Posts Tagged 'guide dog'

The 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival — Perfect!

Welcome to the Tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! I’m pleased that many of the bloggers who contributed to the first #ADBC, hosted by me in October 2010, have returned, and some new bloggers have also swelled our ranks. In honor of this being the tenth carnival, I chose the theme of “Perfect 10.” Participants could write about “ten” or “perfect” or both.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

ADBC #10

I’m delighted with how this issue came together. Thirteen bloggers have contributed pieces — some of them have become my new favorite assistance dog posts! Plus, because some posts were accompanied by terrific pictures, for the first time, I’m including a few pictures from some of the posts. You are in for a treat!

The Top Tens

These bloggers are all about the tens. Some looked at the last ten weeks or ten months; others made “top ten” lists, which are a lot of fun. It seems as if top ten lists naturally lend themselves to humor and celebration.

Ro of In the Center of the Roof was part of the first #ADBC, and I remember her contribution as being particularly funny. I’m so glad she’s back because Carnival Post – Top Ten is a feel-good post from top to bottom. Not only is Ro’s match with Jayden perfect, but Ro lists ten added bonuses to their partnership that have nothing to do with Jayden’s guiding ability. Several side benefits (added potassium, quitting smoking) seem pretty unusual. Under “Attitude Adjustment,” Ro explains:

I might be feeling depressed and then it’s time for Jayden’s afternoon Kong Wobbler treat. I’ve taken to pronouncing “wobbler” so it sounds very French and you can’t stay in a bad mood when you’re asking your dog if he wants his Wobbler in a high pitched silly French accent.

Patti Brehler, a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs, wrote about her first Ten Weeks with Dutch, a Golden Retriever pup. A delight to read, each plays with puppies anecdote is accompanied by an impossibly cute picture of Dutch, such as the one below. And clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks he’s adorable:

An 8-week-old Golden Retriever puppy's head and front paws are between my blue-jean clad legs. Behind him is the glove box of our van; to the right side is the van door handle. My red fleece jacket is visiible at the bottom of the picture.

Our only choice was to enter by the stage. As I coaxed my golden fur ball past the front row seats a harmonic “awwwww” rolled out ahead of us. The “awwwwws” resonated to the back of the room like a wave….

Guide Dog Jack was good enough to write L-Squared‘s post for her because she had writer’s block. Well, L-Squared better look out because the Chocolate Dog is such a talented humorist that he might take over her blog! (The pictures which illustrated each point are also great and often hilarious.) Jack wrote a list of ten ways in which his human is Not Perfect. Here’s number six, text and picture:

Super-close up of Chocolate Lab Jack shoving his big brown nose into the camera lens - the photo is so close that all the pours of his nose skin are visible clearly, while the rest of his head is nearly entirely out of focus in the background.

Sometimes I think my girl almost forgets to feed me, so I have to wake her up at o’dark-thirty – by poking her face repeatedly with my nose – to remind her that it will be time for my breakfast in only four more hours!

Martha of Believe in Who You Are has had her new guide, Jory, for ten weeks and is trying to figure out how to teach Jory to do A very good down:

With each dog, I learn something new. This time, I think it is if one method doesn’t work, try something else till she understands. I don’t expect her to be perfect, but I’ll be happy when she is very good and happily lying on the carpet or tile in and out of harness.

Shai, a Golden Retriever who is such a pale yellow that he's almost white. A light-skinned woman with short, straight gray hair and glasses, a white turtle neck and a light blue hoodie leans her head against Shai's shoulder. It looks like they're sitting on the ground, covered with autumn leaves.

At her blog, Shai Ezer-Helper Beside Me: Training My Service Dogkhills wrote a long post chronicling Ten Terrific Training Months with their cherished trainer, Stacey. khills’s post contains many photos and videos (no descriptions or transcripts as far as I know) of her service dog, Shai (often accompanied by other Golden Retrievers) tackling an elevator phobia and a serious distraction problem with other dogs. Among their many adventures is a class with Victoria Stillwell!

When my sister & brother called to arrange a Mother’s Day dinner, I was able to look forward to a big gathering instead of worrying that Shai would not perform well in a big crowd. He rode for 5 hours in the car, then we went directly into the restaurant. He was perfect. Everyone talked about how well trained he was.

Embracing Imperfection

The posts in this section acknowledge that no person or assistance dog is perfect. These bloggers defy perceptions and judgments by the public, other assistance dog partners, or their own inner voices to celebrate their dogs and their partnerships. Some simply accept imperfection as a reality of life, while others celebrate certain imperfections as bonuses.

