Tag Archives: Opal

Lucy Responds to Opal

Like millions around the globe, Opal and I listened to live radio and Internet TV coverage of last night’s election. It was pretty late by the time Obama gave his speech, but I wasn’t about to miss it.  My family believed in exposing us to important events, even if it meant staying up late.  As a child, I had listened to JFK’s acceptance speech on TV with my family, then  watched raptly when his brother Robert spoke years later. The sight and sounds of  Martin Luther King Jr. still echo in my head. There’s nothing more electric (except, perhaps,  being there) than listening to live speeches from significant  figures at pivotal times in history, AND to the response of the crowds displaying their emotions.   I want to hear all of this at the moment it happened, not the day after, when the speaker’s  words  (in this case, historic) have been re-hashed, analyzed and commented on by the everyone and his uncle. The surreal, global fascination with this man and his promise of change caught my attention too. What truly inspired me yesterday was the record number of Americans who went out to vote and the the energy applied to ‘getting the vote out’.  This gives me a little hope that the American people have not given up trying. Is it wishful thinking for me to make comparisons to the energy and optimism of 60’s?

Lucy came up on the bed to listen with us. She seemed fascinated…not with the speeches, but with her ‘sister’, Opal’s smell. Actually, she probably was noticing the LACK of smell. Opal had her bath yesterday. She is a fuzzy, clean dog. Lucy was so mesmerized by Opal’s new scent that she curled up around Opal, and actually straddled her for a while. I told  both of them that they should be listening. Instead, they licked one another and then went to sleep. Eventually, after Obama’s speech,  I would go to bed too, aware of how tired I would be in the morning, but grateful that I had been up and around to witness another important moment in time.

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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.

Help Me! I’m Being Gassed!

People sometimes say that dogs smell bad. They even say I smell funky once in a while,  but no one has ever experienced a smell (BIG STINK) like I have. Lucy the cat  gasses me and mum whenever she poops in the litter box. It’s absolutely toxic! That feline is polluted. Mum sings “Smelly Cat” (from Phoebe Buffet’s rendition on Friends….the most current pop TV reference she can muster ’cause mum gave the TV away) and sounds like she MEANS it…like she shares my pain. Do you think Lucy ate a really old, dead gopher?  Are her insides rotting out?  Is she just doing it for attention? Or because she doesn’t get to go outside like me? Is she working on a secret weapon for a third world country that can’t afford a real bomb? If anyone knows why Lucy’s trips to the litter box smell so bad, please write to mum. She doesn’t want to get up in the middle of the night to scoop the box anymore.

Opal Wants to Join AA

That’s right.  I would like to join AA today. Nah, not the club for humans who drink too much and get silly, sick and sad….No, I would like to join AA, the GIRL, for a birthday celebration. She is the not-so-little girl who raised me as a puppy for Guiding Eyes For the Blind’s puppy raisers program in North Carolina. They traded me to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Ontario (like a pro baseball player) and I ended up with my mum in Halifax.

We had such a great time together when I was a puppy. You slept on the floor next to my crate, played the violin for me with your brother, took me to church (I was a Mormon then, but mum says we are UU’s now…I don’t care ’cause church is fun). There is confusion about whether I am the puppy who barked while you sang in church, or if it was Lacy, the dog you also raised, the one who grew up to become a famous arson detective dog in Ohio. I don’t remember, but somehow, I think it was probably Lacy…I was the one who ate the cushions on the couch and pooped at the mall once (I don’t EVER do that anymore), remember AA?  They say that I was the one that made you come out of your shell. I don’t remember you having a shell…some sweatshirts and other normal clothes yeah, but no shell. I just remember that we were very happy together, and that after I showed up at your house, you weren’t shy at all anymore about talking to people, especially about dogs.  Dogs, dogs, dogs! That’s all you still talk about. I approve! Happy Birthday, my friend.

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

Hey Senior’s Advocate!…

Thanks a whole heck of a lot there buddy…(I mean the dude at a local publication for “seniors” aka anyone over THE AGE OF 50 like me, called The Senior’s Advocate). I write an article on guide dogs AT YOUR REQUEST, obtain photographs AT YOUR REQUEST, send 2 signed release forms AT YOUR REQUEST, and YOU CAN’T EVEN ADVISE ME THAT THIS RAG IS OUT? YOU CAN’T MAIL A FEW COPIES (LIKE ANY REPUTABLE PUBLICATION WOULD) TO All THE CONTRIBUTORS who provide you with stories (without any monetary compensation) that keep you in business? You did not return any of my phone calls or e-mails…VERY NICE! You also did some fancy editing there pal…like changing ‘ opportunities to relieve’ to ‘bathroom breaks’ (referring to Opal’s daily cracks at going outside for a pee or a dump)…do ya think the old geeks who read this thing are so anal retentive and ‘sensitive’ that they need to read some childish euphemism like, “bathroom break”? Sheesh! give ME a break! Good gravy, old people talk about their bowels, bunions and bad backs in great detail all the time! It comes with the  territory.  And frankly, if I was the photographer (Cyndi Burns of Pet Country Magazine), I’d be calling you up to complain BIG TIME that you printed my photographs without CREDITING THEM!