Monday, July 30, 2012

Still waiting

The last time I talked to the my CA contact she said the board would be meeting at the end of July to decide if we would be approved for another dog. Well, tomorrow is the last day of July and I still haven't heard anything. Of course, my mind is racing with possibly reasons, ranging from they forgot about us to they said 'heck no'. I'm trying to be patient, which is never easy for me. I really want to call, but I will try to hold off until next week. I don't want to bug them in case it would come back to bite me in the butt. I mean, what if someone said "You know, we think M would really benefit from a dog, but her mom is such a nag! There is no way we would place a dog with such a nag." See how my thought process goes?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's a good sign

I'm sneaking this post in at work because it's too good not to share. I heard back from the contact person.. It sounds like we should be approved for another dog! It's not official until the board meets at the end of the month, but things are looking very positive. The problem we're going to have is finding a dog that's very gentle.
Still, it looks like we'll be clearing one major hurdle!!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Exploring the options

With the whole CA situation up in the air, I'm staring to look at several different options regarding a service dog for Mika. I have only recently started exploring options, so my list is very incomplete, but here's what I have so far:

1. Try a different agency.  I am starting to look all over again. There are several pros and cons for getting a dog from a group. Some charge a huge amount of money, like $20,000+, which is way beyond what I can afford. There are some non-profits that will place a dog for free, but then we have to go back through the whole application process and the 3-4 year wait. The big plus about an agency is that you will get a dog that is trained (for the most part) so you will hopefully just need to keep up the training, not start from scratch.
Pros: an already trained dog                        Cons: lots of money or a long, long wait

2. Train our own. This is something I never would have considered a year ago. At this point, it's something I am very seriously considering. We would literally get a dog and train it ourselves to be a service dog. My first instinct is to get an adult dog from the pound and work with it, but all the service dog trainers and books I've read say it's actually very hard to make that work. The ideal time to start working with a dog is as a young puppy, and a lot of the dogs in the shelters come with issues of their own that they need to work through.

While I don't like the puppy stage as a general rule, there are big benefits from getting a puppy from a breeder and working upwards. When you get it from a breeder, you know the health history of both parents. It's very important to know if there is a family history of common diseases like hip dysplasia or cataracts, etc. And you can get a very general idea of the potential size of the dog and temperament. If both of the parents are large 70+ lb dogs, the odds of you getting a 30 lb dog aren't good. And it would allow for a strong bond to form between M and the dog, because they would be together as soon as the puppy is 8 weeks old.

There are significant downsides to this, of course. Number 1 is the cost. A purebred puppy may cost $1000, not including all the costs of shots, spay/neutering, and meds. And it's really expensive if the puppy gets sick or hurt and requires more vet care. Hey, it cost $130 to get Fern's two x-rays and emergency vet visit and that's WITH a 25% discount! There are classes and training we can take with certified service dog trainers, but those cost around  $1000/each level. I know there are people who can pay that without batting an eye, but that's a huge amount of money for me.

A service dog in training doesn't have the same access rights as a full fledged service dog. I would have to pay a pet deposit and pet rent per month while the dog was training because it wouldn't qualify as a service dog yet. And I still can't figure out the rules for access to public buildings with a dog in training.
Pros: early bonding and training opportunities        Cons: cost, lack of legal protection, the puppy stage

I don't know what to do. I guess I have more research to do while I wait to hear from CA.

And now we wait

Even while we were making arrangements for Fern to return I was asking about getting a new dog.  At camp they acknowledged that sometimes things don't work out, no matter how hard everyone works. They said that if things weren't working, it would best for the dog to return and the recipient get a new one. It sounded like they were understanding and, while not ideal, it happened and they would help you get a dog as soon as possible. In their documentary "Through a Dog's Eyes", they had something like that happen to a little boy and the video ended with them saying that the dog was going back and they would get a different dog. Now I wonder if they really did.

After significant pushing on my part, I finally got some answers out of CA, but they were not reassuring. Apparently our case will have to be reviewed by the "board". I have no idea who the board is, or what they do, but they have to review our case. Then they will be the ones that say we can or can not receive another dog. As of last month, there was no meeting time set and she doesn't know when they will next meet. She took pity on me and talked to the owner of CA about our case. The owner said she didn't see any reason we couldn't have another dog placed, which greatly relieves me. Of course, it's non-binding, but that has to be a great sign.

And now here's more bad news. If we get approved (I'm cautiously optimistic now that we will), we may have a long wait. They said we would need a "pretty laid back" dog, which may take some time to find. (Why didn't they notice that during the three year wait?) If they find one for M fairly soon, we would probably fly out to CA for a 3 or 4 day trip, hopefully over a weekend, so they can see if the match will work. If it takes a long time, we would have to do the training camp all over again. Essentially, they could put us back on the waiting list for another 3 years and make us start from scratch.

