My Girls’ Canine Family!

Recently, I got to chat with someone from Guiding Eyes who shared the family information for both of my guide dogs.

Oleta was born on October 23, 2009 to parents Loren and Mark.  Her siblings in birth order are:

Orchard (released)

Osa (released, but became a different sort of service dog)

Bailey (released)

Oak (retired guide dog)

Oleta (retired guide dog)

Opera (released)

Ogden (retired guide dog)

Octavian (released)

Prim was born on October 21, 2015 to parents Peter and Daphne.  Her siblings are:

Peyton (in training)

Promise (released)

Posh (released)

Peace (working guide dog)

Parker (released)

Pongo (detection dog)

Pearl (working guide dog)

Prim (working guide dog)

Pumkin (working guide dog)

It’s great to know where my sweet girls came from.  I’m hoping we can meet some of Prim’s siblings!  We already know her sister Pumpkin, who was in training when we were in class in September.  It was pretty clear they knew that they are sisters, judging by how much they wanted to play together every time they saw each other. ❤

So thankful to Guiding Eyes for breeding, raising, and training so many fantastic dogs.

A Second “Second Journey” – Training with my Second Guide Dog

And so it begins. Just as there was a second journey recorded on this blog in Scotland absent of Oleta, my darling first guide dog, here commences yet another second journey in her absence, that is, my second experience at guide dog school, and a new partnership with another wonderful Guiding Eyes dog. I plan to keep a careful account of my training and related musings in the pages of this blog. My hope is that it will prove useful both for me as an opportunity to reflect on the things I am learning and feeling throughout the process, and for others who want to discover more about guide dogs and guide dog training. When I was a teenager preparing for my first guide dog at 16, I scoured every website I could possibly find related to guide dogs. Training blogs like this were one of my favorite ways to learn more about guide dogs in general, as well as specifics about the varied training philosophies and programs in existence.  If this account is as interesting to someone else as similar blogs were to me as a first time applicant to guide dog school, I would be humbled (and also impressed that your attention span is that long because seriously I am a wordy writer.  Haha. Prepare yourself!)

See you in New York!

Review: GDUI Guide Dog Harness sign and audio Unboxing

Oleta has a sign on her harness that reads, “Please do not pet.”
Judging from the message on the sign, you might assume that it is designed to prevent people from petting Oleta while in harness, but it is actually utilized as a tool for assessing literacy skills in the general public. I am ashamed to report that they are abysmal, even among professors and university students! In fact, surprisingly, children seem to score much higher on these impromptu literacy exams than any other demographic! (That’s true by the way. Children that I have encountered in schools, malls, and other public venues have been much more respectful of the harness. Adults are the ones who tend toward illiteracy and deviousness.)
To facilitate further study of the rampant illiteracy in modern adults, I recently ordered a new harness sign from guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI), which is an advocacy oriented organization affiliated with the American Council of the Blind (ACB). You can find their website, and an official description of my new harness sign
here.
I am so excited about this sign! Not only does it feature the lettered message, “PLEASE DON’T PET WORKING DOG”, in yellow print against a black background, it also includes a picture of a person going to pet a dog, with the universal no sign over it. I am interested to see how this influences our results in the study.
I know I should say I’m kidding about the literacy thing, but I’m so close to not kidding I’m not sure it’s worth it haha. People do constantly ignore Oleta’s harness sign and it does more than drives me crazy; it places us (Oleta and I) in danger as a team. More on that in another post.
Anyway, this new harness sign is quite an improvement, I think, from my old, not very well-designed version… I designed it, so I can say that. 🙂
For an audio version of the unboxing and description, visit
this link.
The sign is rectangular, with the printed message and two reflective strips on the front, a zipper into the pouch on the top, and straps on the back. There are two horizontal straps with back-pack style adjustable buckles, and one vertical strap that runs over the horizontal ones to keep the sign from sliding off the end of the harness. There are also panels of grippy material on either side of the back of the sign, to prevent it from sliding on the harness handle. I think all of these features will be so useful, and I am very pleased to have finally purchased it.
Thank you GDUI!

Breaking Booties (By Oleta Renee)

You’ve seen me in them multiple times this week, and yes, it’ll keep happening… It’s the same comment every time. “Aw, that dog has little shoes!”

There are two problems with this… no, three.

  • 1. They are called booties, not “little shoes’. I make this distinction because
  • 2. ‘Little shoes’ sounds cute. They are not cute. It’s easy to become confused, I’m sure, considering my high level of fashionality, but they are part of the job. They protect my paws in extreme temperatures (both hot and cold), and from salt and chemicals on the road in freezing conditions.
  • 3. Also, they are highly uncomfortable. We dogs are built much sturdier than you humans, and while getting salt stuck between your paw pads or dancing on street corners because of the heat is definitely unpleasant, I almost prefer it to wearing such a ridiculous form of attire. During booty season, Shea is fond of telling me, “Oleta, it’s really not that bad. I wear shoes every day!” But here’s the thing… I don’t!
  • Admittedly, there is one slight benefit to wearing booties. They give me all kinds of traction… which means wherever I want Shea to go, she goes. Now, I don’t take advantage of this very often. Usually, it’s helpful to keep both of us from sliding on ice, and so much more fun than slipping around on the slick tile in those college buildings of ours… at dinner time though… we’re goin’ home, and with my four-paw drive, there’s not much Shea can do about it. Hey, don’t judge me… this is a give and give relationship. Shea gives me booties, I give her attitude. Fair is fair.

