guest post! | parenting with your eyes closed: gerry’s story

A couple of years ago, I met Gerry (one of the many friends I made hanging out in the Accessibility Resource Centre my last year of university). Since Gerry recruited me to coach goalball, he and I have spent many goalball and Starbucks related hours together, and I’ve also gotten to know his kids. Today, Gerry shares his perspective on parenting with his eyes closed, and what it’s like to be a dad who is blind.

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Being a parent has its challenges. Add to that the fact that you can’t see what your children are up to and it gets more interesting, especially when they realize that if they are quiet dad won’t know what they are doing. Since I am able to work from home, I have the opportunity to keep the kids on track most days. My wife does an awesome job also, but her work is out of the home.

gerry reading

So what is it like for a blind dad on a daily basis? I guess it is probably the same for any other parent who has their sight. You wake up early hoping for a few minutes of quiet time before the caos of getting ready for school begins. And then it begins…wake up the kids and get them ready and out the door in time to catch the bus, or else they are stuck taking transit with me and that is not a fun time. Fortunately my kids are pretty good at picking out what to wear for school, I just hope they have matching socks. I know mine don’t always match, but I am not usually looking at my feet anyway.

Once the kids are gone, there is a calm about the house…at least for about 8 hours. I turn into house husband doing dishes laundry and other chores around the house. Yes I do laundry! Our laundry hamper is divided so that you can put your clothes in the right section. If you don’t then I am not help responsible if something comes out a different color. So far so good, or at least no one has said anything. I will also take some time and work for a few hours as well, the bills don’t pay themselves.

There are always a few people amazed by what I can do. I have even had people wonder how I took the bus with one small child and then two children, and also a guide dog. Yes it might have been a bit of a production getting on and off the bus, but I didn’t really care. Why should I have to stay at home just because I can’t see where the hell I am going. But that is a rant for another time.

Well it is almost time for the peace and quiet to end. Now I just need to decide what to make for supper and then get the kids ready for when my wife picks us up for skating lessons.

Yes I may be blind but my day is just as busy as another parent and homemaker.

patient inclusion: how long overdue?

I’ve been on this huge audiobook kick the last week. As in, since December 12, I have read 8 books. (This is what happens when I finish my work early/do not have enough work to do. Honestly, this is fun but I’d rather be writing.) Maybe I’m just trying to hit my 40 book goal for 2016—I am at 26. The answer seems like yeah, right.

Through the Centre for Equitable Library Access program (CELA), Canadians with print disabilities can access a variety of audio or braille books on loan, for free. Most of these books are recorded by the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), and as such, Canadian authors are well-featured, and I’ve actually been able to find a book on goalball in the collection. Following Margaret Trudeau’s Changing My Mind, I read Invisible: My Journey Through Vision and Hearing Loss by Ruth Silver.

On attending a conference about promoting independence for those who are both hard of hearing and visually impaired (Deafblind or deaf-blind), she writes:

There was only one speaker who was deaf-blind.
—Ruth Silver in Invisible: My Journey Through Vision and Hearing Loss 

Immediately, I rewound. I listened again, and shook my head.
Typical.

I do not know for certain what year Ruth Silver attended this event in question, of which she wrote “There was only one speaker who was deaf-blind,” prior to starting the Centre for Deaf-Blind Persons in Milwaukee in 1983. She published the memoir in 2012. In any event, that is twenty nine years prior to the book’s publication, and thirty three years ago as of 2016.

I do know that not much has changed.

In mid-November, I had the opportunity to attend an event in Toronto, one that had patients in the title no less. While matters were not “solved”, in response to Twitter-vocalization regarding true patient inclusion by Bill and I, the organizer reached out to us via e-mail following the event to “address” our concerns. The crux of the matter is, even an event that was meant for patients, did not feature a single patient speaking on the matter at hand. While you can scroll back in my Twitter feed or contact me directly to learn more, I’m not going to give nods to the event itself. One, because as much as this event frustrated me, I want to believe they had good intentions even if they were way off the mark, and two, because I believe that these nonprofits are likely doing their patient communities good: it is not up to me to speak on the actual work of these groups. (Disclosure: They paid my travel and expenses, they being pharma, I presume).

