Tuesday, October 9, 2012

call for submissions for the ninth assistance dog blog carnival

It’s my turn to host the ninth edition of <a href="http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/about-the-assistance-dog-blog-carnival/">The Assistance Dog Blog Carnival</a> CachedYou +1'd this publicly.  This is a quarterly event where people write about a theme related to guide, hearing, mobility, or other assistance dogs.
This time the theme is moments. Some ideas to get you started are:
The moment when your puppy or dog learned a task
The moment you and your dog felt like a team for the first time
Last moments working with or being with your dog
Favorite moments, funny moments, embarrassing moments, ETC
You don’t have to have an assistance dog to participate. You can be a puppy raiser or have some other relationship to assistance dogs.
To participate, you can leave a comment with the following information:
Name of your blog: E.G. Believe in Who You Are
The title of your post: E.G. My Favorite Moments
I know my comments aren’t accessible because of captcha, so you can also email me or tweet @latinanewschic if you want to post. If you could please link to this post when you are writing your entries, that would be helpful.
Deadline for submissions is October 31.

Monday, July 30, 2012

taking new steps

This is my post for The eighth assistance dog blog carnival The topic is marching to your
own drum.
When I received my first dog Valerie in 2006, I knew nothing about dogs.
We never had animals in my house growing up, so it was a completely new
experience for me. I listened to all of the trainers recommendations
about commands, corrections, equipment, medicine, and food. It wasn't
until a couple months later that I started to change.
Valerie wouldn't come on command when she was off-leash or heal on
leash. Doing leash and collar corrections didn't do any good, so I
started looking for help online. I joined some guide dog email lists,
and in one of my google searches, I stumbled on to clicker training and
clicker training podcasts. These helped immensely. She was enthusiastic
about food rewards, no surprise since she's a walking stomach lab. I was
so excited once she learned to put her nose on my hand and learned to
sit between my knees without my need to physically move her into place.
Before that, it never occured to me that my dog could learn commands
other than the ones she learned in class. After I suspected food and
environmental alergies, I found kibble that was human grade and natural
supplements such as fish oil and flower essences that would help her not
scratch so much.
When I received my second dog Zorro, I brought the more human grade
kibble to class and started him on it immediately. He learned hand
targeting and targeting counters before we had been home for two weeks.
I needed a turn around and back up command because I rode a bus every
day, and it was easier if he were facing the isle when we needed to exit
the bus. He had meat food toppers on his kibble after he had tapeworms
because he was too skinny and needed to gain weight. Finally, , I found
him a lighter nylon harness and the martingale collar instead of the
chain or gentle leader. We were never in sync while walking in the
harness from the school, and he refused to work in the gentle leader. I
could more easily feel his subtle movements with the nylon handle, and I
felt better using the martingale collar because it could only tighten so
Last there was Dee. She received fewer corrections since the clicker
foundation was in place from her previous training and I used it as my
first sollution instead of a collar. She came with the martingale
collar, and she did well wearing it. With her, I could do more off-leash
work, teacher to lie down and sit in different positions, and added more
objects for her to find: upstairs, downstairs, trashcan, buttons, and
empty chairs. She also learned some counter balancing and to point her
nose in the direction where there was a sound.
Each time, the list of skills I want and need to teach grows. I prefer
clicker training and operant conditioning over traditional
correction-based training. I've learned to look for more hollistic
solutions to health issues instead of going with the conventional wisdom
of the vet. Other assistance dog handlers are excellent resources, and
they are my first choice for help instead of only relying on the
school's suggestions. I don't march to my own drum as much as assistance
dog partners who owner train, but I add as much as I can to make my dog
and I the best team we can be. Every dog is unique, and I can't wait to
see the different steps my new partner adds to the march.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

