Archive for the 'Strange photos' Category

Pie Zen (2nd Annual Thanksgiving Doggie Self-Control Pics)

Last year I blogged about my black-bottom pie, which I make every year for Thanksgiving. When I set it down to take a picture of it, Barnum came over. Thus, I started the tradition of Pie Zen.

This year, we had four pies for Thanksgiving, and it was my intention to take a picture of Barnum surrounded by all four pies. However, neither Barnum nor I were feeling well, so I stayed in bed while the others ate pie.

Fortunately, Betsy was available to help with a picture of pie zen:

Betsy sits at table with four whole pies in front of her. She is leaning back in her chair, eyes shut, a serene expression on her face, and her palms facing upward with thumb and middle finger touching, as if she is meditating.

Betsy practices pie zen.

Today, Barnum and I were both feeling better, so we were able to show Barnum’s skill, having gone from a Level One Pie Zen Master to a Level Four Pie Zen Master in just a year!

Barnum is lying on a hardwood floor. Next to his left elbow is an apple pie. Next to his left front paw is a pumpkin pie. Next to his right front paw is a pecan pie. And next to his right elbow is a custard pie. He is looking at the pumpkin pie.

Ooh, I like pumpkin!

Barnum still surrounded by four pies, but looking up and leaning away from the pumpkin pie.

What's that? I should leave the pumpkin pie alone?

 

Barnum lying very relaxed, legs spread out, with the pumpkin pie between his front legs, and surrounded by the other three pies.

This is a piece of cake. I mean, pie.

My 200th Post: A Time to Sit and Reflect? Nope, Just a Time to SIT!

This is After Gadget’s 200th post! It’s almost two years since I started this blog. With about 100 views a day, and over 32,000 views total, there’s a lot I could write about. I started writing a thoughtful, reflective post about how this blog was a way for me to grieve, and the activism I’ve ended up doing on Lyme and MCS, the resources I’ve provided on ticks, and the community I’ve gotten to know — and helped forge — of assistance dog bloggers. I was going to delve into how grief-stricken I’ve been lately, and how I’ve avoided blogging about it, but how I want to dedicate myself to that kind of self-care now.

Then I thought, “Nah! Let’s do something fun!”

So, instead, I’m hoping this will give you some idea of how far I’ve come as a trainer, and Barnum’s come as a learner, and we’ve both grown as a team, by participating in what seemed like a very silly contest.

Sue Ailsby, the dog trainer whose Training Levels program I follow, decided to launch a contest for Training Levels list members. Inspired by the trends of “planking” and “owling” (yeah, I’d never heard of them either), where people lie stiff as boards or sit crouched like owls in “unusual or dangerous” locations, Sue has launched a contest called “sitting.”

Here are the rules of the contest, where you can also see several pages of entries. The funniest part of many of the entries is Sue’s hilarious captioning. I was not planning on doing much for the contest, but once I started seeing the entries and laughing really hard at the captions, I became more interested in fanatically obsessed with training and capturing more and better Barnum stunts.

I started out with an old standby — Barnum sitting in the bathtub. You might recall this one from my post about training to make baths more enjoyable, and its photo essay addendum, “Bouv in a Bathtub.”

Barnum sitting in a white fiberglass bathtub with a large white grab bar on the edge of the tub closest to the camera.

I have totally mastered this one.

I’ve also sent in this one, just because I think it’s a cool picture, although obviously this is from before the contest started, so I don’t know if it’s viable. Maybe it could be used on the “For Exhibition Only (FEO)” page.

Barnum, King of the Hill, surveys his domain from atop his snowy peak

I Can See Russia from My Backyard (*totally* stole this caption from Sue Eh?)

But, after that, it was training time! I knew there would be a lot of cool, impressive photos of border collies and other agility stars who could leap onto tall objects, so the first hurdle (pun not intended) was teaching Barnum to hop up onto surfaces. The only surface he is used to jumping onto is my bed — a self-taught skill from an early age. Most people are not impressed with a dog on a bed, though.

Therefore, I decided to start with the coffee table. Barnum already knew how to put his front paws on the table (“Paws up!”), but since hind-leg awareness is a much bigger deal for him (and for all dogs), teaching him to get his fear feet up was what took the twenty minutes of shaping.

Barnum sits on a black, dinged, painted-wood coffee table. He is sitting the long way, so his paws are at the narrow end on one end, and his butt is about two-thirds of the way down the table. His head is tilted to the side, looking quizzical.

Ta dah!...Wait, is this right?

By the next day, if we wandered into the living room, he’d jump onto the coffee table, uncued, just in case I felt like clicking that.

A black-painted wood coffee table with Barnum sitting on it. He's looking directly into the camera. It's a rectagular table, and Barnum's is sitting mostly on the narrower part, but cheating a little by being slightly diagnonal, so his butt is at one corner and his right front paw is just barely hanging over the middle of the other side.

I can do it this way, too. This is harder. Can you tell?

(I’m hoping to condense the process in a time-elapsed video so you can see how that shaping was accomplished, and why it became such a successful foundation behavior for what came later. However, I am still trying to figure out my movie software, and I want to get this post published before the new year. Thus, today will only feature stills.)

From there, we moved on to sitting on the couch (I know this is not something most people have to shape, but I did have to actually click and treat Barnum a few times to let him know that, yes, his presence on the couch was desirable).

Barnum sits on a brick-colored three-cushion couch. He is sitting on the middle cushion, body facing forward, but head turned to the right to face the camera, with mouth slightly open in a questioning way.

Spud Puppy

And then there was no stopping us! (Cue gay disco anthem, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, to play over and over in your head. You’re welcome.)

Barnum sits behind a glass door on a tile floor, with white molded fiberglass surrounding him on the other three sides. There is a metal handle on the door and above his head, a shower knob. Two bottles of shampoo sit in the corner.

"Chief O'Brien, energize!" Wait a minute. . . . Is that *shampoo*?

I don’t think Medicare will cover this use of durable medical equipment. . . .

Barnum sits on gray vinyl foam van seat of power wheelchair. He is sitting very tall, right in the center, with his back against the back rest. Black foam armrests on either side, cherry-apple red base, gray wheels, and black foot plate. Barnum's expression is one of a dignified bouvier.

Ooh, look how tall and distinguished I look. . . .

And then we pulled out all the stops. . . .

Before I show this next picture, here’s some background for those unfamiliar with Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels: “Zen” is the name for teaching a dog self-control. (For example, the usual doggy zen cue is “Leave it.”)

A low black table (the same coffee table as in previous pictures). The right side of the table is set with a tangerine-colored placemat and an asian-style wide bowl, with a pair of chop sticks sticking out of the bowl. A takeout menu for a restaurant called "ZEN" stands behind the place setting. Barnum sits on the left side of the table, holding a metal dumbbell in his mouth, from which hangs a printed sign. It says, "ZEN is not just a Levels behavior. They also make great sushi. (Hint, hint.)"

That's a "hup," "take," "sit," and "stay," ladies and gentleman! (And continue to stay as I take multiple shots because my hands shake, and eight-out-of-ten pictures were blurry.)

In case you don’t get the joke, here are some closeups on the props:

Closeup of Barnum holding the sign so the text is more visible Closeup of the menu for Zen restaurantSee? It’s a play on words. A jeux de mot. It still makes me really hungry, though.

Actually, though this was a lot of fun, it wasn’t just fun — some of these behaviors have useful applications. I plan to write about that soon.

I hope you enjoyed this, my 200th post for After Gadget! Thank you for reading! Please celebrate with me in the comments!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT, living up to his acrobatic name

P.S. Doesn’t it seem like this would be an appropriate post for the next Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, the theme of which is “Achievement? Well, I already wrote my post for that, but it’s not too late for you! You still have time to submit your post for the ADBC and for the Patients for a Moment/PFAM Carnival!)

The Tale of the Magic Bunny

Yesterday I was visited by the brown bunny of happiness. This is like the bluebird of happiness, except that it slips into your garden and eats all the tops off the carrots, lots of the leafy greens, and an entire huge acorn squash. And it talks — but I didn’t know that at first.

