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. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An unexpected travel complication

So this summer, I'm allowing my daughter to plan an ambitious trip back to the home state. It's both amazing and frightening to think of her doing this. This is the first time we've made plans for her to be away from home for such a long time, and it's not without some anxiety on both of our parts. Still, the thought of having Fern with her really helped encourage M to try this.

Our original plan was to have her take a 3 week trip back to the upper Midwest. We would fly out together on a Thursday and catch up with all of our friends. I would take her to band camp on Sunday and fly home solo. She would stay in the university dorms until Friday, when camp ends and go home with her grandparents from there. She'll hang out with them until Thursday, where she would head to her best friend's house until Sunday. On Sunday, she would be picked up my her grandparents and taken to Girl Scout camp for the week. She would be picked up on Friday and fly back here on Sunday. Sounds good, right? If only things were so easy.

When I registered M for band camp I told them that she would be traveling with a service dog who would stay with her the entire time. The camp director directed me to the Hall Coordinator and to say I got a rude response would be an understatement. The woman was so rude I actually contacted CA and asked how to handle her response. That lead to a long phone conversation with the follow up guru (I love that woman). She had significant reservations about Fern going to band camp when she hasn't been exposed to such an experience before. I can certainly understand that. A band of 300 kids is not going to be a quiet experience. She waffled on GS camp, but M is going to a horseback riding camp and we would have to find something to do with Fern during the hours she was with the horses. I agree that it may be best for Fern to miss both camps.
It's hard for M, but when I explained why we made the decision she understood. In fact, she has become worried that new things might bother Fern and is starting to become anxious.

So now I'm in a quandary. I hate the idea of letting M go away for weeks at a time without Fern there. I have come to trust Fern to help Mika if needed and having to rely on strangers to help does not sound like a good plan to me. On the other hand, this is the first time that M has felt confident enough to even try something like this. I sure as heck am not going to hold her back. So right now the tentative plan is to bring Fern with us for the 1st weekend of hanging out with friends, and then I'll take her back home with me. I wish there was some way to get her back to M when camp is over, but I can't afford to make several extra flights to make it happen.

I guess this is one of those times that I'll just have to grin and bear it. Hopefully Fern won't be too upset without Mika. And I sincerely hope that this doesn't harm the bond between the two of them. CA said that they had no doubt this wouldn't harm their bond and I'm just going to have to trust them on that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

kennel success

I have to take just a moment and brag about Fern. Do you remember the first week we had to put Fern in the kennel? It was awful! It took lots of bribes and 10 minutes to get her to reluctantly go in and then she would whine and fuss. I had major guilt. I followed what the trainers told us at camp. I put a Kong with frozen peanut butter in it to keep her busy. I would alternate the Kong with a rawhide bone, which she loves. I would keep her favorite toy in there. I would leave the radio on for her to listen to and I left a light on in case she wanted more light than daylight. She wouldn't eat her rawhide or peanut butter, which can be a sign of stress. Let me tell you, both M and I were showing signs of stress, too.

So I came up with a half baked scheme to convince Fern that her kennel was the best doggie place ever. We have always kept her bowls of food and water in her kennel, so that was a good start. Then I started keeping all of her toys in the kennel, so she has to go in and get whichever one she wants to play with for the moment. That was a big help for sure.

We've also settled into a routine, which I have no doubt helps also. When we first came home we would feed her and then take her for a walk right away in the morning (think 0600). For the past couple of week, we've switched to taking her for a walk after we're all ready for school/work. That has worked better for all of us, as no one in our house is a morning person/dog.

I think what sealed the deal was the dog bed. About a week ago I bought a big pillow for Fern to lay on because I don't allow her on the sofas. It took her a day or two to warm up to it but now she loves it. M puts the pillow in her kennel in the morning and then takes it out as soon as she's home from school and Fern loves it. The pillow goes in first, then the toys, then sometimes a rawhide bone follows and last is a large Milkbone treat that she only gets when she goes into the kennel.

I am now convinced that we found the magic formula. Yesterday she went in as soon as we had things arranged, even before she got her treat. Today, as soon as we took off her harness from her walk, she bolted for her kennel. I actually had to convince her to leave the kennel so I could get the pillow in first. I didn't even get the pillow arranged perfectly (hey, I like them straight and in order) before she was curled up on it, obviously waiting for her toys. I put in her 3 favorite stuffed animals and her Kong ball (yes, she's that spoiled) and by the time I came back with her Milkbone, she had the toys arranged on her pillow so they were two on each side of her. She gently took the treat from my hand and settled onto her pillow, obviously ready for me to shut the door.

I'm so excited she likes her kennel! I know I'm tooting my own horn, but I am really happy we found a way for her to enjoy alone time and made her kennel a fun place to be because it makes it so much easier on all of us!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cute pictures

I have a couple of cute pictures that I have to share.

Doesn't this say it all?

Fern's puppy ears mean she is ready to play.
This is how Fern likes to sleep.

Fern antics

Fern is starting to show a mischievous side that we hadn't seen before. The past week has been full of funny moments. You want examples? I'm so glad you asked.

Fern loves stuffed animals of any kind. In fact she has three that we keep in the house and one that we keep in the car. She'll carry them around to show off, but doesn't really want you to touch them, just admire them. Well, M loves stuffed animals, too, so there are plenty around her room. Fern has found no less than 6 stuffed animals in various places. When we figured out she liked them M put all of hers up in the closet or on a shelf. Well, Fern found a couple under her bed and brought them out. The pic below is where Fern grabbed an armadillo puppet off the middle of my bed (which she's not allowed on).Then she found a couple that were by the reading chair in my bedroom. She found one that my brother sent M from Finland by reaching up to get it off of the 3rd shelf of the bookcase.  And she took one from Mika while she was sleeping. I heard talking at 4 in the morning and came running out of my room thinking something was seriously wrong. Fern was sitting on the floor pretending not to hear or see M talking to her, holding the teddy bear between her two paws. I got the bear back for M and Fern refused to sleep on M's bed for the rest of the night.

The past week Fern has decided she loves the texture of plastic in her mouth. M has lots of Littlest Pet Shop toys in a basket. When M's friend was over last week they were playing with them on the floor of her bedroom. Fern watched for a while then stealthily walked over and picked up a plastic bed. She came bouncing out of the room, tail wagging, smiling as she showed me what she had found. She was very reluctant to give it up. Mika was upset Fern got something that could choke her so she shut her bedroom door while they played. Fern has never had Mika shut away from her before and she stood in front of her door for 10 minutes before she gave up. I felt a little mean, but it was better than knowing she liked little toys that could choke her.

Fern pulled a little con on M this Wednesday. Fern adores rawhide bones, but I limit the amount she can have so she doesn't get sick. I gave her a medium sized rawhide in the morning to keep her busy while M (who was sick) slept and I went to work. (On a side note, M is now able to stay at home by herself!) She called me when on my lunch break and we talked about how she was doing. She mentioned that Fern brought her the bag of small rawhide bones, so M gave her one. She was so proud that Fern asked for one instead of taking them all. What she didn't realize was that Fern had gotten the bag out of the box they are kept in by going into her kennel, moving a box across her kennel roof, going outside the kennel, standing up to balance herself on the outside of the kennel and reached into the box to grab the bag. So Fern had a good time eating more rawhide bones than she's normally allowed in a week. Silly dog.