    That said, booties are part of guide work, and I love my job, so as much as I detest them, I will keep wearing them for the sake of keeping Shea safe… don’t tell Shea I said that though.

    P.S.
    The title of this post is, yes, a play on the show title “Breaking Bad’, because my chosen career is so bachelor of arts (BA) in general, but it’s really more about my sincere desire to actually break my booties. Just thought I should clarify. Until next time, over and out.

    A Second Journey: Sunrise Christian School

    It was an early start yesterday as we left at 8:00 Am for Sunrise Christian School, where we would be working most of the day.  I say working, but it wasn’t really work at all.  I have immensely enjoyed every day that I have spent in Scotland, but I think Sunrise has been one of my absolute favorites so far, at least with regards to the actual work we were doing.

    For the first hour, the team retreated to a separate room to do team and personal worship, and allow the students to get their morning lessons finished.  The school is very small.  There were five girls there yesterday, and there are only a few more students in the school that are not there on Wednesdays.

    We met the girls during their first break time at about 9:30 Am.  They were very chatty and full of energy.  After a few minutes getting to know them a bit, the students took their seats again and we started our presentations.  Similar to our  Buchanan presentation last Friday, we started with psalm singing, then performed our Good Samaritan skit.  We sang a bit more after the skit, and I got the opportunity to teach the girls a new psalm!

    My team leader asked if I could give my testimony, so I told my story and the way God had used my blindness to bring me near to Him.  The teacher (who is our friend and a member of the Airdrie congregation) had also requested that I talk a bit about Oleta, despite her absence.  Sunrise is sponsoring a guide dog puppy for her traininG!  I know, how perfect!  She is a yellow lab called Angel!  I explained a bit about what exactly a guide dog does and showed the girls two videos of Oleta, one with her booties on working in the snow, and the other of her playing hide and seek in one of our music buildings at university.  They loved her, which only warmed my heart further.

    After our bit, we sat down in the girl’s chairs, they stood up at the front, and showed us some of the things they had learned over the year.  First they sang a version of psalm 25, “Unto You Oh Lord”, then recited at least 20 questions of the Presbyterian catechism by memory.  They were so earnest, and I was absolutely enchanted.  I know it took work to get there.  I know teaching is a difficult job, especially when you are not only teacher but administrator, secretary, disciplinarian, finance manager, and occasionally transportation, but after seeing some of the things they have accomplished, after witnessing first hand the way a teacher might guide their pupils along a path of faith, I want to be a teacher myself.  I never thought teaching would be the life for me, but my heart longs for nothing more than to be back with those little girls, guiding and instructing them to develop their talents, and live a life full to bursting with prayer, fellowship, song, and the Joy of Christ.  I suppose I may experience something similar as a mother, but who knows… primary school teaching may be in my future as a profession.

    We spent lunch with them, which was wonderful, and then went to a park for a sponsored walk to raise money for the school.  We played in the park for a bit before the walk.  I got to be a train conductor and save several of the girls from certain destruction, ride a zip line, and be a pirate in the crow’s nest of a flying ship.  We were going to Las Vegas, so the ship had to be flying otherwise we would have a really long walk to get there.  Our ship was actually a rope pyramid, that one of the girls and I climbed to the top of and wove our story as we swayed in the breeze.  I also built a sand castle with another of the children in the park’s giant sand pit.  Seriously, I am 20 years old and this park was epic even for me, and playing pretend with these precious girls was just amazing.

    For the walk, I linked arms with one of my team.  A student walked on either side of us, one to my right and another to my team member’s left.  We sang psalms, marched to the Ant’s Go Marching, picked flowers, commented on the geese and dogs and ducks we saw, and when it started raining near the end of the walk, dreamed of tea and a hot meal when we got home.  It was cold, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a more enjoyable afternoon.  At the end, we hugged the sweet girls farewell.  I gave one of them the flowers others had picked for me along the way, and we climbed into the car to a chorus of goodbyes, well wishes, and hopes that I would say hello to Oleta for them.  How my heart swelled to hear them, and to hear them speak of Oleta, whom they haven’t even met.  That’s it, I decided, I have to bring her back to see them next year.

    I don’t know if a third trip to Scotland is in God’s plan for me next year, but I am praying about it, and hope to make a decision much earlier this time.  Already I long to return, and I’m sure that will not change.  Still, it is not a decision I wish to make lightly.

