Sunday, October 24, 2010

Simple Gifts:

Carving pumpkins,
pumpkin lattes,
old dogs because they hold the past and are wise,
young dogs who are the future and who are waiting to discover the world,
middle-aged dogs who've are the now, and who can read the minds of their partners.

Long walks,
dancing in the front room,
being able to see the moon as it rises in full glory,
games that make you work your mind,
sign rhymes,
the way the grass looks so very green after the rains have finished,
and lastly, the ability to learn new things.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Slasher!

It's that time of year again-- Halloween! I love Halloween, but I especially love it when I have someone with me who is a great describer of costumes. Halloween also has candy (always good in my book), and pumpkins! I love carving pumpkins.
It's tradition that Mr. Pawpower and I carve a pumpkin together every year. Mr. Pawpower has this awesome way of calculating space, making even shapes, and keeping everything uniform looking. To say that I do not have this skill is the understatement of the century. I am a horrible cutter. I can't make things even and matching and looking all pretty and whatnot. I don't know why but I can't. This doesn't stop me from carving a pumpkin, though.
So our first year together and we get this huge pumpkin to carve. Mr. Pawpower removes the top and sets it aside. We agree that I'd do the eyes (huge mistake) and that Mr. Pawpower would do the nose and mouth.
To say that my pumpkin had the gaze of a six-generations in-bred, backwater mutant from hell would be a kindness.
He was most definitely cross-eyed, and his eyes weren't even, and it was just terrible. Mr. Pawpower salvaged the rest of the pumpkin, sort of. Once you screw up the eyes, your entire pumpkin is shot since the eyes kinda set the tone for the whole piece, y'know?
So the pumpkin is carved. We look for the top to the pumpkin and no top. We look on the floor, we look in other rooms, and finally we checked the dog's crates because when things aren't as they should be, rule number one is check the crates because you'll find the reason therein.
So we go through all the dog's crates and Rudy who is Mr. Pawpower's guide dog, has the top to our pumpkin. Only he's chewed it-- sort of. There was a ragged edge of teeth marks in places. It was still salvageable so I slapped it on top of our pumpkin and he looked like a scary dude. I named him "Shotgun Bubba." The "shotgun" part was for the holes in the head.
All of our pumpkins have been called Bubba ever since. We're going to carve this year's Bubba some time this weekend.

Yesterday I went to a pumpkin carving party with a friend. These things are interesting because there's always going to be someone there who has a moral and ethical objection to a blindy wielding a knife.
I don't know what the hell these people think, exactly. Do they just think I wander through life, unable to use a knife, and every time I need something cut, or sliced, or chopped, I run and find some sighted Joe to do it for me? Really?
So yes, I do use knives. I use them daily, and still have the same number of appendages I was born with so I think I'm pretty safe, no?
Also, I teach other blind people to use knives if they come for daily living skills training. If the teacher herself doesn't know how to use knives, there is a problem.
But most people don't think this way and so there is always some blabber mouth asshole who has to tantrum about it for a while, and watch me like an especially interesting laboratory specimen waiting for me to either cut myself or someone else, or... something.
It happens every year, and I seem to disappoint them since nobody has died yet!

Happy pumpkin carving, y'all!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Walkin' in New Orleans

The weather has finally become more civilized (most of the time). This means that I can resume my evening walks with the Pack. Mr. Pawpower took Rudy, his guide dog, and Bristol, my almost thirteen-year-young retired goddess. I had Mill'E-Max and Laveau.
Getting the right dog in the harness was a workout all on its own. Both Mill'E and Laveau love the harness, and they both want to wear it. I keep threatening to make them a harness like oxen have so they can work in tandem. Mill'E lucked out today and got to work. This meant that Laveau had to walk on the right and leave the guiding to Mill'E-Max. Laveau is not good at giving up the control. She is much like me in this respect. She is the dog version of the backseat driver; always wanting to take over because she knows she can do it better.
We went about ten blocks, then came home and drank a beer on the front porch. It's nice to be able to have cooler evenings again! Thursday I'm getting our pumpkin for carving. blindies with knives making pumpkin art. It's always fun. This year I'm going to try and get a picture of our masterpiece!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

For the Fab Four

I wrote this on January 7, 2008. This marked my tenth anniversary of being matched with my first guide dog, Rhoda. At the time this post was originally written, I was working Gracy, a border collie mix who has since retired and who is living with a friend across town, although she still visits frequently.
January 7, 2008
"And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and
crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them."