I am familiar with the eating power of bunnies, as well as their ability to fit their bodies through tiny spaces because I had rabbits as pets when I was a kid. I started with a white rabbit when I was in kindergarten, and over the years had six others of various colors and sizes. However, this bunny was special!

We’ve been seeing this bunny all summer, suspiciously near the garden (which is fenced, but so what, says the rabbit), but not until yesterday did it stay in visual range long enough for me to get some pictures of it eating one of our blackberry bushes:

A small brown cotton-tail rabbit, ears up, stands on an expanse of gravel - rounded pebbles of gray, white, and other natural colors - nibbles on a long green vine.

Bunny nibbling on blackberry vine

Imagine my surprise when, after allowing me to take its picture, the bunny spoke to me (telepathically, otherwise you would, of course, see pictures of it talking).

“Oh camera-happy human, you have managed to catch me in the act!” The bunny announced. “You have totally lucked out! For managing to take a non-blurry picture of me, despite how I hop and twitch, and despite your hand tremors, I will grant you three wishes!”

As you can imagine, I was totally shocked! I had expected two wishes at the most.

“Oh adorable-yet-destructive bun-bun,” I replied. “I have been trying for over a year to get my lemon-of-a-powerchair fixed, to no avail. Then I asked for a refund. Then I had to get involved with the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs, and the related District Attorney’s office. It’s been a total fucking nightmare, because I just want to be able to get out and about, walk my dog, and be done with this useless behemoth. When I tried to negotiated with the vendor from whom I purchased the chair, all I got in response was yelling and accusations.

For my first wish, could you please get them to come to some sort of reasonable compromise with me?”

“Hm,” the bunny said, “let me think about that.” The bunny nibbled some grass, pondering.

A similar picture to one above, of the bunny on a background of gravel, except it is stretched forward, one ear up, one ear slightly tilted back, front foot in the air.

Bunny pauses to think.

“Alright,” the bunny said. “That does totally suck. The next time you talk to someone about coming to terms, he will offer you a partial refund for returning the chair.”

Thus, it came to pass that today, when I spoke to someone who had stepped in “to put out fires” for the organization from whom I bought my wheelchair, he offered me a two-thirds refund over a six-month period (because they are strapped for cash) in exchange for returning the chair. I was thrilled. I can’t wait to get that monstrosity — emblem of so much pain and stress — out of my house. I am going to use that money to try to buy a used chair that will better meet my needs.

“Great, bunny, thank you. Please excuse me if I’m skeptical. A talking bunny is one thing, but this wheelchair situation, well — I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“I hear you,” the bunny said. “I get that all the time. Let’s move on to your second wish, okay? I’m feeling twitchy out in the open like this. I am a prey animal, after all.”

“Good point,” I said. “For my second wish, will you show me that my work with Barnum has been paying off, and that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being a public access team?”

“Silly human!” Said the rabbit. “Don’t you remember Saturday, when you took Barnum to your town’s Old Home Day, and he was able to loose-leash walk some of the time, in the face of great distractions, and even — after hours — lie down quietly? And then when you took him with you into the Town Hall, how he did a working walk and then did a down-stay in the extremely tight space of the stall (with you and your powerchair and your oxygen) despite having no experience inside other buildings before?”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said, “but he also did a lot of pulling on leash and jumping around, and when I left him with Betsy so I could go dance, he barked.”

“Well, you asked for wishes, not miracles. Give him time.”

“True,” I said, feeling a little let down.

“What about the next day?” The bunny asked, with a touch of irritation. “When you took him to the local food coop, and he did a default sit upon exiting the van, and then gave you great and continuous eye contact, along with sits, downs, reverse, and a very nice working walk? And you felt so pleased with him that you took him inside the store, where he did remarkably well at staying in position, giving you eye contact, following cued behaviors, and in general astonishing you with how happy, ‘in the game,’ and attuned he was?”

“My god, you’re right!” I said, smacking myself in the forehead, practically sending my glasses flying. “He did super until the end, when there were suddenly lots of people, including one person talking to him and petting him, ignoring that I was telling him, ‘Leave it!’ and pulling him away from her, and then he also was obsessed with trying to sniff another woman’s butt.”

“Yeah, that sounds a tad embarrassing. You will have to work a lot on stranger zen and ‘interesting smells in new places’ zen.”

“Exactly,” I concurred.

“On the other paw,” the bunny continued. “After you left the store, when you were going back to the van, he gave you eye contact and followed cues while ignoring a barking dog behind him! Did you forget that? And what about how he pooped on cue before you left home in the first place?”

“You’re right! Wasn’t that amazing?” I almost squealed in delight at the recollection.

“Well, it’s not my thing, really,” said the rabbit. “But whatever floats your boat. Anyway, I think I have pretty clearly shown you that you are Barnum are totally kicking service-dog-in-training ass, so can we move on to wish number three?”

“But you didn’t do anything,” I griped. “You just reminded me of things I already knew.”

“Do I have to remind you about the lesson from the Wizard of Oz? That Dorothy just had to be reminded that there’s no place like home?”

“Wow, you’re a very literate bunny,” I said, impressed.

“I am part of a great tradition of children’s literature,” it replied. “The Velveteen Rabbit, for instance. I do my homework.”

The bunny scratched behind its ear. “Man, all this talking is making me hungry. It doesn’t usually take this long. It’s usually, ‘Gimme a pile of money, a big house, and someone to mate with,’ and I’m outta there.” The rabbit sighed. “I need more blackberry vine. I have an extremely high metabolism. I have to keep my energy up.”

Similar to two pictures above, except that the rabbit's tail is visible, and it's reaching for the blackberry vine while sort of looking behind itself.

"Nothing in life is free," sighs the rabbit. "Not even blackberry vines, apparently."

Was it my imagination, or had the rabbit just rolled its eyes?

“Well, um, okay,” I said, feeling pressed for time now. “The Five Minute Fiction contest is tomorrow again. It’s being guest-hosted and guest-judged by a speculative fiction writer, and he’s already said that it will be a science fiction/fantasy prompt. It just seems like everything is SF/fantasy these days, and that’s really not my genre. I’m quite nervous about it. Can you help me out?”

“I would think that having just written an entire blog wherein you are speaking to a magic rabbit who telepathically grants you wishes indicates that you have some clue about the fantastical.”

“Oh, yeah,” I felt my face turn red. “This is different though,” I explained. “I have been imagining talking animals since I was four. What if the prompt involves some totally weird worlds and names that I don’t grok at all? It’s very hard for me, with my cognitive impairment, to grasp and connect with seriously hardcore SF and fantasy.”

“Alright!” The bunny stomped his hind feet, cutting me off. “Tomorrow, even though it will be a prompt that will completely throw you and confuse you, you will just go with the first idea that pops into your head, relating to one of your favorite writing-related themes–”

“You mean like food, humor, sex, or animals?”

“Do you want this wish or not?”

“Sorry,” I bit my lip.

“Anyway, you will just do your best, and even though you will be impressed by the other entries and feel completely outclassed, you will still manage to get a piece in on time, and you will be a finalist, again, okay?”

“Really? A finalist? Two weeks in a row? Will I win again?”

“That would be a fourth wish. Besides, that’s up to the voting public. You’re done!” Announced the rabbit, and hopped away. I thought I heard him mutter something about “writers” and “divas,” but I was probably just imagining it. After all, we writers have excellent imaginations.

“Wait!” I called after the bunny, its white tail bobbing toward the underbrush. “Where do I tell people to go and vote?”

Just tell them to click on this sentence!” He yelled before disappearing into the greenery.

I wasn’t really sure about that third wish. And the second one was kinda a “gimme,” too. . . .

“I’ve changed my mind!” I shouted after him. “Can I change one of my wishes to a new computer that doesn’t constantly crash, freeze, and run as slow as molasses? And that won’t outgas horrible fumes and make me sick? Or how about for more people to follow my new writing blog?”

From somewhere in the underbrush, I thought I heard the sound of two hind feet pounding the ground, very  hard.

I’ll have to look up Eastern cottontail rabbits in my Audubon guide and see if they ever grant a second round of wishes. . . .

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Woops! I forgot. I’m doing a little trivia game. After reading my entry, guess who my biggest SF influence is? I’ll post a hint after each guess in the comments.