Cyndy of Gentle Wit wrote one of my favorite posts, thanks to its refreshing honesty and dry wit, about the myth of the perfect match — on both the handler side and the dog side — in her post, (Im)Perfection:

I’ll let you in a little secret: whatever you’ve heard from other guide dog users about their dog never needing a correction is totally and completely a lie. I used to be almost ashamed of my skills as a handler and disappointed in my guide dog because I heard this so many times before training, during training and even after training.

Starre of This Witch’s Familiar is joining the Carnival for the first time, and she’s a welcome addition. In ADBC: (im)Perfect, she talks about what she learned from her experience as an owner trainer of her retired service dog and what she’s hoping for with the yet-to-be-born puppy. A big hope seems to be more acceptance and support from the broader assistance dog community:

Most people who are trying to take this road *are* trying to do this right. Being told that you have to look and be perfect 100% of the time is not okay.  Nobody is perfect, and that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes our dogs, dogs. Its okay to be imperfect.

Flo of A Mutt and His Pack wrote a post that really resonated with me. Duncan is a rescue dog, and that always comes with its own challenges and rewards. I also nodded my head at the all-too-familiar description of how public perceptions of perfection and imperfection of a working dog team are often bass-ackwards. What moved me the most in ADBC #10 – Perfect 10, was the story of an Obedience competition where Duncan and Flo have different ideas of what perfect behavior is appropriate that day. Even though I’ve never competed in Obedience, I’ve had similar moments:

We disqualified on a Companion Dog (novice obedience) run because I was exhausted, and he broke heel to come around to my right side, my weak side. He wouldn’t sit on the halts because I was a little off kilter and he’s trained to stand and brace…. Duncan was a service dog. He’d been perfectly behaved for what I needed, not what I wanted, and I’d basically had a tantrum that we “failed” in front of a judge.

Brooke (with Cessna and Rogue) of ruled by paws wrote about Rogue, the puppy she is raising and training to be her successor guide dog. In Impossible Perfection, Brooke describes some of her own and her pup’s imperfections — which lead her to consider washing Rogue out — but with new equipment and improved training, the team is confidently moving forward:

Some people may look at our challenges and say that Rogue isn’t an acceptable guide dog candidate, but I’m not ready to give up on her. If I had given up on Cessna so easily, I would have missed out on eight amazing years of partnership with an amazing teacher.

Frida Writes is another who embraces imperfection. I related a great deal to her post, Perfectionism and Service Dog Training. Like me, she holds herself and her dog to high standards, standards which can be thwarted by the pain and exhaustion of illness. She discusses what happens if others see her team as less-than-perfect:

As I mentioned in my last ADBC post, it took me a while to figure out why my dog would sometimes throw himself in front of my footplates–to prevent someone from bumping into me hard, to draw my attention to the kind of men who frighten me… So what can initially look like a lack of perfection can be the purest of perfection–finding a need and fulfilling it, even when directed to do otherwise. It just does not appear that way to others. And I’m okay with that.

Remembering our Perfect Dogs

The last three posts look back on assistance dogs who made a profound impact on their handler’s life. Even though (or perhaps because) each dog came with some difficult issues, these dogs were, in certain ways, perfect for their partners.

I was really moved by The Pawpower Pack‘s post about her first guide dog, Rhoda. Perfect After All is a short but powerful post that takes the reader on the journey of a perfectionist newbie who overcomes unexpected behavioral problems with her first guide dog only to lose her to early illness. Having faced some similar struggles, this post at the Doghouse socked me in the gut:

When I got my first assistance dog, I admit to have watched far too many “Guide Dog Movies®” and read just as many “Guide Dog Books®” I had partaken of the “Guide Dog Program Koolade®” with gusto, and expected perfection! Instead, I got Rhoda — a crazy, hyper, and very unfocused dog who had been damaged emotionally by her time in the guide dog training kennel.

Karyn of Through a Guide’s Eyes tells the story of her first assistance dog, Chimette. Together, they shared A Decade of Love. Karyn describes defying expectations — others’ as well as her own — to train her own combo dog. Even though I knew Karyn through most of that decade, I realized in reading this post that I hadn’t known who she was before Chimette:

He taught me to love life in spite of the severe progressive nature my disabilities would take on. Most envision service dogs from a limited skill perspective. Either they are hearing dogs or guide dogs or mobility service skilled dogs or psychiatric dogs. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined a dog doing as much for me as Met and I learned to do together over our decade long partnership.