Rude questions

I knew going into the service dog process that we would get rude comments. Heck, most of Mika's life I've heard "But she looks so normal!", and that's definitely not a compliment. I even wrote Dear Abby about what to say. And she actually answered me! I feel so famous. :-)
Anyways, Abby didn't object to my politely telling strangers to mind their own business. And yes, I'm trying to be polite and, boy is it hard. I asked her what to say to acquaintances when they asked. They are people I can't be rude to, but I'm not comfortable giving information to. She told me to say "Oh, I don't want to bore you with the details" and then change the subject. It's good advice but I'm not good at coming up with new subjects off the top of my head when there's not much shared background. I need to come up with a good go-to topic. I'm always happy to default to baseball. Some people love it and will be happy to talk. Some people hate it and will do almost everything to avoid it. It seems like a good option now that I think about it. I'll have to try it and see how it goes.

A day of fieldtrips

What a day. Mikaela as been sick for a while now and I gave in and took her to the doctor. We spent about two hours there total between waiting and seeing the doctor. Fern did a great job overall, bar one little bark. Fern was asleep next to Mika's chair when the nurse knocked once on the door and came in. It startled all of us and Fern let out a quiet bark at the nurse. She was fine after that and even went back to sleep, but every time the nurse came in the room from then on she would tell Fern to 'chill' or 'just relax'. Given that Fern was lying under Mika's chair I didn't find her comments necessary, but I let them go for the most part.

We were sent up to the children's hospital to make sure that her heart was still doing well. The entire walk from the parking garage to the EKG rooms was filled with people smiling and even cooing at Fern. We've made it a policy that if we are on a schedule we don't acknowledge people with more than a smile. It's not that we don't appreciate the positive reactions, because we absolutely do. It's just that we've learned the hard way that once you give someone the opening to talk you will be there forever. They'll want to ask questions about Fern, then they'll want to tell you all about their dog and their favorite dog experiences, too. And then more people will stop to talk when they see that you are receptive to talk and it will take 15 minutes to move away.

When we got into the EKG waiting area a receptionist looked up and said "oh no". We went up to the desk and after a minute I told M to go grab a seat for us in the waiting room. As M walked away, the receptionist turned to me and said "Is that a seeing eye dog?" Given that my daughter very obviously was looking at the aquarium while she walked towards the chairs, it should have been amazingly obvious that she wasn't blind. I told her that she was a service dog, not a seeing eye dog and then went back to signing paperwork. The woman started to tell me that she couldn't be there but a co-worker grabbed her arm and shook her head at her. That quickly, the problem was solved.

At the end of the doctor appointments we went to Krogers, to pick up M's prescription and a couple of groceries. M, Fern and I were standing in an aisle looking for cereal when a woman came around the corner and shrieked. All 3 of us jumped and she was staring fixated on Fern. I reassured her that Fern is a service dog and perfectly behaved, but the woman was nearly panicking. Mikaela took Fern into a different aisle and I tried to reassure the woman before I left. We have definitely met people who are afraid of dogs, although most react positively when they see how absolutely calm Fern is. This was the first time I've seen an adult so absolutely panicked she froze. I feel bad for her.

There was a blip on the screen of our day and it was the cashier at Krogers. We're checking out and she asks "Are you training a service dog?" This is actually a common question, so I tell her that she's not in training, she's my daughter's service dog. She looks at me and says "Why? What's the matter with her?" I've prepared for this and I've had it happen once before but it still took me aback. I looked at her and said something along the lines of "Wow, I've never been asked that before! Don't you think that's rude?" The kid looked at me and blinked like she didn't know what to say, so I followed up with "Service dogs can be trained for many things including seizure response, mobility, PSTD and more." She kind of mumbled that there are local places that bring their dogs in for training and she thought we were one of them.

It was a very very very long day, but Fern was wonderful and definitely helped Mikaela, so there are definitely good things about it.

Here's a pic of how Fern deals with doctor appointments.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TSA follow up

I completely dropped the ball on posting the update on this. Sorry to keep drawing out the story!

The TSA director at the Atlanta airport had me call her so we could discuss what happened. I repeated our story and she seemed properly appalled. She agreed that several things happened that were against policy. She asked if I remembered the name of any of the employees, but of course I didn't. So she requested I send all the information I can remember about what time we went through screening, what we were wearing, etc so she could review the tapes and find out what employees were responsible. She said that there would be retraining so this wouldn't happen again.

She seemed genuinely interested in what happened and sincere about preventing this from happening again. She told me to immediately request a supervisor if this ever happened again, but the supervisor would have immediately stopped things from progressing further. Of course, I have to take her at her word, but can you imagine how much bad press this would get if the media blew up the story? Who wants to be the jerk giving a kid with a service dog a hard time?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Toddler time again

Over the past couple of weeks, I've come to realize that having Fern is like having a toddler again. Every time we leave the house we have to bring things specifically for Fern. A treat bag, her working vest (if we go in the car), what we affectionately know as the crap-trap (I hate people that don't clean up after their dogs!) and wipes. You should never leave the house without baby wipes, just in case. And just like every parent knows, if you  bring the stuff you won't need it, but the minute you forget something that's the one item you need the most.
There are other things that are toddler like. Fern likes to have things in her mouth. She doesn't chew through things (except 1 unfortunate incident with a #2 pencil), but if she can find something mouth size, she'll grab it. The good thing is that she's very good about giving it to you when you tell her to. And she doesn't like to swallow things, she just wants to carry them around in her mouth. I bet this is a retriever thing. She usually prefers her toys, but if she finds a marker, socks, or any little toy, she'll take advantage of it. I guess the good way to look at it is that we now have a very clean house, just out of necessity.
Fern really enjoys full attention on her. You want proof? Every time I pull out my laptop, she does her best to climb in my lap. She'll put her head on the keyboard, or her paws on my chest, or even flop her duck across my hands. It's not that she doesn't get enough attention or even that she desperately needs something. If I close the laptop, she blithely bounces away, so it's not that she wants to be petted. Oh no, she just wants to make sure that I don't do anything that could possibly deflect my attention from her. And heaven help Mikaela if she tries to do her homework. More than one paper has been turned in with dog slobber marks.
Don't get me wrong, she's totally worth it and it's not completely unexpected. Still, I'm torn between amusement and exasperation about a third of the time we're home. She never has a problem when she's out in public, which is most important. It just reinforces that when she is in her vest, she's a working dog, but when she's out of her vest, she's still a 19 month old dog. A relatively calm 19 month old for the most part, but she's still barely out of the puppy stage.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fern at the beach

We took an impromptu trip to the beach yesterday. It's only an hour away, so it's an easy trip to make in an afternoon, as long as you don't run into heavy traffic. In addition to normal people stuff, we brought extra water, a travel bowl, treats, a rawhide bone and a toy for Fern, just in case. Traveling with Fern is a lot like traveling with a toddler. If you don't bring it, you'll need it, but if you bring it you look like a dork carrying a huge bag.
I was the one who held the leash while we were there because if Fern bolted it could dislocate Mika's shoulder or break a bone. Fern wasn't real fond of the loose sand, but she had no problems on the harder packed sand. After staking our territory with a blanket we went for an easy walk along the beach so Mika could collect seashells and I could get Fern used to the sights and smells of the beach. The beach was covered in dried out seaweed and Fern had to stop and sniff every single clump. It was slow going, but she had a great time.