Of Bristles, Beans, and Bouviers

Barnum has decided to follow in the bouv family tradition in my home — the tradition of eating toothbrushes.

Recently Kali at Brilliant Mind Broken Body wrote about how much daily care goes into the upkeep of a service dog. I must admit, while I try to do all the things she listed, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I’m just too exhausted. Sometimes my dog is not cooperative. Sometimes they’ve eaten the grooming tools.

It started with Jersey. Back then, for dental care I used a finger brush — one of those little white, flexible-plastic finger cots with nubs on one side. You apply the toothpaste to those little bristle bumps and rub the teeth and gums with it. This was very easy to do because Jersey was very placid and because she loved the taste of the toothpaste. (Back then, it was liver flavor. For some reason, they don’t make that flavor anymore, which is a shame, because it was the only flavor Gadget liked. But I’ll get to him in a minute.)

Jersey had impeccable manners. She was calm, quiet, reserved. She never jumped up or barked or stole food. She was a real little lady.

One day I went to get the finger brush and it was not on the coffee table, where I normally kept it. I thought I must have put it on the dog crate instead. Nope, not there. I looked and looked. I figured I’d eventually find it (which turned out to be true), but I also wondered — because it had disappeared so completely — if Jersey had eaten it.

I mentioned this idea to a friend and they thought it was ridiculous. This was a friend who does not have any pets, I should add.

I ended up ordering a new one, on the theory that it’s always good to have a backup, and that if I replaced it, I’d  probably find the old one. That’s what happened. The new one arrived, and shortly thereafter — about a week since the first one went missing — Jersey vomited in the kitchen. As I cleaned it up, I noticed a weird thing among the slime.

It was hard and yellow and fused together, but after taking a good look, I now knew for certain where that finger brush had gotten to. After that, I kept the dog dental care items on a higher surface.

Then, along came Gadget. I started out with the finger brush, and then I discovered the three-headed brush by Triple Pet. It has three sets of bristles so that you can get all three sides of a dog’s tooth at once. It’s brilliant. Gadget was not wild about it, but he learned to be very patient and put up with it. After the liver flavor toothpaste was discontinued I tried a few, some of which he hated. Others he tolerated. Poultry was the most palatable, so I stuck with that, and he eventually became very relaxed about tooth-brushing.

However, in the early days, when he was first getting used to the brush, he would chomp on it while I was brushing. After all, there was something in his mouth, it tasted somewhat like food, and it was between his teeth. Because the articulating heads are three pieces instead of one, they are not as strong as a regular toothbrush head, and one day, chomp chomp chomp, he bit the brush heads off.

So, I replaced that one, and I taught him to receive tooth brushing without chomping. We were able to use the same toothbrush for the rest of his life. So, technically, he didn’t actually eat the toothbrush. He did routinely eat bars of soap and once ate and then later barfed up some latex gloves that had been in the trash, though.

Barnum is not very fond of having his teeth brushed, and he is only moderately cooperative. However, he really likes the taste of the poultry toothpaste.

Having learned my lesson not to leave dog tooth brushes and tooth paste at nose level, I keep Barnum’s brush and paste on top of his crate. One night, he was in his crate while I was eating dinner. I heard him chewing on something. At first, I assumed it was his antler or some other chew toy. Then I thought, “He doesn’t have a chewy in there, does he?” I pondered this for a few moments while I gulped down my mouthful of food.

I decided to just check what Barnum was doing. That’s when I discovered his toothbrush had fallen into his crate. And he was chewing it — what was left of it.

Blue-handled toothbrush on the right has three piece head neat and clean. A dark blue pastic back with bristles pointing up, tucked behind and articulating neatly between a bristle head on either side, one yellow, one white. The bristles are all neat, clean, the same size and shape. Next to it is a yellow-handled toothbrush. Of the three heads to this brush, the center back piece is gone completely, snapped off at the base. The right and left sides (one orange, one gree) are severely bent, curling up at odd angles, with the plastic chewed almost flat in places. There are only three ravaged clumps of bristles left on the green head (as opposed to 12). The orange had has more bristles left but is also flattened and missing pastic as well as several bristles. Those that remain are mashed, bitten off and going every which way.

Guess which one used to be Barnum's brush?

I found an old one (the blue one), and will use that from now on.

On the left, yellow tooth brush with only two heads, both badly mangled and missing many bristles. On the right, clean, whole toothbrush with three articulating heads.

As you can see, there is a chunk of plastic, as well as a significant amount of bristles, missing.

Oh, just one more picture. . . .

view of the underside of the toothbrushes

You can see the blue piece on the brush on the right that is totally missing from the mangled one on the left.

Of course, I tried to examine Barnum’s poop for the following week to see if I saw bristles or a small piece of blue plastic. I never did, but there were a couple of times he poop when on walks with my helpers, and I didn’t see “the contents.”

However, Barnum also started having seriously rank flatulence every day. Bouviers are often champion farters, but Barnum is not usually an offender. I had recently added pinto beans to his diet, though. The question was, “Are Barnum’s emissions due to the beans, or is this a sign that the toothbrush pieces are lodged somewhere, irritating his gastrointestinal tract and causing digestive distress?”

I really did not want to have to take him to the vet for x-rays. Instead, I switch Barnum to a bland diet, without beans, and within 24 hours, the farting went away. So, I think we have escaped a brush with disaster.

-Sharon, the muses of Jersey (delicious!) and Gadget (crunchy!), and Barnum, SDiT (Where’s the rest of my poultry chewy? Why did you take it away?)

Silly Saturday (Edited)

My replacement battery came today. Things got moved around between now and a week ago, and we can’t figure out how the battery wiring harnesses attach to the battery. So, I am stuck waiting around while I get advice from more knowledgable people. (Yes, I did read the manual. The diagrams suggest one thing, the written instructions another.)

[NOTE: This post has been edited. I originally had a pun up here, using a photo, and I got some feedback that it could be triggering or in poor taste or just generally making light of an issue that is quite serious. So, I have taken down the joke. You can read the discussion about it in the comments. I asked Betsy about it, as well, and she said something like, “I wouldn’t necessarily say offensive, but maybe poor taste because it’s a serious issue. But it’s also so very you (your sense of humor).” So, I thought that summed things up pretty well.

I regret any pain my joke might have caused any of my readers. I will try to be more mindful in the future.

Peace,

Sharon]

– Sharon (giddy from hunger and lack of sleep), the muse of Gadget (I don’t get it), and Barnum, SDiT (I went to the pond today! Wooha!)

Waspish Wednesday: Now, with Real Wasps!

Betsy got stung by a wasp today as she was dealing with one of our four composting nightmares. As she was sitting on the floor with a bag of frozen peas on her ankle, she said, “You should write a Waspish Wednesday about this!”

After I thought about it I realized she was right, it is Wednesday! I have other topics I’ve been wanting to write on, not least my post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, if I can get it done in time. Meanwhile, though, what have I been up to?

Powerchair hell, as usual. A few weeks ago, I asked the people who built my big purple chair if I could please exchange it for a new chair or just return it for a refund, inasmuch as it is a lemon. They responded that they would completely change all the wiring and the wheel motors.

I thought about it. I knew I didn’t want that, because they’d already rewired it, and I’m convinced the wheel motors are not the issue. But I was trying to decide if I wanted to ask for a new chair or just a refund. I looked up the Massachusetts wheelchair lemon law and discovered that it is up to me, the consumer, as to whether I want an exchange or a refund.

I wrote them, referred them to the law (which is online; most states have wheelchair lemon laws), and told them I wanted a refund. They responded by yelling at me a few times. I basically said, “Can’t we please just settle this? I’m not asking for reimbursement for mileage for the many long trips. I just want a refund. I’ll return the chair.” But no, I kept getting emails saying it was my fault for using it in mud, snow, and rain, which is mostly not true, and also beside the point, as the advertisements for this chair and the conversations I had with them said it’s great to use it in snow, etc.

For the last few days I have been contacting the Better Business Bureau — who told me to file a complaint, but who have no teeth — and the Consumer Protection Office, who told me to file a complaint, and may or may not have teeth, and the Attorney General’s office, who told me to file a complaint, and who — I think — do have some sort of teeth. This is just exactly how I wanted to spend my summer. Sitting inside, reading websites, making phone calls, and doing paperwork for a chair that has caused me pretty much nonstop stress and trouble.

