29 July 2016

Service Dog Legislation: Canada

The Province of Alberta is currently reviewing legislation on Service Dog access. The Canadian Government is also pursuing the development of a Canadians with Disabilities Act, and the Canadian General Standards Board is working with Veterans’ Affairs on defining standards for service dogs as well.

I've written a letter to as many of the involved entities as I figured were reasonable: Veterans Affairs, the Standards Board, the Ministers of Health for both Alberta and Canada, the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and the Alberta Minister for Human Services. Lots of copies. I'm hoping at least someone will find what I have to say helpful.

Here it is:

As an Albertan with an invisible disability (PTSD), I would very much like to have clearer standards in place for service animals. I work with my dog, Ben, who keeps me anchored, reduces my hypervigilance, assists me with recovery from trauma nightmares, and helps me pace myself throughout the day. He is, of course, not a certified service dog … because there’s nowhere for me to go to get him certified. The only programs for PTSD dogs are for veterans and first responders, and there’s no route for owner-trained service animals to become officially recognized. I have been working with the JIBC Public Access Test as my guideline, and Ben could probably pass it now, though he’s only had about four months of public training. We rely on the courtesy and understanding of businesses and staff, and have not had any difficulties – but I do recognize that there are people who think that if they put a vest on their pet they can take it to the grocery store with them, and as it stands, it’s really difficult to address these kinds of problems.

I have a few suggestions I would like to share with you, including some proposed strategies for meeting the needs of disabled individuals who rely on service animals while at the same time recognizing the needs of individuals who do not want to have animals around them. My mother, in fact, suffers from a severe auto immune disorder, and must avoid most animals for the sake of her health: she and others like her should have access to places that are animal-free, just as people like me should be able to access public services with our dogs beside us. As Canadians, I’m sure we can find ways to accommodate both types of needs.

First and foremost, I believe that the standards of behaviour for service dog teams in public should be made clear and unambiguous. If business owners, staff, members of the public, and service dog owner/handlers were all clear on what a service dog team ought to look like, it would be much more straightforward to identify individuals who are abusing the privilege to bring pets along with them or who have dogs that aren’t yet ready for full public access. I know that my dog must lie quietly at my feet under the restaurant table, not sniff at merchandise on the shelves, and tolerate being greeted by strangers. I know that a dog who is pulling at the leash, stealing food from tables, or exuberantly racing around in circles is not in a working frame of mind. It would seem that not everyone knows these things, including some individuals who claim to have a service dog.

Service Dog Teams should:
·         Be courteous and respectful of others: keeping the dog out of the way of traffic (dog under the table, next to the chair, etc.), keeping the dog well-groomed and tidy, as well as cleaning up any messes created by muddy paws or bathroom breaks
·         Remain in working position while working: dogs should remain on the ground/floor at all times unless working at a task that requires being carried or seated next to their owner/handler (i.e. dogs should not sit on restaurant benches, ride in grocery carts, or sit on waiting room chairs)
·         Be aware and under control at all times: service dogs should be focused on their owner/handler and their tasks, and the owner/handler should be aware of their dog’s needs, providing breaks as necessary and supporting the dog in exhibiting good behaviour
·         Be clearly identified: service dogs at work need to be easily distinguished from pets with a vest, harness, leash, leash tag, or other means appropriate to their work and circumstances. This makes it much easier for business owners and members of the public to behave appropriately when meeting a service team.

Service teams that do not meet these standards of behaviour should be asked to leave the public space they are in. Repeated problems should be reported to the appropriate investigative body (bylaw? the local police?) and fines assessed as necessary.
Owner/handlers who are unable to perform all the necessary maintenance and management (mobility impaired individuals who cannot do bathroom cleanup, etc.) should have alternative supports in place. It’s your responsibility to ensure things are taken care of, one way or another.

If every business and member of the public were aware that this is what a service team should look like, there would be fewer misunderstandings and challenges to legitimate working teams. If you look and behave like a service team, then chances are really good you are a service team (and if you aren’t, well, at least you aren’t causing any trouble). Anyone causing trouble can be asked to leave without fear of reprisals (“I’m disabled! You can’t discriminate against me!”) because the standards of behaviour are clearly laid out and it’s not discrimination to insist that the rules be followed by everyone.

