Category Archives: Guide dogs

Hiatus

I have written this blog (and 236 others, two of which were deleted…why did  I do that?!) for just under one year. Some 20,500 people have dropped in to date. I am currently involved in a writing project (very interesting stuff which I’m sure you will all want to pay big bucks for…or not). That’s the good news. The bad news, for some, is that I am taking a temporary break from blogging. Others may see this as cause for celebration (the crass, reactionary types). Regardless, I am outta here for a time, but like MacArthur (or was it some other dude?)  said, “I shall return”. Thanks to all the regular readers, the web drifters, and especially to those who have taken the time to send comments (except perhaps, the demento types who really seem to have a loose grasp of reality and lack social decorum).

Opal, my long-suffering (that’s just an expression!) guide dog bids you adieu for now too. She says to tell you that she will update you personally on the progress I make with my writing  project (literary pimp, that she is). It just wouldn’t seem right to go on blog holiday without one more pop-culture reference all wrapped up into a piece of wise advice:  “Stay calm, be brave, and wait for the signs”- (from the Dead Dog Cafe gang on CBC Radio),

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Dr. Opal

I awoke yesterday with a massive chest cold. (my mom would have said, “Tu as coucher les fesses a l’aire” -translation: “you slept bare-bummed”. Maybe so, but Christmas Eve with my sweetie was worth it. All through the wee hours last night, I coughed, railed and hacked gobs of… well, never mind. At six AM this morning  when Opal woke up, she jumped on my bed and proceeded to give me an intense  45 to 60 – second breathalyzer test. She stuck her shnozz next to my lips and carefully sniffed the odours  (not too pleasant, I imagine) emerging from my mouth. Then, she promptly lay down beside me, head hung over my legs,  until I could get up an hour later. Clearly Doctor Opal diagnosed something not very healthy and decided to cut me some slack. She continued to request samples of my halitosis throughout the day. She must have thought I was insane when I saddled her up and said, “Come on, puppet, we’re going to Sobey’s to buy some honey”. We got there and back with barely any commands being uttered and moving quite slow. I spent most of the remainder of the day wrapped in my authentic Hudson’s Bay wool ‘point blanket’ with Opal and Lucy both settling over me like poultices. Thanks girls. You really know how to take care of your mum. What better nursemaids can a gal have?

Hey Butthead!

Thanks a lot buddy. Yeah you, the nameless smoker who flicked your LIT cigarette butt into the air by the Walmart entrance today. Yeah, I realize it was cold out and you were caging that smoke as long as possible before entering the insanity that is Wally World two days before Christmas.  Plus you couldn’t be bothered disposing of the disgusting dregs of your addiction properly, like in a receptacle, oh no, you had to toss that flaming fag, without glancing where it might land, like ONTO MY GUIDE DOG, Opal! That explains why she became startled… I had no clue.  I thought it was the foot traffic making her nervous, until someone told me what happened, expressing their outrage about it to me, long after you had blown into the store while exhaling the smoke from your last drag (into somebody’s face, no doubt).  I bet you’ve started a forest fire or two in your day, huh? You’re the kinda dope that tosses butts (and beer cans) out the car window as you speed down the road. Sheesh! Here’s my Wise Advice for you. Give them up for New Year’s, you creep. Get the patch! Arm yourself with mints and toothpicks. Sign up for support groups, acupuncture, psychoanalysis…but give me a break and leave my dog out of your pathetic path of destruction. And hey! quit smoking and you’ll start to feel better, smell better and sound better. The extra bonus for the rest of us is that you will decrease your share of the smokers

burden on the health care system.

Do Guide Dogs Misbehave?

Short answer to this question? Yes, of course! They’re dogs, just dogs with special training. All dogs will misbehave, given the opportunity (and all you people with allegedly ‘perfect pooches’ need to rethink that plan to nominate your canine for sainthood!)

