Posts Tagged 'outdoor powerchair'

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.)

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A Grand Day Out: Barnum and Sharon Hit the Road (and Find Training Partners!)

A Speedy Pee, a Walk, a New Training Partner, and Improved LLW and Recall, all in one go!

What an unexpectedly wonderful series of events Barnum and I had on our walk today!

It started terrifically, when I took Barnum out to pee.

We have been in rather a battle of wills, I’m afraid, over peeing on leash. Barnum has incredible bladder control. I’m convinced he has the bladder of a dog three times his size, because he can — and will — hold it for 16 or 18 hours, even when given numerous opportunities to pee.

You see, now that the weather is better, I have been very dedicated to not letting him out to relieve himself off-leash. Ever. If I’m not able to take him out, I have one of my helpers do it.

Longtime readers know I’ve been obsessed with having a service dog who will eliminate on cue, on leash, on every surface, since before Barnum arrived. Although, as a puppy, he was always taken out on leash to eliminate, and did learn to eliminate on leash, on cue, he seems to have forgotten all of that over the winter, when I got sloppy and too sick to stay on top of it.

Thus, we began again. . . .

For the first few weeks, I’d take him out in the morning, knowing he had to pee, but I think because he gets so distracted by being outside (exciting!), and because he prefers to relieve off-leash, he would not “go.” I’d take him in after a couple of minutes, and an hour or two (or five) later, I’d take him out again.

Often, he would ring the bell, indicating he needed to go out, but when I took him out, he wouldn’t go. So, back in we’d go.

Finally, sometimes not until evening, he’d pee, I’d give my cue word as he squatted (“Hurry up!”), click when he was done, give high-value treats, and then let him off leash to run around. I “ran around” too, if I was able, zipping up and down the ramp, pretending I was chasing him, or encouraging him to chase me, and he loved it.

All that running around naturally led to him needing to poop. Eventually I need to have all elimination functions on cue, on leash, but I decided that the reinforcer of being able to run and play off leash after peeing was more important than a Cold War of waiting for him to poop all day, every day.

When I started this process, a few weeks ago, I had to take him out several times a day, all day, before he would pee. Within the last few days, he has more often been “going” on the first or second attempt.

Today, I took him out, and  he peed within one minute! Then, in addition to the click, praise, and treats, I could offer the best reinforcer of all: “Do you wanna go for a walk?!?!”

Puppy Barnum races Sharon in the superpowerchair

He's a lot bigger now, but this is how we ROLL.

[Image description: Five-month-old puppy Barnum races next to Sharon across the lawn. He is running full-out, with his ears flying straight behind him, his red tongue hanging out and to the side, his legs fully stretched out. Sharon, in her big power chair, watches Barnum as she zooms alongside. They run through the grass, with a metal fence in the background. Sharon wears a straw hat and shorts, suggesting a sunny day.]

Indeed, the fact that we were able to go for a walk was a joy in itself.

Mostly, lately, we have been just practicing loose-leash walking (LLW) up and down our driveway, or — if I have someone to load the chair and drive me — an off-leash run at the pond. (I have video of one of our driveway walk sessions, which I hope to edit and post eventually. It shows quite a dramatic change from our LLW training videos from the fall.)

I’ve been doing driveway “walks” for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to practice LLW and “leave it” (Zen) in this less distracting environment.
  2. My chair has not yet really been fixed, so I wanted to wait until someone was home, on the other two-way radio, when I went out.
Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, and running!

So, even though it was a short walk, this was our first real walk in a long time.

We started out on a good paw, with Barnum doing quite well in his LLW and even managing to take treats and stay in position. Then, the smells got too interesting, and he didn’t take treats anymore, but he still kept pretty good track of his pace and the leash.

Although it is mud season, and thus the roads have not been graded yet and are full of gulleys, the chair managed well. We were going up an extremely steep hill, with only occasional reverses from me if Barnum got ahead when one of his dog friends, a sweet and lively Vizsla rescue, came pelting onto the road.

She was off-leash (as most dogs are in my area), and she kept “dive-bombing” us to try to play with Barnum. Of course, Barnum completely lost his head and tried to pelt after her. Repeatedly. (Thank goodness for migraine meds.) It was very difficult to keep him from pulling with such a temptress coming and going in all directions.

