Category Archives: Dog health

Yikes! It’s Hurricane Season

Opal and I live in Nova Scotia.  If there’s one thing Easterners really get into, it’s talking about , preparing for , and experiencing hurricane season. It must be that inbred Canadian love of imminent danger and disaster arising from weather conditions.  We are now in the midst of Hurricane season. Most hurricanes do not reach us, but we have had some over the years that did make landfall (Hurricane Juan, for example) and many tropical and sub tropical storms which can pack a mean punch. For people with disabilities, there are significant challenges involved in preparing for bad weather.  Just like the boy scouts, my motto is, ‘Be Prepared’. The Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission wrote a guide for PWD called “Are You Ready?”.  Voiceprint released a CD version of the guide.  It is full of helpful hints for PWD and seniors.   Other organizations in all jurisdictions have similar resources available. Consult the web sites or call the Red Cross, the Independent Living Resource Centre, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, National Organization on Disability,  Emergency Management Nova Scotia, VON (Vial of Life Program) or any EMO in your area.

Opal is a hurricane veteran. She was raised in North Carolina and was evacuated more than once, including during Katrina. Service animals, by the way ARE allowed into shelters (pets are not). I had no Guide dog at the time Hurricane Juan blew through Halifax some years ago.  I do recall my cat being terrified, especially when one of our windows blew in.  The power was out for five days. The streets were dangerous and impassible because of fallen trees and power lines. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to experience Juan with a guide dog.  In the last 12 months, Opal and I have dealt with bad weather, including tropical storms packing 120km hour winds and 150 ml of rain.   It’s important to listen to weather forecasts. It is helpful when planning your dog’s opportunities to relieve, because you can’t expect your 60 pound animal to be willing and able to squat in a gale (there’s always the bathtub…grin).

Plan your strategy for an upcoming storm. Obviously, you must have enough food and water on hand, for yourself and your animals. You should have a pre-determined   disaster plan for home, work or school. Create a communications and evacuation plan. and develop a support network of people. Your service animal’s kit must include food, dish, labeled medication, identification, papers, toy, bone, play collar, small blanket.  Fill your bathtub with water. Make sure you have the following on hand: non perishable food, water, batteries, portable or crank radio, medication supply, important papers including a list or audio tape of phone numbers and insurance information, first aid kit, warm clothing, sleeping bags, and items specific to your disability. Remember that phones and  power may go out (have mechanical can opener). There is often a lot of noise and confusion during building evacuation which makes it difficult for people who are blind who can no longer rely on familiar audio cues. Be familiar with your plan and practice regularly.

It’s not a good idea to use a land line when there is lightening ( My friend was knocked over while talking on the phone during a thunder storm as lightening hit the wires).  Unplug stuff, particularly computers.  Modems, monitors and so on, which can also become toast during a bad storm. On that cheery note, I am shutting down, unplugging and hunkering down as the weather begins to rage and we await the remnants of Hurricane Hannah.

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Shoot The Dog!

Opal visited Dr. C. today at the Veterinary clinic.  It was time for her checkup, one of two exams which I am contractually obligated to provide for her every year. Verdict? She’s a healthy girl and a real charmer (kissed the vet into a giggling heap as she tried to listen to Opal’s heart).  Opal did not flinch when the doc gave her the mandatory shots, and squirmed around playfully on her back while Doc. C. felt her ‘girl bits’. The trip through the clinic to the weigh scale is always fun for her. She loves to sniff the mountain of cat and dog food bags as she passes by.  It’s a challenge to keep her still on the walk-on scale bed long enough to get an accurate weight reading. She tends to lean against the wall which skews the number.  Sometimes there’s a dog being bathed in the same room, so that sort of activity peaks her interest . I suspect  she’s thinking, “better you than me!”  The doc kindly filled out our Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind health book and faxed them the new entry. We payed our bill (less 40% Guide dog discount).  The discount for vet services to guide or service dog is offered by many practices. It’s worth calling around to the local vets to enquire. The most important thing is to find a vet that you have good confidence in. It’s a given that they love animals. I look for someone who is down to earth and not an excessive pill or procedure pusher. Our doc was an emergency veterinary hospital vet for many years.  I also had no qualms about ‘googling’ her to check out her credentials and history.  There seems to be a generally better-than average accommodation for clients who have service dogs among vets.  My experience has included getting appointments quickly, a longer than usual amount of time spent examining or treating an injury, patience in answering all of my questions,  willingness to fill out and fax forms as required, granting of credit when I could not afford to pay immediately, easy availability for phone conversation/questions and providing alternative or ‘jigged-up’ methods by which I can accurately dispense medication like ear drops.  A vet is more than someone who shoots your dog.