Isaiah 42:16-- (KJV)

Ten years ago, January 7th 1998 was a day that changed my life forever. I was at the campus of Guide dogs for the blind in San Rafael California. Around 2 in the afternoon I was introduced to someone who would have one of the biggest impacts on me and on my future.

"The trainer told me that I'd be receiving a female yellow Labrador retriever, her name is Rhoda."

Rhoda, I thought. It sounds like the name of a Jewish house-wife with a fondness for pink furry bathrobes and big hair curlers.

No, not so much. She was wild. If I knew then, what I know now, I wouldn't have taken it nearly so personally that my guide was a complete spaz.
She was the bad dog of the class. All of those people who have been to a guide dog school know what I mean. She wouldn't lay still in lecture, she wouldn't heel by my side. At meals she was constantly diving for food, crawling around under the table and generally causing massive disturbance where ever she went.

Her guide work was horrible; she ran me into a parking meter on one of our first trips. This was hardly a dog to inspire my confidence.

Time passed, we went home. She broke away from me, ran across the road and treed a squirrel our first week home together.

She ate plants in the clothing store where I shopped. She peed at Catholic Mass.
I really tried everything the guide dog school told me to do and after a while things started to jell.

I lost my hearing for the first time. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was so ill from the medication to treat it.
She was there through everything. She was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 3 and a half and died a year and a half almost to the day that we came home from guide dog school.

I wanted to die too; she had been my best friend through so much and after those first few turbulent months she turned into an amazing dog.

The last thing I asked of her before I set her free was to find me another dog. "Please find me a dog who will help me, who will lead me and love me and who will be patient with me because my heart is broken and I surely won't love them right away."

Six days later I met Bristol. She may have had her health problems but her guide work was flawless from the beginning. She loved me when I didn't love her; even when I didn't love myself.

She worked from July of 1999 until August of 2003 when degenerative joint disease shortened her working career.

Gracy and Mill'E were next each teaching me so much; each adding their own personalities to our work together.
They learned by watching Bristol. Sometimes I would come around a corner, and find the three, all laying or sitting in a circle. I can imagine Bristol giving lectures on appropriate public access behavior or the way you indicate a curb with the most amount of style and finesse.
All of them have changed me. Rhoda's illness and subsequent death, Bristol's chronic health struggles have both set me on the path to becoming a herbalist. The fallout after Mill'E's multiple dog attacks and Gracy's emo-border collie idiosyncratic way of learning forced me to adopt another way of training all together.

Rhoda taught me how to laugh, at myself, and at her. Bristol taught me what it means to truly break down all of the barriers in my heart and put complete trust in someone outside myself. Gracy has taught me, and continues to teach me patience, that and to put my shoes up on the dresser if I want to find them in the morning. Mill'E has taught me how to teach in a positive way and to lighten up, for crying out loud.

I would not be the same without them, and hope that I will never have to walk the path of life alone without a dog.

Ten years have come and gone so fast. I am excited to know what lessons and adventures the next ten will bring.

"And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.
Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, "he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who
ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet."
But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades
of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible."

Taken from The Prophet
By Kahlil Gibran

A Big Day for a Little Dog

This post was written almost two years ago, February 7, 2009. I wanted to post it here. It details some of Laveau's training to become a guide dog and explains her final traffic testing.
Almost eight months ago to the day, I walked out of a very high-kill animal shelter on the Westbank of New Orleans. I was accompanied by a tall black dog who was so thin that you could literally see almost every bone in her body She was a dog with no past-- the shelter workers said that she had been turned in as a stray. If all things went well, and the luck of the gods was with us, she would have an amazing future ahead of her.