So here it is again. There was not one single patient on the agenda. I don’t want to hear any of that bogus “we are all patients” crud (nor that taxpayer BS)—yes at some time we are all patients. However, there are those of us who are chronic patients, reliant on medicine to stay healthy and/or alive.

How sad is it that as this uprising, somewhat-bright, restless collective of humans craving better, how is it we have not gotten this straight in thirty three years?

I wish I knew. Documents like the excellent Patients Included Charter for Conferences get us closer. But they need to be implemented, advocated for in themselves. And we need Canadian patients to be in on, in for this movement, too.

It’s been 33 years. And we’re only starting to figure this out. The uprising is bottom-up, not top-down. I mean, or the reverse, depending on how you view who is in power.

so must we demonstrate
that we can get it straight?
we painted a picture
now we’re drowning in the paint
let’s figure out what the fuck it’s about
before the picture we painted
chews us up and spits us out 

sick of painting in black and white
my pen is dry, now i’m uptight
so sick of limiting myself to fit your definition.

redefine.

—redefine, incubus

We are well overdue to break the typical.
Probably, well overdue by well over 33 years. 

that time we got chased by a peacock at the zoo

Today is the last day of school, so Steve and I thought it would be a good day to check out the dinosaur exhibit at the zoo, without a lot of kids running around (just the under 5 types that happened to be there). So, off we went to the zoo with Guide Dog Murray to visit the dinosaurs, because we thought Murray would probably enjoy that (okay not really, but we wanted to go and it’s always cute taking pictures of adorable puppies with things).

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As we walked down the path to the dinosaur exhibit, there were some peacocks ahead, which was cool until the peacocks caught sight of us and our black, four legged friend named Murray.

And they started running.
Towards us.
AT US.

I’m not sure if I swore in front of all the children, and I’m sure Steve doesn’t remember either because we ran.

I didn’t actually realize until I looked back after we’d started booking it back to the entrance that there were not one, but two peacocks chasing us and squawking at us. Somewhere in there I finally thought to scream which freaked them out a bit and they stopped charging towards us. We kept running until they were out of sight.

Of course, Murray got all excited that we were running and he was just bouncing around as we ran. Silly dog, had zero clue that peacocks wanted to eat him. Which is probably for the better. Look, despite how adorable tall Steve finds my short legs running, I only ever run for legitimate reasons—also I learned how to run in university. #kinwin.

After about 200 metres of running (I don’t know how far it was, I think that was Steve’s guess), I could no longer see the terrifying peacocks. We stopped and slightly more calmly made it back inside the entrance area where we paid, and walked up to the ticket lady that had processed our admission and informed all the zoo staff that a service dog was coming in by radio.

“Hi, so we just got chased by a peacock out there…” I told her “Can we get a refund and we’ll come back one day without the dog?”
“…Oh wow. Uh yeah let me just go talk to my boss.”
“I know, things you never thought you’d hear when you came into work today, right?”

We got our refund after our five minute zoo trip and went to the gift shop.

Murray still got to see some dinosaurs, but they were tinier than anticipated.

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And there’s the story of the shortest zoo trip in history, probably.

And the story of that time I got chased by a peacock with a dude who never saw it coming and a puppy who probably thought we were playing. 😉

it’s international guide dog day: meet murray!

Today is International Guide Dog Day! I’ve been working on this post for awhile (read: since October), but what better day to finish it and share?

Murray the service dog on his 3rd birthday

This is my buddy Murray, on his third birthday last July. I took this picture of him, a smiley-looking Black Lab in his brown leather Guide Dogs for the Blind harness sitting at a bus stop, before Murray and I were basically best friends—I’ll get to that in a minute.

Since before I started coaching goalball last October, I’ve spent a lot of time with my friends Stephen and Gerry, and their Guide Dog partners. I know better than anybody that dogs are cute and furry, and I’ve learned that they even more attractive to people when they’re working dogs and are as smart as they are adorable. As such, I’ve become that person who tells people “Please don’t pet his dog, he is working,” or informing the well meaning people who talk to Murray saying “I won’t pet him I know he’s working,” that talking to him or waving to him can be just as distracting as being touched. The guys don’t mind me doing this: they’ve both been at this for close to a decade—Gerry—or two—Steve, and I get it: it gets tiring. One thing I find never gets old, though, is hearing parents explain to their kids that Murray is a special puppy with important work to do, and that the kids are not allowed to pet him.