Finders Keepers…most if the time

My Guide dog, Opal has found an amazing array of ‘stuff’ in the time we’ve been together. Some of it was lying on the sidewalks we travel (like a five dollar bill!), and other stuff she discovered in the places she relieves along the way and in our apartment building’s hallways. Here is a partial list of her (our) ‘finds’: Articles of clothing include; 3 winter scarves, 2 pairs of gloves, 3 mismatched mittens, 2 wool hats,  3 pairs of men’s briefs (one of them in a bush) 1 pair of trousers,  1 pair of women’s panties, 1 children’s sweater, and 2 sunhats.  Ya gotta wonder about the clothes, eh?   She has found 2 tennis balls, dinky cars, a colouring book, a doll and 2  stuffed toys (these do not include the ones she tries to steal when I’m shopping). There have been coins on the street and in restaurants, a pair of brand new ear rings, nail clippers, pens, magazines, a booklet of postage stamps,  a back pack, and several pieces of ID.

There are many less memorable items which I would rather she NOT find; pop, beer and liquor bottles (some broken), cigarette butts and packaging, bubble and chewing gum,  medication bottles,  condoms (used), TONS (literally) of  fast food containers and wrappers (some with dregs of ‘food’ in them), and an astounding assortment of garbage which has found its way into OUR neighbourhoods. Sheesh, there are  a lot of pigs in the world!

NOW HEAR THIS!!! Keep your crap in your cars and in your backpacks and pockets and dispose of it appropriately instead of hurling it into OUR SPACE. If you insist on indulging in disgusting habits like smoking and  public drinking and sex, be resposnsible and haul the evidence of your little party away. Smokers are particularly irritating to us. Opal finally gave up a habit of eating butts. (Her nickname, given to her by some Brits,  was ‘Fag Ash Lil’ ). Frankly, I think YOU  smokers should eat your own butts.  Maybe you gum chewers should stick your gum wads into YOUR own hair. See how much fun it is to pick out, just as  I pick it out of my dog’s paws, and fur.  As for the nuts who smash bottles on sidewalks?  YOU try walking barefoot over your expression of youthful nuttiness and/or drunkiness.

Jane’s Addiction

I struggle long and hard to come up with pop culture references for this blog.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s a stretch.

Today,  Jane, a trainer from Canadian Guide Dogs For the Blind in Manotick, Ontario came for our yearly aftercare visit. These visits ensure that guide dog and handler are still working efficiently and that nothing is amiss with the dog’s care or health. I am one of several clients from CGDB that Jane visited this week. My concern, as expressed in a past blog, is that I might be getting a little sloppy with the ‘rules’ regarding guide dog handling. I CHOOSE to allow Opal on the bed and sofa. I give her a ‘cookie’ when she gets home….  however, when it comes to the meat and potatoes of my relationship and handling of Opal? Tickety-boo!  The girl saves my life every other day. She also adds a dimension to my life that I never thought possible. To put it simply, my life is more enjoyable because Opal is in it.  I still value Jane’s expertise, so I was a little concerned about the impending visit.  Jane knows dogs. She loves, lives, and breathes guide dog training. I refer to it as,  ‘Jane’s Addiction’ , like the band of the same name. (see how I finally got to the pop-culture reference?!  Jane’s Addiction, by the way, is an alternative American rock band that plays hard rock, punk etc.  They’ve had a spotty past, but are reuniting this year for the third time in their ‘musical’ history)