I do believe that official certification should be available to service teams that wish to pursue it. Those who are willing to simply behave according to the guidelines and accept that they may be asked to leave if they are not up to the standards should be able to do so … but businesses should also be allowed to request that only Certified Service Dogs be allowed on the premises (assuming such certification processes exist for all types of service dog teams, and in all provinces, which they don’t, at present). This would limit public access for uncertified service dog teams to “dog friendly” businesses, while still providing full access for those who are certified.

In order to be a Certified Service Dog Team:
·         the team should have to pass a standardized public access test (such as the one offered at the JIBC) overseen by an authorized test administrator
·         present a letter from a health professional (medical doctor, registered psychologist, or occupational therapist) indicating that this particular individual requires this particular animal for full time support
·         present documentation from a veterinarian confirming that the dog is in good health, up to date on vaccinations, and that the veterinarian is confident in the owner/handler’s ability to care for the animal on an ongoing basis
Certification should be valid for three years, with the same documentation required at renewal. It would be best if the application and renewal fee were kept to an absolute minimum, as individuals with disabilities severe enough to require a full time service dog have a good chance of being on a limited income. Certification should come with an ID card like a driver’s license, with a photo of the owner/handler and the dog, and businesses should be allowed to ask that it be shown.

Serious or repeated complaints about a service team should result in withdrawal of certification and require the return of the Service Dog Team ID card, with severe fines for not complying.

Both active and retired service dogs should be allowed to remain with their owner/handler, even in accommodations that do not normally allow pets.

Service Dogs in Training should have to pass a slightly different test, also administered by an authorized tester, with more emphasis on the trainer’s skills. Service Dogs in Training require access to public spaces in order to develop their skills, and their handlers must be highly educated about how to train a dog successfully, when to remove them from situations, and how to deal with the public: mistakes will be made, and trainers need to be able to address these issues to the satisfaction of the test administrator. Veterinary documentation should also be required for Service Dogs in Training, but medical documentation would not be necessary, as the trainer is not necessarily the individual who will work with the dog in the long term.

Airlines should allow all Certified Service Dog Teams and Service Dogs in Training to be in the cabin.

Hotels should allow all Certified Service Dog Teams and Service Dogs in Training to be in their rooms. Hotels should be able to set aside a certain percentage of their rooms as “animal free”, for those who have allergies and sensitivities, but should be required to have a miniumum number (or percentage) of rooms available for individuals travelling with service dogs. No additional fee should be charged for a Certified Service Dog or Service Dog in Training. Any damage to the room should be treated the same way as if any other guest caused it – by charging the guest for restoration.

Taxis should allow all Certified Service Dog Teams and Service Dogs in Training to be in their vehicles. Taxi companies should be able to set aside a certain percentage of their vehicles as “animal free” and individuals with sensitivities should be able to request such a vehicle when they call for a cab. No taxi company should be able to refuse to transport a service dog team: if the company does not have a vehicle available for the team, they are obligated to arrange for one from another company.

Businesses with additional hygiene requirements (swimming pools, health facilities, etc.) should be able to apply for exemptions from allowing service dogs in specific areas, and this would need to be assessed on a case by case basis with attention paid to meeting the health needs of all users.

I believe that there is also a need for a category of support animal that is below that of full time service dog, but above that of “just a pet”. This would be similar to the Emotional Support Animal category in the US: I would suggest Certified Household Companion Animal. This title makes it abundantly clear that the animal is not granted public access rights, but is expected to be allowed in any household. This makes room for individuals with varying levels of difficulties to have a designated support animal in their home, even if the accommodations would not normally allow pets.
Like with Service Dog teams, the expectations need to be clear and unambiguous.

Certified Household Companion Animal owners are required to:
·         present a letter from a health professional (medical doctor, registered psychologist, or occupational therapist) indicating that this particular individual requires this particular animal for at-home support
·         present documentation from a veterinarian confirming that the animal is in good health, up to date on vaccinations, and that the veterinarian is confident in the owner’s ability to care for the animal on an ongoing basis
·         crate or remove the animal from the premises when notified by the property owner 24 hours in advance of service / landlord / maintenance / cleaning visits
·         keep the animal under control at all times: quiet, within the owner’s designated space, out of common areas (except in the course of going to and from one’s home)
·         clean up all animal waste within a reasonable time: if the person is unable to do this themselves, then they must arrange for a cleanup service to come at a minimum of twice per week

Landlords, neighbours, and members of the public should report concerns to the owner in writing, and if not adequately addressed within three weeks, should write again, sending a copy to the appropriate enforcement agency (local animal control? bylaw? police?).

