Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Grass Is Always Greener...Unless There Isn't Any Grass

One of the things we are supposed to do with our guide dog puppy is encourage her to pee on many different surfaces: grass, gravel, concrete, tarmac, rocks. Her Royal Highness (HRH) Berkeley, of course, was partial to grass.

It is so cool and delightful to the paw, so springy. Why would any smart puppy choose to relieve themselves on another inferior surface? One that is scratchy and might even be smelly or hot to the touch? No, no. Best to stick to that cool, green oasis of restroom quietude. Thus HRH lulled us into a false sense of variety.

When we would go to a planter that had bark, she would slip ever so slightly near the grassy part and pee near it. When we would walk her in the gravel, all ability to pee would desert her.

"Why, sir, I cannot! Heaven forfend! It is not within me." The puppy eyes would commence and we would give up.

Thus Arizona was a BIG SHOCK to HRH, mostly because Arizona is a desert. There aren't any grassy bits in Arizona. In fact, Mom and Dad's back yard look a lot like the photo of gravel below.

HRH wouldn't go for almost a day. She kept walking around and around on her toes as if somewhere, hidden in the rocks, there was some grass. Maybe, over here, in this corner. No? Perhaps by this bush? No?

By evening, she was crosslegged and pretty sure we were in hell.

"This is the most inauspicious place to spend the holidays. Fortunately, the hosts are kind and have padded beds on which I can lie."

In the end, the rocks won. But I'm pretty sure unless she is in the desert, she won't resort to using them. She is, after all, HRH.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pine Cone Madness!

My mother has a very tall tree made out of pine cones. Coincidentally, Southeastern Guide Dogs wants every puppy to experience pine cones, as decorations. So, mom's massive, gold spray-painted, pine cone tree is the perfect way to get Her Royal Highness the ultimate pine cone, as decoration, experience.

First, I have to ask Dad to bring the massive tree out of the attic because this year Mom didn't use it as a Christmas decoration, which he did gladly.

Once it was set up, I had to get HRH to go sit by it.

"What, that? What is that?"

"I'll sit by it, but I won't look at it. Nasty, gold, ostentatious tree. How horrible."

"OK. I'll look at it. Awful. Just awful."

"Please let me sit somewhere else. Away from this gold monstrosity."

Sky Harbor Nightmare

It started out as a good day. What with the wonderful lunch at Carlsbad Tavern (an amazing lunch, spicy food) with mom, dad and my brother before taking off to the airport. That's when things went south as it were.

Mom and Dad dropped us off. One kennel, one bigass suit case containing our Xmas presents, and three smaller, more reasonably sized suitcases. Did I mention that in addition to Xmas presents, the bigass suitcase also had MANY pairs of shoes that Mom had given me, sandals that she no longer wanted to wear? Fred went to find a cart as HRH and I sat beside the mound of luggage looking forlorn.

A skycap approached. I told him my husband was off looking for a cart but his cart looked better. I called Fred. The deal was made. The skycap directed us to the special needs line where we ended up getting the attendant from hell.

"Hi," I said, walking HRH up to the counter. HRH was looking spiffy. Miss teflon hard ass was having none of it.

"Is that your kennel?" she asked. She nodded over to the kennel we have flown with for three times and never had anyone question us about.

"Yes." I'm thinking, "Do you see anyone else here with a dog? I don't." But I don't let any of that show on my face.

"It looks big."

"It's the proper size for a Labrador dog. We've flown before and not had a problem with it. In fact, they considered it an assistive device since she is a guide dog in training." That popped her head up and got me an immediate scoffing laugh and partial eye roll.

Great. She's a hater.

"It's too big. Hey Bob! Look at this. Can you measure this for me?" What happens next is a back and forth between Hatezilla and Bob about what the dimensions of the crate are and what the actual TSA limits are:

"33 by 23 by ... whatever... that's 72. The limit is 75. They are ok. "

"I don't think that is the limit. Did you do the front measurement right?"

Remeasures. Same result. "73, 72. They are good."

Hatezilla calls in for reinforcements. Nope. Limit is 68. Hatezilla looks at us. " That will be $100."

Fred says we can take it apart and clamshell it and make it smaller. Bob says, "OK. You really don't want to send it down there and then have it rejected."

I say "It's flown three times and no one has cared!" No one is listening to me.

Fred starts to take it apart. Problem. The screws that hold it together, aren't long enough now to hold the two pieces together. I start to feel all my clothing become two sizes too small as all the people in line behind us stare at our backs. My breathing gets a little rapid. "What is going to hold these two pieces together?"

"Tape?" Fred says.

"TAPE! Do you have any tape? Because I don't." This in my I am about to melt down right here voice, when all of a sudden, hatezilla says, "here's some tape." NOW she is helpful.

Gee thanks.

