Category Archives: seeing eye dogs

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).

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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.

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.

Funky Dog Will Go To Metro Dog Wash

When it comes to hygiene and grooming, the relationship between a dog and its human caregiver is not unlike that of child and mother. Mums (and dads) take great interest in the body odour of their kids. Kids are popped into tubs as funkiness sets in. Parents absently spit onto tissues and clean off gooey messes on the fly. They pick at, clean off, wipe down,  wash and rinse the various creepy, smelly  substances that append themselves to their loving tots. They change diapers or examine their kid’s poop in the toilet bowl, not with revulsion, but with the inquiring mind of a scientist. Ditto the dog owner with their pooch.

Recently,  someone at church casually mentioned that Opal “has a little bit of a smell”.  I dismissed it with. “She smells like a dog”.  I went home and ruminated on this comment. I love Opal’s smell, but I’m her mum. That pretty much makes me incapable of objectivity.  It wasn’t always like that. The very first time I ‘picked up’ after Opal at CGDB,  I nearly hurled. The first time I experienced her distinct ‘wet dog’ odor after we had been out in the rain at the training centre,   I really began to wonder how I would survive life with a dog when we got home to Nova Scotia where it rains A LOT.  I once worried about my clothes having dog hair or goober (saliva) on them. Now, I seem oblivious to any of it. On the contrary, like any mum, I  inhale her smell and it makes me smile.  However, I am not impervious to rational public  opinion.  I  called up my sweetie immediately after the church lady’s comment and demanded the truth. “Does Opal smell funky?”, I asked.    LA.  spoke  to me as cautiously as a hostage negotiator would.   “Umm, well darling, she does have a little stronger smell than usual these days”.   I  was shocked…and worried.  It’s November. I hadn’t anticipated a bath ’till spring.

The happy news is that the forecast  high for tomorrow is 14 C. With a lot of planning, I have arranged for a ride home from Metro Dog Wash, so that Opal (who is terrified of dryers), can get home without getting a chill after her bath. Metro Dog Wash is the best little business in town. You take your pooch to their storefront location on Cunard street, and  for a modest fee, use one of their numerous waist-level sinks (dog walks up a couple of steps) to wash your own dog.  If you have an old, arthritic dog, you can use the walk-in tub at floor level. There is a device to tether the dog so that there is no Great Escape from the sink. You use their shampoos and conditioners.  There is an endless supply of  temperature-controlled water coming from the hand-held hoses and sprayers. They provide rubber aprons for the washers, and Zoom Grooms to use on the washees. Then, when your fido is all clean and rinsed, you can use as many towels as you want to dry him off. There are dryers for dogs who are braver than Opal.  You leave with a clean dog, minus the mess you would have at home. Metro Dog Wash offers grooming services and sells lots of dog gear too. Best of all, they offer a 50% discount off of their bathing fee for service dogs. I highly recommend it.  (Visit via link on blogroll) If all goes according to plan, Opal will smell lovely to me AND my church friends next Sunday.

And Then, Some Days…

As a follow up on my last blog entry…

Some days, it is NOT all about the dog, but the dog AND handler instead. Such was the case yesterday in Montreal, as Guide Dog Users of Canada held their Annual General Meeting and conference. As a member of this organization, I would have loved to have attended the conference,  but financial circumstance dictated otherwise. Instead, I joined the group from the comfort of my home, via my computer and the ‘live stream’ on the Internet. Remarkably, I listened to the familiar voices of some of my friends as business was conducted and presentations were made (dog first aid and dealing with dog attacks).  I guess I can let the dog out of the bag and announce that I was elected to the Guide dog Users of Canada board as a member at large…all from the comfort of my home! I missed out on the supper at ‘Guido’s and Angelina’s’, an Italian restaurant on Atwater, but it sure was nice to get a feel for the event from this great distance. Great job you guys!

It’s All About The Dog

Yesterday, I was trying to get into my cab at the local Sobey’s grocery store when a man called out, “Excuse me..” I thought I was blocking his path (it’s a narrow squeeze on the sidewalk by the store entrance). I hustled my heavy bag of groceries into the back seat Opal and myself into the front. Again, I hear, “Uhm, excuse me”. Now I am wondering if I dropped something. Or, maybe I’m supposed to recognize this guy’s voice and the body attached to it? No, none of these. He continued speaking to me through the open taxi window. “Is your dog from Ontario or the USA?” It suddenly became clear to me. This was a ‘Dog Stop’.

At the training centre of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick, Ontario, one of the topics we covered in the ‘theory’ part of the training, was our responsibility as Guide dog handlers to maintain a positive attitude with the public who observe and question us as a guide dog team. I understood the rationale of educating people on guide dog etiquette and of being an exemplary representative of CGDB’s program. I did not have any idea how significant a part of my life this would become. People with pet dogs often comment that their dogs are a vehicle for social interaction, even a means of getting a date. But guide dog handlers? We are a curiosity that gives rise to an open invitation for interrogation, conversation and  commentary. Mostly, it’s all about the dog. The top questions? “How old is your dog?”, “What’s your dog’s name?”,”How long have you had your dog?”, ” Is it a female or male”, “Is that a Seeing Eye (NO!)/ Guide dog?”, “Is that a black lab?”  Top comments? “What a beautiful dog!”, “What a smart dog”, “I bet she’s your best friend”, “that’s a well-behaved dog” and so on. I am often approached by people who want to tell me about their dog, sometimes one that is ill or that just died. It seems people think I would ‘understand’ about the loss of their special friend, even though we have never met and are in a public place when they bare their souls.  I have had strangers (on buses, in malls etc) ask me if they can take our photo, though I suspect that I am often cropped out of these images. People who meet us, and do not see us for a year or more will often not remember my name. that’s understandable.  They might not remember MY name, but Opal’s? you bet!

The man standing outside my taxi went on, ” My wife raised puppies for Canine Vision….” I listen politely as the driver waits (meter running) for me to give him a destination.

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!