It seems like yesterday I was writing a tribute to Assistance Dogs NZ (ADNZ) Ben, then next thing I know; the world is looking a whole lot different! ADNZ Raven is here and our entire country is in a state of emergency on “Level 4 Covid 19 Alert”; which is essentially “only leave your house for essential services like food or medical care, or your employment is classed as an essential service, the borders are now closed”.
It feels like a long time since I have written something but in reality it’s not considering my inconsistency over the last year! I’m writing because so much has happened in the last few weeks, and blogging is a way for me to document my life. Well, settle in, this could be a long one!
I had a bit of a “good bye Ben” and “hey Raven” plan in mind for how I would transfer ADNZ Ben to his new home and then have ADNZ Raven arrive. I had hoped to have a day to spend with ADNZ Ben before we took him to his new whanau (family) and some time to get my head in a “new dog to work with” space. Well like a lot of things around the world, that was turned on it’s head by Covid 19.
I recieved a call from ADNZ to say that they were having to adjust plans due to Covid 19 and word was that New Zealand was going to probably be entering some form of travel restrictions. This meant that they may, or may not be coming to do a “no contact” handover of Raven and would not be able to do the training program that would usually happen on placement and a lot of our program we could work out virtually. I finally got the call on Thursday 19 March that they would be arriving on Friday 20 March. This drastically altered my “Good bye Ben” timeline. The reason this was being considered as an option was because I have had ADNZ Ben (who could sometimes be a ratbag) and ADNZ Raven had completed her Public Access and her basic task training. ADNZ did not want ADNZ Raven just sitting around doing nothing when she could be with me, bonding, learning the house rules, fine tuning her tasks and starting to work together.
The last day with ADNZ Ben he accompanied me to and from (but not in) my MRI as his last “job”. Then we spent some time chilling at home with him before Julie (Client Services Manger; ADNZ) arrived with ADNZ Raven. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to take ADNZ Ben out to his new home, so MJ did that for me. After 7 years of having him by my side this was a hard moment. I am glad that he has a wonderful whanau to go to where is going to be well looked after and that he is still fit and healthy, without any age related problems so he can make the most of his retirement. A huge mihi (acknowledgement) to Rachael for providing him with an amazing retirement home.
Usually when an Assistance Dogs NZ dog is placed with a disabled person and/or whanau an Instructor will be alongside the whanau for 10 to 14 days. This is time for the Instructor to introduce the dog to the family, for the family to get to learn about the dog and dog maintenance, how to work with the dog, how to handle public access situations and the myriad of other things that go along with having a Disability Assist Dog. Thankfully I have had the experience with ADNZ Ben to give me the knowledge of this over the last 7 years so ADNZ felt confident enough to enable this.
Covid 19 has really turned the world that I am familiar with on its head. No “mass gatherings”, borders have closed, entire nations on some form of lock down which is going to have global economic and social challenges and and no doubt we will be seeing the ongoing effects of this for many years. I feel the most for those who have had non Covid 19 related medical appointments postponed or cancelled, the whanau who are bringing new lives into the world and to those who have lost loved ones during this time.
On a personal note, our whanau lost an amazing kuia (matriarch) on the 8th of March, just as Covid 19 was starting to show up in New Zealand and the cases overseas were rising at alarming rates. I was fortunate enough to see her just a few days before she passed away, she was too worried about the effects of this virus and how it would impact on our communities. I am grateful that she passed before the “no mass gatherings” restrictions came into effect so we did have the opportunity to say farewell to her. My heart is heavy for those that are now denied this process. Your timing, as always Aunty Barb was impeccable, rest easy.
For my international readers, NZ has implemented a four level “alert” system for Covid 19, with Level 4 being the highest and the most restrictive. We are essentially on a national lock down, unless you are getting “essentials, medical or an essential worker”. This gives me lots of time to train ADNZ Raven, do some gardening and I have even been streaming on Twitch and Facebook from time to time so I can keep in touch with people.
We had a “physically distanced” hand over for ADNZ Raven. I was waiting in the back section with the gate open while Julie got ADNZ Raven out of the ute (pick up truck for my American friends). Julie let go of the leash, I called Raven, Julie closed the gate and hey presto, handover of dog complete. Julie did pop some equipment, file, some food and a bag of puppy-hood toys over the fence. We had a chat and a short walk before Julie then once again jumped in the ute and headed off. Just to reassure people, Julie and I have had many phone conversations of how ADNZ Raven behaves, her quirks, expectations and we’re in constant contact on training progress.
Training with ADNZ Raven has been going pretty well, the first week to 10 days was a bit of a “getting to know each other” and settling in phase. No intensive training sessions, just giving ADNZ Raven time to get to know her new environment, our house rules and reinforcing general behavior and basic commands. We had been told that she was a “very different dog” to ADNZ Ben in regards to temperament and ADNZ were bang on the money with this.
All that know ADNZ Ben will know him for his sweet but somewhat energetic and slight boundary pushing behaviour! ADNZ Raven is almost the polar opposite; a calm, sweet, snugly girl who needs a little more encouragement. Whereas ADNZ Ben could be a little bit like a bull at a gate and up for EVERYTHING, which at times could be great because he would take on any challenge I set before him. But on the other hand this meant I had to have my head on a swivel at times. He has a short attention span on extended down-stays and not being stupid he had figured out when I was committed to a particular task (i.e belaying a climber, speaking in front of a group) he could potentially break his down-stay and have a wee wander.
ADNZ Raven however is very snugly and quite reserved, with a wee streak of sass and she is definitely a Labrador (one tea towel without 2 corners). She has a solid retrieve in general, which is great because this is one of the tasks that I use the most. I am introducing objects that I often drop to her, she had obviously worked with pens and keys in the past however my crutches and phone have been a little more challenging for her to work out.
