Posts Tagged 'assistance dogs'

It’s Carnival Time! #ADBC and PFAM

Martha at Believe in Who You Are is the host of the October edition of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. Even though she is between dogs right now, she has taken up the challenge and come up with a great theme: Moments. Please visit her Call for Entries for topic ideas, guidelines, the deadline, etc. Thank you, Martha!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

Is this the Moment for you to get involved?

Lately it has struck me how many people follow assistance dog blogs (mine or others) who are not assistance dog partners. I know a lot of wonderful dog trainers and lovers of dogs who follow After Gadget here or on Facebook. When I learned of the topic for the next ADBC, I thought, “Anyone can write on this!” I mean, I know some of you who train assistance dogs or who train pet dogs but read about service dogs on lists or blogs or Facebook must have moments you want to share — don’t you? Moments where you read something about assistance dogs or training that made you stop and think? Moments where you read an idea relating to a service dog issue and you realized it could apply to your pet dog or you? Moments that moved, inspired, or irked you?

Why not join the carnival? Come on over, the moment’s right!

And speaking of getting more people involved in the ADBC, I’ve decided to introduce the hashtag #ADBC on Twitter so that people who are tweeting about the Carnival can more easily spread the word. So please, if you write a post for the ADBC or you read a post about it you like, retweet and add the hashtag #ADBC. I am very fond of everyone who participates regularly (or sporadically) and always look forward to their take on the new topic. At the same time, I think it would be fun to expand our family and get new people reading and posting every quarter. Thank you for your help! (By the way, my handle is @aftergadget.)

Green and white rectangular badge. On top, "Patients" is written in all capital letters, in Times New Roman font in white on a kelly-green background. Below, on a white background, "for a moment" is written in green, slanted up from lower left to upper right, in a more casual, slightly scrawled font.

Meanwhile, another blog carnival is taking place now. The monthly Patients for a Moment (PFAM) blog carnival is being hosted today by Selena of Oh My Aches & Pains! She has done an amazing job of putting together a really big and fantastic(ally frightening!) carnival of The Fright Files: Stories of Medical Mistakes. Don’t miss it!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Mr. Barnum, SD/SDiT

What Kind of Dog Is That? Reactions to a Bouvier Service Dog

This post is for the third Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC), which is now up!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

The Third Carnival Is Up!

There were so many tempting topics to write about for the third ADBC, the theme for which is “Reactions.” Some options were my MCS reactions and how they affect SD training and partnership, my current SDiT’s or past SDs’ reactions to various events in life, other people’s reactions to encountering a disabled trainer, etc.

However, I decided to write something fun: Public reactions to a little-known breed of service dog.

Warning: My SDs are not golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, standard poodles, mixes of any of the above, or German shepherd dogs! Yes, it’s shocking but true!

This topic is a goldmine of hilarity. Oh, the stories! The outrageous guesses! It does a former humor columnist’s heart good to remember and compile them.

Let’s start with the standard question:

“What kind of dog is that?”

If I had a dollar for each time I’d been asked that, I could probably buy a new dog!

In fact, after a few months of public access work with Jersey, my first bouvier des Flandres service dog, I created a little pamphlet that I kept in her pack, which I handed out to the curious general public.

The title of the pamphlet was, “What Kind of Dog Is That?”

It gave a brief overview: That bouviers were developed as a herding and general farm-work dog in the region that is now The Netherlands and Belgium. They herded cattle (their name is French for “cattle herder of Flanders”), herded sheep, pulled carts, drove livestock into town, and protected the humans and animals on the farm from intruders.

It mentions that they are hypoallergenic, with hair instead of fur — hair that grows until you cut it, and mats easily, and requires a lot of upkeep. It also says that they are not the right dog for most people, and as a result, they are not a popular breed in the U.S. (which is good, in my opinion).

I include some basic service dog information, such as that I trained the dog myself, and that I prefer that people not pet or otherwise distract my dog. I also say that I need to get my errands done as quickly as possible to preserve my health and functioning, so I prefer not to have to field a lot of questions.

I encourage them to learn more about assistance dogs by visiting the IAADP website.

When Jersey retired, and Gadget started working, I revised the pamphlet, changing the references from “Jersey” to “Gadget” and the “she”s to “he”s. When Barnum is trained, I’ll update the pamphlet again, although I’ve now developed  a policy of not telling people Barnum’s name (a story for another time).

Usually, when people ask, “What kind of dog is that?” the conversation proceeds as follows:

Me: A bouvier.

Person: A what?

Me: (Enunciating very clearly)  A boo-vee-ay. The full name is bouvier des Flandres. It means “cow-herding dog of Belgium.”

Person: Huh, I’ve never heard of that. A what-was-it, did you say?

Me: Bouvier.

Person: I’ve never heard of them.

Me: They’re not very popular in the U.S. They can be difficult. Some of them can be aggressive if not trained properly.

Person: (Looking disappointed and wary) Oh. Well, he’s beautiful!

Me: Thank you!

Then there are the “Guessers.” These are the people who want to play twenty questions about what type of dog Barnum is.

This starts with the stranger approaching and saying, “Excuse me, is that a [breed]?”

The most common guess is a Labradoodle. Now that I have met doodles, I see why this is such a popular guess. We met a black Labradoodle last summer who could have been Barnum’s twin.

In all fairness to the people who are way off, I give my dogs terrible haircuts. They don’t look at all like the bouviers people see on TV in the big conformation competitions, like Westminster. If I’m really trying hard to give a haircut that looks in any way fashionable, it usually comes out like a giant schnauzer cut or some sort of mutant terrier. Which is why. . . .

Other frequent guesses are giant schnauzers (which is pretty close, appearance-wise), briards (again, a good guess, a lot of similar characteristics), standard poodles (it’s the coat),  various terriers, including a wire-fox terrier (I think it’s the coat) and wheaten terriers (which are about a third the size of a bouv, so again, it’s the coat), Kerry blue terriers (again, yes, if the Kerry blue was on steroids and black or gray), a pointer or Weimaraner (when Gadget’s coat was shaved for the summer), Newfoundlands (size problem in reverse), and in more recent years, thanks to President Obama, Portuguese water dogs (which is close in many ways, except the size) and sometimes, remarkably . . .

Someone will say, “Hey, is that a bouvier?”

I say, “Yes!” And give them a big smile. I might even chat with them a couple of minutes and congratulate them on their discerning eye. Usually they have had a bouvier of their own or have a family member with one, which is why they recognized the breed. (Bouviers are much less common in the Northeast than in the Midwest and California.)

Among the Guessers, there are also the people who question my knowledge of the breed of my dog. Particularly when the doodles trend  had just begun, and people were asking me, “Is that one of those mixes between a poodle and a Lab?” and I’d say, “No,” they wouldn’t leave it at that.

“Are you sure?” They’d say. “Because it really looks like a Lab-poodle or [fill-in-the-blank other doodle breed].”

“Mm,” I’d say, and move on.

Most often, “Challengers,” want to suggest that really my bouvier is a mixed breed, and I just don’t know it:

Person: What kind of dog is that?

Me: He’s a bouvier des Flandres.

Person: Hm, well to me he looks like a mix of a [breed] and [another breed].

Me: Well, he’s a bouvier.

Person: Did you get him from a breeder?

Me: (In the case of Jersey and Gadget) I got her/him from bouvier rescue.

Person: I’ve never heard of a bouvier.

Me: Uh-huh.

Barnum, in particular, stumps people because his coat is so very curly that, even though he resembles them in no other way, poodles are the most common guess.

A recent interchange:

Man: Is that a poodle?

Me: He’s a bouvier des Flandres.

Man: Is that some sort of poodle?

Me: No.

At least all of the breed Guessers are guessing the right species. They earn cookies for that.

There is a whole subsection of people who have not realized that my dogs are, in fact, dogs.

Jersey, bless her heart, was pegged as a non-dog more often than Gadget or Barnum have been. I attribute this to four factors:

  1. Her cropped ears and docked tail. While I am not in favor of cropping and docking, when I first was trying to adopt a bouvier, it was very hard to find a bouvier raised in the US who had natural ears. That is becoming more the norm, but it’s still really rare to find a breeder who doesn’t dock the tails. The lack of doggy ears and tails contribute to the already bear-like appearance of many bouvs.
  2. Her movement. Jersey tended to shamble along, with lowered head, which, again, leant a certain ursine quality to her appearance. This gait is a bouv trait, but Jersey was particularly prone to it.
  3. Her lack of movement. Jersey was an accomplished power-napper. (Another bouv trait.) When she was in a down-stay, she went into all-out “holding-down-the-floor” mode.
  4. As with all my bouvs, I let her hair grow in the winter. This makes them look very shaggy and about twice their actual size. This means that . . .

Bouviers get mistaken for bears a lot.

I know it’s not just me, because I have met a number of people online whose bouvs are named Bear or Teddy or something along those lines.

Also, when I joined the bouvier group on Dogster, the first discussion topic bore the title, “Is that a bear?! Non, c’est un bouvier des Flandres!”

Since I live in an area where black bear sightings are not uncommon, it is both more and less understandable that people would think bouvs are bears. More understandable, because people know there are bears around, so there is more “bear awareness.” Less understandable because, when you actually are used to seeing bears (I had a recurring problem with bears invading my porch and compost bin at my previous home), you see that there are many important distinguishing features between the species, particularly size. A black bear weighs hundreds of pounds, whereas a bouv usually tops out at 100 pounds or so. All of mine have been 75 pounds or less.

The first time I experienced “the bear phenomenon” was when my roommate and I were walking down the main street of Northampton to go to Gay Pride. I was wearing skimpy, slutty black clothes because it was Pride, and that was my tradition (striking a blow against disability stereotypes and feeding my exhibitionist streak at the same time. [I was younger and cuter then; I could carry it off.])

