Critter Chronicles

Several short stories


(Carla and Mr. Clancy, her first Cairn; 1985-1992)

(author's note: the following originally appeared in Ability Network, a cross disability magazine, as regular contributions, in aid of capturing the funnier side of living with disability and how pets can truly enrich our lives)

"I was rolling through the park one day..."

Well, it finally happened. I got royally dumped out of my wheelchair. And by all things - my dogs. Some time ago, my husband and I acquired two Cairn terriers - Jake and Alex. Their combined weight is a little over forty pounds. Often, when we go into the city, we take the dogs so I can run them in the park. They assume their respective positions - one on either side of my chair, with their leashes locked on to the arms. That way, my hands are free to push, without having to worry that they're going to get loose. You see, Cairn Terriers have an interesting quirk - their main purpose in life is to escape. I had one Cairn who was notorious for breaking aircraft cable that I had used to create a tie-out line in the back yard. Once he broke loose in the middle of the night - but that's another story. He's since gone to doggy heaven, and now my husband and I have been entrusted to care for Jake and Alex who came to us when they were almost three. Neither of them had ever seen crutches, let alone a wheelchair. Introductions to both were made, and the dogs were especially interested in the wheelchair. Once hooked up for their first road test, I was amazed to find how well they behaved. Most of the time, I don't have to do much - just steer. They pull me along through the park at often break-neck speed.

The day they dumped me out of my chair was not unlike any other when I had them out for a run. We had stopped at Tim Hortons - I for a cup of coffee, and they, to have a drink of water. I bring a bottle from home just for them. Spoiled or what! Anyway, as I sat outside at a table, chatting with a foursome beside me, I noticed that Jake, the smaller of the two, was stretching and straining after a pigeon, and putting up a real fuss. Alex was lusting after some crumbs; he's always looking for treats.

Then it happened. My wheelchair was angled on grass and pavement. Little Jake positioned himself in such a way that one good tug was all it took. Over I went. I had the good sense to throw my head to one side so I wouldn't crack the pavement. The four guys were quick to help. Two put the chair right, and the other two pulled me up and into it. Offering thanks, and checking to see that my two furry brats were alright, I went on my way - not realizing that I was bleeding profusely from the elbow. I made my way to the local grocery store where my husband does the shopping while I'm out having fun. My dogs and I were invited inside so that I could get some first aid. It was Wednesday, and all the senior ladies were out doing their shopping and having a major gossip session at the check-out. As soon as they spotted Jake and Alex, they ooohed and aaahed over them. One lady even offered them a piece of chicken. As soon as Jake heard the word "chicken", he tried to leap up onto the checkout counter. I was mortified.

Anyway, I was soon washed up and bandaged. Feeling a bit shaky after my experience, I went back outside the grocery store and had a cup of water. Jake was feeling somewhat remorseful, I think. He jumped up in my lap and began washing my face. It wasn't long before Alex was trying to get up, too!

I've been back to the park since my little accident, and even back to Tim Hortons for a pit stop for the dogs and me. They've given up on chasing pigeons and going after donut crumbs. I've outsmarted them. Or, if the truth be told - they outsmarted me. I bring some treats for their water stop. I've got this great dog cookie recipe, and my little guys are mad for them. Maybe your dog would like them too. If you're as eccentric as I am, you might bake a batch. Oh, by the way, my husband likes them, too!

Dog Cookies

Blend oil, honey, oatmeal, wheat germ, peanut butter and water. Add flour and baking powder. Blend really well. Roll out on board and cut into four sections. Roll each section until quite thin. Then, using the lid off a spice jar, cut into circles and place on ungreased cookie sheet. You'll get about 58-60 cookies. If you have a smaller cookie sheet, use that for the extra ones. Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes on the third shelf of your oven. Keep an eye on them. If you have rolled them thin, they cook very quickly. I've burned a batch or two.
Turn the oven off and leave the cookies for an hour or so - they'll get crunchy. Store in an airtight container. I recommend these cookies for dogs who are allergic to commercial dog food products. Homemade dog cookies are high in protein and have no dyes or artificial flavors. Your dog will love them.


In Ability Network, Volume 4 Number 1, I shared with you the story of a mishap with my dogs. I feel compelled to share more thoughts on “parenting a pet”, especially if you’re mobility challenged like me.