Certification should be valid for five years with the renewal process requiring the same documentation as the initial certification.

Businesses may choose to offer services to Certified Household Companion Animal owners at a reduced rate (e.g. hotels may waive or reduce the pet fee) but this would be strictly voluntary. No business except those providing long term accommodations (rentals, landlords, condominium associations) should be required to accommodate Certified Household Companion Animals. There are many pet friendly hotels for individuals wishing to travel with their pet, so this is not an undue restriction.

I am very pleased to see that the provinces and the federal government are working to clarify the regulations surrounding service animals and public access in ways that recognize the needs of varying forms of disability and the wide variety of assistance that dogs, in particular, can provide. If I can be of any assistance in your work, please do not hesitate to contact me. I believe that all Canadians have the right to feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings, and Ben and I are committed to being good citizens, good guests, and good examples to others.

PTSD Support Dog: travel

We went on our first Big Family Vacation with Ben. He did awesome.

My parents live in Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and my sister and brother in law live in New Westminster, part of the greater Vancouver area. We all met up here on Canada Day and had a fantastic time together!

We booked a condo right on the water through AirBnB... The owner was gracious enough to grant an exception to the no pets policy for Ben. My dad loves dogs and Ben was very happy to hang out with Grandpa Art, even on the train. 

We used all kinds of public transit... Trains, buses, a trolley in the park, a boat to get to Granville Island.

We had an absolutely awesome time, all of us.

Letter to the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

to The Honourable Carla Qualtrough

RE: Support for Canadians who are ‘almost’ disabled

In February of 2011, I was diagnosed with Delayed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At first, I thought that with a few weeks off work and some intensive therapy work I’d be okay … then I thought, well, maybe six months … then maybe a year … and now, five and a half years later, I realize this is not going to go away.

I did apply for CPP Disability but was denied. You see, I tried hard to do what I could – I thought a gradual return would probably work for me. I first tried self-employment (running an online craft supply store), and when that was too much, I obtained my first aid instructor certification and taught classes for a company that was extremely flexible and understanding of my health issues. After a little over a year, though, I realized that I was making too many errors and that the strain was adversely affecting me, so I felt it best to resign. During this time, I applied for CPP but was informed that because I was able to do part time work, I did not qualify for benefits. When I appealed the decision, after winding up the store, downsizing my hobby farm, and resigning from teaching, I was told that because I’ve written a couple of books and have residual income from their publication, and because I’ve stabilized to some extent with medication and treatment, I still don’t qualify.
I’m not quite sure what sort of employment the Powers That Be expect me to take on: even the most flexible and understanding of employers is not going to be happy with an employee who lives with fluctuating levels of fatigue and mental competency. It’s also important to realize that the primary reason I have stabilized is that I’ve resized my life to fit my limitations … yes, I’m no longer suicidal on a regular basis and I am more comfortable overall. This is not evidence that I ought to be working, it’s evidence that accepting my limitations has improved my health.

And now, even if I could convince the appeals board that my psychiatrist and psychologist agree that even part time employment would be unwise, it’s been too long since I worked full time and so I cannot apply for CPP Disability again. Had I crashed hard at the beginning, I’d have qualified … but because I held on as long as I could and did as much as possible to return to the workforce, the delayed recognition that my condition is chronic and more disabling than I had anticipated has disqualified me from obtaining benefits, despite having contributed for over twenty years.
I am fortunate that my husband has a well-paying job and that my family are supportive and take good care of me. It is, however, disconcerting to know that should my husband lose his job (a real possibility, as he’s employed in the oil field), or should I find myself unwelcome in my home (it happened before … the associated mess is how I ended up with PTSD), I’m not well enough to take up the economic slack and there are no safety nets to catch me.

I would ask that the government consider making space for those of us who have tried our best and not overcome our personal obstacles. The five-year window for CPP disability application seems to specifically exclude those who make every effort to remain in the workforce and then either decompensate further with time, or find that even flexible self-employment is too much.
I would also ask that the government consider expanding the criteria for the Disability Tax Credit to open the door for those of us who are ‘on the edge’ of being disabled. People like me are dependent on the good graces of our spouses and families, and that’s a scary place to be. If there were a category for people who “manage most of the activities of daily living in their current environs but require support and oversight”, this would ensure that should circumstances change we are already noted as being vulnerable and would expedite the initiation of additional supports in case of crisis. This would also provide a measure of financial security through the Disability Savings program.

