Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why Fake Service Dogs Aren't a Laughing Matter

I had heard about the growing problem of fake service dogs before - I saw the links to places where you can buy vests and get 'ID' cards that can make your dog appear to be an actual service dog. I was appalled that people would actually do that, but didn't realize the extent of the problem until we traveled to Alabama. Obviously faking that your pet is a service dog is dishonest and even illegal, but why is it really such a big deal?  Let me tell you.

We had been able to go most anywhere in our state of Ohio as well as Washington DC and Orlando, Florida without much of a challenge. Not here, at least not anymore. Almost everywhere we have gone on this vacation we have been confronted and had to explain, show ID, etc. When we have our service dog with us my son's autistic stimming behaviors that are usually at their worst in public often disappear almost entirely. While that is a great thing, it also can make it confusing for those who encounter us. With fake service dogs becoming more common we become a likely target of suspicion.

Each time we get challenged it becomes necessary to point out what the dog is for. Even though we don't have to give my son's diagnosis per se, we may need to clarify what the dog is trained to do. By definition a service dog is specially trained to assist it's partner in specific ways.When you are 14 you are extremely self conscious anyway, imagine how uncomfortable it is for you when your mom explains that the dog is there to intervene in meltdowns or track you if you run off. Imagine doing that several times a day. Imagine doing that when there are other kids your age watching. Imagine worrying that you won't be given access to a hotel, restaurant or other event. Instead of the positive attention a well behaved and people loving dog can bring the attention becomes mostly negative - having to defend why you are bringing 'your pet' into a public place. Explaining that the dog is not a pet, showing your information, etc. becomes another source of anxiety for my son who already worries excessively. Kids with autism don't handle these kind of routine changes well. Getting my son to go out in public was almost impossible until we got our service dog. Now this has to happen - just as acceptance of service dogs was getting easier and my son's love of travel was blossoming.

It may not be a big thing to some people but families with kids on the spectrum just want to fit in sometimes. Sometimes that means having a service dog with us to smooth the way and make the hard things a little easier. It means having an outing without a meltdown, or a without a kiddo darting off in a crowd and madly chasing after them. Having their dog there - nuzzling them or lying across their lap to give deep pressure is a calming and grounding influence. It all helps, but only if we aren't constantly having to 'defend our case'.

During this trip we had to frequently show our ID, explain the use of the dog and wait while managers where called in to 'approve' of our stay at a hotel. We were stopped on the beach by an irate hotel housekeeper who told us that no dogs of any kind are allowed on the beach and that we could be fined if we took her out there. In each case they explained that there have been a lot of people passing off their dogs as 'service dogs'. I can empathize with the business owners who encounter damage from untrained dogs in their hotel rooms and messes on the beach from negligent owners who don't clean up afterwards. People with real service dogs don't do that - we appreciate the accommodation and try to be respectful of others who don't care for dogs. We keep our dogs in control and clean up after them because we don't want any negative reactions. We went through a lot of work and expense to get our service dog. It isn't as simple as slapping on a vest or buying an 'ID' online. In short the fake service dog problem makes it hard on everyone - both the service dog partner and business people trying to keep their clients happy and their property clean and safe.

So please share this. If you are guilty of this, please STOP! If you know someone who has done this please tell them how much of a problem this causes, tell our story if you have to. Maybe it will change at least one persons mind.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy Anniversary Mercy!