BTW, I should preface the rest of the story with the reminder that Fern is never allowed off her leash if she's not in a safe, fenced area. Therefore, I was holding her leash during the entire trip and, boy, did my arms get a work out!

I let Mika wade up to her knees in the surf and Fern kept pulling to get to her. Fern and I are buddies when Mika is not around, but the minute Fern sees her, all she wants to do is get to Mika as fast as possible. I let Fern get close to the water and check it out. We were still far enough back that only every 7th or 8th wave came up enough to get our feet wet. The first couple of times Fern would move forward to follow the waves, and then come bounding back the minute they actually touched her feet.

I let her move a little closer to the water and Fern jumped in head first. She came up and ran right towards me and I thought she was scared, but she threw herself down at my feet and let the waves run over her back. The crazy dog loved it! She would bite at the waves, then spring up on all four feet at once like a bucking horse and try to jump on the water. She got so excited she pulled hard on the leash and spun me in a circle. I had come prepared for her being unruly and I grabbed a treat from my handy-dandy treat bag. When I told her to 'freeze' she stopped pulling and looked back at me, so she got a treat. She finished chewing, looked at me again and pulled me in a circle once again. As soon as I told her 'freeze' she did and got another treat. It took me 3 times to figure out that Fern was doing it to get the treat. Once she didn't get a treat for her 'freeze' she stopped. That dog is wily, I tell you.

We were only there about 90 minutes but both kid and dog had a great time. Fern was almost wild on the way back to the car, but she was asleep in the backseat before we were fully out of the parking lot. Fern is such a water dog and I feel bad that I don't know of a safe place for her to splash to her heart's content. And I can tell you for sure that she doesn't consider bath water fun to splash it. :-)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fern's squeaky toy

Here's a video showing how much she loves it. The good news is that she has really calmed down on the need to squeak it and I'm now only occasionally hear it in the middle of the night.

I just played this video on my computer to make sure it was the right one. Fern was in the living room sound asleep. At the first sound of the squeaky toy, so jumped up and came running to see if I had her bone. It's funny because she had been sleeping with it at the time.

The girl likes her toys

I've spent all evening getting ready for Easter festivities. Cookies are now cooling, dyed eggs are now drying under Mika's watchful gaze and I've got the goodies for her Easter basket hidden around the house. I wanted to take some time and get some photos uploaded. It seems like a good way to fill in between the boiled eggs cooling and the cookies coming out of the oven, but once again I've completely underestimated how long I spend on the blog. I'm an addict!

Back on topic. While the dogs are growing and learning at the CA farm they have lots of Kong balls to play with (they really are indestructible) but they share. No dog has their very own toy for a number of reasons. Can you imagine trying to keep 50 balls straight? It would be a nightmare. So on our 1st outing we got Fern a couple of toys, not realizing how much she would adore them. The two tennis balls lasted a couple of days before they were thrown away. The duck stayed and we added Bogey on our second outing. I'm honestly not sure how Bogey got his name, but this long yellow plush dog is a favorite. She picked up a smaller, purple version of Bogey at PetSmart when we made an emergency stop for poop bags. Her newest favorite is a plush bone. The MilkBone representative gave it to Mika at her presentation ceremony because they were a main sponsor for her dog. BTW, so was Sam's Club.

Fern enjoys showing her toys off, but she doesn't really want you to touch them. Instead, she'll carry them back and forth between me and Mika to make sure we both see how wonderful it is, then she'll carefully pick the spot she wants to lay down and place it there. Then it's repeated with two or three other toys. She usually brings at least one up into Mika's bed to sleep.

I'm going to try and upload some pics of her and her babies. Last time I tried to get more than two pics on the same post, it froze the upload, so I'll see what I can do. I also have a video of Fern playing with her 1st squeaky toy. She REALLY likes to squeak that toy when she's in the right mood.

BTW, ignore the mess in the the this one, we had been home for about 45 minutes total. Oh, and her newest trick is to carry two at the same time.

Thank you Pearland

I have to give a huge shout out to our current town of Pearland. In the back of my mind I have been braced for negative reactions in relation to Fern. I have worked with Mika on how we will respond to people who question us and people who refuse us access. We had one issue the first night we were hear, from an ER nurse, of all people. He must have gotten ripped by a supervisor because he came to find us and profusely apologized.

We have taken Fern to Target, Michaels, groceries stores, libraries, Lowes and more and never once have we had any negative reactions. Most people are extremely respectful and will briefly look, then go about their business. We've had kids stop to stare and their parents will tell them that the dog is working and needs to be left alone. We heard one parent call her a 'helper', which I thought was a really great response to her 3 or 4 year old. Another parent told her child that it was a 'police dog' and she had to be left alone so she could catch bad guys. Mika and I struggled not to laugh at that one, but I appreciate the sentiment. We have only had a couple of people ask to pet her and they were very careful in how they approached us, as if expecting to be snapped at.

There are service dog trainers that have a firm no-petting rule while the dog is in the vest and I can understand why. As of right now, we have agreed to let Fern decide. She is usually very reserved around strangers, especially in her vest. If you watch her body language, it's easy to see if she is willing to get close to a person. I would never let anyone reach over her head, but anyone who has approached us has always held their hand out for her to sniff. After she sniffs a person, she'll either lick their hand, which means she's ok with being petted, or she'll back up, which means no thanks. If she backs up, she'll usually offer her paw to shake instead. We have never given her the cue to do that, so she truly decides on her own. She's a smart dog, and I have full faith in what she decides.

We're off to the main library of the big city, so we'll see how that goes, but if the citizens of Pearland are any indication we should have no problems at all.  It's so nice to be pleasantly surprised in mankind.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sick puppy

If you have a squeamish stomach, I'll be talking about dog intestinal issues, so you may want to avoid this post.

Fern started having loose stools yesterday and as of this morning officially has diarrhea. She acts fine, so she isn't overtly sick. They warned us about this at camp. The stress of moving to a new home and being exposed to new things every day, as well as switching from the EN prescription food at camp back to their normal dog food may upset their stomachs too, even though we slowly transitioned. So I left a message at the CA vet clinic and am waiting for a call back. They said you can give a dog Immodium AD, so I bet that's going to be the next step, but I don't want to do anything until I know for sure what they say. Poor thing.

TSA disaster and follow up

So on our way back from GA we had a TSA incident. Not that I don't always have an incident with the TSA. I had looked up the TSA rules on service dogs on their website and it specifically says that they will never ask to remove items from a service dog. They also say that you must retain control of your dog at all times, which is a no-brainer.

"You must assist with the inspection process by controlling the service animal while the Security Officer conducts the inspection. You are required to maintain control of the animal in a manner that ensures the animal cannot harm the Security Officer."

"If your service dog alarms the walk through metal detector, the Security Officer will ask your permission and assistance before they touch you service dog and its belongings. The Security Officer will then perform a physical inspection of your dog and its belongings (collar, harness, leash, backpack, vest, etc.) The belongings will not be removed from your dog at any time."

When we went through, they specifically asked us to take all of her equipment off, including her vest, leash, harness and collar. I'm pretty confident that that means they were violating both rules right there because we would have no way to control her except grabbing her by the back of her neck. Then they didn't bother to explain that they wanted us to drop her leash and have her go through the metal detector on her own, which again would violate a rule.  So they were either going to search Mika or me, and of course I chose to be patted down. The screeners were incredibly rude and the woman who groped me had the nerve to say "You should have done what you were told." So I was being punished? Very professional you losers. 

