Saturday, August 13, 2011

The One That Got Away

Hello Everyone ! It's Keely here ...

@RumpyDog is one of my newest furiends on Twitter and I am very honoured that he asked me to write a guest post for his blog all about Guide Dogs here in the UK. I thought our furiends might like to read it too:

Firstly a little bit about me. I was born on 5th May 2005 at Guide Dogs breeding centre in Leamington Spa in the UK. I was destined to become a Guide Dog and for the first part of my training I was sent at 6 weeks to live with a volunteer puppy walker, I believe you call them puppy-raisers in the USA. Personally I think that is a better term as at such a young age we do very little actual walking.

Me as a cute puppy
Many people ask why Guide Dogs place puppies at such a young age as most breeders don't place puppies until at least 8 weeks of age. The reason is that we are going to be more than pets, we will have a very important job to do and the experience of being in a safe domestic environment at such a young age will stand us in good stead later as we get used to everyday experiences, noises and sensations such as TV sounds, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, door bells, visitors and other family members.

Our puppy walkers are encouraged to take us out into the big scary noisy world as early and as often as possible, they carry us in the early weeks until our vaccination programme is complete. My 'Mum' took me with her wherever she went, on buses, trains, on car journeys into busy town centres and into shops, offices, cafes etc.

This is all in addition to the normal things that a young puppy has to learn such as being clean in the house, being sociable with other dogs, walking on a lead and the basic obedience commands such as Sit, Stay, Come etc. Potential Guide Dogs also have to learn to go to the toilet in a specific area before leaving home for a walk or trip out and to associate the sound of a whistle with being fed. The former skill obviously prevents us having "accidents" which would be hard for our visually impaired owners to deal with and the second means that we will always return to our owner's whistle as we think it means food! A highlight of any Labrador's day!

The aim of all this early training is to produce a well socialised and good mannered young dog with a calm unexcitable temperament that can then be trained by professional trainers to become a guide and companion to a visually impaired person. Don't think it's all work and no play though, we get lots of off lead training too and play which is very important to strengthen the bond with our owners.

I did quite well in my early training although I do have a very sensitive temperament. However, shortly before I was due to leave my Mum & go to Guide Dog school my vet discovered that I had a slight heart murmur. I was sent to a specialist for further heart checks and sadly Guide Dogs made the decision that I was unsuitable for further training. You will appreciate that visually impaired people develop a very close bond with their Guide Dog and it was felt that it would not be fair to a Guide Dog owner to have a dog who may not be able to work up to the expected age of around 8.

The happy outcome for me was that my puppy walking Mum got to adopt me permanently and I now help Mum with the other Guide Dog puppies that she raises. We have 3 more, Quella and Smartie who are now breeding bitches for Guide Dogs producing more lovely healthy potential Guide Dogs, and our last one Flora who was a daughter of Quella and is now out working as a Guide Dog. We are on the wait list for another pup and as Smartie is now pregnant we are hoping to have one of hers this October. We also often have other pups to stay with us whilst their puppy walkers are on holiday so I always have lots of furiends to play with.

Quella with Mum

Me with Smartie when she was a puppy

left: Flora as a puppy   right: Flora's Graduation Photo

For further information about UK Guide Dogs please visit Guide Dogs UK . I am sure there are many similar service dog organisations in the USA.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Keely's Birthday Holiday : CANADA

10 Day Rail & Sail Holiday

Toronto to Vancouver by Rail on board "The Canadian"
Keely & I relived the romance of rail travel and took 5 days to travel the breadth of Canada, experiencing such wonders as the serenity of the Muskoka Lakes, the vast expanse of the prairie grasslands and the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Whale & Bear Watching Yacht Cruise in British Columbia
We sail aboard the yacht "Pacific Yellowfin" to explore the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests left on earth.

Toronto to Jasper  (Day 1 / May 5)

On the evening of Keely's birthday on 5 May, Google Earth Jet zoomed us both across the world to Toronto on the first day of our wonderful holiday. It was morning when we arrived in Canada, so we had the whole day to explore this vibrant city before boarding our train at 5 o'clock at evening.

I had never been on a double-decker bus before, unlike Keely who hails from UK where double-deckers are plentiful, so we joined a sightseeing bus tour for the day!