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Me with Steve and Murray a few weeks ago

Every person with a service dog will be different with whether or not they allow interaction with their pup while they are working—but if you really can’t resist your desire to pet the dog, ask first, and ask every time. Respect it if they say no: the dog, just like the handler, can have an off day too, where being touched may be more distracting than usual. The answer might always be no, or, it might vary—a crowded bus stop may be a no, as to not invite a parade of people, whereas if the dog is laying calmly under a restaurant table, it could be a yes (…that is, if anybody even notices the dog is there!).
And, just because someone with a guide dog is visually impaired does not mean they can’t tell when you’re petting their dog—after working with a dog for any length of time, handlers are super in tune with their dog’s movements and behaviours—they will usually be able to tell!

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Murray, who is from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA, stops to say hello to a Canadian Guide Dog in the mall. (The Canadian yellow lab is a plastic donation collection receptacle!)

Working dogs in harnesses are smart and well behaved. They have important work to do. I get it: yup, for some reason, being in uniform makes the cute-factor for these pups go up about 1000% (don’t get me started on the rain jackets). It sounds ridiculous, but imagine if you went to work and all day dealt with: “Oh, a human! Here human, hi human!” all day long. You’d get distracted, too (and God, I hope nobody tries to pet you at work…). Praise and treats are how these puppies are rewarded for their hard work—working dogs are fed specific amounts at specific times of the day, and while some handlers will allow you to give a Milk Bone to their dog if they’re behaving well in a coffee shop, often the answer will be no. Just like petting or otherwise interacting with the dog: ask first. If you’d really like to give the pup a treat, you can always ask if the handler would like it to give the dog later—the dog will be just as happy with your gift when they’re not working!

The handler always sets the rules for working dogs. This enables them the authority they need to keep their service pup working hard and focused on their job—to keep both halves of the partnership safe.

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Here comes the confession, regarding my friendship with Murray.

I am a rule-breaker.
I am that person who talks to Murray and pets him when he is in harness—when he is working. The game changer is this:
I have permission. Each person with a service dog sets the rules differently about interaction with their dog—based on what is best for them and with how the dog can handle this. The way Murray responds to me is different than he responds to other people, because he has consistently been allowed to behave this way around me—he’s a smart puppy, after all. My points here are that:
a) Steve has chosen not to correct Murray for being a little silly around me or for his response to me, and
b) We are fully aware I am a potential distraction to Murray.
Murray is serious about his work—even when he’s heeling (walking on-leash on Steve’s left side, kind of like pseudo-working?) as I do the work as a sighted guide, Murray rarely does so much as look at me, and focuses on his work even though I am calling the shots. He’s still in harness, after all! We know Murray may be distracted by me—he is a dog, after all—so it is deliberate that I guide Steve 99% of the time when I am in Murray’s sight, to minimize most risks (I say most. I mean, I do on rare occasion bump Steve into an obstacle because I haven’t moved my arm back quick enough, or sometimes Steve does not listen when I say “two steps down” and miraculously does not get injured after flying down two steps… I do try to pause before descending now! Also the dog is smarter at being able to tell if branches are Steve’s height than I am.)
When I meet up with Steve and Murray (usually signalled by Murray starting to wiggle happily, wag his tail more forcefully, or pick up speed!), I will approach, say hi to Steve, give the wiggly, happy puppy a pat and a hello, usually let Murray give my hand a lick, and then I’ll move to Steve’s right (as the dogs are trained to heel on the left). Murray then ignores me when we’re walking, aside from when we have to do a u-turn and he’s forced to say hello (I presume he’s thinking “Human, I know where I am going, figure it out!” and shaking his puppy head.)

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Fair trade, I think. I occasionally use Murray as a pillow (below), for all the times he does the same to me (above).

