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Archive for July, 2009

A win, of a sort

I had originally intended to have the clash I knew was coming with the neighbors on Friday. Instead, I got avoidant and we did a lot of wandering around in a store and didn’t get back until 4:30, so we didn’t have the fight then.

We had it yesterday. We had to call the police to get into our block. We arrived at the corner at 3:20; the police didn’t arrive until about 4:10.

I’m not sure whether the officer deliberately spoke to my neighbors first, or if they pounced on him determined to get their version of events in first. Predictably enough, they lied to the officer.

However, their version of events doesn’t really make sense. Why on earth would someone call the cops over being asked to wait a few minutes while the kids were gathered up? That makes no sense whatsoever.

But hey, he told the neighbors they had no right to stop me from getting on the block, and told the boyfriend and I that they had said all they asked was for us to wait for them to get the kids out of the way, so…the neighbors know I’m serious, and it’s on police record that there have been issues. He also made it quite clear (at least to us, hopefully to them) that they have no right to demand I park at the end of the block.

I think the officer believed me more than them, because he said if there were problems again, I should seriously think about contacting the Streets Department and explaining what was going on.

Also in the record – when I called for an officer, I did state that I was afraid my neighbors would turn this into a physical confrontation. If I had been by myself, that fear would’ve been quite serious. As the boyfriend, a solidly built guy, was with me, they didn’t do more than cluster around like a group of middle-school kids egging each other on. The way they did that definitely raised my level of concern that someone would’ve hit me, if it had just been me.

Hopefully, we won’t have to escalate this any farther, because if we do the likely consequence is that the kids will lose their play street. I would prefer that not happen, but not to the extent that I’m willing to risk my safety.

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I think the most hurtful kind of discrimination is the kind that tells you that you do not count. You do not matter. The inconvenience to others is more important than the harm to you.

My neighbors have a permit from the city to turn the street into a play street. What this means is that they can forbid through traffic from the street from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM…but not anyone with a business or residence on the block. Like yours truely.

Today, I went out for a parking ticket hearing. I made sure the adults knew I was leaving so they could get the kids out of the way, and drove slowly out.

Hudson got sick. So sick that he started pooping…not just without command, but not even in appropriate places! The first one was in the waiting room for the hearing, and happened slowly enough that I could get a bag under his butt and catch it. So then I took him out to a planter, where he peed and then seemed done, so I started walking on to where I knew there were outdoor trashcans I could throw the poop in. I am not going to leave dogshit in a waiting room people have to sit in! He started to hunch and slow down as we crossed the street, something he does sometimes when scared, so I assumed the big SUV was bothering him. Nope. More poop. I swore under my breath, cleaned up what I could, and headed on to the nearest planter. Before we got there, he crouched again…and this time, it was diarrhea.

Crap crap crap. Not good. Keeps stopping, more diarrhea. I got him to the planter and he showed no interest, so I kept him there a while. When he continued showing no interest, I decided that we were probably safe and started walking towards the trash can again. Right next to the trash can…he crouches again. AGH! More diarrhea, more liquid than before. Great.

At this point, I realized that this was probably serious. I tried to call the vet, but got a telephone tree that sent me into message boxes. I try again, with the same result off a different option. Then I called my service dog organization, and dialed the wrong extention but got a live person. Great! She said she’d try to find a trainer. I started driving home, and tried the vet’s office again…and yay, live person!

She said they didn’t have any appointments, but she was going to see if I could be squeezed in and call me back. I finished driving home…and THAT was when the slap in the face happened.

I stopped at the end of the block and asked the adult there to please move cones and caution tape so I could get home. He did, very grudgingly, when the lady who kind of runs things told him that yes, I live here.

After I parked, the lady who kind of runs things walked over to me and asked me to park at the end of the block from now on. So…despite the fact that I’m disabled enough that I have a parking placard and a service dog to help me walk, I should walk half a block so that they are spared the inconvenience of actually managing the kids. This is particularly problmatic as the sidewalk is broken badly between there and my house, and there’s broken glass all over the sidewalk – just what I want my service dog walking in.

And then another woman who was out there started screaming at me. I was called ‘rude and ignorant’ because I had calmly and politely explained to the lady running things that she has a right to block through traffic – traffic that uses our street to get from one place to another – but not all traffic. Not me. The fact that we have 90 year old neighbors who do not complain about parking off our street and walking meant that I had no right to complain. Oh, and she threatened to take down my plate information and call the cops with it. Cute.