Anyway, a carload of guys, probably college students, went by, and we heard yelling and calling, and Laurel  and I rolled our eyes  at each other, thinking it was just the usual harassment. But then, we heard what one of them actually yelled, which was, “Oh my god! Those people have a BEAR on a LEASH!”

Gotta love living in the five-colleges area. Higher education at work (probably combined with several beers.)

Another time, I was at the grocery store, at one end of the frozen food section. A small child was with her mom near the other end, moving toward us. The little girl kept saying, “Mom, is that a bear or a dog? Is that a bear or a dog?”

The mom was not answering. I’m not sure if she was busy or distracted or embarrassed that her child was pointing out the existence of the disabled woman, probably a combination.

Finally, the mother, exasperated, said, “What do you think it is?”

The little girl contemplated Jersey and me for a bit and then said, “I think it’s a bear.”

Then, there are the times it happens in reverse — to those of us with bouv-on-the-brain. One night, driving home late, Betsy was very tired. In the street ahead she saw a shape, and her first thought was,”Why is there a bouvier in the road?”

Of course, when she got closer, she realized it was a bear.

But it’s not just bears. . . .

Another fun story of a young child still “learning their animals” occurred at the same grocery store as the little girl who thought Jersey was a bear. In this case, I had Gadget with me.

I was in the produce area, which is big and hectic and teeming. I usually try to get out of there as fast as possible, because the store tends to put displays of fruit on little rickety tables at the ends of aisles, which are easy to knock into.

So, Gadget and I were making our way along when I saw a very familiar scene begin to unfold. A little boy, maybe about five years old, was shopping with his two moms. He saw me and started bouncing excitedly, pointing and jabbering to his moms.

One of them said, “Okay, but you have to ask first.”

I was all prepared with my little speech I give to children about how this is a working dog who needs to be able to focus on helping me, and that, therefore, while I appreciate very much that he was asking first — and that it’s always important to ask before you pet any dog — I was sorry but he couldn’t pet my dog.

That’s not what happened.

The boy rushed over to me, and said very sweetly and earnestly, “Can I pet your cat?”

I was so surprised that I just said, “Sure.”

Given that he lives in Northampton and has lesbian parents, I cut him some slack that he thought my animal companion must be a cat. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think of all the lesbians you know, and tally the number that have cats.  If some don’t, there is likely a cat allergy involved.)

I’ll end with one last Jersey story.

A friend and I were at my town’s Fall Festival, where people from the town, as well as people from the surrounding area and a lot of tourists, come to eat maple sugar products, buy or sell crafts, and watch or participate in Pumpkin Games, such as relay races where little kids try to carry as many pumpkins as possible over a finish line.

My friend and I had just bought lunch and were sitting on the porch of the country store. Jersey, wearing her green pack, lay on the deck beside me.

A man walked by, nodded and smiled at us, glanced at Jersey, then, after taking another couple of steps, did a double-take and screeched to a stop.

“Oh my god!” He said. “I thought that was a stuffed animal, and then I saw it move!”

We all had a chuckle, and I told him that Jersey was, indeed, doing her rock impression. To his credit, the man had thought Jersey was a toy dog, as opposed to a massive teddy bear.

Of course he followed up with,”What kind of dog is that?”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I was gray, so nobody thought I was a bear), the spirit of Jersey (Call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner), and Barnum, SDiT and non-poodle

P.S. Remember to go to The Trouble Is… to read the other great ADBC posts!

For information on future carnivals, visit the ADBC page here.

Barnum Officially Proclaimed Awesome

It’s official. Not only do I think Barnum is awesome, but so do Carin and Trixie at VomitComet and Brooke and Cessna at Ruled by Paws!

Awesome Blog Award

It's official. We're awesome.

[Image description: Square with black edges and a pale gray-striped interior. In the upper left, inside a hot pink rectangle, it says, “This blog has been given a…” Below that, on the regular background, it says, “Awesome Blog Award!” There is a horizontal straight-line ribbon graphic with the words “AWESOME” repeated over and over as form of wallpaper, with a black seal-of-approval on the lower right, inside which it says in hot-pink and white letters, “Nominated for being so damn Awesome.“]

It’s nice to get some recognition from your peers, isn’t it? Especially all the fabulous things that Carin said about After Gadget.

Barnum is already told on an almost hourly basis how wonderful he is by anyone in his presence, so I don’t think he thinks this is anything new. I, on the other hand, have been having a rough time, emotionally, lately, and will take all the ego-boosting I can!

To read who else is awesome and get some inside dirt on Trixie and Cessna, visit VomitComit’s Somebody Else Thinks We’re Awesome post and Ruled by Paws’ Awesome Blog Award post.

To accept this award, we have to reveal seven unknown fascinating tidbits about ourselves, and we have to choose 15 other blogs upon whom to bestow the honor.

I’m going to write the seven revelations about me, because you probably already know almost all there is to know about Barnum!

Sharon’s Secrets, Revealed!

1. I love to dance. Before I became disabled, I learned swing and ballroom, a little bit of modern, and whatever else I could. As a kid I took jazz and tap. I sucked at jazz and didn’t like it. I really liked tap, but none of the other girls did, and I had no self-esteem, so I didn’t pursue it because it wasn’t cool. Sigh. Once I was old enough (actually, thanks to a fake ID, well before I was old enough), I went out clubbing as often as I could. I even did some go-go dancing. After I got sick, I occasionally tried to do some wheelchair dancing for special events. Of all the things I miss about being able to move my body however I want, I miss dancing the most.

2. I was the graduation speaker for my class at my commencement at Tufts University. I won this honor by being awarded the Wendell Phillips Award, which is given to one student every year at both Tufts and Harvard University who display oratory skill and community leadership. The award is named after the abolitionist preacher. The president of the university tried to find a way to prevent me from speaking, because he was afraid of my scary radical militant lesbian ways. [Eye roll.] The irony is that, because he tried to silence me, I revealed his dirty deed in my remarks. I played Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on a boom box at the end of the speech and got a standing ovation.

3. I have paradoxical reactions to many medications, including antihistamines and tranquilizers, such as Sudafed or Valium. Instead of making me sleepy, they make me shaky, anxious, sweaty, and wiiiiiiide awake.

4. I used to have a pet snake named Falstaff. She was a garter snake. She liked to curl up in my hair on the top of my head. She ate live goldfish for her meals. I discovered she hunted by smell when she twice bit my thumb after I’d poured the goldfish into her bowl. After that, I always washed my hands after touching the goldfish, and she never bit me again.

5. I am a total Harry Potter fanatic. When I am going through a hard time, I listen to the entire set of CDs over and over. I have most of the books memorized by now. I wish I didn’t feel so compelled to watch the movies, because they have messed up my previously well-established imaginings about exactly what each character looks and sounds like.

6. Some day, when I am well enough, I would like to foster and train hypoallergenic rescues as assistance dogs for other PWDs who have dog allergies and don’t have the fanatacism interest or ability to train their own assistance dogs. Or, even better, I’d like to work with people to train their dogs, themselves.

7. I  have several books in my head or on my computer that I hope to polish and publish eventually. They range from poetry for children, to a compilation of my Sick Humor essays, to an anthology of disability erotica, and more. I have ideas for three dog-related books, too.

I’m supposed to list fifteen other blogs I think are awesome. I’ve decided to include some non-blogs, as well, mostly youtube channels, because 15 is a lot, and I already passed on the One Lovely Blog Award to a bunch of blogs, previously.

I’m focusing my list on blogs and sites that are either new to me (and may have nothing to do with disability, dogs, or training) and/or blogs that are related to the themes of After Gadget. These are in no particular order.

1. Adoption Paradox. This is one of the blogs I stumbled across when dealing recently with “the unpleasantness,” and then I just happened to get sucked into it. Why? It’s extremely well-written and compelling, and if you are new to the issues adoptees face, and the social-justice implications of adoption, it will be an education.

2. Through a Guide’s Eyes. This is a relatively new blog by my long-time friend, Karyn. Karyn was my mentor when I started training Jersey, and over the years, we have both experienced great changes in our disabilities and lives (and have gone through the process of loss and training of successor dogs). Karyn’s posts are impressively frequent and packed with information. Almost everyone can learn something from Karyn’s perspective, as she is in the unique role being a handler/trainer of combo dogs who act as guide, hearing, and service dogs.

3. this ain’t livin’. This is the personal blog of writer s.e. smith (aka Meloukhia), one of the founders of my favorite blog ever, FWD/Forward. Meloukhia posts at least daily, on subjects ranging from pop culture (especially Glee!), class, feminism, book reviews, disability, food, and uh, lots of interesting stuff. It sort of  defies definition. If you don’t want to think, don’t read this blog, cuz you might be forced to think.

4. Remembering Niko. One of the loveliest people I met online due to Gadget’s lymphoma diagnosis is Bettina, who lost her (pet) dog Niko to canine lymphoma. Her site has terrific resources, support, and information on pet loss, including pages on anticipatory grief, what to expect from euthanasia, and common symptoms and signs of grief. I’m still working on my grief support pages, but if you are grieving a dog (or other animal), you will find much you can relate to at Remembering Niko. Reading the story of Bettina and Niko’s life together is also quite remarkable and touching.

5. & 6. BZ Training. This delightful blog is well-written, humorous, and has great photos. Kathleen is another Training Levels fanatic, so she writes a lot about the Levels, but even if you’re not interested in clicker training, golden retrievers, or dog photography, her writing is natural and compelling. She gets two slots, because her clicker videos, username, BZFischer, are outstanding! If you want to learn how to shape a training enthusiast, check out her youtubes. Yes, I am jealous of her. She’s so damn good.

