>Words of Advice

>Well, I haven’t been around here much for reasons I’m about to explain. I hope you’ll excuse my bitching for the next little while. You have been warned.

Babs, my wonderful guide dog, developed a series of tumours, which although benign, aren’t good to leave in. There are too many to remove surgically, and the only treatment my vet could recommend would make her kind of drowsy and unable to work. So the school decided to take her away, have a look at her, and likely retire her. So right now, I am guide dogless. Glad I didn’t do anything too drastic to my cane. What makes this super annoying, on top of the fact that I will have to put my life on hold again and start all over with a new dog, most likely, is that this all could have been prevented if the school I’d chosen, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind had shown some balls and done the right thing in the first place.

Let’s start at the beginning. When I was in training, I noticed a lump on Babs’s chest. I brought this to the trainer’s attention almost immediately. His first reaction seemed good. he said the lump had been there before, but had gone away, and they’d have to see about seeing a vet in a few days. Makes sense. Then the day came when they were going to see about seeing a vet, and the story changed. All of a sudden it was, “I have to speak to upper management to find out what to do.” What to do? See a vet! Seems pretty straightforward.

The day before I was to go home, after asking every day what the hell was the story, I demanded to know what this lump was. The head trainer came in and said the lump was a fat deposit, noted in her medical history. Ok? If you knew this all along, how come you couldn’t have told me this when I brought up the issue. It seems really odd to me, because I was talking to other guide dog users, and they all said fat lumps don’t show up in dogs until they get older.

So I go home happy, not worried about the lump. We start to work well together, I start to get attached to her, and then I notice that the lump is oozing. I hustle her to the vet, and the vet says there’s no way that’s a fat lump and it has to be removed. He removes it, thinking it’s a cyst, and sends it to a pathologist, who, 10 days later, reports that it’s a grade I mast cell tumour. The good news is Grade I means it’s benign. But the bad news is they didn’t realize that it was a tumour, because there was nothing about this in her medical history, and when they were removing it, it burst a bit. I’m told to hope for the best.

I call the school, pretty mad at this point that either their vet isn’t the quickest bunny in the forest, or they lied to me. I mean my vet’s reaction was pretty extreme. It wasn’t like “Well it could have been at one point but it certainly isn’t now.” It was like “No, that is in no way a fat lump.” I tell them what’s happened, and ask that since this was something that was present in training, would they pay the vet bill for its removal? Their response? “No, go to this other charity that helps people pay for vet bills.” Ok, hold the phone. I know this school’s pockets aren’t exactly lined with lots of cash, but the least they can do is not help to bankrupt another place whose pockets are not exactly lined either. And this problem existed when she was still in their care. Shouldn’t the other fund be reserved for helping people with vet costs connected to problems that arise *after* the dog leaves training?

Then things get fun. I ask for a medical history on my dog, and the truth starts to come out. Apparently they had tested that lump that I brought to their attention before with a needle, and nothing had come out. Ok, first problem, why didn’t they tell me this when I brought the concern up? Second, those tests are known to be unreliable. The needle could slip and not hit the tissue you need. So, when it recurs, wouldn’t you do an actual biopsy? It won’t require her to be sedated or anything, you just freeze the area, so it’s not like a biopsy would keep her from doing training. And, there was lots of time for the results to come back before training was over. You would think that would be the logical thing to do.

Not long after that, I notice a whole bunch of little lumps all over her. So back to the vet we go for more tests, and low and behold, they all turn out to be these tumours. there are so many that the only way to treat them is with antihistamines. At this point the school freaks when they read that, and do the only thing they can do, scoop her up and see if she has to be retired. And I’m just pissed that this all has to happen, and heartbroken that a good guide dog and great companion has to go.

So that’s my story. I’m going to get another guide dog, not from that school. There have been too many betrayals of trust and screw-ups to go back there. But the moral of the story boys and girls is, if you’re thinking of getting a guide dog, follow your instincts. My first instinct was to go to the other school. Be observant and watch for red flags. In my first post about guide dogs, I noticed a lot of stuff in their literature. They were practically begging for money from people who didn’t even have a dog with them yet. But word of mouth is also a powerful advertiser, and I knew people who were going back to them for their second or third dog, so I thought wow they must be pretty good. And I had heard they had a good reputation. So when they came up with a spot first, I went for it. Then more red flags appeared. When they phoned me to book travel arrangements, they used a prepaid calling card. Ya know the ones you get so you can call from payphones and other people’s houses and stuff and it doesn’t end up on their bill. They were using that to make office calls, and then it ran out. What the hell? Another red flag, although it showed up once I was there, was their response to us wanting to get a gift for our trainer. They said the policy was if we wanted to give gifts, they would rather we get something that would benefit the school. Woe, now they’re diverting gifts to people who have earned them back to the school. The money-begging continues. So if you get too many red flags and it’s not too late, either don’t apply at all to that school, or cancel your application before you get too far in.

Then all this stuff with the lump started happening, which leads me to my second piece of advice. If you see something that concerns you, don’t let them send you home without giving you an answer that doesn’t sound like pulling the wool over your eyes. Get them to take you to a vet, and scream blue murder for it if you have to. Because once you’re home, if they don’t have vet coverage to help you with major expenses, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do. But more importantly, once you’re home, you’ve bonded with this poor creature, and sending her back, if it comes to that, is all the more painful.

The school has agreed to pay for the biopsies, so that’s slightly redeeming, but I had to basically tell them I thought they were pretty low before they gave in. I won’t hear anything until at least the end of next week, they’re taking her to be seen by a specialist. But I wish I had followed my gut, stuck to my guns and gone to the other school, because it looks like that’s where I’m going now, that is, if they’ll accept me. So anyone getting a guide dog, never go on blind faith! Your gut is smarter than you think.

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