It wasn't just me, I saw them do this to two other people. One chose to hang onto her dog's flea collar (which still has metal on it) and one got felt up like I did. When I got home I sent a polite email to the TSA, and boy was it hard to keep it polite. I received an email yesterday telling me that because it was a specific incident at ATL they forwarded my email to the TSA manager there. Yesterday afternoon I received an email from that manager offering to talk about the incident. I doubt it will do any good whatsoever, but I'm going to take her up on that offer. It was appalling how things were handled. How can I ever let Mika fly solo some day when I know that means an automatic pat down? Not gonna happen.

I'll give the TSA woman a call today and see what she has to say, then I'll update you with the conversation. I'm sure it's going to be a doozy.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lesson learned

I only have a minute or two while M is taking a shower and singing to Fern. Fern can't stand if there's a door between her and Mika, so Fern just patiently waits in the bathroom for M. It gives me two minutes to try and catch up.

We were told that dog parks were frowned upon for our dog because, while Fern is well behaved, other dogs may not be. However, we live in an apartment, so we have no backyard where she can run and chase the ball. So we took her Sunday at 0700 and we were the only ones. Well, until a 14 year old lab came and laid at the fence and watched Fern run. It wore the poor boy out and he fell asleep while she was still playing.

Anyways. We've been taking Fern for a walk twice a day, but she's been having a hard time on the walks. She'll heel perfectly, then pull hard unexpectedly. At camp the emphasized how important it is to not let your dog pull against the leash ever. So every time she pulls, I stop and wait for her attention and we start all over again. This morning she was great, but last night we walked for 30 minutes and made it 1 mile max. I called CA (I love them for having a person solely for after care) and she said that it's nerves and trying to adjust to so many new things at once. I agree with her, but it makes it very hard to take her for exercise when she doesn't want to walk around any sights, sounds or smells right now.

Okay, long story short. We took her to the dog park, where there were 5 dogs, all of them smaller than Fern. Or so I thought. We made it 20 feet from the gate before a dog her height but much heavier came to say hi. They greeted each other properly and all was fine until a little dog came over to do the same thing. The two dogs wanted to play and graciously included Fern. Fern panicked and kept pulling back and the dogs kept pushing forward. Neither one of these dogs had any intention of hurting or biting, but they were actively chasing my panicked dog, who I still had on the leash. Thank goodness I was holding the leash because can you imagine what would have happened to Mika if she was knocked over by the dogs like I was? Oh yes, I hit the ground hard, in front of all the owners. Did 1 person get up to help? Did one person call for their dog? Nope, they sat and watched the 'Aimee sitting on the ground getting run over by dogs' show. I got up, used my knee to shove the dogs away and started walking towards the gate. They kept getting in the way, so I kept giving them stronger nudges. Finally the owner of the small dog came over and tried to get it, saying something about how it just wanted to play, but all I focused on was getting Fern out. If she wasn't 50 lbs, I would have picked her up and carried her.

Moral of the story? Everyone left safe and sound. I did not try to find the owner of the big dog because I would have caused physical and emotional harm, which wouldn't have helped calm my kid and her dog. We came home, gave Fern a bath and got M going on her 6 pages of math homework. (Her stupid math teacher seems to think that she should make up for two weeks of school work, that HE didn't send with us, in 1 night.) So I still have a dog with lots of energy and I'm not sure the best way to exercise her. Unless I want to take her to the dog park in the dark, mornings before work are out. I'll guess we'll keep walking around the neighborhood and hope it gets better. The trainer game me some great ideas to try for tomorrow's walk, so I'm sure it will go much better. It's amazing what Fern will do for cheese. :-)

bag links

Here are a couple of links for the dog food bags. I'm torn between doing a messenger bag or a big purse/handbag first. I've seen people use other things like ties and old seat belts for straps, and I may try that, too.

I know there are a lot more sites and patterns, but these were the first three that looked like something I would actually want to do.

re-purposing dog food bags

Okay, this is mostly off topic, but it's in the general realm of dogs at least. I just found a really cute way to not waste the huge dog food bags. I now have a pattern for a purse and a messenger bag made from those huge 30 lbs bags of dog food. Only 29 lbs of food to go, then I'll finish it and post pics. It looks really easy, but my sewing machine has a sad tendency to break, so we'll see. And it's supposed to make a good floor mat, too.

First day back to school and work

Yesterday was the 1st day back to school for Mika and back to work for me. We haven't decided yet about whether to send Fern to school or not. Mika is worried about the junior high environment because it's loud, cramped and occasionally obnoxious. She doesn't want Fern to be scared or overwhelmed, and it's a legitimate concern. So yesterday was Fern's first full day in her kennel by herself. I was worried she would be scared or have an accident in her kennel, but she did just fine. The trainers said she would be fine and offered suggestions like filling a Kong toy with peanut butter and freezing it over night. That way it would take her all morning to work on it and it's something she likes.

For the last two nights Fern has slept by Mika's bed instead of on the bed because the twin bed is just too small for both of them. Last night I broke down and pulled out our futon for them to share. We have been using it for a sofa, but I bet it will be used for a bed until I can get M a double bed for her room. I'm glad that they both are very attached to each other, so messing with the futon every night seems like a small price to pay.

So far so good!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

1st full day home

I know I haven't officially gotten caught up with last week's posts, but I don't want to fall behind on the current stuff. I'm still working on it, I promise.

Today we went to volunteer on a housing fix up project in the morning. Because we she wasn't in officially service dog capacity, we didn't use her vest. I'm trying to be very good about keeping the vest only for work times. Her personality is much more serious when the vest is on and I want her to know there are lots of times she's just being a normal dog. We worked there for the morning and she was very good. She just found a convenient spot of mud and laid in it. A plane flew in low overhead and a chain saw started up and it didn't even wake her up. She's such a great dog.

We made a quick trip to the library, where she wore the vest of course. This was the first time we were out in public where we weren't repeatedly stopped by people wanting to talk about, or pet, Fern. Some people stared, but most just minded their own business and we actually got out on time.

We made a quick stop by the community garden where I have a plot. I let Mika walk Fern around the large grass area while I quickly planted my last two pepper plants. While I was playing in the mud I heard Mika scream Fern's name. I looked up and saw that Fern had jerked the leash from Mika's hand and was running towards a little ditch full of water. After she ran through the ditch, she circled back towards the garden and the drainage ditch on the other side. Mika was yelling for Fern as she ran but Fern couldn't hear her. I yelled "Fern, freeze!", although I didn't think it would work because we hadn't practiced that with her. Fern stopped so fast she skidded in the dirt. I told her "come here" and damn if she didn't turn around and cheerfully trot back to Mika. I was nearly panicked and Mika was nearly in tears, but Fern thought she had been a good dog for coming back. That's the first time I have every seen Fern do anything even remotely ill-behaved, and it was shocking. It must be the lab in her. We need to get her out to the dog park early tomorrow morning and let her run like a maniac. I wish I could find a fenced in area with a shallow pond to let her splash around in. We'll start with a dog-free dog park and work up from there.

funny fern story

Fern does some of the funniest things. Mika was sitting on the bed flipping through the channels. Fern walked up and very gently took the remote from her hand. She mouthed it a little bit then dropped it on the floor. She looked up at Mika, smiled, then picked up the remote and handed it back to her. Fern just did "get it, bring it and give it"commands (used for retrieving dropped items) all on her won. I'm sure most of it is because she loves retrieving stuff. I bet at least a little part of it is that she knows darn well that she gets a treat when she does it, and she wanted a little snack. That dog is very, very smart.