7. & 8. Here’s another woman who’s so talented, she earns two slots. Her awesome blog, Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs has been on my blogroll since the beginning. VIAD teaches people with disabilities to train their own assistance dogs. It is an informational/instructional blog. Even better than the blog are Donna’s videos; find her on youtube as supernaturalbc2008. They are captioned, and some also have voice narration. She breaks things down into easy-to-understand steps and concepts. Some of the best clicker videos ever made are her “9 Habits of Highly Effective Clicker Trainers” series. She covers foundation behaviors, mobility assistance, hearing alert, diabetes alert, and more. (Again, totally jealous.)

9. The Angry Black Woman. This is actually a blog with three contributors (but don’t worry, they all identify as angry, black, and women), but I like ABW’s posts best. The blog’s subtitle is “Race, Politics, Gender, Sexuality, Anger,” and it does contain all of that, as well as a lot on speculative fiction (SF/F), writers/writing, and dealing with People Who Don’t Get It in a refreshingly straightforward, enjoyably angry manner. I came across ABW when I was looking for links I could put up for some commenters here who Didn’t Get It, and I felt all my knotted-up muscles relax when I started reading ABW, especially The BINGO Project and its comments.

10. Marge and her Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Terrific videos of the happiest-looking dogs you’ll ever see. Oh, and thy just happen to be rescues with awful pasts. Oh, and they just happen to be doing fabulous, often funny skills, like “Ridgeback Cleaning Service,” or holding a raw egg in their mouths, or sitting on their person’s head (on cue).

11. Eileen is another clicker trainer who has a lot to teach humans. She’s been very generous with her advice to me and posts here. Helpful, kindly, and humble, she has some great videos (included in my previous blog) on why dogs may fail to understand cues (commands) that you think they should. She also has Levels videos and various other good dog training fun stuff. Her youtube channel is eileenanddogs

12. Writer in a Wheelchair. I just discovered this British blogger thanks to the latest disability blog carnival. Disability rights activism, humor, culture, and general life-about-town as a person with a disability. Good politics, and informative for me about life with disability on the other side of the pond.

13. Ham Blog/Annaham. Annaham is another one of the founders of the blog formerly known as FWD/Forward. At its previous locale, Ham.Blog had the best subtitle, ever: “Ruining feminism, one pain pill at a time.” The new subtitle is “Promoting disability since 2008 or so.” It should be obvious that this blog includes humor, disability, and feminism. There are also various social justice themes, but mostly, lately, she’s doing cartoons, drawings, and other artwork, often related to chronic pain, but not necessarily. Another one that sort of defies description. What can I say? She’s good. I like her.

14. Wheelie catholic. This is a great blog that I often forget to read, and then, when I do, I think, “Yeah! OMG! I’m dealing with just that same thing!” It’s well-written, thoughtful, and real.

15. The Fibrochondriac. Another friend of the blog! (Hi, Kathy!) Kathy was on of the first bloggers I “met” online, and she helped me believe I could do this blogging thing. I’ll be honest, when I first saw the name of her blog, I thought two things: 1. “That’s witty and clever!” 2. “Uh-oh.” I mean, I knew she didn’t discount the reality of fibro or other chronic illnesses, but I didn’t know if her take on fibro would be some sort of falsely peppy, cheerleaderish sort of roses-and-sunshine blog (which seems to be popular among women blogging about chronic illness) that would downplay the realness of her illness. But no, her blog is very real and readable and fun. She’s got backbone! (Which probably aches.)

Whew! It took me a long time to put this together!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (SDiT with one actual service skill in place! Will try to video and post eventually!)

Should the ADBC Go Bimonthly?

The first two Assistance Dog Blog Carnivals have been huge successes — accent on huge.

The first carnival, here at After Gadget, had a dozen contributing bloggers. The second one, recently at Dog’s Eye View, had more than twice that number!

I’ve also heard from people who wrote posts for one or the other blog, but weren’t able to get the links in on time. (Don’t despair, bloggers. Submit them to a future carnival. I’m sure themes will overlap.)

Now that I have an official ADBC page and have put out the call for future hosts, we have hosts scheduled through July 2012!

I have started to wonder, and others have asked, if we should hold the carnival more often.

I’d consider going bimonthly (six times a year). Please weigh in!

Having several chronic illnesses that cause pain, exhaustion, and unpredictable symptoms and limited function, I have learned that it is better to set attainable goals (my motto: “Aim Low!”)  than to try to overextend.

With this in mind, readers, bloggers, other interested parties — whomever you may be, I ask that you consider the following factors in helping me decide whether to change the ABDC schedule.

If the carnival were held every other month, how likely would you be to . . .

  • Read all or most of the posts? (Readers are the most important people! Without people reading the blogs, there’s little point in writing them.)
  • Submit/contribute a post that you’ve written?
  • Volunteer to host a carnival (including reading, collecting, and soliciting posts, as well as writing the carnival post with all the correct links, and ideally, whipping up publicity before and after it goes up)?
  • Encourage others to visit the carnival (by posting links to it on your blog, announcing it on Facebook, tweeting it on Twitter, etc.)?

I really value your feedback! This is an important decision.

The carnival is going so well, it seems like a good time to capitalize on the momentum. On the other hand, maybe it’s best not to mess with success?

You can post your comments publicly, below. If you want your comments to be private, and just go to me, please use the new contact form I’ve set up.

Lastly, in the spirit of making this a true community decision, please ask the question on your blogs or post (where appropriate) on assistance dog lists, etc. You can either post about it yourself and direct me to the comments you get, or you can ask readers to come here and comment on this post. (The latter is easier for me, but I’ll skip around the net, if needs be.)

Thanks so much!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (snow-ball-covered SDiT)

Quickpress Reminder: Blog Carnival (+ Barnum Passes Another Test!)

I have really been enjoying reading and compiling all the submissions that are coming in for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. For information or details about the carnival (what, when, where, how, etc.), also see the carnival announcement post.

Please remember to post the link and title of your submission in the comments section of the Announcement. Posts must be up and your link submitted by 11:59 PM (of whatever time zone you’re in) on Tuesday, October 19.

If you have written a post for the carnival, and you don’t post it at After Gadget, I won’t know about it, and I won’t be able to include it! (I stumbled across a post for the carnival that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and would have been sorry to exclude; I don’t want to miss any others!)

Now I have to write my own blog on “The First….” I’ve known what I want to write for many weeks, I just have to coordinate my weary body and mind to do it!

Barnum Training Update: We Passed L2 Stand-Stay!

I decided to test us on Level 2 stand-stay — 10 seconds, no more than two cues (I used a verbal and a hand cue) — and no leg/paw can move at all. I wasn’t wearing a watch, so I just guessed when to click/treat, but watching the video, I see we did 12 seconds! Hooray!

I’ve been very sick, plus trying to keep up with the carnival and squeeze in a few minutes of training now and then, so I haven’t been up to transcribing or captioning the video that I’m plopping in below. My apologies. In the future, I’ll round up several videos — including this one — and do the captions and transcripts.

This one starts with a funny bit where Barnum is offering me a behavior I didn’t expect (confusing “watch” with “bark,” then the stand-stay, then a tiny bit of LLW practice.

. . . Can Watch and LLW Be Far Behind?

We can now also do 10 or more seconds of eye contact on a pretty consistent basis (despite the funny confusion that occurs at the beginning of the video above), and I have also been able to add in our cue, “Watch,” without it distracting him anymore. So, I think we are finally almost done with the 16 behaviors on Sue Ailsby’s Training Level Two. When we pass the loose-leash walking and eye contact tests, there will be a PAR-TAY!

Eye Lock Day 10 + Vote for Gadg & Barnum! + New Service Skill?…

If you’re seeking info on the upcoming Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit this earlier blog.

Today and yesterday I’ve been quite ill and migrainal almost all the time, so not much got done. However, I have managed to squeeze in some training here and there with Mr. Barnum.

Suddenly, we’re making Big Progress with eye contact, and I can now get us to 10 seconds pretty fast AND (drum roll, please) I have started to introduce our verbal cue (again). My voice hasn’t been working much the last couple days, so I’ve actually been whispering the cue, and I think that has made it less distracting for Mr. B.

We continue to work on our LLW, working walk, and stand-stay, which are the other skills we need to pass Level 2, as well as incorporating more zen, sit- and down-stays, etc. Two interesting new developments:

1. Barnum wants to train more now — more often — and seems more interested in offering behaviors and shaping. He seems to be gaining confidence and not feeling quite so much need to wait for me to tell him what to do. I’m trying to be patient and wait him out, make him think for himself. Sometimes when he seems to be cruising along and I think he really knows what we’re doing, he will suddenly go into “deflated” mode and — after offering a sit or stare — will just lie down and wait. Then I wait for something clickable. Or eventually I give him something else to do to move him around, like a hand target, and wait for an accidental behavior to click.

2. Today, pretty much by accident (looooong story), Betsy ended up taking Barnum for an extremely long run/walk (because I was too sick to walk him), and when he got home, instead of being tired, he was begging for training! Further support for my theory that maturity, hunger/growth spurts, and more exercise makes him more eager to train. I am taking advantage of that as much as possible! I hope I bounce back from this crash lately so I can give him more exercise again.

In fact, we have started working on our first real service skill! It’s an easy one, and one I feel relaxed about, so we can just have fun and go at our own pace. I’m very excited about how well it’s going! I’m actually starting to consider him a service dog in training (SDiT), as opposed to a “hopefully-maybe-potential SDiT candidate”!

Please Vote for Barnum and Gadget in the Dogster Photo Contests!

