Monday, November 18, 2013

My Traveling Bumble Bee

Nala is my third guide dog. We've been together for about nine months now and she's already moved across an ocean. One of my friends in Scotland once compared her love for her work to that of a "worker bee" and ever since then, I've called her "my little bumble bee." She kind of buzzes about like one too, with all of her energy, and so the nickname suits in that way too. For the most part, I've known what situations my dogs, old and new, can handle.
Jetta, my first girl, took all of the changes in stride and never batted an eyelash when we boarded a plane and ended up in a new place for the second or third time in a month. Nala and Jetta's work ethic are similar in that way-they both loved working and embraced whatever challenge I've set in front of them.
Glacier, my second dog, was never suited to change right from the beginning. We had a rocky start and our working relationship continued to be unstable. Notice how I said "working relationship?" As a non-working dog, he was just perfect and I knew that no matter how much training, re-training or re-anything we did was not going to help him be comfortable with working; especially working in an ever changing environment. He was much better suited to pet life. He traveled as well, not quite to the extent that Jetta did, but he technically moved countries twice. However, we didn't travel in the way that I did with Jetta when I was competing.
This long and slightly rambling introduction is supposed to lay the foundation for my real reason for writing today. Nala's enthusiasm for her work is about to be put to the test.
The last couple of weeks or so, I've been working on one of my latest adventures. I've blogged about it over at my other blog, but since it's sports related, I didn't want to bore everyone here with the details. Basically, I've been looking into starting cross country skiing at a competitive level. I'm not sure if I'm any good at it, but I've been building up my fitness the last month and have managed to nail down a guide or two as well as a potential coach. Since this year is a Olympic/Paralympic year, I figured I'd have a year to get some snow time to see whether or not I should even consider pursuing a competitive career in cross country skiing. But, as we all know,  rarely do things go as planned. Within the course of two weeks, I had been asked to attend a training camp which then moved to me racing as well. So, on December 5th, Nala and I will be hopping a plane out to Alberta to participate in sed training camp and then I'll have my race only a few short days later. There's a lot more to it, but if you want to read about it, you can over at "Sea, Land and Tires."
It's been so long since I traveled as a part of a sports team and with a working dog that I'm a little bit nervous. Excited of course is the majority of my emotional state right now, but traveling with Jetta had become so habitual that I don't really remember how I worked out some of the logistics. Isn't it funny that the skiing part isn't really bothering me even though I haven't skied in over twenty years? I'm not worried about Nala having difficulties adjusting to working in a new place. I'm sure as soon as her paws hit the ground in Alberta, she'll be ready to go. What I'm concerned with are things like:
Where will she go when I'm training? Jetta used to just stay on the pool deck, tied to a bench or lane rope roller. Nala can't just be tied to a tree in the middle of winter in Alberta. I'm sure we'll find a place for her to stay in the ski lodge, but then that leads me to my next concern.
Will she drive someone nuts with her whining? She has a small amount of separation anxiety and whines if I leave her. She did this when the trainer left her with me the first day. Jetta never whined. I can combat her boredom with a Kong stuffed with something...peanut butter? Kong stuffing? Which will be easier to transport?
Apparently there is going to be a service dog there as well. Perhaps they can hang out together? Then again, it's a coach's dog, so maybe the coach will need the dog and keep him/her with them? (I am totally over thinking these things which is what I do when I'm nervous).
Then my brain turns to packing. Not only am I  unsure what to pack for me, but I am torn on bringing certain items for Nala.
Should I bring her boots? She's never worn them before, will she wear them? Maybe we should practice before we get there?
Will she need a winter coat? That depends on how cold it's going to be and how much time she's going to spend outside.
Once we're there, where will the relieving area be? Will I be able to find the garbage bin after she "goes?" Another thing to remember to pack...poop bags!
What about her food? Pack it or would someone be able to just run and buy a small bag so that precious suitcase space/weight isn't taken up with dog food?
What about her bed? She's always slept on a bed/blanket/mat. She settles better if she has a "spot." A good and bad thing that she was trained on. It's good because if I put a mat out and tell her "bed" she goes there and settles there. However, if a blanket/mat/bed isn't available, she's restless. Two things about Jetta made this a non-issue. First, she wasn't as high maintenance. She didn't need a Kong stuffed with yummy goodness to keep her occupied while I wasn't available. She was content to just watch me practice or hang out under the massage therapist's table if I was competing. Second, she slept on the bed with me and so the bed problem was non-existent.
As I said above, I'm definitely over thinking this whole thing. Some of my concerns are legitimate, like food transport, but a lot of the other things can be solved with some creative thinking if an issue arises. I think my nervousness about going to this camp is just manifesting in my guide dog concerns because it's something I know and can control. The whole thing is quite new and I don't know what to expect. I don't even know what clothes I'm supposed to wear during a race or training. How do you transport your skis/poles on the plane? Is it like my tappers for swimming that were put in the "awkward baggage" section? I'm going somewhere I've never been, with someone I hardly know, with athletes I don't know at all and with a new guide dog. I'm participating in a sport that I hardly know anything about and I'm going to race in this sport. My only expectation for that race is to finish it in one piece. Despite all of that, I'm very much looking forward to going and I am so grateful that I've been given this opportunity and even though I'm nit picking about her boots/coats/Kong Etc, I'm grateful that my little Bumble bee gets to come with me.

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