Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cute Conversation

Waiting in the checkout line at the store today...

Alfie in his work jacket, sitting at the checkout, in front of some shelves of candy


"Oh WOW, a dog!"...this from a very cute little boy of about five.  "Can I pet?"
"Um, no, I'm sorry.  He's working right now,"  I smile to soften the blow.
"Oh -- he BITES."  (With a very serious look.)
"No, he doesn't bite...he's just working right now.  It's just like school, only for dogs."
"And you're his teacher?"  (...his eyes huge in amazement...)
"Yes, that's right!"
"Oh...that is AWESOME!!"...with a big smile.


Oh yes, I do get tired of the questions sometimes...but then there are fun moments too! 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Surprises

Some surprises can be a bit unsettling, like when you get ready to sit down at the table and are inexplicably confronted with this face:

Alfie's face peeks out from under the tablecloth with an intense, staring expression in his eyes
Boo!

Um...yikes.  Just what was he doing under there, I'd like to know?

...But then again, sometimes there are nice surprises!  I came in from a frenzy of spring veggie planting yesterday afternoon to find that Alfie has received two awards for his blog!

The Happy 101 award is from our blog friends Pompei and Toby.  Thanks!!  You are Sweet Friends indeed! 



picture of confetti-topped cupcakes on a red gingham background and a recipe card that says, Sweet Friends: ADD Kind Words, MIX IN Sweet Thoughts, ENJOY Good Times

Thank you, Toby, for also giving us the Sunshine Award...just looking at it makes me want to smile! 

bright red-orange gerber daisy in front of a bright blue sky with wispy white clouds

...Of course these awards have an interactive side to them.  As a recipient of the Happy 101 I'm supposed to: 

  • copy and paste the images to my blog

  •  list 10 things that make me happy, and do one of them today

  • list 10 bloggers who brighten my day
It looks to me like the rules for the Sunshine Award are the same, except you list 12 friends instead of 10.  Taking a cue from Toby, I'm going to streamline this by listing 12 people and that's going to count for both awards!  After all... all of you blog friends are sweet and add a lot of sunshine to my day.  So let's get on with it!

10 things that make me happy?  Oh wow -- obviously, my amazing friends and family...


my Mom, daughter, and me sitting on the edge of a fountain, all are smiling as the breeze blows our hair back

 ...hugs and laughter...the first bluebonnets of spring...



a drift of very bright blue wildflowers blooms along a roadside...each individual flower has a cap of snow white atop the blue

...reading a good book...checking things off my to-do list...as a Texan I'll also have to add Tex-Mex food and Blue Bell ice cream (oh yeah!!  non-Texans don't know what you're missing!)...and of COURSE walkies and snuggles with my buddy Alf!


I'm sitting on the grass, hugging Alfie in my lap

I guess that may be more than ten...I feel like I was just getting started! 

How about a dozen bloggers who lend a bit of sunshine and sweetness to my day?  In no particular order, I nominate the following for these two awards:


...now I think I'll get out and enjoy this spring weather!


Alfie's face wears a slightly bored expression as he sits outside in the sun
...time for our walk already!!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Big Day

Saturday was the big annual GDTx Volunteer Day/Client Graduation.

So WHY do I have no pictures of it to share with you?!...well, my daughter and  blographer (is that a word?--anyway, she does the photography for this blog!), Charissa, was asked to be the official GDTx photographer for the event.  She even got to use our supervisor Michelle's cool camera!  So...my poor little camera just sat in her pocket all day getting lonely.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking, I could've taken pictures, so I've only myself to blame!  But I was a touch busy hanging onto Mr. Alf, plus it was outrageously cold and my fingers were numb.  Those are my excuses and I'm sticking to them! 