Please vote for my boys! It’s fast, easy and fun. Just click on the links/logos or the three pics below to take you to each of their pages. (Barnum has two pages because of a technical glitch, Gadget has one.)

Here is Barnum’s entry for “Smiles and Grins.”

Vote for Barnum in the World’s Coolest Dog Contest.


dog photo contest

Clicking on the pic above will also take you to Barnum’s entries for “Ball or Frisbee Player”; “Naughtiest Dog”; “Sleeper”; and “Jumper.”

VOTE for Barnum in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Here’s Barnum’s entry for “Tongue/Slobber”:

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Here’s Gadget’s entry for “Working Dog.”

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Clicking on Gadget’s pic above will also take you to Gadget’s pic for “Car Dog”; “Water Dog”; “Patriot”; and “Costume.”

VOTE for Gadget in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Thank you!

Sharon, Barnum (SDiT??) and the muse of Gadget

Announcing the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!

**UPDATE**

The Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is now taking place! Read Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #1! Enjoy!

* * *

Woohoo! Thank you to everyone who commented on my idea to hold an AD Carnival! In response to your enthusiastic support, I’m announcing the first carnival topic and deadline, plus answering your questions about what a carnival is, how it works, and how you can participate!

What Is a Blog Carnival?

Wikipedia has a good general definition:

A blog carnival . . . is similar to a magazine, in that it is dedicated to a particular topic, and is published on a regular schedule. . . . Each edition of a blog carnival is in the form of a blog article that contains permalinks to other blog articles on the particular topic.

Carnival posts are generally collated by the author by soliciting relevant contributions. . . [S/he then] collects links to these submissions, edits and annotates them and publishes the resulting round-up. . . . Many carnivals have a . . . principal organizer, who lines up guest bloggers to host each edition. . . . The carnival travels, appearing on a different blog each time.

How Will the Assistance Dog Carnival Work?

Currently, the plan is to hold it quarterly, guest hosted by a different AD-related blog each time. (More details on this below.) I guess After Gadget will be the official home/principal organizer, until or unless someone else wants to take the job off my hands!

Who Can Submit Posts?

Anyone can submit a post. You need only have a blog, and your post must relate to the topic of guide, hearing, or service dogs (and fit that issue’s theme — see below about themes), even if your blog is not typically about assistance dogs.

Posts can be about puppy raising, SDiTs, programs/schools, retired SDs, perspectives on ADs from people with disabilities not partnered with ADs, or anything else relating to the topic of assistance dogs. You do not need to be an AD partner or trainer to submit. Posts from personal blogs as well as from AD organization blogs are welcome.

What Will the Assistance Dog Carnival Be About?

Topics will vary with each edition. The host for each edition will announce their theme at least a couple of weeks ahead of time (maybe more, if possible, to give us people with deadline issues a chance to get something in?), along with the deadline for submissions and expected publication date.

Examples of themes from the Disability Blog Carnival include identity, distance, and disability and work. In the Patients for a Moment (PFAM) blog carnival, there was “love or other four-letter-words” and “your most laugh-out-loud-illness-moment,” among others.

I tend to like themes that are broad and can be interpreted many different ways, because that gives bloggers creative freedom and makes for a diverse group of posts to read. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to know what you’ll be reading, thematically.

Who Is Hosting This Year’s Carnival?

The first host will be me, right here — theme and deadline announcement below! — and our delightful hosts for the next three carnivals are as follows:

Yay! Thank you for stepping up!

Future hosts and dates to be determined.

When Will the First Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Be Announced?

Right this very instant coffee.

The theme for the first carnival will be . . . “The First”!

The first . . . what? That’s up to the bloggers.

The first time you met your new guide, the first service dog you had, the first time your AD alerted to your medical condition, your first experience as a puppy raiser, how you dealt with your first access denial, the first thought that pops into your head when you see an AD team, the fear you had to get over first before you decided to partner with a canine assistant . . . the possibilities are endless!

The deadline for submission is Tuesday, October 19, by midnight of whatever time zone you’re in. The carnival will be published a few days later. (How fast I can put it together depends on  how many submissions I get and how functional and/or busy I am that week.)

Bloggers can submit posts any time between now and the 18th by commenting here, below, with the name of the blog, the name of the post, and the URL for that post. You can either write something new especially for the carnival (which is nice, but not required) or post a link to a blog you’ve already written that fulfills the theme. Just be sure the link is live and the post is already up when you submit it, so I can go read your submission when I’m putting together the carnival.

Making your blog as accessible as possible to people with as many different disabilities as possible is encouraged, although it is not required. Here is one resource for learning about some basic things you can do to make your blog more accessible.

I’ve tried to answer all possible questions, so that probably means I’ve forgotten something. Feel free to ask in the comments section.

I’m really excited that this is happening! Thanks to everyone who has commented, volunteered, and is otherwise contributing! And please, spread the word! Write about the carnival on your blog, post links, tweet, etc. Thank you!

Kisses from Barnum.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

 

Without Gadget, Who Am I? A SD-less Service Dog Partner’s Identity

Every month, there is a disability blog carnival. Every month I start a blog for it and don’t finish it by deadline. This month’s carnival topic, “Identity,” is particularly close to my heart, so I’m forcing myself to squeeze out this post on time.

My identity, for years, has been inextricably bound to being a service dog partner. In fact, my avatar is ServiceDogPartner for most sites that require them.

How does this identity play out in everyday life?

A telling, one-word answer is “We.” Any activity, especially if it involved leaving home, required, or was enriched by, the participation of my service dog; therefore, we were a we/us, not an I/me:

  • “We’re going to the doctor tomorrow.”
  • “We went for a walk.”
  • “We picked apples in the back yard.”
  • “The manager gave us a hard time about entering the shop.”

In fact, the first big “Aha moment” I had about what a difference a service dog could make in my life was when Jersey, my first SD, and I went to the grocery store without human help, for the first time in years.

Jersey in profile

Of course, I had trained Jersey, devoting all my energy to the endeavor for many months, in the hope that she would make me more independent, less restricted, but I don’t think I actually believed my own pep talks to myself until that day at the grocery store. What a revelation.

Jersey went everywhere with me. She reduced my isolation. She helped me participate in activities around my home that I otherwise couldn’t have done. For example, I was able to garden because she carted the tools and plants out to the yard and offered bracing and walking assistance when I became too exhausted. At the store, she carried my money, pills, water, and grocery list in her pack, as well as small groceries. When we got home from the store, she carried the bags from the van to the house, and from the door to the fridge. In little ways, every day, she helped me save energy that I could use on writing or talking to friends or just resting.

That was at a time when I was less disabled than I am now, and with a service dog who knew half the skills Gadget did. Jersey changed my life, but Gadget revolutionized it.

Sharon, Jersey, and Gadget

How can I even put into words what Gadget meant to me, how inextricably he was entwined in my life, how he was a part of my body, mind, and soul? It’s a struggle I have every day now, as the anniversary of his death descends on me, and my grief at his loss feels overwhelming. I grope for language that can convey who he was/we were. My unexpressed grief is like a magnet attracting hard, metallic shards of sorrow, anger, confusion, and fear; it grows larger and heavier, digging into my heart and weakening me.

Where do I begin?

This is the crux of the issue in so many ways: Where did I begin and Gadget leave off, or Gadget begin and I end? How do I continue without him, without this part of myself? Without him, who am I?

Maybe accepting my inadequacy to truly convey what Gadget was for me is the essential first step in beginning to define it, or at least hint at it:

  • Gadget was always with me, even in my dreams. This was true with Jersey, too, after we’d become a working team. Just as, after I became disabled, in my dreams I also had MCS and CFIDS, there came a point where Jersey was by my side in my dreams. When Jersey retired and Gadget took over, he entered my dream world even more quickly than Jersey had. Even in my subconscious, he was an extension of me. As I’ve written in previous posts, after he died, he haunted my sleep.
  • Gadget was my hands. He turned lights on and off. He opened and shut doors. He picked up things I dropped.

This video shows some of the skills above and belowRead the video transcript here.

  • Gadget was my legs. He brought me water. He brought me the phone. He helped me transfer.
  • Gadget was my voice. He carried messages to Betsy from me. He understood and followed signed requests. He let my PCAs know I was awake and needed their assistance.
  • Gadget was my memory. He alerted me (sometimes woke me) if the oven timer was going off or if someone was at the door and I’d otherwise sleep through the appointment.
  • Gadget was my safety. He knew how to run to my landlord’s house with a message if I was stranded. He helped keep me warm when I was without heat during the week-long ice storm power outage. He stood by me, barking and growling, if a strange person entered my home unannounced.
  • Gadget was my strength. He helped me stand up and walk when I was too weak or dizzy. He helped pull my manual wheelchair if I couldn’t use my powerchair. He carried or carted things that were too heavy for me.

That tells you what he was to me, but not who he was.

  • He reveled in his strength and speed. He liked to slam the doors shut. He loved to run, to wade in the water, to go on long walks off-leash, always checking in to make sure I was following, or doubling back to me before sprinting off again.
  • He kept me company. He was warm and soft and loving. He would plant the top of his head against my chest so I could scratch behind his ears. He put his head on my leg in the car.
  • He was calm, grounded, wise, and still. He let things roll off his back. He was patient and relaxed. Not much got to him. He was a dude.
  • He loved to train and to learn. He loved an intellectual challenge. He liked to figure things out. He made mental leaps that left me breathless and my lesson plans obsolete in moments.
  • He was trusting and knew how to relax. When invited onto the bed, he’d drape himself over me, or push me out of the way with extended legs. He let himself be poked, prodded, manipulated, squeezed by me, my PCAs, and countless veterinarians.