You know how it is. I don’t count. I don’t matter.

Scream about the safety of the kids how you will, but the fact is this – the safety of the kids is the responsibility of their parents, largely by teaching them traffic safety.

I don’t mind driving slowly, making sure the adults know I’m going to be moving the car, etc – that’s just being a reasonable neighbor.

But being told that I don’t have a right to park close to my house, even with a disability? Nope. Not happening.

I’ve looked up the law and made certain that I have the right of things, and I do. It specifically qualifies the blocking traffic to NOT include people who live or have businesses on the block.

So now the question is this – how do I deal with my neighbors without giving up my right to park near my house or making them despise me?

The naughty part of me wants to call the local precinct (non-emergency, of course) and have them send out an officer to explain the law to my neighbors. I’m worried that might get my car keyed or similar nonsense, though.

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Sorry I’m so quiet!

…but don’t expect it to change until after Saturday.

This paper is kicking my butt, bigtime. I realized that I’m averaging a bit higher wordcount per page than expected, so I really only have to write about 33 pages…but so far, I’ve only got 4 and just decided on a new organization structure that means tearing those 4 apart.

Arg. Having everything outlined in a way that I think will work is going to make writing a bit faster than it has been, but I’ll admit I’m getting a little panicky over getting this done!

Wish me luck, and sorry for going silent over here. After Saturday, I’ll get up the rest of the posts about training!

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Just a quick note –

We survived training, we passed our certification exam, we’re home, and damn are we tired!

Hudson gets a few days of mostly being just a dog (well, and helping me walk around the house and carrying my water bottle from room to room). He thinks he’s one lucky dog right now, because he has had a minor stomach upset and is eating mostly boiled chicken and white rice in an effort to quiet it down. I have a week and a half of writing a paper (oh god, it’s 40 pages, I needed to get some of this done over training and was too damn dead to).

In short, while I would really, really, really like to write the other half of the training entries, it may be a bit. I’ll try to get it done as I can, but…well, real life’s being a bit of a headache right now. It may be a bit, and I apologize. I have some video of us working together, and some pictures, and I’ll get them up as I can.

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So, I think that all of us got upset again today, as we read our journals about yesterday and the readings on ending a partnership. Oof. I don’t think the thought of that will ever get easier.

We talked about how the evaluations and follow-up work, and what is expected of us. After team training, we really have tremendously large follow-up obligations. The first week we go home, we must report daily. The first month following that, weekly. The next 6 months, monthly. In the first year, we have to attend 6 ‘graduate support’ classes, or a 12 class course by an approved trainer if you live more than 250 miles away. The grad support classes are 2 hours long, and meet once a month. You can also drop in for a day of team training to meet the support class obligation.

Yeah, it’s a big commitment, but I firmly believe it is in our best interest. After all, I’ll have a trainer I can contact for advice whenever I have trouble with Hudson, and I’ll actually physically be there at least 6 times over our first year together. The 6 classes is a minimum; there is no maximum, if you want to attend every single training offered and the next team training, you’re welcome to do so. I think we’ll try for more than 6, but we’ll really only be able to attend the Sunday classes, so I think the max we’d be able to do would be around 10 (plus the 3 weekends of team training).

Arg, I wish I had the time and energy to write these as we came across them – all the schedule says is ‘obedience/service skills’ and I can’t separate out one day from the rest for what we did when!

By now, Hudson can do a great many of his skills. He can pick things up off the floor for me, pull open doors, help me stand (we weren’t supposed to learn that until the third week, but because of my particular disability I got them to teach me that one on our second day), push buttons, open cupboards and anything I attach a pull strap on, steady me as I walk – including up and down stairs (which he does very well), come to different sides of me depending on the command (front, either side, and back), hop up in my lap, get up on something, put his front feet up on something and perform a task there (for example, give a cashier my wallet or retrieve my purchase). I can clean his ears, trim his nails, and I’ve trimmed the fur around his eyes and feet, as his coat grows very very fast. I can also get him all tacked up – something I struggled with less than other people, because it’s a lot simpler than the horse tack I was used to as a child, and he’s far better mannered about getting tacked up than the lopsided horse I rode then.

