Friday, November 29, 2013

Just in Case

So, just in case you thought I was lying about having some pretty good friends I just wanted to reinforce what I said in my last post with a picture. 

Plate of chocolate cupcakes with a "Happy Thanksgiving" sign and a tiny American flag on a toothpick sticking out of the center one. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. This is my fourth Thanksgiving away from home and might possibly be my last. It's hard to believe actually. It's just one of those things that makes me realise what little time I have left here in Aberdeen. 

So, what am I thankful for?

I'm thankful for wonderful friends who put up with me and have gotten me through some hard times this past year. I'm not an easy person to deal with. I'm obsessive, I'm tense, and I tend to freak out over little things. And yet, my friends have stuck with me and have comforted me when things got a little rough for me last year. And for that, I will always be thankful. I've even started to rekindle some friendships which means I have even more to be thankful for. The past year and a half has been a tough one for me (and this, my final year, is proving to be stressful) and I would never have gotten through it if it weren't for them. 

I am not celebrating by stuffing my face full of delicious food, though I did have a piece of pumpkin pie left over, instead I will go to taekwon-do, tire myself out, and go to sleep before having to spend another couple of hours in the visual lab tomorrow. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Soapbox Sunday #2

Another week has come and gone. As I sit down to write this week's soapbox I have a 9 week old puppy snoring and snoozing in my lap. He's pretty much just what the doctor ordered after a week that week by too fast, but too slow at the same time and was more than pretty stressful. This is Marco. 

Along with being the cutest thing you've ever seen times about ten, he is also a Guide Dog puppy. My 3rd here in the UK and my 7th overall. I love being a puppy raiser/walker. It gives me a sense of fulfillment, it's brought me out of me shell, and I get a constant stream of cute puppies. Sure, it does make me cry...but I do love it. It isn't an easy job and it is sometimes made harder by the public.

Which brings me to today's soapbox.

*grabs the soapbox* I'm not going to get on it because that might wake Marco, but I will rest my feet on it like a foot rest. Same thing right?

The Problem with Fake Service Dogs

Before I begin I just want to say that under ADA regulations service dogs are not legally required to wear any sort of identification when out. That means that they don't have to wear a jacket, harness, leash sign, bandana, or anything saying that they are a service dog. And their handlers are not legally required to carry identification. So, it is hard to tell which are the fake and which are the real and you shouldn't just presume. But, sometimes it's terribly easy to tell who has just slapped a vest they bought over the internet on their pet dog.

You see, it's so easy to buy a vest and fake identification over the internet. All you have to do is type in "Service Dog Vest for sale" in google and you'll find plenty of websites selling them for fairly cheap. Go ahead. Try it. I'll wait.

You see what I mean? It's...terrible really. Fully trained service dogs go through years of training so that they will behave appropriately in public. Being a service dog is a tough job and not every dog is up to the stresses and demands of the job. That's why organizations don't just pass every dog that comes through them. And that's why people have no place parading their pets around as one. Not only is it bad for handlers who use actual service dogs, but it's bad for their pets.

I get it more often than I want to admit. "Hey that's cool! Where can I get a jacket for my pet? I'd like to take him/her everywhere too!" It takes every fiber of my being and every ounce of willpower to speak calmly and not smack them upside the head. As a representative of GDB I can't, but I really, really want to. Even in this post, I'm going to stick to mostly polite terms and stay away from some things I really want to say. I know I said I wouldn't do that during Soapbox Saturdays, but I am a representative of GDB here so I should try and be a little polite.

You see, passing of your pet as a service animal makes my job as a puppy raiser hard, makes the formal trainers' job hard, and makes it hard for handlers who use actual service dogs to lead independent lives get the access they so deserve. Most of the time I am asked to leave somewhere with my puppy it's because, "we had a service dog in here once and it was awfully behaved so we don't allow them anymore." Service dogs are required under ADA regulations to act with a certain decorum in public and a lot of the time, when someone uses one of these internet service dog vests (which they don't need anyway), the dog isn't able to meet those behavioral standards. And they include things like not pestering other patrons, sitting clam and still with their handler, being quiet, not being aggressive, etc. But you get one aggressive pet dog passed off as a service dog and that ruins it for a bunch of people who actually use service dogs.

