Monday, July 30, 2018

Goodbye to The Alvord

We’ve spent the past 11 years living and working for an enormous working cattle ranch, which covers 250,000 acres of deeded and permitted land. It’s a 4 hour trip to the closest town of any size and 2 hours to the small town of Burns Oregon, which has a Safeway and one other supermarket, a ranch store and a Dairy Queen. There’s not much else, so we tend most often to take the 4 hour drive to Idaho. Because of the time involved and cost of fuel, we manage to make these trips only 4x a year. We coordinate groceries, Dr appt’s, errands and animal feed into one trip every 3 months. We often use the large livestock trailer to fit everything in. 

Cashiers at Costco used to raise their eyebrows at the amount of food we would buy but have since grown accustomed to us. Since there is sadly no pizza delivery, all 3 meals have to be made at home. Hardly any prepared or processed foods are purchased as it takes up too much valuable space. We have 3 upright freezers, 2 refrigerators and a large pantry. We buy flour in 50 lb sacks (for those days I want to save time and not have to mill flour to make bread), as well as sugar, brown sugar, rice and wheat berries (to be made into flour). I had dairy goats, a couple of Jersey cows, chickens, ducks, sheep, rabbits and a garden, much of our food was raised at home. I did a lot of canning which saved a lot of freezer space as well as for those nights I was too tired from riding and needed a quick meal at hand. I can soups, chili, shredded Mexican beef, beef and pulled pork for sandwiches, chicken and rabbit for casseroles, beef and chicken stock, vegetables, pie filling etc. It’s amazing the difference in flavor and texture between home canned foods and the stuff you buy in the store. The first 50 years of my life, I didn’t mind cooking when I had to, but it wasn’t something I looked forward to. Having all fresh ingredients actually made it fun and I surfed the internet always looking for great new recipes. And boy did I find some!

garden bounty

nothing beats homemade bread and apple pie

Jack Cheese
homemade butter pats
home raised chicken

I made all of our dairy products. Cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, ricotta, butter, ghee, etc. My Jersey cow gave amazingly rich creamy milk, and I actually had to use a spoon to scoop the heavy cream off of the top, as it was that thick.

I spent my days riding with the cowboys (up here they are buckaroos) and cowgirls (who are every bit as capable and rugged as the men). The ranch owner has 5 kids who were all homeschooled and have worked since they could stretch their toddler legs across the back of a pony saddle. It warmed my heart to see this small microcosm of what used to be typical America, where the family works, eats and plays together. The kids learn to rely on one another and instead of competition, there is camaraderie. They learned the convictions of their parents without the outside interference of peer pressure and societal corruption. They appreciate their family, friends, the value of hard work, the blessings of God and their place in the world. They are strong and capable, prepared to handle whatever life deals to them because they have support, encouragement, and the knowledge that their contribution makes a difference.

We gathered cattle out of pastures that were thousands of acres, sorted and separated pairs, gathered them into corrals for doctoring, branding or whatever else needed to be done. Some days were long, 11 hours or more in the saddle. It was beautiful out on the range, with deer, antelope, pheasant, coyotes, even a cougar, the occasional badger and other wildlife. From the reverence felt watching a bald eagle soar on the wind currents, to the delight of the song of meadowlarks, I never wished to be anywhere else.

When I’d get back I’d call in my sweet Jersey cow, and rest my head in her flank, relaxing to the sound of her chewing her grain and hay, the pleasant grassy, cowy smell of her and startling from the occasional swat of her tail. I’d strain the milk into jars and chill it, and fix dinner and do whatever other chores I had around the house before bedtime.

I had opportunity to do things I would not otherwise have been able to do. Helping to gather, brand, separate cattle day after day in a spectacularly beautiful setting. Enjoying my little flock of sheep and their Livestock Guardian Dogs, my chickens, Jersey cows, bottle raising up to 30 orphan calves a season, growing huge gardens, making soap, putting the rest of the world on hold.

break in!

Identity crisis?

The polar bears counting calves

 It was truly an idyllic life, but like all things, it must come to an end and the seasons are changing. God is calling me to something new. I will treasure this time and these memories as I step into the next chapter.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Show Time

Deviating a bit from my usual topics, my mind wandered back to my 30+ years of training horses and riders and I thought I would offer some of my thoughts.