just get over it

This is my post for Blogging Against Disablism Day I live with depression characterized by apathy, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, and insomnia. No matter what I did, people’s negative attitudes affected me. Over the past five years, I’ve tried several ways of dealing with it. First was denial; I pretended as if nothing were wrong. I went to classes and participated in clubs and organizations, but my enthusiasm for all of that was gone. Any time someone would ask me if I were ok, I’d smile and change the subject. I knew the stigma that came with mental illness; I’d seen it in movies, heard it in the casual way people tossed out the words crazy and insane, and studied it in-depth in some of my journalism and sociology classes. I was already different enough with the blindness, the adoption, the left-leaning politics in a conservative town, and I *did* not need to add another difference to my list. After the denial came the crash. I had a horrible year after the one where I noticed the depression. My first guide dog was sick, had many vet bills, and retired; my second guide dog got sick and went back to the school; most of my friends graduated; I had money problems paying for school; and I failed my internship. I stopped talking to most people because I didn’t want to share my problems and sound like a whiner. I didn’t want to go to counseling because only unstable people went there. I now know that isn’t true, but it’s what I thought at the time. Eventually, I started doing the anti-depressant wheel. I take something the doctor prescribed; it didn’t work, and I tried another one. By this time, I was out about the depression to friends and family. My family said, “What do you have to be depressed about?” I was also taking a sociology class that did a major study of mental illness. I got to hear how big pharma was ruining everyone’s lives, and anyone who bought into the pills help was a mindless idiot, and he or she deserved whatever happened while on the meds. Thanks professor; I really enjoyed the disorientation, the irritation at everyone and everything, the constant hyper feeling as if I needed to run miles at 2 am, inability to fall asleep, and the nausea. I also heard from classmates in context with the discussion that if those people in the books we read just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and had happier thoughts, the depression would magically go away. Now, I am in a somewhat better place to deal with the depression. I personally don’t take the anti-depressants because I’ve tried too many, and the side effects are just not worth the improvements. I have some supplements that help, and I will try more later this year. I’ve been to counseling, and I see the benefit of sharing feelings with others because it’s not good to hold all the sadness inside. However, I will always be affected by ablest attitudes, my internalized ones as well as those from society in general. I have not told anyone who has any say in my academics or finances. I will not disclose whenever I apply for jobs. Maybe I will someday feel open enough to let those who have authority over me know that, yes, I am one of those crazy people that many talk about with discomfort, but for now, I work on improving my biochemical and emotional health as well as detoxing myself of the ablest attitudes and language I hear every day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

