Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deafblind Awareness Week

This week is Deafblind Awareness week. But for me, and for the many people I meet every day, it is always Deafblind Awareness week/day/moment. I sometimes feel like my life is a lesson in awareness.

It has its good sides. I would hope to think that when people see me in public, doing regular things like shopping or having coffee that they will one day, just think of me as a regular person who happens to be unable to hear or see. Everyone has things that they cannot do, some are more obvious than others. I would hope, through mine, and others actions that we can show that people who are Deafblind can work, go to school, have families, and all of that.

But sometimes, sometimes I just want to be unremarkable. I wish people weren't so "aware." Of my braille, my dog, my ASL, my difference. I sometimes wish that I could spend time in public without some curious person asking me questions, invading my space, or making stupid inane remarks like "I think sign language is so beautiful! I love watching people sign."

I know they mean well. I know that when people think of Deafblindness, they think of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, and how does their life-- lived almost one hundred years ago-- fit into our world today? People want to know things. How do I cook, or schedule doctor's appointments, or cross roads. They want to watch me texting or reading braille, or chatting with friends in ASL, not because they are mean, but because it is new and different and "interesting." In this day and age, our society thinks that they have the right to learn and know anything about anybody. Look at all of those reality television shows, the blogs and the twenty-four-hour news coverage. We are a nosey society who believe that we have the right to ask-- to know-- and that privacy is not meant for those who have lives which are different from the norm.

I try, in my personal life, in my work, and in my community efforts, to educate, to advocate, and to continue to grow as a person. But sometimes being aware of deafblindness means being aware that your attention, your questions, your comments, aren't always welcome. If a person wants to know how a Deafblind individual crosses a road, they can look it up on Google. Which isn't nearly as interesting as asking me directly and watching my conversation partner interpret their words into my hands. But if it's truly information being sought, there are a wealth of resources out there. There are even Youtube videos of tactile ASL. Use these resources and educate yourself if you are so inclined.

I don't mean to come off as a grouchy curmudgeon. But if I could make people "aware" of just one thing, it is that I'm a regular person, just like someone who is sighted or hearing. That I'm out in the big world, trying to live my life as best as I can, and that I'm not some kind of carnival freak show exhibit to be stared at, or remarked upon. Be aware, use consideration, think!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Last Part

I'm home, actually and truly home. The last train ride lasted about 23 hours, and the train was late pulling into the station in Charlottesville, of course.

Then I didn't have a seat on the train until around Midnight so sat in the observation car doing some email checking and observating, and stuff.

Around 4 am, a person or people came on with a screaming infant. I took my hearing aid out and was very thankfully oblivious. Because if there is one noise which turns me into a quivering ball of hysterical, babbling insanity, it is the sound of babies screaming. This is why I do not have human children. I took out my hearing aid and it was quiet and lovely. Apparently the kid screamed basically non-stop for four hours. I read, and did word searches, and twittered and basically smugly laughed at everyone else who had to suffer. Because I'm mean!

Laveau knew we were going home so she refused to pee, and was very determined to save it all up for a big pee festival in the yard. Which is what she did.

But I should go back and talk about my time in Charlottesville.

I went to my first chicken swap. This was a thing where people pulled up to a tractor store in Culpepper, VA. and tried to buy, or sell, or trade their chickens. Oh and a turkey; I can't forget the turkey. I had never actually touched a live turkey, so the owner let me touch him. He was very large and feathery and I could kind of hear this weird loud noise which was him making that gobble noise. Laveau spent the time in
SUV with Sid her SDIT. Sid actually hopped into the driver's seat and was trying to grow himself opposable thumbs while searching for the keys. Laveau stayed in back with her head out the window, keeping a look out for people who would catch on to their plan. She only confessed the entire thing to me after we left.

The two dogs, and Andrea and myself went into the tractor supply store, because I'd never been in one and being a city girl I wanted to be able to say that I went into one. I also wanted to buy a present for the dogs. Laveau was sniffy and a pain in my ass and we had to have a conversation about sniffage.

I bought Bristol a chicken made of this rubber stuff. He apparently has a very loud squeaker and I can sort of hear it if my hearing aid is in. I think Bristol can hear it. We have named the chicken Fricassee.