We fell asleep together After our nightly tick-check, we were both so relaxed we fell asleep just like this.

  • He was funny and sassy. He was his own dog. He wasn’t above sneaking around to get his way. He’d let himself outside when he wasn’t supposed to, or leave my room to visit with his favorite of my PCAs when he was supposed to be in my room with the door shut. This is what happens if you give a smart dog the tools to obtain his own freedom and independence.
  • He was my best friend and my comfort. I loved the way he felt, the way he smelled. My hands knew every inch of him, every bump on his skin. My eyes knew every spot or stripe of his coat.
  • He was my traveling companion. He was home.

I needed these parts of him just as much as the others, because his separateness, his unique personality and doghood, was part of our relationship and thus our partnership.

After Gadget died, I’d turn to look for him to help me in the ways I’d been accustomed — to open doors, to carry messages to Betsy, to bring me the phone. I felt as if a piece of my body had been severed, as if I was reaching out my hand to open the door and discovering I had no arm. I felt such deep pain, loss, and confusion when I realized again and again that he was not there that it felt like emotional phantom limb pain: the parts of my body and mind that lived in Gadget had died, and now I was no longer whole, but the pain of what had been there lived on.

Now, without a service dog — a non-partner — who am I? Where have those pieces of myself, and the pain of the shadow parts, gone?

In some ways, the pain has dulled. I don’t feel there has been much actual healing, more of a sense of physical and emotional numbness, the exposed nerves on ice. I have mostly adapted to not having the assistance I did before, mostly forgotten what it was like for life to be easier. I think this is a typical part of living with disability — we become habituated to our limitations and therefore don’t realize just how much pain, exhaustion, isolation, or limitation we are dealing with, until something (a medication, a piece of medical equipment, a personal assistant) eases the difficulty. Then we think, “My god, why didn’t I get this help years ago?”

Having Barnum in my life muddies the picture. He is my dog. He provides companionship. But he is not (yet?) a service dog.

He takes away energy, uses my strength, taxes my limbs. I am giving, giving, giving and getting nothing back, physically. Emotionally, it’s a cocktail: I am exhausted, frustrated, and mentally and emotionally overworked most of the time, yet he also makes me laugh, makes me feel loved, provides companionship, gives my life goals and direction.

Nonetheless, training a successor without a current SD in place keeps me in limbo. He is not yet a service dog. He cannot even be called a service-dog-in-training, because he does not yet have the obedience or public access skills or the beginnings of the service skills necessary to earn that title. Still, almost all my time and energy feed the hope and belief that some day he will be my service dog.

I hate existing in states of betweenness, living on hope or the promise of future gains. It was one of the promises I made to myself when I first became disabled by chronic illness: I would not devote my life to cure, not spend all my mental, physical, emotional, or financial resources on experimental treatments that might someday have the potential to reduce my illness somewhat — or not. I do get treatment. I do seek improved health and function. But, for fifteen years, I have refused to sacrifice my life now — which is real and true — for an ephemeral maybe of the future. I’ve seen too many people put their lives on hold until they get better, only to come to the crushing realization five, ten, fifteen years down the line that they are still sick or disabled, no better off for their grasping after a cure, just older, and without the skills or assistance they could have used their energy on to have a richer life with disability.

Yet, here I am, doing much the same. In my heart, I am and always will be a service dog partner. Even though I have no canine assistant now, my life revolves around cultivating one, even knowing that there is always the chance we might fail. Barnum could develop a physical injury or illness or a temperament issue, or suffer a training catastrophe, that would render him unfit to work as a service dog. We could become a great SD team and then have him get sick, traumatized, or die before his time. Even if he does turn into an excellent SD, living out a long, healthy, happy working life, the fact remains that I am sacrificing a great deal now, every day, for that future.

I have arrived at the answer to my question: Who am I without a service dog?

I am a person who is willing to lay almost everything on the line, including one of my fundamental beliefs about the best way for me to live with disability, in order to become an active service dog partner again.

BADD: Q&A on Being an Assistance Dog Partner

Blogging Against Disablism Day“>The graphic for BADD, a multicolored square comprised of twenty other squares of stick figures, mostly standing, some wheelchair symbols or with canes

Today, May 1, is international Blogging Against Disableism Day. So, this blog will be a bit of a departure from the usual. Actually, since I’ve barely been blogging since Barnum arrived, any blog is a departure these days! But I’m very motivated to get this one out because I’ve been looking forward to participating in BADD.

(By the way, Barnum is doing really well! I love him to bits. I keep wanting to blog about this or that exciting or adorable or heartbreaking thing, so I have many partial posts. They won’t be in chronological order, but I’ll get them up eventually!)

In case you are wondering, “disableism” is the term used in most countries outside the US for what we, in the US, call “ableism.” [The preceding link has a nice, succinct definition of ableism, but you can find many others that go into more depth.] If you don’t know what either of these words mean, here is your chance to learn!

When I was writing up my FAQ, there were a lot of comments and questions I wasn’t sure if I should include or not, but they are perfect for BADD, so here they are. (Additional comments and questions, not as closely related to ableism can be found on the FAQCC page.) Some of the questions below are direct quotes, but most are either paraphrases or compilations of the same type of question or comment I’ve heard many times. Because Internet communication and face-to-face communication tend to be different, some are comments I read online (community forums, Facebook, here at After Gadget), others are questions I’m asked “in real life,” and many are a combination.

Warning: It’s pretty hard to address some of these issues without sounding a bit snarky. (Or way snarky.) But I’ve noticed that most blogs err on the side of snark, so hopefully you’re used to it. Nevertheless, this post is aimed at informing those who need informing, amusing and affirming my comrades, and yes, allowing me to blow off some steam on a few pet (pun! — see below) peeves. If  you’ve said some version of the things I don’t like, it doesn’t mean I don’t love and appreciate you. After all, Gadget wouldn’t have cared, and he was an excellent judge of character. It just means, we’re all learning.

Frequent Questions and Comments on Being an Assistance Dog (AD) Partner

General Questions and Comments

Q: Who trained your service dog (SD)?

A: I did. Yes, me, a disabled person! I train my own dogs!

Q: That was sarcastic and overly emphatic. How come?

A: I get asked this question a lot, and it gets tiresome, especially because usually the question is put to me this way: “Who gave you your service dog?” or “Where did you get her/him from?” or “Who trained him for you?” or “Isn’t it wonderful that they [assistance-dog programs] do this?”

These questions assume that because I’m disabled, I must be the recipient of charity. (And by the way, most AD programs charge for their dogs — many thousand dollars). I particularly find it irksome when someone asks who trained my dog after I have already said that I train my own service dogs. (Yes, it happens often.)

To sum up: The frequency of this question, the patronizing tone which sometimes accompanies it, the astonishment with which my answer is usually greeted, and the fact that people ask it after I have already told them I am my own dog trainer is insulting. It suggests that many nondisabled people have trouble wrapping their minds around the idea that a person with a disability (PWD), or maybe especially a person with multiple disabilities, is capable of training her own assistance dog.

The corollary is that sometimes, when I am interacting with someone online who therefore cannot see my disabilities, I will say I am a PWD raising a puppy to be my service dog, and they gush in response how noble and big-hearted I am to do this work. In this case, the nondisabled person has had to ignore the fact that I said I was disabled and that this will be my service dog in order to fit the idea of me being a nondisabled “puppy raiser” into their world view. When I correct their assumption, suddenly my dog-training efforts are no longer so laudatory.

Both these types of comments and questions are forms of dis/ableism. Again, I encourage you to please learn the definition of ableism. Reading blogs about disability rights issues can also help; there are some great ones on my blogroll.

Q: Isn’t there a non-offensive version of that question?

A: Yes, there is. Sometimes people ask in a neutral way, “May I ask who trained your dog?” or “Did you train him or get him from a program?” or something along those lines. If their response, on hearing that I trained him is not incredulous gushing, but treated as just another interesting piece of information, that is very nice. Sometimes people say something like, “You must be a good trainer, he’s great!” Of course, flattery will get you everywhere.

Actually, some people ask this because they have a disability (often a hidden one) or because someone in their lives has a disability, and they are wondering if an assistance dog might help them. I am very eager to give them information, including a leaflet with the contact information for an assistance-dog advocacy organization of which I’m a member. I often give them my own name and email address and encourage them to contact me.

Likewise, if the person is another dog-training fanatic, it can be fun to “talk shop.” I do like to meet up with other assistance dog partners when out and about because I’m pretty starved for “real-life” assistance-dog friends, but I understand that not everyone wants to get into an AD conversation every time they leave their house. (See below.)

Q: What kind of dog is that? Can I pet him? [Pet, pet, whistle, clap, shout, wave, offer treat.] Can I give him this biscuit? What’s his name? Where’d you get him? What does he do for you? Can I monopolize all your time and energy and breathing space to talk to you about your dog?

A:

Long answer: Do you see that I am using oxygen and a mask covering my nose and mouth? And that I am falling out of my chair with exhaustion? Did you know that once I get home, my PCA will have to help me bathe, change my clothes, wash my AD, and my powerchair because of all the chemical fumes that sink into hair and skin and fabric? Did you know that if you pet my AD, not only are you distracting him from his job, but you are also getting even more chemicals on him that we will have to shampoo off?

Short answer: I’m trying to buy something. Here’s a leaflet.

Non-Snarky addendum: I know that many AD partners like to interact with the public about their ADs. Sometimes I do, too. It depends on the situation (how sick I am, what the environment is, the tone of the interaction, etc.). It’s true that for many PWDs, partnering with an AD helps break down isolation, and that has been true for me, too.