My post was written in November, 2011, two years after my service dog, Gadget, died, and I only came across it now. In the pensive mood that hindsight and a new working partner brings, I pondered the question, Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Thank You, Readers and Bloggers!

Thank you so much to the bloggers who made this such a fantastic carnival, and thank YOU, our readers, for whom we write. I hope you will share the link to this post on your blogs or social media so that others can enjoy this splendid collection of posts. And as you make the rounds (at your convenience), consider leaving some comment love at the posts that speak to you.

Plus, bloggers, the raffle results are in. You may already be a winner! No, really — find out who takes the prize!

Lastly, the next #ADBC will be hosted by Frida Writes in April 2013. The schedule and other #ADBC details are at the Carnival home page.

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

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Call for Posts: 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! #ADBC

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

Perfect “10”

I am thrilled to be hosting the TENTH Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC)!

We’ve come full-circle. I hosted the first ADBC in October 2010, and between that time and this, eight other bloggers have hosted, coming up with some really terrific topics. And guess how many bloggers have contributed posts? Hint: Some have graced us with their presence once, while many others have a reserved table, having been part of every (or almost every) carnival! (You can find links to all the past hosts, topics, and carnivals at the home page of the ADBC.)

The Theme: Perfect 10

This month’s theme is “Perfect 10.” You can write on “perfect” or you can write on “ten” or you can write on “perfect 10.” Some topic ideas:

  • The myth of the perfect assistance dog can be a burden. Did you expect your first canine assistant to be perfect and have an “Oops” moment? Or do you find that others are shocked when your dog is, well, a dog?
  • Conversely, has your current or a past assistance dog been perfect for you? Was there a perfect day or a perfect moment? A way in which the two of you fit together that you could never have imagined?
  • Is there an arena of your partnership or other doggy life where you are striving for perfection or where you achieved some recognition of perfection?
  • For people who have pet dogs or train pet dogs, are there “nuggets of perfection” you have gleaned from assistance dog trainers or handlers that inspired you to do things differently with your own dog(s)?
  • There are so many things you can do with ten! A top ten list of . . .
  • Things you love about your service dog. Reasons you got a service dog. Best days with your dog. Ten worst moments. Ten funniest moments. Ten things you hate that people do about your assistance dog.
  • Anniversaries. . . Ten years ago. Your first ten months of training. Your dog’s tenth birthday. Your tenth day as partners.
  • Or anything else I’m not thinking of on the theme of Perfect 10!

The Guidelines

These things are required:

  • Anyone can submit a post — as long as it’s pertinent to the theme. You do not have to be an assistance dog partner or puppy raiser or trainer, etc. You just have to write something relating to the theme of “Perfect 10” as it pertains to assistance dogs.
  • The deadline for submissions is Monday, January 28 at 11:59PM (of whatever time zone you’re in). If you are writing or want to write a post and haven’t made the deadline, please contact me. I’d like as many people as possible to join this Carnival #10! I plan to post the Carnival on Thursday, January 31.
  • To submit your post, please comment below with your name (as you’d like it to appear), the name of your blog, the name of your post, and the URL for your post. OR, if you prefer, tweet me the same info at @aftergadget.
  • If you have anything flashing or moving on your blog or post (snow falling, gifs that move, graemlins, etc.), or music that automatically plays when someone enters your blog, we request that you turn off those features until two weeks after the carnival goes live, OR please include a head’s up that you have this feature in your entry below. The reason for this is that moving imagines or music can make text difficult or impossible for some to read and can also trigger migraines (both of which are true for me). A more serious concern for me is that for some readers and contributors to the carnival, these features can cause seizures if they visit your site. By providing me and other readers with this information ahead of time, we can make informed decisions in taking care of our health and safety about whether or not to visit your blog. Thank you for your consideration.

These things are requests (not mandatory, but they make me happy):

The Goodies

I want this Carnival to be special, so I’m doing a raffle and giveaway. Everyone who submits a post for the Carnival will be entered. This is just to CELEBRATE our community of assistance dog partners and our allies — just for FUN! No good cause. No fundraiser. No goals or charity — Just. For. Fun!