We eventually packed up and went back to Andrea's house where Laveau barked at the cats and stared rudely at them. We don't, and never will have, cats so her exposure to them has been limited to outside distractions. So she was very weirded out that cats actually live inside, in people's houses, and that these cats-- namely Braxton the Enforcer and Roo, weren't afraid of her and that in the case of Roo, climbed on me and I let them.
To get even with me about the cats, she rolled in the pool, then in the dirt, thereby covering herself in mud. Andrea very sweetly groomed her for me so she looked like a sort of respectable service dog on the train.

The night before the chicken swap I stayed with
Who was a fantastic sport about hosting a strange lady and her strange black dog in her house. Christine also has a cat, Cairo, and what's more, Cairo knew that he weirded out Laveau; so his mission was to get her to snuggle with him. Laveau refused and would bark at him, get off of the bed or where ever Cairo was, and stomp away to lay across the room grumbling, and giving him that Doberman eyeball. Cairo went after her. She didn't know what to do with this thing which walked like a dog but which was not a dog. Christine also had German Shepherds and Laveau did know what to do with them-- play. In the pool, in the grass, in the house, and where ever. She played herself stupid with Sid and with other GSDs which explains why she slept like a dead thing on the way home and why she's been fairly lazy today.

It's kind of exasperating that the only people who have the dogs which can tire out Laveau live clear the hell in Virginia!

We got home last night and Mister Pawpower had bathed Mill'E-Max and Bristol so they were all soft and cuddly. Well Mill'E-Max was refusing to cuddle for a while because I went and left her, and she is not so forgiving as all that. But she helped unpack the suitcase and that went a long way to making her feel better.

Today I did not go to work because I didn't get to sleep until like, I don't know the butt-crack of the middle of the night last night.

Today I did laundry, and hung clothes out on the line. Then it rained because the universe likes flipping me off.
We took the pack on a walk because we are on a serious mission to strengthen Bristol's hind end. She seems to be doing great on the every-other day schedule of Previcox so we'll leave it at that for now.

Tomorrow I need to actually work and not lay around. Wednesday I have to actually go back to my grown-up job. Le Sigh!

Tonight, I'm going to try and recreate Skyline Chili which is a very yummy and unique kind of Chili I had when I was in Cinci with Jen. We are even having garlic bread with it because I'm on a bunch of steroids from the shrimp thing and OHMYGODIWANTCARBSNOW!
So... I'm off to do kitchen bitchery stuff with my Kitchen Bitches!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Life's Little Detours

So... life has this funny way of happening, y'know?

I left the AADB conference Thursday afternoon headed to Cincinnati to visit my friend Jen and her guide dog Nora. We spent a lovely evening together, eating Skyline Chili, and Ice-cream, and playing with dogs. I hopped on my train out of cinci at a bit after 3 am.

Our train was delayed coming into Charlottesville, VA. Instead of arriving at 2:45 I arrived around 4.
Andrea from
<"The Manor of Mixed Blessings">
fetched me from the station and we went to her friend's house for dog snuggling, and barbecuing. Laveau had a blast meeting all of the new dogs. She has decided that Andrea's SDIT, Sid is her new loooooooove!
We called Amtrak and they said my train was late and would leave by 9:15. Since all of my trains have been late, this wasn't surprising to me.
So we sat around, ate and drank, and threw the ball for the dogs.
Then we harnessed up the pups and drove to the station in time for the 9:15 train, only to find that it had left ten minutes earlier.
I'm kinda stuck in Charlottesville until I can get a train out of here. Dunno when that will be, exactly. I'm so punchy right now that I'm not too worried about it ... yet...

Laveau is having a blast, I am curled up in bed with Cairo the Cat and some lemon cookies.
I will update as things progress.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

End of Week Updatage

Today was my last full day at AADB. Wow! How time has just flown by so quickly.
This morning I tested a prototype of a braille captioned radio. It was amazing!!! I mean totally amazing.

It was a braille display hooked to a small digital radio via a USB cable. The first three cells of the displays were used for things like to change the channel, to modify settings, and to check for emergency alerts. I read some radio stories, navigated throughout the menu system and was shown an alert and how the system responds when there is an alert. It was amazing, but I think I've already said that! Deafblind people who are braille readers have not had access to this type of emergency alert information in the past.