Nonetheless, we eventually made it up the hill to the Vizsla’s driveway, where her person appeared. My neighbor held her pup so Barnum could have a chance to settle, sit, make eye contact, stay in a sit, make eye contact again after I’d unclipped his leash, and then give him the release. (I have patient neighbors.)

Barnum had a wonderful time playing with his friend, as well as running around and marking every place he could.

I was very pleased that his play was overall appropriate and friendly. He has really only played with one dog for the past four months, a rough-and-tumble dude who can be a bit dominant and resource-guarding around Barnum (the resources being me, his owner, snow, and any food his owner or I might have on us).

(Just for fun, here is a ten-second video of Barnum playing with aforementioned buddy a couple of months ago.)

I had been concerned that Barnum’s play manners would have eroded as a result — that he wouldn’t play with the same variety and good doggy manners as he used to. But, no, with the exception of two aborted humping attempts, he was quite the gentleman.

It was also great to be out and to talk to another human being, away from my house! I really like my neighbor, and as we chatted, she mentioned that she needs to train her dog. Apparently, she is a cat person, her husband is a dog person, so they got a dog to be her husband’s. He trained her, but now my neighbor is at home with her most of the time (although she also works outside the home) and has no experience with training and dog handling in general. She has an infant, and seemed a bit daunted by the prospect of learning dog training with so little time, in this “baptism by fire” situation.

I couldn’t believe this amazing opportunity was presenting itself!

Regular readers of this blog know that I am following Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Some of the Levels skills require working with other people and/or dogs. I have tried to find a training partner, to no avail. While Betsy and my PCAs pitch in when possible — a tremendous help — usually they are too busy with other necessities, and also, none of them have a dog!

I asked my neighbor if she’d like to be my training partner, and she said yes!

Since we had just gone through her trying to get her dog to drop a dead rodent she’d unearthed, I decided to teach her about doggy Zen.

She was very easy to work with because she is wild about whatever training treats I have with me, whenever I visit. (Whereas Barnum usually could not care less.) This girl is very food motivated! And she’s plenty smart and caught on quickly.

She tends to jump up on me a lot to try to get treats, so I went back and forth between four-on-the-floor and Zen. (By this time, her person had her hands full with her baby, so she said she preferred to just watch me train her dog.) While I was training, I explained what I was doing and why, how to use the clicker and treats, and how to practice zen on her own.

“Where can I get a clicker?” She asked.

This question surprised me so much I almost laughed; because my house is full of clickers, it never occurs to me that someone might not know where to get one. (I told Betsy that our neighbor asked this, and she said, “Come to our home and look under the sofa cushions. They’re everywhere, like loose change.”) Right now, just rotating my head in bed, I have counted six clickers visible — four different kinds — three of them within a few inches of my hand!

“I’ll give you one!” I immediately told my neighbor. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her one right that moment, because — for the first time ever? — I only had one with me!

But, we decided to keep in touch, and we would try to set up a time to do some training together.

Another wonderful bonus of our conversation was that Barnum eventually saw that I was not paying attention to him, but to another dog, and that I was clicking and treating this dog, and — most importantly — the other dog was not paying any attention to him!

So, he came over.

This gave me the opportunity to click and praise extravagantly and shove some cheese in his mouth before he could question my motives. Then, I gave him his ultimate reinforcer: “Release! Go play!”

Away he went. After that, he started checking in with me more often, and even coming when called for some cheese and a release back to play. I was thrilled. This is the best he’s ever done in a new environment, with another dog around, to boot.

Eventually, my neighbor took her baby and dog inside, and I did several more recalls and releases in their yard before putting Gadget on the leash to go home.

Now he was truly tuckered out, and he walked so nicely by my side, I had to keep telling him how proud I was of him, and what a good dog he was. He was even interested in clicks and treats for proper position for about half the time, then he was too full.

We even did a couple stops (with automatic stand-stay) and a few sits.

He’s spent a good portion of the evening snoring, having received lots of sensory stimulation and exercise of his body and mind. Ah, tranquility.

I had a session with my empathy buddy for my telephone nonviolent communication (NVC) class, and as she helped me figure out my emotions, I realized I was proud, not just of Barnum, but of myself!