It is hard to believe it has been three years since Mercy came to live with us. In those three years many things have happened, some very good and some were very, very hard. I credit the love of this wonderful furry soul for getting us through the hard ones. When Chris lost his grandparents, both of them in short succession, she helped him through it. It's pretty hard to feel down for long with her silliness and loving attention. How can you not laugh when a large, full grown dog is laying outside on a snow covered patio table looking at us like "What"?
She was there when he ventured into team sports. What a huge thing for a kid who has a hard time in crowds. When things got to be too much, he would come over to where she was and give her a hug and then go back. Sometimes that is all he needed.
She swallowed a whole plate of double chocolate brownies and earned a trip to the doggie ER. She was thankfully fine, but I did find out that she indeed DOES swallow things whole!
She went to school plays and outings, dental checkups, therapy and orthodontist appointments. She was a huge help during an ER visit for a minor injury. All of those things were so much easier because she was there. We even got to take a small part in a documentary (see below for link).
During this time we got to take some wonderful adventures that would never have been possible without Mercy. The world has literally opened up for my son. There was a time when we could barely manage a trip to the store -there are still a few days like that - but now we can plan a road trip on occasion. That is priceless.
Mercy "Dream" Wallrauch, you earned your name.

Link to the documentary:(

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye

Mercy on the job in Washington DC.
Sometimes it only takes a second for things to go horribly wrong.
In May we journeyed to Washington DC, part business and part pleasure. We saw some great sights over the weekend and relaxed at the pool. My son finally even got over his fear of elevators or at least for the one in the hotel - which was a godsend. Due to the way the stairs were configured it was nearly impractical to use them every time we had to go out, and there was no public access to go back up.
Mercy was wonderful. She had a session with the groomer before we left and she looked absolutely beautiful. I am not exaggerating. I cannot tell you how many people literally said she was the most gorgeous dog they had ever seen. One fellow even stopped in his tracks and said "That dog should be on TV!"  But besides looking great she had been a model of service dog behavior for the whole trip. She traversed shiny floors, elevators, crowded noisy streets, busy stores, heeled beautifully during our walks, sat quietly while people petted her, did perfect 'unders' in the restaurant and assisted her boy in a few meltdowns. While I was in the seminar she behaved nicely for my sister and hung out with Chris in the hotel room. She quickly became popular as several other travelers in the hotel began to call her by name.
The road where Mercy went running.
And then the unthinkable happened...
After we checked out of the hotel we were waiting  out in front by the street for our van to pull Suddenly an intense gust of wind hit us, knocking down our luggage and blowing some of my work papers all over the sidewalk. While we scrambled to get a hold of the papers and gather the strewn luggage the leash had somehow come off of my arm. Then for some reason Mercy thought it was time for a romp and dashed across the street toward the construction lot where I had walked her earlier.
I began to panic. This was absolutely the worst place I could think of for something like this to happen. We were in a very busy part of town during the noon hour, and one of the streets led into a busy four lane highway. Worst of all, a train was roaring by and it was obvious that she couldn't hear my call. She was in a full speed run in the opposite direction and I was terrified that she was going to get hit. Chris was right behind me and I could hear the terror in his voice as well. It was heart wrenching.  I began to run after her (probably the very last thing I should have done) and of course when she finally saw me she acted like we were playing a great game. I had hoped to be able to catch her in the lot, but then she ran toward the street that led to the two lane highway. If she went that way it would be over for sure. My heart lurched as we ran after her. I couldn't imagine what I would do if something happened to her, especially like this. At this point I knew I couldn't chase her much longer. I could barely breathe. The train was still roaring past and the noise from the highway added to the chaos. Chris was screaming for her and then suddenly she must have heard him and turned away from the highway and came running toward us. Chris got a hold of her collar and had her, as we all stopped totally exhausted. Suddenly the excitement had overwhelmed him and he shut down, right there on the highway, his arms around his dog laying on the ground. Thankfully a wonderful army woman had joined our pursuit and was now trying to help me get Chris off the road.
We later talked to the trainers about the incident and were advised that we needed to work on making her go into a down when her leash was dropped. I confess we had not been working on that but now realize just how important it is. Jeremy also suggested getting a whistle to use when in loud areas and to practice calling her with it. We have some homework to do, no doubt! In hindsight I also realize that I should have made holding Mercy my first priority - if you are handling your dog in such an area don't try to be doing anything that will compromise your attention or ability to hold on to them.
Later we realized how lucky we were and that it must have been an act of divine intervention that there was no traffic on that stretch of road during that whole time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another 'Small' Thing to be Thankful For