I am very pleased to see the changes that our new Liberal government has brought about, and I hope that in sharing my experience I can help you in the development of the new Canadians with Disabilities Act. Those of us with impairments – both visible and invisible, severe and moderate - look to you for support and protection. Please keep the needs of the “borderline disabled” in mind as you implement change: just because we are more or less coping with things at the moment, just because we look like we are doing okay, just because we have found ourselves in a safe place for the present … none of that means we aren’t vulnerable. And as Canadians, we know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: please put protections in place to catch us before we fall, so that we can continue to contribute as much as we can and not draw on the public resources any more than necessary.

I have included a copy of my book, Just Keep Knitting, which I wrote early on in my journey with PTSD, if you’d like to learn more of my background and how I ended up where I am, or feel free to pass it on to someone who might find it helpful.

Thank you so very much for your time,

Lonna Cunningham B.Sc. B.A.(Hon)

Alberta, Canada

28 July 2016

That's it.

The news is so overwhelming I'm not looking anymore.

The bull has gone walkabout and I haven't seen him... Though he might be hiding amongst one of the neighbour's herds. 

There are ripe raspberries everywhere out back. Gooseberries too. 

Cherries are in the dehydrator. 

I knit for hours today. 

Now I'm reading a book. 

Some days, this is what coping looks like. 


06 July 2016

PTSD Support Dog: info cards

I created these cards to carry in my bag and hand out to people who ask about Ben.

If you have a PTSD Support / Service Dog and are constantly barraged with questions, or just want to help raise awareness, feel free to modify them and make your own. I got postcards printed at VistaPrint for a very reasonable price. 

They have been very well received by everyone I've given them to... The staff ladies at a tourist attraction we stopped at told me that Ben was the best part of their day, and they were really interested to learn about his job. 

Oh, and when we got on the Aquabus on Vancouver, the guy at the dock read Ben's jacket tag and muttered (mostly under his breath) "PTSD dog ... Cool."

Made my day, that did. 

29 May 2016

The journey to silver.

I love silver hair. My mother has the most gorgeous bright silver... Mine is very slowly turning but with a dull blonde base I don't get that lovely salt and pepper thing like she had early on. 

So.... I decided to play. 

First, I used Feria Pastel Smoky Sapphire. The box shows this:


But all I got was blue highlights. 

Which was fun, but not really what I was after. Even a second application didn't change things much... I guess all those reviews that say this stuff isn't effective are correct. 

So... I got creative. I used two colours of Splat hair dye, and I even got brave and did a brief bleaching before I added the colour. Bleach is hard on your hair and after removing the henna last year, combined with a rather unfortunate tendency to neglect my hair for days on end leading to tangles that verge on dreadlocks, I have lost several inches of length. Still I figured this is likely the last kick at bleaching and lightening because the natural grey is coming in well enough to keep new hair reasonably light.

So... Bleach. 

Then blue and aqua, repeated until I got something I liked. I mixed the colour with conditioner, so it made my hair feel lovely and having it on for a long time was actually helpful, if messy.

Very blue. I like it. There were a few spots that were a bit too greenish for my tastes though, so I added more dark blue. 

Love it. Super fun. 

But silver is what I was after so following the colour wheel I used deep purple to counteract the greens a bit.

There were go! 

Okay the blue and purple highlights are not what I originally anticipated but they make me super happy. 

This is technically a semi permanent colour, so it will fade over time. And of course, my hair will grow and the roots will need colour. I'll just mix up blends of the various shades of blue and purple until what's in the jar looks interesting and comb it in. Let it sit for an hour or so, rinse, and voila!

It's a good thing that I like variegation and that I'm in an experimental place. I am very pleased with how much this has cheered me up... I've had a hard time paying attention to self care, so anything that makes me feel better about life and encourages me to smile and brush a little powder over my nose and keep my hair untangled is good. 

And three packages of hair dye costs less than half of what a therapy session is worth. :)

So much fun!

19 May 2016

Permaculture Inspired Design: Ponds and Drainage

One of the main drivers of this summer's landscaping work is to improve the drainage on the west side of the house. There is a sump pump outlet on that side, and the water table is quite high so it runs regularly. The drainage was not good enough to clear the water away from the foundation, so the sump pump ended up more or less recycling it. Over and over and over.