So Fred starts taping and I try to calm down and pull suitcases over for her to check in. "This bag is three pounds over." It's the Xmas bag. I start yanking out shoes, shoes, shoes, and more shoes. I can feel those people in line whispering. I want to turn around and say, I didn't pack all these shoes! I'm not a moron. I don't change shoes every two seconds. They were a gift! But they wouldn't believe me.

We put the crate up on the scale and Hatezilla says, "That tape won't hold. You should tape further down."

In a frenzy I grab the tape and start wrapping tape around the entire freaking crate. The passenger at the next counter has the temerity to lean over and say, "You should tape it around the edge of the two halves," but his wife yanks him quickly back away from me when I glance at him. Really! Is THAT what I should do?

Finished taping, I shove the crate over the edge toward Hatezilla and she hands us our tickets and ID.

"Have a nice flight."

I just walk away. We will never see that crate again. Fred says not to worry about it. People are smiling at us because of HRH. I need to get over this.

Fortunately, the TSA at Sky Harbor are very friendly. The people working the scanning line were super sweet holding everyone back and asking us how we wanted to have HRH go through the machine. She ran through wagging her tail and making everyone smile. I managed a small smile.

Then we met Bruce.

Bruce was the agent on gate A7. When we got to the gate, I went up and said that we had a service dog in training and did they have the bulkhead seats available. Bruce looked and said they were free, touched a key and said, oops, they disappeared. Then he looked at me in total silence.

Ok... Thanks for checking.

I returned to my seat. When we got on the plane the flight attendants completely ignored HRH as well. A complete city of US Airway dog haters....or at least people who don't care one way or another about them. It's just a shock from being treated so nicely to being completely ignored, but, that too I guess, is a good thing. You shouldn't get used to special treatment. And you definitely shouldn't expect it.

HRH curled up in row 15b just fine. In fact, she slept through the whole flight and was a dream. She didn't need the bulkhead. The guy in the seat next to us made my day when he said, "I was hoping I would get to sit in your row." That made up for Bruce and Hatezilla. Plus the little girl in row 14 turned around midflight and told me how pretty HRH was and how she had a black lab named Buster. She smiled at me the rest of the flight.

HRH has adoring fans. Life is back to normal.

Oh, ps, our crate made it through the baggage process!

Here is Fred carting it off the baggage claim.
Here is a close up of my amazing hyper-mad, "tape the whole frigging crate" tape job! Good job, huh?

More of my handiwork. Notice how low down I taped it. Fred's stopped midway. 8-)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Trip to Phoenix

Our journey started off easily enough. We arrived at the airport about 6 am on Sunday. We have flown with US Airways before with Bingo and expeted them to be pretty good about Her Royal Highness. When we got up to the kiosk, there was one frantic guy behind the counter and a couple of ladies further down. I asked the guy if I needed to count her crate as luggage as last time it was considered an assistive device and we didn't have to pay for it. He looked at us and then away.

"Uh, let me ask." He called over the supervisor. Sure, she said. We do it for strollers and baby seats, why not for crates. "I'll sign off on it." He turned to another lady and said, "Can you handle them? I'm full with these." Then he wandered off to his other terminals.

Fortunately, he left us with an animal lover. She LOVED HRH. "Oh, hello lover!" She said. "You are a pretty one. Let me get you fixed up." Then she proceeded to get us set up with the crate, and checked us in and got us signed off.

Then we rode the elevator to the tram, which HRH managed very well. Security didn't blink at her. After the tram ride we got off and went to get into the security line but we were waved into a special line (read very short line). That was nice. We explained to the TSA people that this was HRH's first flight and we were going to take off her leash and coat and then one of us would go through and stand there and the other would hold her while the one on the other side would call her to come through. The TSA agent said to keep her coat on. Then I asked if I could film it.

"NO." Stern look.

"That's why I asked." Smile.

I went through and Fred held HRH. We had to wait for three people to pass and then HRH got to go. I called her. She ran through right into my arms. No problemo.

When we got up to the gate the agent was already working on getting us the bulhead seat and had called up a mom and her daughter. They were moved to an empty row and had an empty seat between them. The agent apologized that she couldn't move the other person in our row.

"No worries. You have been super. We really appreciate all of your help." I tell you, US Airways personnel have always been exceptionally nice to work with and very helpful.

Once we got on the plane, the flight attendents were awesome. They even told the boy next to us, "Once the flight gets in the air, there is a row three rows back that only has one person in it and has an open seat by the window. That way, you can have more room and can give them more room for their gude dog."

Sneaky and manipulative, these US Airways flight attendants. I like 'em! As you can see from the photo above HRH was curled up in one seat are only and didn't extend over into two other areas like Bingo did. She slept the whole way and was a very good girl. When we landed I broke away quickly to find a spot for her to pee and as I was going out to the South an attendant stopped me and said that there was an official spot for pets over on the North side of baggage claim (see photo below).

