The weirdness of having a service dog. And a plea for donations.

One of the things that I really struggle with as a result of having a service dog with me in public is how much attention he draws. It’s an oddity to see a dog in the grocery store. I understand that. Honestly I do. But he is clearly marked as a service dog, and I would think that people would have at least some idea of how to behave around one.

Some do, some don’t. Most people are just curious. Mostly they assume I’m training him for someone else. Sometimes I correct them, most times I don’t unless they ask me who I’m training him for. They comment on how beautiful he is.

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I can’t exactly argue with that.

It’s an exercise in boundaries for me. You can ask me personal questions, but that does not mean I need to answer them. So generally I don’t.

Occasionally, people really throw me, though.

Like the girl at the cash register at the grocery store who asked me if I was blind.

I had been conversing with her for several minutes, making eye contact.

No, I’m not blind.

Then what’s your dog for?

He’s a medical alert dog.

What’s that?

So I explained to her how there are all different kinds of service dogs who alert their handlers to things like drops in blood sugar, seizures, etc.

I laughed and laughed and laughed once I got to the car. She was just innocently ignorant, but it was still hilarious. And now she knows a bit more.

It amazes me the number of adults who pet my dog while he’s working. Or who try to. You expect it from kids, and I try to fend them off the best I can (some of them are freaking persistent and their parents are useless), but adults? Come on, guys. You know better than that!

Sheesh.

Anyway, I wrote a post about Steve specifically and about how to act around a service dog in general for the Team Unruly website. You should go check it out.

In addition, on May 17th, I will be walking in a fundraiser event to help raise money for the Susquehanna Service Dogs organization. I am fortunate enough that I had the ability and the right dog at the right time and could train my own service dog, but many folks can’t. SSD trains dogs for a variety of different types of assistance jobs, which is an expensive undertaking. They’re good people, and it makes my heart feel good to be able to give back a little bit, to maybe help somebody get a dog that they need by helping the organization raise money.

My personal page with donation information is located here and while I’m not trying to pressure anybody, if you are so inclined to donate, the link to do so is there. I am excited about this. I have several girls from work who are also going to walk, so I’m looking forward to that. It should be good.

My little way to try to help, to try to make a difference. Every little bit counts, right? Something is more than nothing.

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Fun with gutters.

We are working on trying to fix Steve’s striding in flyball. He jumps too early before the startline and he leaps at the box from too far away, which causes his whole body to collapse onto the box. Which isn’t great for his body, the boxloader’s body, or his speed.

We’ve been playing around with plastic gutters trying to get him to change where he lands and where he takes off from. It’s been an interesting process. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of where things need to be set now, though. 4 feet before the start line, 5 feet after the last jump, and 5 feet before the box.

Hopefully this will help him run more smoothly and be gentler on him. Hopefully.

In other flyball news, Bean is now officially the fastest dog on the team with a slew of 3.9s at our last tournament and a new personal best of 3.917. I’d love to see a 3.8 out of him. He got his Flyball Dog Champion- Gold title a couple weeks ago.

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He’s not particularly impressed.

And Hambone is coming along nicely. I am stuck with a dog who comes back to food, unfortunately, but at least he’s coming back now? Tonight was his first time triggering the flyball box and catching his ball and he rocked it. I am really proud of him! We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re getting there.

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Touching lives: PTSD Service Dogs

I was at the store the other night with Steve, and there was a gentleman with a table set up outside the check out lanes soliciting donations for a group that provides support for veterans.

Since I’ve really started dealing with my PTSD stuff and learning about it, I’ve started to feel a really strong connection to our veterans who suffer from it as well as a result of their experiences during their service. My therapist suggested I watch the Hurt Locker, and that was a really powerful experience for me. So I try to give where I can, which admittedly is not much at the moment. Money is hard.

Anyway, I did have a few spare dollars on this night, so Steve and I went over and dropped them in his jar. The gentleman thanked me, and complimented and asked about Steve.

I don’t look disabled, and so many people assume that I am training Steve for some organization or another, so they frequently ask who I’m training him for. I said he’s not in training, he’s my dog. He looked a little surprised, and asked what I use him for. I don’t like to answer this question– I find it really intrusive and it makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed– but for some reason, it felt right to answer him.

He nodded and asked if I’d mind telling him what kind of things he does to help me. So I told him. And I told him how happy I am that there are people recognizing how much psychiatric service dogs can help our vets who are coming back with such awful PTSD, and how Steve makes it possible for me to live my life again, and how blessed I feel to have him.