I fell almost instantly in love with her. Who wouldn't have? We got to know one another. We worked together, played together, and trained together. We learned about one another and during these last eight months together we have built an incredible bond of mutual respect and reciprocal love.

She had her bad habits, as did I-- She had horrible house manners and I had gotten sloppy in some of my handling techniques. We both needed training. Through hard work and devotion on both our parts we have made it to this day.

Today Laveau and I did our final traffic testing.

On the streets around my home we set her up for the multiple situations which we are likely to encounter during our working career together.

A friend was the brave one to drive the car. She wore my FM system which is a small box with a microphone. I wear another small box which is connected to wireless headphones. With the use of assistive technology we were able to communicate with one another and orchestrate the plan.

We started out crossing a road. I gave Laveau the "forward" command and she refused to go and put her body in front of mine as the test car drove by. We did this several more times. We did it from either side-- sometimes with the car driving toward Laveau's side and sometimes with the car driving toward mine.

the car backed out of a vacant lot and Laveau pulled me out of the way. My friend surprised me by driving up on to the sidewalk. Laveau stopped immediately-- it was me (with the uncooperative vestibular system who took a couple seconds longer to do so).

We set her up in all situations. When we determined that she was solid in these skills, I turned to go home. While I was crossing the final street, my friend drove her car straight at me without any warning. Laveau put herself in front of me and yanked me back up on to the sidewalk where she then stood in front of me, blocking me from the car.

When we pick a candidate to try and train as an assistance dog, it is a big gamble. The dog may not work out. There may be any number of physical or behavioral problems which would make a dog unsuited to the work. If the dog is solid of nerve, devoted, inquisitive, hard working, loyal, and is in possession of a large amount of singleness of purpose, the dog becomes an assistance dog candidate. From assistance dog candidate the dog becomes an assistance dog in training. After many months of hard work and learning the dog *MAY* then become an assistance dog.

Laveau has been through much in the eight short months we've been together. When I got her, she already had proficiency with foundation behaviors-- those things that even any pet dog should know. Sit, down, stay, loose leash walking etc. Laveau picked up on the guiding skills very quickly. She began public access training and took to it like she'd been born walking down crowded mall corridors and navigating large business buildings with ease and confidence.

She made very few mistakes in the guide part of her training and she seem to have an instinctive need to watch out for me.

Today she proved how much she really can do. She proved to me that she is watchful, mindful and brave. She showed me in the most profound way that she would give her life to protect mine if that was required of her. She proved to me, beyond all shadow of a doubt that my life is safe in her paws.

Canine Communications

Mr Pawpower and I took Bristol and Laveau with us when we went to get a coffee. I worked Laveau to the coffee shop, but worked Bristol home.

If dogs could talk...
Bristol stands next to me in harness. Her chest is puffed out, her head is held high, her tail is wagging.
Bristol: "I'm too sexy for my harness, too sexy for my harness, lalalalala!"
Me: "Bristol forward."
Bristol *starts walking forward, only it's more of a swish.*
Bristol: "I'm too sexy for my harness, too sexy for my harness, lalalala."

