30 August 2010

Golf Day in aid of the Assistance Dog Programme ...

Last Saturday evening we were in Delgany Golf Club to meet the Lady Captain and all the wonderful golfers who had participated in a golf outing in aid of the Assistance Dog Programme - the charity chosen by the Lady Captain and also Bray Cancer Support Group - the Captain's charity.

After a great day of golf, we were in the Clubhouse that evening for the presentation of the prizes and some speeches. We want to thank all the members and friends of Delgany Golf Club who took part in the day and in particular huge thanks to the Lady Captain for choosing the Assistance Dog Programme as her charity of choice. We very much appreciated the support and we had a great evening in Delgany!

- Clive

27 August 2010

Oodles of doodles, puppies in training, smiling after the Dubs lose and not singing Happy Birthday!

A few weeks ago on 25 July Irish Guide Dogs had the first litter of Goldendoodles to be born in five years - Clive and his brothers were the first litter back in 2005. Mum is brood bitch Izzy and she had 8 pups - 4 black males, 3 black females and last to be born - a golden female!These pups along with their mum joined the staff at the Training Centre in Cork when they were three and half weeks old and are doing really well. The litter's names all begin with the letter 'H' and are - Holly, Huala, Harris, Hector, Hayden, Heidi, Halle and Hogan.

For more information on the puppies or to find out lots more interesting things about Irish Guide Dogs - check out the blog on the newly updated Irish Guide Dog website! Below are two of the doodles pictured in Cork yesterday - they have grown so much in the past four weeks - early next month they will all leave to go to their puppy walking volunteers for the next year of their lives ....
Out and about the other day we met two puppies in training just like the doodles above will soon be! The two puppies we met were so well behaved! Not to hard to guess that someone is holding treats to the left of the photo!

Finally, a week after the Dubs were defeated we can get Murray to smile about it all and he'll even look at the photos we took just before we left for the match! He took this defeat hard but he's learning and at least he'll look at the photos now!

Murray, Sorcha and Clive are true 'Dub' supporters - and there is always next year!

Very importantly, this week was Murray's 12th birthday and after a rollercoaster of a week for lots of reasons - he did really enjoy his 12th Birthday! Many thanks for all the great birthday messages and to Khyra, Martha and Bailey, Phantom, Thunder and Ciara and of course, Petey for their wonderful blog posts on Murray's birthday. He got such fun and pleasure looking at the posts - thank you very much guys, it meant a huge amount to all of us!

Murray doesn't eat birthday cake, NEVER EVER, as he says ... so we got a chocolate cake that everyone else might eat. All those Spongebob cakes from previous years were never eaten!

We lit the cake (several times, Murray loves blowing out candles) and we ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, did not sing Happy Birthday!

It all went very well and earlier when we had asked Murray what he wanted to do for his birthday because big parties are not his idea of fun, he decided he wanted to eat out at our local Thai restaurant. We went late so there were few people there and it suited Murray perfectly. The staff know us well and ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY did not sing Happy Birthday!

Finally after months of waiting, Murray got his painting of his Geese! He spotted this painting months ago at an art exhibition. The artist Debbie Chapman has painted Clive and Murray loves her work. Not many 12 years old request a work of art for their birthday, but Murray is rather special like that and Debbie was totally charmed with Murray running up to the Geese painting the other day and literally squealing with delight at seeing them .... and asking them did they want to come home with him!

A little later, a special discount price for Murray was negotiated and he got the birthday present he wanted ... two geese!

He's happy, so we're all happy ...

After a hard week and with the prospect of school beginning again next Tuesday, Murray has been finding it difficult at times but when he walks into the living room and spots his geese, his smile is there for all to see ...

Have a great weekend

- Clive & Co

24 August 2010

Happy 12th Birthday Murray!

A few words from the luckiest dog in Ireland ....from our earliest days together ...to the special days of this summer ....
and having travelled through all those other days in between, I just want to say ....

I love you Murray!
You are my special young man!
Congratulations on being 12!

- from your dog and best friend, Clive

and love and kisses from Mom, Dad and Sorcha too!

23 August 2010

Why can't I just understand it all - Mom?

I don't understand why the summer holidays are just about to end ...

I don't understand why I have to go back to school ....

