Wordless Wednesday (3 months!)




Today marks 3 months since graduation! Has it only been 12 weeks? It’s hard for me to remember what in the world I did BC (Before Cassius). We’ve done lots of things, met all kinds of interesting people, and have so much more to look forward to.

These photos kind of sum up our relationship and doings thus far. Cassius loves to cuddle, enjoys going out and doing things (especially when he can attract an adoring fan club to tell him how sweet, smart and beautiful he is), and believes that toys are for both playing and sleeping with.

And, finally, that a crate is the best place ever besides a human’s lap!


Beach Fun, Fundraising & New Friends

This weekend, Cassius and I had a lot of firsts together: First vacation. First hotel stay. First CCI fundraiser. First time being with 50+ other dogs. First beach romp (and also the first time he’s knocked me down on said uneven sand, but we’re going to ignore that).

It all went wonderfully. Although Cassius is mellow and laid back, like all CCI dogs he loves people and dogs. Having a lot of people fawning over him and telling him how good he is, he’ll gladly take it! Met lots of wonderful CCI puppies in training, fellow graduate teams, volunteers, and a few crazy (but loveable) change of career dogs. Somehow acquired yet more things with CCI logos on them. Lost a few raffles. Gained a lot of experience in crowds-with-dog.

I’m really glad I went, I was a little hesitant a few months ago that we’d not be ready, but we definitely are! I like passing these milestone moments with Cassius, now planning for our first plane trip to Southern California soon.

And because a post like this isn’t complete without plenty of photos of said dog looking uber-cute (unfortunately, mostly posed shots-haven’t mastered the art of photographing-while-holding-dog):






Wordless Wednesday (Peer Pressure, or Good Dog!)


So Cassius and I goofed in our final certification. At the last food drop, he gobbled down a piece of food. I was kind of surprised, as he has been good at not going for food-but I also don’t purposefully launch food at him! So inspired by a bunch of puppy raisers who are doing this, we successfully did this today! Not so much as a look at the food. Good boy!


In dog-training-speak, proofing is getting consistency performing a command in all kinds of interesting circumstances. It’s a necessary thing to have your dog be solid at to be a good doggie citizen.

Found a whole tree worth of petals on our afternoon walk today, and practiced our down. Someone doesn’t look too enthralled (or maybe he’s moping about the fact that his favorite ducks were nowhere to be found):


I like the idea of proofing. I need to translate the doggie version to the people version. I need my reasonable side to trump my nagging, irrational side. So, as I proof my dog I am vowing to proof myself, too.

Proofing the nearly-perfect under at Peet’s (except those front legs – he likes to stretch!)

Inside / Outside

“Penny Loker’s birth defects disfigured her face, but neither affected the person she is on the inside.”

CNN’s profile of a woman born with Goldenhar Syndrome leads with this statement.  And once again, while I applaud their effort and heck, even the fact that they’re spotligting facial differences in the first place, this insistence annoys me to no end.  Why is it that we as a society cannot conceptualize being a successful, functioning person while at the same time being profoundly influenced by something? It’s an all or nothing scenario, which sells everyone short.  It’s just interesting to think about when reading things written about and by people with disabilities and medical conditions.

More often than not, unfortunately, society seems to still fall into the tropes of the heroic disabled person who rises above everything and succeeds.  While some people find power or validation in that narrative, I always find it rather mortifying when someone attempts to apply it to me.  There is nothing heroic or special about the way I live my life with my medical condition.  I know that sounds kind of blunt, but it’s just how I feel.  It just inherently rubs me the wrong way due to my history.

So basically, I applaud Penny Loker for contacting CNN in the first place (seriously, check out the article to get the back story), but I wish the article itself hadn’t gotten too wrapped up in the usual language about disabilities.

In other Inside / Outside – related news, Cassius and I were successfully re-certified inside Coddingtown Mall (yet again…). The Assistance Dogs International certification is good to do because it sets a benchmark for all assistance dogs, not just CCI, and it was nice for me to see that we were still good skill-wise.  We did goof and Cassius ate a piece of food in the 3rd food drop (seriously! 3 of them!) I slacked off and he went for it, but as long as you do something about it and correct them for it, luckily that doesn’t make you fail! Cassius loved playing outside in  Gittinger Park on the CCI Campus, a massive dog park only open to graduates, puppies in training, change of career dogs and employees dogs.  We weren’t able to go there after graduation in February, so it was fun to see Cassius romp around with the other dogs for a bit. Who knew he could run this fast?

And lastly, a few adorable inside/outside dog stories for the weekend.  Yesterday, I did my first Whole Foods run with Cassius. He was perfect, although a little overwhelmed by the soap smells in the Whole Body section.  His nose was going all over the place.  On our way out, I heard a mother telling her toddler that he was a “smart dog” – I just thought that was adorable.  And today at the Farmer’s Market, I encountered a very curious toddler and his mother.  Since Cassius and I were sitting in line, I told the boy he could pet him. He gave Cassius a few pats on the nose, and Cassius ate it all up with a wagging tail and a few licks. Both boy, dog and me were very happy with that encounter.

Adorable doggie Muppet (or, that moment in which my interests all collide) & Random Anticipation

That moment in which an amazing Broadway actor (John Tartaglia – he was in Avenue Q and Shrek the Musical, among other projects) voices a CCI puppy. Seriously couldn’t get any more adorable. I’m a big fan of Sesame Street for featuring people with various disabilities, and this segment was great.