Today Chris got his eyes examined and Mercy came to the appointment with us. As we were leaving, I took Chris and Mercy over to the waiting area while I went to the counter to pay the bill. Normally I don't let go of Mercy, but the room was almost empty and there were several doors to go through before going outside. There were only two people sitting in the waiting room and I could sense that they were dog-friendly. Besides, Mercy was really into 'lapping' him today for some reason, so I made sure he had a good hold of her while she sprawled across his lap and I went over to pay the bill. As I waited for my card to be ran, I looked over at where they were sitting (about 20 or so feet away) and I heard a lady asking him what his dog's name was. I automatically tensed - I always dreaded that moment, because I knew he would probably not answer, or if he did it may not be understandable. He would probably stim or get up and run to me. Now that he was 12, it was awkward to say the least.
But then I heard it. In a clear and almost confident voice he told her his dog's name. He was smiling like any friendly 12 year old, patting and hugging Mercy when the lady asked him if they were best buddies and once again he answered her clearly: "Yes!" His tone may have been flat, but his face was lit with joy.
I don't think I have ever seen him interact with someone he didn't know that easily and naturally before. So this year I am thankful for one of my biggest blessings: a lovable, silly, 70 pound dog with a coat and a heart of gold- as well as all of the people that made it happen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Still Amazed....

Just when I thought I was getting used to our incredible dog Mercy, little things happen that simply blow me away. Both times I wished I had a video handy to catch it.
As many of you know we have two 4 Paws dogs. Along with Mercy we have one of their breeding dogs, a beautiful but energetic rough coated collie named Keeva. We are currently working on a bad habit she has of jumping up - especially on Chris. Well, apparently Mercy has sensed our frustration and has on two occasions literally taken matters into her own paws. Two times when Keeva has jumped up on Chris, Mercy has actually come up behind her, wrapped her paws around her middle and pulled her off of him. The first time I saw it I thought she was just horsing around and playing, but the next time I noticed that her expression was not playful, it wasn't aggressive either - it was just 'determined'. Once she removed the troublesome dog, she stood next to Chris as if to tell Keeva "Knock it off". Then the next day I was sitting on the couch with Keeva laying over my lap while I brushed her. Suddenly Keeva starting licking my face in her 'extreme doggie kissing' mode and it is actually hard to breathe when she does this - she is SO quick! It is something you almost have to see to totally understand. If you have ever seen the Marmaduke cartoons where his owner is sprawled on the floor getting plastered with dog kisses you might have an idea. I was laughing, trying to breathe and trying to tell her to stop when Mercy came out of nowhere and 'pulled' her off of me like I was in mortal danger! What makes this really hard to believe is that Mercy is so passive she will let Keeva take all of her food and any of her toys - but when it comes to her 'peeps', Mercy is standing her ground. She reminded me of a school marm watching over the playground.
But that wasn't all, this is by far the most touching. The other night her boy was away from home without her and he was having a very bad day. He called me on Facetime (this is a video call for those that don't have IPhones) and began to get upset- he was headed for the 'meltdown zone', he had been having a very high anxiety day. All of a sudden Mercy was right next to me with a confused expression and looking for her boy, ready to comfort him. Finally she saw his face on the screen and began to lick the phone and to paw at it. Even miles away her magic was taking hold, the crying slowed and after a sniffle I heard her boy ask while starting to giggle: "Is she REALLY licking the phone?"
Small things true, but still amazing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thank You and Good Luck Mrs. Tracey!

After three great years today we had to say goodbye to Chris' wonderful school aide, Tracey. If you have read my previous posts you will know how incredible the people are at my son's school and Tracey was no exception.  She patiently listened to his stories about his chickens and she would tease him about how pigs were better. She helped him foster new friendships and do things that were hard for him-but within reason.  She not only encouraged him when the going got tough, watched out for sensory overload, and made him do his best work but maybe most of all she helped him develop his wonderful sense of humor and his basketball skills! This may seem trivial but those things boosted his social confidence and helped him make friends.

