Saturday, October 24, 2009

Island Hearing Celebrations!

Island Hearing has been supporting PADS since before my time (many many moons ago...)and they continue to be one of my very favourite groups of people. Like us, they are in the business of changing lives and increasing independence -- in their case they use state of the art technology and lots of patience and skill to help their clients hear better. We serve many of the same clients, and they think of us often -- whether it be to order PADS calendars to give to their customers at Christmas time, or because they are attending a trade or homeshow and want to give PADS some exposure by sharing their booth with us. Like a well matched working dog team....Island Hearing and PADS seems like a match that was meant to be! In short, they're amazing.

Yesterday we got to celebrate with them though...PADS Retired Hearing Dog Bowen, Puppy-in-training Duke, Instructor Pam Houston, Volunteer Brigid and I (Communications Coordinator Tara) piled into the PADS van long before it was light. We wrote "ROAD TRIP!" in the van mileage log and headed for Sechelt on the Sunshine coast. Island Hearing was having a Grand Opening for their new Sechelt Clinic.

Bowen was quite certain he was the rockstar of the day, firmly claiming his spot in the passenger seat -- he was quite convinced that this was his right and was nothing less than horrified when I tried to evict him to the floor. We comprimised on my lap where he, through many grumbles and grunts, tried to impart to me just how brilliant and amazing he was...nearly human in fact. Duke established himself as more of a "princess" than a Duke, sighing and pacing the back of the van until Brigid provided him with a towel to lie on.

We arrived at the Sechelt clinic in record time, and were immediately impressed -- not only is it beautiful and welcoming with huge windows with a glass sunroom as a waiting area -- but the staff was even more welcoming and warm.

Our dogs showed us in short order the difference between their off duty idiosycracies and their working professionalism. Bowen demonstrated his hearing dog skills, how he waits in anticipation for every sound so that he can let Pam know that the timer is going off, or the phone is ringing or someone is knocking at the door. Duke, charmed the Island Hearing staff and customers with his soulful puppy eyes, and impressed them with how well behaved and obedient he was for a 7 month old pup. On the job, he uttered not one complaint about his spot on the beautiful new white tile floor.

It was a great day...we had the chance to celebrate with some great people, and talk to some amazing customers whose lives are changed by Island Hearing...keep up the good work guys! We'll see you soon :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Very Special Puppy!

Meet Shelby, like most brand new PADS puppies she's a Labrador, adorable, cuddly, sweet and her tiny feet smell very much like Doritos.

What's unique about Shelby?

Well for one she's a chocolate Labrador, in PADS' history we've had less than 20 chocolates, they just aren't as common, and currently we don't have any dogs with chocolate in our breeding program.

Rather than coming from our breeding program, she was also donated to PADS by long time supporter Terray Boomir at Terrarust Labradors. Terray has been donating dogs to us for a very long time...and currently we have over 14 of Terray's puppies at various stages of training and many more working with clients (so maybe Shelby isn't THAT unique on that front...)

But what makes this tiny adorable Chocolate Labrador unique other than her spirited, playful personality is that she marks a milestone in PADS' history.

She is our 500th puppy to enter training.

22 years, 500 dogs...a lot of history, a lot of lives changed. Who we are doesn't begin and end with puppies starts with our wonderful clients. They are as diverse as our dogs: coming from all walks of life, with their own stories, their own victories, and their own desire for a new kind of freedom. Freedom that for many comes in the form of a faithful, and highly skilled dog like Shelby will be one day.
So, friends, supporters, volunteers -- congratulations, 500 is a big number, we couldn't have gotten here without you...and we can't keep moving forward without you either.