Day 7

This was our off day, the 1 day where the only planned activities were breakfast and supper. In theory, this was the day to sleep in, rest, take a nap, do laundry, etc. In practice, the dogs didn't let anyone sleep in. Fern wanted to go at 0400, so we did get to sleep in until 0800. After that...nothing. We don't have a car, so we can't go anywhere. We aren't supposed to go out on unapproved outing, but we don't have our trainers' numbers to call and ask for permission. We were on our own for lunch, but if you didn't ask for permission or have an extra adult to go on a food run, you were in a pickle. Fortunately, I had to buy a bunch of food for Mika to eat, so we just munched on that for the day.

I've had a hard time with all of the sitting and down time so far. I'm sure this is going to surprise everyone, but I usually have an abundance of energy and it has been known to get me in trouble. By 1300 Mika and I were on each other's nerves. It got so bad that I insisted on a walk around the hotel area. Yes, we just walked up and down the sidewalk watching traffic. I was that desperate. We didn't get far due to a tragic accident involving a low hanging branch, a crack in the sidewalk and a broken flip flop. Still, it helped enough that we are both still alive.

Fern was wonderful, of course. We went down to the area where we eat breakfast with a fellow camper to play ball. That means we shut the doors so the dogs can't escape, take them off the leash and watch them run head first into the tables while they're chasing the ball. Fern is so delicate it's funny to see her go skidding across the carpet trying to avoid going head first into a table while still getting the ball ahead of Hudson (the other, much bigger dog). She runs like a greyhound!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We're good to go!

I can now say with 100% certainty that not only am I allowed to blog about our service dog process, but I have Canine Assistants wholehearted approval. We had to go through a media lecture, which basically said don't use the logo (that should be self-explanatory, but I know why they said that). They showed us their Facebook pages (they put pics of PUPPIES on there! lots and lots of puppies) and gave us basic social etiquette pointers. Again, it basic common sense, but I realize that a lot of people aren't familiar enough with the internet to know these rules.

We have a late start tomorrow, so hopefully I'll get a chance to catch everything up on the blog. Things are going really well and I've got pics and videos to prove it.

I have a Mika conversation to share quickly. A trainer compared the process of receiving a dog, working on training and taking them home to having toddlers. You have to dog-proof your house, keep up their training, be careful with their food, make sure they get the right food and healthy exercise, etc. After a 0400 potty break, Mika said something to the effect of "Mom, if this is like having a toddler, they are a lot of work." Then Fern hopped up on the bed and cuddled into her and she said "But this makes it worth it." There's a lot of profound in that I think.

A slight pause

I've been asked to hold off writing any more on my blog until Wednesday. No, it wasn't the FBI who asked. I haven't forgotten about it, I promise. I do intend to continue it, but I have some legalities to review before I can say anything else. I'll let you know as soon as I hear more.

BTW, Fern and Mika are doing great together. It's been a lot of fun. Remind me to tell you about Fern's duck and her Bogie.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

First half of day 6

I'm writing this halfway through the day because I'm not sure I'll have time to write anything tonight. I'll see what I can do.

Today we had an outing to North Pointe Mall. We were there about 90 minutes total. We were free to walk around for the 1st hour and shop. The whole point of that was to getting used to different sounds and sights and walking through the stores accessing their accessibility. Of course, Mika spent time looking for accessories and managed to sweet talk me into getting her two different flowers for her hair. We went into Claires and I was surprised to see Fern uncomfortable in the store. I'm not sure if it was the close quarters (that store is a nightmare of 1' wide aisles) or all of the sparkly stuff, but that was the only time she showed any discomfort at all. Mika and I made an additional side trip to Barnes and Nobles quickly, and Fern was a sweetheart.

After we got back to the hotel, we took Fern down to the conference room and let her play with Jeddah's dog Hudson. We shut the doors and then took them off the leash. Neither Hudson or Fern really enjoy rough housing, so we got out the tennis ball that we bought yesterday at WalMart. Oh my word, Fern loves to play with a ball. She is very quick and almost always beat Hudson (who is much larger than her) to the ball. We actually had an amazing opportunity to practice "get it", "bring it" and "give it". She willingly gave up her ball so we could throw it again. So she just pretty much reenforced her training on her own, which proves how smart she is.

Both kid and dog are resting now before we go out for an optional outing tonight. We're going out a sports bar and grill tonight. It can be pretty noisy, so we'll see how both Mika and Fern do in that environment.

Day 5 opening door video

Fern loves opening drawers and doors. She does it for fun and wows Mikaela every time. :-)

Day 5 video- Lights on lights off

There is a video of Fern shutting off all the lights in the room. I hope. I've been trying to upload this for the last 24 hours.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 5

Last night was actually much better than what I thought it would be. We took Fern out to potty at 2130 and she lasted until 0400. They told us to expect them to get upset stomachs, not sleep much, fuss, want to go outside a lot, etc, so 1 trip at 0400 wasn't so bad. What made it bad was that Mika didn't go to sleep until 0030. It wasn't that she didn't try, she just couldn't sleep. I'm sure it's part excitement and part 'the dog is hogging the entire bed'. Needless to say, we were all dragging this morning.

I attached a pic of Mika and Fern this morning. After significant shoving, Mika got enough room to sleep on her back, but lost the right to the other 2/3 of the bed and most of the covers. And Fern had her head on Mika's legs all night, but they seemed to work it out okay.

The practice sessions this morning went very well for F & M. Our trainer reviewed how Fern would perform her basic commands like sit, down, lap, off, visit, heel, 'better hurry (go potty), wait, paw and stay. They were again better than expected so he introduced the advanced commands and let her actually try them. She learned how to cue Fern to open drawers, unlatch doors and pull them open, turn light switches on and off, nose (so she could push the button to open the handicap doors), and 'get help'. It was amazing to see how quickly Mika could cue Fern to perform these feats. What was every bit as cool was that Fern's tail was wagging the entire time she was turning lights on and off and practicing on getting help. Fern was having a great time doing it and was loving that she was getting treats for stuff she can do anyways. That dog is too smart for her own good.

We went to WalMart for our first group outing, which was fortuitous because I had to pick up a week's worth of food for Mika. I was apprehensive because we didn't receive explicit instructions for what to do. Fern could have cared less that we were in Wal-Mart. She was completely comfortable walking with Mika through the store. Fern's trainer came and found us and said that they were doing great.

I told Mika we could get Fern a new toy and I let her go to the dog aisle while I was an aisle away. I know, she was out of my sight in a store! That's a first! When I caught up with them, Mika told me that Fern picked out this cheap stuffed duck and loved it. I had serious doubts about it but she was so sure that this was the best toy I just bought it. She was right, Fern absolutely adores it. She doesn't want to play tug of war with it and she doesn't really chew on it. She just carries it around in her mouth and shows it off. It's so adorable.