I also think it makes a difference what questions you get asked and how often. For example, many AD partners find it particularly intrusive and offensive to be asked what their AD does, since this is often akin to asking details about their disability or daily living needs. If I’m already in a conversation with someone about my AD, and I think their question has a valid basis, and isn’t just nosiness, I might be okay with it. I also usually give examples of the most obvious and least personal tasks. However, bear in mind that asking, “What does your dog do for you?” could be like asking a stranger, “Do you have trouble getting up when you fall? Do you take medication that you need help to remember? Do you have a panic disorder that your dog assists you with?”

Another issue is since my SDs have been Bouviers des Flandres (usually with short haircuts I do myself), I am constantly asked, “What kind of dog is that?” When I answer, most people say they’ve never heard of them. I actually made a brochure called, “What Kind of Dog Is That?” after I partnered with my first Bouv, Jersey, just so I didn’t have to get stuck in long explanations about what a Bouvier is.

The moral of the story is that everyone is unique, and some people love to discuss their ADs, some people don’t, and everybody has good days and bad days, hurried days and mellow days. Also, bear in mind that almost all of us get asked questions or hear comments whenever we’re in public. So, if you want to approach a stranger about their working dog, try to limit your questions, and be prepared to gracefully take “no” for an answer. I recommend approaching with something like, “Do you have a moment to answer a question about your assistance dog?” That way, you acknowledge that the PWD has a life that is not devoted to being a spokesperson, and you’re giving them an “out” if they don’t want to talk. If you have a specific reason behind your question, I would open with that, which indicates that you don’t intend to take up all their time.

Questions and Comments Arising from Gadget’s Death and/or this Blog

Q: I am so sorry about the loss of your pet. I know just what you’re going through because I lost my pet dog, too, and I loved him so much.

A: Thank you for your sympathies. I’m sorry about the loss of your dog, as well. I have lost much-beloved pets, too, and it is very painful. The grief can last a long time and is sometimes devastating. In fact, it is often a worse loss than that of a human loved one because our relationship with our animals is usually entirely positive, without any of the anger, guilt, resentment, or other complications of human relationships.

However, Gadget was not a pet. He was my service dog.

I strongly disliked having Gadget referred to as my pet when he was alive, and because my loss has been so public, I find that since his death, I’ve heard him referred to as my pet (or my “companion” or “friend,” which are often other terms people use for pets) much more than I did when he was alive. It can be a little hard to take, hearing it so often.

While the “heart loss” of an assistance dog may share similarities with the loss of a super-bonded pet relationship, the working-assistant partnership and functionality loss are very different. The grief of pet loss is very real, but  it’s a different kind of loss in several respects. I can’t speak for all assistance-dog partners, but those I have talked to about this issue feel as I do: We hate having our partners called pets, and we hate it when non-AD partners say they know just how we feel.

Q: Why? How is the loss of an assistance dog different?

A: I haven’t come up with a short, simple answer to that yet, but I’m hoping that the accumulated posts here, over time, will be an answer to that question. Gadget’s death is the worst loss I’ve lived through, and that includes the death of one my best friends a year ago and multiple other forms of major loss.

To put this into perspective: The first three years I was disabled by chronic illness, I almost never left the house, and I often went many weeks at a time without seeing another human being. I lost my job and career, friends, much of my financial security, freedom, independence, social life, and on and on. And I also just felt physically very lousy all the time. I had two cats at that time, and they were my one source of physical contact, daily interaction, and love. When each of them died, it was very, very hard. I used to say, and I still believe, they kept me sane those first few years.

Yet, Gadget’s death feels 50 times worse. Sometimes people react to my disabilities as tragedies. I don’t feel they are tragedies; I feel Gadget’s death was a tragedy. I have never dreaded anything so much as I dreaded him dying. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever completely get over it.

Q: I was trying to be supportive. What should I say instead?

A: I know you were, and I appreciate your kind intention. While I know you are trying to empathize by saying you have gone through the same thing, many of us feel more alone when we hear such comments, because we feel the person trying to comfort us not only doesn’t understand what we’re going through, but by saying that they do, we are cut off from saying how we really feel. I know I usually say, “Thank you,” to conform to social niceties and to spare a well-intentioned person’s feelings; then I try to avoid the topic with them after that. That feels lonely, too.

I hope you will make use of this information the next time you come into contact with someone who has lost an assistance dog. As to what words to use instead, more appropriate terms would be “partner,” “assistance dog,” or “service dog,” “guide dog,” or “hearing dog.” If you don’t want to use these terms, you can just say the animal’s name: “I’m so sorry you lost [dog’s name]. You must miss him/her terribly. Let me know what you need. I’m here for you.” That’s usually what I want to hear, and I find it hard to imagine another grieving AD partner would be put off by any of the above. In fact, I think those are good things to say regarding any kind of bereavement.

I also am fine with people — in comments here at After Gadget or in “real life” — telling me about their own feelings of sadness and loss when their dogs died, whether or not they were pets or ADs. It’s always okay to talk about your own feelings, your own experiences, and I can often tell from people’s tone how heartfelt their sympathies are. I have been moved by many of the comments here from those who have lost companion animals saying that my blog has touched them and reminded them of their own dogs. It is only when people start making comparisons, insisting that they know how I feel, or using “the p-word,” that I feel alienated.

(Other assistance dog partners: If you agree, disagree, have other ideas, etc., please comment!)

Q: Is it okay to post this link on my blog/website/Facebook/email to friends? I would have to list it under “pet loss resources” and you just said not to refer to him as a “pet”!

A: That’s okay. Really and truly. Please do spread the word. The more people who learn about and love Gadget, the better. I feel that Gadget’s death left a hole in the world, and I want more people to know how wonderful he was, and how much he is missed.

While AD partners often try to seek each other out for comfort and support when dealing with a loss, sometimes we don’t know others, or we are not that connected to the AD community, or we face communication or other access barriers. In fact, I turned to a variety of “pet loss” groups and hotlines. Some worked out better for me than others, but these things are very individual. A listserv of people who lost their dogs to cancer has been very important to me, and I’m the only AD partner in the group; however, I relate very strongly to most of what happens on the list and care deeply about the other people and dogs. Having a relationship with these people before our dogs died makes a big difference.

In fact, my impression is that most readers of After Gadget were not AD partners, but many have lost pet dogs; there is a lot about grief and loss that is universal, no matter the species or relationship. I am hoping that After Gadget will, in time, be just one of many easily accessed resources for grieving assistance dog partners — blogs, chats, lists, hotlines, etc. Meanwhile, we have to find each other somewhere, and pet loss resources are often where we try. I would appreciate it, though, if you indicated that Gadget was a service dog along with your link.

Comments and Questions Arising from Seeking and Raising My New Puppy, Barnum

Q: Do you have a replacement lined up?

A: In the AD community, we do not use the term “replacement.” Gadget could never be replaced. He was one-of-a-kind. It would be like saying, after your spouse died, “Are you going to marry a replacement?” We prefer the term “successor.”

Most also prefer the term “partner,” not “owner,” because an assistance-dog partnership is a team effort. Both members of the team take care of and support each other and work together toward their goals.

Likewise, a previous AD is “retired” or the “predecessor,” and contrary to popular belief, not all retired ADs are rehomed (or euthanized!). Some ADs stay with their former partner as back-up SDs, pets, therapy dogs, etc.

Q:

1. Who will raise your puppy for you?

A: 1. I will be raising the puppy.

2. Would you like me, a complete stranger, to do it?

2. No, I wouldn’t. Assuming I need someone else — someone nondisabled or less disabled than me — to raise my future SD is ableist, especially if you have learned anything about me and know that I have trained two previous SDs and also have helped other people (mostly nondisabled people!) train their dogs. Please read more on learning about ableism.

3. Would you like me to give you a random puppy, probably of a breed you are allergic to, from my neighbor who has done no health testing on the parents and has no experience in selecting dogs with the right temperament to do the type of assistance work you’re seeking?

3. No, I really, really wouldn’t. I spent years, literally, researching which breeder I wanted to get my puppy from this time around. There are not many Bouvier breeders in the US, yet I still had to do my homework. The breeder I chose knows the complete lineage of Barnum’s parents (which includes their personalities, health histories, and temperaments) and provides information on every health test she has run on them and their forebears. She is also one of a minuscule number of Bouvier breeders that have bred and selected service dogs.

Q: If you start with a puppy, won’t it take an awfully long time before the dog can assist you?

A: Yes, it will, and that will be the hardest part: expending so much energy while getting no help in return for a long while at the beginning. My original plan had been to do something similar to what I did when training Gadget: I adopted Gadget when Jersey was still working, and she helped me train him, and then she retired as my pet when Gadget was ready to take over working. For Gadget’s successor, I’d decided to get a puppy when Gadget was about seven or eight year’s old; that way I would have had Gadget’s assistance with training the puppy, as well as not having a gap with no canine assistant. However, two major things went wrong. One was that I became severely ill with Lyme and two other tick-borne diseases and had to focus on survival; therefore, I was in no shape to raise and train a puppy. Second, right around the time my health was improving, Gadget got cancer, so my focus had to be on his needs, above all else.

However, the waiting and trade-off was hard when I was training adult dogs, too. It seems to be par-for-the-course whenever one adjusts to a new assistance dog or when one is working toward finishing training. (I have heard from those with program dogs that even in that case, when starting a new partnership, it takes both team members time to acclimate to new routines, environments, and styles.)

However, this time, for the first time, I have several people, including my partner, who are helping me raise Barnum. Without them, I definitely could not handle a baby. In the past, I did all of the care and training myself (except for Gadget’s wonderful dog walkers, Deb and Cameron, whom he loved with all his heart, as do I).