As a trainer and riding instructor, one takes on a great deal of responsibility. Keeping a student safe, enhancing and growing their abilities both as horsemen and as individuals while promoting a safe, comfortable environment for the horses.

Spring and summer in particular, bring an increase in activities. There are lots of horse shows, play days and other competitions for which the kids work hard and have great expectations.

This is a huge opportunity for personal growth. Kids demonstrate their skills to a judge, an audience of peer/competitors, friends and family and the public at large. It can be daunting, but the opportunities for success are endless. 
Unlike other competitive sports, in which the participant performs individually such as gymnastics, or dance or team sports where they play a part of a greater whole, such as in baseball or soccer, a rider must be the leader of a horse/partner team, in a relationship where responses are fluid and often unpredictable. This requires great concentration as split second decisions and responses may be called on at any time, as in the event of a horse spooking off the rail because of the sudden actions of a spectator or something as common as a napkin blown by the breeze. The rider must be prepared at all times for such an incident, be capable of controlling the horse’s movements and reactions all while maintaining proper form, having spatial awareness to avoid hitting other horses (or even judges) and “covering” the mistake and the ability to remain focused on the changing instructions dictated throughout a performance. It requires patience, confidence, dedication and skill. Children, even at very young ages, do demonstrate the ability to exhibit these qualities. 

Youngsters tend to want affirmation and recognition and of course, to please their parents. 
Parents, who often invest a great deal of time and money into the child’s chosen sport, tend to sometimes lose perspective, which can place undue pressure on an exhibitor. Others, might not show up, which can be disappointing to a youngster. 
But the most common mistake riders, trainers or parents often make, is to put value on winning a blue ribbon.

Don’t get me wrong, winning is a praiseworthy goal, but is not always an accurate measure of success.

Winning placement is at the discretion of judges. Sometimes judges do a poor job. We are human. Don’t set your child up to find their worthiness as a competitor at the mercy of a stranger’s opinion.

Some of our most successful competitions were ones where my kids didn’t place well or even place at all. Showing horses should always be about personal goals. We always had a clear set of directives we wanted to achieve in each class. It might be as simple as remembering to keep your eyes up. Or learning to circle out of a crowded situation…or getting diagonals correct both directions, or nailing lead changes. It may even be having your horse remain walking calmly on the rail, when everyone else is cantering by, because he has been over reactive, or become “ringwise”, (ie: automatically going to the next gait when the microphone keys over the loudspeaker) .

Practicing this kind of showmanship takes great courage on the part of a rider, because they have to go against the flow and bring attention to themselves that may not be positive, but bring long term benefits to the partnership. I’ve had adult exhibitors struggle mightily with it. One had a winning horse that developed a habit of surging forward when the announcer called for a lope, particularly if there were horses moving up behind him. My directions to the rider, were to continue walking until at least 3 horses had passed them before quietly asking for the canter cue. She found it very stressful to do, as she was a highly competitive person. Imagine how much more difficult this can be for a young rider, who is just learning discipline and self control. But it works, and brings both good habits and perspective.

I always encourage riders to focus on a personal goal, such as remembering to ride deep into the corners. If they get no recognition from the judge, but they consistently did that, that is success. Doing so, teaches a horse not to cut corners and ingrains a habit into the rider that becomes fairly automatic. 

Attention to detail and concentrating on individual goals, brings confidence, consistency and character to riders, and helps eliminate show ring jitters, resulting in ever increasing wins in the show ring down the road.

Make sure parents and kids know what the goal is for each class, so the appropriate recognition can be given to both horse and rider.

Have a great summer!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Something In The Wind

So, it’s been awhile, but much has happened. Really.

As many of you who have followed along for awhile, things have gotten kinda tough. My health has been deteriorating and because of that, I have fought depression and a myriad of other maladies. The ranch, which was once an exciting place, where I was able to ride out on the range everyday, helping move cattle and seeing nature at its best, having my milk cow, raising our own meat and eggs, vegetables etc. has become my worst enemy. TheMan gets up and is gone to work before I am awake most days. Other than a quick lunch spent in front of the Waltons, I don’t see him again until after dark, when he eats dinner, usually with a western on, before retiring to bed. I can no longer ride, milk a cow, garden or do any of the things that brought me joy. I sit in a recliner, day and night as it is too painful to lay down. The pain is always present, it's never completely gone. Sometimes it's excruciating, other times, just annoying. But it's always there. None of the drugs have worked. I have failed every drug regimen they have so far. Pills, injections, infusions, waiting on new drugs hoping maybe the next one will work. Meanwhile, they are all poisoning me in some way. So I finally quit taking them, except for the painkillers, because I won't survive at all without those. The pain is already hard to deal with, when it's being managed. I don't even want to think about what it would be like without something to take the edge off. I have to admit, it's nice not having all the side effects, and not feeling like a pincushion from all the injections and infusions.