News clip

My friend Niki alerted me to this story from the local station here in Atlanta. On Wednesday a news crew came out to the farm and ran a piece on a puppy that CA is trying to help. The 4 month puppy was born without a back paw and CA is trying to raise money for a prosthesis for him. For reasons I didn't understand (and only kinda do now), the cameraman spent the entire morning watching our 1st training session. He spent a lot of time watching Mika and Fern at the beginning. They were on the floor and Fern was sprawled out on her back in her 'pet my belly' pose, which I suppose would make an adorable piece. Mika was trying hard to avoid the camera and wouldn't look at the guy when she realized he was trying to record. In pure luck, every time the man tried to film the two of them, Fern would wiggle around until she was on her back and her butt was in the camera nearly the entire time. As a direct result, you will only see a couple of two second clips of them.

Day 3: working together for the 1st time

I hope I can get this to upload. This has been a pain! This is from Wednesday when they first started working together. The room is so chaotic and the dogs are so excited you're lucky if you can get them to do anything. They were already ahead of the curve.

Mika and Fern playing in the hotel

I swear, I'm going to figure this out or die trying! Attempt #5

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Why can I not load videos? Grr... This happened last night after I put up a pic. I had to close everything down and try again. And I just failed again...


Pics of Mika and Fern. I have no idea why they are under a chair.


I forgot to put this in my last post. I noticed that Mika was using a LOT of hand sanitizer this morning and I couldn't figure out why. Then I looked over and noticed that every time she fed Fern a treat, she would drop it on the floor right before Fern touched it. Why? Mikaela is afraid of dog spit. Fern is a kisser, so not only will she lick your hand, she'll hop up and lick your face. Yesterday she went to the bathroom twice to wash her face and yesterday used about 1/4 of a bottle of hand sanitizer. I didn't figure it out until this afternoon. My poor baby has a dog spit phobia, which is especially hard with a kissy dog. She's working very hard at over coming it. Until then, I'm buying stock in baby wipes, hand sanitizer and SoftSoap. :-)

Day 4: Fern comes home!

Today was amazing. As soon as we arrived at camp, Mika went to Fern's kennel, put on her collar and leash and took her outside to go potty. On a side note, the command for that is "better hurry". I don't know why, but I guess they had a hard time convincing guys to say "go potty". :-)

Mika was so into working with Fern. She took charge in the training and patiently practiced over and over again. Jennifer, bless her heart, said that if caregivers (non-recipients) were doing more than necessary or being annoying, the recipients could tell the caregivers to back off. Curse her for saying that in front of a nearly 13 year old girl. Now, Mika is smart enough not to directly tell me to back off, so instead she said "Remember what Jennifer said. Caregivers can't be annoying." Pretty diplomatic for a 12 1/2 year old.

All of the lectures today were directed towards what we needed to know to take the dogs back with us tonight. I was actually nervous about it. When Mika and Fern were by themselves in the yard they did very well. But in the chaos of the training room, both of them were easily distracted. They would work well together and then one would be distracted by a noise or commotion. Logically I knew that it was the chaos of the room, not the apparent ADD of both kid and dog that made things seems so hard. Still, there were moments where I actually questioned the idea that we could make this work. It seemed like having two toddlers again.

As I'm sitting here typing this, I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a prefect match. Some of the dogs have had a very hard time adjusting to the hotel, staying with people they've known for 2 days. When Fern first came in, she and Mika spent about 20 minutes playing with a red rubber ball. Then they sat on the floor and Mika was petting Fern. After 5 minutes of quiet, I looked over and both of them had fallen asleep on the floor. It was sweet! I bet no other match has that happen tonight. Now that it's a calm and quiet room, Fern has done everything Mika cued and then some. Mika has done everything from feeding, to walking, to taking her potty. In exchange, Fern is sleeping on Mika's bed and seems willing to consider sharing.

Another side note: Mika's left wrist just started hurting out of no where about an hour ago. She wasn't doing anything with it but gasped and grabbed her wrist. She looked at me, her face turned white and her eyes filled with tears. She started rocking back and forth and said "Mom, my wrist hurts really bad. Like, collarbone, bad." This is not happy news, because the "collarbone bad" refers to when she spontaneously broke her collarbone. No known cause, other than brittle bones. She has a really high tolerance for pain (brittle bones and EDS will do that for you) so it's significant if she actually says something about it.  I've just had her ice her wrist and we'll start the ibuprofen regiment again. Hopefully, it's no more than growing pains and the pain will be gone tomorrow. Crossing my fingers.

One down side

I hesitant to say anything negative about CA because I don't want anyone to doubt what a wonderful organization they are. I completely support them and am immensely grateful for all that they are doing to help my family. That being said, I'm very disappointed about one thing. The food situation.

I asked and was specifically told that the camp would have safe food for Mika. I emailed again a few weeks ago when I found out that she has nut allergies, too. I reminded her that meant no high fructose corn syrup or high fructose foods, no peanuts or almonds, very minimal dairy. The reassured me that they handle food allergies all the time.

I was absolutely unprepared for the complete lack of food for her. We've had 5 suppers and 4 lunches so far. She's been able to eat 1 and a half. Yesterday, she ate two plain rolls, 7 grapes, 3 pieces of watermelon and a large cookie for lunch. That's it. That's all there was for her. Today it was 100% no again. Not a damn thing. So I went and asked Jennifer (the founder) how long the lunch lasted. She said she wasn't sure and I mentioned that I had to go find something for Mika to eat. She looked mortified and told me she was so, so very sorry. Then I felt bad for making her feel like I was bitter, so I told her that this is what we were used to and to not feel bad. She promised me that lunch would last until Mika and I were done eating. I felt that was honestly thoughtful because I expected to almost cram food into her so she didn't miss practice time.

I talked to Judy and Francis about the food options for her. We looked over the meal plans for the rest of camp and found that there is 1 meal (baked chicken) that will probably be safe. Everything else? 100% no. So much for it being food safe for Mika. So we're going out to WalMart as a group for our 1st official outing tomorrow. While we're there, I'll be picking up a week's worth of food for Mika in addition to other important stuff like hair spray and dog toys (heaven forbid this dog not have every toy in WalMart). I can keep food in the kitchen at the training camp and in the fridge in our room. The hotel will let me keep some food in their freezer, too.

It's disappointing. But it's not the end of the world. I just wish they hadn't gotten my hopes up. I'm glad I'm obsessed with being prepared because I've had granola bars and safe snacks in my backpack when we needed them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1st video

Cross your fingers this works. The very short clip is of Mika and Fern practicing their heeling for the trainer.

Day 3

As of 9:45 this morning (approximately 2 minutes after we arrived for the morning) it was apparent to everyone that Mikaela and Fern were the perfect match. We walked into the large training room and by the time I put the stuff on the table, Mika was by the kennels, petting Fern through the front of her kennel. It was so heartwarming to watch them try to get close to each other through the mesh door. When we all had to take our chairs for the start of lectures, Fern just laid in her kennel and stared at Mika.

It was great watching them work together in two practice sessions. It's very important that the dog bond solely with the recipient if at all possible. If the recipient requires a care giver, then the care giver should do only the absolutely necessary work and let the recipient give the commands/treats/etc. I understand the rule and agree with it, but it is so darn HARD to keep your hands off the dogs! They're all adorable and so happy to be around people and it's natural to want to talk to them, make eye contact, and pet them. All of these are no-nos for now. By the end of two weeks it's likely it wouldn't matter if I petted her for 24 hours straight, the minute Mika walked into a room Fern would drop me like a hot potato. It's really wonderful seeing Mika intently listening to all of the dog training lectures and absorbing it so thoroughly.