Adopting a dog, particularly if you move about awkwardly or function from a wheelchair, is something that must be well thought out. Certainly, a working dog is well-prepared to meet the needs of those of us who move about on canes, crutches, or in wheelchairs. But the regular canines - pound puppies, lumbering labradors, or even tenacious terriers, don’t know a thing about wheelchairs, except perhaps where to pee!

For almost a year, my husband and I have been modifying the behaviour of two Cairn terriers we adopted. It’s only been within the past few months, that both dogs have really become “ours”, deciding they liked us, and became amusing and fun additions to our pet family. Their previous owners wanted them to be adopted together, and since both my husband and I “knew” Cairn terriers, we welcomed them. Previously, we had a Cairn and Westie (who lived to be 19). “Knowing” a Cairn, or any dog is important before committing to 10, 12, or even 19 years of taking them for “wheels”, trips to the vet, trips to the groomer (if you happen to have one of those “shi-shi” lap dogs). People who have any kind of mobility challenge are well advised to check with a breeder, a veterinarian, or even the local pound, and ask lots of questions. Become educated about the choice of dog for yourself and your family. Some shelters will let you “try out” a dog for a weekend to see if things work out. Although frustrating for the animal, it does allow potential owners to find out what they’re letting themselves in for.

With a girlfriend, I went to see Alex and Jake (the dogs) at their previous domicile. I chose to leave my crutches in the car and walk unaided into the house. This, because I didn’t want two rambunctious canines intimidated by them. Once inside the house, both dogs jumped up at my friend. They didn’t jump on me, and their then owner made immediate comment. According to her, these fellows were avid high jumpers! As best as I was able, I got down to their level and let them get acquainted. They responded to me immediately. I decided, then and there, to take them home, hoping my husband would agree to let them stay.

The trip home in my friend’s car was uneventful. The dogs spent the entire trip getting to know us, trying to climb in the front seat. Most of the time, they were exploring my crutches, no doubt wondering what these strange things were.

Once at home, my friend got the two dogs into the kitchen. Immediately they leapt up at my husband. Still no jumping at me. One of my cats, the eldest of three, watched from a distance, while the two younger kittens didn’t quite know what to do. To make the dogs more acceptable to the felines with first rights, I sprayed the dogs with a grooming scent that I had in the house, and it seemed to work.

Typically, terriers, especially Cairns don’t like cats at all, but with a little patience, my husband and I convinced the animals to get along. It was difficult at first, since Alex and Jake “knew” cats, but hadn’t lived with any before. The evening was spent making sure the dogs didn’t devour our two small kittens, although the older and much bigger feline was always close by. He wasn’t going to take any nonsense from these usurpers of our attentions!

The next day I introduced the dogs to my wheelchair. I tied them out on their lines and got my chair from the garage. They explored every inch of it, and surprise, surprise they didn’t relieve themselves on the tires! One of them jumped up and sat on the seat. I got into the chair and wheeled around the yard while they watched. Then, came the real test - I hooked each dog up, one on either side of my chair, their leashes locked in place on the side bars. That way, they couldn’t pull a Houdini on me - Cairns are very skilled escape artists, and once loose, they will run, fast and far! You’d have to be a marathon runner to catch up to one! Ask me, I know!

Anyway, the dogs were great their first time “in harness”, and pulled my chair around like a couple of pros. I didn’t have to spend any time training them. It’s almost as though they “knew” what I needed them to do. They are a real joy to take to the park, and everyone who meets them thinks they’re wonderful little dogs.

If I could have changed one thing about my canine adoption, it would have been that one of the dogs had been female. Having two feisty terriers is a challenge, but two little boy dogs is tough sometimes! That’s what I mean by “knowing” what you’re getting when you adopt pets, especially a pair. It was a recommendation of a vet and groomer with my first pair of dogs that educated me about the importance/value of getting opposite-sexed dogs. They’re less likely to kill each other and vie for your attentions in an aggressive way.

My husband and I can look forward to having Alex and Jake for many years to come. Some Cairns have lived to be in their mid twenties. The thought of baking dog cookies for the next twenty years makes me cringe! But for now, I feel it is important to reward my new friends for turning our home into a really comfortable “critter compound”.


