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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Goals and inspiration

I play this game with myself sometimes: I'll lay in bed for a few minutes every morning (or for as long as Murphy allows) and pretend I'm somewhere else. I'll pretend that I'm in a bedroom in my very own house, and that I have to get up to feed the horses. I pretend that I can just let Murphy out the door to follow me to the barn and that he can sniff and roll and cavort as he chooses, without fear that he will be accosted by someone else's dog. I pretend that I am living the life I want and deserve and have dreamed about since I was almost in diapers. And then I am poked relentlessly by an enthusiastic, wet snoot attached to a wiggling body until I open my eyes and get out of bed.

It's tough to be discouraged when the first thing I see in the morning is a happy Dober-face, but even then when I open my eyes and find that I'm in exactly the same place as yesterday, the day before, and the day before that...well, it does happen. While I understand that I am where I need to be, I'm nowhere near where I want to be. On a logical level, I know I have worked very hard to move forward and continue to do so, but without seeing some kind of tangible proof of progress, it gets hard to maintain any enthusiasm. I am okay, I am grateful for all that I am, all that I've learned and all that I have. Even more so, I am grateful for the people I have in my life, the people I have had in my life and the abilities I've been given to utilize as I see fit. I realize that on many levels, there are folks that would give anything even to be where I am. I know how fortunate I've been. But that's not the point. This isn't my life. This is not the life I was meant for by any stretch of the imagination, and my heart so longs to reclaim the parts of me that, for sanity's sake, have had to remain dormant and waiting for opportunity. Some days it feels like it's killing me.

And that's what it's about sometimes, isn't it? Opportunity. A single word that can mean the difference between success or failure. I know it's important from my own experience, and more recently from watching my daughter work her butt off, and still never be able to achieve what the others did because her mom couldn't afford the same opportunities as the other parents. Money can't by talent, but you can have all the talent in the world and get nowhere if you don't have opportunity. It was more difficult to watch than to experience personally. And it drives me.

When I get discouraged, I find that it helps to read the blogs of folks who I admire. We're all in different places in our evolution, we all eventually overcome our difficulties. I am encouraged when I see another person achieve a goal, or when I find humor in another's perspective. It gives me hope when I read about hope, when I can see what human beings are capable of overcoming and achieving. I am discouraged, but I'm not alone. In my real world and in the places I frequent in cyber-space, there are amazing folks cheering me on both directly and unintentionally. Right now especially, I need to remember that those resources are always there, and to immerse myself in all the "positive" that I can. Maybe then, and with a dose of sheer tenacity, I will open my eyes and find that I have achieved my goals, and we are living our lives at last.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The High Cost of Profiting from Fraud

I don't want to be angry today. It's an encouraging, hot, sunny day in a long line of encouraging, hot, sunny days. It's a Saturday, the day that others are out and about so we are in and chillin' in the AC. Murphy and I enjoyed a nice mani-pedi this morning (neither of us like polish) and I have a nice, strong pot of fresh coffee keeping me motivated. It's summer time, and the livin' is easy. But I'm not just angry, I'm P***ed. I often find myself so when I see someone profiting from fraud, especially when it's at my expense (and at the expense of others like me) Call me crazy. Today's perpetrator is a company called Free My Paws, who claim to be "the resource for service animal owners". There are LOTS of companies that sell gear for service dogs, so what's so wrong with this one?

First, a little background. The service dog "industry" is largely unregulated. This has been found necessary because of the wide range of needs of legitimately disabled handlers. Imposing specific tests on SD/handler teams would mean that some folks with significant need would be unable to have a SD. Even so, it is widely accepted that wherever it is possible, a service dog should complete a Canine Good Citizen test to determine suitability prior to beginning their service dog training and take a Public Access Test at the direction of a professional trainer to ensure that the dog is ready to work outside the home. Generally speaking, disabled folks who rely on service dogs work very hard at ensuring that their dogs can perform as needed, and do so without public inconvenience.

As I mentioned, there are many companies that cater to the needs of service dog handlers. They provide goods to better facilitate the team, and in general, make life easier. They don't ask for any kind of verification either. The difference here is, they don't tell you how to pass off your pet as a service dog just so you can take them everywhere with you. Free My Paws does, and they seem to have no problem at all with what they are doing. Check out this video: Free My Paws website video . There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to begin.