Here's some interesting statistics about those 500 dogs from Jackie Clark, our Director of Canine Programs:
• Labrador Retrievers - 207 (Yellow 105, Black 87, Chocolate 17)
• Golden Retrievers - 90
• Smooth Fox Terriers - 21
• Lab X Goldens - 19
• Schipperkes - 12
• Shetland Sheepdogs - 11
• Standard Poodles - 10
• Labradoodles - 8 (Standard 7, Miniature 1)
• Smooth Collies - 6
• Australian Shepherds - 5
• Lab X Border Collies - 5
• American Eskimos - 4
• Bernese Mountain Dogs - 4
• Chesapeake Bay Retrievers - 3
• Miniature Goldendoodles - 3

Other breeds: Basenjis, Tahltan Bear Dog, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Papillon, Miniature Poodle, Lab X German Shepherd, Karelian Bear Dog, Irish Setter, Miniature Schnauzer, various other crosses.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The post about the Calendar...

The Calendar is tradition. It is beautiful and adorable and the hearts desire of every puppy-raiser. I'm glad this year was officially a contest, but it was hard.

They are all just so darn cute.

We eliminated the pictures that were just odd. Like the one of a gangly teenage dog not in cape, sleeping it it's crate facing away from the camera. There weren't many of these. fortunately...unfortunately... (they amused us).

Then we cropped what was left. That eliminated about 40%...square proportions ruin some photos.

Then we eliminated anything that looked remotely blurry. Out go another 10%.

Then I lamented. We still had about 200 pictures for 13 spots.

The voting began. Each person voted for their favorite 3 in each category: Black Labs, Yellow Labs, Chocolate Labs, Goldens, Hearing Dogs, Group Shots. It took a week. People wrote cheeky comments on some of them like "I am sleepy" or "save me from this photographer!".

The staff were all expected to vote each day. No one knew who the dogs were or who the photographers were. Except for some of the obvious York and Toby. When you're one of a kind it's hard to hide. People liked to guess. Mostly they were wrong, it amused me when they voted for a picture that they thought was their "favorite dog" and it was not them.

Then my work began, trying to make 24 photos into 13...and then I decided I couldn't do it.

So we also got 4 beautiful new notecards.

THANK YOU to every person who made the job of choosing SOOOO difficult! The photos were simply beautiful, and the puppies made us proud.

So here it is folks...the 2010 PADS Puppies-in-Training Calendar:

You can pre-order yours now!!

About the walk, but not about the walk...

I really want to write an exciting post about the walk -- it was amazing, and there is plenty of material to pull from but it just won't come. Also, the powers that be...namely Dee and Melissa won’t tell me how much the walk raised yet. I’m trying to be patient. There are big numbers out’s record breaking. We know that much. Be excited! I know, I feel the same way, real numbers would be better, but we shall be patient together.

So, now that we covered that in 7 sentences, I feel bad. That’s not a post. I don't want to write about me, because it feels rather selfish and self absorbed, but I can't think of anything I’d rather write about than what happened to ME at the walk.

Those of you who know me well, know that I wound easily and frustration often ends in tears much to my “grown up/professional” chagrin. I get very upset with myself, when I am trying to explain why a situation or challenge frustrates me and I have to stop because stupid liquid starts leaking out of my eyes. It’s embarrassing, I’m an adult I say!!!

Tears shouldn’t be a surprise, except, that unlike my mother...I don’t cry because I’m happy. I don’t understand why people do. Until Sunday, August 30th, 2009. This happened to be "Walk & Roll Day" or in my case "Walk & Cry Day"

I had just begun a conversation with my friend Steven (sorry Steven!) and someone else, who sadly I don’t even remember because of what happened next.

I looked up and saw a black labrador.

I cried.

Stupid, uncontrollable tears of sheer joy dripping all over the nose of a pretty black lab. Black labs again are nothing shocking – I think all 7 of “my” crayon colour litter puppies (that lived in my kitchen in December of 2008) were in attendance not to mention a couple extra blacks...and they are all very similar in appearance. But there was no question that this was not your ordinary run of the mill black lab puppy-in-training.

It was MY RUBY!!!!

I have not seen this precious gem for nearly a year, and the sight of her, followed by “her” people, VIP (PADS Very Important Pet Program) kids Kiarra and Rylan and parents Dean and Fiona came as a total surprise.