I have tried a few things this year, and learned that it's essential that the outlet reach at least several feet from the house or else it drains into the window well and floods the basement (yeah, that was not a pleasant thing to learn). I also learned that there's rock solid clay about one inch down ... actually, I knew that, since most of our land is clay covered in a smidgen of topsoil, but this particular spot is absolutely SOLID clay. The kind that will not soak up water. 

The kind that makes natural ponds.

Ponds attract birds, frogs, and dragonflies - all of which eat the mosquitoes that you probably think of immediately when someone says "pond". A pond with moving water and not too much plant cover will draw more predators than it will breed mosquitoes - you'll get more mosquitoes from boggy grass (which is what we had).

So, I and my shovel got to work. I dug a little stream bed and filled it with rocks, then dug out a big hole that's essentially a mini wading pool. The clay here was gorgeous - smooth and slippery and solid. I dug with the shovel, then just got in and scooped up gravel bits and such with my hands, using my feet to find the spots that needed more work. It was really cloudy and awful looking but by the next day the water had cleared!

I watched it overnight, and it filled right up. Rain (and lots of it, thank heavens) was in the forecast for today, so I did some more excavation as my initial test pond proved successful.

There are  two downspouts on this side of the house and they needed somewhere to push all the water as well. Each now has a small channel at the bottom that feeds to a small pondlet, which then has an overflow of it's own. The pondlet to the north flows into the main pond, and the one to the south of the main pond flows into the little pondlet at the base of the next downspout. (Yes, three downspouts and the sump outlet, all on the same side of the house. Is it any wonder we need to work on the drainage?)

It does all look rather industrial at this point. I will be planting all around the edges with cattails, grasses and plants from down by the creek, and possibly some water lilies (permaculturisits: there are LOTS of edges!). Oh, and I'll definitely put in more willows. The whole area will be shelter for birds and other critters as well as providing flowers for bees - I've already noticed a dramatic increase in the number of birds and insects in the yard since starting the landscape design changes. I think all that fresh dirt and the puddles from watering the grass seed have made a worm buffet!

We did get the forecast rain (which was especially welcome as the smoke from the fires north of here was making it really nasty), and the drainage is working as I had hoped! There will need to be more work done, of course ... the pondlet/stream north of the main pond needs to be tidied up and enlarged, I need to install some rain chains, and I will be extending the whole system down the hill to the pasture. My goal is to have a little pond that is gravity filled from the outlet from our sump pump and rain gutters - the sump pump is going to run anyway, so it might as well do some of my work for me! Gravity is working with me, as there's a lovely steep hill going down to the pasture. I'll just need to make a little stream that runs down the hill and dig a pond at the bottom that the cows and donkey can drink from. No doubt Caleb will swim in it on hot days, too, especially since our creek seems to be almost dry. I think the beavers have been expanding their upstream domain again.

See the red building in the top corner? That's the chicken coop ... I'll make a diversion from the creek to provide them with some water en route as well. The collection of logs and such is a 'water break' (sort of like a wind break, but for water) under the eavestrough opening. This is the first spot where I need to install a rain chain, to help keep the water coming directly down and not blowing sideways with the wind. Nonetheless, it's catching and moving the water where I want it to go.

You can see that the little pondlet has overflowed and is making a soggy mess in the grass. That's what we used to have every time it rained - just soggy grass, which would sorta drain towards the pasture but only sorta. With all the grass roots and such, it moved too slowly to really clear. With a smooth clay creek bed, it should flow nicely down the hill.

With the changing climate, holding water is getting to be more important: this is our first real rainfall of the entire spring ... we have had a couple of little sprinklings of rain but no major dumps from the sky. Hence the Fort McMurray fire and all the other assorted messes of this very dry spring. Having some water capturing features in the landscape will mean I can plant things that will be kept watered even if I am not paying attention, that birds and other little creatures can get a drink even when things are very dry, and I can dip a bucket in to water the chickens or other plants and such if I need to, without using well water. Seems like a good idea.

Best of all, if I can keep the water away from the foundation, the sump pump will have less work to do (and thus a longer life span). There'll be less chance of the basement flooding. And the stock water should be automatically refilled for most of the summer, without any work from me.

That's the plan, anyway. So far, the prototypes are working well so I am hopeful.