The loneliness here is overwhelming, as I usually don’t see or hear from another human being for weeks at a time, outside of the internet, and watching TheMan watch TV. There is nowhere for me to go, nothing for me to do, and no one for me to see here. Everyone on the ranch is busy doing their own thing, and I am no longer a part of it. Add to that, I am unable to effectively clean my own house, take care of my yard or my animals anymore. Everything is a  mess, which of course, increases my depression exponentially, as it is not my way to have things in chaos. My barn and yard at home, in California, were always organized, well run, beautiful and animals well cared for. Here a colony of 3 rabbits became my worst nightmare. Right after putting the buck in with the 2 does remaining after the big processing, I fell ill AND had to have surgery again. I did not realize TheMan never removed the buck from the colony. It never occurred to me that he would throw food at them, but not manage them. Picture, a few months later when I was able to go out, finding it overrun with rabbits and with hay and manure built up. 
I tried to catch and cull rabbits but after doing 5, I was unable to use my arms and hands for close to 2 weeks. I could not clean the colony myself because I am no longer strong enough. I tore the bicep tendon clean off of my shoulder, just trying to lift my old saddle. There is no one to help. No one. Things continued to worsen, along with the yard and house. My “milk room” a 16x16 structure that used to be my stallion’s stall in Calif. but became a multi use tack room, milking parlor, feed storage and chick brooder is now full of empty sacks and trash, along with an over abundance of feral cats. I am not a lover of cats. I am deathly allergic to them. This entire discovery added to the depression.

I became overwhelmed, and hopeless.

Then God moved.

He didn’t move away from me, He made His move. He moved towards me, and showed me He had been answering my prayers all along. Like the angel in the book of Daniel who told him he’d been sent weeks before but had been detained, He’s been working on my behalf all along.

Without going into too much detail, I was contacted by a client I had not spoken to in about 15 years, regarding a business venture they would like to undertake and they have a job for me.

I will be leaving the ranch, going back down where my friends and family are. The job will involve me in something I have always loved, the move will allow me to receive healthcare that isn’t available to me here, where we are living hours away from the nearest town. I can finally get physical therapy, massage, reflexology, there are Doctors close by…no more driving down 50 miles of gravel roads then an additional 3 hours over highways with broken ribs and collapsed lungs to see a doctor.

 I will be able to finally see my grandchildren grow up, as I have missed 11 years of their lives, being in a different state and only able to see them for a couple of days each year.

My friends and family will all be within a short drive. No more spending holidays alone. No more dreaming about them and not being able to see or speak to them, or share their joys and sorrows.

I will live where help is available. If I need help cleaning my house, I can hire someone. If I need help cleaning up the yard, I can hire someone. If I need help feeding, or managing animals, it is available. If I need to sell something, I can sell it. At the ranch, no one is going to drive 4 hours to see or pick up anything here.

I will be able to do more, be more active, get stronger. There are things to do with Heath. We can finally pursue some of the things I have wanted to do with him, such as: herding lessons, scentwork, rally obedience, agility, or whatever we find is fun for the two of us.

Our lives are going to change dramatically and completely. We still have to wait several months, but knowing there is hope, I can endure it. It’s like labor pains. They are all consuming and unbearable in and of themselves, but knowing they can only last a minute or two, and will eventually end completely, and result in great joy, so will this. The only thing that keeps it from being perfect, is that TheMan chooses to remain behind, on the ranch. At least until he is ready to retire, so this journey is just for me and the Heathen.

There hasn’t been anything in particular to blog about lately, but I wanted to share this with you all. Thanks to everyone for taking this journey with me, for your encouragement and friendship. Once we are settled in, I imagine blogging will become easier again and I will be much more reliable.

Til then, here’s some bits and pieces from our travels in April.

Heath is bored

Heath is miffed. A small Jack Russell stole his place, so Heath stole his bed
Teaching my cousin to do stained glass

my cousins' creek

pulling into Winnemucca

Hwy 20


My traveling buddy

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Got Milk?