She reciprocated, initially wagging her tail as if to say “pleased to meet you” but as I crumbled to the ground in a mess of tears, I felt her whole body language change as she realized this crazy lady was her first “Mum” and she smothered me in kisses and uncontrollable wiggles.

For the 3rd time in my life I cried because I was happy. The first two were at the birth of my beautiful kids T'ea & Matthew (and I would argue they were tears of pain/relief more than doubt they were my MOST happy moments, I was thrilled...mostly that they were no longer trying to pry themselves out of my body).

Ruby was my initiation into PADS. Beautiful and brilliant in her first 9 months as a puppy-in-training she established herself as the class obedience superstar (much to the chagrin of every dog I’ve attempted to badly train since), I ran out of things to teach her she learned everything so quickly. Ruby was the beloved “first dog” of not only me, but everyone who met her at Kwantlen University College where I was going to University and the elementary school where I worked. Her exit from training was sudden and devastating to my “new kid” eagerness. My frustration at not being able to “fix” her sensitive spirit resulted in many sad, frustrated tears.

But the Sunday joy that flowed out in the form of tears were 9 months of love...poured into a little black Labrador that has changed the lives of her VIP family forever. When she was career changed from service dog work I thought I was a failure. PADS staff (which I wasn’t yet) were kind and said all the “right” things, and their love of this little black dog overshadowed my petitions to give her a second chance, or to give me some magical training formula to fix her. What I realize now is that her greatest weakness is actually her greatest strength. I am grateful for the experience and wisdom of PADS staff who saw this when I couldn’t yet.

Ruby has changed the lives of the McLure family forever, she is a gift to each of them in different ways: pet, confidant, running partner, soccer buddy, stuffy-zoo-keeper... best friend. My tears were as much pride as they were joy, she is who she’s always been, and everything she was meant to be!

Some of you will raise dogs that aren’t cut out to be service dogs...but if they are canine they are destined to make a’s our job as staff and volunteers to help them find their way even if it’s not the path we expected.

At the walk there were many kinds of dogs...hopefuls-in-training, working dogs, released dogs, VIP dogs, pet dogs, agility dogs, big dogs, little dogs, a few tiny dogs in funny clothes and even a giant stuffed Scooby Doo riding shotgun in the Music Machine! They are all part of the PADS family and their presence brought a richness to the day that far exceeded the money we raised (which I will tell soon as I know...).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

When the puppies just aren't enough...

A dear friend tonight posted on my facebook wall that I must be “the WACKY DOG WOMAN” because I post more dog than people’s true...there is no arguing it...

This is not a new passion or love, there was a brief 6 month period in my life “without dogs” and I was somewhat lost. I say somewhat because I had two children under the age of two so I didn’t have much time to think about it being lost at the time, but there was definitely a void. However, in the last few years most of my friends have opened their homes, and our dinner, movie & coffee dates to four legged puppies in training...So I wouldn’t blame you – I’ve gotten used to being greeted by “Ruby!!”, “Maisie!!” or “Another one?!”....I get it.

The only exception I take to being the wacky dog lady is that I (and my adorable pups) are a buffer between my friends and something extraordinary that keeps me coming back for more...and (admittedly) has made me appear a bit more than somewhat “Wacky”...

I have had no less than 38 pups through my house in the last 3 years....and at one time I had 11 (at Christmas last year when we had a litter in our kitchen!) this is crazy even for a dog lover. REALLY crazy. I don’t actually like the revolving door very much. For many reasons....

A. I don’t like that every time I take a new dog it takes 3-4 weeks for their true personality to come out...especially when often I only have them for 3-4 days.

B. I don’t like that dogs react to the stress of a new environment by being hyper, disobedient, and often forget basic things like housetraining.

C. I don’t like that it makes the dogs that are permanent members of our family (and some of the two legged people too!) stressed for a few days every time a new pup comes through the door...and creates behaviours in them that are not attractive or endearing either.