Our super-duper double-decker sightseeing bus
First on our itinerary was a visit to one of the world's great natural wonders, Niagara Falls. Our bus journeyed through the orchard-laden Niagara Peninsula to arrive at Niagara Falls in time to board the Maid of the Mist for an exhilarating boat ride to the base of the majestic Horseshoe Falls and back.

Niagara Falls / Horseshoe Falls
Then we visited the CN Tower, which stands 1815 feet above the city. A glass elevator whisked us to the 1122 ft high indoor/outdoor observation deck, where a portion of the floor is transparent! *dizzy spells* After soaking up the birds-eye views, we nommed afternoon tea at the Tower's 360 degree top-floor restaurant.

CN Tower's 360 degree top-floor restaurant
Time flew quickly and before we knew it, it was late afternoon and we had to make a move. We left the Tower, hailed a taxi and eventually checked in at Toronto's Union Station, where we boarded The Canadian for the famous train journey across the prairies to the Canadian Rockies.

Thomas and Keely about to board The Canadian
After settling into our room, we went on a short tour of the train. There were 7 carriages in total; 3 were for First Class accommodation, 1 restaurant, 1 theater/entertainment and 2 lounge cars. We didn't investigate too thoroughly though, as it had been a long day already. We headed back to our room, where my darling was surprised with a special birthday dinner that I had arranged.

Our suite on the train and Keely's birthday dinner
For Keely, Roast Sirloin Steak with Bacon Cream Sauce was served, and I had Crumbed Snapper. And for dessert we both had Double Chocolate parfait. We nommed our dinner then curled up together on our comfy bed and watched the darkening countryside roll by.

Our journey took us firstly through the scenic lakelands of northern Ontario and then westwards through the provinces of Manitoba & Saskatchewan, the breadbasket of Canada with it golden wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see.

Traveling through Ontario (left) and Saskatchewan (right)
The next morning we awoke in Edmonton, Alberta and by the time we had nommed breakfast, we had arrived in Jasper, a small alpine community located in the majestic Canadian Rockies.

Arriving in Jasper on the morning of 6 May

The Canadian Rockies

Jasper to Lake Louise  (Day 2 / May 6)

Jasper is a picturesque town located in the Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It is also home to a wide variety of wildlife including eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk and deer.

left: Jasper, top right: Black Bear, bottom right: Grizzly
Our train was staying for the day in Jasper so we had the opportunity of doing some sightseeing if we wanted.

First we decided to walk around the town and do some shopping for the folks back home, meeting friendly locals along the way.

Then we joined a bus tour and visited some of the prettiest sites around the Park.

We saw our first bears here too - both the grizzly and black bear. The Park was just stunning, and almost everywhere we looked was a picture waiting to be snapped. The Maligne Valley in particular was breathtaking.

Medicine Lake in the Maligne Valley
We kept seeing these furry animals in the Valley, usually sunning themselves on rocks. Our guide told us they were Hairy Marmots - one of the largest rodent species in the Park, weighing up to - get this - 30 pounds (that's over 13.5 kg). Crikey.

Hairy Marmot - weighing up to 30 pounds (13.6kg)
We returned back to our train for lunch, then boarded a coach to take us to Lake Louise via one of the most scenic highways in North America - the Icefields Parkway.

Waiting for the coach to take us to Lake Louise
Once the coach arrived, we set off. We visited the Columbia Icefield and even took a ride on an Ice Explorer on the amazing Athabasca Glacier. The Ice Explorer is a specialised bus with 6-wheel drive that can trek across the 6 mile x 1 mile glacier with ease.

Ice Explorer monster

View of the Athabasca Glacier from the Visitor's Center

The glacier looks like a frozen ocean in places
We continued on with our coach tour and arrived at Lake Louise, a beautiful sparkling turquoise lake resting at the foot of Victoria Glacier which rises majestically behind this milky blue lake and is capped by snow and ice year-round.

We checked into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ...

... then it was time for some fun!

Keely mountaineering and Thomas snowboarding at Lake Louise
It had been a long day and we were worn out by the time we nommed dinner. But we had a late start the next morning, for which we were truly grateful!

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise - left: restaurant  right: our suite

Lake Louise to Banff  (Day 3 / May 7)

The next morning we departed Lake Louise for the short drive via the scenic Bow Valley to Banff.

