Monday, December 24, 2012

Frankenstein's Nutcracker

Sometimes you do things without thinking.  Or, rather, you do them because the moment says do it.  It's the adult version of peer pressure.  Saturday night at the Nutcracker at Ruth Eckerd was such a moment for me.

We walked in with Coach and Melisa and Ed from the South group and went to Portal 7.  Fred said he would hang back and see what was up, but I was in that state of "where is everyone?" mode.  When we walked through the portal doors, Carolyn stood up and waved.  She was just to the left of center of one big-assed row that spanned the entire theater.  There was one group of 5 to step over and then there were some empty seats.  And then there was our group: Charity, a small black lab female, with Lois, her puppy raiser, and her friend and then our seats and then Carolyn and Steve.

I started into the row.  Fred followed behind muttering excuse me's for Coach's blundering about.  Heads in the row in front were popping forward and then looking back. Coach was very happy.

Mind you, Melisa and Ed had an empty row.  We could have not sat in our assigned seats and followed them into their row.

But no, I forged a blistering trail of apologies forward as we made our way to Charity, who was quietly looking for gum under the seats.  Coach immediately got very excited (he's not neutered and neither is Charity) and wanted to become close friends.  Lois and her friend both had glasses of red wine.  This was a problem.  All I could see was Coach sending those glasses high into the air with long streamers of red wine sloshing over members of the audience.

My pulse had just ratcheted up to marathon levels and I think I was close to hyperventilating.  Carolyn asked me a question and I just nodded.  Why did we come to this?

Oh yes, for Coach.  So he could experience the symphony and the joy of the Nutcracker and have a real play experience so his visually impaired person would not be taking him to a play for the first time.

Coach in the meantime had decided that Charity was super cute and date-able. He needed to make her acquaintance and become fast friends.  So he tried to inch his way down to her.  That involved about ten minutes of Fred and me pulling him back and replacing him under our seats, which he didn't want to stay under.

My pulse was still racing.  The curtain went up and so did Coach's head.

"Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrr." Oh God.  I pulled Coach down and tried to step on the leash, but dammit, I had worn pretty shoes again and they had pointy toes and there wasn't much surface area with which to step on the leash.

The cymbals crashed and Coach popped his head up.  The people in front of Fred turned to each and were talking.  What were they talking about?  Were they upset that Coach was being loud?  The lady a few people to the left in the row in front of me turned and I heard her say "Is that a dog?"

"We have got to leave. NOW." I said in my most panicked voice to Fred.  Every head movement of the people in the row in front of us presaged those of the villagers before they burned Frankenstein out of town.  It was getting dangerous.

Fred said in a very calm voice, "There is no way we can leave now. We will only create more of a scene." He nodded to where Charity was sleeping quietly.  Damn that Charity.

"Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrr." Jiminy! Coach! He had popped up again because the cymbals had disturbed him.  Carolyn took over and scrunched him under her chair and massaged him into a semi-unconscious submissive state.  It lasted for a good while until the timpani drum started, then he struggled to get up and see what that was.  Carolyn got him back down and quiet.

From the floor we heard a soft, "Aarr."

In my head all I could think of was the row in front of us marching to the ticket area and asking for their money back.  My pulse had not calmed down.  "When is the intermission?"  I asked Carolyn.  She leafed through the guide and couldn't find it.

"I don't think there is one."

Oh. No.

I stared straight ahead and pondered this.  Surely this Nutcracker had an intermission.  I mean, it was a reinterpretation of the Nutcracker by the Ringling Circus, but I had watched previous Nutcrackers, they had intermissions.  All of these things had intermissions!  Who didn't have intermissions?  Don't circus people get tired?  It was criminal not to have an intermission!  What about people with tiny bladders? Already two people in the row in front of us had gotten up and left.  They were much further down and couldn't possibly have heard Coach.  I bet they had tiny bladders and couldn't hold it.  They had also created a scene and made everyone in their row move as they crawled over the top of them to get out.  I made sure to give Fred significant looks when they did this, which he just as studiously ignored.

Sigh.  We were trapped.  Trapped by Charity and wine.  Damn that Charity!  I looked down the row but I couldn't see her.  She was being good and quiet under the seats.