life update

I haven’t written much since I said goodbye to Dee a couple months ago. I still miss her very much. Intellectually I know she’s not here, but when I first wake up, I think I need to go outside or is the water bowl empty? I walk out the door and feel as if I’m lighter or forgetting something, and it’s because I have no dog in my left hand. I also miss her being a guide dog, right now more than ever. However, Shelly says she’s having so much fun playing with her other dog, running around the farm, and going for long walks. She’s friendly and happy to see everyone as usual. She’s gained weight, so she’s not too skinny anymore!! Dee’s happy, and that makes me happy, even though I’m sad at the same time.
I have almost finished my guide dog applications. Southeastern still needs to come do a juno walk with me, but all the paperwork is in for them. Guide dogs of the desert has all paperwork, and I submitted my video last week. Guide dog foundation also has all paperwork and the video, and guiding eyes needs me to get a tb test and some other shot before they can send my application to the admissions people. I’m going to do that today. I really want a golden retriever or german shepherd, but it is soooooo tempting just to go back to gdb and get another lab. The health issues are just annoying enough to make me not want to wait for a non-lab breed dog.
The anemia is still here because I couldn’t get prescriptions for months since I didn’t have a Medicaid card. Now I have insurance again, but I won supplements in an auction started by After Gadget, so I have iron tablets which will hopefully help me not feel as tired and have random dizziness. I also have a b-complex, fish oil, and magnesium which should help with health in general and hypoglysemia. I’ve noticed that since I’ve been off supplements, I eat so much more junk food, and I can’t seem to stop. That is also not helped by the candida infection that I’m sure I have since I match 13 out of the 15 symptoms or something like that. Since I’m out of money, I’ve only been taking them on the days I have class in hopes that it will give me some mental clarity and concentration to make it through the four-hour lectures. I also notice that my balance is slightly off without a dog, and I walk slower on uneven surfaces.
A couple weeks ago, I went for a hearing test. I don’t remember if I’ve written about it here, but I noticed at the end of last year, maybe a little bit before, that I was having trouble crossing streets. I’d stand there at a lighted intersection that I cross frequently and think, “is that traffic on my right, or is it coming from my right side and going perpendicular to me?” And once I realize that it is indeed parallel, it’d be the middle of the cycle and too late to go. Consequently, I spend several cycles like this and take at least 10 minutes trying to cross. My travel confidence was going down, and I felt so incompetent. I lived in Minneapolis for 7 months, crossed eight-lane highways and the interstate, and lived on a lighted intersection that I crossed at least twice every day. I also noticed I was having more trouble than usual following people in noisy environments or having trouble hearing many people in a conversation. We’d be out at a restaurant, and I could hear the people sitting to my left, right, or directly across from me. However, if it was a larger table of more than four, I’d not realize someone was talking to me on the other side, or I’d hear them talking but not understand what they were saying. Sometimes, I can’t tell what direction people’s voices are coming from. I do better if people are sitting or walking behind me and talking than I do when they are sitting or walking in front of me and talking. The doctor says I have some hearing loss. He said that sometimes it only takes people to be aware of it and they will listen harder for sounds. I told him I’d been aware of it for a couple months, and that didn’t work for me. So, he’s ordered me something with amplification because he said he wasn’t concerned so much about communication as he was about safety. I said that was definitely my concern. Dee didn’t help with knowing when to cross because that was not her job; it’s my responsibility to decide when it’s time to go. However, I could tell her forward, and if It were the wrong time in the traffic cycle, she’d refuse the forward command. That would be so helpful right now. I’m hoping the amplification comes soon.
I still have not received funding from my state agency. I took out a student loan to not get purged from classes as well as to avoid being evicted. As I’ve written before, I’ve been paying my rent, and when I had Dee, dog food. That left little money for anything else; I could pay a reader/driver a couple times, and I could pay a couple times to go out to dinner for under $10. After that, I was broke, and thanks to my roommate, I can take a cab or pay for a reader or whatever after I run out. But, that didn’t leave me money for bills; my phone was shut off for months, and I didn’t pay my credit card bill. Since I didn’t pay my credit card bill, the bank suspended my checking account. I had my ssi and social security disability going in as a direct deposit, so I missed that money at the beginning of the month and therefore had no money for rent. Thank God my refund check came from my student loan. I keep getting declined to open a bank account, but I was able to sign the check over to someone else’s account and paid my rent and phone bill that way.
The quarter will be over in three weeks or so. Where has the time gone? So far, I’ve brailled a chapter of a children’s book, made 10 literacy games, turned in a 46-slide power point about phonics, read and attempted to memorize many tables and info about child development, and other mini projects. I still have to finish researching for a 12-page research paper and 15-minute presentation, finish research for another 15-minute presentation, do article summaries/reflection, read the rest of the info for child development, and practice my slate speed and accuracy so I can pass the test. School is overwhelming me right now. We went to a deafblind conference a couple weeks ago, and tomorrow, we’re leaving for the Louisiana state convention. I really wish I had this weekend to do homework!
Things I’m thankful for:
a friend that I met in Minneapolis last summer is coming to hang out and look at attending this masters degree program for teaching blind students.
My rent is paid and phone is back, so I don’t have to worry about that for another month.
My guide dog applications will be done next week, so all I have to do now is wait and pray someone has a dog for me this summer.
I have awesome friends who help me; whether it’s financially or can you tell me what this captcha says, they are great!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Life Long Braille Reader