Anyway, I DO have a couple of things to share!  Look at this fun "press pass" Michelle made up for Charissa to wear...how cool is that?

green lanyard with handmade press passes on the bottom with the GDTx logo, pawprints, and the words All Access, Press, VIP


Ernie Landy, Volunteer Coordinator, shared that GDTx is truly a volunteer-based organization, with volunteers contributing (if I remember correctly) about 82% of the hours of work.  Pretty amazing!  Also, they figured that for every guide dog team graduated, approximately 26,000 volunteer hours have gone into the process.  They recognized all sorts of volunteers, from puppyraisers, to those who help with the boarding of dogs in advanced training, to those who provide client meals, or help with fundraisers...plus the folks at the Travis County  and Dominguez jails who raise pups through our PAWSitive Approach program...and on and on!  I always think it's great to see so many people come together behind such a worthy and needed cause.

Of course it's always fun to get a trophy too!  GDTx gives out a nice personalized trophy to puppyraisers...if your puppy was a lab you get one with a lab on top like this...


closeup of goldtone statuette of a labrador retriever

...if your puppy was a shepherd there's a shepherd on top...but what to do for the doodles?!  The doodle trophy, apparently, has yet to be invented.  So we get one with a nice little photo of our puppy on top!  Awesome! 


trophy topped by a circular medallion; it has a photo of Alfie's face on it
...the inscription reads: The Lord Family/"Alfie"/2009-2010

OK, sorry you can't make out Alfie's face in the photo above...it's his dark chocolate color, doesn't always show up well in pictures...trust me, it's really there!  But to give you an idea of what it's like, here's the one we got for Dakota (yep, another doodle) last year.


closeup of a circular medallion with a cute red puppy face on it

The weather, although not rainy, didn't quite cooperate.  A front came through the night before and it turned suddenly COLD and gusty.  Since we were outside under a canopy, we were really feeling it!  Still, it was fun to see everyone.  Natalie and Bob were there, with Darrell and Egypt of course.  It was my first chance to meet Egypt in person, and I just loved her.  She worked really well amid all the hubbub...there were lots of working dogs (i.e. well-behaved) and quite a few pups-in-training (i.e. trying-real-hard-but-not-necessarily-behaving!) 

I was most excited of course, to see Dakota and Ben, along with their family!  We raised Dakota for GDTx last year, and when it was decided that he'd be career changed from guide dog to diabetic alert dog, we even got to participate in his diabetic alert training.  It was an incredible experience and of course we think he's an amazing dog! 

Well, I was doing pretty well at resisting my urge to turn around and break up the whole program by saying hello to Dakota, who had arrived with his family and was seated behind us...when out of the blue I heard my name being called to come forward!  Michelle was up there with head trainer Sandy, who was reading an awfully nice speech which was apparently all about us and our training of Dakota!  I was so shocked it was hard to take it in...and then they called Ben and Dakota forward too and we got to have a little mini-reunion right there!  I'm not one given to public displays of emotion, but let me tell you, that was a kleenex moment!!  I'm so proud of those two.  What great memories we have of "Duckie" and how happy we are that he's helping take care of Ben now.

...and here's the fun part:  we were awarded the first ever GDTx "Cotton Ball Trophy," haha!  The backstory here is that when we scent trained Dakota, we used cotton balls...Ben would test, then chew on a cotton ball to get his saliva/scent on it...then put it in a ziploc bag and label the bag with his blood sugar reading.  These little treasures would get brought to us and we'd refrigerate them carefully (in separate, sealed containers for "highs," "lows," and "normals").  I'd open a baggie and hide the scent sample in a pocket when Dakota wasn't looking and he would have to alert me to the highs and lows, ignoring the normals.  So it was quite a production!  Now you know why this unusual-looking award means so much to me!


a silver cup style trophy on an engraved base; the cup part is piled high with cotton balls!
...the inscription reads:  The Lord Family/You're "Scent" From Heaven/2009


All in all, everyone had a great time.  Alfie did reasonably well for his age, I thought.  He got quite a few curious looks, and several compliments too.  He was especially popular with the kids who were there...the feeling was definitely mutual, as he finds children almost irresistible.  Two different people said he had a "Hershey's Kiss nose"...a pretty apt description I think!