The winners will be randomly chosen (using random.org) among contributors.** Here’s what’s available for the giveaway so far:

I’m hoping to collect more giveaways by the publication date of the Carnival. If you have an item you’d be willing for me to raffle, please get in touch! I would love to have a variety of goodies — little things that will be fun to receive; they don’t need to have monetary value. I’ll post new items, with links and info to the donor’s site (if relevant), here and on the After Gadget Facebook page and on Twitter as they come in. (So, if you have a business, I’ll happily plug your stuff!) If you have something to offer, please email me or Tweet me or message me on Facebook! The more who get involved, the more fun it will be (I hope!). Update on raffle: See swag post!

So, get those wheels a-turnin’. What do you want to share with the world on the theme of assistance dogs and “Perfect 10”? I look forward to your posts!

Also, if you are willing to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, other social media, and anywhere else, I would so much appreciate it! I love my internet assistance dog community which the ADBC has helped foster. I would love as many people was possible to be part of this celebration!

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

*Here’s the answer to who and how many bloggers have participated in previous ABDCs…. Forty-eight! Here they are, in the order in which their posts appeared: Ro, Carin, Allison, Torie, Jen, Beverly, L-Squared, Kali, me, TrulyAble, TheTroubleIs, Ashley, Sherlock, Robin, Patti, Linda, Katrin, Cura’s Mom, Trish, Lisa, Brooke, Coreena, Cyndy, Martha, Jess, Static Nonsense, The Pawpower Pack, Michelle, Becky, Kimberly, Beth, Solstice Singer, Karyn,  Kelley, Sam, Artemis, Andrea, Flo, Cait, Hopesclan, Wendy, Lyssa, Patty Aguirre, Lynette, Hera, Katie, FridaWrites, and Kathie! If you comment below, I’ll happily turn your name here into a link. (Too much work to go hunting down 47 links on my own.)

Via the Way Back Machine: Bereavement for Service Dogs

I started this blog with the goal of providing support and resources for other grieving partners of assistance dogs. For a variety of reasons, I have not posted most of the information I’ve collected. One reason was that I wanted to present it all in a complete, comprehensive, and organized fashion, and I just haven’t managed that yet.

Lately, I’ve come across many people facing loss around assistance dogs: A friend online who had to retire her guide dog and has not been able to get another yet. A client of one of my healthcare providers whose service dog has died. A post on a social network by someone who’s experiencing anticipatory grief as she sees her service dog aging. A friend who is struggling with serious health issues in her assistance dog and doesn’t know what the future holds for their working partnership.

All of this need for support — and the fact that my grief has softened into something much more comfortable — has spurred me to action. I’m trying to post a resource here and there, when I’m able, because when I was coping with Gadget’s illness and death, I needed much more support than I got. I found so little in the way of resources that met my needs for shared reality around the loss of not just a companion and family member, but a personal assistant, a breathing complex of assistive technology, a partner, a coworker, a teacher and student. Many kind people offered support, and I was and am grateful for it. Still, losing an assistance dog is a unique form of loss, and I was lonely for others who understand all the aspects of this complex loss.

Here is one resource I did find specific to service dog grief, and it was extremely helpful.

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) used to have a service dog committee that was specifically for support of assistance dog partners dealing with the retirement or death of their canine partner (both anticipatory grief and grief after-the-fact). They had an excellent page on the unique issues associated with assistance dog loss, as well as an online chat. Unfortunately, these services are no longer available.

However, it’s still possible to access their terrific page describing assistance dog loss issues through a cache-retrieval site called “The Way Back Machine.” I started working with a new therapist when Gadget was dying. One of the first things I did was to print out this information and mail it to her. It gave her more understanding of how this loss was affecting my life.

Here it is: Cached page from APLB on Bereavement for  Service Dogs.

Please note: Because this is a cached (not current) document, the phone numbers and links (names, email addresses, events) are not current. Nonetheless, the information about what it means to lose an assistance dog or end a partnership is timeless.

I recommend giving copies to family, friends, coworkers, or counselors who are willing to learn more about the unique issues in losing an assistance dog through death or retirement. I also recommend this page to assistance dog partners, themselves, as it can be very validating about what you’re going through.

To see my current list of grief resources, please visit the After Gadget Grief Resources page. I hope to continue to update the page as I add more live links. Please share this post with anyone you know who has suffered or is facing the loss of an assistance dog.

With wishes for peace and healing for all who grieve,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT

5th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Coming Up!

Cyndy Otty at Gentle Wit is hosting the October Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC). She has picked a terrific theme and is highly organized, as usual! We already have two submissions in!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

Help us achieve another great carnival!

Please visit Cyndy’s carnival announcement to find out about the theme, deadline, and how to submit your post. If you’re wondering what the heck the ADBC is, here is a page about it, including links to past carnivals.