It seems ridiculously obvious that the point of training is that improvement occurs, goals are reached, and, well, the dog gets trained. However, when I’m in the midst of it, it’s often hard to see that training is, indeed, taking place.

After four months trapped in the house, only able to train indoors, I had no idea if our indoor LLW practice would bear fruit outside. Now I know — it has!

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all we still have to work on, I lose sight of how far we have come. Today was a gorgeous reminder of our progress, along with some unexpected gifts bestowed by my neighbor and her sweet dog. Barnum received lots of reinforcement: food rewards, play time with another dog, play time with me, and the multitudinous joys of a walk.

I received the reinforcement of seeing my hard work pay off. But I wouldn’t mind some more. If you’re in the mood to cheer on Team Barnum, please comment and click me!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I lost my head around other dogs, too), and Barnum (Mr. Full-of-Surprises SDiT)

LTD: Roadwork! (Walkin’ and Talkin)’

I have a semi-working powerchair and semi-working walkie-talkies! Not since the clicker and the target stick have technologies played such an important role in dog training!

Obviously I’m exaggerating. Nonetheless, lately I’ve been on a roll.

In last week’s post, I described how I figured out what was wrong with my powerchair. I was waiting for the temperatures to climb a bit so I could finally take Barnum for a walk.

I’m pleased to report that Barnum and I have taken four walks since that post!

Walks are so important for so many reasons — exercise for Barnum, a source of bonding and a mental health boost for both of us, as well as practice for lots of behaviors such as eliminating on cue while on lead, loose-leash walking (LLW), attention and eye contact, socialization and desensitization, and the opportunity to train known behaviors (sit, down, stay, touch, etc.), in a more distracting environment (generalizing).

Vigorous exercise is also a key component of Sue Ailsby’s Leading the Dance protocol that we have been trying to follow. Previous posts focused on number five, “Possession,” and number seven, “Sing a Song.”

Here’s number 10 — “Working off Energy” (referred to as “roadwork” by many clicker trainers):

Work Off Energy – Roadwork adult dogs 4 days a week. Start small, but work up to a mile for small dogs, 2 miles for medium dogs, and 3 miles for large dogs. Many problems will disappear with no more effort than road-working. You can jog with the dog, or ride a bike, or longe him with a Flexi, or use an ATV, or lend him to a jogger who’s afraid of being mugged.

One of the behaviors that has suffered from not being able to walk Barnum has been eliminating on cue. If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you know this is a skill I’m obsessed with concerned about. In fact, I not only blogged about it when we were housebreaking Barnum, but before Barnum even arrived.

On the Training Levels list, the consensus was that getting a dog to relieve on cue, on leash, reliably, is tremendously helped by “roadwork” — as is almost every other skill and behavioral problem. I was so frustrated! I felt like I was failing as a mom/handler and as an owner-trainer.

Now, all has changed! Callooh! Callay! Oh frabjous day! I chortle in my joy!

First of all, I was able to get Barnum to pee (and in one case, poo), in the yard, on leash, before we left for our walks. This is ideal, because then I can use the walk afterwards as a very strong reinforcer.

Tuesday, the temperature climbed from negative numbers to a balmy 22 degrees Fahrenheit. I bundled myself in layers and dressed Barnum in his Premier Easy Walk Harness and hunter-orange safety vest, and away we went.

Barnum in orange vest on ramp surrounded by snow

Barnum's suited up and ready for his walk. You can see how much snow has fallen on the patio table and next to the ramp, which is actually two to three feet off the ground!

[Photo description: Barnum, a furry black brindle bouvier des Flandres, stands on a black metal grate with black metal railings. He is dressed in a bright orange vest with reflective stripes and gazing into the distance. The snow on either side of the ramp reaches his elbows.]

In truth, before we left, I told my personal care assistant (PCA) that I planned to go for just a half-hour test drive, and which route we planned to take. I said if we weren’t back within 45 minutes, to get in the van and come look for us. The chair is working, yes, but those batteries are still not reliable and had not been tested in very cold weather, and I didn’t want to risk getting stranded in the cold and dark while temperatures dropped.

I hadn’t known if I could make it to the street at all, because my monster chair just fits down the ramp, with no room to spare. Yet once on the ramp, I turned the knob to “turtle,” and toddled safely down the walkway.

