals

I had an interesting chat with someone recently about the conversations she has with her cat. “Fluffy understands every word I say”, claimed my buddy. I politely commended her smart feline, but explained that while we all like to THINK that our animals understand human language as easily as fellow humans (and I’m not convinced humans understand it all that well either), this is really not the case. I don’t know much about cats and their ability to understand words. My cat, Lucy, seems to understand the emphasis I put into my words..”LUCY!! STOP EATING THAT ELECTRICAL CORD!!”, more than the actual words themselves, especially when the words are accompanied by the flinging of an object in her direction (like a sock, NOT a brick). Dogs seem have a larger capacity for words, sometimes hundreds. You can compare it to a very young child’s vocabulary. Much of a dog’s understanding is based on tone and inflection, as well as the facial and body language you display at the time you speak, and not so much syntax.  While talking to our animals endlessly about our angst and other stuff makes US feel connected, most of it is probably sounding like, “Blah, blah, blah” to them. Guide dogs learn words (verbal commands) to do their jobs. Every handler adds to their repertoire, based on need. I have added to Opal’s vocabulary. She can, for example, “find the garbage” (I draw out the word, ‘garbage’ and it comes out sounding  more like, “gahhbaage”. This is a necessary command for us, given our busy schedule, varied routes and the number of times she has a poop on the go.  I simply cannot be hauling poop bags into offices or other buildings all over HRM. The downside is, that garbage cans come in all types of shapes and sizes. Some have wrought iron cages around them, others are on poles (really hard to find). Even more challenging, is the similarity of appearance to recycle containers, composters, and even some newspaper boxes and public donation bins.  You can appreciate  the potential for a ‘mistaken deposit’. Dogs will  respond more to association with the word, than the word itself.  For example, if I say to Opal , ” We’re going to Sobeys”, EVERY time that we  enter  the same local Sobey’s store. then she will make the association. If I say the same thing at another of the Sobey’s store location, it will make no sense to her. Associations are quickly made in a dog’s mind. I feed Opal in the washroom at city hall every time I go to my regularly scheduled meeting there because of the time of day when the meeting takes place.  If I am unfortunate enough to be in City Hall for a different reason in the early morning, Opal has the expectation that we will  go to the washroom and she will  be fed, regardless of the time of day.

Plenty of Jobs For Dogs

The earliest dogs who had ‘ jobs’  were pretty much limited  to doing things which involved  herding, sled-pulling, hunting or guarding. Eventually, more types of dog-jobs emerged; guiding, avalanche and disaster rescuing, arson detection, hearing assistance, explosive detection, seizure alerting, wheelchair-user assistance, and many other types of special skills or therapy dogs.  Dogs now help autistic kids, people with panic disorder, kids who have trouble reading (‘Reading with Rover’ and similar programs) and now, some dogs even provide assistance (practical and emotional) to recovering veterans.

How fitting that in yesterday’s New York Times (Veteran’s Day), there appeared an article describing successful connections made pairing dogs with veterans. The physical medicine and rehabilitation departments at Walter Reed Medical Center  are referring qualified veterans to organizations like Canine Companions for Independence Veterans Program (www.cci.org) , America’s Vet Dogs (www.guidedog.org/vetdogs ) and Neads Canines for Combat Veterans (www.neads.org). The link for the New York times is: www.newyorktimes.com. You’ll have to take it from there. My computer is coughing up another cyber-hairball and complaining about a monster lurking nearby…why is that anti-virus stuff so expensive?

Hey! Wise Advice For Buddy On Quinpool Road

I know you probably won’t be reading this yourself, not having a computer or even a place to call home or anything, but I need to ‘share’.  That’s right, homeless guy, I’m counting on someone to enlighten you on this. Here’s the thing, buddy. You may have time on your hands like warts and find that sitting outside a busy Quinpool road supermarket on a Saturday is a good way to kill a few hours and panhandle some bucks, but you really need to do something about your dogs. I’m talking specifically about the pit bull that ‘got away’ from you as we (me, Opal and my sweetie, LA) were walking down the sidewalk… the one that was gunning down the pavement, hackles raised and focused  on attacking my guide dog, Opal. Yeah, the one my sweetie blocked  (impulsively and foolishly) with two kneecaps and a big sac of groceries. I’m talking about the one you lost track of ’cause you were busy scoring change and fussing with your OTHER mangy  canine  at the time. I’m sure life’s a b..tch for you,  being homeless and all, eh? Too f..ng bad! Your dog  ‘pack’ may be all you have in life, but frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass about them. or the tale of woe that is your life…not when it comes to those out- of- control-canines which you insist on having with you on busy sidewalks filled with children, old people and  other dogs,  including MINE! If you really insist on owning dogs (that’s DOGS- plural), for which you can’t afford food or vet care, then  pack up and do your panhandling elsewhere, like maybe, Miami. The weather is better in the south, there are more shelters, and hey, you will  probably find some dog fighting rings in Florida that would employ the pit bull!

The fact that you were still squatting on the same damn spot on Quinpool road, 3 hours after I first went by,  (dogs still barking viciously at other dogs going by) leads me to believe that you really don’t give a flying f..k about anyone but your miserable self. Watch it, buddy, ’cause if I’m not the one that calls Animal Control, then rest assured,  someone else is bound to call.  Don’t be waiting ’till someone gets their dog’s or kid’s face ripped off before you  decide to move it along.  But then…. it’s not like you’re too worried about liability is it?

and ‘Joefun’? get off my case!