Right now I’m in the middle of writing a “Letter of Demand,” which the AG and the Consumer Protection office told me to write. I’ve got my calendar and all my old emails to refer to to help my sometimes rusty memory. In this letter, I demand he comply with the various applicable consumer protection laws, and then say that if he doesn’t, he could be facing big, nasty, mean court charges. It’s just a thrill, and I know he’ll be totally cooperative and reasonable once he gets it.

Meanwhile, I decided to see if I could resurrect my old pchair, my Jet 3 Ultra, which was a pretty decent machine in its prime. Betsy and I took it all apart, as this picture attests.

The seat of the powerchair sits sideways on the floor, disconnected from the base. Around it are tools, hardware, rags, cleaning solution, a flashlight, and other debris.

Actually, we'd already put the base back together when I thought to take pictures. We took it apart a lot more than this.

It turned out we didn’t need to take it apart as much as we did. We discovered this when Betsy suggested I find and read the manual and see if it tells us how to change the batteries, which it did. However, I’m not sorry we took it apart, because I learned about what’s inside and where and how to make all sorts of adjustments. It also gave us a chance to vacuum out a lot of debris and remove dust and dirt — which always harbors mold.

We adjusted the seating, which had always been too low for my long legs — raising the seat and then moving it back so my feet rested on the foot-plate like they were supposed to. (The original vendor should have done this, but he just dropped it off and left. That’s a story for another time.) Then, we had to move where the controller box (joystick) was sitting, so that would be in the right place, too. Betsy did a lot of heavy lifting; it was quite a job, but now I finally have two chairs with proper seating.

We tried taking out the almost entirely dead batteries and replacing them with some others I had lying around. Usually if you don’t charge batteries they die completely, but I thought that since the others were very-nearly dead, these others couldn’t be much worse. I was wrong. They are completely dead, and now the chair doesn’t go at all. It won’t even charge. However, it looks fabulous.

Powerchair reassembled. In the foreground, the chair, with a shiny gray captain's seat and red metal base with gray wheels. Behind and to the left, Barnum naps on his tan organic dog bed.

Voila!

I even figured out a problem that had stumped me for years, which was how to make my elevated leg rests from my new indoor chair fit with it. I figured out how to remove some thingies that had been blocking the  rails. I also took the seat belts off my useless purple chair and put them on this chair. (Which is where they were originally from.) With the addition of seat belts and extended leg rests, it will be safer, more stable, and less tiring for me to use for extended periods, such as for walking my dog! Behold! . . .

Side view of the powerchair with long, black, metal leg rests and a gray seatbelt with a red buckle.

Now I'm ready for action! (Sorta.)

I have been posting on a powerchair forum called Wheelchair Junkie, which is basically a bulletin board for power mobility gearheads. The folks there have given me a lot of helpful advice. I decided to get cheap replacement batteries for the Jet, just so I have a working backup chair and one that I can use with my existing van lift — so I can go to doctor’s appointments and take Barnum for working field trips to parking lots and stores and such. And, I will see how this chair does in the rough-and-tumble of my rural setting. Hopefully, it will be good enough until I get something with more power, clearance, stability, and speed. (I’ll talk more about ideas for that another time.)

I ordered my batteries from Amazon, the same brand and type that had been in there before. They arrived within three days, and I couldn’t wait to install them and see if the chair was viable! After all Betsy’s and my hard work, I was very excited.

I took out the old batteries, put in one of the new ones, started to connect the wires to the terminals, and then decided I should put the other one in, too, before I connected the wires. So, I took the second one out of the box, and . . .

Close-up of wheelchair battery. On the far side, the red terminal stands up straight. On the near side, the black terminal is bent back severely.

Augh! The terminal was bent!

I emailed the seller and asked them to send me a new one with expedited shipping and take back this damaged one for no shipping charges (because each battery weighs 23 pounds, so shipping can be pricey!). I didn’t hear back from them. The next day, I emailed them again and asked for their shipping return address and an expedited exchange. No response. Today I sent the battery back, and the shipping charges came to almost as much as the cost of the battery itself! I wrote to them for a third time, told them the battery was on the way, and asked for them to defray the shipping costs and send a new battery. I also said I was “very unhappy with your customer service.” I hoped that would get their attention, since they get feedback scores from customers.

Surprise! Very shortly after that, an actual human from the company emailed me and said they were expediting my refund, but that my shipping charges were too high for them to cover. I don’t know what will happen in the end, because we’re still discussing it. Meanwhile, I ordered a replacement battery. I hope it arrives in perfect condition!

I want to get out of my frickin’ house! AUGH!

My theory is that I was in a wheelchair karma-accident in my former life. The only positive out of the battery disappointment was that when I tried to stand up from the ground and needed assistance, Barnum did a terrific job of bracing me. He is super solid on that skill. He stands nice and square and doesn’t move a muscle. Best stand-stay and brace on any dog I’ve had yet.

Good dog! Bad wheelchair vendors. If only I could clicker train them! . . .

– Sharon, who has used a carrot for a long time and has now taken out her big stick! The muse of Gadget (I LIKED the Jet! But not as much as the scooter, which went faster), and Barnum (Sharon never takes me for walks anymore. Sigh.)

Week in Review: Tired Trainers Tips Page, Training Log, & Miscellany

I haven’t managed to blog much this week, but Barnum and I have done a fair amount of training, and I have also been working on a couple of flash fiction pieces, which feels really, really good. It’s been so long since I have been able to do “commercial” creative writing.

There’s also a lot going on on the home front that I don’t feel at liberty to talk about at the moment. I probably will soon.

My parents picked up my outdoor pchair in my van today and took it to be repaired. (The guy who built it lives closer to them than to me.)

Even though it was 87 degrees out today (Yikes! In May?), I still have had Barnum do just a tiny bit of training in the heat, just so he gets used to the idea that he can still be called upon for work, even if he just wants to lie around panting.

Though mostly I do let him lie around, panting.

The tick season continues to rage out of control. Between days of wet weather and then heat, it is ideal tick conditions. Today, the number of ticks found on Betsy, our home, and Barnum equaled twenty. Yes, twenty. In one day. It’s disgusting.

I have several Lyme-  and tick-myth busting posts in the works. Scary times.

You may recall that in an earlier post, I mentioned Barnum’s zen (“Leave it”) going downhill as a good sign, and then my training guru, Sue Eh? said that was the best possible sign. I’ve had to go back to kindergarten with zen, but we have worked our way back up pretty rapidly, as this picture shows. It also shows that one of my PCAs makes very tempting-looking liver biscuits.

Barnum lies on the floor, his head cocked, with a square brown biscuit resting on each paw. He is looking at the camera, not at the biscuits.

He knows they're there. But he has to strike a cute pose for the camera, too.

I’ve also been collecting and disseminating a lot of grief-related information, because suddenly there are several people in my life dealing with the death of assistance dogs or pets, or having anticipatory grief over sick animals. That, along with my own grappling with my “frozen grief,” is compelling me to try to get the grief resources together here soon. Meanwhile, I’m putting them up haphazardly on the FaceBook page.

Also on the FaceBook page is my “Tips for Tired Trainers.” I try to post one a day on the After Gadget FB page. The consensus seems to be that you all prefer to be able to access those tips here, in addition to on FaceBook.

I’m not up to posting them as a blog every day, so here’s what I’ve done: I’ve made a permanent page here, with that title, “Tips for Tired Trainers,” that I will add to every week or so after I’ve collected a new bunch of tips. I will also try to remember, when I have updated the page, to include a link to it in my latest post. However, I advise bookmarking the page, because my memory isn’t stellar.

I wholeheartedly welcome feedback about the tips: Which ones you find most useful; elaborations, improvements, or your own suggestions; and questions about how to deal with specific dog training or management issues when facing your own particular pain or fatigue issue. Go ahead! Try to stump me! I bet you can!

I’ve also been trying to keep a very simple training lot going on the FB page, although it didn’t occur to me until today that I should probably also put them in status updates, otherwise nobody knows I’ve updated the document. It’s usually very perfunctory notes, though.