I don't understand why Cork won yesterday ...

I don't understand why Dublin didn't win ...

I don't understand why if I am 12 on Wednesday it means I'm getting older ..

I don't understand why I'm getting taller ...

I don't understand and I can't explain why singing 'Happy Birthday' makes me so upset ...

I don't understand why people ask me long complicated questions all the time and think I can answer them ...

I don't understand and I can't explain why I wanted that painting of two geese but I just did ...

I don't understand why I need to talk to Clive all the time but I just do ...

I don't understand why I need to watch the weather forecast every night so I can see if there is rain coming ...

I don't understand why I don't understand everything!

Murray is 12 on Wednesday and the above 12 comments pretty much sum him up at the moment! He can't understand so many things and ultimately that frustrates him hugely - it's not easy being 12, autistic and not undertanding why you don't understand everything!

His football team lost by a point yesterday and his Mom had to grab him and run out of the stadium three minutes before the end of the game as he was about to have a major meltdown - his boys were losing and he just could'nt understand or accept it! 82,000 fans shouting had been fine until suddenly all those around us were shouting for Cork and not for Dublin!

His approaching birthday and getting bigger, growing up fills him with fright and confusion. The thought of people singing Happy Birthday distresses him totally - not helped by the band singing Happy Birthday in Croke Park yesterday for some well known 80 yr old retired football player! We had 82,000 people singing it - how unbelievably horrible must that have seemed to him!

But these are things that happen, and growing up is just the same - it happens - it can't be changed. Only, in the world of our not so little man, all is changing, and he just doesn't understand it.

- Murray's Mom

21 August 2010

Clive on the film set of Camelot ...

A few days ago we visited Killruddery House and Gardens in Co Wicklow - about a 15 minute drive from us. They have been filming some scenes for Camelot - a new 10 part series which is produced in Ireland at the moment for broadcast on the US cable station, Network Starz. Jamie Campbell Bower (who was in The Twilight Saga: New Moon) is Arthur and Tamsin Egerton (St Trinians, Eragon) is Guinevere.
The Camelot set was in the woods in the grounds of Killruddery House and we were allowed to 'go on set' once we didn't touch any of the props.

Lots of well known films have had some of their 'scenes' filmed in Killruddery - Lassie, My Left Foot, Far & Away, Angela's Ashes and PS I Love You. Recent TV series that have been shot here include The Tudors and My Boy Jack.
We really enjoyed walking around the set ....

Everything was real including those foxes ....

Security did let Murray and Sorcha hold a few props for a minute ...

In fact the security man on site was very friendly and told us all about the famous faces he meets regularly - Ardmore Studios is only up the road and filming in Killruddery is very popular. The security man was very good with Murray and showed him how to pose like a proper 'security man'! We always really appreciate it when people take a few extra moments to engage Murray and explain things to him.

After enjoying walking about the film set we took a tour around the gardens of Killlruddery ....

The Gardens in Kilruddery are the oldest in Ireland still surviving in the original 17th century style with some 18th and 19th century additions. A French landscape architect named Bonet, was employed in the gardens by the Earl of Meath in 1682.

The House has been home to the Earls of Meath since 1618 and is regarded as the most successful Elizabethan-Revival mansions in Ireland and also one of the earliest. In the 1950's the house was greatly reduced to its present day proportions.

The gardens are really beautiful and set against the stunning vista of the Wicklow mountains ...

We walked and walked in glorious sunshine (yes, the sun does shine in Ireland sometimes!)
The scenery was truly amazing ....

The Orangery was built in 1852 and designed after Crystal Palace in London.

The Orangery was restored in 2000 and how hosts private functions and parties. Lots of outdoor concerts also take place in Killruddery and Jose Carreras is singing here next weekend. We heard him being interviewed on Irish radio the other day and he was saying how much he was looking forward to singing in such beautiful surroundings ....

and we'll finish with some photos of the flowers that we found as we walked around .....

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Many thanks for all the great comments on our post about Clive's experiences of being a service dog in America. We got lots of very useful information and advice from the comments which we will certainly look into ....

- Clive

19 August 2010

Clive responds to some recent questions on travelling as a service dog in the US .....

Since coming home from our vacation in the US we have had many questions, comments and emails in the last few weeks about various aspects of our trip so today Clive replies to some of those questions ...