The radio works with NPR stations. When I was hearing, I loved NPR! I was a huge fan of shows like This American Life, A Prairie Home Companion, and All things Considered-- not to mention Car Talk. All of this program will be available to me using a captioned radio once the finishing touches have been put on the product. I signed up to be a tester for the first radios that come out so I can see radio shows every week and test how the system functions. The entire experience was amazing! I cannot wait to be able to have a captioned radio. It will work with any braille display and a digital radio with USB. So I can use either my Apex or my Sync Braille to run it. Digital radios come in very small sizes so it is very possible for a Deafblind person to take their radio with them and have access to the radio when traveling. This is just fantastic.

I bought pizza for my SSPs this afternoon and we had a pizza party in my room. Then I went to the AADB business meeting but didn't stay long. I had a nap, then went to dinner with a friend.
However I was chatting with someone who had eaten something which had been cooked in the same oil as shell fish. So I had to leave and go take meds. Thankfully I recovered quickly. I got to meet a student who is currently attending HKNC, and that was interesting.

Tomorrow I am checking out of the hotel, attending the AADB awards lunch, going to an update by a man who works for the FCC, and then I'm leaving the convention.

A friend of mine lives in Cincinnati and I haven't seen her in forever so we will spend time catching up, and I'll hop on the train at 3 am on Friday. Tonight is my last sleep in a real bed until I come home to my pack in New Orleans.

I will update perhaps from the road!

Chicago Pictures

are up

Thanks to my friend Nahrain for being such a fantastic photographer!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The first half of the week

I realized that I haven't updated since Sunday, but my arms are so sore from all of the tactile ASL, that typing is not on my list of "must do's." However, I want to write this all down before I forget. So where I left off...

Monday morning, my SSP and I went to breakfast. While we were eating, my SSP got a call that a family member was dying so she needed to leave abruptly. I was then matched with three new SSPs.
I went to a workshop on accessible braille e-books. The presenter talked about Bookshare.org, National Braille Press, and the National Library Service's Web Braille program. After that workshop, we went to lunch.

After lunch, it was time to take a tour of the exhibit hall. This is a big ball room full of vendors from various companies selling everything from Braille PDAs, to jewelry, to portable VRS units. I made it about half way around the room before getting stuck at the table for the Helen Keller National Center for Deafblind Youth and Adults (HKNC). The lady at that table had never seen an iPhone before paired with a Braille Note Apex. I took out my iPhone and braille note and several people gathered to watch. The lady from HKNC took videos of my demonstration. I tried to not sound like an idiot. I had left Laveau in the room because I was worried that the hall would be crowded, so after my demo, I went back to get her.

By this point I really needed to get out of this hotel. My SSPs and I walked to Oriental Wok for dinner and I had yummy fried rice and veggie spring roll! We had fun chatting and eating. After that I went to bed.

This morning I went to a three-hour long workshop on various types of assistive technology for Deafblind people. Topics covered included screen readers for both Mac and PC, various screen enlargement solutions for DB people who are low vision, and braille displays. In the second half of the workshop, they talked about various mobile options for DB people including Deafblind Communicator (DBC), made by Human Ware, iPhone, iPad, and Windows Mobile Phones running Mobile Speak. We also learned about stand-alone money identifiers, and color identifiers.

After that long workshop my arms felt like they'd fall off from all of the tactile interpreting. My SSPs and I went to lunch at another restaurant outside the hotel-- this time Mexican. I had nachos and they were delicious.

I came back and had a nap before going back to the exhibit hall, and then to dinner. Geez, this blog makes it seem like all I do is eat and look at technology. lol!
After dinner which was a huge salad, I went to the grocery right quick for more iced tea. Then we came back and went to a pool party where I chatted with some people and swam.

Now it is bed time. Tomorrow I'm testing out a new braille captioned radio from NPR. I'm very excited as when I was hearing, I loved NPR and I really miss listening to it. After the NPR thing, I'm going to the technology lab because many of the devices discussed in today's workshops are at the lab. There are some new braille displays I have yet to see, and I must remedy this-- big geek that I am!
After that is a general meeting of the delegates from AADB in the afternoon. Tomorrow is my last full day here at AADB as Thursday I'm leaving in the afternoon to meet a friend from Cincinnati, and then my train leaves around 3 am on Friday morning.