Opal adores Jane. She did a BIG happy dance when Jane arrived. My concerns began to ease when Jane commented on how well Opal looks; healthy and cared for.  We chatted for a while about my experiences with Opal over the last year. Then, we went for a walk over to the post office in the mall.   Opal constantly spun her head back to look at  Jane (trailing and observing us). Other than that,  we were fine.   There is apparently nothing wrong with this Guide dog team! My girl even went off-curb to take me round an obstacle I could not see. We returned home victorious (and sweaty).  Jane showed me a better way to clean Opal’s ears. She checked Opal’s equipment and put a new reflective sleeve over part of Opal’s harness ( goes over the chest strap). We shared t-Touch tips (see Tellington Touch link on blogroll) and then, sadly it was time to say our goodbyes. Opal? She stared at the door for a minute after she left and seemed OK when I said, “Jane had to go home and train some more guide dogs”.

“Please Release Me…”

If you’re as old as I am, you will remember the song written by Eddie Miller in 1946 that was popularized by Englebert Humperdinck in the 60’s… “Release Me”. However, if you are older, you may be more familiar with songs bearing the same title performed by Wilson Phillips or the Swedish group, Oh Laura. No matter. For my purposes, the tortured lyrics of all of those tunes do not have much bearing on this blog. Here’s what happened this morning that had Opal singing her OWN version.

It was 5 am when Opal gave me my daily wake-up kiss. I stumbled out of bed as I do 365 days a year and proceeded to don my clothes like a robot. We then went outside to give her the opportunity to relieve. The routine drill when we return to our apartment is for me to plug in the coffeemaker and to begin the much-anticipated activity of feeding the girls. Perhaps my zombie-like stupor was more pronounced than usual this morning. I managed to pick up Opal’s dish, go to the cupboard where the rubber tote filled with dog food is located, scoop a mug full of her kibble into the dish, add the warm water, set the dish down on her place mat, and…. walk away in a daze to deal with Lucy’s dietary needs. I gave Lucy her kibble ration in one bowl, a spoon-full of soft cat food in her tiny saucer and fresh water in her dish (all lined up neatly on her Christmas-theme place mat that is identical to Opal’s). Then I thought to myself, ‘ something is wrong here’. Opal was thinking that too. In fact the thought bubble over her head was singing ” Please release me…” Yes, I had forgotten to ‘release’ Opal to her food. There she sat, undoubtedly salivating and praying for me to come to my senses! It might seem harsh to train dogs to wait for permission before approaching their food, however this type of discipline does have its positive results. Dogs, particularly Guide dogs must understand the hierarchy in their ‘pack’. I am the leader of my pack. Opal knows that above all, she can depend on me as her leader, to be in charge, to care for her and to take care of business. (oops, I just squeezed two more references to stale songs; ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-Las and “Taking Care of Business” by BTO) The moment I came to my senses and realized that Opal was waiting for me to release her to her food ration, I spoke the words that are always music to her ears…”Good girl, eat your breakfast”. I occasionally use a feeding ‘whistle’ to do the job, but that’s a bit much for my neighbours so early in the morning. You can bet that it doesn’t matter to Opal what means I use to ‘release’ her, as long as I do so eventually.

