In the late 90's, I worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Wildlife Inspector at the port of Los Angeles airport, ocean port, Long Beach ocean port and international mail facility. My job was to enforce federal laws and disallow illegal wildlife into the country. Liveanimals to products of animals were imported daily. At that time there was a pilot Scent detection K9 program in San Diego at the border. The Los Angeles Office was going to make me the other handler. I was excited. I did a lot of research, contacted a lot of agencies, developed a Standard Operational Procedure manual and tried creative ways to get a budget for the program. I was gearing up to get a wildlife detection dog.
Unfortunately, the mind set of law enforcement was, I was too handicapped to be a handler and some people just thought it was not appropriate to have a disabled person be a K9 handler. The program never started, and I later changed jobs. I was crushed to never get a chance to be a handler. This was back when my vision wasbetter. I still consideredpartially sighted, but at a mild level th at it shouldn't have been an issue to be a handler.
As the years went by, I wanted to get into some kind of Search and Rescue. I was fascinated by forensic detection. I hooked up with a Search and Rescue group about 2006. But they wanted me to be proficient in wilderness searches first. I knew with my vision getting worse, and my kidneys also getting worse, that I didn't want them to send me out on a rescue and then they would have to rescue me. I lost my night driving in 2008, and most searches are done in the evenings.
It was frustrating because i wanted to do something with scent detection, but you had to be in law enforcement or associated with law enforcement to do it. Then K9 Nose Work (R) came along and I hopped on it. So for nearly 12 years wanting to get a detection dog, I finally started Nose Work with Mickey my Belgian Malinois.
With law enforcement mind set saying I couldn't do this, I set out to tell myself, oh yes I can! My vision has deteriorated even more, which the training has been challenging at times. I didn't want to be looked at as the special "handicap" girl, isn't that nice she is doing that, but wanted to rise above and be a fierce competitor. I want to be able to compete with "average" or "normal" people where I'm not in any special Olympics or any para Olympics. I want to feel that I can do this just as equal as anyone else. No more accommodations, no more "special" consideration. I want to compete just like everyone else.
My hearing loss doesn't really affect too much of my ability to do nose work. There were some snags, but I was able to solve them. My vision is the biggest culprit. Being monocular with no depth-perception, having a haze, like it is always foggy, and having floaters that are clumpy or with strings that get in my field of vision were challenges I had to work around. Dark rooms are a huge challenge and flourencent lights are problematic. As my vision gets worse contrast gets harder, the more minute visual cues of my dog gets hard to see, so I work harder.
To a sighted person, they would get impatient and yell at me to call alert. they didn't understand I was learning. I am learning how to deal with my lack of vision and learning how to work with my dog. It was getting stressful being around people who got on my case for not calling at the right time. It did make me feel more handicapped. I had to ignored them and moved forward. That doesn't mean i didn't cry all the way home. It hurt. But I just eliminated them from my brain and moved on.I kept trying and working.
I have studied sport psychology or mental management systems to help me get through the mental part of competition. How not to get stressed and fearful when I couldn't see. which was a big issue at trials. My brain would work hard trying to piece the environment together. I had to over think to get a picture in my mind I couldn't see.
When i would get tense for not seeing, this did affect Mickey. He is so sensitive. With my other dog, Divine, she isn't as sensitive and cares more about getting food. So she would go straight to the odor and alert. Mickey would get frantic and worry. It was important for me to be cool, collected and not panick. Harder to do. have your vision taken away and try to solve this problem when you can't see everything that is going on. It is stressing. All I can do is work harder at staying calm.
It means so much to me to try and over come my disabilities and short comings and to succeed in getting Mickey's Eligte title. It is a way to show up those law enforcement officials, to show that disabled people can do this. I don't want to be the handler of "Oh isn't it nice she can play at nose work." I want to be competitive just like anyone else.
Due to starting dialysis and the night falling much sooner, I haven't had a lot of chances to practice. So in a way we will be winging it. We have passed two times before, we have the knowledge, but the condition will be a little less that I would like. Doesn't mean we won't title, we can certainly do that.
Getting this title will mean a lot to me. That i don't need special Olympics or special treatment to participate. I only ask for the same search area as anyone else. I never ask them to modify it. Each new challenges teaches me how to go back and problem solve in how I can over come the new barrier. I can do it, I can title. I'm looking forward to Saturday.
Nose work means to me that I was able to show up the law enforcement and negative people who thought I was substandard in working with my dogs. this means i can be right there elbow to elbow with other competitors that do not have a disability. I will feel accomplished that i am capbale and not handicapped.