Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Stuffed Squeaky Head

Isaac loves stuffed animals and he loves squeaky toys.  Squeaky stuffed animals are the ultimate entertainment item, in his mind.  Unfortunately, what he likes to do with stuffed animals is tear them to shreds as quickly as possible.  With squeaky toys, he seems determined to remove the squeaker as quickly as possible.  Therefore, these wonderful toys do not last long at all.

Recently, he beheaded a teddy bear.  The head was still in good shape, though, so I took a squeaker that he'd ripped out of some other toy, stuck it into the head, and sewed the neck shut. 

Isaac has always considered me brilliant, but now I'd made the best toy ever - a stuffed squeaky head!

I figured it would last him all of 15 minutes or so.  But I was wrong.  He has been playing with this toy for five days now and has not ripped a hole in it yet.  He gnaws enthusiastically on its face and it squeak-squeak-squeaks, rather loudly.  When it is positively soaked with doggie slobber, he brings it to me to throw for him.  He loves it.  It's currently his favorite toy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Doing Laundry with Isaac

One of the tasks Isaac does for me is to help me do laundry.  I have a herniated disk in my lower back and bending forward aggravates it.  So does lifting heavy things, like a laundry basket full of laundry.  Since Isaac has been helping me with these things, I've had significantly less back pain.

People have asked me a lot of questions about how Isaac helps me with the laundry.  This is how it works.

I have soft braided ropes attached to my laundry baskets.  Isaac pulls a basket by the rope from the bedroom into the hallway, where the washer and dryer are.  He really likes doing that!  When he first started doing it, he would only pull it a couple of feet, then stop.  I would have to tell him "tug" again and he would pull it a few more feet.  Now, he usually pulls it the whole way in one shot.  I stand in front of the washing machine so that he stops when he gets to me.  Otherwise, he sometimes keeps going all the way out to the living room because he likes pulling the basket so much!

Here he is pulling a basket of dirty laundry.

Isaac gets a treat when he gets the basket to the washing machine.

Then I point at the clothes in the basket and tell him "get it."  He picks up an article of clothing with his mouth and gives it to me, so I don't have to bend over.  I put the clothes in the washing machine as he hands them to me.  This takes a little while because he usually only picks up one item at a time.  If there are a lot of socks in the basket, for instance, it can be slow going.  Isaac gets a treat after he gives me about half the clothes and another treat when he's done.

When the clothes are done washing, I put them into the dryer.  When they are dry, Isaac takes them out of the dryer for me.  I stand beside the dryer with an empty laundry basket by my feet and point at the clothes in the dryer and tell him to "get it."  He pulls out an item of clothing with his mouth and gives it to me.  I think it's interesting to watch because he doesn't always go for the item that is on top.  I wish I knew how he decides which item to pick up first.  Sometimes he noses around in the clothes like he's looking for a particular item.  Sometimes when he's pulling something out of the dryer, some other things fall out on the floor.  He picks those up for me, too.

Here's a picture of Isaac taking a pair of Mike's boxer shorts out of the dryer.

And yes, sometimes the clothes have a bit of doggie spit on them when he gives them to me.

I use felted wool dryer balls instead of fabric softener sheets and for a while, those were Isaac's favorite things to get out of the dryer.  He would dig around with his nose to get those out first.  Then he wanted to play with them instead of giving them to me.  I would offer to trade him a treat for a ball, an offer he always accepted.  He's less interested in the dryer balls now, though, and usually gives them to me right away.

When Isaac first started helping me get clothes out of the dryer, he would happily get all the items he could easily reach, but he didn't want to stick his head very far in there to get items in the back.  Now, though, he puts his front feet inside the dryer and reaches all the way in when necessary.

