Why Do We Need Animal Rescue Organisations Like Lab Rescue & Wetnose?

We need rescue organisations like Wetnose, Barking Mad, Kitty & Puppy Haven and Labrador & Golden Retriever Rescue because people continue to buy animals from breeders!

I know I’m going to be treading on more than a few toes here, but I really feel strongly about this, today in particular.

Last week I found a dog on the side of the road, and I took him to my vet to stay over for a few days while we tried to make a plan for him. I feel like this makes me more than a little responsible for him.
Tomorrow it will be a week, and my vet can no longer keep him. No one has been looking for him, no one who has been to the vet in the last week is willing to take him on – even as a foster – and I can’t afford to bring him home with me.
He’s now going to the Animal Anti Cruelty League in JHB – THANK GOODNESS – who will be fetching him from my vet tomorrow morning. I am beyond thrilled that he won’t be going to the SPCA, but of all the no-kill rescue organisations in Gauteng, the AACL is the only one with space! I called all of them!

Someone cared about this dog. Even if it was just a little bit. He had a collar, and he had been tied up somewhere. He wasn’t underfed even though he was filthy dirty and he has a few scars. He looks like a small Lab but he has a thick neck like a Staffie. He’s a really sweet, placid boy and the staff at the vet have become quite fond of him. I had no trouble leashing him and leading him to the car.
It makes me sad that he no longer has a home, and I do hope he will be adopted while at the AACL, but what are the chances? He’s not a cute little puppy and he’s not a recognised breed.

And before you bring it to my attention – I’m not referring here to dogs that are bred for a specific purpose, like SAGA’s Labs and Goldens.
Whilst breeders may sell their puppies “to approved homes only” thats the extent of their responsibility, whilst SAGA monitors the health and welfare of every dog they breed for as long as they are alive.

And with that I add another rescue organisation to my donation list (Wetnose and Lab Rescue are the other two).

Please people, adopt don’t shop!
Think hard before you spend thousand of Rands on a dog from a breeder.
Rather donate those thousands to a worthy organisation and adopt a dog already in dire need of a home and love and attention.

What Does It Mean To Be A Guide Dog Puppy Walker?

For a year or so you have a 5:30am wake-up call; digging; chewing; that divine puppy smell; puppy cuddles; tail wagging; 2am toilet runs- even in the rain; and a bundle of lovable fluff that is deceptively smart.

Many years ago, there was a woman with a guide dog living in the block of flats my son and I lived in. Chatting to her briefly one day when she was out with her dog, she mentioned how the pups are raised by volunteer families, and it piqued my interest- but I was working full time and puppy raising wasn’t an option.

When I started working from home in 2010, I asked my husband if he would be open to raising a puppy for SAGA, and he said yes.
The following year we applied to SAGA, and a couple of months later they sent a Puppy Development Supervisor to visit us at home and meet us and our dogs and check out the house.
Once we were approved we went onto the waiting list for our puppy, and on December 22nd 2011 I went to fetch Volt, our first guide dog puppy.
I signed our contract at SAGA’s Puppy Block- after we battled for weeks to come up with a name that started with a U or a V (the letter allocated to his litter)- and after an instructional briefing I left with an adorable puppy, an ID tag, two bags of food, and a 67 page manual.

We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

It’s a lot like having a new baby in the house, except that your puppy comes with a text book!
If you have any idea how cool it is to have an obedient dog, you’ll know how much work goes into training your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘shake’. Now triple that workload and add to it that you will be supervised to make sure your dog is trained properly, with positive reinforcement! And puppies are a handful, no matter the breed.
When your puppy is awake, it is learning. Not only is there a set of verbal commands (sit, stay, down, off, leave it, come, wait, forward and stand), there’s all kinds of behavioural conditioning they need to learn as well, and this doesn’t always have a command.
As a guide-dog-in-training, your puppy is not allowed to chase balls, bark or whine. He has to wait till he’s told he may eat. He has to be comfortable travelling in a car and must be able to go ‘potty’ on command. He has to be comfortable in any setting – from shopping malls to nursery schools. He has to learn to walk calmly and quietly on a lead, on your left hand side. He has to be taught to WALK (not run) up and down all kinds of staircases. He has to learn not to jump up on people, he may not beg, and he must be taught that noises like thunder and fireworks are nothing to fear. They are with you all the time, they go everywhere with you as much as possible.
And the SAGA PDSs are always on hand to ensure the pups are progressing and you have help if you need it.

And its not just about puppies, you have to be able to deal with people too.
You have to remember that you are unofficially representing SAGA when you are out with your puppy. You have to get permission for your puppy to accompany you to places that dogs may not be allowed. Security guards can be a nightmare, and while some people will call out to your puppy when you’re out together, others scream and jump out of your way as if your puppy is foaming at the mouth!
And people will ask you questions. The same questions over and over again. The most common one being “…isn’t it hard to give them up?”