Half an hour went by much too quickly. Barnum really needs a lot of work on his loose-leash walking, and he also needs much more exercise — an hour, at the very least. Before the chair batteries went on the fritz, we were doing at least one-and-a-half to two-mile walks (at a fast clip). But you gotta turtle before you can rabbit, right?

We did manage to get some decent training in for the beginning part of the walk: I was able to click and treat Barnum many times for walking by my side. He even ate the cheese! However, when my cheese supply was gone, and I switched to kibble, he turned up his squishy, black nose at it. Still, it’s progress for Barnum to pay attention to me, at all, or accept treats, on a walk.

I was pleased with the powerchair’s performance, too. The roads were thick with two to three inches of snow muck. Yet the powerchair did excellently, overall. In fact, at one point, a car slowed down to pass us, and slipped and skidded a little as it tried to accelerate, whereas my chair motored right along. Woohoo!

We only had two problems.

I’d chosen the least hilly route I could, but since I live in the hills, there’s no way to avoid at least one major slope in any direction. The path I chose had just one serious hill. Leaving, it was downhill. Coming home, it was uphill — and at the end of the walk, near my house.

The thick sludgy snow, combined with the steep incline, made for difficult driving. I had to careen back and forth to keep my momentum and to try to find the least snowy path. My erratic movements were hard for Barnum to predict, and at one point, I accidentally hit him in the snout with my footrest. Poor guy!

But we made it up. I was ecstatic. We rolled into the driveway less than 40 minutes after we’d left, and as I was removing my leg rests to store in the van (because the chair is too big to navigate the ramp with them on), I saw my PCA’s face peek through my bedroom curtains. I was glad she knew we were home.

After I entered the yard and closed the gate behind us, I let Barnum off leash. He bounded around happily in the snow, as if he had never taken a walk at all. Then, I did something stupid. I flew down the ramp, pumping my fist and shouting, “We did it! We did it!”

I couldn’t help myself! I was having a Leonardo-DiCaprio -“I’m-king-of-the-world!” moment.

Of course, my right wheel went off the ramp. The axle came to rest on the ramp’s two-inch-high safety lip, and the wheel was buried deep into the snow that is piled several feet high on either side of the ramp. I attempted to rock the chair out of the rut, but it was well and truly stuck.

I tried getting some momentum with the wheels. At first, the one in the snow just spun in space. Then it stopped spinning. Oh dear. Neither of the wheels spun at all when I moved the joystick. I checked the controller display panel, and saw that the switch was off. I turned it back on, and the display panel simply blinked in distress.

Nooooooooo!

I bellowed to the house for help, but my home is super-insulated, and nobody heard me. I just had to hope that sooner (rather than later) my PCA would notice I was still outside.

I sat and watched Barnum playing. I tried to be patient, but I was getting a bit chilly. (Later, I discovered the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit when I was waiting.) Eventually my helper poked her head out the door.

“I’m stuck!” I yelled.

She came out to help, and I tried to back the chair up to help, but it was pointless. We decided to put it in free-wheel mode so it could be pushed. (Powerchairs have a safety feature of locking the wheels unless they are released to roll. When it’s in “push” mode, the motor disengages, so you can’t drive and free-wheel at the same time.) There’s a lever on each wheel motor. Sitting in the chair, I pulled the lever on one side up, and pushed the lever on the other side down.

Then I realized what I’d just done. The levers should have both been either up or down. The lever on the side where the wheel was caught must have been pushed up by the ramp’s side when the chair went down. I pulled both levers up, which engaged both wheel motors, and wahla! The power was on again!

Left purple powerchair wheel and motor, with snow slush

A lot of the snow had melted off the treads by the time I took this. Notice the free-wheel lever, with the up arrow for "Drive," and down area for "Push," written in yellow.

[Photo description: Large, black knobbly tire on the bottom of a purple powerchair. The entire wheel well is coated in wet snow. The snow on the treads is partially melted off. Behind the tire is the drive motor — a black canister, parallel to the ground, with a lever sticking out, and yellow writing indicating that when the lever is up, its in “drive” mode, and when down, is in “push” or “free-wheeling” mode.]

With human muscle power, as well as the chair’s engaged motors, we were able to return me to the center of the ramp, and I made it home. Barnum continued to play in the snow.