Let's start with the Q&A section (which is, btw, exceptionally offensive to folks who have legitimate disabilities, pretty much ensuring that only fraudulent users are going to shop FMP)

If you yourself would like to perpetrate fraud, be warned. These folks gloss over some pretty important points in order to convince the pet-owning public that anyone can take their dog anywhere, it's easy. I won't go down the whole Q&A list, but I'll pull out some of the more disgusting examples:

Q: What is a Service Animal?
A. The ADA defines a Service Animal as any Guide Dog, Signal Dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability, so long as the person’s disability falls under the ADA’s definition of physical or mental impairment or condition.


Here is the ADA's definition (as found here):
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

As much as FMP would like to gloss over the "training, work and task" part to encourage "Joe pet owner" to just throw a vest on his pet dog, that part is the essence of a service dog. Yes, they do mention "training", but they don't elaborate and they stop short of discussing the severity and reality of actual disabilities.

Here's my favorite:
Q: I don’t think I am disabled, so do I qualify?
A: You may not think that you’re disabled—yet, you still may be legally “disabled” under the ADA. Just go through our Disability Self-Assessment Test which tracks the ADA’s definitional hoops.

Are you F'ing kidding me? Believe you me, folks with disabilities that are severe enough to warrant the assistance of a service dog are not asking themselves this question. FMP has to know that, but they don't care. They encourage people to find an excuse, a reason that entitles them to take their pet wherever they go. It's no better than "I have a touch of asthma sometimes, I'm entitled to park in a handicapped spot".

And this, the real purpose of these folks:
Q: Does my ID Card expire? A. Yes, the ID Cards are valid for 1 year. In order to remain compliant with most transport administrations requirement that documentation be current within one year, we require our clients to renew their IDs each year. Note that the same rules may also apply to any Doctor's certificates you provide airlines when travelling. If you purchased your ID as part of a kit, an ID renewal is available for $19.99 per annum (normally $39.99).

Guess what folks, as any legitimate service dog handler will tell you, ID cards are NOT NECESSARY.

From the ADA: When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Even so, ID cards can make life easier. And they can be purchase at any service dog store for about $20. And they don't expire. At least they mentioned a letter from a doctor, which DOES need to be current within one year. While medical documentation of the specifics of your disability are not allowed, if you want to travel it is expected that you provide a letter from your doctor stating that you are disabled and require a service dog. I'm sure there are doctors who have no problem at all with lying, but at least this requirement makes it more difficult for the fakes. Not only does a person need to have a disability under the law, they must have a DOCUMENTED disability, and a doctor's letter confirming this. Nobody is allowed to ask what the disability is, but you must have proof. In my experience (and I fly with my dog regularly), transportation agencies are far more concerned with doctor-verification than with some ID you purchased online.

I guess the most reprehensible part of what Free My Paws is doing, is exploiting the ADA and in turn, risking the rights of legitimate service dog handlers. They are saying (and carefully, within barely legal parameters) "Hey, this is vague enough that YOU TOO may get to experience the joys of bringing your pet with you everywhere, come spend money here and we'll help make that happen". And why is this not okay? Well, the easy answer is because it makes light of the plight of those with legitimate need. But the biggest consequence that I've personally witness is the prominence of ill-mannered "service dogs". Pet owners largely don't grasp the reality of having your dog go with you everywhere, and are unprepared (as are the dogs) for the experience. I have seen dogs licking plates in restaurants, running off-leash at the beach, barking in movie theaters and walking up to strangers for a pat on the head, all while wearing a vest declaring them a "service dog". NONE of this behavior is okay or acceptable while on the job, but it's what the public sees. It's what gatekeepers at businesses see, it's what the travel industry sees. And it makes life that much harder for those with real need, whose dogs are trained and well-prepared for the rigors of public access. If it continues, it may force changes in the laws that could significantly harm the cause of the truly disabled. In short (yeah, I know...too late for that), Free my Paws is doing harm to the disabled community, just to make a buck, and it's reprehensible.