Here’s what we’ve been working on this week:

Shutting cupboard doors & drawers in general, and the difficult corner cupboard in particular (which he figured out on his own, which is spectacular because I don’t know how to do it without the knobs and opposable thumbs); go to mat (duration in one session, and “making sure every part of your body is on the mat as I shrink it” in another), sit/down/stand/stay (often), clik-stik, relax for tick check (every night), notice pull cord on cabinet door (have graduated to mouthing it), elimination on cue (going very well), dumbbell take training (at least once a day, sometimes twice); zen (almost every day); using nail board; alerts (has learned to escalate to pawing or nosing me if I continue to “sleep” after he’s jumped on the bed); working through weirdness about sitting in certain locations and strange fear about getting in the tub (GREAT progress on the latter — now back to sitting and lying in the tub, after eagerly jumping in); paw targeting (introduced a slightly smaller new target); play retrieve (“fetch”); coming and staying within sight for off-leash runs at pond; being calm while separated from me; crate cue; polite greeting (a bit overenthusiastic with my parents).

Lastly, I’ve been wanting to do a post, or maybe a few, on what I see through my window, because I spend a lot of time in bed, and sometimes I see some lovely things. A couple of days ago, I saw an Eastern Cottontail rabbit hop across our driveway. Last week, a red fox slunk through our backyard.

Mostly what I enjoy looking at, however, are birds. I am a birder. Yes, I am, and I have been all my life, thanks to my parents. I don’t understand why everyone isn’t, but I have discovered either you think birds are cool, or you make fun of people who excitedly tell you the names and identifying features of the birds you see. Ahem.

I used to keep a “life list” of birds. It was pretty amazing, but I lost it when I moved to my current home. So, I decided to start a new list, beginning with this month, May 2011. I’ll post that sometime, soon, I hope. Well, with me, who knows.

Anynoodle, periodically, I’ll be showing pictures of the birds I see outside my window.

I’m not the only one who likes to watch the birds:

Side view of Barnum standing looking right at a bird in a plexiglas seed feeder on a picture window. The bird is six inches long, with brown and white stripes, standing in a tray of sunflower seed. The bird is facing Barnum, with her head tilted, one eye prominent, as if she might be watching him, too.

Barnum watches a female Purple Finch. She seems to be watching him, too.

– Sharon, unabashed bird geek, the muse of Gadget (who didn’t care about any bird unless it was a grouse or a wild turkey), and Barnum, bird-dog and SDiT?

life w/lyme, mcs, cfids: a different kind of typical atypical

for an MCS, Lymie, CFIDSer blogger training her own service dog.

i’ve been trying to post every day, partly bec i have so much to say and partly bec my stats go way up when i do, and that’s just so reinforcing!

but when u have lyme and cfids and u overdo by blogging, tweeting, posting on FB, etc., and/or train your dog, then u crash.

this is the other side of the typical atypical day coin. a typical day when i’m super super sick, which is not my typical day anymore.

today is not quite a stuck day but it’s damn close. it’s the kind of day that often follows a good day, like the ones i wrote about yesterday and the day before.

can’t get out of bed (move legs) on my own/transfer/go to bathroom, feed myself, brush teeth, etc.  also can’t speak.

this used to be my typical day, when my lyme was bad. now it’s what happens if i overdo or have chem exposures or don’t get enough sleep, and i have done some of all of that in the past week. then i way overdid it and shaved barnum down last nite w/betsy. i knew i was ovverdoing, as the pain and jelly legs and vertigo set in during and after, but the ticks have  been so bad, it needed doing and this was the only time, so i just hoped i could bounce back.

so i was long overdue for a slapdown. and here i am blogging, which i shdn’t be.

but i have a lightweight cordless keyboard in my lap, my elbows bolstered, and reclining. i can’t lift a  fork of watermelon into my mouth, but i can type.

i can’t say, “blog,” but i can type.

i’m blogging because it’s hard to be stuck in ur brain, unable to speak, surrounded by people who don’t know asl, in pain, etc. i’m blogging because i want you to know what it’s like to have these illnesses, which you never will as long as i blog because that gives a fall sense of how functional i am. the act of blogging belies that i’m too sick to blog.

but i want you to  see wha hppens on the days i don’t blog,or i do but i shdn’t. in fact, when i was writing this i kept abbrev and making typos and fixing it but i have decided now as i finish this up (have  done several sessions w/rest between,jumping around) to leave them bec its so much harder for me if i have to move my fingers off asdf  jkl;

i have already fixed so many typos, so many wrong word choices because my brain doesn’t always connect to what my fingers are typing (e.g., if i think “taller” and right “father”). it’s so hard fo rme to leave the errors — i keep fixing them! – but i want u to see the reality.

my pca fed me watermelon and my protein drink, which we did in shifts, over sevaral hours — it is exhausting bec of chewin g and swallowing, bec if she doesn’t put it right directly into my mouth w/out pausing or waiting for me to make minute stretches forward, it’s even more exhausting. and i can’t tell how to do it diff bec i can’t  talk and it’s too exhausting to try to explain bec nobody who has ever fed me has understood these nuances anyway.

and typing or swallowing or chewing gives me palpitations, makes me dizzy, makes me pant. and breathing becomes more of an effort — the diaphragm moving, the rsise and fall of chest, those are all muscles working.

this is lyme and mcs awareness, too (and  cfids, even if it’s not cfids awaereness month)  — the days when u can’t do most things at all and what u do is a huge struggle. this is so much better than what used to be a typical day, where i wdn’t be able to write this blog at all. when i couldn’t  move my hands sometimes. today i can flop them around a bit, i can click, and i can type , as long as my arms are supported.

being a lyme survivor who is also an assistance dog trainer means overdoing it to try to protect barnum and myself from ticks, from further infection, which means making myself sick, doing too much.

these reminders are good for me because last night in the glow of my overfunctioning adrenaline rush, i thought, ” i really don’t need to be teaching barnum to shut and open cupboards or the fridge or all sorts of other skills i’m planning because i’m doing so well now. but it’s better if he’s overtrained just in case.”

then, today, i needed to pee, and my pca was shopping, and i wished so much that barnum knew how to help me with transfers. and he needed to pee, and i couldn’t let him out, and i wished he knew already how to open and shut doors on cue. but not yet. so we waited 45 mins for my pca to get back.

and i ran out of toilet paper after my pca left, and i knew it was in the cupboard five feet away, but barnum doesn’t yet know how to open and retrieve things from cupboards, and there it is — skills i want to teach for the days i need them, all while hoping i never need them, some part of me believing i will never need them and some part of me remembering all the things i needed gadget to do, some of which i’d trained him for and some of which i hadn’t, when i got lyme. reminding me that i can never trust that i will never  have a day liek that (liek this) again.

he did something interesting today. my pca came in and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk, and instead of bouncing around all happy and heading right fo rthe door like usual, he just looked over at me, which was odd. and i thought, does he know i’m sick, and he’s weighing how much he wants this walk against worrying about me?

i don’t know. i could be projecting. but i’ve never seen that before. sure as heck gadget would  never have done that! but barnum is a very sensitive guy, so i’m not sure.

unfortunately, the nurse had to come today to change my dressing. we were supposed to do a blood draw, but i guess even my blood is too exhausted to move because we couldn’t get blood return.

having CFIDS means i’m too exhausted to have facial expression, so i look like i’m angry or don’t care, when really my facial muscles are too tired and weak.

having lyme means i’m in so much pain that i can’t move 90% of my body because the pain and weakness just takes away my ability to move. it’s hard to get this across:

the nurse (photos below) said, “ur in a lot of pain, huh?” and i nodded, and she said, “u haven’t taken your pain meds today?” and i moved my mask so she could read my lips and said/mouthed, “no i did take them, that’s how come i’m able to be out here” (not in bed), but i don’t know if she understood me bec sometimes when people don’t understand they just nod and act like they do bec they don’t want to make u repeat.

but i always desperately want to be heard and understood, so i signed, “understand?” but of course she doesn’t know asl, but she nodded, so i have no idea if she understood my question.

