Joey

 

Joey.  What do I possibly say about him?  Of course he’s awesome.  Everyone who sees him, especially when he’s in action, is stunned by his perfection.  And he is all of those things.  Beautiful, well-behaved, loves me, knows 200 commands, extremely impressive blood line.

 

And we naturally thought, because we had lived with a labrador for twelve years before as a much-beloved pet, that this would be similar.  Oh no, not at all.  Well, just not much.  There’s a huge difference, apparently, between a pet dog and a service dog.  Especially one from this place.

 

He has been, for me, extremely overwhelming simply all the time.  It’s slowly getting a little better, as I’m getting faster at caring for him, he’s adjusting to our routine here, and we’re establishing a pattern together.  I’m learning to read his signals;  my husband used snow fence to create a “fenced yard” out back so that sometimes I can sit out there and throw a tennis ball to him, and he can toilet outside.

 

Joey became my full-time job.  I, who had my hands full just caring for myself, and was so proud of beginning to do a few little jobs around our house again, couldn’t do any of that.  Not only that, but my husband was having to chip in to help with Joey several times a day as well.  There wasn’t time in my day for my self-care routine, let alone cleaning or cooking.  It was all consumed by Joey tasks.

 

This really took our entire family by surprise.  In the first place, we have never been close friends with anyone who had a service dog.  In the second place, this place in St. Louis takes great pride in being far more thorough than any other dog training place in the entire country.  I’m having to learn to balance all that, because I have struggled with being a real perfectionist myself.

 

Here are just a few of the dozens and dozens of rules about their dogs:  not ever off the leash outside, unless you have a fenced yard;  groomed daily; teeth and ears cleaned weekly;  exercised twice daily for twenty minutes each time;  kenneled 2x daily to prevent separation anxiety;  nails maintained with a battery-powered Dremmel 2x a week.   And because he knows so many commands, the challenge of not using one of those words in casual conversation is very great.

 

We had installed an invisible fence for our previous dog, Remo.  That wouldn’t be a possibility for Joey, it seemed.  Ever.

 

Our first week home, I had to hold his leash all the time, except for two brief kennel times each day.  Given that he had come home with me on Wednesday of the first week, and had been on the leash all evenings for a week and a half, this meant 2 1/2 weeks of holding Joey’s leash.

 

The second week home, he was allowed  to “drag” his leash.  This was really weird for him.  He was used to being no further than a leash length away from me, so he would follow me around all the time.  Having been in the bathroom with me for almost three weeks and being trained to “bump” things…..including doors….didn’t allow me any more privacy this next week.  It just had the added disadvantage of surprise.

 

The third week, he graduated to a shorter leash.  This was still weird.  The 4th week, he was bare in the house.  This is how we’ve been for several weeks.  Joey is still obsessed with me.  He follows me from room to room, from side  to side of the room, is right behind me when I turn around.

 

At this point, until it warms up and I can walk outside, he won’t be much use to me.  I can’t take him in public unless my husband is with me, because I’m not yet improved  enough to handle him on my own.  So my days are pretty much complicated with Joey care right now, for no return.  Vacuuming up his hair, cleaning and washing his paws when he goes our three times a day, grooming, exercising, brushing his teeth…..

 

I believe we will be a great team.  We will walk together outside, without me having to cling to someone’s hand, or wait until someone has time to walk with me.  I LOVE to walk.  That is the only form of exercise open to me now.  I would walk for hours if I could.

 

When I am able to go with him in other people’s cars, we will go and be able to be dropped off places.  For example, the mall.  Even with my hiking stick, it is far too overwhelming and open for me to maneuver on my own.  But with Joey, maybe someday it will be possible.  He is lovely and strong, and very willing to help me and take care of me.  I can definitely see that.

 

On days like this, though, in March when it’s muddy, no one can come and see me or take me places because of our stupid road,and it won’t stop the darned precipitation…..it’s so hard to hold on to that vision of summertime walks.  Our bible reading a few weeks ago was about Noah building the ark, and our pastor reminded us that it took Noah over 100 years to build the ark.