Fun is a Cardboard Box

My guide dog, Opal love her toys. She is particularly fond of her ‘skibble ball’. Don’t go looking for anything by that name at the doggie toy store because you won’t find it. There are many variations of this ball. It’s one of the ‘smart’ toys that challenges your dog. It is a hollow, rubbery ball with a small hole in which you can deposit a few pieces of kibble. The hole has a short tubular entrance leading into the ball’s core which ensures that when your dog propels it around on the floor by using their shcnoz in an attempt to shake the kibble out, the skibble will not fall out too easily. Guide dogs enjoy toys that offer a challenge. These dogs are problem solvers in their jobs, so playtime needs to be stimulating too. Opal has tried several methods to get to the skibble out ( we adopted that word because my computer ‘spellcheck’ insists that is how to properly spell ‘kibble’). She has tried picking it up in her mouth (it’s less than 5″ in diameter) and heaving it across the room. Once she dropped it from her perch on the sofa (oops, did I just confess that she’s allowed up on the furniture?). My smart cookie figured out that when there are many pieces of kibble in the ball, there is a greater probability that they will drop out faster. So, when it gets ‘low’ on skibble, she brings it to me, expecting a top-up and a fast track to the skibble. Playing skibble ball would become a never-ending activity, if Opal had her way. I don’t want a 200 pound dog, so we vary the toys. Good, safe dog toys can be expensive. ‘Good’ is the operative word. You can pay a lot of money for something that is totally boring to your dog (dog toys are marketed for the owners). Opal’s favourite? A cardboard box. Give the girl an empty cardboard box and she is one happy dog! I discovered this accidentally when I was in the 4-month packing phase before moving. She just picked one up and took off. The chase was on. Serious ripping and shredding ensued combined with some tug-of-war. Sure, there is plenty of cardboard shrapnel to collect after, but the sheer joy she we have playing with it for five minutes is well worth it to both of us. Fun is a cardboard box. I save one or two boxes in my closet which I bring out when we need that special play time. I make sure to clean it all up. Opal won’t eat any of it, but some dogs might. Use your judgement with the toys (improvised or otherwise) you give your dog.

Wise Advice for Hot Dogs

Now that I’ve got all the sausage dog (oops, I mean ‘long dog’ ) owners scrutinizing my blog again ( “blind blogger hurls insults at Dachshund owner…” remember that?), I will remind ALL dog owners and handlers how to minimize the effect of hot weather on their pooch.  It’s one of those hot and humid days here in Halifax, so Opal is a little listless. Me?  I’m sitting around in my birthday suit and sweating.  Dogs don’t have the luxury of removing their fur coats. Nor do they sweat like humans. Their paw pads ‘sweat’ only minimally.  Perspiration is the human body’s method of regulating its core temperature. You will notice your dog panting when she is hot (or nervous). That’s their means of cooling. However, dogs can’t really cool off efficiently in hot weather. You must be cautious with your pet or working dog in the summer’s heat.  Here are a few points to remember.

  • Avoid mid day exercise or walks. Early morning and evening are preferable times.
  • Some towns allow use of pesticides on lawns or for plants and gardens. Watch that your dog does not eat vegitation or lick paws laced with the stuff.
  • Water. Lots of it available in a tip-proof dish at home. Bring some with you when you go out.
  • NEVER leave your dog in a parked car. Thousands of dogs die from heat exhaustion in cars every summer. If you see a distressed dog in a parked car, call the police or animal control. 
  • NEVER allow a dog to ride in the back of an open vehicle (pickup truck)
  • Provide access to shade and shelter if your dog is outside. 
  • Watch for antifreeze puddles in parking lots. Dogs will lap up the sweet stuff and get sick or die.
  • Do not shave your dog. They need their coat for insulation and to avoid sunburn.
  • Do not put human sunscreen or insect repellent on dogs.
  • Pavement and asphalt gets very hot in the sun and your dog will absorb heat through its pads. The pads may burn.  Walk on the shady side if possible, and do not stand idle on hot pavement. 
  • Service dog handlers should plan visits to air conditioned buildings when they can (We hang at the mall or cinema). It will provide respite. Allow more time to get where your going so you can work your dog more slowly.
  • Watch that your rover doesn’t get hurt when you’re having a Bar B Q (matches, propane tanks, coals)
  • beach outings should not be in blazing sun. Wash salt water off your dog if it swims in the ocean.
  • Pools, lakes are tempting to dogs. Supervise swimming as you would your children. Not all dogs are good swimmers. 
  • SIGNS OF HEAT EXHAUSTION/HYPERTHERMIA/HEAT STROKE: —Rapid, frantic panting—Bright red or purple tongue and gums—thick saliva—vomiting—staggering gait—rapid pulse—temperature increase to 105F—diarrhea—collapse—coma—If you think your dog is dangerously overheated: You must lower its core temperature by removing it to a cooler environment, immersing or dousing with cool (not cold) water. Start giving small amounts of water to drink. Contact the vet.