Living with the quirks of cerebral palsy can be, all at once funny, and sort of frustrating! Especially if one is educating dogs and cats about how to behave around those funny chairs on wheels, and those equally odd looking trees, we all know as crutches. Teaching them to walk behind you is especially important if you're making your way from the kitchen to the living room with a hot cup of coffee. Dogs are far better students than cats, I might point out!

I have experienced a number of situations where I am convinced that my critters are trying to do me in! I always examine the floor to make sure there are no bits of kibble lurking. Stepping on kibble is a real hazard to my sense of well-being. Often, I don't wear shoes in the house, as I tend to trip over the toes of the awful things. I prefer instead to walk about in my sock feet. Then it happens. I've just poured an absolutely lovely cup of one of my favorite flavored coffees, and proceed, with cup in hand, to my chair in the living room. My husband offers to carry the coffee, but I prefer to do it myself - it keeps me on my toes! One foot ahead of the other, coffee in one hand, the other free to touch my way along for balance. The Cairns are walking along, keeping well away from me as I try to reach my destination intact. But our three cats - well, they're quite different. They lounge around on the floor, only moving when they're pushed with a foot. The thing is, I can't push them, and they seem to know this. I have to move around them. In an effort to keep my balance, and sidestep the felines, my posture becomes really awkward, and I start to lose my balance. Going, going, gone! I've stepped on a piece of kibble - in the living room. Just one little piece is all it takes. As soon, as my foot, which is hypersensitive tactically, touches the kibble, my legs go into spasm. The cats are really quick to get out of the way at this point.

As I'm falling, just as I always do, I check to see where I can land and sustain the least injury. The coffee flies everywhere, and I hit the floor. Ever cautious not to land on a previously injured arm (as a result of a feline-caused accident some years ago), I throw myself to one side and make my landing. My head hits the side of my chair. The dogs rush over; certainly not to see if I'm okay, but to lap up the remaining contents of my cup. Surprisingly, there's quite a bit left - at least to suit a dog's taste!

The cats, meanwhile, have taken up their positions on various pieces of furniture - which is what I wanted them to do in the first place. They are looking at me like I've done something really silly. As I lie there, sprawled out on the floor, legs still spasaming, the two younger cats, ever curious, come over to examine these shaking limbs. Then, for some reason, they climb on my legs; they're enjoying the ride. My husband, upon seeing that I'm not hurt, starts to laugh. It really is a funny sight. Then I start to laugh. The more I laugh, the more spastic my legs become, and the cats are hanging on for dear life, digging their sharp little claws into my legs. I'm able to shoo them away and get myself up to pick up the now empty coffee cup and go for a refill. The cats have been unceremoniously tossed outside, and the dogs ... well, they're wired for sound. I should have remembered that they prefer decaf!

On some level, as with the dogs, I'm sure the cats are aware of my differentness. I can only assume that they've consulted amongst themselves and decided to plead ignorance. It keeps their lives interesting that way!


Hello, all you humans! I do hope you're all feeling very fine! I know I am. My name is Mr. Alex, and I'm a dog - really! A Cairn terrier.  I was recently diagnosed with  hypothyroidism which caused me a lot of uncomfortable pain and frustration. I lost my hair (thankfully, not all of it), I couldn't stay awake, I was always cold, and I was kinda depressed. Since being on medication, I am doing much better but, now, I'm recovering from a really yucky ear infection and my eyes got sick.

Enough about me! My brother, Mr. Jake, and I live with new humans, and Mommy has cerebral palsy. Her legs don't work very well, but she is able to walk, and for balance, she has to touch the furniture and things as she moves around in the house. Mr. Jake and I watch her walk, and we find it quite fascinating. We even try to imitate her. That's not making fun, though. We love our Mommy - so we try to do what she does. And guess what? She thinks it's cute! Mommy also has fibromyalgia - that's a connective tissue-immune deficiency disease. Sometimes, during the day, she has to take a long nap. We just love taking naps, too!

When Mommy goes outside, she uses her crutches for short distances, and her wheelchair for longer outings. I like that because my brother and I get to go with her - hooked to her chair with our leashes. We are very strong, ya know - even though we only weigh about 20 pounds each, and when Mommy takes us to the park, we pull her around, running very, very fast. All she has to do is steer. It's so much fun. It's great exercise for all of us!