Or imagine this. You've slapped a cheap service dog jacket you bought over the internet on your chihuahua who has never really been that good around other dogs, let's call her Muffin, and decide to take her into a store. So you're sitting there with Muffin and, because she hasn't been trained since she was 9 weeks old she's a little rambunctious. Maybe barking a little. And in walks in a real service dog and you think, "Ah, doesn't matter. I don't feel guilty because I've got my jacket and Muffin isn't being all that bad." when all of sudden little Muffin bites the real service dog. Now a couple of things could happen. You could have just costs the school or handler hundreds of dollars in medical bills and the dog could shrug off the attack. Or you could cause medical costs and the dog has to retire because the attack traumatizes the dog so much that he/she has to retire which leaves their handler without a service dog.

So, because YOU were SELFISH you have caused access rights problems for people who use service dogs to lead independent lives. Because YOU were SELFISH you caused an actual service dog to retire.

But what about your dog. Real service dogs are usually trained from a very young age to go onto become service dogs. Marco is 9 weeks old and arrived in Aberdeen two weeks ago. Then he won't qualify until he's about 2 years old. That's years of socialization and training which means that he will be used to all kinds of sights and sounds and will know that he's suppose to lie down and go to sleep under the table in the restaurant. And if he's scared of anything, we won't make him be a Guide Dog. But most pet owners don't realize that things like coffee makers, cars, noises, book carts....ANYTHING can be scary to a dog who isn't used to it. Which means, for all you know, you are forcing your dog who is scared out of their mind into a stressful situation because YOU don't want to leave them at home. How fair is that to the dog? NOT AT ALL!

I definitely think that education is a big part of the problem. People don't know how much work goes into being a service dog so they think that any dog can do it. And they can't. That isn't me saying that dogs who are bred from organizations like Guide Dogs for the Blind or Canine Companions for Independence are superior. No, I'm all for self training your own service dog provided that the dog is comfortable with being in public and that the dog has to prove that they can maintain that decorum in public. But, back to education. A lot of store owners think that just because they are a service dog means that they can't kick them out. Untrue. They can't kick them out if the dog is behaving itself, but if the dog is overly pestering other patrons or being aggressive or defecating inside the manager is within full rights to ask the handler to remove their dog from the premises.

And if that's not enough for you people, it is also a FEDERAL OFFENCE to pass off your pet as a service animal.

My honest opinion is this. If it were just people who had outstanding dogs (like my Career Changed "Hilly" would be excellent in stores and restaurants because she was dropped for severe dog distractions...which isn't good when you're entrusted with someone's life) who were passing off their dogs as service animals then I don't think I would care because it wouldn't matter. If every pet out there who was being passed off as a service dog behaved like a service dog should then really, who cares? The problem is that people are stupid and selfish and don't realize that Muffin's growling isn't a friendly hello. So yeah, they've pretty much ruined it for anyone. I don't pass Hilly off as a service animal? Why don't I even though she's got the temperament and the training for one? Because she isn't one!

To sum up, don't pass your pet off as a service animal. Just don't do it. You are making the lives of people who train and use real service animals harder because of your own SELFISHNESS. And if that's not enough for you, it's also very ILLEGAL.

Anywho, CCI is holding a campaign to try and get government involvement in shutting down online stores which sell service dog equipment with proof that the dog is fit for public. I've posted the link below. If you could all please head on over and add your name that would be great.

Oh, and one thing more before I get down off my soapbox. GDB posted this to their facebook page and people got all high and mighty thinking that CCI an GDB were saying that only dogs who came from service dog organizations were fit to be service dogs and that there were trying to make it so that people couldn't self train their own dogs anymore and who did they think they were trying to call other service dogs fake and that it was arrogant and stupid of them to say that they were the only ones who had the power to call a service dog fake.

Ok people, first of all nowhere in the video does it say anything about how only dogs who were bred from organization are fit to be service dogs. No one is saying that and no one at GDB or CCI or any of the other service dog organizations out there want to stop people from self training their own service animal. This campaign is only to help stop the selling of fraudulent service animal equipment to anyone who has $100. Will that make it harder to self train? Damn straight. And it should be hard to get a service dog. People at GDB don't just let anyone waltz in and get a Guide Dog. You need to prove that you're a good handler and then they'll find you a dog which has proven him or herself to be fit for public. You shouldn't be able to just pay some guy $100 and instantly have a service dog. It's a big decision and you need to work for it, the dog needs to work for it, and you need to think seriously about if it's the right lifestyle choice for you. being able to get one so easy makes people forget all of those things. There are plenty of places out there where you can self train your dog by going through the right steps, not just handing over a couple of bucks. I guess that actually clears up all the other points too. No one is claiming to want to "police" the public and say which service animal is fake and which one isn't. We simply want to make it harder for people to pass off their pets as service animals.