I am really having a blast so far!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Journey Begins

I made it to Kentucky in one piece, mostly.

Friday afternoon, Laveau and I hopped aboard the train. We had a sleeper car on that leg of the trip and immediately we met two ladies in the sleeper across from ours. We spent the evening with them and their two grown children. We ate dinner, and spent time in the observation car.

I tried to get some sleep but sleeping on a train brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "tossing and turning." Laveau slept on the foot of the bed, where she could look out the window. She immediately fell asleep while I lay there listening to old Golden Girls shows on my iPod. Eventually I was asleep, and then the train went down what felt like, a very steep hill. The feeling of tilting at such an angle woke me up, and awake I stayed.

The train was an hour late arriving into Union Station in Chicago. I got off the train, and was immediately greeted by my two SSPs for the day, Colleen and Maggie. We first found a locker for storing my luggage for the day. By then we were joined by a friend of mine who is also DB and who lives in Chicago. We took Laveau to pee, and she actually went!
We walked to a local pizza place for lunch, where were joined by yet another friend of mine and her guide dog.

I was having quite a bit of vertigo; I could still feel the train moving beneath my feet! I was pretty nauseated so took meds, and they kicked in just in time for me to eat a huge slice of Chicago style veggie pizza. It was really good. We spent time just chatting, and eventually decided to go see the Bean statue in Chicago's Millennium Park.

The Bean is a giant (and I mean huge) bean-shaped statue covered in reflective metal. I was able to see it once I stood in a place where the Bean blocked the sun. It was amazing. My friend took tons of pictures.

Then we went to a fountain near by. You can sit on a dock thing, and put your feet in the water. I took off Laveau's harness and let her jump into the water. She loved it, but we got busted by the park security because dogs aren't allowed in the water, even if on leash. So poor Laveau had to get out, but she was very happy to be wet and a bit cooler.

We put our shoes back on, then went to yet another fountain. This one was a giant wall of water, coming down from above. Like a giant shower (a very cold shower). I took off my backpack, and my hearing aid, and went with one of my SSPs and Laveau into the heart of the fountain. Like I said; it was cold! I was soaked! Laveau was pretty wet herself. It made me glad she wears a nylon harness!

After we got out of the fountain, we took the El train back to Union Station because it was time for me to continue my trip to Kentucky.

My time in Chicago was wonderful. Both Laveau and myself enjoyed it so much. I met another DB person on the train. We road together and spent time chatting. It was nice to have someone to talk to. Laveau slept like a rock!

The train was delayed a few times, so we arrived in Cincinnati about two ours passed our original arrival time. We found a number for a cab, but they wouldn't accept relay calls. The person I rode with found another cab number, and they sent a driver.

Who was an idiot and tried to deny me access to his cab with Laveau. By this point I hadn't slept in over 24 hours, I had traveled for a day and a half and I was not going to be left at the train station by some jackass who does not know the law. I tried explaining about the dog, and the law. This guy was from here, so he had no excuse not to know the law or not to understand me. Here is our conversation:
Me: "You have to take her, she's a service dog. Do you know what a service dog is?"
Driver: "No."
Me: "Do you know what a guide dog is?"
Driver: "No."
Me: "Do you know what a Seeing Eye dog is?"
Driver: "uh..... uh... I think... I think I've heard of one before."
Me: "Ok, she's a seeing eye dog. You have to take her."
Driver: "It's against the law to have dogs in the cab."
Me: *internally swearing*
Me: "You are violating federal law by denying us access. It is against the law for you not to provide me access to your cab with my service dog." Driver: "Are you blind?"
Me: "Yes!!!!!!!!"
Driver: "Is that a Looker Dog?"
Me: "Yes!! She is a looker dog!"
Me: *thinking to self... "looker dog???"*
Driver: "Well why didn't you say that! I can take looker dogs in my cab."

So I didn't have to kill him and take his keys after all! We hopped in the car and drove to the hotel. By then I was exhausted so I quickly checked in and went to bed with my looker dog.