Isaac gets a couple treats during the process of emptying the dryer.  When all the clothes are in the laundry basket, I point to the basket and tell him "tug" and he pulls it out to the living room, over to the couch, where I sit to fold the clothes.  Isaac likes taking clothes out of the dryer, but he likes tugging the basket more, so sometimes before he gets all the clothes out, he grabs the rope and starts to pull the basket toward the living room.  I tell him "not yet" and stop the basket with my foot if necessary, then redirect him to the clothes in the dryer.

Because he is so enthusiastic about pulling the basket of laundry, Isaac occasionally tips it over or tilts it sideways in the process, spilling some of the clothes onto the floor.  If that happens, I walk over to the clothes, point to them, and tell him to "get it" and he picks them up and gives them to me.

As you might imagine, doing laundry with Isaac takes longer than it would take to do it myself.  It is so much easier on my back, though!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dogs That Like Their Jobs

Yesterday I wrote about how service dogs are not always on duty.  Even when they are, though, they are usually having fun.  That's right, most service dogs like their jobs.  Do they all like their jobs?  I don't know.  I don't know all the service dogs in the world.  I know that Isaac loves working, I know that other people I know and have spoken to that have service dogs say their dogs love working, and I know that Isaac's trainer told me all the dogs she's trained love to work.  For the most part, a dog that didn't like working wouldn't make a good service dog.

Isaac is a Labrador retriever and labs make great working dogs.  They were bred for working.  They like having a job.  They tend to get bored if they don't have a lot to do.  I occasionally have days I don't want to do much and would prefer to just lie around the house, but Isaac doesn't like that.  He will bug me.  On those days, I usually end up spending some time training him or practicing some of his tasks with him, just to keep him happy.  He loves his job so much he does not like to take days off!

How do I know Isaac loves to work?  He's very expressive and it's easy to tell.  When I tell him, "Get the light!" he races as fast as he can to the light switch.  When I open the dryer and tell him "Get it!" he sticks his head right in, pulls out an item of clothing, and hands it to me.  Sometimes he is so excited he gives it a little shake first.  Sometimes he is so excited he dances around a bit and I have to catch the item he's holding.

Believe me, he does not act like that when I tell him to get in the tub for a bath or when I pick up his foot to cut his toenails!  He gets in the tub and lets me pick up his foot, but it's clear he is not enjoying himself.  He has a ball doing tasks for me, though.

Wish List

I'm still fundraising for Isaac, even though he's been with me for a couple months now.  I'm still making payments to K-9's in Special Service for him and in fact, I still owe almost $3,000.  (Email me at poet_kelly at yahoo dot com for information about how to donate, by they way).

However, Isaac and I would also be happy to accept donations of dog food, treats, toys, and other supplies.  Cash donations are tax deductible (if checks are made out to K-9's in Special Service), but donation of dog food and other items, unfortunately, are not.

Here is our current wish list:

  • Taste of the Wild dog food, Pacific salmon flavor (due to allergies and to avoid upsetting his stomach, this is the only brand of dog food Isaac can have)
  • dog treats (we are less picky about which brand of treats Isaac eats and in fact, he enjoys a variety including crunchy treats like milk bones, chewy treats like beef jerky, and soft treats)
  • bones, like beef bones (the stuffed ones are particularly enjoyed by Isaac), ham bones, pork skin rolls or donuts (raw hide chews are not preferred because they can splinter easily and dogs sometimes swallow large pieces and that can cause problems)
  • dog toys, including those made by Kong and Nylabone (all toys should be designed for large dogs/strong chewers and fairly sturdy)
  • stuffed animals
  • basketballs and footballs (these can be old and deflated, since Isaac just punctures them and deflates them as soon as he gets his mouth on them anyway)
  • doggie wet wipes (these are like baby wipes but are designed to wipe down a dog when a complete bath isn't necessary or feasible at the moment; they can also be used to clean muddy feet or clean doggie feet when they've been outside on pavement that has been treated with salt or other de-icer)
  • postage stamps (to be used for mailing out fundraising letters)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Service Dogs Off Duty

The other day I read an article in which the author commented that she thinks service dogs are "like regular dogs with the spark snuffed out."  She admits she's only had limited exposure to service dogs and that's been when they were in public, working.  I guess she thinks they are on duty all the time.

