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!