Just a side note, I thought, being from New Orleans, Laveau would be a Liquor Dog; not a Looker Dog. And to think, for all these years, I've been blaming her for drinking all of the brandy in the keg she was supposed to be carrying around her neck. It's not because she's a lush that she doesn't have brandy, it's because she's a Looker Dog, not a Liquor dog!!

This morning I woke up, farted around on the internet for a while, then went and got my registration packet. I met an SSP from Ohio who took me in his car to get food for Laveau. I needed a refrigerator in my room because my growth hormone needs to stay cold, so there was plenty of room in there for Laveau's food. However I forgot we're not in New Orleans any more, and they didn't have things like turkey necks and pig feet! So she's having ground turkey and beef.
After we got back from the store, I took a nap because I was still so tired.

Then I went to the AADB opening ceremonies which were wonderful.

This hotel is like a maze. I keep getting lost. Tomorrow I have workshops and the exhibit hall. I'm meeting my SSP for breakfast at eight am.

I think I'm going to crawl into bed and get some shut eye. Tomorrow is going to be a long day!
It is great to be here at AADB!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Pawpower Pack is Packing

I'm starting to pack for my trip. Tomorrow, I get on a train to go to the
<"AADB Symposium">

I am taking the train and for some reason, known only to the higher-powers at good ole Amtrak, I have to go from New Orleans, to Chicago, then back to Kentucky. Yes, I kind of boggled over it for a while but decided to Carpe Shar-Pei (seize the wrinkled dog) and make the best of it. I wrote to a lady who works at the Lighthouse for the blind in Chicago who is, herself, Deafblind. She teaches a class about working the deafblind people. Two of her students will be my SSP for my 8-ish hours in Chicago. This is so fantastic and generous, and makes the entire experience so much easier.

I am also meeting friends in Chicagoland for pizza, some walking around and perhaps (if it doesn't rain), the beach!

I arrive in Kentucky on Sunday morning and stay there until Friday. On my return trip, I have a layover in Charlottesville Virginia where I will get to meet the krew from

<"The Manor of Mixed Blessings">
I have known them online for a few years now and I can't wait to meet the entire gang! I want to pet all of the dogs and see if Laveau or Sid can get to the ball first. We shall, most likely, go to dinner at a restaurant, and terrorize people with our big, scary black hounds.

But before I can get to all of the pizza-eating, beach-going, symposium-attending, and dog-groping I must pack. This is a chore which will test my patience to its limit. Because you see, dearest reader, my dogs brains fall out the moment I remove the suitcase from hiding. They know that the suitcase means travel, and all of the dogs are just sure I will come to a bad end if I do not take them to travel with me.

Usually it goes something like this:
*take out suitcase*
Laveau: "Ohhhh! We go! I will lay in the suitcase so she will have to take me with her!"
Gracy: "I will take the suitcase and hide it because I don't want to go anywhere, and I do not want her to go anywhere, and why can't we all just go out into the yard and kill small rodents!"
Mill'E-Max: "Oh! we're going! Do you need to pack? I'll help you pack! Here, do you need this shirt? What do you mean no, that it's dirty and put it back in the hamper. You are wrong and I will pack it in the suitcase for you. What are your slippers doing in the suitcase? You don't need them in there. Here, I will take them out for you once Laveau gets up from on top of them. Oh look, you are packing treats! Can I have treats? No? Will you give me treats if I bring you my water dish and put it in the suitcase? You will need the water dish if we are going to go on vacation. If you can't take the other dogs, you can just take me because I'm the smartest and most helpful and you will regret it and be sad if you do not take me, and I don't want you to be sad, so take me!"
Bristol: "I love you! I really, really love you. See how closely I'm sticking to your leg? This is so you can't leave me behind. Think of how lonely you will be if you leave me behind. And guilty... you will feel guilty because I was a Jewish mother in my past life and know how to lay on the guilt. You should take me, because if you don't, you will break my heart and that will be on your conscience forever. We wouldn't want that, would we?"
See? It's kind of a mad house once the suitcase comes out.
So I've been putting it off for as long as possible. Today, I found out that I won a new suitcase at an employee appreciation lunch at work. I wasn't actually at the lunch because they were serving shrimp and seeing as how shrimp makes my throat close; I thought it most advisable to stay away. But I won a new suitcase, and my boss is bringing it over shortly, and then it will start, and I don't know if I'll make it to the train without extra weight from a stowaway, or three, in my luggage!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bristol Update