It's been awhile, and I haven't been able to write much, so I thought I would take a step back in time and republish one of my favorite memories.

Years ago, living on our small family ranch in California, I was already moving in the direction of becoming more self sufficient, food-wise. I decided a milk cow was in order. I knew I would have a reasonable supply of fresh milk, cream, butter and maybe cheese. The internet, at that time, had not been invented, in fact....we had no computers. So I was on my own to figure all these things out.

On my quest for our bovine beauty, I met a sweet old man with a dairy in Bakersfield, about 45 minutes down the mountain from our town. He told me he had a nice cow who freshened at 10 GALLONS a day, but was currently only giving 2 gallons daily...she had not gotten re-bred and would become a "butcher cow" unless I wanted her. We agreed on a price and I set out to pick her up. It was almost Thanksgiving, and we had heavy snow and ice on the road. I proceeded to hook up our massive 6 horse trailer and head for the big city of Bakersfield. 
About 1/2 mile down our road, I came upon a CalTrans snowplowman, who informed me "You'll never make it down this road with that trailer"...I am NOT a great backer-upper (yes, that is a real word). It took me over 45 minutes to slip and slide down that narrow canyon road and avoid going off the embankment...normally it was a 7 minute drive. A quick and URGENT stop at the first available restroom and off I went to pick up the cow.

My first clue that this may not have been a real good idea, was when it took 8 men to load her, and one got smashed in the gate. They finally got her aboard, and my primary thought am I gonna milk this monster, all by myself?  You see, what I hadn't considered, was, she was a DAIRY otherwords, she had NEVER been handled or hand milked. She would just follow the others in to eat her 'candy' had electric doodaddy's stuck on her plugs and away she'd go. (yes, that IS a technical term).

I had the entire trip home to devise a plan to get her into my barn, and get her milked. 
Skip ahead about 6 to 8 hours...there are rope marks and burns around every oak tree between the driveway and the barn, skid marks in the snow and mud that match my bootprints...there are several body indentations in the snow about my size, with cowtracks that seemly go right through them...but INSIDE the barn is a monstrous, muddy Holstein cow, with each hind leg tied to opposite corners of a stall, head locked between two boards, happily munching on hay, with a victorious young mother filling her bucket with milk, one squirt at a time. Ahhhh! The simple life!!

Years and years after my relationship with my Holstein cow (whom we fondly referred to as "Jugs") we moved to a smaller piece of property, only 2 1/2 acres, and closer to town. The kids grew up, and moved out, my life had modernized as we lived in a real live, less than 100 yr old, contractor built home, unlike the humble abode at the ranch that was built 80 years before at a Chinese labor camp then moved there...but thats a story for another day...

I had been training show horses for years, spending lots of time on the road, but now HandyRandyman and I were about to enter a new season of life, away from the ratrace. It was time to start living the "Simple Life" again.

I began like anyone else would. I bought 3 chickens (Oprah, Ethel, and Schatzey, because everyone knows chickens with names perform better).
One afternoon, while perusing the Motorcycle section of the CameraAds, (a sign of terminal boredom) my eye was drawn to a great big ad for a newly freshened DAIRY GOAT. 
Now, as you well know, a newly freshened goat, at a very reasonable price, in giant letters, in the MOTORCYCLE section of a paper, is clearly a sign from above. So, I did the sensible thing, and hooked up the latest monster trailer and headed for Bakersfield again, this time to pick up our new goat.

As I mentioned...she was very reasonably priced. I was thrilled. The only hitch was, it was necessary to strip her of milk twice daily as she had no kid with her (that's a term for 'baby goat' for those who don't know...Caprine owners seldom throw their children in to sweeten a deal, no matter HOW badly they want to get rid of the goat)

After lugging her home, it occurred to me there might be a reason she was so attractively priced. I discovered it, when I learned she had a quirky little habit of LYING DOWN whenever you tried to milk her. I threatened, I cajoled, but she continued to fold up like a cheap, portable chair, and it was getting dark. My back was aching, and we didn't have a stanchion yet, so, in desperation, I heaved her front end up on a picnic table, and had Randyman hold her back end up in the air so I could get underneath and get my 2 quarts of milk...all the while with him mumbling "dear Lord, I hope the neighbors cant see me...this looks so bad..."