I’ve been totally blind since birth. My mother is also totally blind, so she knew the importance of literacy.
Ever since I was a baby, she read me stories; she says The Little Red Hen and Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti were two of my favorites. When I was a little older, I would put my hands on the braille, and since I had the story memorized, I would run my hands from left to right across the page, mimicking how I saw her reading.
When I was three, I entered preschool, where I immediately started braille instruction a few times per week, and by the time I entered kindergarten, I knew uncontracted and contracted braille.
After that, I was immersed in braille in school and at home. My textbooks, including math, were braille. The braille teacher made me stories for library time, or I brought books that I had gotten from my state library. All appliances were labeled; I remember standing in our kitchen reading the key for the microwave and asking my mom, “What does m I x spell, or why do you defrost in the microwave if it is supposed to cook things?” Cans of food had dymo tape, as did the spices, jars of jelly, and sometimes packages of frozen food. We had braille playing cards, board games with labels, and instructions for how to play them.
Because of this early instruction, I was a veracious reader. There were whole Saturdays where my mom and I would sit in the same room
Reading our individual books. When I went to relatives’ houses, they often said, “don’t you want to do something else besides read?”
I always took the opportunity to read anything I could get my hands on, and if I could keep the books, that was even better. For example, I was 10 when the National Federation of the blind had its annual convention in Atlanta. It was my first time there, and my mom took me to the free children’s books section. We had UPS mail me 32 books; they were Goosebumps, Anamorphs, and Babysitter’s Club and each one had two or three parts. My bookcase with three shelves was already crammed full, so two boxes were put in my room so I could make space for my new collection.
Being literate helped me participate fully in academics and in extra-curricular activities. That was so useful for all subjects, especially Algebra, geometry, and trig, where equations had several steps as well as biology, chemistry, and physics with tactile diagrams of gene problems, the periodic table, or graphs with acceleration and force per second.
Back then, writing and languages were my passions. I wrote stories for our high school newspaper, magazine, and year book, and I eventually became the copy editor where I edited for spelling, punctuation, AP style, and paragraph structure. I would not have been able to do that through listening to it on the computer. I also took one year of German, two years of French, and four years, including advanced placement, of Spanish. Learning languages has four distinct parts: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If I hadn’t had braille, I would have missed a critical component of this experience. Listening is *NOT* literacy, and I would have missed accent marks and had extreme difficulty learning new words.
I went to college and have degrees in print journalism and sociology. I had many braille textbooks because I scanned them and put them into my notetaker, so I could read them on a braille display. Now, I am studying for my masters degree for teaching blind students.
Helping children enjoy reading leads to success in school and in life. Sadly, many blind children are denied the opportunity for literacy. Since I’m totally blind, there was never a question about my reading medium. However, children who have residual vision are made to struggle with print, reading 10 words per minute and experiencing eye strain headaches. These blind children don’t learn reading is fun and don’t realize true literacy can take them to any real or imaginary world; instead they learn reading is a struggle, and they fall behind academically, which will affect them for the rest of their lives. Too many times, teachers of blind students teach print because they either did not have adequate Braille instruction in their preparation programs, or they believe Braille is too hard, too slow, and old-fashioned. Not true. I was tested a few months ago and can read 180 words per minute out loud and more than 300 per minute silently; that is because I was taught early and encouraged to read.
Today is Read Across America where every child is encouraged to read a book in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. I read The Lorax on my Braille display. Creating life-long readers is a goal of this event, and blind children can be part of this group of people who never stop learning because they have access, through Braille, to the written word.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Maybe a Dee video?

Can someone tell me if you can clearly see me walking with Dee, and if you can tell that we are walking quickly? I might include it in my guide dog application but only if it is possible for them to judge my walking speed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Goodbye Dee