Barnum lies on a black yoga mat next to Sharon, who is in her powerchair with the back reclined all the way and her feet slid off the footplate. She's wearing a large white mask covering all of her face but from her eyes up. One arm is hanging over the side of the armrest, the other is outstretched on the table where a nurse in a medical mask and gloves is changing Sharon's PICC line dressing.

Nurse visit

i sepnt most of the appt w/my eyees shut and reclining as much as i could, but of course i also wanted to use it as training oppty so i clicked and dropped cheese onto barnum’s mat, but then that was too exhausting so my pca stood in front of mat and dopped cheese after i clicked. i have a box clicker with a light touch.

having MCS makes nurse visits a really big deal. u might notice i’m wearing a mask and a black air  filter on a cord around my neck. that’s because even tho my nurse tries to be fragrance free, she lives with people who use fragrance, so it gets on her. and she sees other patients in their fragranced homes. after she leaves, the whole house reeks, and we keep all the doors shut we can so it doesn’t get into the bathrooms or my bedroom. she sits on a wood chair, never on the sofa or putting her stuff on the sofa, because it would absorb the smells. and i can’t let her into my room bec she would contaminate it, and i need a place i can rest and breathe.

now my pca has brought me “lunch” even tho it’s evening bec i forgot to talk to her abt food until the end of her shift, bec i’m so out of it, and now she’s gone and i’m doing better but not well enough to really be able to food myself, so i try to prop the plate on my chest and overbed table and eat with my fingers a few pieces then put plate on bed and rest.

barnum was on my bed, which he’s not supposed to be when i’m eating. the rule is he gets ignored while i’m eating unless i ask him to do something or he alerts to something, but i have no way to tell him to get off, so i just let him be there. besides, it feels comforting. but this is another reason why i am not the consistent trainer i  wld want to be: sometimes i’m not able to be consistent. i know what i’m doing wrong and there’s nothing i can do about it.

i just realized something. i want u to know this bec it’s  important.

i don’t want u to feel sorry for me. i hate pity, honestly. I want to be KNOWN.

because actually,in this moment  i’m happy. maybe that sounds  hard to believe, but really, despite being so sick today, it’s not a bad day. i’m enjoying watching and listening to the birds ouside my window (have a blog post i’ve been working on about birdwatching and lots of photos.)

i feel content. the pain is not as bad now. i have had help mos to fthe time i needed it today and my night pca will be here later.  barnum has been adorable and actually did a few desirable behaviors. i’mnothaving bad payback (reaction) from the nurse visit exposures, partly bec i have all the windows open bec it’s warm today.  a barred owl has started its strange call (they are active during the day – strange birds).

i feel satisfied and glad i was able to do this blog.

i got to listen to a  phone call  (it’s a class — NVC — and i couldn’t say much but i was included, nonetheless; theyh’re my community, everyone else is chronically ill, and i can just listen and be part of it and know i have companionship). i got to tell a friend i love her.

and iknow this will pass. this is my body wisely saying, “sharon! chill the fuck out! stop doing so much! lie around and do nothing! stop thinking! stop training! stop  blogging! stop tweeting! rest and sleep as much as u can. dammit.” after i post this, that’s what i’ll do. because lyme and mcs (and cfids) awareness means people knowing that those of us who enter thepublic sphere in any form, including internet, are making a CHOICE to do that and not do other things, or to suffer physically as a result.

and it means trusting u all, which i do, ur wonderful, to still be there when i get back when i am not posting everyday and trying to be someone i’m not, someone who doesn’t have cfids, lyme, and mcs. and trusting u to know that i love ur comments, but it’s an effort to reply to them, bec that takes work so if i’m slow or don’t reply, that is why. because i have cfids and lyme and mcs. i treasure them. i smile with almost every one.  my heart is full, thanks to ur support and sue eh’s support and barnum and others.

the migraine is setting in now; my body is pissed that i’m not heeding its call. do me a favor, will u? pls post and fwd this link to everyone you think could stand to know about lyme, cfids, and/or mcs. because i’m not up to it, and i know you get it now, because you’ve  seen me at both ends of my spectrum. thank you.

this is me. radio silence.

love,

sharon, the muse of gadget, and barnum, quietly concerned sdit

A Typical Atypical Day in the Life (Part I). . .

. . . of a woman with Lyme, CFIDS, and MCS partner-training her bouvier des Flandres service dog.

It was atypical because I went out, which I don’t usually do. But the things that occurred, and the way I went out, were mostly typical. A lot of Barnum’s behavior was atypical for the away-from-home Barnum, which is great news!

Today was so full, and I have so much to say about it, that I’m going to have to break it into two posts and interrupt my Waspish Wednesday series (although, I think I can find some things to be waspish about that occurred today). I can always find that dark cloud inside the silver lining!

Since it is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Awareness Month and Lyme Disease Awareness Month, I’m also trying to massage into this post the ways that my day were and were not typical of having MCS and Lyme.

Despite all the explanation, it was actually a fun, exciting  day, full of hope, promise, and dog slobber. I’ve included pictures and video to keep things lively.

Let’s begin, shall we?

I woke up at 1 PM (typical because I went to sleep at 6AM — I have all sorts of sleep disorders) and managed to get my pain under control with opiate medication within a couple of hours. This is typical these days, but a couple of years ago, when my Lyme was more severe, I always spent the whole day in bed, totally exhausted and barely able to move from the severity of the pain, with the medication simply keeping me from ending up in the ER or literally paralyzed by the weakness it accompanied.

There is only one strong pain medication I tolerate; I have tried many, and I have bad reactions to almost all, which range from true allergy (trouble breathing, edema in ankles) to “just” sensitivities/bad reactions (such as chest pain, anxiety, hallucinations, nausea, etc.). This is ultra-typical of people with MCS. We are usually very sensitive to medication, and the fact that I’m able to take so many medications makes me extremely fortunate and atypical for an MCSer. The fact remains that this pain medication is not as strong as I have often needed.

Nonetheless, I’m not going to complain because even though I have not tolerated about one-half to one-third of the Lyme disease and coinfection antibiotics and antiparasitics I’ve tried, I’ve tolerated enough of them that I am not dead. I feel fairly certain that if I had not gotten aggressive treatment when I did, or soon thereafter, I would be dead by now. I was headed in the direction that this woman is now in, sadly.

Instead, today I enjoyed a good day, which means I was able to get out of bed and train with Barnum and not be whomped by pain or fatigue or nausea or dizziness or migraines, etc., during or immediately after. This is atypical right now, but I’m hoping this kind of day is a trend toward the typical.

In fact, I was feeling so good that I put on makeup — and a clean shirt without holes or obvious stains! — which is outrageously atypical. Why did I take such drastic fashion-oriented measures? Because my hair was clean, and I wanted to take some pictures for this post, and I decided if I was going to be in the picture, I wanted to look good. The last time I looked really good in a picture was 2007 (before my Lyme disease became severe).

My hair was clean thanks to the bath I had yesterday, which was the first bath I’d had in ten days — a little longer than I normally go between washing, but not much. That’s because bathing — even with the help of my PCA doing a lot of the work — is exhausting and often painful. Sometimes I don’t bathe because I’d rather use my spoons on more meaningful pursuits, like blogging or dog training, and sometimes I don’t bathe because it’s just flat-out impossible. (Thus, clean, curly, shiny hair? Atypical.)

Sharon with her head titled down, mouth open, talking. She has wavy salt and pepper hair, a rosey complexion, wire-frame pink glasses with rhinestones at the corners, and is wearing dark red lipgloss and dark purple eye shadow.

I know it's a strange picture, but it's the best of the bunch.

(I’ll put up more pics of Barnum and me from today on our new FaceBook page. I have not yet figured out how to get the “Like” button up here, so if anyone knows how to do that and can help a code-impaired blog-gal, I’d appreciate it! We need 25 people to like us for it to become an official “fan page.” I have no idea why or what that means, but it seems like a good thing to aim for.)

Bathing is extra lugubrious because I have a PICC line, which is how I get my IV antibiotics for Lyme. (I’m also on multiple oral antibiotics and an intramuscular one). PICC line dressings have to be kept clean and dry.