Alfie sitting in the sun in our backyard; the sun lights up the highlights in his curly chocolate fur and his nose really does look a bit like an upside-down hersheys kiss!
...then why is it no one gave me so much as a single Hershey's Kiss?!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why You Should Use Stainless Steel Dog Dishes

Alfie's on leash, sitting, looking down at the dark floor where the white shrapnel of his shattered dog dish is lying scattered in front of him
Hmmm...not quite what I'd planned...think they'll give me a bigger one now?

Because preoccuppied mommy types like me can forget to pick them up...

...and somepuppy gets hungry...

...and his not-so-subtle way of telling us involves grabbing the bowl and flinging it on the ground...

OOPSIE!!!

'nuff said?!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

All Work and No Play?

...I don't think so!  Sunny and bright, today was a great day to visit the local dog park.  It was nice and busy, with 30-35 other dogs of all sizes and descriptions happily playing and socializing.  Right when we walked in, Alfie seemed a bit unsure, like a kid on the first day of school. 

Alfie races towards a collie and a couple of boxers in the distance
...that didn't last long!

Alfie trotting right behind the collie, who has a tennis ball in her mouth
"Hey, wait for me!"

Alfie circling nose to tail with a miniature pinscher as they try to sniff each other
...shall we dance?

Alfie and a large tan-and-white dog get a drink from a bowl in the shade
All that running makes me thirsty.

It was fun to watch Alfie socialize.  He played about two thirds of the time with the other dogs...the rest of the time he spent getting to know the people.  Seemed like whenever I lost track of him, I'd overhear a remark that let me know just where he was:  "Wow, feel this dog, he's soft!" (...oh, that's where he is!  I didn't see him snuggled up by that lady's feet!)   ...or my favorite, from an adorable little girl:  "Daddy, look, this frizzy brown dog really likes me!"  

Several of the other dogs were very intent on playing fetch.  Alfie tried to engage them, and didn't seem to understand their obsession with chasing tennis balls!  In fact...to be honest, I don't think he even noticed the tennis balls being thrown!  After a while chasing one of these focused types, he'd give up and go do something else.  Every so often he'd come to check in with us, bump us with his nose, and then he was off again!
  

Alfie's running toward the camera; his mouth's open wide and the pink tongue hangs way out in contrast with his furry chocolate-colored face
...this "frizzy brown dog" is having a BLAST!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Springtime

Spring may not be quite official by the calendar yet, but budding trees and flowers everywhere have me believing in it!  Here are some pictures from a springtime walk Alfie and I took yesterday on one of our nearby trails.  I think he enjoys the break from our regular routine!

deer leaping out of the brush onto the road; sunlight slants across green grass in the background
Half a dozen beautiful deer bounded across the road as we drove up...I would've been interested to see Alfie's response to them, but he was lying down on the floorboard like a good boy and never saw them.

Alfie and I walking along a wide path through woods; he's in his work jacket, on a loose leash, tail wagging as he leads the way

Of course, even on a relaxing hike through the woods Alfie practices his job.  We worked on loose-leash walking...

I'm seated on a bench, Alfie sits facing me
...finding a seat...

rear view of Alfie sitting in front of a metal garbage can; he's getting a treat for finding it
...here he's finding a trash can.

closeup of tiny, bright yellow flowers in a field of green
Spring flowers were everywhere.

looking up, you see tree branches covered in snowy white blossoms; a bird's nest is right in the middle and in the background is bright blue sky with a few white wisps of cloud
These birds have a nice view from their nest!

closeup of a cluster of white flowers; the middle is green, with an explosion of white stamens coming from the center of each bloom; each stamen ends in a bright yellow dot of pollen
Each blossom is like a work of art.