Yes, it is hard – but you’re not giving them up, you’re giving them back.
There’s no pomp or ceremony, its kept low key and quiet.
You get given your dog’s intake date, you bring your puppy in and you say goodbye.
Hopefully you’ve done all you were supposed to do and your puppy can start its training as a guide dog with the proper basics already learned.
Your dog’s trainer will keep you up to date with your dog’s progress during its guide dog training, but except to meet your puppy’s new owner when they are ready to graduate and start working together, there is a likelihood you won’t see your puppy again.

Its a year or so of very mixed feelings… you want your puppy to do well and take on its life’s purpose with confidence- but at the same time you love your puppy and you devote a lot of time and attention to it, and you miss your puppy terribly when its gone.

Witnessing your “baby”, fully trained and walking in his harness with his new owner is a moment filled with so much pride and excitement you are almost fit to burst.
You have to hide behind trees and cars on the other side of the street so that your puppy- and he is still a puppy at that stage- doesn’t see you and get distracted from his new job!

But seeing your puppy doing what he was bred and trained to do makes everything worthwhile.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our second guide dog puppy, Lennox, is almost 11 months old so our time with him is almost up. Our first guide dog puppy, Volt, is working as a guide dog in the Cape, and the two weekend “boarders” we worked with have also qualified – Kenzo as a guide dog in the Cape and Rhody as a service dog in KZN.

We are immensely proud of our puppies, and we plan to raise guide dog puppies for many years to come.

The @TsogoSun #SunCares Diepsloot Schools Arts Academy Showcase

If you think back on your school career- and your children’s school career, I’m sure your memories include countless concerts and speech festivals! Probably starting in nursery school!

I remember rehearsals during and after school, late nights performing, costumes made and/or rented, tickets sold, seats booked, sitting through seemingly endless song and dance routines to see your child on stage for maybe 5 minutes… or in my case – watching the teachers trying to catch my child as he ran behind the curtains at the back of the stage!
😀
My precious knucklehead is not a performer. He didn’t like being on stage, he didn’t like performing, unfortunately for him he usually didn’t have a choice. When I was at school I loved the concerts and the speech festivals, I wish I’d been more confident and shown more of what I was able to do!

Following on on that train of thought, I am oft reminded of the things I take for granted.

Like school concerts.

I was invited to attend the Tsogo Sun SunCares Arts Academy Showcase for seven Diepsloot primary and secondary schools.
These children spent a year auditioning, training, work shopping and rehearsing to perform on this stage, their first ever concert!
Their unbridled enthusiasm, their confidence, their eagerness to show their audience what they’ve been practising was absolutely infectious!
Dressed to the nines in fabulous, brightly coloured costumes and wigs they’d had their make up done and they took to the stage like old pros!
I was grinning and laughing and clapping throughout the show, and the one solo by Ndovhedzo Ndouvhada from Diepsloot West Secondary School gave me a lump in my throat and such goosebumps. Wow.
My favourite performance was definitely the “Superheroes” from Paradise Bend Primary School! They were so adorable I wanted to put them in my handbag and take them home with me!

Here’s the official press release and photographs, so that I don’t get anything wrong:

Tsogo Sun Landscape

Press release
11 October

SunCares youngsters hit the stage with their newfound skills

The stage is all set for the Tsogo Sun SunCares Performing Arts Academy’s year-end concerts which will joyfully showcase what 480 youngsters from 12 underprivileged schools in Gauteng have learned through the integrated programme in the course of the year.

Vusi Dlamini, Group HR Director of Tsogo Sun explains, “The Academy aims to make a real difference in children’s lives by developing their artistic talent, providing life skills development, and supporting the educational framework by creating extra-curricular activities, as well as potentially providing tertiary opportunities to learners within the programme.

“It was piloted in one school in 2012 and then launched in 2013 as a carefully designed full-year curriculum using the arts as a catalyst to provide opportunities for change in the lives of young people in communities around Johannesburg.” The SunCares Arts Academy provides a foundation in the basics of drama, dance, vocal training and voice projection, together with a structured lifeskills course that covers a broad spectrum of topics to empower the youngsters to make sound choices throughout their lives. 

The Academy is running in seven schools in Diepsloot near Montecasino and five schools in Mayfair near Gold Reef City, with 480 learners in total – 40 from each school. The learners go through a rigorous selection process to ensure that they have the potential and the dedication to do well in this Arts programme. Grade 4 to 7 learners are selected for the primary school programme and Grade 8 to 10 for the high school programme. Nine primary schools and three high schools are enrolled in the programme this year.