School isn't just about learning facts, it's also about learning how to work and play with others, how to be part of a group working on a project and yes, even about how to have fun with each other. Tracey helped him with all those things. She taught him how to laugh at the small stuff.

I was always so glad we were in a school that gladly provided an aide, but we were twice blessed because we also had a good one. The longer I live the more I believe that people and pets come into our lives at just the right time. So while we sadly said goodbye and wiped the tears from our eyes, we know that this time has come for a reason.

But here is the thing that touched me most of all: Last summer when Tracey was offered her old job back she didn't say 'yes' right away- first she had to make sure her 'boy' would successfully transition to middle school. He did. This is probably not something most teachers' aides would do. Just the special ones.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mercy Marks her One Year Anniversary as an Autism Assistance Dog

Mercy hanging out with her boy
One year ago on July 1st Mercy passed her public access test and became an official working dog.
Although everyone else in our class of December 2010 passed their test on the last day of class, the embarrassing fact is that Mercy and I didn't. Mercy had to get through some issues of her own and so did I.
Ironically, I think that the process of helping Mercy get over her sudden and intense harness phobia may have provided a valuable lesson or two for my son and me.

Lesson #1: Don't give up on someone you love until you have tried every reasonable option.

We were given the option to change dogs, but something told me to give her a chance. She was perfect except for the harness problem and she seemed to love us as much as we did her! So we waited a while longer while the trainer gave her extra time and then we worked with her after she came home. Six months later she passed her test with the dreaded harness and she passed it well.

Lesson #2: Most any fear can be conquered when you have patience, persistence and understanding to help you through it.
Take the time it takes and each tiny step forward will build confidence. Mix something you fear with something you love to help keep your mind from obsessing with worry. In Mercy's case it was tracking. If she got to track Chris right after her harness was on, it took her mind off the initial 'itchy feel'.

For those of you who haven't followed this blog, it has been a year of unbelievable change in Chris. He has gone from being terrified to go to places as ordinary as a grocery store to being able to visit all kinds of new places - especially when his furry friend goes too. We recently went on our first vacation in a long time, to Washington DC and we had the best time ever. 
Mercy was good as gold - maybe even better.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Autism + A Caring Elementary School = Hope

Chris and Mercy enjoying field trip to DC
As Chris'  elementary school days came to an end last week I began to reflect on how much has changed since we walked through those doors five years ago. I will never forget how hopeless I was feeling about what the next few years would bring - especially when I saw how big and unimpressive our rural elementary school appeared to be.*  The building was obviously too small and overcrowded. It was loud and hectic. The noise reverberated off of the painted block walls and ugly exposed pipes and duct work. I felt like I had stepped back into the 1940's. This old school sure didn't look like it had kept pace with the times. How would my first grader who liked quiet and had so much difficulty adjusting ever do well here? My heart sank. I was admittedly pretty biased against public education after the struggle my older son had and from the reports I had gotten from the parent groups I belonged to. We had tried a small private school that had a great reputation only to find that he couldn't function there. He couldn't return to the Montessori school where he was before for a variety of reasons, one of them being the high cost. This was the last hope and it didn't look good.

Sometimes first impressions can be so wrong.

At the time we didn't know for sure what our son's diagnosis was. We did know that he had a very hard time in crowded places, he had sensory issues and he didn't communicate appropriately in a school situation. He was terrified of new things and crowded places. The private school was very concerned that he would hurt himself there as he crashed himself into walls when he was having sensory overload.

It seemed like Val, the dean of students at Clermont Northeastern Elementary had made the connection already. She was kind, knowledgeable and above all seemed to genuinely want to help our son. She assured me that she had just the right first grade teacher who could help him transition. I began to feel a little hope begin to take hold.