As I read that article, Isaac was busy tearing around the living room, happily destroying a stuffed frog.  Too bad she couldn't see him.  I think he has plenty of spark!

See, service dogs aren't on duty all the time.  Isaac might work a total of four to six hours a day in a typical day, and that's not all at one stretch, either.  He might work for ten minutes to help me unload the dryer, then take a nap for an hour, then work for ten more minutes to help me get another load of clothes out of the dryer.  We might spend two hours running errands, but he's not working that whole time; he spends part of it lounging in the backseat of the car, looking out the window or napping.  Now, it's true that some service dogs work more hours than Isaac does, but they still get time off duty, as well.

Service dogs off duty are just like any other dog.  They play.  They act silly.  They forage in the garbage can, chase cats and squirrels, dig in the flower beds, roll in smelly stuff, beg for belly rubs, lick themselves, and snooze.  They have fun.  I'll add that most service dogs enjoy working, too, but I'll talk more about that another day.

I'm sure not all service dogs are well cared for, just like not all pets are well cared for, but all the people I know or have spoken to with service dogs make a real effort to ensure all their dogs' needs are met, and that includes a dog's need to play, socialize, and have fun.  They buy their dogs lots of toys.  They take their dogs to dog parks or other places where they can run and play.  They join play groups so their dogs can play with other dogs, dogs they know aren't too aggressive or poorly behaved.  They spend lots of time playing with their dogs.  Those service dogs might have more fun than the average pet does, come to think of it.  They don't seem deprived at all, to me, and they have plenty of spark.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

There's a Lady at My Church that Does That

Isaac and I were at the library, browsing the DVD's, when a man approached us.

Man: There's a lady at my church that does that.

Me: That does what?

I'm wondering if she also likes to watch DVD's.

Man: Well, is that a guide dog?

Me: No, but he is a service dog.

Man: Are you training him?

Me: No, he's already trained.

Man: Oh.  So he's your service dog?

Me: Yes.

Man: Oh.  Well there's a lady at my church that trains guide dogs.

Me: That's nice.

Man: Yes, she just got a new one to train a couple weeks ago.

Me: That's nice.

Man: Yes.  He's a pretty dog.

Man pets Isaac on the nose (without asking first) and then walks off.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Update on Hollywood Casino

About a month ago, I was told by a former employee that Hollywood Casino only allowed people to bring service dogs into the casino if they had some sort of paperwork verifying the dog was in fact a service dog.  I wrote them to express concern about this, as it would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I finally got a response from them today.  All they said was that all of their policies are in compliance with the ADA and thanks for the feedback.

It's Hard to Get Much Work Done...

with a doggie on your keyboard.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Just an Update

I realize I've done a lousy job of blogging this month.  I've had a lot of stuff going one, much of which I haven't yet written about here, although I plan to do so soon.  I've been busy, and last week I was sick with the flu all week, and I just haven't had the time, energy, or motivation for blogging.  I plan to do better next month.

So what's been going on?  In a nutshell:
  • Mike and I separated.  That actually happened a couple months ago.  I just haven't been ready to write about it yet.
  • I spent five days in the hospital after Thanksgiving, due to depression and PTSD.  It was a horrible, horrible experience, and I do want to write about it, but I've needed time to recover a bit first.
  • My mother and sister are not talking to me.  They got mad when I mentioned something on Facebook about being sexually abused as a child and... well, I don't want to post a lot of information about other people here because I want to respect their privacy.  I'm comfortable talking about myself and my own experiences but I don't want to talk about other people without their permission.  The bottom line is that they are angry and not speaking to me.
  • I've been doing some energy work, which, if you're not familiar with the concept, is a form of alternative healing.  It's actually helping a lot.  I have very little back pain these days and even my PTSD symptoms are better.  I'm loving it.
  • Isaac continues to learn new tasks.  Currently, we are working on having him put clothes into the laundry basket himself when he takes them out of the dryer instead of handing them to me to put them into the basket.  I also want to teach him to retrieve my cell phone for me, but I have to find some sort of case for it first because I don't want him to slobber all over it in the process.
  • We've been continuing to practice the Treat Toss, and Isaac can now do it with hotdogs, which I think is really impressive.
  • I had the flu all last week.  I was sick for an entire week.  And I got a flu shot this year, too.  Blah.
I promise to get back to blogging more regularly.  So please stick with me!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Toys, Toys, Toys