    A Second Journey: Update on Oleta

    Many of you have asked where Oleta will be staying and what she will be doing during my absence.  I was hoping to get something directly from her and post it here, but I’m afraid she does not have access to a computer or phone and so I will have to do the updating I’m afraid. 🙂

    For the first few days, Oleta stayed with my Dad.  She was actually able to go into work with him, and made quite a few new acquaintances during her time in the office.  Over the weekend, she visited with her friend Dozer, a family friend’s chocolate lab, though Dad did say that even that get together didn’t cheer her up, she’s been missing me so much.  That makes me so sad, because I can’t phone her and tell her that I will be back soon, and that she doesn’t have to worry, but then again, I can’t even seem to convince myself of that so I guess it’s a lost cause anyway.  It’s also comforting in a way, to know that she is missing me as much as I am missing her.  I’m not really alone in this, even though it feels like it sometimes.

    Monday, my Mom took her for a walk and then met up with a puppy raiser from Guiding Eyes, who was driving one of her puppies up to New York.  With a little coaxing from Mom, Oleta jumped into the crate in the back of the puppy raisers van, next to her travel buddy Hendrix, a five month old German Shepherd pup.  Later, Mom got a call from Guiding Eyes, assuring her that Oleta will be spoiled rotten at the GEB kennels.  She has a roommate, goes out to play with the other dogs multiple times a day, will get a thorough check up from the vet there, and will be worked several times a week by the trainers.

    I hate to think of her there, worrying that I abandoned her, but I am glad that Guiding Eyes is so willing to go above and beyond to care for my sweet guide and dearest companion.  I’m sure the work with the trainers will do her good; getting into harness is something she wouldn’t be able to do if she were staying with my family, so I’m very pleased that she will have that opportunity.  Work is always a great distraction, and this way Oleta and I will both have plenty to keep us occupied.

    I am still aching for her, but I am glad that she is safe and in good hands and paws.  I hope that this can somehow prove to be a regenerative period for both Oleta and I, and that our bond can only grow stronger during our separation.  I love you Oleta.

    Ponderings With Oleta Renee: Saying Yes to Less Stress

    Shea is worried about her visa, and it’s proving very distracting for her.  She was too busy Thursday morning sending an email to the British consulate to give me breakfast at the proper time… (And for your future reference, when stress gets the best of breakfast, it’s become much too serious and there must be an intervention… or at least some kibble).  In any case, while I was waiting for my food, I thought I’d explore this topic of stress a bit further.

    Being a guide dog can be stressful.  I’ve got a lot to worry about.  Why?  Because the entire success of my job depends on my ability to keep my mom alive and uninjured on a daily basis.  That’s a big responsibility!

    And the thing is, it’s not like we’re dancing through fields of daisies every day kind of protection.  It’s like, “there is a giant bus coming straight for us and I have to get us out of the way now!” kind of protection.  Yeah!  And you thought you had worries!

    Still, traffic checks have been so drilled into me that I deal with those situations with pure instinct.  I don’t have time to worry.  It’s a split second decision to figure out how to keep us breathing, and whatever that looks like, I do it.  There are other aspects of my life and career that worry me more.  It’s those times when Mom is on the floor sobbing hysterically about the horrors of sophomore year (and they are horrifying.  We’ll tell you about them sometime), or when she is on the floor comforting someone else sobbing hysterically about the horrors of sophomore year, or when she ends up in the hospital for two and a half days for emergency surgery (yep, that happened)

    On a slightly less catastrophic scale though, there are those moments when Shea and I are traveling in an unfamiliar area, and Shea gives me confusing directions (because she doesn’t know where she’s going.  If she would just let me take the leash I’d be where we needed to go in no time)… or when she tells me to find the piano in a room full of people watching us (for juries and other performances.  Seriously, you have no idea how much pressure that is).

    Of course, in all of those situations, it’s not just me that’s worried… it’s Shea as well, and with a relationship as close as our’s, it’s a given that her emotions are my emotions, and vice versa.  That’s two times the stress, folks.  In dog therapy circles that’s called “unhealthy”.

    But there is Good News.  Amidst all this worry, there is a God, a sovereign King, the ultimate pack leader who cares deeply about us, and our stress levels.  In the book of Psalms (Psalm 55:22) God’s Word tells us to “Cast your burden on the Lord , and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

    In First Peter 5:6-7, we are reminded to, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

    Whether you are guiding your blind owner on a busy city street, overwhelmed with school work, fretting for a loved-one in the hospital, performing on a stage, waiting for a decision on a visa application that will decide the fate of your mission trip, your worries have not gone unnoticed.  God knows our troubles, and He wants us to place them in his hands, because He loves us.  He does not want us to be burdened with the cares of the Earth, but focussed on the joys of Heaven.

    So God’s asking us to trust Him.  He wants to bless us with the gift of less stress… and I guess it’s time we said yes.