Last but not least...I REALLY don’t like that just as I begin to get attached and my heart starts to forget point A, B & C that I have to give them back, and then I cry...

So why do I still do it? Because of the joy I find on the other side of the buffer -- when the cute factor gets old...When the puppies just aren't enough anymore...

Last week I had another dog in my house, his name is Leroy (at right with Maisie)...I call him the Marsh-mellow man...or sometimes just mellow man. He’s a yellow lab that is more the colour of a lightly toasted marshmallow, mostly white with some carmel tips here and there...

Leroy, like most dogs that come to visit was a little stressed, fortunately he doesn’t pee in my house, he just is very silly and “very silly” for him, is sort of like most pet dogs on sedatives so we’re good. But Leroy is what inspired this post, because when PADS talks about “making a difference, one dog at a time” it’s dogs like Leroy that we’re talking about. I first met Leroy at Kwantlen, I was walking through the halls with my brand new 10 week old puppy-in-training Ruby when I came across this handsome boy and his lovely partner Nicole. Reality time: had either of us not had a PADS dog at the end of our leash we wouldn’t have met...sad, but true. That’s one of things Leroy does...he’s a handsome escort that acts a social the new boyfriend who’s the most popular guy in school – everyone knew Leroy and as a result, they got to know someone even more remarkable: Nicole. Unlike the popular guy at school, Leroy never demands attention – his job is to make Nicole shine. And shine she does, she is bright, bubbly and funny – she is incredibly caring, kind and thoughtful. I’m sure she’s always been that way...but those who knew her BL (before Leroy) say that she is a changed woman, she’s now exudes confidence, enthusiasm is talkative and always smiling – before Leroy she was shy and unsure. Having Leroy gave her the confidence to go to school on her own. Of course like most PADS dogs Leroy does physical things for Nicole, the biggest thing he does is give her the freedom to come and go as she pleases....opening and closing the front door so that Nicole can leave the house. This “little” thing means the world to Nicole, not having to be an imposition or annoyance to anyone, and to have the pride of knowing that she is truly an independent adult, not someone’s a wonderful gift. Leroy has opened so many doors for Nicole...but the biggest ones are figurative.

I keep bringing crazy dogs into my house and loving them, because at the end of the day I know what I do makes a difference. The dogs are great..even when they are exhausting...but the clients are just like me, they love, work and play – their strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows may be different but we are very much alike in our desire to matter and make a difference. It’s a circle and if my door closes to furry friends, then clients don’t get dogs, and clients don’t get as much freedom to make the impact they do in our community...

I’ve been asking everyone I know to pledge me for the PADS Walk & Roll for Independence, but now I am offering you a different the "other side" past the cute puppies. I'd love for some of you to meet some of the people that are the reason the dogs are in my life...

The walk and roll for independence is at Confederation Park on August 30th. It’s gonna be a great day, with fun for the whole family (two legged and four!). You can register here:

I promise you won't be disappointed, and you too might leave a little bit changed...

Monday, May 11, 2009

I believe in magic...

Tartan, Honey, Ceilidh & Miles - Photo by Shaun Derman

The PADS Mother’s Day Brunch and Auction has become almost legendary...between puppies, clients, dogs, volunteers and supporters it’s a day when everyone comes together. There is friendly bidding and money spent but something bigger happens – it “all” becomes real and the atmosphere is electric...

  • For the supporters that have read newsletters and contributed generously it’s a chance to see the fruit of their dedication and the hopefuls for the future.

  • For the clients it’s a chance to catch up – to meet new friends and old – and to support the future hopefuls!!

  • For the volunteers that it’s a chance to get to meet and know the clients they serve so selflessly.

  • For the volunteers that raise our puppies and give them up it’s an opportunity to see the dogs they love deeply making a difference.

  • For the raisers that are trying to keep their adolescent charges calm and under control in a ballroom full of “admirers” and other dogs it’s a reminder of why they are living in “Leave It! Land” and an encouragement to keep going!