Please also share, tweet, forward, and generally spread the word about the ADBC!

Thank you very much!

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

Signal Boost: Auction to Sponsor Guide Dog Puppy

The generous and talented L-Squared of the blog, Dog’s Eye View, has been trying to raise money to sponsor a puppy for Guide Dogs of America, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization through which she received her current guide dog, Jack.

She recently put together a fantabulous online auction, all the proceeds of which will go toward the $5000 cost of raising a puppy to be a future Guide Dog of America. When you see all the work that has gone into this site — how beautiful it all is and how many things are offered — you will be blown away.

There is a lot of dog stuff, not surprisingly! Toys, treats, collars, and leashes, etc. There are also baked goods, jewelry, hand-knitted and crocheted hats, mittens, purses, and more, including a gorgeous afghan! Art, photography, cards, T-shirts, etc.

There are various one-of-a-kind items and things you can personalize, such as a photo of your choice on stretched canvas, or individually made postcards. How about getting a T-shirt with a message of your choice in Braille? (Real Braille, raised dots, so to read it, you will have to be felt up!) You can have a short story written about a topic of your choice!

If you like dogs or cats, there is definitely something there for you! And even if you don’t, there’s probably something. So, please stop by. Some bids start as low as $3, and there are many items that have not yet received bids. L-Squared gives so much of herself to the blogging, blind, and assistance dog community. This is a great way to give back!

Here is the link once more: Guide Dog Puppy Sponsorship Fundraiser Auction.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I would have eaten those banana cookies), and Barnum, SDiT (I want the Kong!)

Karyn, My Human Partner in the Assistance Dog World

The theme for the upcoming Chronic Babe Carnival is “Best Friends,” and the theme for the upcoming Disability Blog Carnival is “Community.”

I thought I couldn’t participate in either carnival, because I no longer have friends in real life/”meatspace,” and, while I have many online communities, they are quite diverse and often don’t overlap. One of the communities that is newest for me — and a great source of joy — is the assistance dog blogger community.

Although I have been training and partnering with service dogs since 1999 and been a member of — and written articles for — the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners for many years, because my multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) prevents me from attending any assistance dog (AD) conferences or events, or even meeting other AD partners in my area, I never really felt a part of the AD community, until now.

Now, especially with the success of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnivals, I have connected to AD partners from all over the world, with all types of ADs, both program dogs and owner-trained dogs. I feel a special closeness to several, such as Kali of Brilliant Mind Broken Body, who, like me, is a disability-rights activist as well as service-dog partner, and L-squared of Dog’s Eye View, from whom I learned the daily ins-and-outs of training with a successor dog at a guide-dog school, as well as Ashley, Brooke, Carin, Andrea, and too many others to name. I feel I have a home in the assistance dog world, at last.

However, when I think about who has been there for me since the beginning, and with whom I have shared the most, there’s no doubt that it’s Karyn, of Through a Guide’s Eyes. Karyn has been my best, and often my only, assistance dog friend, for over a decade.

Karyn and I have a lot more in common now than we did when we first met online, most of it associated with loss, unfortunately. But sometimes the strongest friendships are forged out of hardship, and I do believe that one of most compelling aspects of our relationship is how we inspire each other to keep fighting.

We met on a list for people training their own ADs in 1999. I had never trained a dog in obedience or assistance work before, and I had serious doubts that my bouvier des Flandres, Jersey, and I were up to the task. I met a lot of people on the list who provided information and encouragement, but it was a big list, sometimes contentious, and often I felt overwhelmed, lonely, and scared.

Karyn soon started her own partner-training list, which is typical of both of us — if we can’t find what we need, we organize it ourselves — and invited me to join it. That’s when we became friends.

Back then, Karyn’s major disabilities were the ones she was born with, incomplete quadriplegia and hearing impairment, as well as a new one — vision loss — which she expected would progress. She had some stable disabilities and some unknowns, but she was full of energy, very independent, and went out a lot.

Her primary need was for a dog who could help her be safe and mobile in the world with decreased vision, as well as alerting her to sounds and providing physical assistance at home. Her assistance dog, Chimette (Met for short), was a border collie mix from a shelter. Karyn ended up going the owner-training route for the same reasons as me: No program would take us.

Met guiding Karyn across the street. Karyn, a thin white woman with brown hair pulled back into a pony tail, a pale blue button-down shirt and blue jeans, using a black powerchair, being guided by Met, who has longish silky hair, a lanky dog slightly larger than a standard border collie, with brown markings. He is panting, with his tongue hanging out and wearing a leather guide harness. Karyn wears large black sunglasses and is smiling with joy.