Then we talked about access in more complicated places – hospitals and public transit, especially airplanes. Did you know that a service dog has the right to go anywhere but a clean room in a hospital? A clean room, for the record, are places like operating rooms and burn wards – sterile environments. It makes sense when you know that dogs and humans cannot pass much from one to the other – salmonella and one other bacteria I can’t remember, plus giardia. At that, many people with seizures want their dog in the operating room because they want the surgeon to know if they’re going to seize before they do it – and some have succeeded at convincing their surgeon to allow it.

We had a LOT of questions, specific things to ask – like how do you manage a dog on a transatlantic flight? They’re going to need to go to the bathroom, and there’s nowhere to go! (the answer: no food for 24 hours before flight, very limited water, and very limited food and water on flight) Where do you put the dog on a plane, when you’re in an airplane bathroom, at the doctor’s office, etc.

At least today was easier emotionally than yesterday! That was a real toughie.

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Tuesday, June 30: Day 11

Oh, was today ever a wrenching day.

We started off with journal entries, where I was starting to realize that I am not sure I would want to pursue my pre-disability career dreams, even if I could. I…I just don’t know. And even if I did, I don’t think that Hudson could change my life enough for me to do so (though Hudson combined with the most recent addition to my medication regimine…perhaps).

It’s kind of a bewildering place to be. I’ve spent so much of the past two years trying to hold on to that dream, and then deeply grieving as I realized it was no longer obtainable, that this new perspective is utterly perplexing. I mean, that had become part of my identity – a year of doing my damnedest to figure out a way to still make it work, and then most of a year of trying to learn to live with the fact that it wasn’t possible and work itself was iffy.

I know we worked on service skills this day, but to be totally honest I’m not sure what. Perhaps this was the day we started with tugs – a skill the dog can use to pull open doors, drag laundry baskets, remove socks and jackets, so on. We probably started touch – the command for a dog to hit something with his paw. But the afternoon was so upsetting that I don’t remember what we did.

Today we talked about ending the partnership. First, well, what becomes of Hudson should (heaven forbid) I die? The service dog organization reserves the right to make that decision, though they typically do follow the human partner’s wishes. Some dogs stay with the families of their partner. Some – dogs who have been placed for only a short time – return to the service dog organization and are given new partners. Others return to be placed as home companions – dogs who can do service skills, but are placed in the home only, often with children with disabilities. A great many of these recipients are autistic children. While this was a little uncomfortable, and definitely something that required thought, it didn’t especially bother me. When you have a condition that can cause organ rupture, aortic dissection, and cerebral hemmorhages (the first of which struck my grandfather, and last of which has killed his mother and brother), you have to get a certain degree of comfort with your own mortality. It’s never a comfortable thought, really, but you look at yourself and say ‘these things are possible’.

And then we had to talk about the other side of things. The side we know will someday happen – that Hudson will grow older, slower, and need to retire…and that he will die. I think a good third of us cried during this part of the day. It is strange, these dogs have been in our lives for less than two weeks, and yet we are already distressed by the idea of losing them.

Developing fibromyalgia* two years ago, I remember what it was like to suddenly lose a great deal of my physical abilities. I know that when Hudson retires (or dies before he is old enough to retire), I will go through that again – the loss of what has become part of my self. If he is retired, then hopefully he will be able to work until I am able to get a new dog, so that it will not be this huge loss of abilities as well as this loss of the constant company of my partner.

And I remember when we put the dog I grew up with to sleep. Sarah came into my parents’ life 6 months before I was born, so she was always there in my life. When I was 12, she became very ill – she was having seizures, and the seizure medication made her confused. As I recall, they believed she had brain lesions, but without performing an expensive MRI, they could not be certain. That summer, when I went away to camp, my parents put her to sleep. I did not know it would happen; I came home and her collar was on the kitchen table. I have not entirely forgiven them for that, for never giving me a chance to say goodbye. I loved Sarah.

How much more traumatic will it be to lose Hudson? He will be a part of my self, this furry four-legged partner who is never away from me. I do not even go to the bathroom without him now, and I care for him already.

The person who leads training – the founder of this organization, and a woman who is on her second service dog – retired her first service dog a few years ago, and lost him two years ago. She still has not bought his memorial stone, though she has decided what it will say, because she still grieves too deeply to do it. These dogs are best friend, partner, self. If you could have heard the way her voice breaks when she talks about it, and seen the tears well up in her eyes two years after losing Nelson (who was an old dog when he died), then perhaps you could understand the depth of the relationship between a person and their service dog.