This morning Brissy seemed a bit better but I took her in anyway. Her hind end is pretty weak; this isn't new. However she's not putting weight at all on her right hind leg, using her left hind leg to compensate. Her hip joints have a lot of bone on bone rubbing, and her muscles are wasting in that area.
My vet put her on Previcox, which is a Cox II inhibiter. And before someone comments with the laundry list of evils caused by these drugs, just do me a favor and save your breath because there is nothing anyone can say that I haven't said to myself. Right now it's about her quality of life. She can't continue living like this-- I won't let her. If these drugs which make her more comfortable do cause other problems, we'll deal with it. But getting the pain and inflammation under control is the most important thing. I have fought like a devil to keep her off of these drugs, and my vet said that most dogs start them when they are around 10. To be a 13 year old dog and needing to finally take them is good; it means she's been doing well. It's what I have to do for her and if they make her hurt less I will gladly give them to her.

I know she's old, I know she probably doesn't have years left. I know that by all rights she shouldn't even be alive after everything she's been through. But she is, and I want to make her last time here as comfortable as I can.

This is so, so hard. I would take the pain myself if I could, I would give her years off of my own life if it would make her body whole again. I will do whatever it takes to keep her comfortable and happy. When I can't do that any more, or if she wants to go, I will then make the choice to end her suffering.

She is still so full of life and vitality. She is interested in meeting everyone around her, in walks and food, and playing. She isn't ready to leave just yet.
This is the dog who has been my emotional loadstar for the last twelve years. This is the dog who has put her 40 pound body between me and an on-coming vehicle more times than I can count. This is the dog who went to college with me, moved across the country with me, traveled many unfamiliar roads with me. She walked me down the aisle when I was married. She walked me to my first job as a grown-up. She was there in the dark of the night when my fears and worries got the best of me. She was there when I lost my house, my city, everything I owned, and later my hearing. I still was rich beyond measure because I had her.

And I can't do anything for her but give her pills and make her comfortable. I can only take her out to the dog park, and to the snowball stand on her good days. I can only put her on my bed, in the coolest spot, and sit beside her on her bad days. I can give her release when it's time. It seems like I got the better end of the deal in this relationship.

If the meds don't work, then all bets are off and we won't have much time at all. I can only hold her, tell her I love her, and hope that the universe grants us just a little bit longer together.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


This evening Bristol stopped being able to climb up and down steps independently. She can do "down" better than "up" which she can't do at all. She is walking slowly but fine, still interested in food and what's going on around her.
I'm taking off work tomorrow morning to run her into the vets. I'm trying not to think the worst but not doing well at that.
Please send her prayers/good juju/happy thoughts.

The Swampy State of the Pack

What a weekend it has been. The pre-trip insanity has already started, and add to that a healthy dose of technology malfunction and I've got a lot of balls in the air.

Not only that, my Vet and I had a conversation on Saturday about the medication Laveau is currently taking to control her spay incontinence. This medication is having some undesirable side-effects, and also has some very scary risks associated with it. I'm currently weaning her down off of the med and when I return from my trip, I will begin to try other methods of controlling this issue. Karyn over at
<"Through Guide's Eyes">
Has been helpful in brainstorming with me about possible alternatives. Although I'm glad to know about these problems, and feel a pressing urgency to find alternatives to correct them, it's an additional stress on top of an already stressful load.

I'm very much looking forward to my trip to the AADB symposium in Kentucky and hope that it is a fun, and relaxing time for both Laveau and myself. I am going to try to blog while on the road, and look forward to many adventures.

In other (and hopefully happier) news, Mister Pawpower has decided that he'd like to begin the search for his next assistance dog candidate. He is hoping for a puppy between 4-6 months old. He'd really like a Doberman or a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He's keeping his options open and has contacted some breeders. It is not a time sensitive thing, and it's better to take his time and choose a candidate he feels will succeed, rather than rush in and pick the first dog offered. I, myself, always hate this part of the owner training process. Give me a dog of sound body and temperament and I can train it. It's the selecting of the dog that makes me twitchy.