  • For the staff it’s a chance to witness the magic of all of these things!!

    The week before the auction the staff and auction volunteers are almost always reaching the end of their proverbial rope...there are so many details and last minute things to pack and pick up and print...sleep is elusive and exhaustion can get to the best of us. Auction day snaps us out of it and reminds us that any job worth doing is a job worth doing well....

    As I cued the 2009 PADS video for the last time of the morning (sound piped through a microphone held up to a speaker because something always has to go wrong with the technology!!) I had to sit silent for the 5 minutes it played. Instead of watching it (and tearing up again) I looked around the room...tears welled up anyway... for a moment I forgot that I was hungry, tired, and even that my feet were I caught a glimpse of the organization I work and volunteer for.

    Right behind me was Lisa, the nurse who uses Therapy Dog Rowan to help inspire her patients through difficult and what could be tedious physical therapy. Sitting with her was a group of incredible employees from Westjet, they are no longer mere coworkers, but generous PADS donors and eager volunteers, with them was PADS’ youngest puppy-in-training – 10 week old Ella. Amazing.

    To one side was a beautiful Sheltie Hearing Dog, alerting her client to sounds and identifying an invisible disability. To the other side was Sherry giving Service Dog Athens a scratch – these two selflessly give their time and creative talents each year to give back to PADS – helping more clients experience the gift they have. Across from them, Matt Mills, who has served PADS for nearly a decade – raising so many puppies we’ve lost count, serving as our board President and most recently rescuing us by MC’ing the day when our beloved Val Cole was unable to attend.

    I saw a group of puppy-raisers, once strangers, now friends for life – joined by the bond of loving tiny fluffy bundles in yellow capes into full grown superheroes!

    I watched Gary and Karen, dedicated puppy-raisers eagerly bidding for a painting they later took home...grinning ear to ear. The painting was of a tug boat with the name “Max” proudly emblazoned on its bow – that painting was the creation of volunteer Marnie Hartnell, who has for nearly 16 years served PADS every single week! Her commitment is the only thing more beautiful than her paintings!! It makes me smile to think that the creation of PADS’ longest standing volunteer will grace the new home of two volunteers that embody the same giving spirit...

    All around me were clients, dogs, puppies and people I admire. I felt an incredible sense of pride, humbled to be part of all PADS does...and will continue to do. So to all you PADS Assistance dogs...and the people who helped you get where you are....thank you & well done...


    PS...the video...
  • Friday, April 24, 2009

    The Jazz Greats Have Arrived

    Smooth and stylish (though perhaps still a little lacking in the rhythm department), four beautiful Labradors have arrived at PADS from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California yesterday. Two handsome yellow brothers Duke and Miles, a black male Coltrane and a petite, red little girl named Ella (giving Melissa a pat above).

    Volunteer Mike Swindells, with the help of girlfriend (and PADS Special Events Coordinator) Melissa Slade, came up with the Jazz Greats theme, naming the group of pups after Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald.

    It was a great theme for two reasons:

    It was a perfect opportunity to name a puppy Duke (below) in honour of Past President Rick Russell. Duke was his brother’s nickname growing up and he thought it would be a fine name for a pup...we agree wholeheartedly! More importantly if the handsome and sturdy little Duke grows up to make as much of a difference in his world as Rick, his client will be very blessed indeed.

    Though I won’t make any claims to being an expert on Jazz, I know that two of the things I love about it are the improvisation and syncopation. Today as I watched Duke, Miles (yellow male below), Coltrane (black male below) and Ella play then later caught glimpses of new client and service dog teams bonding and working hard in team training this seems especially fitting. Like a beautiful melody they work together – improvising sounds like compromising, but it isn’t. It’s the beautiful thing that happens when something is done differently and yet with style. Syncopation is when a note of music that is supposed to be stressed is unstressed instead. What better way to describe what these lovely hopefuls will do for a client someday.