1. How did Clive travel over to the US - was he in the hold of the plane, how did he cope with 7.5 hours flight from Dublin to New York, how did the airline react, did he need to 'spend', did he get special airline food, drinks ... does he have to pay for his seat, does he sit on a seat?

Clive was able to travel beside us on the airplane as he is a 'service dog' and he travels free of charge. He is not given a seat - he is much more comfortable lying on the floor beside us. He just curls up and takes up very little space, however airlines are usually very good about allocating an extra seat (if available) to service dogs so the service user doesn't have their legs hanging over the dog's head or gives the service dog user the bulkhead seats or seats with extra space. Clive is very happy to fly and sleeps for most the trip.
We have travelled many times now with Clive on our national carrier Aer Lingus, who have been outstanding in their level of care, attention and friendliness to us. Murray, like many autistic children, does not travel well - he may be calmer and more relaxed having Clive with him but he is still always sick. The Aer Lingus crew are always incredibly helpful and understanding and we cannot thank Aer Lingus enough for their assistance every time we fly with them.

Coming in to land Clive sits up to see where we are?
On arrival in the US, we had to transfer from JFK airport to La Guardia airport and the Aer Lingus ground staff who had met us off the plane, brought us to a 'relief' area for Clive, then stayed with us until our transport had arrived. Although we had organised private car transfers and specifically mentioned we were travelling with a service dog - the driver was not going to take us. However, with the intervention of the Aer Lingus staff and Murray's Mom - we got our transfer to La Guardia.

Delta in La Guardia was another story altogether and travelling through La Guardia airport with a service dog and special needs child was not easy. Security was incredibly rude to us and patted down Murray - to pat down an autistic child (who has a huge aversion to touch) just because his service dog's collar 'beeped' was very confusing for Murray and caused him great upset.

Trying to explain to airport security that they were dealing with an autistic child was pointless. At the boarding gate, we asked if it was possible to get the bulkhead seat so Clive would have a little more room - our request was denied and not because an elderly or disabled person was using it. This plane from New York to Savannah was a small plane so poor Clive was really squashed under our seat!

To be fair to Delta they were much friendlier to us in Hilton Head Airport when we were returning two weeks later and at the boarding gate we did have our seats changed to the bulkhead seats so Clive had more room. However, we are used to Aer Lingus knowing about service dogs requirements and automatically allocating the most service user friendly seat possible when we fly with Clive. We had spoken to Delta several times before we flew so they were well aware that we had a service dog with us however that fact didn't seem to be on their systems at either La Guardia or Hilton Head and lots of explanations were needed.

We are rating Clive's travels on a ' four paw' rating so Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport get a resounding 'four paws'. La Guardia get a 'one paw' and Hilton Head get a 'three paw' - check-in here was good, but security again insisted on patting down Murray and removing Clive's jacket, lead and collar. This disorientates a 'working dog' suddenly they have no working equipment on them and are being told to walk through a scanner. When Clive looked around helplessly at us, questioning what to do because he hadn't his lead on him, it was only because he is such an obedient dog that he took the command to walk on, and walked through the scanner on his own to the security guard.

Clive does not eat on flights - and no he doesn't get special airline food. He was just given some small sips of water and a few ice cubes. Aer Lingus again provided Clive with his own bottled water, blanket and checked up on him as often as they did their 'human' customers. We were most impressed.

Clive is trained to 'spend' on command so just before we boarded - we took him for a last walk outside the terminal (great that this option was available to us in Dublin) and allowed him to spend. He had been for a long walk before we left the house that morning so we were happy that he had been given plenty of opportunity to spend before the flight. Knowing your dog's routine is very important and we know Clive's routine very well!

Taking Clive on a transatlantic flight is not something we rushed into - we thought long and hard about how he would cope and spoke to several colleagues in Irish Guide Dogs and also some other service dog users from Dublin who had taken their dogs to the US. Clive coped really well with everything and in fact really seems to enjoy all his travels. He is invaluable to Murray and that is why he travels with us.

2. Access for service dogs in the US ... how we found it in general ... is it easier than in Ireland?

Well we were only in two States, South Carolina and New York and we had checked out on the internet all the relevant legislation in both States regarding service dogs so we were happy that Clive would be allowed the 'same access as a member of the general public' as per the ADA - American Disability Act provisions. In practise however, it was not always as simple as that ....