M is understandably upset. We both tried so hard with Fern, doing everything they said to and completely wrapping our lives around her. When things just didn't work out, we did exactly what they said and returned her instead of just keeping her as a pet and ignoring her lack of bond with M. How would it not be a punishment for them to tell us we couldn't get another dog? Or make us wait another 3 years? That would be a punishment for being honest instead of self-serving. M alternates between being mad at CA for not agreeing to another dog immediately and being hurt they are doubting her. I can understand her feelings. This is when the dog would do so much good. There are times M feels so left out because she can't do sports and only modified PE classes. She stands out because something is always in a splint or brace and she misses a lot of school. Even though Fern could be very naughty, she was still there for Mika to cuddle with when she was hurting.

So now we're in a holding pattern. I sent off an email yesterday to the outreach contact just saying I'm doing a one month post-Fern check in, letting you know we're still very interested in receiving a different dog. I asked if there was a board meeting scheduled or if there was any other information available. I'm not hopeful of getting a response with any helpful information. The unknown is so hard. When I submitted M's application way back in 2008 we knew within 2 months that we were approved. I only wish that would happen now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A sad good-bye

I know it's been a long time since I posted anything. Part of it is because I've been insanely busy. But another part of it is because I've had a hard time thinking of what to say. I've been struggling to balance being positive with being brutally honest in my blog. I'm so worried about giving people a bad impression of service dogs, and that's not what I want to do at all. In fact, I can't say enough about how wonderful service dogs are. But I'm also trying to be completely honest about the whole service dog process and that requires talking about both the good and the bad.

After much deliberation and tears, we sent Fern back to CA almost 2 weeks ago. Trust me when I say it wasn't an easy decision. In fact, it was horrible. A part of me felt like I was abandoning a family member and there were plenty of tears. I nearly caused a scene when I took her to the airport for her return flight to GA. Okay, so I caused a scene, but only a little one. Fern was so anxious at the airport that I had to stop several times just to get her attention and calm her down. I probably went through 20 treats in 3 minutes. And then she met the person there to take her back and she hid from him behind my legs for several minutes. Talk about guilt!

Still, as much as we loved Fern, she was not the right service dog for Mika. I would have chosen her for a pet, but that wasn't her job.  We worked so hard with Fern, trying to help her get pass the pulling and running off and chewing. The last 3 weeks we had her we started an intense training period, as if we were starting over from scratch. She got treats for good behaviors, so much so that she gained 6.5 lbs in under 3 weeks. (That's a BIG no-no. An unhealthy dog can't be a good service dog.) I constantly pushed M and Fern to work together. Yet it still wasn't working out.

Fern wanted attention 100% of the time. It wasn't enough to talk to her or have her next to you, she wanted to be petted constantly. If Mika was doing her homework, Fern would try to pull the paper or pen away from her. Fern would come find me in the kitchen, but she didn't want a quick pat while I was cooking dinner, she wanted a full on belly rub. This was all the time and when she didn't have the hands on attention, she was more likely to get into trouble.

What it ultimately came down to was safety. After nearly 3 months of working with Fern, she would still bolt away with no warning. One time she separated M's shoulder and the next couple of times contributed to M breaking her hand. She would pull M wherever she wanted and even I had a hard time standing my ground when Fern wanted to sniff something. All the treats in the world couldn't get Fern's attention when she fixated on a smell. I think the fact M was hurt not once, but twice made the decision for me.

Fern's safety was also in question. She chewed up everything she could find. The day I sent off the email telling CA Fern needed to go back, Fern had reached up to the 3rd shelf of a bookcase and pulled off a calculator and pen the night before. M actually found it first and was nearly hysterical because she thought Fern had swallowed the battery. I found the battery and Fern showed no ill-affects of the night time chewing, but that was when M asked me to send her back. She said it was one thing for her to get hurt, but it was another thing for Fern to be hurt. I nearly cried to hear her say that. After being hurt twice, she was still more concerned about Fern than herself.

It took less than a week from the time I sent the email to the time Fern went back. I took Fern to the airport myself because it was M's last day of school. It was so hard! I packed a little bag for Fern (not a diaper bag exactly, but not far off, either) that had 2 of her favorite toys, her meds and about 5 lbs of dog treats. I think they thought I was nuts packing stuff for her, but we couldn't stand the thought of her not having her favorite toys. These are the stuffed animals that she carried around like babies. She wouldn't let us touch them, we could only admire them for a distance. :-)

It was hard going back to the house and seeing her toys and kennel still there. It was even worse the first couple of nights because M had become so accustomed to having Fern sleep on her legs (not against her legs, on them) that we had to find something to weigh her legs down. Even then, she was up two or three times in the night. I woke up at 0300 like normal, because I was so used to checking on Fern to make sure she hadn't chewed on anything.