Finally, after the dance of what I thought was the sugar plum fairies, there was an intermission.  Coach had settled down and was quiet under Carolyn's chair.  I turned to Carolyn, "We are leaving."

"But he's doing great now."

"I can't take it."  The two older ladies in the row ahead of us turned as Coach put his head up to start walking down the aisle.  "I'm so sorry if he bothered you!" I said as I caught them looking at Coach.  I was hoping to forestall the calls for fire and pitchforks.

"Oh not at all!" One of the ladies said with a big smile.  "Is he a dog in training?"  Carolyn started to tell them about the puppy program and the lady started talking about how happy she was that we were able to come to things like this and how good Coach had been.

She thought Coach had been good.  It was a Christmas miracle.

We could have stayed.  We knew now that we were surrounded by friends and supporters.  But I think it is always good to recognize when your child/puppy has reached their limit and leave with the goodwill of everyone around you.  My pulse had returned to normal.

Fred, Cheryl and a calm Coach, who is lying down on the carpet, relaxed and at  peace now that he is outside the actual seating area and on the steps leading inside.
Fred, Cheryl and a calm Coach, who is lying down on the carpet, relaxed and at
peace now that he is outside the actual seating area and on the steps leading inside. 
Thank you Ruth Eckerd Hall for the tickets and for allowing us to experience the Nutcracker!  The Frankenstein villagers slept peacefully that night.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bonfire of the Vanities

Vanity: excessive pride or admiration of one's own appearance.

Hmmm.  I am vain about my shoes.  I love a pretty pair of shoes and might even buy a pair that will cause me trouble if they are excessively pretty. Oh, hell.  Might.  I did.  Then on Thursday I wore them. Because that's what you do.  You buy the pretty shoes and the next day, you wear them because you can't let the pretty shoes languish in your closet.  

But, are you bringing your guide dog puppy in on that day? Yes.  Are these shoes fairly high? Yes.  Might this be a problem?  "Oh, no!" Vanity speaks and wrenches the sensible shoes out of my hands and thrusts the sparkly red shoes into my hands.  "Wear them, wear them.  You will look so good."

So that is how I came to be wearing red platform shoes on Thursday when I had Coach. Vanity, thy name is Cheryl. 

Aren't they pretty? My red platform shoes with sparkly red flowers on the front.
Aren't they pretty? My red platform shoes with sparkly red flowers on the front.
I was ok walking around the library.  I was ok walking to the car for lunch.  The problem came when I detected a poo butt and thought perhaps Coach should take a little walk before we entered the restaurant.  Coach and I set off to find some potty spots.  Fortunately, there was a residential street near by.  Coach did he business in record time.  Unfortunately, there was also a scary snowman on someone's front lawn.

Coach is staring at the designer dog while Frosty looks on in the background.
Coach is staring at the designer dog while Frosty looks on in the background.

Coach was not pleased.  In fact, he began to bark.  He used his big boy bark.  I thought, "This is a great opportunity to have Coach get a little closer to see that Frosty is not scary."  I'm such a good puppy raiser (oh, vanity!).  Mind you, this is the corner house, near the street with the restaurants near by.

Coach was barking and I was saying, "No Noise!" and we were inching our way up an uneven lawn when all of a sudden a gust of wind made Frosty lurch toward us. Coach jerked back and yanked me off my left red platform shoe so that now I was trapped by the strap in some strange platform black hole of half on and half off with a dog giving the fish eye to a wild Frosty. 

As I was flailing around, the next door neighbor walked up with her small, perfectly coiffed, designer dog and she and the dog glanced at me and Coach.  It was that glance that made me try not to flail so blatantly, but seriously, I couldn't right myself.  Were these shoes that high?

Coach must have felt the impact of the gaze as well because he gathered breath for another big boy bark at the small designer dog as the lovely, non-sweating woman and her beige tip-toeing, silent dog glided up their driveway, but all that came out were these high pitched, squeaky barks.  Coach stopped barking.  The designer dog looked back and sniffed. Coach looked at me.

Coach looking up at me for approval.
Coach looking up at me for approval.

I had finally pulled myself together and stepped onto my shoe.  That's when I noticed that the outside patio of the restaurant where we were going to have lunch had a full view of our performance.  It was filled with people.

