Category Archives: Responsible dog ownership

Run Opal, Run…and I REALLY Mean It This Time!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, service dog handlers, dog lovers, friends and readers; I am pleased and proud to announce that HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) has approved funding (via a recommendation from the HRM Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities) in the amount of $20,000. towards the creation of an off leash dog park which service dogs and their handlers will have priority use of.   What does this mean? Guide dogs, hearing dogs, special skills dogs, other service dogs and their mums and dads will have a safe, fenced place to go and exercise OFF LEASH. An existing site, already partially fenced has been secured.  The funding will allow for total fencing,  clearing of the area, addition of some seating and refuse bins and posting signs. The location is more than suitable, with bus and ferry service routes nearby. Service dog handlers who require parking will be accommodated as well. Use is not exclusive to service dogs, however signs will indicated that pet dog owners must vacate when a service dog handler wants to use it. A public awareness and education campaign will  hopefully ensure that this is a workable stipulation. The parks department will take care of maintenance.

I have worked on this proposal through its various incarnations over the last two years that I have been on the ACPD, and more so in recent months as the committee’s chairperson. When this dog park is finally established, it will be a first in Canada.  We are the city to watch. We will be the model for all other initiatives seeking  to establish similar facilities in Canadian cities.

When I finally pronounced the outcome of the motion today, Opal rose and stretched. Sure, I know that she was bored, but I like to think that she was showing a little interest. I KNOW she will when I take her to the dog park next year (hopefully fully functional by then) and let her free run. She will go foolish!


Stuff They Don’t Teach At Guide Dog School

Guide dogs receive extensive training that includes many aspects and exposure to many situations. Ideally, these dogs are raised with people who consistently expose them to ‘stuff’ as pups: all types of walking surfaces such as gravel, pavement, grates, escalators, wood, grass…, all kinds of noises; example: traffic, bangs, shouting, music, clapping, machines…, all kinds of people (kids playing, people in wheel chairs, runners, people performing….), many different types of venues like restaurants, malls, churches, office buildings…., numerous modes of transportation such as cars, trains, subways, buses, airplanes, boats…, and other animals, including cats, dogs, cattle, birds…. and so on. Then they leave the puppy walker and go off to a guide dog training center to practice the skills they will need to help the  blind person with whom they will eventually be matched. Trainers and apprentices harness them up and spend months teaching  them to walk around obstacles, to stop at the top and bottom of staircases, to ignore other people and animals, to respond to verbal commands, arm signals, and foot positions. They learn to disobey or over ride a  command in any situation that would put the handler in danger (Intelligent Disobedience). They practice and practice and are exposed increasingly to more types of routes (busy downtown streets, country roads, suburban areas…) and situations to which they must respond appropriately (stopping when cars back out of driveways, walking through construction zones, ignoring food on the ground, ducking around shopping carts, remaining calm when fire alarms are sounded, ignoring off leash dogs that come up to them….). Trainers try everything they can think of to season these dogs. Umbrellas are popped open, stacks of books are dropped, fans blown and more, all to prepare them for the numerous situations they will face as guide dogs.  They train in hot and cold weather, in the pouring rain and driving snow. All training centers have a resident cat or two because it is likely that some of the dogs will go home with handlers who own a pussycat, or at the very least, will occasionally visit someone who has one.  Once the guide dog school has selected or “matched” their blind client with a dog, they train the dogs some more with the client’s specific size, gait, walking speed, home environment, activity level and lifestyle in mind. The residential (and usually final) part of formal training involves multiple daily training ‘walks’ with the handler, the school trainer and the dog. This month-long period of mind and body-numbing activity concludes (hopefully, but not always) with ‘qualification’ and the blind handler returning home with their guide dog.

But there is ALWAYS stuff that Guide dog schools don’t teach you or your dog. It’s impossible to cover everything. For example, Opal and I once encountered a woman walking a pet rabbit on a long leash. A sighted observer explained to me why Opal was so eager to pause; she was watching a bunny going for a stroll. Then there were the beaded curtains in the hallway of  a local restaurant (I thought  those went out in  the 70’s). It WAS an obstacle, albeit one that she could see through…we figured it out. There was a Halloween costume contest last year at the local supermarket that really grabbed her attention. In fact, she went nutty the first time I put on my balaclava (the woolly thing worn for heists, not the Greek pastry). Then, there was the time a kid vomited on the bus,  and the OTHER kid who dumped a chocolate milkshake over her when we were on the ferry to Dartmouth, a horse on the sidewalk (don’t ask), and the time we wandered into the annual pride parade by mistake and were pelted with silly string. We nearly got pepper sprayed as we innocently tried to get to the library…where a political demonstration was in progress nearby. Opal knew something was wrong when a fist fight broke out between two kids as we walked by them (I yelled at them to stop, or I would command my dog to attack—grin). I discovered that Opal also has a tap dancing  fascination (we saw ‘White Christmas’ on stage and I put on my own tap shoes now and then). One day, a couple of cars crashed as we walked by and left us showered in broken glass. I tore my quad muscle last year and had to walk at a snail’s pace WITH A SUPPORT CANE FOR THREE DAYS (and Opal), because I had no one to care for her. Fortunately, I managed to keep moving at least enough to get her outside to relieve. I’ve heard about one handler who was IN HOSPITAL WITH his guide dog for several days. Totally unfair to staff, the patients, and the dog. Other things?  You discover how to cope with them as they come up. Guide dog schools don’t tell you how to work out the strategy required for intimate times at home with that  new ‘significant other’ without one or the other (dog or partner) getting their nose put out of joint (physically, but more often, emotionally).  Opal put herself to bed at 6 PM the first time my sweetie and I… There might be any number of unusual or unique situations that a handler will face and need to figure out during their guide dog’s working life. Life with a guide dog is ever-changing and a relationship with a working dog is an endless ‘work in progress’.hen t

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.