This is something that is so important to my heart right now– I wish I knew of an organization specifically for providing PTSD service dogs to veterans in need that I could contribute to, and I wish I knew how to raise funds for them. Maybe I could start selling some of my photographs? I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody’d even want to buy them.

But it’s something to think about.

I love that we had this conversation. I love that he listened, and that I could provide him with information. I love that I was strong enough in that moment to be vulnerable, and my vulnerability was helpful. I love that I found connection with a stranger because of the dog who saves my life every day. I wish that everybody who needed one could have a dog like Steve.

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Our flyball weekend in pictures.

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I think it’s time for new skid boots for Steve.

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Steve took part of the box with him on one run.

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Boxes and balls.

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14″ jumps. The world changes when your height dog craps out.

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The photographer happen to catch all the insanity. Scary pictures! (We went For Exhibition Only after this race and jumped four big dogs over 7″ jumps. No points, but good experience for a green dog and our dogs still got to have fun.)

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New title for Bean, along with a new personal best for him of 3.917. He is now officially faster than Steve has ever been.

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Up and coming flyball dog

Yay Hammy! I’m really proud of the progress he’s making. He was afraid of the hit-it board at first, even when it was flat on the ground. And then whenever he got his ball, he’d take it and run around like a lunatic and there was no way he was going to come back. But now he’s coming back to a food-pouch tug toy (most of the time). But still, ball trumps tug toy. But maybe not food.

I’m excited about him. I think he’ll be a nice, quick little flyball dog someday.

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A Serviceable Dog

They say you don’t always get the dog you want, you get the dog you need. Never has that been more true than with my Steve. He was such a shy, reactive puppy. He was so hard for me to deal with. I was used to training confident pit bulls, not wilting flower herdy dogs. He was so afraid of other puppies his size that he had to play with the toy breed puppies in puppy class. He was reactive to anything that he deemed out of the ordinary. If I left my shoes in the wrong place he’d freak out and not come in the room. People were terrifying. Dogs were terrifying.

I really struggled. This was not what I had had in mind. This was not what I had bargained for.

But we worked on it. We worked hard. Desensitization and “Look at That” and as much non-scary socialization as I could manage. Nobody was allowed to touch him but they could throw him cookies. And as time went on and he matured, it became more and more apparent that all of my hard work had paid off.

He’s still a complete spazmonkey around dog sports, but in the rest of life, he truly has become a good, stable, level-headed dog.

Which is good, because that has allowed me to make him into my Service Dog.

Rockin' the rubber booties.

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know I lost a significant portion of the hearing in my left ear a couple years ago. That’s where this began, really. I was so scared I’d be sleeping with my good ear down and not hear the phone or the alarm clock, so I taught him to wake me up when my alarm went off. And then I encouraged him to be extremely perseverant about it, because when I started all these medications for sleep and mental stability last year, it became harder and harder to get up in the morning. I started relying on him.

And then I started taking it further. Just at home. Just because I could, and because he is a tremendous comfort to me. We are so close. He and I have some kind of connection that I don’t even know how to describe. So I taught him to interrupt me when I start to get panicky and flighty or to get stuck in that dissociative place where bad stuff happens. He alerted naturally to it, but I taught him to paw me, to lick me, to jump up on me until he got a response.

And then one day my therapist asked about my using him a service dog, since I was having so very much trouble in public places with sensory overload and panic, and he was already interrupting me and helping me to ground myself at home. I was like… I have no idea if he could handle being out in public like that. He’s such a spaz. But she encouraged me to try.

Down/stay during a doctor's appointment

He has been remarkable. I have added body-blocking on my hearing-impaired side to his list of tasks, because it was easy to grow out of his solid knowledge of heel position and my need to keep people from being able to (unintentionally) “sneak up” on me without my hearing them. (Hello, PTSD issues.)

He has been solid, and the more he goes out, the more solid he becomes. He hardly pays any attention to kids (even ones who bark at him), to other people, to drive-by pettings. It did take him awhile to figure out that not all check-outs have treats for dogs the way that PetsMart does. He’s alarm barked a couple of times (a knock on the office door, a doorbell sound in a diner) but even that he has learned isn’t necessary. That this is a different place than home. That this is a different job.

It’s harder for me, I think, than for him. I wish I could make him as invisible as my disabilities. He gets so much attention. Kids want to pet him or screech and run away in terror. People ask me all kinds of questions. Sometimes they get very invasive, and that is hard for me to deal with. They always seem to think I’m training him for someone else or they seem to imply that I’m a faker. No, he’s my service dog. They look at me blankly.