Met and Karyn, showing off their teamwork.

In Karyn’s case, this was because of her multiple-disability status. She spent years on a program waiting list for a hearing/service dog. When she realized she’d need guide work, too, and decided the program might never take her on anyway, Karyn took matters into her own hands.

In my case, programs would not accommodate my MCS. After being rejected by the only program that seemed like a possibility, I, too, decided to go it on my own.

Because our disabilities were so different, so were our lifestyles and the tasks we needed our dogs to do. I had MCS and chronic fatigue syndrome/mygalic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). I was ambulatory within my home, but had to spend most of my time resting. I used a mobility scooter on the rare occasions I went out. I had to avoid going out as much as possible, because exposures to chemicals used by the rest of the world made me sick. I wanted a service dog to help me save energy and avoid exposures at home, and to assist me in occasionally going to the store myself, something I hadn’t done in years.

I also needed a hypoallergenic dog that was happy to spend a lot of time snoozing. Karyn needed a dog who could learn a huge number of skills and keep sharp for extended periods. Therefore Karyn adopted Met as an older puppy from the shelter, and I got Jersey, a phlegmatic five-year-old former show dog, through breed rescue.

Jersey eyes Sharon

Jersey and me in her golden years, circa 2003

[Photo description: Jersey, with a silky black coat and cropped ears, sits in profile, her head turned toward Sharon. Jerseys fall covers where her right eye would be.]

The beginning of my relationship with Karyn was mostly that of a mentorship. She had the experience I lacked, and I was eager for information and support. She helped me find books and articles on training your own service dog (SD), places to buy SD equipment, and encouraged me to try new methods (including a weird new tool called a “clicker,” which I resisted!). Perhaps most important, Karyn helped me believe in myself and Jersey. She both encouraged me and led by example. After all, if she could train her first assistance dog herself, and teach him guide, hearing, and service skills then what was stopping me?

Not too long after I joined Karyn’s list, she developed MCS, and our roles reversed. Suddenly, the ways she’d structured her life around her other disabilities were thrown into disarray by the limitations imposed by MCS. In this new realm, I was acting as a resource and support, providing information and referral for fragrance-free products and instructions on how to detox and avoid exposures, and offering a virtual ear for her grief and frustration.

Another unfortunate experience we soon came to share was having SDs with significant health issues. Met had a number of health issues, including allergies and sensitivities, as well as epilepsy, all of which Karyn managed with incredible care and dedication, reading every book, researching any treatment, and joining any list that might help her assistance dog stay as healthy as possible. He struggled with health issues all his life, and it was a balancing act that Karyn was never free of until he died.

View from behind of Met guiding Karyn down the side of a suburban street. Met has black, silky fur and a nylon harness with royal blue. He has long, lalnky legs. Karyn's long brown hair is i na ponytail. Her powerchair is black, with a red bag hanging on the back of the seat. She wears a long-sleeved blue shirt that matches Met's gear. There is a tall black fence just past some sparse grass on their right, and above are a row of trees, mostly bare except for red leaves. The sky is blue. It looks like a beautiful fall day.

Met and Karyn set off to do errands.

In my case, soon after Jersey graduated from service-dog-in-training to SD, she developed glaucoma, and lost an eye. However, like Karyn, I decided to see what my dog wanted to do — retire or continue working? She chose work. Of course, Karyn was supportive.

Having another SD partner in our lives who understood MCS also came to be valuable to both of us. We could discuss how to make a dog shampoo that was safe for us or gripe about strangers who got their fragrances on our dogs. Karyn provided true practical assistance to me, as well, combining her incredible ingenuity, craftsmanship, and generosity with her care for my health: she constructed and mailed me SD equipment designed especially for my needs. One example is this amazing SD leash, which connects to a waist belt she also made.

A black belt made of nylon webbing with a D-ring on each side and a plastic quick-release buckle attached to a complex leash of double-thick inch-wide nylong webbing. One section is 28 inches, with heavy-duty metal easy-use clasps on each end, and a D ring three inches from the base. The other half of  the leash is 28 inches in two pieces, with a metal square as a "hinge" and at one end, and a metal clasp at the other.

Of course I asked for black. It goes with everything!

Knowing that the materials were coming from a non-scented environment, and having them arrive wrapped in aluminum foil (to prevent contamination during shipping), was a huge bonus.