Next morning: I drag myself up at 4:30 cuz Randyman is gonna leave for work and I want to enlist his help again. Due to the visibility from the breaking light, he stubbornly refuses and I am left to my own devices. But I am armed with confidence that I will prevail, as I have vast experience in animal training, and am known to be very resourceful, if not stubbornly single minded.

SUCCESS!!! It wasn't really that hard after all! All that was necessary, was to rob a few cinches and straps out of my tack room, and fashion a sling....wrestle it around a large, reluctant and recalcitrant goat, then hoist her up in an oak tree far enough so her feet couldn't reach the ground and VIOLA!! MILK!

I just love a bargain, don't you?

Around and about 6 years ago, we took a job as ranch hands on one of the largest and oldest working cattle ranches in the state of Oregon, and here we are now, in this idyllic place 110 miles from the nearest town. The simple life has enveloped us, and consequently, we are once again enjoying fresh squeezed milk, because Randy bought me a Jersey cow for Mothers Day. She is very gentle, but somewhat spoiled and ill mannered.

She is however, not without her little quirks. Having no milking stool per se, I used my little rattan footstool (from Pier1) as it was low and light enough to manage.

As I happily pumped away, morning after morning, Dolly (aforementioned Jersey cow) would munch happily on her hay and grain, occasionally smacking me in the face with her tail, often relieving herself with an unappetizing “plop”, perpetually swinging her hips (from TipMeOnMyButtClose to DangNearOutOfReach) and, of course, always trying to dip her foot in the bucket.

She became more and more skilled at the placement of her hind foot until she finally managed to sink it right to the bottom of a gallon of milk.

Tossing the tainted milk aside, blood pressure peaking, I grabbed a set of hobbles and proceeded to tie her hind feet together, preventing any more attempts to stick ‘em in my business.

With her heels glued together, and her head locked securely in the head gate, I went about filling a new bucket, when without warning, Dolly got mad.  She apparently was not impressed with the hobbles and began to kick wildly in an effort to remove them. It’s a scientific fact that when two entities are tied tightly together, and one swings thru the air, the other tends to follow…

Before I could say “I’ll just buy milk” she came tumbling my way, crushing my stool, and pinning my lower half under her belly…with my arms free, I managed to release the bar on the stanchion holding her head captive, as I was afraid she was going to break her neck. This had the effect of releasing the last several hundred pounds of big, mad, rubbery cow and she melted all over me. Realizing help would not arrive until evening, I managed to wriggle out from underneath that mess of a cow and assume a semi- upright position.

After getting my cow on her feet, I gathered up my now skinny, oblong milk bucket, the 2 sticks remaining of my stool, and my hobbles, and left my cow, my milk and my pride in the corral, and had a cup of very black coffee and some dry cereal.

Having experienced a self inflicted cow tipping of sorts, as a result of tying my cow's hind feet together and incurring her wrath, I found myself without a milking stool.

Milking requires a great deal of squatting, if you have no stool, it can be hard on the back, legs, and disposition. So, I jumped on the nearest internet and began searching.

My quest was successful! A cool catalogue (Lehmans) which carries all manner of nifty, old timey, useful stuff, had a One Legged Milking Stool. Now this is a brilliant concept, because MY cow likes to Mambo and Cha Cha, and its a little hard to keep up with her , so a one legged stool would allow me to tip, pivot and follow as necessary, to keep her plugs within reach...and as if this incredible mobility feature isn't enough, it comes with a belt, which straps around your hips! So, with it firmly attached to your hindquarters, you just have to squat down and scoot yourself into place! I couldn't WAIT for it to arrive!!!

The UPS man finally showed up, and I proudly held my stool out to Randyman, who just shook his head. Clearly he had no idea how wonderful this was going to be.
Next morning, I realized it was a bit heavy, as it is made of solid hardwood (quality stuff!), so I had to hoist it up onto the kitchen table and back up to it in order to get it on.