I hope they noticed my shoes were pretty.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not a Stepchild

By Fred

For a brief while in my childhood I was a stepchild, though I never got any of the Cinderella-ish treatment sometimes associated with that word. I was lucky to have a great childhood and a great stepdad.

I do wonder, from time to time, that by focusing so much attention on our guide dog puppies, we are treating Willow like a stepchild, if only a bit. Sure, Willow has her perks, like being free to nap on the leather chairs (Coach may not). But I can't deny that Coach gets more attention, and he always gets to go out with us.

Normally I play Frisbee with Willow only on the days that Coach is not here (so that I don't have to leave him alone in the house). Yesterday I decided he was trustworthy enough to sit inside while I played with Willow outside. I wasn't sure how Coach would feel seeing us walk away (and with a toy in my hand) to go play.

Fortunately I could see into the house through another window, and I watched how our good boy sat there patiently by the door the whole time, not jumping or even pacing. What a good boy.

It's hard for humans to remember that dogs just can't hold a grudge.

Even if they do feel like stepchildren from time to time, they are quick to forgive and forget.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Exuberant Jam's November Report Card and a Photo of Sunny

We just received Jam's November report card and he is in Phase 3!  OMG!  We have never had a puppy go to Phase 3 before.  What is Phase 3 you ask? Well, Phase 3 is Polishing and blindfold walks!

That's right.  Our Jam is actually guiding people on blindfold walks.  Woot!!  Of course, there is a trainer there as well as you can see in the photo below: The person with the blindfold on has the dog at their left.  The trainer is holding the dog's leash in case something goes wrong.  But for the most part, the dog is doing some guiding here.  

Our North Pinellas puppy Sunny is the guide dog in this photo leading the blindfolded person.
You can tell by her dimples on her forehead. Photo by Kathy Hysmith.
What is cool about the above photo, while not of Jam, is that it is of one of our North Pinellas pups and one of Jam's fellow IFT kennel mates Sunny.  Sunny was raised by our AC Carolyn.

Below is a copy of Jam's November report card.  He is doing great.

His trainer had these comments about him:

"COMMENTS:  This dog always puts a smile on my face in the morning! J  Jam is still coming along in training.  He loves to work and needs a job to do.  He is still very exuberant but is maturing.  On days that he stays back from training, Jam enjoys spending his time playing in the field and participating with kennel enrichment. "

That's our boy: exuberant, happy and willing to work.  Go, Jam! Go! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Wrap-In and the Christmas Convo

Last Friday, a week ago, our entire school participated in our fourth annual Wrap-In.  It's a community service initiative that brings together the whole school and it ultimately benefits several local charities:  Redlands Christian Migrant Association, the Head Start Programs at Jackson Springs and Town and Country Commons and Dover Elementary School.  

What is nice about the project is that all the divisions get to mix it up and be together, an upper advisory group with a lower classroom, middle advisory with upper and so on.  This year, like our other years, we were lucky and got paired with one of the pre-k classes and a middle division class.  

Richie and Kelland sit with Coach after writing letters for their gift bags.
Coach's job was to go around and let all the kids pet him and to behave calmly and sit.  He did very well.  When he started to pull on his leash about 9 am, I figured something odd was up and took him outside.  Yep, that was a classic Coach poo signal.  Yea Coach!  Pooping in the pre-k classroom, while not unheard of, would have been a bad thing!

I met one of the most delightful pre-k little girls.  She is sitting on the chair next to me.
She had red sparkly glasses like mine and was a real spitfire.

Mostly our older kids helped the younger kids write and decorate letters to the put in the gift bags for the kids to receive on Christmas. It is a nice community-building experience for us.

Here's what a 1,000 plus filled Christmas gift bags look like! Very colorful. (Photo by Chris Woods BPS)
And in the end, our kids our very generous and we donated over 1,000 presents.

Coach is lying on the wooden gym floor thankful there is no more piping going on .
Later in the afternoon we went to the Christmas all school convo.  That was almost a screaming disaster.  Evidently, the new piping instructor has tuned the bagpipes or the pipers are now playing them differently, because for the first time ever, Coach nearly lost his shinola in the gym!  We were about 10 seconds from bolting from the convo: I had gathered up all my stuff was about to get up, Coach had sat up and was shaking his head and seemed poised to let out an ear piercing howl, when the pipers stopped playing.  

Sweet silent night.  