We loved Fern. She's a wonderful dog, she just wasn't the right one for M. She had too much puppy in her for M to handle. I'm sure she will make a wonderful dog for someone who is more physically strong than M. It helps to know that she gets to go back to the same trainer as before, whom she adores more than anything on the planet. And she'll go right back to the farm where she will have plenty of area to run.

Now that a couple weeks have passed, it's easy to see no one was really happy. M was never comfortable walking Fern after the shoulder and hand injuries and Fern wanted more hands on attention than we could give her. I firmly believe that this is the best decision for everyone. It's just so disappointing that it came to this. To spend three years waiting for a dog and then nearly 3 months working with the dog, only to have it not end well is disheartening.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fern the destroyer

We made our first trip to the vet on Friday, and Fern didn't appreciate the adventure. Why did we go to the vet, you ask? Because Fern chewed something plastic to near extinction. M was sick on Friday, so Fern was out of her kennel, sleeping next to M while she slept. Sometime during the time M was asleep, Fern got up and found something to chew to death. I'm not positive, but I think it was a flashlight. I still haven't found the non-chewed parts, like the top with the light bulb and glass, the switch and the batteries. I have absolutely no idea where she would have gotten a flashlight, though, so maybe it was something else. She started throwing up, so away we went for an emergency trip to the vet. After two x-rays, she was pronounced good to go. The cost for her misadventure? $125, with the 25% discount. The refused to do payments, so I had to do some creative financial juggling to come up with that money. Not fun.

Two days before the flashlight incident, Fern got up in the middle of the night and chewed a chunk off of our wood futon. I woke up to splinters of wood everywhere. I checked her mouth and there were no splinters, so I cleaned up the mess and didn't make a production out of it, even though I was mentally swearing at dealing with it a 0530. 

I contacted CA and they said she could be chewing because she's bored. They recommended putting out a rawhide bone for her, in case she wakes up and is bored at night. That won't work though because rawhide bones are like crack to Fern. Shen she gets one she goes crazy, running around the living room to show it off and chewing non-stop until it's gone. If I tried to put out a rawhide at night she wouldn't sleep until it was gone, which would defeat the purpose to begin with.

She hasn't chewed anything that I know of since Friday, so maybe getting so sick has turned her off of it. I hope so, because I can't afford to run to the vet once a week. And I'm not crazy about having possessions destroyed, either.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A mortifying trip to Krogers

Let me preface this by saying Fern is usually so good that any odd behavior is unexpected. I don't want to give you a bad impression of her with this story, so keep that in mind.

Yesterday Mika had testing after school until 6:30 (don't even get me started on that), so I would take care of Fern until that was over. I don't like to leave Fern alone more than necessary because she's in the kennel while Mika is at school. (Long story there) I needed to get a few groceries, so I took Fern with me to Krogers. Big mistake.

Fern was trying to sniff everything while I walked to the pharmacy, but I didn't think too much of it. She actually sniffed the leg of the guy in line ahead of me. Fortunately he's a dog lover and didn't mind at all. After I got my prescription I went back and got a cart to do my shopping. I had the cart for no more than 2 minutes when I turned around and saw Fern pooping in the middle of the produce section. I nearly screamed. There were several people around initially, but by the time I had the emergency clean up supplies out they were long gone. Thank heavens because I was already embarrassed enough. To make it even more frustrating, as soon as she was done, Fern came over with her wagging tail and smiles like she was so proud of what she did. GRRR....
I got everything cleaned up and the tied up bag thrown away and tried again.

To make a long story short, Fern was awful. She tried to sniff at everything and everyone. I know this can be a sign of stress, but her tail was wagging and she would smile at me when she bothered to look up. She's been to that store at least 3 or 4 times, so she should be comfortable in it. My trip that should have taken 20 minutes took me 45 and my hand was sore from holding onto her leash while she was pulling. Darn dog. 

For everyone who is thinking "Why didn't you take her potty before you went in the store, you idiot" I want you know now I tried. She did pee beforehand, but she's going through a spell where she only wants to poop after a 30 minute walk. Yesterday morning and today she wouldn't go at all, even though she got the normal 30 minute walk. I have no idea why she's being so fussy! It makes it really hard though. 

It's a good thing she's a good dog 95% of the time because that 5% is really frustrating.