However, I really wanted to be able to communicate from a distance from now on, if I’m out — especially if the chair is not working optimally, the road and weather conditions aren’t great, and/or it’s nighttime. This is where the two-way radios come in.

In an early post, I talked about how my ability to communicate with other household members declined significantly when Gadget died. Betsy’s solution was a doorbell, which had its pluses and minuses. Betsy bought us an intercom set for my birthday, last year. I was very excited about this new bit of assistive tech. Unfortunately, over a year later, we still can’t use them because they are still outgassing horrible plastic fumes. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tolerate them.

This year, for my birthday (are you sensing a theme?), Betsy bought me walkie-talkies! Ever since I’d moved to the country in 1998, I’d thought it would be a good safety precaution to have a cell phone for an emergency. However, neither town where I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts has cell phone reception.

The two-way radios were our attempt to circumvent the cell phone issue. Betsy bought radios with a 24-mile range “under ideal conditions.” Hilly, tree-filled countryside is not “ideal conditions,” but I normally only go a couple of miles at the most for my walks (my ultimate goal is to be able to make it to the center of town, which is about five miles), so we thought these would be powerful enough. Betsy assembled them Tuesday night (I was burnt-out on figuring out technological gizmos), and left them to charge overnight.

Wednesday, my PCA — who is a firefighter — very enthusiastically showed me how to use the radios. We each put one in our pockets, I donned my layers for the cold, and Barnum and I set out.

I checked in periodically with my PCA to make sure I was still within range. All seemed to be going well. I’d brought extra-large bags of hot dog and cheese cubes, and Barnum was eager to be clicked and treated for loose-leash walking for the first few minutes. Then he lost interest completely as his stomach filled and the terrain got more enticing.

We had to do a lot of stopping and starting, because any time the leash got tight, I turned to the right (his leash is clipped to the left side of the chair), and stopped. Stopping without turning is too slow in terms of giving Barnum the information, “What you have just done is causing the fun to come to an end.” Apparently, the stopping and starting, as well as the thick, slow ground, discharges batteries severely.

At one point, I pulled to the side of the road for a passing car, causing my left wheel to get stuck in a couple of feet of snow. I couldn’t tell where the drop-off was between the road and the gully, because there was so much snow. I radioed based.

“We have a situation,” I told my firefighter PCA, in a joking tone.

“Understood. A situation. What’s your location?”

“Well, um, I’m on Jennison? And um, my tire is stuck in the snow? And . . . Oh, a UPS guy has stopped. I think he’s going to help me. Hang on.”

“Standing by. Over.”

Indeed, the UPS driver very quickly and neatly popped me back onto the road. I guess if you spend all day, every day, hauling around big packages, you get strong.

Another lesson learned: Don’t drive into a hidden snow bank.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we got to the hill that leads to my house. With the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, the snow was not just thick, but extra sludgy and sloppy. I normally have to do a lot of starting and stopping to train LLW — once Barnum loses interest in treats — but going up that hill, if I stopped, I lost the tiny bit of momentum I had. The chair crapped out repeatedly (that’s a technical term, meaning it stopped and the power lights flashed), and I had to turn it off, wait a few seconds, and turn it back on. (According to Wheelchair Junkie, the way I’ve treated my batteries constitutes abuse. Yes, I guess that would be battery battery.)

I really could not afford to have Barnum pulling in any direction but the one I was going in, and I couldn’t take care not to clock him with erratic driving. So I gave him as much leash as I had and had to let him do as he pleased while I focused on getting home.

Trainers aren’t kidding when they talk about how reinforcing pulling is, in itself, for dogs! Just those few yards up the hill with the freedom to pull, and Barnum tried to pull the rest of the way home! (Two steps forward, one step back, anyone?)

But we made it. I even managed to go length of the ramp without careening off this time. I let Barnum off leash to play in the yard, as he tends to get the “zoomies” after a walk and likes to gambol in the yard, especially when it’s so comfortably freezing outside. Pictures to come.

On the third day, God didn’t rest, and neither did I. We went for an hour-long walk. Finally! We’re approaching real roadwork. This is when I discovered that the radio’s range sucks. Past about an eighth or a quarter of a mile from my house, they couldn’t hear me back home.

We had no untoward events, unless you count that I was kind of flattened the next two days as a result. I got to take a lot of goofy pictures of this heroic conquering of the winter landscape, as well. I’ll try to get that up as a photo essay shortly.

