Quel Fromage! Mat in Parking Lot

Today did not go as planned, but I learned some important lessons along the way.

1. If you think something might not really be reliably fixed, and you use it anyway, and it turns out to be broken, breaking it apart with a screwdriver probably won’t help, but at least you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.

This is in reference to the buckle on my hydraulic powerchair lift in my van. My PCA took Barnum and me and my Jet pchair to Greenfield today (the nearest city — until recently it was a town, but it transitioned and now has a mayor), to check out a powerchair for sale on Craig’s List.

The chair seat is not at all the right dimensions for me (previous owner was much smaller than me), and I’d have to replace it entirely anyway because it’s a rehab seat, and I need what’s called a “van seat” or “captain’s chair.” I need to research whether I can get a new seat to fit the base, and how much that would cost. It’s a bummer because it’s a good brand and a decent model, in excellent condition, almost brand new.

Anyway, I tested the chair out, and then we went to the coop parking lot. The plan was that I would do some training with Barnum in the lot or on the sidewalk while my PCA bought groceries and went to the pharmacy for prescriptions. However, when she tried to unload the van, one of the buckles would not detach from the chair’s harness.

There happened to be a plumbing and heating van nearby, with a guy sitting in it, so my PCA asked him if we could borrow a flat-head screwdriver. I forgot to ask her for a small screwdriver, which is what I would have needed to finesse the buckle open. But when it was clear finesse was not an option, I just went for it, hoping it was sturdier than it looked. It wasn’t, but I felt okay about it anyway.

So, I just sat in the chair behind the van and tried to practice stationary skills with Barnum. Skills like sit, watch me, down, touch, and others don’t require movement. Nor does keeping a loose leash, for that matter. Barnum’s leash was not loose most of the time, initially, so those were all good things to practice — in theory, anyway.

2. The value of the treats really does matter. We ran out of cheese a few days ago, but I had a bag of hot dog slices with me, and I hoped that would be exciting enough. Barnum definitely was interested in them at home and in the car. However, he was not focused and in the game in the parking lot. I got the occasional sit or hand target, but a lot of the time, he was just frustrated at not being able to go anywhere, and too fascinated by all that was going on around us. I clicked for anything remotely resembling paying attention to me, especially eye contact. However, after a few clicks and hot dogs, he refused to take any more.

Then my PCA came out with the grocery bags. I asked her to give me one of the packages of cheese, which I ripped open with my fingernails. As soon as Barnum smelled it, he was like, “Cheese? Is that cheese? What can I do for you?”

I had his attention! (Or rather, the cheese did. But, that was okay, because I am Master of the Cheese. Soon to be a new video game.) Barnum was happy to sit, down, touch, etc., for cheese, which I just shredded into pieces with my fingernails. (It’s a locally made fresh mozzarella, so it didn’t require a knife.)

3. Bringing the “go to mat” mat was a brilliant idea, and I deserve some sort of award for having thought of it and utilized it. I realized, after my PCA had gone into the store, that I hadn’t asked her to grab Barnum’s “mat,” a very old yoga mat, that was rolled up next to my oxygen tanks.

When she came out to drop off the groceries before going to the pharmacy, I asked her to get it for me. I tossed it on the pavement in front of my chair. Barnum looked at it, a flicker of recognition in his eye. He tried stepping on it. I clicked for that and tossed cheese on it. Aha!

Pretty quickly I had him staying on the mat, sitting, then downing on it. I let it go that he was lying cross-wise on it, so that his hind end and front paws were off it. I didn’t use my cue at all. I just clicked and tossed cheese.

It had a very calming effect! Soon he was lying calmly and contentedly, watching people, cars, and wheelchairs go by, with only the mildest interest. There were startling sights and sounds that he glanced at and then returned to the important work of giving me eye contact from his down-stay on the mat, thus eliciting cheese.

I’d estimate it took less than 15 minutes for him to go from distracted and overstimulated to totally calm and holding his stay on the mat in a very strange and arousing environment. I was actually even able to use his cue (“Park it!”) by the end of the session, because he was reliably downing with his whole body on the mat by then.

So, there is something to be said for stillness. If we hadn’t been stuck there at the ass of the van for over half an hour, I probably would have been frustrated and concerned about Barnum’s ability to focus and train in strange environments — a challenge for us since he hit six months old or so.

4. Sometimes it’s better to just do what works, rather than what looks good or seems right or proper. After we got home, I had my helper assist me to unbolt the clip on my powerchair that was attached to the broken harness buckle so I could drive my chair inside. Then I instructed her to cut the offending (really, in all senses) broken buckle off the lift.

Tonight, when another helper was here, we managed to free the clip from the buckle (which will go to the transfer station on the next dump day), and I bolted the clip back on the chair. From now on, I will just use a length of chain and carabiner that is already on my lift to attach to that clip on the lift harness. I mean, really, who needs this shit? I am so done with going to the experts for powerchair-related maintenance, unless it is either (a) outrageously complicated, or (b) covered by Medicare.

My long miserable, miserable experiences with my purple powerchair have taught me that when it comes to powerchairs, I’ll either go to a truly professional, Medicare-covered dealer, or I’ll do it myself! (That saga is ongoing. I am working with the consumer affairs division of the attorney general’s office. They have turned out, so far, to be useless. If that changes, I’ll let you know. Unless my luck turns around, it looks like I’m heading to court with a private attorney. Oh joy. Just how I want to use my limited energy.)

But, you never know. Maybe there are good surprises in store. After all, today did not at all go how I’d planned the day to go — quel fromage! — but it was productive nonetheless. As dog is my witness, I will never be cheeseless again.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Behold! The power of cheese!), and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Deb found another squeaky ball for Barnum. Thank you, Deb! He is uncertain about the nubbly texture and smaller size, but he likes how squeaky it is. Here’s a short video of him playing with it.

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2 Responses to “Quel Fromage! Mat in Parking Lot”


  1. 1 Sophie August 12, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Barnum looks a lot like Casper, my dog. he is a giant black poodle. He also like his squeaky (difficult word!) ball. He uses it to talk to me. He also likes his stuffed animals a lot.

    What kind of dog is Barnum??

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler August 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Sophie,
    Welcome!
    Barnum is a bouvier des Flandres. He is my third of the breed. If you want to see other posts on bouvs, click on bouvier des flandres in the “Dogegory” cloud on the right side of the blog. I have another post I’m working on about the breed.


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