Stool firmly attached, I loaded myself up with 2 small milk pails (the large one had been totalled in the wreck), another small bucket with warm soapy water to wash the udder, a bucket of soaked beet pulp to keep her happy, and a dry towel in my mouth...I proceeded out the kitchen door. It didn't take but a second to realize the leg protruding from my backside wasn't going to allow me to turn and shut the door on our narrow I
1. walked to the step
2. unloaded buckets and rags
3.turned back
4. pulled door shut
5. backed up to step again to avoid putting chair leg thru     glass on door
6. reloaded
After reloading, I repeated steps 1-6 at the yard gate, and again at the corral. The stool clearly had a design flaw, and was getting nicked up rather badly every time I swung around.
Believing the worst was behind me, (and, indeed, it was) I put down my stuff, sidled up next to Dolly and proceeded to sit down and take my nifty new stool for a test drive...
...No one, apparently has ever measured the legs on these stools!!! The one on mine is rather SHORT, and after squatting to the level at which I should have made contact, my quad muscles could no longer hold me, and my hips soon reached terminal velocity, as they sped toward the solid  ground of the corral.

With a tooth shattering jolt, which nearly shot my now bugging eyes clean out of my head, that one legged milking stool reached earth and turned itself into a well planted fence post. This had the effect of tightening the belt around my hips and the stool had seemingly become a permanent part of my anatomy.

With a bit of rocking, I was able to finally topple myself over, the @#!!*&$ stool still attached to my backside, and I proceeded to kick my tools out under the fence and head for the house. I do not know for the life of my WHY I thought i would get a different result from squatting in the garden!! Several eggplants and a tomato later, I managed to extricate myself from ground level of very soft soil, and crawl to the rock wall and pull myself up. I found my knife, cut the strap on the stool and shoved it up on top of the garden shed, where it remains to this day.

I located a plastic crate that once held 5 gallon water bottles which seemed to hold my weight. I headed back to the corral with it, convinced my curious cow that NO, she  had NOT seen a unicorn, and I proceeded to finish the job.

I think I can tell you, with some authority, that the cheese isn't the only Laughing Cow!!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

About Service Dogs

Heath poses with the Blu Roo. His assistance makes it possible for me to be independent so we finally have our own transportation

Having found myself part of a Service dog team, I am becoming aware of some of the issues that presents. As some of them are far more serious than people who are not involved with SD’s could understand, I hope to do my best to explain them and then, through you, educate the public.

The American Disabilities Act determines what constitutes a Service Dog and the rights of an SD team.

First of all, a Service Dog’s owner must actually BE disabled to the point that they cannot live a normal life without the assistance of the dog. In essence the dog is akin to a piece of medical equipment, like a wheelchair or blood pressure monitor or anything else necessary to assist the handler and protect their health and safety. The dog must be individually task trained to mitigate that handler's particular disabilities.

An Emotional Service Animal (ESA) does NOT have the training or rights to public access. They are a comfort animal only and with a doctor's note have rights to live with owner in what might normally be a no pet complex and have rights to fly with handler.

A Therapy Dog is not a Service Dog. It is specially trained to interact with children and others who may be somehow confined to a facility as a type of Emotional therapy for others. Their handlers may or may not be disabled.

While we all probably visualize a dog that guides the blind, the Service Dog of today is able to serve far more disabilities, often more reliably than conventional medical equipment. There are hundreds of invisible disabilities. Some dogs automatically “alert” to events such as : seizures, blood pressure changes, insulin changes, disassociation and others. Not every Service Dog is able to perform those particular tasks as some are born, not made, so they are more rare than others and can be any breed or size. Their attention to their handler can often be life saving. Dogs can be used to detect allergens in foods, another life saving service, others may help with mobility, counter balancing and assisting handler in rising and walking safely, pick up things that are dropped, bring items that are out of reach of handlers, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, assist  with psychiatric disabilities such as PTSD, blocking and trying to keep a safe zone open for handlers, help avoid triggers, they can alert handlers to harmful behaviors such as picking, scratching, rocking, they can guide a disoriented handler out of stores or strange places, taking them to exits, guiding them to vehicles, there are hundreds of  tasks a dog can be trained to do that are life changing to a disabled handler.

Size and temperament are important factors in choosing a Service Dog. A large Mastiff type dog may be suitable as a mobility dog, whereby a chihuahua, or toy breed might have a natural alert that is more easily detected when near a handlers breath and are small enough to be carried. There are no size or breed requirements, but temperaments are critical, as these dogs must perform in a variety of situations in public and must be biddable and confident enough to accept any and all of the things that might occur in public places. 
These dogs require a high degree of training, executing their jobs while presenting good manners in public, not barking, straining at the leash, showing aggression towards strangers or other dogs, quietly and calmly accompanying their handler in all places and situations.  A good SD should be unobtrusive, attentive to its handler, does not pull, bark, sniff around for food, defecate or urinate inside, behave only mildly interested in other dogs, if not ignore them all together. 
Legitimate SD's have legal public access to any place the public may go, such as restaurants, hospitals, stores, etc.