See all the toys Isaac has?  And what does he want to play with?  A plastic two-liter soda bottle.  He loves those.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fundraising Ideas for a Service Dog

Trained service dogs can make a world of difference for people living with disabilities. My service dog, Isaac, allows me to be more independent, more productive, have less pain, and simply experience a better quality of life.  

Unfortunately, trained service dogs are expensive. Service dogs require about 18 months of intensive training, which can cost up to $50,000 to provide. Most programs that provide people with service dogs rely on donations and volunteers to help keep the cost to recipients down, but people receiving service dogs usually have to pay part of the cost themselves. I had to raise $6,000 for my service dog.
If you’re trying to raise the funds for a service dog, here are some ideas that might help you. These are the things that worked for me.

Change Jars

You’ve seen these jars on counters in gas stations, stores, and restaurants. Customers can drop in some change when paying for their merchandise. Use some old jars, like the kind pickles and spaghetti sauce some in, or buy some canning jars for this purpose. Using a sharp knife, carefully punch a hole in the lid large enough for quarters and folded dollar bills to be easily inserted. Make labels for your jars, explaining what you’re collecting change for. Put a dollar bill and some change in the jar to get things started. Visit local businesses and ask the owner or manager for permission to leave a jar on their counter. Visit weekly to collect the money from the jars.

Contact Local Churches

Churches often assist members of the local community with financial needs and you don’t have to be a member of a church in order for them to assist you. Of course, if you do attend church, that’s a good place to start, as are churches attended by family members or friends. Contact the pastor of the church by phone or letter, explain why you need a trained service dog, and ask if the church’s deacons’ fund can assist you. I received donations from churches ranging from $300 to $1,000. Be prepared to provide additional information if requested, such as a letter from your doctor verifying that you are in fact disabled and in need of a service dog or a letter from the program that will be providing your service dog verifying the cost.

Contact Local Businesses

Local businesses sometimes donate money to good causes, as well. Try to get the name of the owner of the business and address any requests for donations to him or her directly. I had less success getting donations from businesses than from churches, but one local veterinary practice did offer me free lifetime veterinary care for my service dog.

Hold a Raffle

Sometimes businesses would prefer to donate merchandise or services rather than cash. If they’ll donate a bike or a gift certificate for a day at the spa or whatever else they have to offer, you can sell raffle tickets for a dollar or two and raise money that way.

Hold a Yard Sale

Sometimes people also prefer to donate things rather than money. Almost everyone has old clothes, books, toys, or other items around the house, things they’ve been meaning to donate to Goodwill or sell at a yard sale that they never get around to having. Ask them to donate items and hold a yard sale, making sure to advertise the fact that all proceeds will be used to fund your trained service dog. You can also sell raffle tickets at your yard sale, if you’ve received donations of goods or services from local businesses.

Social Networking

If you have a Facebook account, post frequently there about your fundraising efforts. If you don’t have a Facebook account, it’s worth setting one up for this purpose. Consider writing a blog, as well, about your efforts to raise the funds for a service dog and how you expect your dog to help you. Post pictures of yourself with your service dog on your blog and on Facebook, if you can; the first time I posted pictures of my service dog Isaac, I received numerous donations. Pictures allow people to put a face to the story; they make the need seem more real.  If you’re just starting the process of getting a service dog, you may not have any pictures, but once a dog has been selected for you, you should be able to get some pictures.