Sometimes, I see people staring at Mommy as we wheel around the neighborhood. Kinda makes me mad, 'cause she's no different from many of them. Mommy doesn't pay much attention to that sort of thing. If someone asks her what's 'wrong' with her, she says, "There's nothing wrong with me. I have cerebral palsy." If they ask more questions, Mommy is always willing to answer them. That way, she knows that the person will go away with a better understanding of the condition called cerebral palsy. And that is a good thing.

Once, when we stopped for a drink at a donut shop - outside, of course - a lady came up to Mommy and asked her if she was related to so-and-so,

"He's in a wheelchair, too!". Isn't that silly! This lady seemed to think that all people in wheelchairs were related to each other, and my brother and I couldn't believe the lady asked such a question. We just looked at her, and wished she'd go away. But, Mommy trained us well - we maintained our gentlemanly manners. As usual, Mommy explained that people in wheelchairs are not related to each other, that people use a wheelchair for a number of different reasons. The lady got more interested and sat down next to us and asked more questions. She even gave Jake and me a piece of her donut. When she got up to leave, she thanked Mommy for the chat. She said she learned a lot, so I guess the important thing is that people like Mommy can explain their differentness in a nice way, and appreciate that when they do, they have taught someone a new lesson about life. And that is a very good thing!

I often wonder what goes through Mommy's head when people talk really loudly to her, like she's deaf. That being in a wheelchair makes her less able, and that her whole body is "dis"abled. Don't get me wrong. Being deaf is a major problem for many people, but not all people with disabilities have hearing problems. It is not necessary to practically yell at someone in a wheelchair. They can hear just fine! That's another curious thing I've learned about humans with disabilities. There are so many different kinds of cerebral palsy and other disabilities that able-bodied humans know little about. I think it is very important for everyone to become more educated about persons with disabilities, no matter what it is. Whether it's the child with a learning problem in school, the man with no legs who wants to be an artist, or the lady with slow speech who loves kids and wants to be a teacher.

I think it would be so much nicer if people would accept others for who they are and not what they look like, or sound like. If Mommy and Daddy didn't accept me and my brother Jake, with all our emotional problems, then we probably wouldn't be here today. In many ways, Mommy and I are alike. She had years of therapy to help her walk, and I have had many months of behaviour modification to help me not be so afraid of people, and my brother is learning not to growl and snap. Abuse in our other home caused us to become disabled, in that we have a difficult time trusting some humans. But that doesn't mean all humans are going to treat us badly. I guess the same would be true for humans with disabilities. A disability doesn't make one less of a person. Only less able to do certain things a certain way, or understand things in the same way as the majority, or to hear and see things the same way.

Speaking of seeing, my doggie doctor says I'm quite blind because of my hypothyroidism, so Mommy has been putting homeopathic drops in my eyes along with tearing ointment. I have what is called "dry eye", but things are starting to improve. Some of Mommy's friends thought my brother, Jake, could be my very own seeing eye dog. Yeah, right! Jake is just too silly for such a responsible job. Besides, he's having an identity crisis - he thinks he's a cat. Now, that's a disability, to be sure!

Well, I must be going. It was really nice to share my thoughts with all of you. If you want to learn more about a Cairn terrier, check out CAIRN TERRIERS .

When my hair grows out, and I'm handsome again, my picture will be on the Cairn Home Page. I can't wait. Hope I don't have to sit with my brother, though. He can be a bit of a clown.

Bye for now! Your friend, Mr. Alex.

(author's note - Mr. Alex lost his battle with an array of illnesses in August of 1998. He is missed)


Jake (the almost service dog) Rockwell
as told to Carla MacInnis Rockwell

Artwork As I sit here gnawing on one of my many soup bones (I have quite a stash!), it occurred to me that my life could be more fulfilling. Like many humans, I have dreams of greatness and doing wonderful things. It occurred to me that I should broaden my horizons, and make a real mark on my world. And no, I don't mean piddling! I have a dream of becoming a service dog. But I needed to learn more about it.

By definition, a service dog is a highly trained animal whose job is to assist persons with disabilities, whether they have problems moving or are in wheelchairs, whether they are deaf, or blind. Different breeds are used for different tasks. There may be hope for a dog like me.