I was so tired when I left my house; I’d only slept 3 hours. Before we left for the airport, I took a 3 minute last walk with Dee, and my driver filmed it so I can add it as part of my video for the guide dog schools. Dee was giving me her old fast pace, and her tail was wagging.
We had no problems getting to the gates, and my flights were on time. Dee was stressed out, and she had an accident in the airport in Denver.
On my flight from Denver, I cried for awhile. The person sitting next to me tried to have a conversation, but I just turned away to face the window. We got to Portland 5 pacific time, and we met Shelley outside of the gates. She asked me how I was, and said sad and started sobbing. I calmed down a couple minutes later, and I was able to talk. We went to some restaurant where we had burgers and tator totts.
Afterwards, it was time to say goodbye. Shelley went to find someone to show me where the gate was, while I hung out on the floor with Dee. Dee licked my face, panted, and was whining a little. She rolled over, and I rubbed her belly. She was all excited when I took the baggies of food and a new kong wubba toy from my back. When I got the elk antler, she took it from Shelley, and tried to run in circles on her leash. I disassembled the harness, took of the leash, and put her tags in my bag. Shelley hugged me, said she was sorry, and I cried some more.
After that, I went back through security again. I was too upset to talk, and all I could was nod or shake my head. The airport person wanted to know if I was ok. I kept walking into everything with my cane and wasn’t judging my distances and turns well. I was so thankful that the flight from Oregon to San Francisco was relatively empty, so I had a row to myself. I faced the window again, put a handkerchief over my face, and tried to cry silently for the first hour of the trip.
I know Dee is happy with Shelley. She remembered her, and we saw her at the airport, Dee jumped in the air and licked her in the face. I miss her. I’ve been ok since the flight from San Francisco; I was able to talk about her and even saw another dog. But now I’m crying again, so I’m going to post this and read a book or do something to try to distract myself from the sadness.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

obstacles in retirement

This is my post for The Sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Because of back and shoulder problems, my four-year-old guide dog, a black lab Dee, is retired. We've had other obstacles in the past, but this is the one in my heart right now.
First, there are situational obstacles that do not allow me to keep her as a pet. I live in an apartment complex where no pets are allowed. the other major problem is lack of money. I am a grad student living on SSI and disability income. By the time I pay rent, electricity, and maybe the phone bill, I have enough money to pay for cabs or drivers and dog food for the new dog I will hopefully get some time this year. Even if I moved to somewhere pet friendly, it is not possible to pay for food, vet bills, toys, and grooming for two animals.
My next one was where did I want to place Dee. The guide dog school can placed retired dogs, but I would have no idea where she ended up, and I want updates for whoever has her. I had a few possibilities. One person who liked Dee would have given her a good home and attention, except there was no fenced in yard and Dee's off leash recall isn't as good as it should be. Another person was interested, but since she had a baby, she couldn't handle that and a new dog at the same time. Finally, I've been in contact with Dee's puppy raiser ever since I got her in 2009, and she gladly agreed to take her back.
Once she decided she wanted Dee, I had to figure out how to get her from Louisiana where I live to Oregon where she lives. GDB wanted to ship her as cargo, but I didn't like that. I was worried about her being under the plane in winter or that she would be lost in the airport transfers. I also want to say goodbye, and it feels like a better send off than putting her in a strange situation that might be scarey for her.
As I wrote before, I am on a fixed income, and plane travel is expensive. I talked to the guide dog school who will reimburse the price that it would have cost to fly Dee in cargo. I didn't have the money up front for the plane ticket. Fortunately,Dee's raiser paid for the ticket, GDB is sending her the check they would have sent to me, and I will give her the rest when I am able in a couple months.
Finally, there are emotional obstacles. I miss her guiding me; she was with me through everything: global issues conferences, interviews for journalism and research projects, my job working with blind children and  adults, blindness training in Minneapolis, graduation from college, and my move from Pennsylvania to grad school. She was always so confident with her head held high and her tail enthusiastically wagging, except when it rained. She was the reason why I gained confidence crossing busy city streets with my cane, so I could teach her that traffic wasn't scarey. She helped me balance when my hips were hurting and after I sprained my ankles. She kept me crossing in a straight line when I was dizzy from problems with anemia and hypoglysemia, so I wouldn't veer into oncoming traffic. I will miss her companionship, just lying on the floor and petting her or watching her excitedly play with the other dog and person who live with us.
Sometimes situations cannot be avoided or overcome. Even though it breaks my heart to put her in a new home, the dog who guided me through everything needs me to get past these final obstacles, so she can be free to enjoy her well-earned retirement  after her two years of service.

