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.

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