When I moved into a new home and needed to modify the door handles, Karyn created and mailed over twenty door-pulls for Gadget to use to open and close my doors (closet doors; bathroom, bedroom, and refrigerator doors; doors to and from the outside), and later, pulls for cupboards and drawers, too.

A door  with a metal door lever with a red nylon webbing pull attached. It has a knot in the bottom. Next to the door is a cupboard, with a cabinet door and three drawers. Thin, turquoise nylon pulls hang from the cabinet doorknob and the knob of one of the drawers.

I have door pulls to match every type of door or drawer, color-coordinated with the decor of each room!

Then, I got Gadget, a one-year-old bouvier rescue, to train as successor to Jersey. By then, Karyn and I both had a lot of wisdom to share with each other. We both had converted to clicker training. We both had trained our first dog. Unfortunately, Gadget, like Met, was plagued by lifelong health problems. However, also like Met, he was a fantastic service dog. Met was Karyn’s heart-dog, Gadget was mine.

It never occurred to me to retire him. He loved work, and I loved working him and having his assistance. Because Gadget and Met shared so many similar health issues — vaccinosis, drug sensitivities and food allergies, and a related tendency toward seizures — I relied a great deal on Karyn’s knowledge of alternative veterinary care to keep Gadget healthy.

Gadget runs with grocery bag from van/end of ramp

Gadget was an amazing service dog.

In 2007, two major changes took place in our lives: Met died, and I got Lyme disease. Jersey had died almost exactly a year before Met. Although I was sad, and I missed her, her death was not traumatic. She had been retired for several years; Gadget was working like a pro; Jersey had lived past the breed’s life-expectancy; and she did not have a long, drawn-out illness. I also had my family and friends, my personal care assistants (PCAs), my human partner, and most importantly, Gadget, there to support me.

Karyn’s loss of Met was another story. She did not have a successor dog already trained. She lived alone and didn’t have the supports I had. Met had been her everything, and I was deeply concerned for her. For as long as I’d known Karyn, she and Met had been a team, and I worried about how she would cope without him, not just in terms of the loss of increased independence and mobility that Met had provided, but as the emotional center of her world.

Of course, I didn’t give Karyn enough credit, because she has been a survivor of hard times her whole life. Two months after Met passed, Karyn adopted Thane, a red and white border collie. It was a hard time for Karyn — raising and training Thane in the wake of her grief. He was an adolescent and had some of the typical behavior challenges that come with adopting a young dog, as well as health problems that Karyn had to play detective with and solve, as she had so often for Met.

A young border collie, with a medium-to-short coat, reddish-brown and white. He is lying on the floor chewing on something.

Enter Thane.

I was not able to be as much of a support to Karyn as I wanted at that time. Lyme disease took over and ravaged my life, leaving me with almost nothing to give. I was in excruciating pain, immobilized, affected cognitively and psychologically. Karyn later told me she worried she was losing me, too.

Thus, we developed additional commonalities neither of us would have wished for — new or worsened disabilities. Karyn’s vision and hearing both deteriorated, as she became deafblind. I went from being a part-time wheelie to a full-time chair user and experienced for the first time what it was like not to have the use and control of all my limbs. Having a friend who understood first-hand what this was like — someone who “got” what a catastrophe it was when my powerchair didn’t work — yet who never treated me like a freak or a tragedy for having multiple disabilities was very comforting.

I also lost the ability to speak most of the time. Because of being hard-of-hearing/deaf, Karyn could definitely relate to my frustrations with using TTY relay to make calls. She was one of the few people who was easy to talk to on the phone, since she used a TTY, too.

At this time, too, our shared philosophy of “overtraining” our assistance dogs really proved itself. We’d both trained Gadget and Met to perform extra skills that were “just in case” — skills that, most of the time, we didn’t use. But disabilities — and their attendant pain, fatigue, or chemical exposures — can be unpredictable. Some days those “frivolous” skills were downright necessary, and now we were both in a position to realize just how much we needed our dogs.

Karyn missed very keenly all the assistance Met had provided — not just the obvious skills, like guiding, but some of the occasional behaviors, too, as well as just basic house manners she’d taken for granted. It was an incredibly hard time for her, struggling to get Thane on track while missing Met so much; I read her emails with interest, but was often too sick to reply. Knowing her deafblindness was progressing at a fast and unpredictable rate, Karyn rushed to get Thane’s guiding skills established above all else. I hoped that she knew how hard I was rooting for her and Thane.