I have a rugged phone which is slightly heavier but is more “Antnzproof” than most phones which means it can also deal with a bit of dog slobber. With it being flat and almost the same size as Ravens mouth has meant she has had to work out that she needs to lever the phone up slightly with her paw to “pick it up please”. The crutches are proving to be slightly more of a challenge due to the odd shape and the length but every time we work with them she is getting more confident about where to pick them up from.
In the weeks leading up to the Level 4 Alert my garden didn’t get quite the attention I would have like to give it, but it didn’t fall into complete disrepair again. I had been meaning to germinate some different brassica and “winter” vege but that never quite happened. I spent the last couple of days before Level 4 trying to find some vege seedlings, without any luck. I have plenty of seeds some of which are germinating now, however I know they will take awhile to be productive, which was the reason I was on a seedling hunt. One of our local nurseries has been deemed as an essential service (for supplying vege seedlings only) and due to limited staff are running twice weekly limited supplies of “vege bundles”, a mix of 8 types of vege. I missed out last week but had an alarm set in my phone to ensure I was online when the sales when live last Thursday and I managed to snag bundle, what I don’t plant will be distributed safely out of our bubble to neighbors, whanau and friends (maintaining social distance etc). The seedlings arrived yesterday and I got stuck in and got them planted. ADNZ Raven has been enjoying the time outside, although I have had to install “Raven reminders” to keep her out of the gardens!
I think at the moment, like many other people, our “normal” has been changed, potentially for the foreseeable future. Although I have had a lot of time to write, I just haven’t been able to sit down and just get stuck in. It’s been so topsy turvy that I am still figuring out how I am feeling about the current situation and the future.
I am however grateful. Grateful I live in NZ where we have “gone hard and gone early” to prevent “worse case scenario” figures such as we are seeing in places like Italy. Yes, it has been hard for many. Yes, it has and will continue to have lasting economic fallout. Yes, it has disrupted “life as we know it” with most businesses (unless classed as essential), most schools, Early Childcare Centers, etc etc etc are closed. However, the result of this “Go Hard, Go Early” approach is that we have seen about a quarter of the projected (had we taken no action) cases and relatively few deaths. It’s still early days, however I would rather have had this action than what we have seen overseas.
In saying that, I have a couple of gripes. Although I love NZ and our “she’ll be right” attitude most of the time, some of the people breaking the Level 4 restrictions. Our figures are currently “trending well” and both our Prime Minister and Director General of Health are “cautiously optimistic” that the 4 weeks of Level 4 restrictions could be lifted; the “she’ll be righters” who have been breaking the restrictions could see the restrictions in place for longer. Personally I think we are probably going to see another couple of weeks of Level 4; due to incubation and testing lag.
In saying that we have seen things that remind me that we are a community and have restored some of my faith in humanity. For instance; not many places have their Prime Minister declare the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as Essential Workers. We have the “We’re not Scared; Teddy Bear hunt”, had the NZ Egg Easter Egg Hunt, the 7pm clap for Essential Workers and no doubt we will see some commemorate ANZAC day in unique ways. We have participated in our way with some of these small things of local community connection.
I, like others in the disabled community have some series concerns for our community in regards to our safety. We have seen cases world-wide of disabled people being “de-prioritized” in regards to care due to the pressures on health systems. Here we already have at least 3 clusters in aged residential care and 1 cluster linked to a day program for disabled adults. For me the main concerning factor is the lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and appropriate protocols to ensure disabled people living in the community to be cared for adequately and safely. A lot of disabled people living in the community need assistance to shower, toilet, eat and all of these are “close contact” type activities. Considering that many support workers/assistants have several people to work with per day; these workers are a huge potential transmission vector in a “vulnerable population”. Although Ministry of Health have made statements about “the guidance” and centralizing PPE distribution, many in the community are not seeing this translating to on the ground action when their staff come to assist them. Time will tell. I hope that my friends and whanau stay well and healthy.
On a personal note, we receive support to maintain our lawns and manage some of the “harder” household tasks like the vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom. The week prior to Level 4 we made the call to temporarily suspend our cleaning service. I often pick up any bug, cold or cough that is going around, with MJ having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) with the unknown impact of Covid 19 and having other family members who are in the “vulnerable populations” bracket we felt that the cleaners were possibly a transmission vector and did not want to take the chance, however small. The house does need a damn good vacuum at this point and I am hoping to get one room at a time done… the bathroom might have to wait. The lawn guy was not classed as an “essential service” and the lawns are going to be a bit of a mission for him when he gets the green light to work again.
ADNZ Raven is smarter than she lets on at times, and once she has a task she seems to be able to transfer that to different places, although she has an attention span of less than mine at times. She is very clear when she has had enough of training for a session; whereas ADNZ Ben would keep going, no matter how much he was missing the point, ADNZ Raven will deliberately go pick up a toy or just look at me with a “yeah so what” look on her face.
I have set up an Everyday Hero page for those who would like to contribute to the fundraising for Assistance Dogs NZ Raven since my last blog. This is similar to Givealittle or GoFundMe and can be found at: https://give.everydayhero.com/nz/assistance-dogs-nz-ben-has-retired-please-support-his-succes which cut off the end of the word “successor”.
I am very much looking forward to getting to know ADNZ Raven better, and working with her in the future, however that looks in a post Level 4 world.
Thank you to all essential workers at this time, no matter where in the world you are!
Stay safe whanau, take care of each other by staying home. Right now its time to survive, until we can thrive again!