That is all of the news from our neck o' the swamp.
Hope everyone is staying cool!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Threads

Laveau has needed new gear for some time now. Her harness is hanging in there alright but she really needed a new service vest for carrying things like medical information, my EpiPen, and wallet. Mister Pawpower who is the mastermind behind
<"Pawpower Creations">
wanted to take a crack at making a service cape for her. I wanted it to be purple, with black and white zebra stripes (I love zebras)!
He made a beautiful cape which is not only really sharp looking, but is roomy and comfortable.
You can see
of the cape on my FlickR page. One of these days, someone needs to tell me how to put pictures into my blog itself!

Once the cape was made, a friend of mine embroidered "PawPower" in pink thread on the top, and "Service Dog" in white thread on the bottom. It looks really colorful and awesome!
Just in time to show it off at AADB! Mister Pawpower is working on her matching harness and will hopefully have that done soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Language of Loss

These last few weeks have been so very hard with Rudy being gone. But sometimes it seems it's the people I speak to the most who make it harder. I wanted to write this blog post, not as a rant, or a means of finger-pointing, but to explain to non-service dog handlers about how it feels after you lose your beloved partner.

If I had a dollar for every person who has asked "Have you guys found a replacement for Rudy yet?" I could retire to France with a dozen dogs. People seem to have no inkling what so ever that this question is offensive and hurtful. I understand the intent behind the question. The person wants to know if we have found a successor to train for Mister Pawpower.

A service dog is not an inanimate object that you can "replace" when it wears out or breaks. It is not that simple. The bond between a person with a disability and his/her SD is something unique and very special. It is different, much, much different than the love you feel for a pet. This dog has been with you more than anybody else has. This dog has stood between you and danger; frequently risking their own lives to ensure the handler's safety. These dogs are, for some, a lifeline to independence.

When an assistance dog partner looses their SD, whether to death or retirement, it is very difficult. The handler experiences a complex set of emotions; everything from sadness to anger, to guilt, to relief in some cases. Each person is different in the way they experience loss. Some folks, like me, find that they do better if they find an appropriate dog to work with as soon as possible. Some people go years between dogs. Some people only have one SD and then never have another because the loss was just too hard and horrible. They don't want to experience such grief again.

There is no "right" or "wrong" time to get a dog. People from the outside looking in, have absolutely no room to judge, nor to comment. It is normal to be curious about a person's feelings regarding another dog. But I'm asking you, please be very careful and aware of the language you use when asking about a possible next dog.

If the handler does decide to get another dog it is never, ever a "replacement." A dog isn't a pair of shoes or a computer. A dog is a life; special and one of a kind. A better way to phrase this question is:
"Are you interested in acquiring a successor dog?"
"Have you thought of getting another dog, or are you not ready?
Acknowledge that the new dog is not the old, is not a "replacement." Also understand that the person might not even know if they want another dog, they may not even be ready to have this discussion yet.

This is ok, it is ok because the choice of acquiring a successor dog or not, is very personal. If the person answers your question, don't judge their answer. I know it's tempting to say something like:
"You might do better with another dog, it might help."
"You may want to wait a while before getting another dog; maybe a dog isn't right for you any more."
It is nobody's place to judge, or to give advice, unless specifically asked by the handler to give it.

You may have experienced pet loss, and may think you are helping the person feel better by comparing your loss of Fluffy your favorite Chihuahua to the loss of the person's service dog. As I said above, pet loss is different than losing a service animal. Not harder, or easier; those aren't my value judgements to make. It is very different and comparing pet dog loss to service dog loss is like comparing apples to socks.

I need to be honest here and say that I'm very much struggling with feelings of anger right now every time someone uses the phrase "replace the dog." I am also frustrated because some of the people who use this phrase are close to me, and Laveau. They were also close to Mister Pawpower and Rudy. How, after seeing a service dog team work in partnership can they turn around and simply use a word like "replace?" It really hurts, and what's more it hurts Mister Pawpower which makes me even more upset because he is already hurting enough.

I would ask people to please think about what they say before they say it. A moment of forethought counts for more than an hour of apologies.