In my home, meanwhile, Gadget was performing many of those “bonus” behaviors every day. Because of my speech problems, the effort of having trained manual and voice commands for all Gadget’s skills also now paid off in a huge way. I relied on him more than I ever had. At my sickest and loneliest, my least functional, Gadget became my everything. He helped me survive.

Then, just as I was starting to improve, Gadget got cancer. Near the end of Gadget’s life, two years after Met had died, Karyn told me she needed some space from hearing the details of Gadget dying. It reminded her too painfully of Met’s downward spiral. I’ll admit, I felt particularly sad and lonely, not having Karyn’s support, but I appreciated her honesty.

Then Gadget died, and I was beside myself. Some days, I thought I would just explode into pieces. Karyn was truly there for me.

When I was grieving Gadget, Karyn knew better than anyone else the utter desolation of having lost my assistant, heart-dog, partner, and companion. The bond between a person and the dog they’ve trained to make the world more navigable, less exhausting, less pain-filled, is one that few can grasp. The rending of that bond is terrible and impossible to convey. Only someone else who has suffered such a loss can truly comprehend it.

To this day, I don’t expect true understanding from most people about my ongoing grief over Gadget’s death, except for Karyn. It’s a loss of a part of ourselves. Our furry boys had assisted us, day in and day out. They were at our sides all the time. We had trained and learned with them, fitting their skills to our particular needs and styles; so when we lost them, we lost our students and teachers, as well as our friends, companions, and assistants.

Likewise, when I got Barnum, the bouvier puppy I hoped would be Gadget’s successor, and was full of both fantasies and fears about his ability to grow into a service dog, Karyn understood. When I was buffeted by grief and my inevitable disappointment that Barnum was not Gadget, Karyn understood that, too. Karyn didn’t judge me for my frustration, anger, confusion, and grief that Barnum was not Gadget. She knew the desperation of needing a trained service dog now, and instead, having to respond with patience to a puppy who was taking every last drop of energy and goodwill I could muster.

By now, Thane is an accomplished guide dog and has some service and hearing skills under his belt, too. Karyn continues to hone their teamwork and expand his repertoire.

Thane in a red nylon guide harness, crosses the street with Karyn. There is a full canvas bag hanging off the back of her chair, suggesting that they are heading home from shopping.

Thane knows his stuff these days!

A continent divides Karyn and me — with her in Oregon and me in Massachusetts, and neither of us able to travel — yet we have spoken on the phone, even though I couldn’t speak and she couldn’t hear. She sent me a video of Met and her working together, which gave me the idea to make a video of Jersey and me, which I sent her. (Unfortunately, I also sent it to other people, who didn’t return it, so I don’t have any video of Jersey.)

Karyn still sends me pictures, and I try to describe my pictures and videos of my dogs so that they have some meaning for her. We have supported each other through celebrations and losses, triumphs over adversity and deep despair. Between the two of us, we have dealt with more disabilities and health conditions than you could imagine!

For a dozen years, through big differences in our disabilities, where we lived, who was in our lives, and five different dogs between us, she has been the one constant in my online life. I am so grateful to her for everything she has given me, knowingly and unknowingly, the role model she has been, and the confidante. This is my love letter to you, Karyn. Thank you.

Karyn sitting indoors, a laundry basket behind her. Thane is wearing a magnificent cape of powder blue, with reflective white stripes, which extends from his neck to his rear, and which has a metal guide handle extending from the left side of his back. He is on his back legs, with his front legs on Karyn's lap, looking straight up into her face, as if he is just about to kiss her. Karyn is laughing and talking to him, with her hands on his ears.

Karyn and Thane enjoy a moment of mutual adoration (Of course Karyn made all of Thane's gear!)

– Sharon, and the spirits of Jersey and Gadget (thank you for making her a better handler, trainer, and mom for us, Karyn!) and Barnum, SDiT (forevermore trying to catch up to Thane)

3rd AD Blog Carnival Is Up!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

The Third Carnival Is Up!

The new Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up at The Trouble Is…!

Peruse over a dozen great posts, and comment on your “Reactions” is to them!

Here is the link! Check it out and have fun!

Thanks so much to The Trouble Is… for hosting this carnival during a difficult time.

The next ADBC will take place in July and be hosted by Kali at Brilliant Mind Broken Body. Keep your eye on her blog (or mine) about a month ahead for the announcement of the theme and deadlines.

I’m really looking forward to reading all the posts in our current carnival! Thanks so much to all the bloggers who contributed to make another outstanding carnival!

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


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