Going off on that tangent, I am really amused and happy with the reactions Cassius gets from kids. I was a little worried, honestly, after the first day when a poor girl had a literal hysterical crying fit as we walked down the street (“that dog is TOO BIG!!) but besides that, all the kids we’ve met in the last almost two months have been great. He’s a little intimidating for most of the toddlers in my apartment complex, because he’s literally as tall as they are! Cassius takes it all in stride, just calmly checking them out and wagging his tail as they look at him from afar.

I’m sure there will come a time when Cassius and I are bombarded by a zillion ill-behaved kids somewhere, but I’m quite glad that hasn’t yet happened and we’ll be more of a great partnership by then.

In one week, I’ll be hanging out in the big doggie playground in Santa Rosa getting ready for our Team Training Workshop and ADI Certification the next day. Needless to say, I’m super-excited. I never did get a chance to take Cassius to the park, as you’re only allowed there once you have graduated. I’m super-curious to see if he is happy to have the chance to run around a bit (key point: a bit!) and whether he has fun with the other dogs.

I am definitely planning on going to the occasional puppy class in my Chapter, both to keep Cassius (well, me) on track and for doggie socialization. Even though he seems to be pretty darn content with life right now, I want to give him the opportunity to hang out with some well-behaved dogs. And I want the chance to see PUPPIES!

I think we’re in good shape for final Certification, he’s super-responsive with all his commands. One thing we haven’t practiced too much (mainly because I don’t want to clean it up!) is the food drop, where the poor dog literally gets dog food thrown at them and is supposed to ignore it. He’s been excellent with me dropping food, though, so I feel reasonably certain that we’ll survive that one. Besides that, all his basic commands are great.

So that’s that. Not very insightful. Just anticipating next week and watching singing doggie Muppets after work today.

Hercules helps new Muppet character Brandeis find his calling as an assistance dog.

Want people to talk to you? Get a dog!

Okay, that is rather crass.

But seriously, it’s a curious phenomenon that I’ve observed in the almost two months I have had Cassius: animals provide a reason for people to say “hi”.  On morning walks, two people with dogs almost naturally greet each other without thinking about it.  None of the awkward “should I say something”-ness that often goes on between people in urban areas.

Sometimes people, even those without any noticeable differences, are just kind of awkward in public.  That whole wanting to be friendly but not sure if they should.  Add in disabilities or visible differences, and it gets even more problematic.

68 pounds of adorable yellow dog with a perpetually-wagging tail goes a long way to put them at ease.

It’s weird, because the act of having a service dog also definitively marks you as “different” – but I find that freeing, in some way. There’s no confusion, no intermediary between normal and not normal.  And I think that puts people at ease in a way.  It takes the burden off of them to figure out what’s going on.

So I won’t say that getting a dog is the key to any sort of isolation that people with disabilities experience (since dogs and humans are very different, and while dogs are great… they won’t replace human relationships!), but at least for me, I love how my dog makes me feel just a bit more connected to the people I encounter.

Meet my new addition! (and some thoughts)


Meet Cassius! He is a 2-year old Lab/Golden cross, super-mellow and loves to please. His favorite activities (in no particular order) are eating, sleeping, and cuddling. That sounds like a personal ad gone wrong.  Anyway, he came home on Friday from our 2-week stay at doggie boot camp (aka Canine Companions for Independence, in Santa Rosa, CA).

I’ve been struggling with how to write a blog post about this, in the context of this blog.  More so because I struggle with how to explain my individual experience with my individual manifestation of Moebius syndrome.

I don’t talk about a lot of things to most people. There’s no use in chronicling pain, illness and injury just to get sympathy votes.  But then that creates a weird, unspoken cycle. I wonder, do other people not talk about it?  Or am I the only one? 

I never remember my legs not hurting, not aching after a normal day walking around.  I can’t remember the specific moment when going down the stairs started to become a rather wobbly, questionablly-safe affair.  It just is what it is, and I grew accustomed to popping the Alleve and going on with my life.

Enter a program with absurdly gorgeous, highly-trained assistance dogs trained to help pick up things from the floor, to hand them to me, to do all kinds of other amazing things… and to look absolutely cute while doing them (which is, of course, a high priority).

Somehow, though, I’m not sure how to contextualize this within the greater Moebius syndrome community, where I sometimes feel like one of the few with more neurological impairments.  It’s weird, it’s easier to explain to a room of virtual strangers that I have a neurological disorder that causes difficulties in vision, coordination, balance and endurance to attempt to explain to people familiar with Moebius that the craniofacial pareisis is the least of my daily concerns!  I know that’s not true for everyone with Moebius, though. 

Maybe I’m too private about my individual experiences, but even I would get a little bored with a never-ending chronicle of what-hurts-now!  So it goes unspoken.  I’m not sure if anyone really wants to know.

But anyway, my hopes for my life with Cassius include: helping me with things that are hard for me, reducing chronic pain, and enabling me to find a bunch of volunteer opportunities with my local CCI chapter.  I’ve been feeling a void in my in-person volunteering ever since I moved and stopped volunteering at a local therapeutic riding barn, and this should be perfect!

So for now, I’m going to continue to live my life, how I want to (and with a little help from someone with four legs and a wagging tail).