Not all disabilities are visible.

Bookstores bore him.

I worry about being challenged, but it’s only happened a couple of times. And both times I kept ahold of myself and was able to deal with it without freaking out. They’re only allowed to ask you two questions– is the dog a service dog, and what tasks does he perform. It is hard to answer the second without giving away more personal information than I’d like, but so be it. I carry a card that has all the ADA information on it as pertains to service dogs and rights of access. I also carry postcards with his picture on it and reminders of how to behave around service dogs, with all the ADA info on the back.

Largely he has been warmly welcomed everywhere I’ve taken him. He goes to all of my doctor’s appointments. He goes to restaurants and squishes himself under the table and people don’t even know he’s there. He goes shopping with me, which is where I need him the most, walks next to the cart, doesn’t mess with any food, holds a down stay while I unload the cart at the check-out. Wags his tail politely when people baby-talk him.

It makes me feel so self-conscious. We’ve been doing this for months now, and I know that I could not do life without him right now. I could not function. I could not keep my head together enough to grocery shop without him there to nose-poke me and remind me of where I am and what is real.

It scares me to rely on him so much. He is lame again– we are seeing his rehab vet in a couple hours– and I don’t care if he can return to sports any time soon as long as he can continue to accompany me places that I need to go.

I never expected to have a Service Dog. I never expected to need a Service Dog. I never believed that Steve, my shy, reactive, crazy Border Collie could ever be solid and stable and quiet enough to be a Service Dog, but for whatever reason, when I put that vest on him, he knows it’s time to work and he knows what he needs to do.

Dogs are amazing. My dog is especially amazing. I am beyond lucky to have him, beyond grateful that he chose me and that the breeder allowed me to have him. I genuinely do not know what I’d do without him.

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Wow. Where does the time go?

I can’t believe I haven’t written here since August. Well, I can. My absolutely craptastic year has continued to be craptastic. Three psych hospitalizations in one year. I should get a medal or something. We play the this med, that med, this other med game. I think what I’m on is working, finally. I see my therapist twice a week. She is awesome. But it’s still hard. Really really hard.

And I don’t know what I’d do without my dogs. They are my family, my rock, my comfort, my joy.

(Ok well, them and a couple of good friends and this wonderful man that I met in the loony bin….)

The dogs are all well.

Luce is 11 now, and she’s starting to show it. She is gray-faced and hard of hearing. She has started barking for really no apparent reason. And she believes that the rules do not really apply to her. Old dog license, I guess. But she still loves to play with the young dogs, and she still gets the zoomies, and she snores like crazy at night.

I signed her up for a Rally Obedience class starting next month. I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t know how much she’ll remember, but it will be so good to get out there with my old lady dog and do our thing.

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Steven is fantastic. I have come to depend on him so much. He goes to therapy with me. He helps me stay grounded.

We haven’t done anything by way of trialing in agility or rally, but we are still taking agility classes. I dropped him down to a more beginner class because 1) I felt like I couldn’t ever be successful in the class I was in, 2) all the other people in that class were way WAY more experienced than I was, and 3) I have a couple friends in the beginner class. It was absolutely the right decision. It is way more fun for me to run courses that I have a chance of being successful at.

Steve is still an over-the-top wingnut. He’s fast and he’s crazy and I love my agility trainer for her breakaway tire. He still doesn’t have much of a startline stay, but he works really well at a distance so I get away with it a lot of the time.

We played flyball last weekend, and he started off really rough but did settle down and run mostly clean after that, though not as fast as he used to. He ended up having to go in for a green dog on our Open team, so he double ran most of the day on Sunday. He ran third on that team, which was interesting, because Steve absolutely believes that he should go first, and because we haven’t run anything but start in a really really long time so I haven’t had to worry about passing on another dog in forever. But we did well! I am really proud of that.

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Bean continues to do well also. He is 19 months old now, and he has the nicest personality. He is relatively calm in the house. He is so sweet and so snuggly. He is fantastic with other dogs, and he lives for his day at “camp” every Tuesday. I’m also really happy with how he’s turning out physically.

Beantastic ran his first full-time position at the flyball tournament last weekend. And he ran as start dog on our “fast” team. No pressure! He hadn’t run in a tournament since August, and I was worried about how he would do. His box turns weren’t the best in the world, but I did get compliments about him from people I really respect, so that was very cool. He ran faster than Steve, giving me a couple of 4.0s. Very proud of him. Our team set a new club record of 18.184, which was very exciting! And Bean got his FDCh-S title (1000 points).