Oh and, there was this one person who said that her daughter had some emotional issues and she had a therapy dog and there shouldn't be a need for training because no one trained that dog to be a therapy dog, it just was. And no one brought this up because we were focused on other things and we didn't really want to offend her bu I feel this should be mentioned...those kind of dogs (i.e. emotional support dogs) are not yet covered under ADA regulations (though there are efforts to make such dogs in some circumstances covered). Service dogs are defined as a dog who has been trained to perform a certain service for their handler. Such as guide me, pick up things low to the ground, open doors, etc. Now, I think that maybe the person might not have been explaining it right because some emotional support dogs are covered. Dogs which are paired with veterans with PTSD for example. But they have been trained to help their handler in the case of a PTSD episode. The way this person explained it was just that having the dog there provided comfort and hadn't been trained to do anything but be there, and that unfortunately is not covered in ADA regulations. Like, I've heard of some dogs who are trained to help in extreme panic attacks by making sure the person gets out of the area, sits down, and cuddles them so their heart rate goes down. But they were trained to do that. If it were the case that just having the dog there made you feel better and safer, then I'd bring Hilly everywhere with me because she is my rock. Seriously, I probably wouldn't have some of the panic attacks flying like I currently do if Hilly were with me. But "therapy dogs" are not service dogs and are not covered under ADA regulations.

*gets off soapbox*

Sorry that was a little long, but it's something that is near and dear to my heart. And I hope I was polite. I really tried to be. Really I did. And I'm always much more polite (but firm and authoritative) when I'm out in public, but in the safety of my own blog (which I don't think many people actually read) I felt I could let my blood boil a little more. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Soapbox Saturday #1

As I sit here on this lovely, sunny Saturday morning with my large bowl of oatmeal (making enough for just one is hard) and my homemade cappuccino I I reflect on this past week and ask myself;

What made you angry?

You know, so angry that I wanted grab my little soapbox and get on up and speak to the masses. One thing comes to mind and it's a topic that allows me to kill two birds with one stone. It didn't make me angry per say, but it is an interesting debate. So, without further ado...

*grabs my little soapbox*

Food Addiction does not exist. Every time you say "I love chocolate so much. Seriously, I'm addicted." or justify your eating habits with the simple statement of "I'm addicted." you're wrong. Food addiction isn't real. And here's why.

A hallmark of addiction is dependence. While I'm very well aware of the fact that we all depend on food to live, someone who claims to be "addicted" to a particular kind of food does not need that food to function. I love chocolate. I love it a lot. But I can goes days without eating any without noticing. Another hallmark feature of addiction is the feeling of a loss of control. This one kind of goes hand in hand with dependence. At some point, the substance of abuse will start to run your life; you will no longer have control over dose amount. The only case where this feeling has been reported is in bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Both of which are already classified as eating disorders. And finally, there is no evidence that withdrawal from a specific food causes any withdraw symptoms. You don't get headaches, the shakes, vomiting, etc. when you stop eating chocolate or sugar or fat.

Now, that's something that has always bothered me. No one says, "I'm addicted to brussel sprouts." The only foods people tend to say they are addicted to have a high sugar and fat content. Evolutionary wise, we are programmed to crave foods that are high in sugar and fat and to find them rewarding when eaten. Why? Because food was not as readily available as it is now. There were no supermarkets. People had to work for their food and sometimes, there wasn't nearly enough to go around. Foods that are high in sugar and fat came around very rarely and when they did it was a good idea to eat them because you were never too sure when your next meal would come around. So, in a survival setting, it's good thing that we find these food rewarding.

This brings me to my next point. I don't believe that food addiction is real because addiction is a fairly serious neurological disorder and I don't think that throwing the term around willy nilly is safe or a good idea. But in the long run, people use the term to excuse over eating and explain the obesity 'epidemic'. And to be honest, it doesn't matter. Using the excuse, "I'm addicted, that's why I over eat." is as bad as saying, "I have big bones."