We have to say though that South Carolina came out on top as the friendlier service dog State! Most restaurants were fine and immediately allowed us in - those who questioned us were fine after we explained. We had one Thai restaurant who really didn't want to allow Clive in but after a little stand-off they relented! However, we would have the same problem with ethnic restaurants here in Dublin.

Supermarkets and shops in South Carolina were excellent - never a problem there and Barnes & Noble were particularly friendly which was great as visiting bookshops is very important to Murray.
Beach access in Hilton Head was allowed after 7pm in the evening for dogs - and off leash too! This was wonderful for Clive. Hilton Head get an overall 'three paws' for service dog access. Strangely enough the one place that really had an issue with Clive was the Tourism Office in Savannah and in particular their Museum. However, after more explanations we were allowed in.

New York was interesting in regard to access - we had thought it would be easy here but we got a mixed reaction.

However, we'll begin with the best - Central Park Zoo allows service dogs so Murray was really thrilled here.

Fitzpatrick's Manhattan Hotel were fantastic! We got such a warm welcome on arrival and when we explained we had forgotten Clive's feeding bowl - a ice-bucket was immediately provided for him. The staff in the hotel were great and always made us feel welcome and comfortable. The concierge was particularly great at trying to get 'yellow cabs' for us because this was where access was really difficult ....

By law, cabs have to allow service dogs but obviously a lot of cab drivers just chose to ignore that fact. Our concierge would explain, cajole and finally argue our case and sometimes the cab drivers accepted us (and Clive!). How a visually impaired person and guide dog manages to travel around New York - we just don't know.

We used the subway for most of our travelling around New York because arguing with cab drivers was proving too tiring and so unsuccessful. Clive can't use escalators though - no service dog can - their paws would get hurt so where there was no stairs we had to use the elevators. Not our favourite experience, underground in the subway and in a very small elevator! You don't want to think about the consequences of an emergency! Clive however was fine - it was the humans who were having the panic attacks!

"Murray, how do I exit the subway?"

Clive quickly learnt - under the bars and out!

Restaurants in New York were certainly mixed over access and a bit like Dublin - the better the restaurant the less the problem. Casual restaurants and bars just don't seem to like the idea of a 'service dog'. TGI Friday's on Lexington Ave and Trinity Place on Wall Street were particularly difficult - only that Murray's Mom knows her regulations and sticks to her 'guns' did we get access here. Murray likes the place so that's why we persisted!

Obviously main attractions like the Museum of Natural History, Chelsea Market, the High Line were fine but for day to day access for a service dog for autism - we were glad that we don't mind and are used to giving explanations about why we have Clive and what an assistance dog for autism does!

Overall though, we're giving New York 'three paws' for service dog access! Central Park Zoo gets a very special 'four paws'! We've have been on to Dublin Zoo here again about access and thank you also to some of our friends on FB who have also contacted Dublin Zoo on behalf of assistance dogs for autism.

3. Respect for a 'working dog' - were people better at letting Clive do his job in the US?

Finally we have to say that we were very impressed with all the people (the general public) in the US who saw Clive's jacket, realised he was working and left him to do his job! Parents in particular with young children were so respectful of the fact that Clive was working and could be heard explaining to their children about 'why not to touch or interfere with a working dog'.
It is one of the things that we find difficult here in Ireland that members of the public continually stop Clive and pet him or call to him or even the other day, pull his leg and then complain he wouldn't give 'the paw' while we were standing in a queue. It confuses and upsets Murray when people without asking just start petting or pulling at Clive. In the US, we never had that problem with the general public - there was huge respect for the fact that Clive was a service dog.

This has probably been the longest post we have written to date but we wanted to answer all the questions/comments/emails that have been sent to us over the past month. Thank you very much for the interest in assistance dogs for autism and in how Clive does his job and in particular how we got on when travelling this summer.

Clive is an exceptional service dog who has provided Murray with opportunities to experience and achieve things that previously were not open to him. The opportunity to travel now is one of those things we're really thankful for ....

- Clive & Co

For further information on service dog etiquette - see our post of 21 January 2010.