They are NOT required to wear an identifying vest, and they do NOT have certifications. Certifications (unless given by a training facility upon graduation, a courtesy, not a requirement) are a sham, as they can be purchased online for about $80 with no proof of training, disability, or anything else. It’s basically a false ID and illegal to use. Some States may offer a special tag, as a courtesy.
With the rising number of Service Dogs for invisible disabilities, there is also a rise in phony teams, causing serious problems for both business owners and legitimate Service Dog teams.

As a gatekeeper or store owner, you have the right to ask if the dog is a Service Dog and ask what special tasks the dog performs.The team is not required to demonstrate the tasks. This seems like it is impossible for gatekeepers to turn away illegitimate teams, but if a dog’s behavior is causing a problem for the business, (barking, urinating or defecating, aggression, jumping on people, riding in basket, sitting off floor, etc) the business owner CAN request the handler to remove the dog and be welcome to return without it. It is illegal to deny access or treat a legitimate Service Dog team differently than any other customer, provided the dog is not causing a disturbance by misbehavior.

The easiest way to tell if a SD team is real or not, is pretty much by observing the dog. Although dogs are sentient beings and can have ‘off days’ just like we do, they can sometimes make mistakes but they should not be disruptive. A phony Service Dog team can not only give Legitimate Teams a bad reputation, they can cause serious problems for real teams.

Dogs can be acquired through professional training facilities often for thousands of dollars, trained by a professional trainer who knows something about the requirements of the handler’s disability or trained by the handler themselves.

Heath waits with me at the hospital

This is most of the information about the dogs I can think of off the top of my head, now I would like to address the responsibility of the PUBLIC.

One should NEVER ask to pet a Service Dog. There are multiple reasons for this. I know handlers with beautifully trained dogs that they can no longer use, because the dog draws unwanted attention and makes going in public even more stressful with the dog than without, because of people constantly approaching to talk with them or the dog. These are folks that need space and no uninvited interaction from people.
Another problem of distracting someone’s Service Dog is that it draws the dog’s attention away from the handler and he may miss a necessary alert to a coming seizure or other event.
Heath is a social butterfly, and it causes me a great deal of grief, when people reach down to pet him. because he quickly gets excited and over threshold and wants to socialize with EVERYONE, especially any children that happen to be in sight. Fortunately, he is learning to take it more in stride as he matures but is still upsetting because most people only ask as they are reaching for him and it's already too late.

If you are in public with your own dog, keep it far away from Service Dog teams. I know of dogs that have been ruined because someone else allowed their pet dog enough leash to reach a Service Dog, sometimes even becoming aggressive and causing injury resulting in the Service Dog to either lose confidence or become aggressive towards strangers or their dogs itself. Basically, the dog is no longer able to be used because of careless ignorance on the part of irresponsible or ignorant pet owners. I have had it happen to Heath and I and am fortunate that he is flexible enough that he did not respond, we were able to remove ourselves quickly and the incident wasn’t serious enough to cause him much distress. These dogs work hard and the mental discipline they use can be exhausting to them. Dealing with strange people and pets can cause burn out for the dog.

Another pet peeve of handlers is strangers who talk to their dog. Again, it distracts the dog but it also demeans the handler. Even I find it very annoying when someone approaches and uses the baby talk voice to distract Heath and behave as though I am not even there. It is terribly rude, regardless of intention.

Not many people want to answer a thousand questions about their dog or share private information about their disability with total strangers. It is appreciated when parents instruct their children about the dog teams and teach them it is important not to distract the dog because it is working and doing an important job for its owner.

Not every handler is opposed to speaking with people, but what has been most appreciated by myself, if someone must interact with us, is for them to speak directly to me,  a quick compliment on Heath’s behavior. Even my husband and family are not allowed to interact with Heath when he is working, other than to hold him at the hospital until I am out of surgery or X-rays.

We are often told “It’s obvious he is a REAL Service Dog. He’s so well behaved!”
Last week it was “I’ve seen a lot of dogs that don’t belong in here. That is one good dog, he belongs”
 We've worked hard to  achieve the level of training he has and it's nice to be recognized.