On the upside, fraudulent service dog handlers are frequently 'outed' by their dog's behavior, and the public does have recourse: From the ADA: A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

While it's true that real service dogs make mistakes, they are few and far between  and tend to be promptly dealt with by the handler.

I know I shouldn't take the behavior of  Free My Paws so personally, but they minimize the legitimate difficulties of living with a disability by turning it into nothing more than an excuse to take your dog everywhere. It's disgusting, and I wish there was something that could be done about it. I guess the only thing that I or people like me can do is be sure to purchase our equipment from legitimate sources and to spread the word. I know that within our community at the very least, any dog sporting FMP equipment will be immediately identifiable as a fraud.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feelin' hot, hot, hot...

Swamp cooler from Ruffwear
We're having a heat wave, or so it would seem. We have been fortunate here in the Northeast; while it has been hotter than is usual for this time of year, it hasn't been horrid. In other parts of the country though, folks haven't been so lucky. Heat can be difficult to escape. It isn't like the cold when you can just layer up or hunker down inside. There are only so many layers you can remove (or should remove), and even if it were legal to run around "layer-less", it would still be hot. And it's not just too hot for people. Animals can suffer terribly in the heat too.

I have been working on tweaking my "hot-weather dog-survival" system for many years and I think I have it down. Maybe there is more tweaking on the horizon, but I feel I have a system that works. If it works for a service dog (who doesn't always have the option of just avoiding the outside) then I suspect it could be helpful for pets too. I'll start with a couple of "Don'ts":

1) DON'T SHAVE YOUR DOG. Having a coat in the summer is NOT the equivalent of "wearing a fur coat" to us. We sweat through our skin. Covering our skin makes it near impossible for us to cool down. A dog's coat insulates...against the heat as well as the cold. They do not sweat through their skin, so having a coat does not prevent them from cooling. There is also some evidence that shaving a dog can stress the thyroid (Google shaved dogs and thyroid, but here's a link to start: ). It's literally and figuratively not cool.

The other big "Don't" is:

2) DON'T WET DOWN THE WHOLE DOG. Water in the coat can actually trap heat next to the skin. Wetting down the dog's chest/belly/paws will do much more to cool them off than wetting the whole body. The exception here, is a dog that has access to a pool or lake (or ocean). Being immersed in cool water for a period of time can be very cooling, unlike getting wet and then hanging about with a wet coat.

While we are on the subject of how dogs keep cool, I would feel negligent if I didn't point out that dogs absolutely need to be able to pant. I realize that sounds like a big ol' "duh", but I have seen an alarming number of dogs being walked in fabric muzzles (or leather ones that fit like fabric) and that's something that should NEVER happen. The only type of muzzle that is suitable for exercise is a properly fitted basket muzzle. They still prevent biting, but they also allow the dog to breathe and pant and drink. Fabric muzzles hold the dog's mouth closed. It is the equivalent of us wearing a garbage bag in the sun. These muzzles were never intended for use while exercising, but only for very short-term use like at the vet's office or at the groomer's. Okay, moving along now...

Here is my list of "Do's" with a few product recommendations thrown in for good measure:-)

1) Do exercise your dog early in the morning or late in the evening on a hot day. I get up very early some days because mornings just work best for us. Not only has the sun not baked everything yet, but it's less buggy and I get the park almost to myself.

2) Bring cool water for your dog, always. I am still surprised by how eager my dog is to drink cool water when we are out and about. He is a raw-fed dog, so at home he really doesn't drink much. When we are out on a hot day though, he will drink a LOT. I always carry a water bottle for him, either in a sling or a back pack, and I always fill it with ice. My favorite water bottle is this one: H2O4K9 I like their sling too.

3) Take plenty of breaks in the shade. I try to avoid being out during the hottest part of the day, but if I need to (and consequently my dog does too) I try to get some place where there is air conditioning, or to at least find a cool spot to relax a bit.