Now, I may have absolutely no place in this conversation being the teeny tiny person that I am, but even if food addiction exists it doesn't fully explain why the rates of obesity have been growing in recent years. I said above that our bodies are programmed to want foods that are high in sugar and fat because eating those foods would help our bodies in times of food scarcity. But we don't have food scarcity anymore (seriously we don't; in recent years there has never been a time where enough food for everyone has not been produced...but that's another soapbox). Food, not just highly palatable food, is available everywhere at any time in developed countries for absolutely no work.

So, our bodies are programmed to want these highly palatable foods but they are not programmed to be able to handle the amount of them we are eating because they were originally meant to be rare treats. We also don't have to go out there and burn calories to get our food anymore. We don't have to hunt, to go out and gather, to farm. So instead of burning calories to get calories, we as a society are just getting calories.

For me, "food addiction" is just a simple way to explain and justify over eating when we have no real proof of the existence of food "addiction".

*steps off of soapbox*

That's my soapbox for today. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm just saying that there isn't nearly enough evidence to classify food as an addiction and I think it makes light of "real" addictions to just throw around the word. Actually, it does make me angry. But again, I'm no expert so don't believe me if you don't want to or let me know your opinion. I'm just someone who is learning about this in a University course so it's very possible that I'm wrong.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Half Way of Half Way

So, here it is at the tail end of week 7 of classes. Each semester is 12 weeks of class, so that means that I'm half way done with the first half of my last year as an undergraduate student. (OK, technically it means that I'm more than half way done, but you all understand what I mean right?) So, what have I been doing these past 7 weeks? Actually, that's a pretty good question. I'm not sure I even know.

I know I've been going to class. I have two core psychology classes; Vision & Action and Advanced Topics in Language. The first half of the vision lectures were all about visual impairments due to brain lesions (really cool stuff guys...the brain is amazing) and we'll be getting into the 'action' portion of the series next week. And we've just gotten through with dyslexia and other language disorders and have moved onto sign language in the psycho-linguistics class. All in all, I'm enjoying my lecture choices in psychology. What is either a hit or a miss depending on the lecturer is my "extended studies" class; An Appetite for Food and Health. It's all about food...and health. I guess the topic itself is pretty interesting, but some of those lecturers were pretty bad.

I also know that I've been working on my undergraduate thesis. I can't really say what it's about just yet as I don't know if some of my friends who have agreed to take part in the study are reading, but I can say that it's visual psycho-physics. It's a dense topic, but I'm slowly understanding it and should get my ethics in today (fingers crossed) which means that I can start testing next know, as long as the ethics committee approves it.

And I've started up with tae kwon do. I wanted to join up in first year and then for some reason, never did. So, I did this year. I'm having a good time with it and it means that two times a week I get to punch a pad repetitively which I've found to be a great relaxer.

Oh, something that did happen last week was that I got pretty sick. It was terribly. I hate getting sick and I hate it even more, I've discovered, when my parents aren't around (I know, almost 3 1/2 years in Scotland and I've only been sick once). Unfortunately, I was unable to get to the bathroom in time and ended up ruining a bunch of journal articles and notes for both my critical review and my thesis which I had been reading before bed and mistakenly left on the floor...never again. It's actually the worst feeling in the world waking up the morning after having terrible food poisoning or the worst stomach bug of your life, being ordered on bed rest, and then realising that as you were cleaning up the night before those paper you threw away were ALL notes for large pieces of work. I may have cried a little. Or a lot. You know. I'm still chasing down some of the articles I had for my thesis, but think I've mostly got the Critical Review covered. At least I hope it's covered.

Oh, what's my Critical Review on? Well, that's a post for another day as it's pretty long. Probably Monday when I really start writing it all down. That way I'll know if I can explain it properly.

Also, I've decided to start something called "Soapbox Saturdays". You see, I'm a highly opinionated person. I may not always have the time to research issues that come up on a daily basis so I tend to stay pretty quiet about my own ideas. I don't often grab my soapbox and start a speech because I know that I don't have time to research these issues so I don't want to say something stupid, but also because I have an obsessive personality. I don't let things go (hey, at least I admit it right?), so on those rare occasions I do grab my soapbox, I find myself unable to sleep at night because I'm thinking about what I said. So, I've decided to grab my soapbox once a week and post it up here. Not a lot of people read my blog so I figure I can get my rants out there without offending too many people. Not that the point of this is to offend anyone. I'm of the opinion that everyone is entitled to their own...well, opinion and I'm pretty open minded and love hearing other people's points of view. So, this won't be to tell anyone that they are wrong or stupid or ignorant, it's just a way for me to get my ideas out there so I can stop obsessing over them.