And yes, I know I said above that the assumption that I couldn’t raise a puppy on my own was ableist, and now I’ve gone and verified that I couldn’t raise a puppy on my own, so let me elucidate: It is the assumption that is the problem. Types and severities of disability range greatly. I’m much more severely disabled now than I was a few years ago. Also, there is often an assumption (that word keeps cropping up!) that disabled people lead solitary lives, without friends, lovers, spouses, etc. Barnum is being actively raised by my partner, me, and my four PCAs — under my instruction — with additional support that I have rallied from my small, rural community.

I know several people with disabilities who raised their ADs from puppyhood who considered it a delight and wouldn’t have had it any other way. I know others who absolutely feel their lifestyle could not accommodate a puppy and have adopted adolescent or adult dogs or who have obtained program dogs. There are also people who did raise a puppy into an AD but who have decided that next time around they will take a different route. You might notice that the same can be said for nondisabled people: some prefer pups, some older dogs, etc. In fact, if you learn nothing else from this post, I hope this one fact will come shining through: all people with disabilities are unique, just like all nondisabled people are unique! In this way, we are all exactly the same! (Ooh, a paradox.)

Q: Oh my goodness! How will you manage without a service dog until the puppy is full-grown and trained? Can’t I help you get a trained service dog right now? I barely know you, but I am so worried about you!

A: I very much appreciate that you understand that service dogs are not pets, and that my independence, safety, freedom, and quality of life are inextricably connected to my partnerships with my service dog. When people “get” that this loss is not the loss of a pet, that can feel very supportive.

However, treating my disability as a catastrophe and my life as a tragedy does not feel supportive. It suggests that you think I have had service dogs from the moment I became disabled, for example, which isn’t true for me or any assistance dog partner I know. It also indicates an assumption that I lack the resources to survive without a service dog, which is also not true of me or any other AD partner I know. (Hopefully you’ve already figured out that this type of response is yet another form of ableism.)

Those who choose to partner with ADs may experience better, richer, more independent, or safer lives with our canine assistants, but that doesn’t mean we will keel over and die without them. Often, to explain the role of our dogs, AD partners liken an AD to a piece of assistive equipment, such as a wheelchair, a cane, or an environmental control unit: we can survive without them, but life is much better with them. In fact, when an AD dies or retires, many of us turn to the assistive technologies we used to use before we were working with an AD. (I’ve discussed this in some of my previous posts, especially this one about the doorbell.) We might experience these technologies as inferior to a partnership with a versatile, thinking teammate, but they are extremely valuable.

Two other ways of coping with functional issues after the loss of an AD are increased human assistance, and — for lack of a better term — “making do.” I do need human assistants to get along, but my life is best with both a canine assistant and human assistants. For others I know, having an assistance dog allows them to live without PCAs or other human assistants (such as sighted guides). If they lose their AD, they may turn to human assistants until they have a reliable AD again. In my case, having more personal assistance for myself than I had when training my previous dogs will make me better able to raise Barnum. I’ve also enlisted the help of members of my household to pitch in with things like taking Barnum out to pee or playing with him, when I’m too tired or in too much pain. Betsy took him to puppy kindergarten because the class was not MCS-accessible. Having more people involved helps take the pressure off the pup and me, allowing us all to enjoy his puppyhood and training more fully.

Q: But why buy from a breeder? Why not adopt a rescue? Don’t you feel guilty that you’re contributing to dog overpopulation? Don’t assistance-dog programs contribute to the overpopulation and death of dogs?

A: This is a complicated situation, and I have wrestled with guilt over the decision to buy from a breeder. My previous dogs have all been older — two rescues and one “rehome.” However, my reasons for wanting a puppy this time around are solid, relating to my own health needs, my service dog goals, and what I think will be best for the dog. It’s just not the right time for me to have a rescue. I considered it, and I decided it wouldn’t be fair to the dog nor to me and my household. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be doing well enough to foster and help train rescue dogs for others.

Another major issue in terms of adopting rescues is that I am allergic to most dogs, so I can’t adopt or foster a mixed breed (which eliminates 75 percent of shelter dogs) or any breed that is not hypoallergenic. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for me to adopt a rescue — I’ve done it before, through Bouvier rescue — but it makes it more complicated.

If I didn’t have allergies, I would likely have adopted a mixed breed from the shelter for my first service dog, as they tend to be genetically hardier and healthier (because there is less inbreeding than with purebred dogs), and are usually very smart, to boot. But it’s very rare to find a hypoallergenic mixed breed. Plus, now I’m an incurable Bouvier fancier.

As to the issue of breeding programs at assistance-dog schools, this is complex. For one thing, many programs do adopt and train dogs from shelters, rescue, or donated from breeders. For another, the life of an assistance dog is not for everyone. If a program has a high success rate of graduating dogs with the physical, mental, and emotional traits that make assistance work rewarding, safe, and successful for them, and if they are humane and responsible in their breeding, training, and placement, that is probably the best way to go for them.

In my opinion, the crime of dog overpopulation (and thus, death) is caused primarily by puppy mills, which are too horrible for me to discuss here, and secondarily by people who breed their pet dogs without awareness of the larger consequences.

Q: Why don’t you get a service dog who is already trained? Wouldn’t it be easier?

A: Yes and no. It’s complicated. I’ve posted the long version of the story in my “About Sharon’s Dogs” page. For this BADD post, however, I do want to briefly make three points that do relate to ableism (and which I discuss more fully and less pedantically on the other page):

1. I tried to get a service dog through a program, and I couldn’t. This was for two reasons. The first is that no program could or would train a dog to fit my disability needs, because my disabilities were not “mainstream” enough. Fortunately, the AD world has changed a lot since 1998, and many more types of disabilities are now seen as appropriate for service dog work. The second is that no program would accommodate my disability needs, which is extremely problematic for organizations that are designed to meet the needs of PWDs! This is changing, too, though not as much as I’d like.

2. I discovered, in the process of searching for and applying for programs, that there was an air of paternalism among many programs that really turned me off. A big component of the disability rights movement is self-empowerment — that we (PWDs) know our lives, bodies, and needs best. Sometimes this means that the people who are in the “helping professions” (doctors, social workers, those who work for public or private charities or benefits programs, etc.), treat us with less respect, understanding, or autonomy than we think is appropriate or healthy. While many assistance-dog programs work terrifically well for many people, a lot depends on the organization, the PWD, and the fit between them. I did not find a good fit in this regard; however, as I mentioned above, a lot has changed. Many new AD programs have sprung up that have a more “client-driven” focus, including programs run by PWDs or that teach PWDs to train their own ADs. I also think some of the “old guard” has changed somewhat to keep up with the times.

3. Once I discovered that I was good at and enjoyed assistance-dog training, I got hooked. There are challenges, but for me, the benefits of partner-training outweigh the costs. If someone tried to train my dog for me, I would feel robbed of an essential part of our partnership and of my life experience, as well as of the flexibility I enjoy to train or retrain to fit exactly according to my (often changing) disability needs and my lifestyle.

Q: You mentioned a struggle you’re having with raising your puppy. The problem is that you’re doing [fill in the blank], while you really should [fill in the blank thing that is either inappropriate or impossible for you to do].

A.

1. [Silence.]

2. Everyone loves to give advice about raising puppies, training dogs, raising children, etc., to people who are newly in the thick of it, disability or not. I have been guilty of this, myself. Unfortunately, usually unsolicited advice is obnoxious (again, disability or no).

However, there are some broader issues to keep in mind. One is that PWDs have historically received — and continue to, as much or more than ever — unsolicited advice from nondisabled people about our disabilities. The underlying assumption is that since we’re disabled, and they’re not, we must be doing something wrong, so nondisabled folks, who must be doing something right, can fill us in.

This urge is so widespread and obnoxious that when I was cartooning about life with disability, my most popular cartoon, bar none, was one that was a “fill-in-the-blank” card to people offering “helpful suggestions” about how we could cure ourselves. PWDs from all over the world and with every type of disability related to that cartoon. Before you give any advice to a PWD on any topic, think long and hard about whether this is something we might already have more information and perspective on than you do because we live with the disability, ourselves. Also, think about whether they have indicated in any way that they want your advice.

I’ve received many suggestions and pieces of advice since I got Barnum, and a few of them were useful (such as book recommendations), and many were not. The ones that stuck in my craw tended to be from people without disabilities or with different disabilities than me who were judgmental or ignorant around my disabilities.

For example, I was very stressed about how to get Barnum from his crate and out the door in the first few weeks of toilet training without either (a) allowing him time to have an accident or (b) running him over in my powerchair. I had tremendous anxiety about hurting a puppy with my powerchair. I literally had nightmares about it before he arrived. I was so afraid I would accidentally murder him in a horrific way by running him over in my chair that it was a factor in my decision as to whether to get a puppy or not.

My friends reassured me that I would not accidentally kill the puppy. Then Barnum arrived, and it turned out to be quite tricky. The easiest way, for others in the household, was to pick him up and jog to the door and deposit him outside. This did not work easily for me.

For one thing, for the first two weeks, he reeked so bad of the fragranced shampoo the breeder had washed him with (despite our washing him, ourselves, several times), that I couldn’t touch him or pick him up without having a reaction. If I held him, any clothes that touched him had to go into the wash. This added an additional layer of work and exhaustion — not to mention misery at not being able to touch and bond with my puppy without becoming ill — to an already difficult situation. Since I had to take him out every hour, I couldn’t pick him up and then change my clothes every hour!

There were also the issues of fatigue, balance, dizziness, weakness, etc., that affected being able to pick him up and whisk him to the door in my lap. Hefting ten pounds (and growing every day!) of wriggling puppy was not nothing for me. There’s also the fact that opening and shutting of doors can be tricky from a chair, and with a squirming puppy whose bladder can only last 30 seconds or less, the situation isn’t any easier.