On the way home, I asked the boyfriend if he would want to keep the dog in the event I passed away, and he said that of course he would. I intend to add the contingency that if he and I should not be together, or if he should be unable or unwilling to take Hudson, he will be offered to my parents – though I suspect that if they know that Hudson will be placed with someone he can help (another service partner or as a home companion), they will likely decide they cannot give him the kind of life he ought to have.

Our homework for the night was more reading on the subject – a chapter in a book about a blind couple’s several service dogs who have been retired, a piece written as the ‘last will and testament’ of a service dog, and an article about the transition between old and new dog.

Aiya. What a hard day. A full week later and my eyes are tearing up thinking about this again. I hope…I hope…that Hudson and I have a long partnership, and that he has a long and happy retirement. Life does not always turn out as we wish, but I hope.

*not an official diagnosis, but a highly suspected one

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Monday, June 29: Day 10

Today we went off to a local (delightful) garden. Our hosts, one of whom is a retired landscape architect, have spoken well of the garden, and promised us that we will enjoy it. To be completely honest, I was rather looking forward to this trip as far as where we were going – I truly enjoy gardens, and as it turns out, so does Hudson.

He didn’t enjoy having to walk over grates in the floor. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but Hudson hates walking over grates. At our host’s, there is a 18″ wide grate that extends across the entire drive between where we park and where the house is. He started by refusing to come near it, lying down to make his refusal clear. Then he would take this great lurching LEAP over it – the first time nearly knocked me over. Obviously, this was not acceptable. So we’ve been working on the grate, giving him the really nice treats when he noses it, or puts a foot on it, or gets closer to walking nicely over it. There’s been clear improvement, but it’s still difficult.

At the gardens, we had this opportunity to work over grates that were wide enough that Hudson couldn’t jump over the whole thing. He was not pleased by this turn, which is amusing because he’s been brought to this very place and walked over these very grates dozens of times. The first handful, he attempted to rush, but I was on a scooter which gave me more leverage in holding him to the sedate pace that matched mine. He got treats and lavish praise as he behaved well on the grates, and as the day continued, he got better and better. Eventually, I was actually walking beside him, and able to do so without being tugged and pulled. It felt like an enormous victory.

He also decided that he didn’t mind picking things up (much). We worked on the objects that seemed the most challenging – plastic water bottles I knew he wanted to crunch, a piece of a pinch collar (because he tries to walk away from me when I pick his up in the morning), and so on. Ha! I knew Friday’s pill bottle crunching (he actually broke it into pieces he crunched it so often) was a challenge. One of our trainers even brought a pill bottle so I could make him do it again, and he started crunching, so I put my hand under his chin…and he stopped. Obviously, this is a battle he and I will have to fight – he likes crunching things, and pill bottles in particular are important so that I can send him to get my medication.

The gardens were absolutely breathtaking, and included an entire room full of orchids. I love orchids. I currently have 3 orchid plants, though one – the first plant I got in my then-apartment and a housewarming gift from my boyfriend – has been slowly dying. These were in the most fantastic colors, and the blossoms varied from no larger than the tip of my finger to as large as my hand. The waterlily pond was fantastic, as well – I never knew that waterlilies came in so many colors! I very much want some of the fantastic blue-purple ones we saw, some day, when we own a house and can put in a little lily pond.

By the end of the day, I was so completely and utterly spent that the trainers let me go home while everyone else had to wander the gift shop (I think mostly due to my exhaustion, which was so severe that even forming sentences was difficult, but I suspect also because Hudson and I had worked so damn hard and done so well)

All in all, it was a very good day. Hudson was on the whole very well behaved and pretty darn attentive, we had a big break-through on his behavior over grates (I think), the gardens were lovely, and the boyfriend and I really enjoyed ourselves (he, as it happens, likes gardens too although I suspect that my love of plants has caused him to like them more than he did before he met me). While we were there as a group, we got to wander off on our own a fair bit, as long as we were in the right general part of the gardens. We had lunch with probably my favorite other recipient (M, who is paired with Valiant), and otherwise we just drifted through the gardens as it suited our fancy.

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