Sharons inner upper arm and elbow with PICC line and dressing. The PICC line is a very thin white plastic tube coming out of a round "biopatch" which covers the entry site of the line. Several steri-strips hold the biopatch and line in place. A hypoallergenic clear dressing that looks like a piece of plastic covers the whole area, with two pieces of hypoallergenic medical tape holding down the dressing. The line comes out from under the dressing to a red clip, which is opened when flushing or infusing. A white plastic cap connects the line to a clear extension tube, which is hooked up to syringes with medication or saline for infusing or flushing. No needles are involved.

This is an atypical PICC line dressing because I can't tolerate almost any of the materials normally used to dress and keep a line in place, including disinfectants, adhesives, and plastics.

It is possible to purchase waterproof PICC line covers for bathing or showering, but I can’t tolerate them; they’re made of vinyl, which is horribly toxic and fumey. Thus, my PCA wraps my arm in a long strip of an old sheet, and we tape it with a certain tape that I don’t react to (much) but that stays on if it gets wet, and them I keep that arm out of the water/spray, and we try to get it all done fast.

Back to the makeup and clean hair. Normally I don’t wear make for several reasons:

  1. Most makeup is toxic and not safe for me. A few years ago, I found a great makeup source called Alima Pure, which only uses minerals, will sell you samples to test for tolerance, lists all their ingredients, and is odorless and inert. It is great stuff, but it does take a tiny bit more effort to apply, and with CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome) — which I also have, predating Lyme — plus Lyme, every tiny exertion is a big deal.
  2. I hardly ever go anywhere or see anyone except my PCAs, Barnum, and Betsy, and they don’t care how I look. And I’m not one of those girls who puts on makeup just for herself — not anymore anyway. Too many spoons to use all my energy for the day doing my face. If I put on makeup, I’m doing it so I can look good for somebody else. In this case, that’d be you!
  3. If I do go somewhere, I have to wear a cotton-and-carbon filter mask over most of my face. Never wear makeup under a mask; it smears everywhere, no matter what you try to do to prevent it, ruining your makeup job and your mask.

It’s hard being a femme with MCS! Lyme hasn’t helped matters any. In addition to the huge amounts of weight I have gained and lost and gained again due to my illnesses, I also lost my hair to Lyme for quite a while.

Since I got Lyme — from a tick attached to the nape of my neck, under my hair — I have kept my hair very short during “tick season” (March through November), including shaving it severely in the back, where my Lyme rash is — to make it easier to do thorough tick checks. On two occasions, I actually cried while the poor woman who came to my home cut my hair. (Of course, due to MCS, I can’t go to a salon; and this stylist is fragrance-free.)

This year I decided, hell no. Lyme has taken too much from me, and I am reclaiming my hair! Maybe this is stupid — after all, I have found two ticks on my scalp so far this year — but a crip femme’s gotta make a stand at some point, yeah?

Anynoodle, today I felt pretty (dammit!), with my almost-shoulder-length clean hair, and I decided to capitalize on it. I put on my makeup and then did some training with Barnum (the idea was that then my PCA would take pictures of Barnum and me).

When I came out of the bathroom with my “face,” Barnum looked at me with alarm for a moment. His eyebrows jumped! It never ceases to amaze me how observant he is. Really, it feels almost supernatural sometimes.

Since it was the first time he’d ever seen my face look so weird, the message his expression conveyed was, “Mom, what happened?” Then he realized it was just me doing some stupid human trick, and he moved on.

We trained some skills I can’t remember (typical memory problems of Lyme, MCS, and CFIDS/ME), but I remember that it went really well, that he was totally in the game. I remember that some of it was using the Clik-Stik for practicing position while walking. (I seemed to have poisoned my cue for that when we’re in the yard — I rolled over his hind foot one day in the yard, and now he is afraid to be in that position, but only in the area of the yard where we used to practice. In the house and elsewhere — as you’ll see in our exciting video footage! — he is doing well.)

In Sharon's yard, green with spring, Barnum stands beside Sharon on her left and looks up into her eyes while she looks down into his. Sharon is smiling.

We are rocking the eye contact.

Some other typical/atypical MCS and Lyme things are visible in the photo above. For example, even though I have huge breasts that are sagging down to my waist, and I wanted to look good, I am clearly not wearing a bra. I used to wear bras when I needed to — for work or doctor’s appointments or whatnot. Since I got Lyme, I cannot tolerate them at all; the pressure against my skin is too painful. This is true even though I have the most comfortable bras ever made, which are organic cotton, without latex, safe for my MCS, which I buy from Decent Exposures.

In fact, my T-shirt is also organic cotton, low-impact dyed, as are my pants, which I also got from Decent Exposures. It was a huge step up for me in the fashion department when they started offering organic cotton in a few colors other than “natural.” (That pink nightshirt in the picture up top that shows my PICC line? Also Decent Exposures. Sensing a theme?)

You may also notice I have a funny-looking arm band around my biceps. That is an organic cotton PICC-line sleeve I sewed for myself out of swatches I got from Decent Exposures. Most people with PICCs use mesh sleeves provided by their infusion company. They are comfortable and functional — and I’ve never been able to wear one because they totally reek of fragrance that they’ve absorbed from the people and products at the infusion company pharmacy.

I used to use gauze bandage that I wrapped around the PICC to keep it in place, but the chain pharmacies all changed their gauze bandage to a “new, improved” type that doesn’t hold its shape and is therefore totally useless after a couple of hours. I changed tacks.

For several months, I wrapped my arm with an Ace bandage that I’ve had since high school, which I washed periodically if it got too dirty or got fragrance on it from me going “into the world” (i.e., the hospital or a doctor’s office). Predictably, the stretchiness wore out over time, and it is now also useless, as well.

Thus, I got (even more) creative and sewed together this PICC line sleeve. I wanted something functional, but I also wanted something pretty, because — as I hope is clear by now — I’m not really able to attend to my appearance much. If I have to wear something around my arm, I’d like it to be attractive, if possible.

As I said above, I’m a femme, dammit, and I can only take so much! Sometimes I have to get feisty!

Closeup of Sharon's upper arm and elbow. Above the elbow is a sleeve made out of several small squares of different-colored fabric, stitched together like a quilt, mostly pastels and prints in pink, blue, purple, and white.

It doesn't always stay on, bu it's better than nothing.

I’ll do an album on our FB page of more photos of the PICC-line sleeve so you can see the other sides, if you’re interested.

Once the fashion shoot was over, I took Barnum out and he peed right away, but he didn’t poop, even though I knew he needed to. Since it wasn’t raining, a rare event lately and not long-lived, I decided to take him for a walk.

Taking Barnum for a walk, even just getting him outdoors to potty, is often a struggle for me. Lately, I’d say it’s about even odds that I can take him to his toileting area (which is right next to the house, just off the ramp), and it’s pretty unusual for me to feel well enough to walk him using my indoor powerchair.

The indoor chair doesn’t allow me to recline and elevate my legs, which I need if I’m going to be sitting up for any period of time. It also doesn’t have a seatbelt and is not as sturdy, so I have to use some more muscles to keep my body in position. These little details are part of living with CFIDS and Lyme.

Nevertheless, today was a good day, so we went down the ramp (practicing the cues for “behind” and “follow”) and then out into the yard. His “wait” at the gate was excellent. We moved down the driveway, and I experienced the strangest sensation: a loose leash! The Whole Damn Time! YEEHAW!

ATYPICAL! At least, it has been, but hopefully, soon it will be “our new normal.”

Barnum trotted along on his loose leash, periodically taking treats, like it was just a standard, normal behavior — which continued as we went down the street! I was completely in awe. We were doing so well that I radioed to my PCA and asked her to come to the street with the camera to videotape us.

Unfortunately, by the time she made it outside, black flies (which bite) and mosquitoes were swarming Barnum and me, making it very hard for him to concentrate. His groin and anus got all bitten up. He doesn’t follow every one of my cues in the video below, but before the plagues descended upon us, he was a rock star! (You can see the flies around us and sometimes in front of the camera lens.)

Note: This is a very visual video, with almost no dialogue, so I didn’t provide a captioned version or a transcript. Basically, what happens is that Barnum and I walk a few yards in one direction, turn around and walk back. I ask him to do a few simple behaviors, like sit, down, and “Watch me,” and that’s pretty much it.