Bow Valley
It was almost lunchtime when we stopped at the stunning Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Bow Valley. The Hotel is styled as a Scottish baronial castle and has been a symbol of the Canadian Rockies for over a century. More important just then to us though, it was also the home of the Bow Valley Grill!

Keely and I poured over the extensive menu, finally choosing to share a delicious plate of BBQ prawn kebabs.

Banff - the jewel of the Canadian Rockies

After lunch we set off again and soon arrived in Banff which is the largest of Alberta's mountain towns, having established itself long ago as a major summer and winter holiday destination.

Our coach dropped us at the front door of our very own charming and comfortable private chalet right in the heart of Banff township.

Our very own chalet in Banff
Then we wanted to take in some sights. But the very first thing we did was take a scary Gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain to visit the hot springs. Soaking in the middle of a hot spring halfway up a snow-capped mountain felt glorious - just wish it had been snowing at the time!

left: Gondola  middle: top of Sulphur Mountain  right: hot springs
We spent the rest of the day exploring the town of Banff and its environs. Keely really enjoyed strolling down Banff Avenue window-shopping and soaking up the atmosphere. While we were investigating, we found a live webcam ... click here to see what's going on in Banff right now ! Live Webcam: Banff

We found a little supermarket on our excursion and later that evening cooked a delicious romantic dinner for two "at home" in our chalet. Afterward we fell asleep while snuggling and watching Keely's favourite movie, Dr Zhivago.

Banff to Vancouver  (Day 4 / May 8)

The next day after breakfast we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer for the scenic rail journey via the "Kicking Horse Route" to Kamloops in the interior of British Columbia. Was funny too, 'cos an elk was there to wave us goodbye from Banff!

An Elk farewell

As our train crossed over the continental divide, we passed through the remarkable man-made spiral tunnels in Yoho National Park. Seeing different sections of the same long train come in and out of tunnels at the same time was fascinating!

Continuing on, we passed through the Rogers Passin Glacier National Park with its endless views of snow-capped mountains and stunning glaciers. Our train then followed the Thompson River through Ashcroft (one of Canada's driest towns with an average rainfall of just 18cm) before stopping in Lytton so we could try white water rafting!

We had a huge amount of fun, even getting thrown into the water at one stage. After about 10 kilometers we landed our rafts and re-boarded our train, grateful for a hot shower and rest before enjoying our late evening meal in the restaurant.

Then we lounged in our stateroom, admiring the beautiful evening landscape rolling past until we reached Vancouver. It was bittersweet; the first part of our wonderful trip was over but the second part just beginning.


Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city and we had plenty to do to keep us busy for the one evening that we would be in town ...

Vancouver City

... but first we checked into our hotel - the Fairmont Waterfront.

Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver
We occupied the Royal Suite on the 7th and 8th floors, which is the Fairmont Waterfront's largest specialty suite and was also home to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II during her Royal Jubilee visit in 2002.

Our suite at the Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver

 Once we were settled in, we popped open the complimentary bottle of pink champagne and toasted our journey thus far. We sat on our balcony to sip and cuddle while we looked out across the beautiful city lights.
Vancouver at night
We had planned to take an evening walk around this vibrant city but all too soon our eyelids grew heavy and our heads started to droop ... the next thing we knew, morning had arrived and we had to rush to the marina!

Whale & Bear Watching Cruise in British Colombia
(Days 5-10 / May 9-14)

When we arrived at the marina, we were shown to our yacht "Pacific Yellowfin".

The good ship "Pacific Yellowfin"

Built as a coastal freighter for the US Army during World War II, this classic wooden boat has led an exciting life with stints ranging from spy ship to research vessel to houseboat. She was painstakingly refit in 2003 and now boasts all the amenities of a luxury yacht while retaining her unique character.

Our yacht was both stylish and comfortable

After meeting the crew and settling in, we set sail, eager to spend the next five days cruising on the lookout for whale and bear!

The wheelhouse of the "Pacific Yellowfin"

The Great Bear Rainforest

Great Bear Rainforest - paradise on earth

We sailed past Vancouver Island, heading for British Columbia's Central Coast where, nestled between high alpine reaches and the Pacific Ocean, lies one of the largest temperate rainforests left on earth and one of the last unspoiled wildernesses, the Great Bear Rainforest.

Covering over two million hectares, the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last gems on the Pacific Coast. In this lush rainforest stand 1000 year old cedar trees and 90 metre tall Sitka spruce.