Laveau *turns her head on her long doberneck to watch Bristol.*
Laveau: "Oh my god, what the hell are you doing! You're going to get her killed; that crack in the sidewalk required you to come to a full and complete stop. You are doing a slap-dash job and maybe I need to show you how to do it right."
Bristol: "heheheheheh, I've been doing this for longer than you've been alive, you whippersnapper! Watch, my child, watch, and learn. I'm too sexy for my harness, too sexy for my harness, lalalala!"
Laveau: "OH MY GOD! she clicked the clicker for that other dog! This is my clicker! and she's feeding her my treats! and she's wearing my harness.... oh wait, she isn't, but I don't want her working in it! She's an imposture! She's old, put out to pasture! She's going to run that up curb..."
Bristol: "Ahhh, flawless halt on the up-curb. Front feet on curb, back feet in gutter! Totally textbook. I hope that tenderfoot is paying attention to my perfect example of guide work. I'm too sexy for my harness, too sexy for my harness lalalala!"
Laveau: "Now we cross the big street. Do you think the tall dude I'm guiding could make it across on his own? Because I don't want to let Grandma Moses take the boss across this road alone. She'll become road pizza, and then I'll be unemployed which is bad what with the economy, and all."
Bristol: "Look, that black dog is so impressed with my fabulousossity, that she is wrenching her neck around to watch my incredible moves. Not good as she really should be guiding the big dude, but who can blame her! I've got it goin on! I'm too sexy for my harness..."
Laveau: "The only way I can make this crossing is to watch the old dog do it. I'm keeping my eye on her. Who the hell does she think she is? The canine version of Jennifer Lopes? This isn't the red carpet at the Oscars!"
Bristol: "We've arrived at last! I am so impressive! We made it and it's all because I possess such incomparable guiding skills, and class, and beauty, and poise, and animal magnetism! Let's face it, I'm a goddess. That black dog wishes she could be half as amazing as I am, she has not been able to keep her worshipful gaze from me."
Laveau: "Oh my god! We've made it home, and the boss still has the normal number of arms and legs and heads and stuff. Watching out for her from afar, and guiding the dude was hard. I need some Chivas over ice, and a raise."

Ya Gotta Start Somewhere, I Guess

This is my very first post in my very new public blog.

I guess I should start this thing by explaining who I am.
I live in New Orleans and am married to Mr. Pawpower and together we own
<"Pawpower Creations">
We have many dogs, and they are always doing crazy things. I'm Deafblind. This means that I can't see or hear very well. I can still see and hear a small bit, but more often than not, using my residual sight or hearing tends to land me in hot water. My husband, Mr. Pawpower is blind, but hearing. Our dogs are either retired or working assistance dogs. We have three golden retrievers, and one Doberman mix, three females and one male, and no the Doberman isn't a male! This is like, one of those logic puzzles.

Bristol is almost thirteen years old. She is retired and is, herself, losing her vision and has lost most of her hearing.
Mill'E-Max is the brains of the outfit. She also has a wicked sense of humor. Don't let people tell you that dogs don't have senses of humor because I know differently. Mill'E-Max used to be my guide, hearing and service dog, however she has some joint issues so has to limit her guide work. Instead, she mainly does in-house chores such as retrieving dropped objects, alerting me to sounds in my environment, Bringing objects from one person to another, and retrieving my beer from the fridge, and no, she doesn't drink it!
Rudy is my husband's guide dog. He's seven? He's the only guy and is bossed around shamelessly by his female counterparts. He drools a lot, and likes to take up lots of floor space on airplane flights.
Laveau is my guide dog, she's three and is the Doberman, something-something mix. She was named for Marie Laveau and that's another story within itself.

I'm learning ASL. Teaching a person who's been blind since birth a visual/spacial language is kind of an exercise in patience. Well, patience and humility. I'm kind of starting to like humble pie. I have a great teacher and our lessons are always full of laughable moments. Usually at my expense, but I don't mind!

I like to cook. I have a thing against using recipes. I usually just make shit up as I go along.
I'm a qualified Herbalist, and make Aroma Therapy Products. In my Medical Herbalism work, I deal mostly with dogs, and sometimes cats. They don't complain as much as people.
I'm about to sit my qualifying exam to become a Certified Canine Massage Therapist. I have lots of willing volunteers to practice on, let me tell you.
I do have a grown-up day job. I teach Braille to blind and deafblind adults. Since I love to promote literacy, and since I think Braille is beautiful, and since I love to read, this is a great job for me. I love my clients!
As mentioned above, I love to read. I use my Braille Note, which is a small PDA with pins that pop up or lay flat to form braille letters. All of my books are in electronic format, and are loaded on the Braille Note. I take it everywhere.
I also love technology. I have a Macbook and an iPhone which I love. I hook my iPhone to my Braille Note via bluetooth and the information which appears on my iPhone screen now pops up in braille on my Braille Note.
I'll stop blabbing now, and will begin backdating some entries I have written previously but never got around to posting.