4) Cool-down coats DO help! You can wet down the coat so your dog gets the benefit of evaporative cooling without having water in his/her coat. It's important to note here that they tend to work better when they are damp, not so much when they are dripping wet. I have two of them for different reasons. I keep this one: Oaisis Cooling Coat in my back-pack because it's super light-weight and works well under Murphy's working harness. I have also found that its slightly reflective fabric helps a bit even when it's dry. At the very least it seems to prevent the hot sun from soaking into Murphy's black coat. The other cool coat that I really like is this one: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler , which I consider the 'big gun'. This is the one I take to Florida with us when we go. I soak it, I wring it out and I clip Murphy's ID right to it and use it alone (we exercise on the beach in Florida where I'm not likely to need his harness). I'm always amazed by how cool it feels underneath!

5) Be mindful of hot pavement! It gets really hot, really fast. Teach your dog to wear boots ( help here: Training a Dog to Wear Booties ), and then use them if they need to be on pavement on a hot day. Your dog's paw pads can literally cook on the tarmac, so either use boots or avoid it altogether. I like these: Ruffwear Grip Trex boots  because they fit my dog well, have soles that are thick enough to insulate against the heat and because I could buy them individually for the same price as a full set (that's a very convenient policy if your dog is like mine and has rear paws and front paws that are different sizes). Because your dog also sweats through his or her paws, make sure to take the boots off periodically if you're out for any length of time. During your "break in the shade" is the perfect time to let paws breathe:-)

6) Dogs need eye protection too! As much as your eyes appreciate the UV protection of a good pair of sunglasses, so would your dog's eyes. If I am out for the day with my dog and I need sunglasses, I make sure to afford him the same care. I have found these: Doggles  to be both readily accepted, and to stay put. They block UV's, they are shatterproof and they don't fog. They are an affordable solution to damaging UV rays.

7) Put sunblock on the pink spots. I have a black dog now so it's not a concern, but I used to have a dog with a big, pink spot on the top of his nose. Because the hair was so sparse in that area, it was quite prone to sunburn. I made sure to put a good sunblock on it, and it did the trick. No more sun burn:-) Dogs have skin too, so if you see any pink, make sure to protect it:-)

8) Home management. Make sure there is a place for your dog to escape the heat at home. I have air conditioning because I am a wuss and I like a temperate environment; Murphy sure appreciates that too. At the very least, keep a room shaded, keep the air moving and throw a few ice cubes in the drinking water. There are cool beds and cool mats on the market too. I have never used them so I can't make any personal recommendations, but if you have experience with them, feel free to comment! They seem like a great idea. I know a lot of folks who use kiddie-pools too, and their dogs seem to enjoy them a great deal. Keep them clean, keep the water cool and make sure your dog has a place in the shade to dry off and they are a GREAT way to beat the heat.

And of course it goes without saying: NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A PARKED CAR IN THE SUMMER. Even if you leave the car running with the AC on, a car can stall. I know of more than one police dog who lost their life that way. Even with all the windows open, the car can still be hot as Hades. DON'T DO IT. Leave your dog at home if you can't take him out of the car with you. Don't stop and run an errand "just for a minute"; run your errands another time. NO DOGS LEFT IN CARS. PERIOD. Okay, sermon over:-P

If you have any other cool ideas to help your dog enjoy the summer and beat the heat, please feel free to share!

Friday, July 6, 2012

For want of new feet...

If you know me, you know I am a walkaholic. I walk for my sanity and I walk to burn off the excess physical energy that builds from my current, unnatural state of horselessness. I walk just to stir the mental pot; there's something about doing a calming and repetitive physical activity that stimulates the mind in a positive way. I walk because it's less frustrating than pacing, because I feel like I'm doing something, getting somewhere. Sometimes I walk because it's all I can do. Except now, I can't.

Apparently, there are consequences (who knew?) to walking obsessively. I suppose there didn't have to be, but I guess I never entertained the possibilities until it was too late. I've always been able to walk forever, and I totally took for granted that it was all good. Enter: plantar fasciitis. The first time I heard those words, I was all "planter wha?". I damaged the muscles in the bottoms of my feet. How stupid is that? I had never heard of such a thing, and now I'm hearing that it's really common. Maybe if I had heard of it before, I could have prevented it. Wearing 'dead' shoes and having high arches (and a big ol' rear-end) are all contributing factors. I could have at least done something about the shoes, maybe. But I didn't. So now it's all about dealing with the "after-ness" of the damage. Damn.