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And Hambone, the new guy, has fit right in like he’s been here forever. He has a wonderful personality, he is super athletic, and he enjoys being a lapdog. He loves people. He gets along great with most dogs. And I think he’s going to be a nice, quick little flyball dog once I get him trained. (He’s working on a hit-it board and on restrained recalls right now.)

I love having a little dog. He’s not tiny– 15 1/2″ and 23 pounds, but he’s small enough to pick up and cuddle and he fits great on my lap. I wonder so much where he came from, what kind of life he had before he showed up as a stray. He was completely untrained and didn’t know what a leash was, but he has an outstanding temperament.

It was a risky move, taking in a dog I’d never even met, based on a couple of photographs and the opinion of a person I didn’t know. But he’s a perfect fit. He was meant to be here.

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hambone

So that’s what’s been happening in my world. I need to try to update more often, but it’s hard. There are so many other things that I need to get done, and my energy and mental abilities are so limited right now. But I’m still here. My dogs are still awesome. And I thank everybody who still drops by here to check on me.

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So this happened.

Since Mushroom died, I’ve been sort of kind of looking for a new dog. I got my name on the list for a litter of Border Collie Rat Terrier mixes from somebody I know, but they won’t happen until next year and I don’t really want a puppy. I went to the shelter a couple weeks ago and met a dog there but he didn’t really do it for me.

And then a friend of a friend on Facebook found a little brown dog.

I love the internet. Have I mentioned that lately?

And so there he was, this attractive, trim, athletic-looking brown dog. Right age (about a year), right size (about 15 inches). Athletic, active, good with other dogs, friendly and sweet, not bouncing off the walls crazy busy, quiet, not destructive in the house. And being fostered by someone who knows flyball and knows sport dogs and could decently evaluate whether a dog would actually be a good sport dog.

Only problem? He was really far away. Too far for me to drive.

Conveniently, there is a flyball tournament this weekend and while my team is not playing, lots of other teams are. Including teams from way down yonder in North Carolina where this little boy was living. It took a little pleading and a little teamwork, but the flyball community stepped up and found room in an overstuffed minivan for a small brown dog and his stuffed duck.

And I drove down to West Virginia with three dogs in the car and picked him up.

I was kind of nervous about getting a dog completely sight unseen. I won’t lie. And I wasn’t completely planning on a rescue dog for my next sport dog.

But he is so incredibly sweet. Even if he doesn’t work out as a sport dog (and he is rather timid so I think it will take some time and some work, though he does like to tug!), he is just such a nice dog and I am so happy to have him with me.

I am so grateful to the internet community and to the flyball community for the hookup and for making it possible for him to get to me.

And so I introduce to you…. Hambone.

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browndog

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Welcome home Hammy. Welcome home.

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My heart has joined the Thousand

I put Mushroom to sleep last night. We had thought a week or two but he spent the day laboring so hard to breathe and he started vomiting and there were chunks of blood in it. I couldn’t let him suffer just for me. I wanted those two weeks, but I couldn’t sit by and let him suffer. I loved him too much.

So a friend took us in last night and my bosses met us there and we sent him off quietly and gently. He was ready. Gently, so gently.

My bed was terribly empty last night. He has slept beside me every night for almost nine years. I can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe I scarcely had time to say goodbye.

Mushroom was such a good dog. He was The Good Dog. He only wanted to be right. He only wanted to please. He only wanted to eat and lounge and snuggle and have his belly rubbed. I miss him so much.

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Mushroom loves summer.

Rest easy, buddy. Rest easy.

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Chest xrays you never want to see.

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Air is black. Lungs are supposed to be full of air. Mushroom’s lungs are full of badness and tumors. The little white circles you can see? Tumors. My heart is breaking.

He’s been coughing for a little while. We were treating him as kennel cough with antibiotics and a steroid to help with inflammation. The cough improved somewhat, but his breathing has continued to be labored. Last night he didn’t want to walk up the steps. This morning he didn’t want to eat until I put cheese in his food. Mushroom lives for food. That he didn’t want to eat was a bad bad sign.

So we took xrays and there’s really nothing to be done but keep him as comfortable as possible with cough medication and steroids. A week, maybe two. And that’s all I get with my sweet sweet boy who has never wanted anything but to be good.

It’s just not fair.

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