By the time the end of year concerts come around, the youngsters are bursting with excitement and anticipation – and extremely keen to show off their newfound skills to their communities as well as to a wider audience. “The concerts focus on the performing arts that have been learned through the year and incorporate items that display the different school groups’ dancing and performing skills as well as individuals who have shown particular talent in a specific area,” says Shanda Paine, Tsogo Sun’s Group CSI Manager. “The concerts are inspiring and are quite remarkable evidence of what can be achieved with a lot of enthusiasm, a desire to work hard and apply learnings, well-trained facilitators, and a fine-tuned curriculum.”

Renowned South African singer PJ Powers is the patron of the Tsogo Sun SunCares Arts Academy and is deriving immense pleasure from time spent with the children, coaching and encouraging – and instilling a sense of confidence in their ability to be the best they can be.

Tsogo Sun commissioned Minimax Performing Arts, which has been providing young South Africans with a platform to express themselves through the performing arts for more than 12 years, to develop and run the programme in the schools with four co-ordinating staff members and 12 facilitators who are given on-going weekly training.

As with all Tsogo Sun’s SunCares programmes, the Arts Academy is founded on strong partnerships with relevant bodies that include the Department of Education, with the schools, with leading learning and training institutions, and increasingly with the communities where the children who attend the academy live. The scepticism that was evident among parents of the selected children at the start of the programme has dissipated as the children’s academic standards have been maintained, their lifeskills have improved, and they have developed exciting new skills in the performing arts.

The first two concerts are held within the communities where the schools are based and are attended by adjudicators from the National Eisteddfod Association (NEA), who then select the top performers and the best schools to go through to the finals. These will be held at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City on 23 October and will culminate in an awards ceremony for the winners in several categories, including the top high school, the top primary school, the best three individual performers, the most enthusiastic educator and the best performing facilitator.

“This successful initiative has given us the means to provide gifted youngsters from Diepsloot and Mayfair with the knowledge, confidence and lifeskills needed to reach their potential through the performing arts and it is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to give them the opportunity to develop skills and then showcase them on stage in front of an appreciative audience,” concludes Dlamini. “Tsogo Sun is committed to this investment in these young lives and looks forward to many future concerts and to seeing these young lives blossom into accomplished people as they move on in their lives.”

For more information on SunCares, visit www.tsogosun.com, you can also join Tsogo Sun on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TsogoSun or follow @TsogoSun on Twitter.

ISSUED BY TSOGO SUN HOLDINGS. FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT:
Priya Naidoo | General Manager- Communications | Tel: 011 510 7583

pic3

Kids with Denise Zimba from V-Entertainment

Kids with Denise Zimba from V-Entertainment

Mapaseka Koetle (Scandal), Koketso Modiba and Angelo Collins (Big Brother) and Tumi  Moche with the kids

Mapaseka Koetle (Scandal), Koketso Modiba and Angelo Collins (Big Brother) and Tumi Moche with the kids

pic1

Carnival!

pic2

Beach Party

Tumi Moche from MasterChef, Mapaseka Koetle from Scandal with Angelo Collins from Big Brother

Tumi Moche from MasterChef, Mapaseka Koetle from Scandal with Angelo Collins from Big Brother

pic10
pic8
pic11 pic9
~~as per my Ladybloggers pledge, I must state here that I was not paid to write this blog post and that all opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone, apart from the official press release of course~~

Watching As Guide Dogs Are Trained!

Yesterday I got to watch something truly remarkable. I got to watch a session where SA Guide-dogs Instructors Hayley and Permit trained their dogs for traffic work.

What this kind of training entails is two instructors, each with one dog at a time, and another instructor in a SAGA vehicle, yesterday it was Guide Dog Services Manager
Gail.

They do practice this on their training walks with what is referred to as “natural traffic”, cars that happen to come along during their training, but traffic work is a step up from that.
They head for a quiet suburb, and then using driveways and intersections down the length of about four blocks – determined at the start of the session – the instructors will walk with their dogs and the instructor in the car will turn into driveways, cross-streets, and approach stop streets in front of the approaching instructor with the dog. Its done at different speeds, sometimes with sudden stops or with the driver of the vehicle backing away and approaching again.
This gives the instructor with the dog the opportunity – under controlled circumstances – to correctly instruct the guide-dog-in-training on how to react and what to do.
The instructors have two viewpoints to each interaction and should the dog be over-eager, or react with fear, they can correct the behaviour appropriately and gently, and end the interaction on a positive note.
This is essential to prevent the dog from associating approaching traffic with a negative experience.
It also gives the instructors, as a team, the opportunity to observe the dog’s reactions to cars and crossing streets as part of their eventual decision on who to partner the dog with.