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It’s been about 7 months now since Murray decided he and I should be besties. The running joke now is that I’m trying to steal Steve’s dog. Back in October, Murray got sneaky for the first time—he did a little Downward Dog-esque stretch, and moved toward the middle of the table that Steve and I were sitting across from each other at—nothing unusual, the dog likes his yoga. A few minutes later, though, he did it again… this time turning his whole body around to sit beside me, facing Steve.

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Laughing, I told Steve that his dog had ditched him to come sit with me. He reached down to of course not find his dog at his side, but rather a good foot away, beside me. I laughed when he tried to hand me the leash, and didn’t take it.

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Steve’s picture of Murray sneaking away to sit beside me, top, and below, my selfie with sneaky Murray.

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Just look at that face… He knows he’s up to something 😉

It became a pattern: Starbucks after goalball (picture below)—or any coffee shop, sitting on the gym floor before goalball (out of harness). As he learned Steve wasn’t going to correct him, he became less stealthy and would just stand up and turn himself around—Steve would just laugh and shake his head.

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It’s not like I let Murray get away with anything, either—nor had I even fed him a single treat when he started sneaking over to me. I love him to bits, and especially since we’ve bent the rules here, I’m just as strict on catching him doing things he shouldn’t and verbally correcting him with a “Murray, no”, or giving him a little tug on his collar if he goes after floor food, or licks his paws/boots/fur too much, or tries to sniff random people’s shoes (he has a bit of a foot/shoe fetish, that dog).

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Shoe fetish, however, does not mean Murray enjoys his boots. He tries to lose them often—probably so all the “Oh, look, that dog has boots!” people stop discussing his boots.

I’m lucky that I get to have guide dog friends (their owners are pretty okay too, I guess ;)). So, as much as I love Murray-face and as much as it’s obvious he loves me, he knows when he’s working and that I’m not going to let him get away with much besides choosing a different place under the table (or, licking my hand depending on the circumstances… there are just some places that it’s easier to let him slobber all over my hand versus trying to prevent him from sniffing/licking at every gross thing on the ground… Steve agrees!).

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Montreal in January. Nah, I don’t spoil this dog at all. Except I did make him move to the bottom/other side of the bed because, hey, that’s where I sleep.

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Someone looks comfy… Complete with a towel blanket and everything.

And, while Steve has yet to go on a trip without Murray and me since Murray and I have become buddies, he knows he’s got another puppy-sitter. Although, on our last few hotel stays, Murray has been my roommate—the first time, it was just easier with me rooming by myself and Steve being with two other guys, the second was just for fun, and the third was this past weekend in Quebec City—Gerry had his new guide dog, Brody, too, and though well-behaved, the two dogs get kind of silly…

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Murray crashed out on my hotel bed this past weekend. It took him a bit to decide hie did not, in fact, want the pillow.

By the way, Murray knows me as Small Fry, not Kerri (useful trick: Steve can ask Murray “Where’s Small Fry?” and he’ll come find me)… and he was perfectly happy to overtake Small Fry’s bed this weekend. (That’s what I get for, after learning Steve did not mind puppy going on the bed, opting to share my bed with a 75-pound Black Lab…)

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This, in Toronto, is when he actually chose a good spot and not the middle of the bed. Beggin bacon bribery may have occurred this past weekend when he decided he wanted the whole bed…

I mean, other than that, I don’t mind—he’s a pretty good excuse to spend 5 more minutes laying in bed in the morning, as when I give him any indication I’m awake and moving, Murray seems perfectly content to engage in a brief yoga pose with his front paws to my right and back paws to my left, and then end by resting on top of me…

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Murray sometimes decides that Small Fry is comfier than the bed. This often leads to me texting Steve to inform him that sorry, puppy will not let me get out of bed.

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All in a day’s work, right? If only he actually motivated me to do yoga with him…

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You think you’re going somewhere? You’re silly, Small Fry.  My paw will keep you here.

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That’s my story about my buddy Guide Dog Murray. (Your friends with service dogs, and service dog friends may vary.)

Want to read more about Murray? You can follow him on Twitter, @GuideDogMurray. And, as a thanks for reading all the way to the bottom… Here’s Burger Face (for a period of time around Halloween, Murray responded to “Burger Face”. Silly.)

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