Alfie standing next to yet another park bench.  Does he think I'm really tired??
I admit, I didn't actually ask him to find this bench at first!  On our last walk here (over a month ago) I had Alfie find me this seat.  When we went back yesterday, he remembered exactly where it was and eagerly wanted to take me there again.  I had him "steady" first and then told him that yes, he could "find the seat." 

my treat pouch is kind of big and blurry in the foreground, and you can see Alfie's face behind it; he's clearly hoping for another treat!
Ha ha, I call this picture "treat bag cam"!

a tiny rivulet of water is flowing over limestone; I've crossed and am bending over calling Alfie; his back is arched like a cat's as he delicately steps across
Alfie found the narrowest place to cross, sat politely...and didn't want to budge!  I had to step over first (not even a big step, as you can see!) and encourage him across, silly boy!  And this, out of a dog who loves water.  Go figure!

Alfie sits alertly beside me as I tell him what a good boy he is
Good walk, buddy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Think We're Almost Done

...with puppy teeth, that is!

closeup of Alfie's snout; his mouth is open so you can see a nice row of big teeth on the bottom
Look, I've got big-kid teeth now!

Here's a sample of some of the "presents" Alfie's been leaving around the house for us to discover lately.  It hurts when you step on one of those big back teeth barefoot, let me tell you!


an assortment of seven various little puppy teeth in the palm of my hand
How many dog biscuits should the tooth fairy give for these, do you suppose?

As far as I can tell, there's just one baby tooth hanging on...a canine that's trying to "double up" with the new one coming in right beside it.  Hopefully it'll drop out soon also.

With the advent of some glorious spring weather, I've been trying to get outside and do some chores...pruning, weeding, and all that good stuff.  Alfie has become a sort of self-appointed yard inspector. 

Alfie stands in a bare spot in one of the flowerbeds, head cocked curiously to one side, a quizzical look on his face
Hey, what happened to the bush that used to be right here?


closeup of Alfie's happy face as he gets all comfy lying in a flowerbed...probably squishing whatever brave plant is attempting to grow there!
If you don't want anyone sleeping here, then why is it called a flower BED?

Have a great week everyone...here's wishing you some spring sunshine!

Alfie lying happily in the sun, mouth open...in a patch of grass that's actually starting to green up!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Look

Time for a haircut!  I loved Alfie's luxurious, fleecy fur but it was starting to get impractical for a working dog.

rear view of Alfie in his training jacket, sitting; the long fur mostly covers the words GUIDE DOG so that all you make out are the words IN TRAINING
What's that say, do you think...'Teddy Bear in Training'?

At about 4" long, the fur hung down over his shoulders, obscuring the words "Guide Dog" on his jacket.  Sometimes I don't know if people read that anyway...they certainly don't act like they do...but the cuddly stuffed-animal  look probably wasn't helping anyone to take him seriously!  Then there's walking him in the rain...Alfie doesn't mind it a bit, but that long fur does certainly get wet and takes a while to dry!



Alfie's wet paw in Charissa's hand; the long strands of fur are dripping wet
...especially the paws...

We were scheduled for a training walk with our supervisor Michelle on Monday, so I asked her if she'd mind bringing me a set of clippers to borrow.  The actual clipping (later that night) was a family affair.  We got out a card table and put Alfie on it, with Charissa and Tim helping to situate him so I could reach him (and preventing his accidentally falling off!), while Katharine scooped up the swatches of fur as they came off (otherwise he'd just step in them and make an even bigger mess).  So, what do you think, does he look different?



side view of Alfie; his wavy chocolate coat is clipped to about an inch all over, with fur a bit longer on the tail and face
Ta-da...look what was under all that fur!

I have to admit that at first, his new look just cracked me up.  I was so used to his fluffy, rotund appearance that the new streamlined effect caught me off guard.  I'm no longer worried about him being too fat!

with the shorter cut, you can see Alfie's slim, long-legged build
Me...fat?!  I'm a lean mean guiding machine!

Our walk with Michelle Monday went pretty well.  We visited a grocery store...



Alfie & me walking past displays of produce
Mom loves the produce section...boring!

Alfie sitting, watching me intently as I hold up a dog toy in the pet section
Dog toys?  Now you're talking!