Its phenomenal to see how well the instructors know the dogs, and how patient they are. Not only must they give the same instructions to each of their dogs, they must tailor how they praise and correct behaviour according to the situation AND the individual dog. This is certainly not a cookie-cutter-training process.
There are no assumptions made with regard to a dog’s progress and personality. An apparently bold dog may be a little nervous in traffic- and vice versa- and each dog is monitored throughout the walk to make sure it has a positive experience and responds properly. And this isn’t done once for each dog, the training is repeated in different areas and on different days so that the dogs know the “rules” apply no matter where they are, as well as to make sure the dogs are okay in any area.

And get this – they have to use different cars and different drivers for these sessions because the dogs are so smart they can actually get accustomed to the drivers and the cars, and they could start thinking that cars can’t or won’t actually hurt them since the SAGA staff are so careful during these sessions!
In real life situations of course, the cars don’t always stop!

It was absolutely fascinating.

I want to say a big thank you to Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Hayley; her dogs Zaiden, Cayla, Chiva, Elliott and Bramble; Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Permit; his dogs Zama, Shaun, Abby, Ari and Dakota; and Guide Dog Services Manager Gail (who was behind the wheel today), for allowing me to come along and watch you work.

On Parenting A Special Needs Child

A while ago, a Facebook friend posted an update that read:

“It’s so easy for a special needs parent to become so wrapped up in advocating for the rights of this tiny community, that their own child fades into the background. I’m constantly aware of how fine that line is.”

Stacey is mom to three little boys, the eldest of whom has De Morsier syndrome, and she is an outspoken advocate for Autism (her blog is here).

Her status really hit home for me and it got me thinking about being a parent to a special needs child, and how I parent my knucklehead.
Many times in our lives, as he and I lived with ADHD and I became more and more determined to create awareness and educate people about the disorder, it became all about me.
How I had to parent a special needs child.
How I had to deal with people’s rudeness and incompetence and crass questions.
How I had to take time off work to get to doctors’ appointments and occupational therapy and shrinks and speech therapy and parent teacher meetings and school conferences.
My son needed far more help to get through every day than I did, but sometimes I was crusading so hard and feeling so sorry for myself that he got left behind.

First of all, let me state very clearly – so there’s no doubt – if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, you are parenting a child with special needs.
ADHD is often called an invisible disorder, and I must be honest – sometimes I am glad for this. If you are a parent to a child with a visible disability or handicap, you are subjected to pitying looks and outright rudeness! Its as if being able to see that someone’s child is different entitles people to ask questions at point blank range.
What’s wrong with your baby/ daughter/ son?
Are you going to fix it surgically?
Was she born that way?
Does he go to a special school?
Oh you MUST try XYZ?
Have you looked into such-and-such a product?
Do people REALLY think that the parents of a child with a disability or handicap of any kind have not ALREADY done – and are doing – as much reading and research as they possibly can?
I get that they just want to help, I just wish they’d think before they speak!

Look at it this way. If you tell someone your child is asthmatic or diabetic- also fairly invisible disorders- people seldom launch into a diatribe about how its a fake disorder created so drug companies can profit. They’re still quick to make suggestions about treatments and tell you of their own experiences, but mostly the show concern and empathy.
If you tell someone your child has been diagnosed with ADHD however, they don’t ask how you’re doing. There’s no empathy. They say things like, “Ooh is she on Ritalin?“, “Well I hope you’re not drugging him!“, and “Oh I was just like him as a child but my parents disciplined me properly.
Do you know that children with an ADHD diagnosis have a worse quality of life than children with asthma or diabetes? They don’t do well at school, they don’t do well with interpersonal relationships, they’re always in trouble, and they blame themselves.

Is it any wonder that sometimes its all ME! ME! ME!

Listen to me! Help me! Show me! Answer me! Anything!
For me, raising a special needs child feels like I am always on the defensive. Even now, with a grown up son.
Every single time someone mentions ADHD, I brace myself for the slew of jokes and opinions that inevitably follow, tossed about by people who only ever read YOU and Huisgenoot, or watch Carte Blanche. Even if they’re not actually talking to me, I have to all but bite my tongue and I am not always successful.

I am constantly second guessing myself and wishing I’d done more, tried harder.
I probably could have. Should have.
If I’d worked harder perhaps my son would have finished school. Perhaps he would have gone on to some kind of tertiary education, perhaps he may even have become the Marine Biologist he always wanted to be.
Hindsight is always 20/20. And I didn’t know then what I know now.

Its exhausting.

Is it any wonder that my son occasionally faded into the background of my battle with ADHD?