Fundraising Websites

Post about your fundraising needs on websites like Go FundMe and WishUpon a HeroEmail links to your friends and acquaintances. Post links to these sites on Facebook and on your blog, if you have one, and put links to your blog on any fundraising sites you post on.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Downside of Having a Service Dog

Here's a link to an article I wrote about the negatives of having a service dog (yes, it's not all peaches and cream), published on Yahoo Voices.

The Downside of Having a Service Dog

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fruits and Veggies? Not Isaac!

Isaac's trainer told me I could give him fresh fruits and veggies as healthy treats and said that most dogs like things like apples and carrots.  I liked that idea a lot, because he gets a lot of treats as rewards for working and while training, and the calories in doggie treats can really add up. 

Unfortunately, Isaac will not eat carrots or apples.  I gave him a piece of each and he mouthed it, then spit it out.  He said it was not food.  He looked at me like he couldn't figure out why I was giving him that inedible stuff.

Isaac eats almost anything.  In addition to dog food and doggie treats, he likes cat food (wet and dry), shredded cheese, fried cheese sticks (from Arby's), turkey, chicken, hotdogs (I think hotdogs are his favorite), pizza, poptarts, potato chips, tortilla chips, crackers, bread, and peanut butter.  I have also seen him eat bugs, cat poop, and assorted disgusting things he finds buried in the old leaves along the side of the road.  All of these, he considers food. 

But apples?  Carrots?  No way, he can't eat that crap.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Treat Toss

I'm sorry I haven't posted much lately.  There's been a lot going on, which I should probably be blogging about, but... well, sorry.  I'll try to do better.

Today Isaac and I were playing the Treat Toss game. 

First let me explain that I've been working with Isaac on "stay" even when there is something he really wants to get to/sniff/eat/whatever.  He has to stay until he is released.  We've been working on that with treats, starting with some he likes but not his favorites, and then advancing to his favorite food in the whole entire world, hotdogs.  I tell him to sit or lie down, then tell him to stay, then put a treat just out of reach.  He has to wait until I say "OK" to get the treat.  When we play that game, he is allowed one mistake.  If he eats the treat once without being told "OK," we continue playing.  If he does it a second time, the game is over.  Isaac loves the game, because it involves getting lots of delicious treats (even if he does have to wait a short time for them), and he's gotten very good at it.  Buckets of drool pour out of his mouth while he waits to be given the OK to get the treat, but he waits.

We've tried to advance to the Treat Toss game a couple times but he couldn't do it.  It involves telling him to sit, telling him to stay, and then tossing a treat right past his nose.  He can't go after the treat until I say "OK."  Apparently tossing the treat is more tempting than just placing it in front of  him.

Well, today he was able to do it.  He didn't take him eyes off the treat and he drooled and drooled and he was absolutely quivering with excitement and effort - but he waiting until I said OK to run to get the treat.  Once time he started to go after it, then caught himself and sat back down, which really impressed me.  To make the game especially rewarding, I've been giving multiple treats when he waits until I say OK.  He gets the treat I tossed, but he gets a couple extras, too.

We haven't tried the Treat Toss game with hotdogs yet.  I'll wait until he's really good at doing it with dog biscuits first.  But I'm really proud of how well he's doing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Update on Ruby Tuesday

I received a phone call from the manager of Ruby Tuesday, thanking me for my letter regarding how their servers relate to customers with service dogs.  He apologized for the server that asked intrusive questions about my disability, but also thanked me for providing helpful information about service dogs.  He said some of the information was new to him, and that he was using the information I provided to train his staff.  I'm very happy with his response.

In other news, I have not heard anything from the casino I contacted, after a former employee told me their policy was to require people with service dogs to show documentation that their dog is in fact a service dog, which is a violation of the ADA.