New Bling For Opal

Oooooo. I have stunning new bling! Mum’s friend gave me a beautiful purple necklace. Some dog’s call their necklaces “collars”, but mum tells me that mine is special (like me), so we call it a necklace or bling.  Mum put my tag (the one with my CGDB registration number on it) and my bell (so mum can hear me moving around) on the new necklace. I always wear my necklace around the house ’cause mum says that a  pretty girl needs her bling at all times. Also, if anything were to happen (like a, I hope not),  it would be easier to drag me out of the house ’cause I might get scared and be resistant. My tag has the CGDB phone number on it, so if I ever get lost and wander way over to Pictou county or somewhere, the person who finds me can call CGDB and they would know by reading my registration number, who I was and  where I belong.  And hey! I have a computer inside me too. OK, maybe it’s really called an AVID  microchip, but if I get lost without my necklace, a vet or animal shelter can scan me (like a box of Milk Bones at the grocery store checkout) for my ID information. AVID (American Veterinary Identification Device) is a really big computer data base that tells the scanner who I am when it reads my secret AVID 8 digit number.  And then there’s my tattoo that’s located on my…..

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. 

Last Word On Sausage Dogs!!!!

It seems that I have offended/irritated/annoyed/ticked off/angered a big bunch of ‘Dachsund’ dog owners. Sheesh! Lighten up you guys. Who knew that sausage dog enthusiasts have their own web site and forum?Apparently they are watching for any malicious commentary written about  the little bangers they travel with. I was front and centre yesterday: “Blind blogger hurls insults at Dachshund owner” read the web page. I entered my defense: I was actually PO’d at the irresponsible owner.  In fact, you wiener dog (oops, I mean ‘Long-dog’) owners should know that I once had such a pepperoni pooch myself. No, it was definitely not a Guide Dachshund. That would be one LONG handle on the harness. And how would a sausage-guide climb the steps to get on a bus? I’m not saying it couldn’t be worked out… just that the wieners are a little too stressed-out most of the time to do the job a Guide dog does. But hey, who would have thought there would be miniature ponies (I kid you not) being used as Guides for the blind.  Hmm. Now there’s an access law waiting to be written!  Yes, I had a low-riding canine. She was a good pal, but a bit of a nut. Those anal glands always seem to be in need of emptying. Again, it’s not the dog, just the owner I have a beef banger with. Sort your nutty dogs out! 

A Good Distraction

I go on and on about  things that distract Guide dogs; smells, people patting and calling out, noises etc. Opal and  I visit schools and other venues instructing people on Guide dog etiquette. Distraction is a big issue for Guide dogs, sometimes interfering with the work and safety of both dog and handler. However, today I am here to tell you that there are moments when Guide dogs NEED distraction. In fact, I am giving food for thought that any dog owner can feast on.  This morning, Opal was fussing with her ear (again). Labs have drop ears (long and floppy) that cover the ear canal and other bits (which I don’t know the anatomically-correct names of).  This creates the perfect medium in which organisms and bacteria can grow… into infection, particularly in warm weather. It’s no big deal, IF you take care of your lab’s ears with regular cleaning and respond quickly when an infection takes hold. Smelling your dog’s ears will usually tell you what kind of shape they are in.  Of course, my girl tells me herself, in her own way.  I know the sound of a paw doing some furious scratching in an ear. I say firmly,  “get your foot out of your head”.  If this does not stop the ear scratching, then I move on to plan ‘B’.   I bring out the ‘magic drops’ (Burrow’s solution), prescribed by our vet.  I  use  them on  a semi-regular basis in the summer. I keep them on hand, so I am not running to the vet (Kaching $$$$) every time she gets a funky ear.  The vet also gave me some dandy little plastic syringes with which to suck up the correct amount of liquid. I discovered long ago that it is impossible to tell how many drops you have squirted (or not) into the ear if you are squeezing drops directly from a bottle. What does this have to do with distraction? Opal, like most dogs, does not appreciate having drops shot into her ears. Who would?! They are cold and feel funny (initially). I know that fifteen minutes after she has them on board, she will feel the itch and discomfort go away. It’s getting through that fifteen minutes that is key. This is when I need to distract her. I want the drops to stay in, and not to get licked out (Opal will stick her foot in her ear and then lick whatever comes out… she has no fingers).  Fortunately, my dog is a busybody. If I start doing something interesting, she will forget about the ear and become engrossed in watching me. Kids operate pretty much the same way. Harping about NOT doing something (example: “stop picking your nose!”) will get you nowhere. In fact, there is a good chance your kid (or dog) will get even more obsessive about whatever it is you are trying to get them to stop doing,  (just to spite you–grin). Hmm.  So, this morning,  the first thing I thought of to distract Opal, was to whip out the exercise machine. I hadn’t used the sculling rower for weeks, so Opal was very keen on observing her fat, old mum gliding back and forth on a beam, arms flailing, sweat pouring off, making huffing and puffing noise, and commenting that she thought (or felt) she had rowed to the mid-Atlantic. In fact, Opal was so keen,  that she forgot all about the ear she had been so determined to fuss with. Mum? She got some disparately needed conditioning.  Don’t get into a futile and circuitous ‘don’t do that’ exchange with your dog (or kid) when all you need to do, is DISTRACT them. A little distraction can be a useful tool in many situations.