Unfortunately, I also tend to subscribe to the "work through it" notion of dealing with physical pain. I have had pain in my feet for a year. I iced them after walking. I bought good shoes with special insoles. I took Advil. But I did NOT stop walking. Now, the pain is excruciating and I have no choice. DAMN. Now, I have special shoes to wear when I sleep and I am in physical therapy. Yes, I screwed my own self up that badly. Who does that? Me, apparently (well, and my daughter. She runs and isn't great about taking days off. She ran herself into a stress fracture a couple of years ago. Apparently it's hereditary;-) But as painful as it is, I can't help but think it's kind of funny, too. It's the usual kind of weird and twisted sort of situation that I tend to find myself in. And as if I'm not drop-dead-sexy enough, those special, night-time boots just make me that much hotter. You should see me struggle into them at night. Even better, I'm not supposed to walk on them, so if I have to get up to use the bathroom in the night, I have to take them off first and then struggle into them all over again. Because I'm not my sharpest in the middle of the night, it's no easy task and one that I am thankful there are no witnesses for. The limping around my apartment saying "ow ow ow ow" isn't exactly what I had in mind, either. I am not enjoying myself.

Physical therapy might be a bright light in the distance though. I've had one treatment that was more of an assessment, but they promised it would help...and that I could use the stationary bikes. I am being diligent about doing my stretches and wearing my special shoes, and maybe I can take out 'the crazy' on the bikes. Maybe, just maybe, I can get through my unfortunate incarceration with the shred of sanity that I possess, intact. I am pretty used to being crazy, but not at all used to any kind of physical limitation, and I gotta tell ya, I have no intention of getting used to it.

Until my feet have healed, I will make the best of it, do what I'm supposed to do, and continue to sing "I'm too sexy" to myself every time I boot up for the night, just to remind myself that in spite of current, outward appearance, I'm still fabulous:-)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

There used to be this thing called subtlety...

Once upon a time, in a land long ago, there was an honorable thing called "manners". Children were raised to say "please" and "thank you", to give the best seats to the adults and to have self control. Adults felt no compelling need to let every word they think just fall from their mouths, they knew how to speak politely to each other even in disagreement. A handshake was as good as a contract. It was such a lovely place, where people had class and respect for each other. And lo, they even had respect for themselves! What a world it was, and what a life. And what a shock to be tossed headlong into this one.

I walk uncomfortably in a graceless world, hearing and seeing ignorant and unapologeticly rude political commentary. Children are actively and openly disrespectful. Shows like "Jersey Shore", that showcase and promote the most vapid, shallow and tactless of human behavior, are the popular programs of the day. Self-centeredness is misconstrued as good boundaries, and self-esteem is related only to shallow appearances and pursuits. Where is honor and depth?

I see goodness sometimes, so I know it exists. It exists in more places than it would initially appear. Sometimes it's hard to find because it lacks the garishness and drama of common, attention-seeking behavior. It is calm, subtle, and persistent. It persists in spite of obnoxious narcissism. It persists in spite of  a frequent and tenacious need to shock and disgust with a complete lack of couth or accuracy. It persists in action and effort, contrary to the verbal explosion of never-ending noise that surrounds it. I look for good everywhere, and get better and better at spotting it.

I know good people, and I know great people. The great are self-contained, confident. They don't need to constantly shout about themselves and their opinions in all possible venues. They know how to use language graciously. Clearly, I am not great, but I am blessed to know great people. They don't talk but they act. They don't go on about their opinions, but implement changes that they know are right. They have enough respect for themselves that they respect other people. Their respect of others means that they speak clearly but diplomatically in all venues. A great person knows how to make a point without put-downs or sarcasm; they have respect and reason on their side and that's enough. It's good to remember.

I can't go back to a previous time or place. What I can do, though, is bring the good things forward with me. It means being mindful and making an effort to avoid getting caught by some of the more ridiculous scenarios that currently exist. It means remembering to be who i am in spite of who I'm dealing with. No easy task, but perhaps worth the effort.