Sure enough, there was. Unfortunately for HRH it was right next to the heavy traffic noise of 5 lanes of traffic and she just couldn't do her business with all that noise and commotion and humanity looking on. She wandered around sniffing and looking a bit anxious. So we went back inside.

Mom and Dad came to fetch us and we were off to lunch and to deposit our baggage at the house. Our vacation had started.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

President of the Bad Girls Club

There is a Bad Girls Club for real. I haven't watched it. I think it is set in Miami and involves hotties behaving badly. Usually they have a diva moment and strike a pose and scream at each other. This I gather just from the couple of commercials I have seen on late night TV.

Yesterday, Her Royal Highness (HRH) was president of the Bad Girls Club (for puppies). It was a club of two: HRH and Willow (Willow being vice-president for going in the trash after the cookie exchange tissue paper). HRH was president all day long at school. It went sort of like this:

"Hey! Look at me! I'm beautiful!" During study hall in the library.

"I don't want to sit on the cold tile!" Flounces around. "Get me a blanket to sit on!"

[Note: on Bad Girls Club day, all statements have an exclamation point at the end.]

"It's too quiet in the library! Let's party!" Barked while the library is full of kids studying for finals.

"I will not lower my voice!" Bark, head toss, and booty shake.

[Sigh. How many hours until this day is over?]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wrapping It Pre-K Style

For the second year in a row, we've done what's called a Wrap-In where the three divisions get together and decorate presents for children's charities in the bay area. We were fortunate to be paired with Pre-K again. They are super fun.

My first stop with Her Royal Highness (HRH) was this little boy who, when asked if he wanted to pet Berkeley, responded with, "The only dog I don't like is a big dog."

"OK." We went to the next small child.

As you can see we had much better luck at this table. They liked big dogs, which is sort of a laugh as HRH is a runt at 50 pounds and 7 months. She's a delicate flower.

Here we have HRH's fan club. Caroline supplied HRH's Christmas collar (there is a Mrs. Claus hat that goes with it, see below). Caroline is on the right and Katia is on the left. HRH was phenomenal. She visited each child calmly, let them pet her and didn't like or chew on them.

The third member of HRH's fan club is Pilar. They even matched for the wrap-in! We had to take a photo. Later that afternoon we had the holiday convocation (12 Days of Christmas, Jingle Bells, etc.) and HRH got to experience her FAVORITE BAND, the Highlander Pipe and Drum Band. (She does not like the pipe and drum corps.) Here's a short video of her reaction to them playing at the convocation. She dealt with it like royalty: strained about the ears, a little tension about the eyes and a few darting glances at the exits.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Post Thanksgiving Shopping with HRH

I did some post Thanksgiving shopping with Her Royal Highness (HRH) Berkeley. No, not on black Friday. I waited for cyber Monday thinking most people would be on their computers and the aisle would be free for me!

First stop, Home Goods. I had a very bad experience unpacking my Christmas ornaments. Many of them were covered in mold from the wet summer we had (I'm buying ornament storage boxes next stop!) and it made me sad. I only use chile pepper and cow ornaments that I have collected over the last 20 years, so many of the chile pepper ornaments just fell apart. The cow ornaments were made of wood and I could wash. Also, one of my favorite glass Christmas trees broke. I'm on a replacement trip.

Back to Home Goods. They should have some Christmas goodies for me. I get HRH out of the car and ready her for the store. Now, if you don't know Home Goods, right at the front of the store is the crystal section. Followed closely by breakables and seasonal breakables. Then about 5 minutes later you come to sheets and towels.

Not a problem. It's cyber Monday. Everyone is ordering online. HRH and I glide into the store and as I lean down to pick up a basket I hear...

Squeak. Squeak.

Squeak. Squeak.

Oh. My. God. HRH perks up her ears. The squeaking gets more excited and HRH gets more interested we are smack in the front of the store. IN CRYSTAL. SQUEAK. SQUEAKY SQUEAK SQUEAK! Small lurch by HRH over to the left in direction of manic squeaking. Just the faintest sound of nails on linoleum as she scrabbles for purchase to get to the wondrous toy WHICH IS STILL SQUEAKING.

I'm thinking, "Where are the freaking towels?!" I don't need towels, but they are soft and unbreakable and there are about 5 aisles between us and 50/50 cotton safety. "Berekeley, forward."

She glances left, but walks forward. Good girl. We go forward. She still makes several glances to the left. Yep. That manic squeaker is still at it. Why doesn't someone kill him? Or at least tap him on the shoulder and say, "You are the most annoying person in the world!"

Finally, ensconced in cottony safety, with my blood pressure back out of the red, I can think about what I wanted to get. HRH is doing great. I realize though that my shopping mojo is completely out of whack and that the manic squeaker could be anywhere and could strike at any time. No place in the store is safe. Best to leave.

As we get to the front of the store, I glance over to the cashiers and there behind the register is a tall, thin 20 something man with his hand in his Home Goods apron pocket. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

HRH dragged me out of the store.