It seemed to me that the best solution was to get a leash on him and then have him run behind me out the door. That way, I would know where he was (because of where the leash was), and I wouldn’t have to deal with the lap-related issues. Despite my extreme watchfulness, however, I did twice run over his paw, which was a terrifying experience for both of us, but which caused neither of us any lasting harm.

However, when I sought advice on handling the leash situation with a puppy who was still not used to wearing a collar, several people told me that I should just carry him! What the heck was wrong with me that I was trying to get a puppy to heel on command at nine weeks? (Of course, I didn’t care about heeling; I cared about not squishing him.) Someone even told me that I should not move my chair, ever, at any time, without first always making sure that he was nowhere near me. Well then, how should I get him to the door? Telekinesis?

Several people were quite blaming that I had run over his paw at all. Honestly, I don’t know any wheelchair user who has never run over their dog’s paw! I have run over several people’s feet, including my own! Certainly there must exist many wheelchair users who are much more graceful than I, who have better coordination, better memory and spatial abilities, more accessible homes, and no balance issues. Not all of us are born athletes! In fact, Betsy accidentally stepped on Barnum’s paw on a walk and felt just as horrible as I had when I’d run over his paw. Then I found in one of my puppy books, under life stages, “Learns to avoid being stepped on”! That made us both feel better.

So, this is my final point: All the people who gave me a hard time and/or told me how I should have handled getting Barnum from the crate to the door knew that I have a disability and that I’m a wheelchair user. Some did not know about the MCS, and at any rate, in my experience, only people in the severe MCS community actually understand severe MCS, no matter how much others may think they do. Still, is it really such a stretch to imagine that someone who uses a powerchair to get around in her house might have disabilities that would make it challenging or impossible to lean over, pickup a wriggling, increasingly heavy puppy, carry it through at least two doorways and to the outdoors, in winter, all in under thirty seconds? Might it have occurred to the people to whom I said, “I need to have him on a leash so I know where he is so I don’t run over him,” that I had good reasons for choosing that method? Did they think that having a disability made me unaware that I also am the proud owner of a lap?

Of course not. I’m sure they didn’t think of these issues at all. That’s the point: assumptions, again. Assumptions about what a PWD can or can’t do, and assumptions that the way a PWD chooses are not based in rational awareness of her own body and/or abilities and/or limitations. I have to say that, unlike most assistance-dog partners I know, I have very rarely been denied access to public facilities. Having an assistance dog has not kept me from passing through most doors. Yet, I still find that I frequently must ask people, when it comes to me and my service dogs, to check your assumptions at the door.

P.S. It’s a year later, and I read this terrific post, Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers, at The Manor of Mixed Blessings, and I thought it was terrific. Please read it; if you are not an assistance-dog partner, I guarantee you will learn something. She also wrote this follow-up piece for people who were bothered by her shoe analogy, which I actually loved and commented upon.

Interlude: My One Hour a Week

Once a week, for an hour, I can breathe. I am by myself, and I can do whatever I want. Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:00, Betsy takes Barnum to puppy kindergarten.

I have started several blogs in the last three weeks during this one-hour window, but I’m never able to finish them. I’ve been falling back on my usual mode for coping (and thus, writing) in recent blogs — humor. Mostly sarcasm, irony, self-deprecation.

Now, my attempt at my fastest blog ever! How is it actually going? My scattered thoughts. . . .

I do love Barnum. I love him very much. I can’t imagine a world without him. Especially when he’s sleepy and cuddly, and I look into his eyes, I love him in a way I’ve never loved anyone, because he’s a baby, my baby.

Or sometimes, especially lately, when we’re training, and he — out of the blue — “gets it” about what we’re doing and gets excited and does The Thing I Want Him to Do. That’s the high of training your own SD — that’s the drug of clicker training. Right now, it’s only just beginning, and only occasional. But there are moments: I hung bells on the door so he can learn to jingle them to tell me he needs to go out. He’s now quite good at hand targeting, so we’ve done two or three sessions of him targeting my hand as I moved it closer and closer to he bells, and twice he suddenly grabbed the bells! Jackpot! Even better than that was after we finished a session, and I took him out, he came back in and grabbed the bells all of his own accord! We were delighted with ourselves. I took him back out, even though I knew he didn’t have to pee.

He stresses the heck out of me. I often ask my PCAs when they arrive, “Would you like a puppy? He’s really cute. And free.”

I barely get any sleep. My sleep schedule is all messed up because when he has to go out, he has to go out. I try to sleep when he does, nap when he does, but there’s the rest of my life I usually need to squeeze into those little windows.

Barnum is teething. This means he is chewing on everything all the time even more than he used to, which I didn’t think was possible. On the other hand, he is finally getting more gentle with mouthing, which is trainer language for “biting everyone whose flesh, clothing, and hair he can reach.” Sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes it upsets people, and I feel bad for inviting them (or requiring them) to visit or work in an environment where little needle-like teeth might come at them before I can intervene.

He started out a bit fearful, then became very confident, and now seems to be going through a timid phase again. I am trying not to stress about it. However, the uber-socialization we did with people has paid off: even when he’s afraid of everything else new around him, he wants to follow any people he sees, because he is convinced they will love him up and shower him with treats.

Most of the time I’m too busy and exhausted to consciously miss Gadget, but during the rare moments I let myself open — when all the Managing, Coping, Handling, etc., is not needed, and when I am not working to prove how Together and Witty I am — I just cry. I cry and cry and say, “I miss Gadget. I want him back. I want him back.”

Gadget’s grave is kind of a mess. We put stones on it to mark it, but they got moved, and the dirt got rearranged by a snow plow in winter. I know some of the people who loved Gadget are distressed that I haven’t done anything to fix it. To repack the dirt, move the stones, plant flowers. My very kind neighbor, who is a hospice worker, actually brought daffodil bulbs when Gadget died, and we planned to plant them on his grave, but I can’t deal with it. I can’t look at it when I go out. It’s still just easier to think that he’s “gone,” than that his body is decomposing in my yard.

I finally responded to an email from a reader of this blog who lost her service-dog-in-training. Just reading about her feelings and telling her how normal it all is made me cry. It’s impossible not to identify and put myself in her place and feel her pain.

I’m a coward. Someone I met online whose dog also had cancer lost the battle recently. Over many months, I felt like I really got to know her and her dog, and I haven’t been emailing her because I feel so awful about it, I don’t know what to say. He just seemed like a truly wonderful dog. I hated it when people went on and on to me about how horrible Gadget’s death was and catastrophized it, as if I truly could not live without him, and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. In her case, this was not her service dog, so she won’t get that kind of treatment from others. But still. How can I be writing a blog about service dog grief and not know what to say?

I also haven’t gone back to my angels list because not only am I too exhausted and busy to deal with email, I’m afraid my stress and grouchiness and all-consuming attention on Barnum is not appropriate to the group, but neither would be my gushing and happiness over him. And it’s so painful, as more people join, to know more people have lost their heart dogs, that it throws me back into my feelings about Gadget, and I can’t afford to use that energy.

Twice a week, Betsy takes Barnum for the night so I can catch up on sleep. I generally sleep twelve hours on those nights. I think it’s hard for people to understand just how much Barnum consumes my life, not just because he is a puppy, and all puppies are a lot of work. It’s because . . .

– He is an extra high-energy, drivey puppy. He was the most active in his litter — of a working breed.

– He is only moderately food motivated. He is much more interested in being with me without food than being in his crate with a marrow bone or a Kong. Honestly, I didn’t know such dogs existed before!

– I am laying the groundwork for him to be my service dog. That means major socialization to everything and everyone in the world, tons of training, and carefully avoiding not discouraging him from doing things that might later be useful, but that are usually trained out of puppies. (Grabbing clothes is an example. One day I will want him to pull on my sleeves, so I don’t want to scold him for that now. Likewise with sniffing things, as he will be doing scent work.)

– I live with multiple illnesses and disabilities, which means that things like getting my teeth brushed, going to the bathroom, eating and getting meals, all take planning and assistance from other people. It also means that a good portion of my days are spent with “maintenance” that healthy people don’t have to deal with. This includes doing infusions of IV medication twice a day, taking huge quantities of oral supplements and drugs many times a day, getting intramuscular shots, etc., etc.

When you combine these things, it’s complicated. For example, puppies love to play with strings, cords, ropes, dangling things. Guess what that describes? The tubing on my oxygen tank. The cord on my infusion pump. The line from my PICC line in my arm to my pump. Who wants to explain to the ER doc that a puppy chewed into the tubing that leads into the line into my heart? Not me!

This means that when I do my infusions either someone else needs to be with him, OR he needs to be asleep, OR he needs to be in his crate. It’s not always so easy to synch up his sleeping schedules with my medication schedules and my PCAs’ working schedules!

Okay, I had to interrupt this a couple paragraphs above because Betsy got home, and I had to get Barnum into the crate in the living room with enough Really Really Tasty chew toys to keep him occupied until Betsy gets back from her errand so I can don mask, gloves, air filter, and oxygen, and change clothes, so we can bathe Barnum, because he smells from chemical fumes he picked up at class. Then I’ll have to wipe myself down. All of which will be exhausting and cause me to have more pain and exhaustion tomorrow. See how my mood has already gotten worse?

On the other hand, he is absolutely adorable, AND he rang the bell after just two practice clicks with me. I just need a break. I just need time to mourn, which maybe I will get the next time Barnum is asleep, if I’m not also trying to sleep at that time.

Thanks so much for your comments. Keep them coming.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

P.S. I wanted to post some adorable photos of Barnum, but I don’t have the time to upload and caption them, so that will have to wait.


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