During the afternoon, they practiced having the dogs walk exactly at their side, with the leaches loose. They have a rule against using a leach to pull your dog because the dog should be doing it without prompting. It a very short amount of time, Fern was walking exactly beside Mika, even when the treats were stopped. The trainer said that they were doing it exactly right.

When we had some down time, Mika and Fern were sitting in a corner and casually practicing cues like sit, down, lap, up, and off. Every time Fern did something right, she got a treat. (Which is really a piece of her regular dog food. She really likes it.) When Mika took a minute to rest Fern looked around and saw a drawer cabinet next to the chairs. She walked over, grabbed the drawer handle and pulled it open. The she trotted over, smiled at Mika and indicated she wanted her treat! I nearly fell over in shock and I pushed the drawer back in to see if she would do it again. When Fern had finished her treat, she went back to the drawer and pulled it open again, then came back for her treat. Yes, Fern trained Mika to give her a treat every time she opened a drawer!!! We showed the trainer what Fern did and he laughed and told us what the cue word so at least we know how to ask her to do it. It's a good thing she's such a sweet dog because she's smart enough to get herself in a whole lot of trouble. Just like Mika. Hmm...maybe this isn't the best match for my mental health....

We got to go out to eat with the other family from the Houston area. (I absolutely love them.) It was our unofficial celebration of our last night free. The dogs come home with us tomorrow and then we're not allowed on any other unofficial outings with them. We can't event take them for walks on the sidewalks up and down the street, we have to stay in the designated area in the back. That is going to be insanely hard for someone with any energy level of a caffeinated two year old. I'm having a hard time with that because it means we can't go to Walmart, CVS or anywhere with the dogs. So anyone who can't leave the recipient in the hotel alone or with a second care giver can't go out unless they can get one of the other families to babysit the dog. I'm REALLY struggling with that.

The only downside is there has been a real issue finding food for Mikaela. Yesterday they didn't have anything for her for lunch or supper and today for lunch all she could really eat was some grapes (<10 grapes is usually safe), 2 rolls and a vegan cookie. We went out to supper tonight which is good because she couldn't eat the supper. I'm not sure what to do about it, but if we're on lockdown as of tomorrow, this is going to become a real issue.

Okay, I'm going to try and put up a couple of short videos. I hope it works.


I don't know how to respond to comments! Do I comment in the post? I'm so confused! Does anyone know?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some pics

Day 2: We have a match!!!

I can't really think of a good way to describe today. Unorganized, hectic, inspiring, nerve-wracking, fabulous...they all are accurate.

We have a daily schedule in our education book they gave us. (It contains all of the lectures and other valuable information in a 2" binder.) There are 4 current or former military members in our group and we all came to the conclusion that the schedule really wasn't going to be followed. It was more to give us a vague idea of what to expect. Yesterday they said they did more of the lectures so today we could spend most of the day with the dogs and we would be matched at the end of the day. When they started the morning with a 45 minute lecture, it was hard for everyone to focus because we knew it was time to spend time with the dogs.

Last night Mika was discouraged and a little hurt that all the dogs we met were so obviously not good matches. At the end of the day, they warned us that not all of the dogs we handled were dogs on the short list for us, some were just fillers. I can guarantee the last 3 we had were fillers. They were absolutely wrong. I kept reminding her that the dogs were all so overwhelmed that everyone was having a hard time, not just her. Still, it made me a little nervous that everyone kept asking us what dog we liked and we very honestly had to say "None of the ones we worked with."

When we finally spread out for the 1st 'practice session' of the day, Kim (our favorite volunteer) went straight to a cage and made a beeline to us with the dog. She was obviously excited when she introduced us to Fern, a golden/lab mix. It very apparent when you see Fern with her litter mates that she is by far the smallest one. She's still a lab mix, so it's not like she's 5 pounds. Still, she's much more delicately built than any of the other 20 dogs. In fact, I had several people point out who Mika and Fern matched because they were the most delicately built people in the room. So yes, the two skinny ones hung out together. :-)

We spent more than an hour with Fern in the morning and it was wonderful. She was a little nervous at first but within 5 minutes she was sprawled on the floor in front of us, demanding we rub her belly. She was making brief eye contact with Mika, which they told us was a huge sign of trust. We watched as other people changed dogs, but the trainers didn't even stop at us. It was obvious that we were doing fine, considering my kid and the dog were sprawled on the floor together.

The dogs were put in the kennels for a badly needed break while we all had lunch. After lunch, the dogs came back out again and we got to have Fern back right away. It was immediately apparent that Fern was not interested in us at all. She was staring out the window, moving toward the other dogs, staring at her kennel, anything but enjoying her time with us. We even tried treats and she started ignoring them, too. I grabbed a trainer as she walked by and told her what was going on. She was surprised that there was such an obvious change, so she returned Fern to her kennel and she went and talked to the other trainers. They consulted the list and Kim brought out Horten, her litter mate. We went back to our area in the room, but Horten was so nervous that he put his head on Mika's shoulder and just shook like a leaf. The trainer saw this and moved our little party out to a small spot in the backyard. It was amazing how all it took was a red rubber ball and Horton ignored everyone else but Mikaela. When we went back into the main room, Horton was distracted, but he could focus back on Mika if she called him. When the trainer came by to ask how it was going again, Mika said she really liked Horten, but Fern was staring at her from her kennel and she was starting to feel guilty. Of course the trainers immediately reassured her that there was nothing to feel guilty about, but they put Horten away and we went back out to the yard with Fern.

It was amazing how the minute we walked out the door, Mika was the center of Fern's universe. She wanted to toss a stuffed animal to her and she would bounce back to give it back to her. Fern, bless her heart, hasn't quite mastered the concept of holding the animal and wagging her tail at the same time. It was so cute! After 5 minutes of outside time we headed back inside and found all the other dogs put away. Kim was worried because we hadn't had a chance to meet with Jennifer, the founder. Jennifer and Kim came over and quietly asked what dog we liked. I didn't say a word, because I feel strongly that both dogs will be completely safe for Mika's physical safety. I have no concerns that they would jump on her or rough house and accidentally break her bones. This dog is going to be for her, not me, so she needs to make that final choice. Mika visibly struggled with her decision and with prompting admitted that she like both dogs, but maybe Fern a little more. Kim and Jennifer immediately nodded and said that they liked Fern, too. Mika was so openly uncomfortable deciding between them, that Jennifer reminded her that she wasn't stuck with Fern whether they loved each other or hated each other. As people work with their matched dog during the first few days, there are times it becomes obvious that it isn't a good match after all, and dogs can be changed. If someone thought it wasn't going to work out with Fern, for whatever reason, she would be given a chance with Horten. That reassured Mika greatly and she beamed when it was officially announced that she was paired with Fern.

On a personal note: I'm not used to this much down time. There is so much time spent sitting or just waiting and it's about killing me! I have an unfortunate amount of energy (I'm slightly better than your average 2 year old) and I do much better when I'm busy. I'm hoping that there will be more activity in the coming days or I'm just going to have to pace in the back of the training room. The good news is that one of the dads (ex-marine) is already doing that, so we can make it a team sport. :-)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day 1

I'm honestly not sure what the best way to summarize today without boring you to tears. Given my almost obsessive need to have things organized, I'm going to try to mimic the schedule we were given for the day.

0610 EST, 0510 CST- I had a nightmare that we overslept and missed the bus to camp, so we couldn't get a dog. I came flying out of my bed, rushed in the bathroom and started the morning routine. By the time I realized I woke up an hour early, I was too awake to go back to sleep. I hate waking up early by accident.