Love and other outdoor games,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (snow-dog)

The Dance Begins Again

Barnum is one year old now, and I am constantly pleased and impressed with his progress, and mind-boggled and discouraged by discovering new (and seemingly bizarre) problems. (Yesterday, Barnum refused to walk through mud, which he has walked through many times before in his life. So. . . . Huh?)

I love Barnum for who he is. (He is exceptionally lovable.) I probably won’t know for a very long time, however, if he will ever approach service-dog readiness, let alone Gadget-ability.

So, what worked so well with Gadget? What made him my yardstick?

He was a training machine, for one thing, and then we worked together so well as a service-dog team. We really had “the dance” down-pat. Not that we were perfect. We had our rough edges: Skills I trained at the end of his career, as new needs arose, were not 100 percent. I never shed my “clicker dependency” of not trusting that if I didn’t have it in a novel situation, I wouldn’t get what I needed from him. Gadget hated my van, etcetera.

Now I have introduced a different dance — Sue Ailsby’s “Leading the Dance” protocol — with Barnum; because I foresee trouble if I don’t change our routine. In a nutshell, he’s in that bratty, teenager stage where he will try to get what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it. Which is a typical teen thing, and a typical dog thing, and a typical, um, living organism thing, too. So, who can blame him?

Unfortunately for him, that lifestyle doesn’t fit in with my plans.

Part of the problem is that he is bored and under-exercised. I’m working on that. It will really, really help a lot when I get my bad-ass powerchair working, too, so we can go on long, winter walks.

Pchair with headlights

Since my chair is made of used, recycled parts, it hasn’t been clear how to proceed with replacement parts.

You’d have thought I’d have had it fixed by now, but there always seems to be some new minor crisis to contend with that prevents me from wrapping my head around the chair repair issue.

What does “The Dance” Barnum and I are doing now entail? Keeping him leashed to me throughout my waking hours (“the umbilical cord”), singing him a silly song (really!), practicing eye contact, obedience, and downs (all stuff we were already doing) and various other odds and ends. One key factor is to make my PCAs less exciting to him, and to make me the center of his universe — more than I already am.

That’s the nuts and bolts. The feel of it, though, is actually quite a bit like trying to drag an awkward teenage boy onto the dance floor: He doesn’t want to dance, it’s stupid. Why can’t he just hang out with his friends? Oh, well, actually, maybe this is fun. Maybe I’m an interesting dance partner. But no. “This is so weird, do I hafta? Oh, now that I’m focusing on the steps, actually, this is pretty cool. I’m awesome.”

Gadget was more like one of those young ‘uns who runs out onto the dance floor and has no idea that he is a hot mess. He yanks you here and there and flings you about, having a great time, with no idea that you’re not. But, he’s also got the rhythm in him, he just needs some tutoring, and he’s willing, very willing, if there’s something in it for him. He discovers he likes to move and that his partner is actually quite cool.

Over the years, “dancing” together every day, Gadget and I were like an old, married couple. We anticipated each other’s moves and moods. Was the relationship perfect? Of course not, but it worked.

To see how Gadget and I worked together — the smoothness of our dance as well as our stumbles — video is the best. I’m incredibly grateful that Betsy and I were able to make a video of Gadget and me showing off many (but not all) of his skills. My friend and former PCA, Ryan, put the video on youtube for me, divided into two parts.

In this captioned video, Part 1, Gadget retrieves the phone, brings water from the fridge, helps with falls, and more.

Here is the transcript of the video.

Now, for the exciting conclusion: Part 2! In which Gadget alerts me to the oven timer, turns off lights, opens and shuts doors, delivers messages, and more.

Here is the captioned version.

Here is the transcript of the video.

Will there come a day when Barnum and I can waltz as well, or better, than Gadget and I did? It’s possible. I’m listening for the music. . . .

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum

QuickPress: God Laughing. (Me? Not so much.)

You know that expression, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans?” Or “Life  is what happens while you’re making other plans?”

Well, I guess I’ve been having a lot of life, or delighted deities or whatnot, because my life is not going according to plan.

I posted before Thanksgiving that I was hoping to do lots of training with Barnum, especially recalls, during my week alone. I also wanted to go on a lot of nice walks with him.

However, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, on his run around the pond with Deb, he somehow took a chunk out of his inner toe pad on his left, front paw. I didn’t realize how bad it was until, after taking him the next day to play raucously with his favorite dog buddy, he was limping. I cleaned it up, but the next morning I could tell he was feeling pretty bad, and the wound did not look good.

Thus began a week of limited exercise, limited training (because so much of it requires movement, and that was painful for him), and lots and lots of foot first aid. The technique I developed was:

  • Wipe affected area with alcohol prep pads. (I had used a different antiseptic the first time, and he jumped and yelped and tried to get out of Dodge. The alcohol seemed to sting, but not hurt as much.)
  • Keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Apply triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Continue to keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Apply a sterile gauze pad.
  • Continue to keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Tape the pad in place. I started out with paper tape,  but that didn’t hold as well as my waterproof first aid tape. Unfortunately, I need that type of tape for my PICC line care, and I used a ton of it on Barnum with twice-daily dressing changes for almost two weeks, because  I also needed it after I . . .
  • Put a clean cotton sock over it all, and tape it in place with tape wrapped above and below that protrusion where his dew claw would be if he still had it. That keeps the sock from sliding down. Then, of course, I applied the traditional medical . . .
  • Cayenne pepper, to the sock. Yes, this might seem mean, but it was the only thing initially that kept him from tearing off the sock. Eventually, he learned to leave the sock alone, and I didn’t need to use it anymore.
  • If he needed to go out, I had to put a plastic bag (or two or three), or a couple of nitrile or vinyl gloves over it all, and tape those into place, as well.
  • Eventually, when the wound was doing much better, I switched from the sock/bag procedure to a less bulky . . .
  • Sterile thin paper face mask around the paw (can you tell I have a lot of leftover infusion supplies? Thank goodness!).
  • This was held in place with gauze bandage (which only required two small pieces of waterproof, first-aid tape). Then the whole “look” was topped off with a . . .
  • Powder-blue dog “booty” over it.
Barnum big head in booty

Does this booty make my head look big?

  • “Booty” does not do this piece of canine footwear justice. It’s really more of a doggy high-tech sneaker. I call them “the Nike cross-trainers of dog booties.” They come in a set of four, but for the past week, he’s just been wearing one, which I rotated, based on which was muddy and which was clean and dry. It has a mesh top for breathability, elastic to keep it on comfortably, along with the velcro, and real treads on the black rubber sole.
Doggy Nikes

I am ready to be on Pawject Dogway.
  • The sneaker is not waterproof, but it keeps the bottom of the paw relatively dry, unless it’s really wet out, and it has the advantage of being much harder to shred, pull off, or destroy than the sock, bag, etc.

Therefore, not so much with the walks and recall training. On the plus side, a lot of handling training! He is now very good about letting me mush and maul his front, left paw!

Of course, eventually he and I were both physically doing well enough that I wanted to take him for a walk — which I did after my morning PCA had left and before my evening PCA came on shift. My big, bad-ass, outdoor chair that is made of recycled parts, which I bought specifically to be able to walk Barnum, was low on battery power. I knew that already. I also knew it wasn’t good to let it sit too long without using it or charging it, so I made sure to charge it mid-week.

What had been happening with my chair was that if we went for very long walks, especially really fast, and/or at night when I had the headlights on, and/or over really rough or hilly ground, it would lose power in a serious way on the way home. So, my plan, for the sake of my chair and Barnum’s paw, was to take us for a short walk on one of the less rugged roads (though, since I live on a dirt road in a hilly area, there is only so much that can be done to avoid that).

Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, a year ago (before it got all dinged up and the batteries died).

Here’s what occurred:

I got Barnum’s harness and hunter-orange “recreation/visibility” vest on him, and got my headrest and foot rests set and adjusted on the chair, and away we went, out of the yard, down the driveway, right out onto the road, about fifteen or twenty feet, and then the chair totally died. Totally. Dead. Could not turn around. Nothing. No lights on the control panel.

We sat there in the middle of the road. I waited for a car to come so I could ask for help. Barnum waited for me to get on with whatever the hell was holding me up so we could get going. After all, I had asked him if he wanted to go on a walk? Do ya? Do ya wanna go for a walk?? Wannagoforawalk?? Do ya???

