Archives - January, 2011

31 Jan 11

He is so soft, clean, and…well, he just doesn’t smell like a dog?!” is a common refrain as Quinn and I travel our world together. This is because one significant responsibility of a Guide Dog partnership is the grooming, which ensures Quinn is always appropriately clean for the many public places we visit. It is an almost daily duty for us to spend 20 minutes in a grooming routine that Quinn loves entirely.

The trash and grooming kit being set on the floor is Quinn’s cue to come lay in my lap for the thorough combing, which helps remove all excess fur from his dual coats. The double coat of the lab insulates them well in summer and winter, but provides an amazing amount of fur due to the coat constantly adjusting for the changing temperatures and other weather conditions. Grooming will not prevent him from leaving some fur behind, as my clothes too often show, but the grooming does reduce the amount of shed fur significantly. It also helps to remove dirt from his coat and makes him the very clean dog for which he is renowned.

A “Zoom Groom” is a rubber finger tool used to help massage Quinn and stimulate the oils in his skin – a process that keeps his fur particularly soft. Given regular grooming, there is rarely need for water-based baths, and this is even healthier for the pup. Of even more significance is the fact that this process allows Quinn some relaxation to begin his day, and also gives me a chance to let my hands tell me things about his health, which my lack of vision might prevent. I can ensure that he has no injuries by his reactions to the massage, as well as by the lack of swelling, hot spots, or other physical abnormalities. Frankly, it is yet another part of the bonding process essential to our work, which also just so happens to make Quinn ready for being out in public.

The final touch to our daily session is the brushing of Quinn’s teeth. This treat makes it all worthwhile for him, as he loves the various dog-flavored toothpastes available. I love knowing that the enzyme-based toothpaste does much of the work just from Quinn licking it, while the finger brush I use reduces the plaque to ensure strong, healthy teeth and a healthier Quinn long term. The challenge I face is convincing Quinn when we are done, and that he really does not need to lick any more of the toothpaste!

Monthly, we add an ear rinse to the grooming process, Odi-Rinse, to promote clean and healthy ears. Quinn is not so fond of this treatment, but the results are too good for him to miss. We similarly check his nail length. Good weather means enough pavement work to naturally keep them ground down, but the dewclaws always need attention. I ask for help to actually cut Quinn’s nails to avoid unnecessary risk to the ‘quick’ – the blood flow into the nails of dogs. Regular trimming keeps the claws from catching and causing Quinn a more serious problem.

A final ‘secret’ in our routine is the special occasion, doggy cologne spray for his back. It is a dog deodorant that Guiding Eyes made available to us. It is safe for Quinn, and he seems to regard it as a special treat, based on the extra wriggling just before and after its application. He may not always suit up in his tuxedo, but for those semi-formal times, he is ready to go the extra mile. That is why despite the occasional bog bridge debacle,  he can quickly convert to the dapper dog of fame. He does draw the line at mousse, and no Dippity-Do or dippity-dog is in his future!


24 Jan 11

by Randy Pierce

Without the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I would not be allowed the benefits of Quinn in most public places. During my time confined to a wheelchair, I was even more amazed at how many places were still out of my reach, despite the requirements of the ADA. This troubled me considerably, and yet it is not uncommon for me to hear discussion about what defines a “reasonable accommodation” such as the ADA requires. So it is that I and many others wrestle with this notion of reasonable accommodations.

In 1999, the Appalachian Mountain Club was required to provide wheelchair access to Galehead Hut, located 3800 feet up a rather challenging trail. Truthfully, when I hear this, I think that any person using a wheelchair capable of making it up the trail itself ought to be able to handle the additional challenge of a less-accessible hut. However, perhaps I might similarly be expected to use my cane despite the significant efficiency that I get from Quinn, rather than expose someone with allergies to my service dog. How do we measure this word “reasonable” and reconcile the costs or impacts of achieving it?

The ADA requirements are for public locations that involve public funds to maintain or sustain them. Whether it is the roads to the location or the various funded agencies involved in the location’s existence, all of these things use public funds. People with disabilities are not exempt from the taxes that support these locations, and it is a shame when they cannot access these services.

So the question is what is the additional price, fiscally or otherwise, to enable a reasonable accommodation? In the case of the hut, the price was a ramp, wider bathroom stalls, and support bars. In the case of an 1800s-converted home or restaurant, however, it might be substantially more to manage an elevator replacement for stairs. Ultimately, people’s definition of “reasonable accommodation” may vary greatly. I expect that the business owner required to undertake costly renovations for accessibility, which may not be used much, views such requirements as unreasonable. Riding a kitchen trash lift to get to a restaurant for a gathering of friends seems equally unreasonable – and yes, I have had to do this. In fact, at the MBTA, I was carried down multiple sets of stairs due to the elevator lift being broken, despite my calling ahead for a trip to Fenway Park. A balance does not have to demean, humiliate, or bar the way for someone facing such a challenge. A balance does not force the rest of society to install a costly solution that will never be used. Each of us will hopefully come to a comfortable definition as to what is reasonable; I just hope a little exploration and evaluation of all factors is involved. I think each extreme of the issue has, at times, attempted abusive approaches, and those negative approaches are the benchmark for arguments on the opposite side. I hope I can find the humane middle ground and entice a better appreciation of what is reasonable.