0845- Breakfast at the Hilton was absolutely amazing. I was full until lunch. Seriously.

0930- 1200- We all arrive at camp and get to know each other. Then Jennifer (the founder) and Kevin (the intern) gave some basic lectures on what to expect with a dog, the camp in general, etc. They also said that the trainers had a 'short list' of dogs that they thought would be good matches for us. I was actually relieved to hear that because the odds of Mika picking the worst possible match for her are always high. Worst, of course, is relative, but a high energy dog who loves to roughhouse is a guaranteed broken bone for my kid.

1200 They brought us Dominos! They weren't kidding when they said we would all gain 5 pounds.

1300-1345 We finally got to meet the dogs! The dogs sat in kennels along the walls all morning and there were times of complete silence and times of deafening barks. They warned us the dogs would be really excited to be out of the kennel and to not be surprised if all the dogs were energetic. They had us scatter around the room and the trainers brought us a dog and left us to "love on the dog". All the dogs were barking, running, sniffing and doing anything except paying attention to the people the may be matched with. Everyone had the same problems at once and a couple of times it nearly became dangerous. One woman in a wheelchair was nearly pulled over the side of her chair when her dog lunged. I had taken the leash for the dog Praline from Mikaela and she unexpectedly bolted. She was strong enough that she pulled me out of my chair and I skid several feet before I could brace myself. The dad across from me had the same experience and he was stronger than me (like that's hard). The dogs did settle down after a while, but by that time our time to meet specific dogs was over.

I thought I was being unreasonably harsh, but all of the other adults have said the same thing. It wasn't helpful that they had the dogs caged up all day and then hand them off to us. The dogs didn't like being caged and were all overwhelmed with the new experience, new dogs, new smells and new people, so it was no surprise that they were wild. This wasn't fair to the humans because we couldn't get a fair assessment of the dogs. Some of the people (my daughter included) were overwhelmed by all the noise and frantic activity happening around them.

Poor Mika was really disillusioned after meeting the dogs. Even though the trainers and volunteers said that this wouldn't be the only chance to spend time with the dogs and not to expect to find a bond right away, she still hoped. It was hard to watch sometimes because Mika was so earnest in following all the advice they gave. She petted and sweet talked them and tried to meet their eyes and a couple of the dogs couldn't have cared less. Undoubtedly some of it was the shear chaos of the room, but these dogs are not matches anyways. Even though it wasn't in any way personal, it was obvious it really hurt her feelings to have dogs actively walk away from her when she was trying to be so attentive.

1400-1500- A couple of short lectures and we were done!

1530-now- A dad and I made an impromptu trip to find the nearest alcohol store and gave the directions to all the other adults who asked. We had supper, which is made by a volunteer. Each volunteer signs up to make an ENTIRE meal for 30 people!!! Mikaela and I walked the three blocks to CVS to get rid of some energy and get the toothpaste that SOMEONE forgot to pack.

I can't say enough about how nice the people are. The CA volunteers really think that they are so lucky that we came to them to get dogs. There hasn't been one person who hasn't said how excited they were that we were here. The other families/recipients are amazing. There is a wide range of disabilities, both visible and hidden. I haven't heard anyone say "What's wrong with you?" or "Why do you need a dog?" Instead, they share their story with you and listen if you want to talk. If you don't, no one pries. It's amazing. Oh, and I want to give credit to the Hilton staff. One of the staff members went through all of the desks in the offices to find a pencil and pencil sharpener for my daughter so she could draw.

Okay, I'm tired. (This is what happens when you accidentally wake yourself up at 0510 CST like an idiot.) I apologize if I've rambled or made grammar mistakes, but I'm not proof-reading. We're both really excited to see what tomorrow brings. Hopefully by the end of the day we will know who Mika's match will be!

PS. I'll try to get pics and videos posted as soon as I can.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

People I forgot to talk about.

I forgot to say how great everyone has been so far!!! I've met the week's hosts, who take a week of vacation to come drive down from North Carolina to volunteer. Paul and Valerie are wonderful and Valerie drove me over to the store to pick up rice milk for Mika. I got to finally meet Francis face to face, after a year of emails and phone calls and she's as nice in person as she was over email.

I had a chance to spend time with the other family from Houston and I really like them. We got to enjoy the two former soldiers while we took the scenic route to our hotel and they are both hilarious. I haven't gotten to meet any of the other families, but so far it seems almost like a loose knit family. We'll see as the days progress, but so far, it's great.

We're here!

We made it!! It feels unreal, even though I'm sitting her in the hotel room typing this. Here are some of the days highlights:

I like to be early to places, but I accidentally got to the airport nearly three hours early. It was a once in a lifetime lack of any traffic on I610, a line of 3 people at the check-in counter and NO WAIT at the TSA. I know, I'll never again have that type of luck.

On a side note, the IAH restrooms are not clean. Atlanta is only moderately better. Cleanest bathrooms in an airport? O'Hare and San Diego. Okay, back on track.

We had a good flight into Atlanta and found the Canine Assistant people easily. I knew that we had another family on the same flight with us going to CA (I really like them), so I thought we would be loaded up on the bus shortly. What they didn't tell us is that they tried to schedule us all to come in as close together as possible so they wouldn't have to make multiple trips. I understand that logically, but we spent 3 hours in IAH and 2 hours on a plane, so being told to wait indefinitely was not fun. I wish they had told us to expect that because the extra 2+ hours of waiting were really hard. We were put in a small seating area and told to wait with our luggage. We were very fortunate to have the other family with us so we could take turns sitting with the luggage while others went for a walk.

The bus finally came and we all lugged our luggage down and started to load it on. It worked out that there were more people than the bus could hold, so 4 people would need to walk to the minivan in the parking garage. Mika and I were already on the bus, but we gave up our seats to a woman (and companion) who didn't think she would be able to walk that far. Everyone was so grateful I was embarrassed. Today, both of us are able to walk that far and it would be selfish to refuse to do that. We had a great time in the minivan, our driver (hilarious!), two former soldiers, me and my kid in the backseat. We got a little lost, but it was so funny, it didn't bother any of us that we ended up late for supper.

There were 'packets' waiting for us at the hotel. Each one was a small bag contained items from Canine Assistants and put together local Girl Scout troop, who added ribbons and lots of flare. There were 2 photo frames, a dog toy, a little carrying case for disposal bags (is there any more discreet way to say that?) a travel water bowl and frisbee and other good stuff. There was a note in there from CA explaining what will happen in the next few days. We got to dinner a little late, met with our 1st week hosts, unpacked our bags, and made a quick trip to Publix to get some rice milk and safe snacks for Mikaela.

I'm sitting here looking around at the hotel room that will be home for the next two weeks and it's a bit overwhelming. The room is small and it seems somewhat mind boggling that I can share this room with my child and a new dog for two weeks without killing at least one of them.

I wasn't at all nervous about the training camp, but the letter in our packet repeatedly said not to be nervous and not to worry. Oh, and they reminded us that we weren't guaranteed to leave with a dog. I completely understand that, because if they don't think the dog can be of any help to you or if they think you wouldn't be good for the dog, they're not going to support that. In fact, I agree with that. Still, if you add all of that together and the reassurance that the mental and physical exhaustion will be worth it.... I'm getting nervous.