I must say that I get a lot of comments from people (bus and taxi drivers, store keepers, hospital staff etc.) who remark that Opal is a very well behaved dog. I would agree, given what I’ve heard about other guide dogs, much to my surprise and horror.  Sure, Opal has been known to lick women’s bare feet in public when I’m not paying attention.  Her passion for soft and fuzzy things has overwhelmed her more than once too; she stole a ladies gloves off a seat at the ferry terminal once, and she has tried to boost a stuffed animal or two from Walmart’s and other stores. Ok, so maybe she has also shredded a basket  (‘off the job’) and torn several pairs of my panties into confetti. At least I caught up with her when she tried to destroy my bra, in time to rescue it. See a pattern here? Oral fixation…jaws and tongue in action? Like many labs, she loves to carry stuff. The first thing she does when  her ‘saddle’ (harness) comes off at home, is to pick up the nearest object that will fit in her mouth and run like a dog possessed.

I have said this more than once: Dogs are a lot like kids. They are opportunistic.  They need good structure, routine  and enforced rules in order to behave like good dogs. I think that most of the stories I hear from cab and bus drivers about guide dogs jumping around, barking, annoying the driver or passengers (!!!!) in their vehicles, is not about a ‘guide dog being bad’.  Nope. It’s about a handler that does not ‘sort their dog out’. These are the handlers that give the rest of us a bad name by allowing the public to develop a negative impression of guide dogs. I have been at functions with other people who had guide dogs, in one instance, 35 blind people and handlers. All  were relatively very well behaved (even the people). I have also been at meetings, and parties where only one other guide dog and handler were present, where  I became irritated beyond belief (the handler irritated ME, the dog irritated Opal), ’cause the handler was asleep at the switch and not paying attention to, or doing anything about his wandering and misbehaving dog.

The off-duty guide dog will eat that chocolate birthday cake, those half dozen blueberry muffins (low fat), the marinating steaks etc. IF THEY HAVE OPPORTUNITY. They will bother your guests, demand attention, ‘act out’, just like small children, unless you enforce the rules which YOU  create, consistently. It makes them feel more secure to know who is leader of the pack (or parent). It is  really about ensuring that they do not have opportunity, and preempting the food theft, destruction of property, annoyance of guests etc, BEFORE IT CAN OCCUR. Put your stuff away! (like my panties which should not be lying on the floor next to the hamper). Put your foot down  firmly (but do not carry a big stick!–be kind and fair to your dog).

Opal, a UU-Spirited Dog

Two of my favourite things to talk about (and I do so incessantly), are Opal and my church, the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax. When I have a reason and opportunity to combine both in one conversation or text, my life seems very sweet indeed.

I’ve been under the blogospheric weather for a few days, but only because I have been busy….mostly singing. Last night, the UU church of Halifax held its rescheduled ‘gospel sing-along’ evening. What does this mean? Yes, of course, a bunch of  white folk singing gospel songs could potentially translate into a pretty lame event, however, when UU’s sing gospel, we REALLY try hard. Last night, we also provided cultural and racial acknowledgements, and historical information about the music that we were about to perform. As a member  of both performing choirs, I had been rehearsing full tilt and memorizing a plethora of song and hymn lyrics for weeks (SONGS GUARANTEED TO NEVER LEAVE MY BRAIN AGAIN!). An early snowstorm  had forced us to reschedule the event.  Finally, last night, we sang…and shone, perhaps not like blinding light, but certainly with spirited illumination.  Opal was well behaved (as usual )and slept, wrapped around the microphone stand at my rhythm- tapping feet. We finally got home after 10 PM and eventually got to bed, but not before her ritual settling period had passed. (Opal needs to relax when she finally gets out of harness, and usually does so by picking up a soft object and running around like a nut. Lately, my panties have been the object of choice. She turns them into lingerie confetti.  That’ll teach me to leave my dirty clothing lying about!). Early this morning, Opal  accepted my unreasonable demand to ‘saddle-up’, (good sport that she is), and off we went to church again. This time we were helping out in the UU orientation for the newcomers. We participated in the day-long UU boot camp until early afternoon and then left the group  to tend to our last UU mission of the day; A hospital visit to a church member who has been beset by surgeries and the aftermath of infection.

One of the perks of the harness which Opal wears, is its status and how it can act as a pass to enter into places where pet dogs can not go. A hospital is such a place. My friend, M. who is the unfortunate soul in ill health, has two dogs of her own…at home. What a smile I heard in her voice when Opal gave her a huge greeting!  She had no roommates in her hospital room and the place was oddly quiet, so I took Opal’s harness off for a minute to allow for some big time kissing and goofiness. THIS is true medicine, UU canine style.

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.

‘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.