The first year Galehead Hut opened saw a group that included three people requiring wheelchairs. I am not sure if Geoff Krill, Nicole Haley, or Craig Gray would have made the 12-hour journey up to the hut without the modifications. I am also uncertain if the estimated $30,000 for the modifications to the hut is reasonable, considering how many people will take advantage of such modifications. I do know that the inspiration and hope brought on by their accomplishments is very cheap at that price. When I stood on the porch of Galehead hut last May, amazed by Quinn’s work in getting me there, I thought of those three in their wheelchairs, and the barriers they broke. I was more than impressed!


17 Jan 11

by Randy Pierce

Randy speaking to students.

While we provide presentations to students in grades 1 through 12, we frequently adjust the material to emphasize preferred points and better target the level of a particular group. One common theme in our talks is “Ability Awareness.” This topic often begins with a question to the group regarding what they think a blind person is unable to do. Various suggestions come in from the students, and these suggestions lead to great discussions about problem solving. We demonstrate various ways that many of their suggestions can, in fact, be accomplished. They are often surprised at the many tasks that can be accomplished, despite their perception of a blind person’s limitations.

Quinn at the Oyster River Middle School.

Recently, at the Oyster River Middle School, a clever student provided the following answer to that opening question, “Appreciate a Silent Movie!” It was thoughtful, creative, and a bit playful. This suggestion came after our audience realized that the ultimate answer is ‘see’ – though even that answer could be argued, considering some of the creative processes available today. After getting full credit for their creative answer, we had the chance to talk about a creative solution called Descriptive Video Service (DVS), in which a narration is provided with a movie to share the visual information essential to the story, while not interrupting dialog or key sound effects. Whether such a solution exists for any silent movies is unknown to us, but the possibility is definitely there. This is a great example of how a thoughtful response from the students led to more quality problem solving.

In our regular weekly blog articles, we hope to have a section on school presentations every month. We hope that some of the significant value we bring to area schools can be shared here for you to appreciate. Let us know what you think, and perhaps what you might like to learn more about!


10 Jan 11

By Randy Pierce

View of Owls Head Courtesy of Team Sherpa Ultra Running

In this, our first full season of hiking ‘the 48′ in order to raise awareness for 2020 Vision Quest, we have set some lofty goals. For a variety of reasons, we have scheduled 16 peaks to attempt this year! Success is not achieved merely by adding the mountains to our schedule. There is hard work and planning to do, but there is an element of luck to consider, as well. There will be times when a particular summit on a particular day will be more than we can achieve as a team. Some of the ambition in our planning is to increase our potential for success.

Another significant reason for our aggressive schedule is that, in my pursuit of being the first known blind person to reach all these peaks, I very much hope to include Quinn in this success. He is so fundamental in my inspiration and ability to undertake this goal that I will make every reasonable effort to ensure he can be a part of it. Unfortunately, his hiking career is likely to be shorter than any of us would prefer, and I am determined to involve him only while he still loves to hike. This means that over the next few years, when he is young, agile, and eager, I wish to have us both savor the experience as fully as possible. Therefore, if we somehow manage to have good weather, and if our skills hold out well enough through this season, I will delight in each success we earn.

From May through October, we will undertake many different challenges, from remote Owl’s Head to difficult Mount Adams; these along with many others will soon be listed on our website. Our 2011 schedule has already generated many inquiries from those who wish to join us on a hike. While we may not be able to hike with everyone, we do want to have the opportunity to share our experiences and the amazing work Quinn does with as many as possible. We are not guides, nor do we teach folks how to hike in the White Mountains. People with enough experience to be comfortable and confident on a hike can request to join us. If you are interested, send me an email and share your experience with us. We will take that information and determine if there is a summit attempt that works well for all of us. That said; hiking with me requires an understanding and acceptance of the unique challenges involved. It is not an easy undertaking and I understand that it is not for everyone. If you do join us, I believe you will find the experience to be an incredible one. I hope to learn and grow from each person who chooses to accompany us.

As the winter still leaves us time for training, we have plans to hike a few smaller peaks for conditioning purposes as well as enjoyment. When May arrives, however, you can expect that we will have plenty of hiking adventures to share. I hope many of you come along to tell us what we might expect on the trails, hear our experiences, and encourage others in attempting all the summits of the mountains and of life!


3 Jan 11

by Randy Pierce

The arrival of the New Year often includes many resolutions laden with good intent. I personally believe in making resolutions each and every time I find an opportunity to address a concern or improve my approach. So, while I do make the occasional New Year’s resolution, I more often believe in an immediate approach to change.

Randy in 2003

Randy in 2010

The drive for me comes entirely from inspiration. I significantly benefit from the process of identifying a need and immediately addressing it with a resolution. That process must have enough potency to inspire me through the work required to induce the change. Simply put, inspiration is the essence of my motivation and success. Also, there must always be an identification and reflection upon the inspiration.

2020 Vision Quest is about to embark on the New Year, and we are resolved to expand our blog content beyond the hiking topics which were an essential aspect to our start. This project is not about me or even the mighty, tail-wagging wonder beside me; it is more about each person who understands the fundamental message of our project. Our mission statement defines our belief in a means for everyone to reach their highest potential, and experience the benefits it can provide. Our regular updates on more varied topics will require significant effort, and our inspiration will be the echo of voices past and (hopefully) future, who tell us how 2020 Vision Quest has inspired a positive change in their life. My thanks to those of you who have shared such thoughts with me. I hope you continue to be my inspiration for the efforts ahead!


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