Then, we carried on in the adventurous spirit of the day and loaded up my crappy chair (the one that is not currently dead and works with the van’s lift, but which has no battery charge left), and headed first to the local coop (about two miles from my house) and then to the POND!

More on those adventures tomorrow, and what was typical (and worthy of waspishness) and what was atypical.

A last Lyme awareness note: While I was writing this post, I scratched my head and felt a little bump against my scalp. Yup, it was a tick, attached. Betsy had checked my scalp (and the rest of me) thoroughly about three hours previous, so I know the tick wasn’t there long. Also, it was a dog tick, not a deer tick. (Deer ticks are the ones that carry Lyme, although all ticks can carry nasty diseases.) I promise, I am working on that “How to Tick Check Your Dog” post. However, in the meanwhile, please please please, tick check yourselves, every day!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, loose-leash walking SDiT?!?!

P.S. Still accepting entries/comments at my other blog before Barnum chooses the Jackpot winner.

“Lose It or Move It” Updates…

There’s been a lot going on with Mr. Barnum, but since I revealed that I am considering washing him out, I’ve become afraid to post about it!

If training is going well, and I have my hopes up, I’m worried about getting your hopes up, too! If training is going badly, I don’t want you all to think, “Oh, well then, there’s the proof that he’s not gonna make it.” Because really, there are always up days and down days, with any dog (or other being) — with any learning venture, there are peaks and plateaus. Yet, I’m so aware now that others are aware of the stakes.

It’s weird. I really love knowing so many people are supportive and pulling for us, and yet now I feel an obligation to my readers, too. Barnum and I are already dealing with the weight of my own — and my friends’ and family’s — expectations; I don’t want any more on us!

It’s not that anyone’s done anything wrong. On the contrary, I have been quite touched by the love and outpouring of support when I started posting the “Washout?” series.

I’ve never liked nebulousness and ambiguity. I’ve always been very goal-oriented, driven, motivated. I like a plan. I scheme and chart and make lists of what I’m going to do. (You all saw this past week what happens when I get focused on a goal. I’m very focused.)

Not that I’m not able to adjust in the moment; I am. It’s the creative aspect of clicker training — when I just click for something because it feels right, and then after I click, I realize why I did it — that’s one of the best parts.

In fact, when I read this sentence in Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! — about “the shaping game,” where one person plays the trainer, and one plays the animal, trying to get the “animal” to do a certain behavior with just well-timed clicks or whistles, I thought, “Aha. This is why clicker training comes so naturally to me.”

In my experience intuitive, creative, intensely emotional people make great shapers, and calm, observant people make great animals —  just the opposite of what you might expect.

“Intuitive, creative, intensely emotional,” sums me up pretty well! (Not that that’s all I am, but it’s a big chunk.)

Anynoodle, with that in mind, I’d say that so far, “Operation Lose It or Move It” — as I’ve been thinking of The Barnum Experience, ever since Sue said, “Whack those suckers off!” — has been going pretty well. (I am hoping I don’t have to explain the double entendre there.)

I’m not sure how much of the progress really has to do with the neutering per se. I thought it would be too soon to tell, hormonally or biologically, until at least two months. However, it has seemed to me as if Barnum has overall been more interested in food since the surgery. He is certainly now working hard for treats that he used to consider “low value”!

I think there are a few factors that have made him, overall, much more interested in training:

  • Having an enforced two weeks of no free running, and lots of very short on-leash walks, right after the surgery, has helped the elimination on leash a great deal, as well as focus and loose-leash walk (LLW).
  • As I wrote in an earlier post, I combined intensive focus/eye contact work with evaluating how other people were walking him, which has led to actual loose-leashness on most outings with him, although they are not really so much “walks,” as he doesn’t get to go far yet. Still, tremendous progress there. That’s definitely primarily a training issue, not a hormonal one.
  • However, he is also eagerly taking treats on these walks, something that was very rare before. He will even take hot dogs, which he considers lower value than cheese. The fact that he wants to earn treats on walks has accelerated the LLW training.
  • After keeping him on leash for all elimination went so well right after his surgery, I have continued to make sure every time he goes out, it’s on leash. The exception is if it’s raining and there’s nobody else to take him out (powerchairs don’t do well in rain). He is now urinating the second we get to the gravel, and I think he “knows” that cue, when he’s on the gravel. I’m positive if I said, “Hurry up,” to him in a strange location, it wouldn’t register at all. He is also now pooping on leash most of the time, though he does still prefer his privacy. (Is that a bouv thing, or are all dogs like this? All my bouvs have been privacy poopers, but I don’t remember that being the case with our BC mix.)
  • He spent the past week with very little training, very little attention, very little mental stimulation — and he has been clamoring to train. I tried to squeeze in a session once or twice a day, if I could. Usually some retrieve training right before bed, but for the most part, he has had a taste of the easy life, and he doesn’t like it! (Yeehaw!)
  • During his week of auction-induced boredom, he tried on several occasions to induce me to train. The most humorous one is when he goes into my bathroom and shuts the door: “See? Look! I can shut the door! Cool, eh? Click me!” The problem is that he is then inside the bathroom, with the door shut, and I’m in bed. That’s what you get when the dog has learned the behavior but it isn’t yet under stimulus control.
  • The most exciting moment for me (well, there have been a couple, but this was the first), was about a week ago. We were working on the corner cupboard in the kitchen, which is a very tricky door to shut, as it’s hinged in the middle, and I was ready to release him, even though he hadn’t managed to shut it, because I could tell he was getting mentally fatigued and frustrated. I tried to end the session, but he wanted to keep going! And it wasn’t the treats, because these were not fantastic treats which he snorked down somewhat distractedly. No, it was the puzzle. He really wanted to figure out how to get that cabinet shut and to shut it, dammit! I’ve never seen that in him before. I didn’t know if he had it in him, but now I think he might.
An open, wood, corner cabinet door. There are two panels with a hinge connecting them. There is a chrome knob on the upper, outer corner -- on the left -- and a piece of pink paper is stuck in the middle of the other panel.

That piece of paper is his target for where to push to close the cupboard once he has the other panel flat.

  • Another first this week was that one of my helpers was able to take Barnum for a walk around the pond, which both she and Gadget used to love. She had not been able to do it with Barnum, however, because when we tried it, he . . .
    1. pulled on leash,
    2. didn’t come when called,
    3. could not be relied upon to get in the van when it was time to leave,
    4. was overly boisterous with other dogs he met there, and
    5. was overly suspicious of people he met there  (if they didn’t have dogs).

    When they got home after their outing last week, my helper said that Barnum was great, that “it was just like taking Gadget!” Whoah! High praise! (She didn’t used to like dogs, and was somewhat afraid of them, but Gadget converted her. After the first few weeks of baby Barnum, it seemed as if he was restoring her original opinion of dogs. Could Barnum now be on the brink of redeeming himself?)

  • Barnum’s “zen” has also suddenly gotten worse, which is a good sign, actually. He was ridiculously easy to train in zen (“Leave it”) because food was not that exciting to him. Now he has to think about it more — how badly do I want that morsel? I’m perfectly happy to rework our zen in exchange for a food-driven dog!
  • We have done more practice in the van — first just with us sitting in the driveway, and then short trips where all we did was practice getting in and out of the van in controlled ways.

So, that’s a bit of the post-surgical update on Mr. B. There is still a lot of evaluation and testing to do, a lot more training. I do think the neutering has had an effect, but I also think my change in strategy in some key areas has set us up to succeed more often.

The big test will be to see what happens when we got into strange or distracting environments, and if he is still interested in food then or not. Particularly because I’ve been working focus in very low-distraction/below-threshold environments and working up, I’m not sure what will happen when we are in the midst of some excitement.

I’ll continue to keep you posted. I am still reserving judgement, but the prognosis now is more guardedly optimistic than before. We’ll just have to see what happens, now that the balls are no longer in his court.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (How dare they compare him to moi?), and Barnum, hungry(!) SDiT?

P.S. One of the After Gadget Jackpot winners has been determined. Pop on over to this new post at aftergadget.com to find out who it is, AND to read my new, simplified instructions for those of you were overwhelmed and flummoxed by the last ones. (Sorry!)


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