Well, I lied. The poor dog got no walk. Eventually, a car came in our direction . . . and turned in at the first house on the road. (My house is the second, up the road.) I saw two people, whom I thought were women, but I couldn’t recognize them from the distance, and waved and said, “Hello! Hello? Is that Lynne?” (Lynne is my neighbor. I realized they were neither of them Lynne because they just looked at me and each other, and didn’t take a step in my direction, whereas Lynne would have greeted me warmly and probably realized something was wrong.)

They started to head into the house. I said, “I’m stuck!” That got their attention. “Can you help me?” I asked.

They came towards me. Barnum stood at attention next to my chair, looking at them with serious intent, and gave a couple of experimental “woof”s. These are quiet, hoarse, tentative woofs for situations where he thinks he should bark, but he hasn’t yet figured out how to do it.

“You’ve trained him really well,” one of the women said. “He’s very protective of you.”

“No,” I said. “That means I haven’t trained him well. He is not supposed to be protective of me. That’s a problem. We’ll need to work on that.”

This was the first time he’d ever barked at a stranger when we were out and about. I was not happy about it. Fortunately, when they got closer, he became his usual goofy, wiggly self and wanted to sniff their butts and kiss and play.

Meanwhile, I explained that I lived there (pointing), and my batteries appeared to be dead, and could they push me in my chair home? Fortunately, they could. I really hadn’t known if they’d be able to, because my chair weighs over 400 pounds, and I’m no feather, either. They were young, strong, and healthy, though, so it was okay. Except for the humiliation.

I decided I really must, must, must finally deal with figuring out which kind of wheelchair batteries to get to replace the dead ones, which I’d been putting off because I am not at all mechanically inclined, and the whole thing makes me anxious as hell. Only three things got in my way:

  1. I’d run out of the supplement that I use to help me sleep, so I’ve been even more chronically sleep-deprived than usual, which makes it hard for me to think about, read about, and take in new information about, a subject that is both cognitively taxing and emotionally loaded for me.
  2. I spent a lot of energy bandaging and unbandaging Barnum’s foot, and taking him out to eliminate, after making sure he really, really had to go, and was not just ringing his “out” bell because he was bored and wanted to go out and play. Why did I want to make sure? Because any time he needed to go out, I had to put a bag or glove or sneaker on his paw. The result was that one night I did not get him out in time. I discovered this the next day when my PCA informed he had peed on a bag of my infusion supplies. I don’t think that’s medically advised.
  3. I was wracked with horrible grief after realizing that I have a huge backlog of grief from the loss of numerous people (including Gadget) to death or abandonment, as well as never having mourned the many functional losses and other “life losses” (such as my former career as a writer and editor) related to getting multiple tick-bourne diseases three years ago. I’ve been numb for most of the last year because I couldn’t cope with how excruciating the grief over Gadget’s death was if I allowed myself to feel it. I started to feel it, due to the anniversary of his death, and it felt like someone was squeezing my heart while hitting it repeatedly with a brick. The grief also made the insomnia worse.

That’s where Barnum and I are at, currently. His paw is almost totally healed. My heart is broken. Win some, lose some.

We’ve been doing more training again, and I still haven’t managed to even follow the links my less-wimpy and more mechanically inclined pchair-using friend sent me about batteries. I’m afraid I’ll get the wrong kind or otherwise screw up and break my chair.

One thing I am not afraid of, though, is ordering products from dog catalogs. The next time I place an order, I’m stocking up on vet wrap, which is self-adhesive, waterproof, and coated with bitter apple and cayenne to prevent chewing. I think maybe a case of it should last us till the end of the year.

By the way, dear readers, Barnum and I have actually trained a bunch of stuff in the last couple of months that I am backlogged about posting about. I’ve gotten wrapped up in writing Gadget bereavement posts, including what will hopefully be some useful grief resource pages. So, if all goes well, the next many posts will be a mix of happy training updates on Barnum and more somber (but maybe in some way uplifting, affirming, or useful) posts about grieving a service dog.

Comments very welcome!

-Sharon, Barnum (“bootylicious” fashion icon), and the muse of Gadget (who looked good in anything)

P.S. Breaking news! My favorite online vet, Doc Truli, aka VirtuaVet, just posted a great solution for covering a dog’s legs.


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