...and then a coffee shop where Alfie actually laid down like a mellow little boy while we talked.  I was pleasantly surprised!



Alfie laying at my feet looking up as I give him a little treat for being good
I know it's important to try and impress the boss, that's all.

The real fun began when Michelle brought out another guide dog in training, Jethro.  I call him the Jolly Grey Giant.  He's huge, even for a German Shepherd...the pictures don't even really do him justice!  Apparently his work is terrific but he needs a little help with dog distraction.  Alfie and I were more than happy to help until...surprise...coming toward us he lunged forward and the strain snapped his leash in two!



Jethro on his hind feet, straining toward us on the wet pavement as Michelle holds him back; this is right before the leash gave way
Ready or not, here he comes!

After that little unscripted moment, we let the dogs greet, Michelle tied the leash back together, and everything was great.  You see, Jethro's not mean at all, just a little...shall we say...enthusiastic!  That, and he's pretty much just a force of nature.  We took the dogs inside Whole Earth Outfitters and they both worked nicely. 


Jethro's large black German Shepherd face nuzzling Alfie's small curly brown doodle face...cute!
Best buds.

We even switched dogs for a while, and I got to take Jethro for a test drive.  For all that size, he does handle really well!  He's very responsive...he'll be a great guide dog I'm sure.  The strangest thing for me, actually, was people's reactions.  When I worked Alfie, wherever I went there was a wave of "Awww...isn't he cute...ohhh..." in that high voice that people use around puppies.  When I walked out with Jethro, a hush fell over the bystanders and it was more like the parting of the Red Sea!  Funny how people react to appearances, isn't it?



Jethro gives me a serious, questioning look; to give an idea of size, his head is above my waist
Jethro, do you think you could teach Alfie your intimidating look?

 Alfie lying down in the grass at home with a bone...his scruffy little face could never look too serious!
On second thought...looking at this face...I'm just not sure Alfie could pull it off!

The great thing is that with the variety of dogs used at GDTx, and the attention given to matching the right client with the right dog, I'm sure that both Alfie and Jethro will end up being just the perfect dog for their respective partners.  Wonder who that's going to be?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Let's Go!

"Let's go!" is one of Alfie's favorite phrases.  He's always up for a challenge.

top view of Alfie walking briskly in his blue working jacket.  It says: Guide Dog in Training
Alfie the guidedood in his superhero outfit.

A couple days ago we did some work on the stairs.  A typical puppy, he tends to rush the "up" stairs and has to really concentrate on the "down" ones.  These stairs are pretty steep too.


Alfie going down some steep stairs, head down in concentration
You oughta try having four legs on these stairs, it's no picnic!


Half way down he found something slimy to grab in his mouth.  I know, because I took it out (ewww...)

Innocent until proven guilty.  OK, I'm proven guilty...

One of the things the pups work on is walking in the correct position.  To guide, Alfie needs to be slightly ahead of me, hips about even with my leg --not "at heel" like you'd teach a pet dog.  I'm not telling how many pictures we got of him doing the wrong thing before we got this good one!  There was a reason:  it was very windy, and gusts kept catching his jacket and blowing it forward, irritating him to no end...he was kinda squirrely!

looking down from above, you can see me walking with Alfie slightly ahead
I can do this!  Just watch!


Proof of how windy it was:  look at his ears!

We've stopped; Alfie's sitting, and a gust of wind is blowing his ears straight out to the side!
I feel like Dumbo ready for takeoff...

Yesterday I was in a shop and we had to wait a minor eternity (in dog years anyway) at the register.  I wanted to get a promotional offer and the sales clerk had to look it up for me.  Believe me, just a few weeks ago Mr. Alf would've been growling and nudging me in impatience, like a bored little child.  But yesterday he was so patient, staying in a nice quiet sit the whole time.  What a good boy!


closeup of Alfie's tousled brown head; he's panting and you can see his pink tongue
I can be very patient when dog cookies are at stake!