Coach went back to sleep and all was well.  Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Drunk Santa

By Fred
I'm sure that being Santa is not easy. Talk about pressure... But there is code of basic human decency, and it does not allow for being drunk and passed out on Main street in Dunedin, especially with the little children and puppies passing by.

There's only so much you can do to overlook a person's moral failings, even when that person brought you a cool chemistry set when you were a kid.

And so here was Santa once again, motionless and worrisome to Coach just like the last time we saw him, only today Santa was face-down drunk on the sidewalk, sleeping like a log.

What brings a man to this point, his face smashed against rotting leaves and cigarette butts?

We could have turned away but it was time for Coach to grow up and take a look at the unpleasant side of life.

Gradually we approached--no reason to be afraid.

A quick sniff and we decide to move on. Santa is not scary. Santa is not bad. He's just a little drunk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Coach Meets Santa, Twice

By Fred

Petsmart has hired a Santa for silly people with silly dogs like us. That's good because Santa was, at the very least, a good exposure for Coach, who must have wondered what the heck was going on.

A picture of puppies and raisers in our back yard
Then there was the party this weekend at our house, with puppies and good people and presents and Christmas-stuff everywhere. Of course, this was the first Christmas for these dogs, so they might have missed some of the finer details.

And then today Coach and I took a lunch-time walk in Dunedin, and who did we see? Santa, in the flesh, full-size, standing there like a statue in someone's yard.
Santa, standing in the bushes near the front porch.
What is he doing there in the bushes?

If Santa had been jumping up and down on one leg and waving his arms, Coach wouldn't have given him a second look, but Santa was just standing there with that cheery grin and extended hand.

...just standing there and not moving a muscle.
Coach sees Santa
I mean, what could be more welcoming and reassuring than that image--Santa standing in someone's yard, wishing everyone a good day?

Santa. Just looking at us and smiling.
Coach with a puzzled look. frozen in place.
Is that Santa?

A picture of Coach, suddenly unsure
about Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reading To Lower Division

Last week we had a great change of pace: we got to visit the lower division library!  I was going to read the story, but Coach decided that he was going to be a wiggle worm and was just to wiggly to let be alone by my side, so the lower division librarian Kathleen Edwards read the stories to the kindergarten classes while Coach and I listened with the children.

Kathleen reads a story in her rocking chair while Coach gnaws  his nylabone beside her in coat.
Kathleen reads a story in her rocking chair while Coach gnaws  his nylabone beside her in coat.

I must say though, I am not an idiot.  I was prepared for something like this: the 10 am twisties. I had brought a nylabone and his linus blanket with us.  He finally settled into the nylabone and was very calm. 

Shot of Coach with his bone and the children looking up at Kathleen.
Shot of Coach with his bone and the children looking up at Kathleen.

The kids were thrilled to see him.  Even with him given them the brush off and chewing his toy, they were still excited to be in the same room with him, such is his celebrity.

Coach in front of the rocking chair with a sassy look on his face.
Coach in front of the rocking chair with a sassy look on his face.

Sometimes I worry that it gives him a big head.

A more subdued closeup of Coach, he's feeling more relaxed after some bone chewing.
A more subdued closeup of Coach, he's feeling more relaxed after some bone chewing.

Mostly, though, he was a good boy.  Because he was wiggly, we didn't allow any petting.  Instead we gave out our brand new Coach storytime stickers!
The sticker that we gave out: it has a closeup of Coach with storytime with Coach printed over his head and a small Southeastern Guide Dog logo on it.
The sticker that we gave out: it has a closeup of Coach with storytime with Coach printed over his head and a small Southeastern Guide Dog logo on it.

They were a big hit with everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grandparents and Boat Parades

Last night we went out to celebrate Melisa's birthday and by pure happenstance we ran into Coach's mom's family.  It was very cool.  Nancy and Steve (pictured below with Coach) were in St. Pete waiting for their table at the same restaurant we had just finished eating at (400 Beach, very good and a great Southeastern Guide Dog supporter). 