Heath having fun with his brother while "off duty" on one of our road trips

So, to the Public, please don't interfere with Service Dogs that are working.
To the Business owner, if a dog is misbehaving and causing problems, you have the right ask the the handler to please remove the dog and return without it.
To the Pet Owner, please leave your pets at home. Their behavior may not only endanger a team, but makes it more difficult for legitimate teams to be accepted by the public.
To the Service Dog Teams, be considerate of others. Don't allow your dog to become disruptive. Don't disregard the rights of others, and don't be rude to people who want to ask questions, instead try to educate them, politely, because your behavior also reflects on all Teams. We are all ambassadors.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Trip and Fall on the Way

As most of you know, Heath and I took the Blu Roo and went to California for the last month of summer. It was a fabulous trip, so I thought I would share some of the highlights.

To begin with, one of my granddaughters was visiting, so I had company besides my Service Dog for the long drive. We packed Roo to the hilt with stuff I was taking down for some of the grandkids and we left as soon as I was able to drive. Other than a Cinnabon in Winnemucca, we didn't stop to eat all day. By the time we made it to Turlock, we were starved. It was dinnertime. I don't know my way around Turlock anymore, even though I used to occasionally compete at ApHC shows there. I suddenly remembered that Heath has a sister in town, so I had my granddaughter message her owner on FB for me, and we met up for an impromptu dinner date, after Heath and his sister had a short reunion.

Heath and his sister Lark, an agility competitor

We had a great time at dinner and Lark's owner was a really good sport about the total lack of forewarning that we were coming.

A few hours more and we made it to my granddaughter's home. It was neat to see all of the creative improvements they made on the house, and fun to be in the midst of a family again, with all of the laughter that goes with it. We stayed most of the week, my daughter-in-law graciously taking care of me as most of the time I was recovering from the drive. When I was stronger we all took a drive up to where they often camp and go boating. Heath, happily followed Hannah into the river, a big surprise as he doesn't like water, but he apparently likes being hot even less. He also really likes Hannah, who took care of him at the hospital while I was in surgery. My son treated us all to ice cream and candy at a nifty little shop, where Heath diligently protected us from a large stuffed gorilla with his low, threatening growls and then we headed back.

We passed the stables of an old competitor friend when I was showing clients horses on the circuit, so I mentioned if they were considering riding lessons for the girls, she'd be a good fit.

And so it was.

We also spent an evening out with a daughter and her family for dinner, the night before we headed down further south. Another granddaughter was also with us, but I didn't get a pick as she and her friend quickly snuck out and took my car to be washed before we got back. Sneaky, sneaky...

The littlest

One of the boys, preparing to dash....

That night, for my grand finale, I managed to trip over a sprinkler and splatter all across their front lawn, requiring my son and a neighbor to hoist me back up and drag me into the house. We can't let them forget me too easily, can we??

We headed to my younger sons and wound up staying at an in-laws with him as he had promised to help put in sod the next morning. Heath had a great time with 4 kids to entertain him. We also got to go to church, which was a huge blessing as it has been 10 years, there not being any where we live, for obvious reasons...

There was also a lot of fishing going on... back at the ranch my son works for and lives at...

Heath and I mostly stupidvised from the top of the hill.
We eventually made it up to my old home town and met some friends who I've been talking with on the internet for years, but never met in person before. It was great! I also got to meet with a couple of different friends I have not seen in years....

And more grandkids, who kept me entertained for at least a week!

More kids, grandkids, it was a busy month. We sewed, embroidered, played xbox, went to swim lessons, boxing lessons, riding lessons...all the things I have missed living so dang far away.

Heath also had a great time. We played in water, went shopping, out to eat, to parks, played with all the kids, played with the family dogs, and then, after a short trip back up to my oldest son's for a day or two, we headed to Northern Calif to see my cousins that I haven't seen in wayyyy too long.

My cousins' beautiful wife (which of course is also my cousin) took us on the most amazing day trip I've ever been on. The beauty of Creation was exquisite!!

Even Heath was in awe at the Redwood Nat'l Forest

We stopped along the coast

We love this woman!

It was a soul restoring month. I felt welcomed and cherished everywhere we went.  I had to head home a few days sooner than I had hoped, as I got sick and knew I would get worse before I got better, but I hope to go back soon. Meanwhile...

Heath and I are still wondering why one cannot Pee between signs...