This enormous canopy shields a host of pristine waterways and an amazing menagerie of wildlife. Salmon teem in river estuaries; Orca and humpback whales patrol the deeper coastal waterways and eagles soar among the towering mountain peaks. Wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and the mythical Kermode or "spirit bears" forage amid the towering old-growth forests.

top: inquisitive wolves  bottom: we pose with some big bears
We cruised along the shore of Princess Royal Island, the best known area for seeing the Spirit or Kermode bears. These bears are actually black bears with a recessive gene that makes about ten percent of the bears in this area all white. It is believed there are fewer than 300 in existence.

We visited creeks and river estuaries, keeping an eye out along the shore as we traveled, and we were rewarded with the sight of two of these magnificent white bears during our voyage.

The sighting of the second white bear was especially exciting as we were in our inflatable. The white bear walked straight towards us through the river and then paused to look at us! He was only a few feet away yet he acted completely natural. He walked along a fallen log and splashed about in the water as he tried to catch a salmon for lunch. This unbelievable encounter lasted only a few minutes but it was the most adrenalin-fueled bear encounter we've ever had!

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to a significant concentration of coastal grizzly bears. Dotted throughout the rainforest we had seen what seemed to be shacks on stilts and asked the crew about them. They turned out to be platforms from which we could view the bears feeding!

The bears are generally more active in the early morning and late afternoon hours so we timed our viewings to coincide ... getting some great shots of the impressive beasts.

Pics from viewing platforms scattered throughout the rainforest
Sailing on, we headed for Whale Channel where we saw mighty humpback whales and took the time to thoroughly observe these amazing 15 metre long creatures.

We learned that two different races of orca feed in the coastal waters off the Great Bear Rainforest. So-called "residents" prefer a diet of fish, feeding exclusively on salmon during the summer months. "Transient" individuals have slightly more pointed dorsal fins, but the real difference lies in their behaviour - they prefer to eat marine mammals, including sealions, porpoises, dolphins and even grey and minke whales.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time cruising the remote estuaries. Each day our activities included wildlife watching and shore excursions to explore. We spent a lot of time in the water with the whales and dolphins. We spent each night in a different, secluded anchorage.

Keely especially loved the dolphins

But while we were here we were also distressed to learn of the plight of the magnificent carnivores living in the rainforest. After a long tough winter, many grizzlies, black bears, wolves and cougars suffer the onslaught of "sportsmen" wielding high-powered rifles in search of "trophies".

We encourage our furiends to visit Raincoast - a wonderful organisation dedicated to protecting the land, water and wildlife of British Columbia. One of their innovative approaches to end the trophy hunt includes purchasing the commercial hunt licences attached to these areas. Their website linky is: Raincoast

The Great Bear Rainforest is also under threat from logging, but of even more immediate concern is the oil tankers. The oil company 'Enbridge' intends to ship thousands of gallons of oil to China using tankers that would have to navigate between the jagged islands along the British Columbia coast. This means a spill would be inevitable and the consequences would be horrific.

To find out more about these tankers coming to the Great Bear Rainforest, please visit the Pacific Wild website and view the great documentary 'spOIL': Pacific Wild

Keely - a superb sailor
All too soon the last day of our holibobs dawned and it was time to head back to Vancouver. We sailed to Principe Channel, and getting a good wind set the sails and had one of the best zoomy sails of our voyage. Keely loved standing on the deck with the yacht racing through the water and feeling the wind through her fur; it was immensely exhilarating and we felt like we were flying!

We cruised down the coast and eventually arrived in Vancouver, where we berthed the yacht and unloaded our gear. After thanking our hosts most sincerely, we boarded the Google Earth Jet and settled down into our seats for the seconds-long return trip home.

Boarding the GEJ
Our holibobs had been glorious and we would forever cherish the memories. But we were also excited to be getting home to Mil and Nan, and to share those memories with them and all our dear furiends.

Postcards sent home

7 May 2011

11 May 2011

12 May 2011
Here's a postcard of our housekitties, who stowed away and showed up on our trip ... they were captured by pirates and made to walk the plank, but we saved them in an inflatable boat and took them on a wild ride on Vancouver harbour. They also joined us when we went swimming with the dolphins. *sigh* They can be a handful, but they are very cute and we loves them!

12 May 2011