 

I just hope I don’t have to wait that long.

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Dog to the Rescue!

 

Just about two weeks ago, we finally got a letter that I have been approved to receive a support mobility dog.  It has been a very, very long process of prayer, hope, dreams, depression, and longing.

First I had to get a glimmer of a dream of a possible future for me.  It seems impossible sometimes to avoid looking around at all I’ve lost, to see any kind of a future. When I let myself remember how very full my life was before, and how barren it seems now,  it’s like looking at a wall.  A dead end.  I try to make myself picture a window that I can see through to look at what my life will become now.  Perhaps one day I will be able to picture a door that I can walk through, into a new, lovely life.    I won’t lie to you, it’s a tough  process, and sometimes I’ve definitely been more successful than others.  But God has been down here with me. and I’ve learned a lot about trusting and listening to Him.  He’s very good at that…He’s had lots of practice.

I first had the vision maybe two years ago, not long after I came home from the facility.  If I was going to struggle with walking independently for quite some time, and possibly forever, why not apply for one of these mobility dogs that I was reading about?

So that launched the first wave of effort.  My oldest daughter, who had been home with us during the 9 months after  my accident, took on the project.  She did lots of computer research and made dozens of calls.  It seemed most places we found wouldn’t allow their dogs to go out of state, only trained dogs for children and veterans, or were prohibitively expensive.  She finally settled on a man here, in our city, who trained dogs  He said he had several breeders he regularly used, and he would be willing to go with us to pick out the puppy.  We would do the basic obedience training, and he would do the specialized part of the training.

I did further research on mobility dogs.  Unlike other support dogs, they have to be fully mature…approximate two years old.  Just the frame that they wear around their neck is pretty heavy, and in case the person stumbles and puts their full weight on the dog, their bone structure has to be mature enough to handle it.

And there is a very high risk that a puppy won’t turn out to have the correct temperament.  After 18 months of training and love and waiting, we would definitely have a pet.  But maybe not a mobility dog.  Pretty scary stuff.  But I said “Ok”, because this seemed the only option available.  And a puppy is, after all, very very lovable!

And then came months of waiting, without a call back.  When we eventually managed to make contact, it was only to find that this man had tragically died of an premature heart attack a few months before.

Of course this was a much, much more extreme tragedy for the man’s family than for us!  Even so, it seemed like another setback on my journey to find a dog.

Back to the facility in St. Louis that my daughter had initially called, who had refused to give her an idea of any waiting period until we paid the application fee.  As I pointed out, it had already been more than a year since we had initially started the process.  The usual wait time we were finding for a dog was 2 to 3 years, so if we had applied at the time …..

My husband quickly agreed.  He called them.  The initial contact was indeed most unhelpful, which must have been what turned my daughter off.  They were mostly concerned with telling you what the dogs could NOT do.  They were NOT seeing eye dogs, they were NOT trained for PTSD, yadda yadda yadda.  He persevered, thank goodness.  She agreed to send him an application.  Game on.

My lifelong best friend lives just a few miles away from this particular place, and she is the one who hand-delivered the initial application packet, and the follow-up packet.  She and her husband also paid the application fee for us.  They, along with several other friends, started doing some heavy duty praying.

Support Dogs Inc., where my dog is coming from, is, as I said previously, in the St. Louis area.  I can’t say enough about the great work this organization does!  We visited there a few weeks ago, and it just made my heart leap up to see those dogs, so proud and tall, all there for their “specialized” training.  They are all born there, then at 8 weeks they go, either first to a family or to prison to live with a prisoner (they will eventually all do both) for their socialization and basic obedience training.  Then when they are 18 months old, they come back for the specialized training.  We saw 2 litters of puppies, and about a dozen of the older returning dogs.  My dog is more than likely right now in a prison or a home.

Can you tell I am excited? This is me trying to hold it down. This application process has already been very extensive, and more than a year. They say the wait will be less than two more years, most probably around a year. I am content to wait now that I know for sure that somewhere out there there’s a dog for me.

Hello out there, my doggy pal! I’m praying for you, and your trainers.