I'm in the throes of a dilemma, people! I'm a Cairn terrier, and my current function in life does not include fetching and carrying, or being available to do anything for my human. My human has cerebral palsy and doesn't really need a service dog as she is able to move around very nicely and look after almost all of her needs. I, on the other hand, love to be served - provided with the very finest treats, the best places to sleep (which is pretty much wherever I want!) and having a home-cooked meal. Gosh, is my human trained well! She cooks the food that my brother and I eat. Do we ever have her snowed! But I digress!

First of all, I needed to know where service dogs were found. In my search, I was led to  CANINE COMPANIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE , a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities and to professional caregivers providing pet assisted therapy. Then, I needed to know who is eligible for a service dog: people with disabilities other than blindness who can demonstrate that a Canine Companion will further their independence. Applicants for hearing or service dogs must be over 18 years of age. Applicants for assisted service dogs must be over five years of age. Applicants for facility dogs may be the director of an institution providing a home for people who will benefit from the skills of a facility dog. The applicant must have a committed support network to facilitate and assist the director and Canine Companion team receiving a Canine Companion. There is all kinds of very useful information that will help you if you feel you or someone you know with disability would benefit from a service dog.

I've seen service dogs in action and they look at me like I'm a bit nuts. My brother and I never trained to be helping critters, but we do like to pull our Mommy around in her wheelchair. And we're very good at it, I might add, although we have had a few minor accidents. Something is missing though, as I ponder a possible career as a dog of service. Being a fashion conscious little dude, I was quite taken by the "uniform" of the service dog. The jacket with all the pockets. The nifty harness and the special ID badge they wear on their collar. As I looked at all this paraphernalia, I experienced a bit of reality. That stuff that was part of the service dog's job looked awfully heavy. Heck, I only weigh 17 pounds. I was beginning to suspect I'd have to re-think my decision to become a service dog. At least the type that I was learning about. Perhaps I could be a hearing dog. That was more in keeping with my temperament and my aptitude. I loved to bark at the least little noise. I was especially fond of barking when the smoke alarm went off, but that only happened when Mommy cooked pork chops. Never could figure that one out. Oh, well! I pressed on in my research, undaunted.

If you visit  KARLA'S SERVICE DOG PAGE  you'll see a great looking service dog named Cooper. He's a fine looking dog. Like me and my brother, Cooper is not allowed to be petted or offered treats when he's "working". My Mommy tells people not to feed us when we are hooked up to her wheelchair. Although we have had no formal training, we do seem to know what needs to be done; terriers are very intelligent, after all. We never jump at her when she's standing, and always wait for her to sit down before approaching. No one ever taught us that - we just seemed to "know".  HEARING DOGS  is another site that has all kinds of useful information.  For some really neat pictures, SERVICE DOGS AND THEIR PEOPLE is a fun place to visit. By the way, I just love having my picture taken!

One thing that is not lost on me, in this dog eat dog world, is that fuzzy critters like us are great conversation starters, whether we are service dogs or not. For the disabled, it seems somehow to make them more approachable. Whenever my brother and I are out with Mommy, people always stop and chat with her, and want to know about us. It is obvious that we are not service dogs although we are generally very well behaved. I think a dog deflects the attention away from "dis"ability and makes people with limitations more equal, although I think they should be treated that way all the time. Well, I think you get the picture. Service dogs can become a necessary part of the lives of persons with disabilities, allowing them much more freedom to live independently and interact in their community on a daily basis. One of the very best things is that a service dog helps in a big way by making people with disabilities feel less lonely. Dogs, after all, are man's (and woman's) best friends.

Speaking of best friends, I gotta be going. My best human friend is preparing pork chops again, and I've got to go assume my post. Looks like I'll have this job for at least another 15 years. Terriers are very long-lived, you know. As to being a service dog, I think I've changed my mind. I've finally got my humans broken in just the way I like them. Don't want to mess with a good thing. But I do hope the information I've found will help someone who is looking for a companion in a fur coat who will be their best friend for many years.

Bye for now.

Your friend, Mr. Jake (the Cairn) Rockwell

(author's note: Mr. Jake continues to wreak havoc in his home in rural New Brunswick, Canada. As of this date, no one has dared to tell him he's a dog. He'd be crushed!)

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