Coach is sitting in front of Nancy and Steve who are kneeling in back of him.  Steve is on the left and Nancy on the right.
Coach has a big smile on his face. Nancy and Steve are also smiling.
Brittany is Coach's mom and Coach is from her first litter.  We talked a bit about how we thought the golden retriever in Brittany made Coach as sweet as he is.  Evidently Brittany is super gentle and sweet as well. Considering that Coach's dad is Jack and that Jam's dad is Jack, he could have been a rowdy boy!  So we are sticking to our story of Brittany giving him all his sweetness.

Judy, Jerry, Melisa with Bo at their feet in a Xmas collar.  Fred and I are on the far right with
Coach who's eyes are glaring like lasers.

We also walked along the bay side hoping to see some of the boat parade, but alas, our dinner took too long.  We had just missed it.

It was an interesting dinner because Coach's nemisis Petey came.  As soon as the two of them locked eyes on each other there was barking.  Fortunately, they had us in a room that had some high walls.  I would say that everyone except Coach behaved very well.  Petey gave one bark to Coach's three.  Plus Coach whined because he wanted to get near his BFF Bo.  Bo, however, was playing hard to get and was spending time with Coach and then Petey.  So, neither boy knew which one was the ultimate winner.

Overall, I say it was a great night for all: seeing Brittany's folks, catching the last two boats of the boat parade and being able to celebrate a good friend's birthday.  Good end to a great day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sins of Omission

By Fred
I remember that day in Sister Agatha's class when I learned about sins of omission. An eight-year-boy like me got in trouble often enough without this new idea of getting in trouble for doing nothing.

I believe I sinned again the other day at Casa Tina's restaurant. The little girl at the table next to me dropped some of her food on the floor. It landed with a messy, stinky, loud splat only a few feet from Coach's nose. Normally he would have pounced, but this time he just looked up at me calmly and smiled. The girl's mother was very impressed when I told her that Coach is only eight months old.

"You are doing a wonderful job with him," she said, and I just smiled. Sin #1.

A picture of Coach with his tongue hanging out.
We are walking along the busy streets for practice.
This brought on a typical conversation about the guide dogs, and two other tables joined in with questions. I was so full of myself that by the end of the lunch I thought I'd double down.

"We're working on his go-to commands," I told them as we got up to leave. "I'm going to ask Coach to lead me out of the restaurant, and then I'm going to let him lead me without prompting. So we might be here for a while." I have an audience at this point.

"Find the door," I said to Coach. I fully expected that I would have to cheat a little (a real sin of commission). But Coach walked me right to the door and sat down. Applause.

A moral person would have turned around and admitted that, wow, Coach had never done that before. I just walked away. #2.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Naming a Puppy: Almost Halfway There!

I'm excited and proud to announce that we are close to $1500 in our quest to name a puppy for the Walkathon for Southeastern Guide Dogs.  The Student Library Proctors are trying to raise $3500, which is the amount you need to name a puppy.  Our next milestone is $1500.  We just had a breaksale and sold almost $200 in donuts and bagels and ice cream bars!  It was lovely!

Here is photo of one of our previous breaksales that shows two tables full of Dunkin Donuts! 8 dozen to be exact!!
Here is photo of one of our previous breaksales that shows two tables full of Dunkin Donuts! 8 dozen to be exact!!
We have quite an energetic crew that is trying to reach this lofty goal.  I am so impressed and proud of them.  They have really worked hard and pulled off something great.  To have amassed this much already is amazing.  

We just received a note from Southeastern that we were a "Top Dog" fundraiser for raising over $1,000. Won't you be part of our success?  Email me if you want to get some raffle tickets or go to Coach's fundraising page to contribute.  We also have cute totes for sale for $15 plus shipping (unless you live in Tampa: 
Photo of our totebags with the drawings of famous authors on them.  The drawings were done by a  student library proctor.  Authors include: Shakespeare, Poe, Austin and Lee.
Photo of our totebags with the drawings of famous authors on them.  The drawings were done by a  student library proctor.  Authors include: Shakespeare, Poe, Austin and Lee.
As a sidenote, what library-related puppy names do you think we should name the next male puppy?  So far we have:

  • Dewey
  • Booker
Harry Potter themed names include: 
  • Sirius
  • Harry
  • Lupin
  • Hagrid
  • Fluffy
  • Ronald
  • Pigwidgeon
  • Dumbledore
  • Albus
  • Aberforth
  • Neville
  • Dobby
  • Firenze
  • Buckbeak
  • Severus
What is your favorite?