Monday, January 16, 2012

good news

Things have gotten much better since my last post. My old boss talked to the lions club where he is a member, and they have graciously agreed to cover my $3,000 tuition bill from last quarter. That means I will now be able to register for classes in February, and the classes will start in March.
Shelley, Dee's puppy raiser and new owner, paid for my flight. GDB is going to reimburse her $500 and I will give her the rest. It's going to be a very long day. I leave Monroe, La at 9 am, get to Houston at 11, Denver at 2, Portland at 5 where I will transfer Dee, Sanfrancisco at 9, Chicago at 5:30 the next morning, and finally Baltimore at 12:00. After that, I am going to take a train to D.C. to spend a few days with my best friend Beckie who is in seminary there. Later that week, I will be attending a teacher leader seminar for teachers of blind students. I've also been able to get a few of the vitamin and other supplements that I need to keep me functioning ok. My medicare prescription card came, and I am so relieved!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

unwell state of being

Things tend to go like this for me. I can usually handle a problem but when it causes multiple problems or little ones add up to issues, that’s when it’s bad.
I’ve said it before, but I’m exhausted and have no energy. I am also very broke. I get $720 per month. $570 of that is rent plus $30-$40 for electric. My guide dog Dee’s food is $50. That leaves me $70 to have readers for grocery shopping and going out to dinner a couple times with friends. Because of this, my phone has been off for the past 2 months, and even though it is off, I’m still charged the $120 service, even though I’m not using it. I owe $400 to them plus $30 for late fees and $30 to reactivate my number. I owe $200 to a doctor in Minneapolis after I sprayned my ankles and needed treatment, $260 to a former roommate when I borrowed it last year to buy groceries, $120 or something to my current roommate, $100 to my uncle who shipped me the rest of my packages from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, and $300 for something, maybe a former internet service provider? Thank God for food stamps.
I was supposed to have classes this quarter, but I don’t. I should have qualified to at least get stafford loans, but I did not. I cannot get a private student loan because I do not qualify, my mom doesn’t have enough money and thanks to me, not a good credit history, to cosign. Other family members plus other people I have asked can’t or don’t want to cosign for me. Rehab will cover me for the rest of my tuition for this degree, but because of ridiculousness on my end and others, I didn’t get unconditional admission last quarter. Since there was no unconditional admission, they weren’t able to pay. I owe $4,000 to the university, and until I can find some way to pay it, I can’t register for classes and rehab can’t pay until this balance is gone. Since I am not taking classes, rehab can’t pay for my rent.
Also, Dee is retired, which just makes me feel sad and all that horrible stuff. Her puppy raisers want her, but they live in Oregon. GDB wants me to take Dee to Dallas and ship her as cargo. First of all, I have no money; Dallas is a few hours from here, so I would either have to fly, take the bus, or hire a driver. Second, I don’t feel safe having Dee travel under the plane during the winter. If I did that, I would have to buy a crate which is like $100. The best way for her to get to Oregon is if I fly her as a service dog in the cabin. GDB says it’s too expensive and too long of a flight for them to cover the cost. I’m going to ask them if they can give me whatever amount they would have paid for shipping towards the cost of my plane ticket. I wanted to have Dee go this month, but that is definitely not happening now.
For some reason, I am having issues with both of my insurance providers. I am not getting medicare anymore, even though I changed my permanent address with the post office and social security. I should also have Medicaid, but I still have no card. I’ve called them five times requesting new cards; they have said each time that they mailed one. I verified my address is correct with them, and still no card. No card means no prescriptions which are necessary to my health. I am supposed to have a vitamin b12 shot as well as iron and other things for my severe anemia.
I usually take supplements in addition to my prescriptions. Omega 3 oils, multi vitamin/mineral, vitamin c, antioxidants, b-complex, glutamine, tryptophin, and probiotics/digestive enzymes. These help me to manage my hypoglysemic tendancies and depression. Since I am out of all of these and that adds up to about $250 per month, my ability to concentrate, have motivation, digest well, and overall handle stress is making me feel awful. Since I will not have money any time soon, I will be off for the next few months, more than I usually am.
Pray or send good vibes or whatever; something needs to give soon.