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

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

Day 5 video- Lights on lights off

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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.

http://www.11alive.com/news/article/234515/40/Footless-puppy-needs-help

Day 3: working together for the 1st time

video
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



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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

videos...again

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


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

Funny

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

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.

Help!

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.

Friday, March 16, 2012

45 hours and counting

It's getting down to the final hours! My daughter is so excited she actually wakes up smiling. I can't explain how epic that is. I'm excited, too, but the day to day stress is overwhelming right now.

Because I'm going to be gone from work for two weeks, I've been trying to cram a month's worth of work into 1 week. I've been staying long hours, so my house is not nearly as clean as I would like. Laundry has piled up, we're out of food (I did that on purpose), I need to do last minute shopping....the list could go on and on. It's a lot more fun being a kid and anticipating a trip than being the adult who actually has to plan for it. :-)

On a positive note, I finally found a baby-sitter for our three bettas. I couldn't stand the thought of them not being fed for 2 weeks. I know some people do that, but that seems so cruel! Yes, even our fish are spoiled.

As I write about this, I can feel the excitement growing. If I'm not careful, I may actually break into giggles and scare my office mate. Almost 44 hours, almost 44 hours.....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

1 week to go!!!

The first word out of my daughter's mouth this morning was "One week to go!" At this time next week we'll be in Georgia settling into our hotel room. I'm swinging between excitement that our time is finally here and panic about how much I have to do before we leave. We'll be gone for two weeks!!! There is a lot of things that need to be taken care of to leave that long. Like our fish. I still have no idea what to do with our fish.

Yesterday I rearranged our dining room to make room for our new kennel. I'm not a huge fan of dog kennels, so I got a huge one to make sure the dog has plenty of room. This cage is 42"x24"x48". How big is that? My 5'6" child can sit in it comfortably. In fact, she did so yesterday, just to make sure it was big enough.

One week! One week! One week!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's in a name

I had a conversation with my daughter last night that went something like this:

Mika: What if the dog has some stupid name like Patrick or Fox? Can we change it?

Me: I don't think we would be allowed to change it. However, we can always give the dog a nickname and use that instead of it's name if necessary.

Mika: Good. I don't want him/her to be embarrassed to hear it's name in public.

Oh the things a preteen can come up with.

11 days to go

The idea of getting a service dog is becoming more concrete as we get closer to the day we leave. I'm frantically making lists of things to do before we go and what we should pack. I still haven't decided what to do with our 3 bettas. Should we board them? Is that even possible? Should I leave them with one of those vacation feeders and assume they'll be okay? I still haven't decided.

I'm trying to figure out how to arrange for all of our medications to last through the two weeks. There are a few that will run out before we return, but who knows if the insurance company will let us get refills early. That's going to be a fun phone call, I'm sure.

I still haven't decided where to put the dog cage. The only real option is in the dining room, but it will be a very tight squeeze. Essentially, it will block access to one side of the table. However, I don't want to put it in my daughter's bedroom. Blech.

Another thing I just realized. We'll be flying out of an airport that is about an hour's drive (depending on traffic) from our house. Do I spend $60 for each of us to use a shuttle or do I try and park in the economy lot? Will my car be safe in the lot for two weeks? Granted, I don't drive a nice car and I'm fairly confident that Buicks are not high on the 'cars to steal' list. Maybe I'll take off the gas cap and the radiator cap and call it good. My car won't run with either one of them not properly tightened, so that seems like a good way to insure the car won't go far.

It's all of these practical details that I failed to think about when we started the countdown to our camp. The good news is that my daughter's school decided to play nice and they will give us the two weeks of school work in advance so she's not behind when she returns. That means I get to try homeschooling my child for a few weeks. Spring Break is next week, so she'll be away from school for three weeks total. I'm going to try and keep her on a school schedule as much as possible so it won't be such a shock to the system when she returns. Trying to get a preteen up in the mornings is always a challenge, so there is no guarantee of success.

Another piece of good news: I told our apartment managers that we will be gone the last two weeks of March (so they don't think we're dead) and we'll be returning with a service dog. I was all prepared to fight and remind them of the ADA laws. Instead the woman told me congratulations on getting the dog and that there is no deposit or 'pet rent' because it is a service dog. How nice is it not to have to fight!!!

Only 11 days, only 11 days......

Friday, March 2, 2012

A little bit of a sad story

  We've casually discussed what to say when kids at school or random people ask where we've been for two weeks. We're both private people and I have no interest in discussing my daughter's health with people who don't care about her. The general idea we came up with was for her to say "I've been in Georgia" and leave it at that. If they persist, she can say she went with her mom to visit some friends. All of this, of course, is true but it's not the full story.

Last night Mika was emailing her best friend. We leave for dog camp in two and a half weeks and she was trying to figure out how to explain that. I told her to just tell her friend the truth but Mika refused. I reminded her that this was her best friend and if anyone was going to be supportive, it was her. She just looked at me and teared up. I asked her what was wrong. Tears poured down her face and she said "I just don't want to be judged." I reminded her how supportive people were when the articles came out about her receiving a service dog, but she refused to budge.

It breaks my heart that she's so worried about this, but at the same time I completely understand. I'm  careful about what information I share with people, even those in my family. All it takes is one time being doubted or judged to ruin your trust in that person. I've tried to protect my daughter as much as possible from that, but I have no doubt that she has experienced some of that judgement, too. It may have been she overheard conversations not meant for her, but it still compromised her ability to trust. It makes me so sad to know that she's aware of how judgmental people can be and it has hurt her enough that she's afraid to even tell her friends about it.

Maybe as we get further in the process and she gets that strong bond with her dog, things will change. The whole purpose of the dog is to help her and I don't want her afraid to go out in public with the very dog that is there to help her.