She was right. From the very first day he began to feel more comfortable in his new school. Each year his teachers would be selected with care and it always seemed like he got just the right teacher. His first three teachers were very nurturing and consistent, and when he needed teachers who would push a little, he got those too. He was quickly assigned an aide which is often something parents must battle for – even in affluent districts.

I think the difference in this school was attitude. They looked at my son and didn't see just the problems or make assumptions based on his eventual diagnosis of autism. They saw his ability, his gentleness and his quirky sense of  humor when he let it come out. They embraced his love of chickens and built upon it. They appreciated the way his mind works.

All of the staff joined in with his love of chickens and would think of ways to work them into his school day. They knew he would talk about them and it was a way to get him to come out of himself. His teachers gave him chicken themed gifts at Christmas and the librarian saved some old chicken books especially for him. He was allowed to keep small chicken figurines on his desk and used stuffed chickens as visuals for goal setting. One teacher even tried a live hatching project. He blossomed socially as well as academically and made the honor roll on a regular basis.
Chris (blue stripes) and his buddies
As I watched this happy and more confident boy clowning with his friends on field day it was hard to imagine that he was the same sad and frightened first grader who wouldn't speak or look at the other children. In fact, not only does he now have friends, you might even say that he is popular! Last week while on a field trip in Washington DC, his classmates all began to cheer when they saw us drive by. He looked at me grinning and said "I kinda feel like a celebrity". Indeed. Although the challenge of middle school looms large in the future, at least for now he is a happy kid.

It takes a lot of different interventions to help a kid with autism learn to cope with their challenges and to be the best they can be. It involves trial and error as well as going with your gut feelings. Even though I have credited Chris' involvement with his pets and his service dog as important factors in his ongoing improvement, his school experience has undoubtedly been a huge one as well. Having the input and expertise of all of those who have worked with him at CNE has been invaluable. In fact it has been one of the most successful examples of great teamwork that I have ever seen. It is easy to understand why this school was named one of the National Blue Ribbon Award winners last year.

I thank all of his teachers, aides, intervention specialists, the librarian, the school secretary, his bus drivers, the principal and the assistant principal. All of you are wonderful and more appreciated than you will ever know.

And finally, to all the parents of newly diagnosed children with autism or other special needs: Don't give up hope. Find what your child loves and join them in that love, build on it and embrace it. Surround yourself with others who care enough to join in too. Don't under-estimate them or limit them because of a label. Believe in them and you might just be surprised!

Yes, sometimes first impressions can be so wrong.

* Two years ago the elementary moved to a much newer building.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Year - Training Wheels and Doggies

Happy New Year!
Last year at this time we were anxiously waiting to see if Mercy would be coming home to us. It was a bittersweet time since we went through the holidays without her but were relishing our last weeks with Atticus our foster as well. Also, we weren't quite sure if Mercy would even make it as a service dog for us, which was hard to think about. Turns out that patience paid off and just as Chris said - "Jeremy did his magic" and Mercy made it.
Now there are two young dogs tearing around the house and how different it is since last year! In addition to the increase in dog hair, Mercy and our new foster girl "Keeva" have filled our house with silliness, mischief, doggie kisses and just plain "life". Chris has also made so much progress since last year, especially since our trip to 4 Paws. We go to all sorts of places now and have even been able to participate in some school events. Chris has tried things I never would have imagined. His world has expanded.
In some ways Mercy has been like 'training wheels' for Chris, providing support, building his confidence and being there in case he loses his balance. Just as a parent can let go of the bike once a child starts using his training wheels I have been able to let go a little too.
Things aren't perfect by any means, but having those small slices of normalcy are so priceless. Some have asked will he always need those 'training wheels'? I don't know. Right now though that hardly matters, the most important part is that he is going out and enjoying the ride.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Dear Mercy!

Today our dear beautiful golden, silly pup turned two. It seems like she has been a part of our family for so long even though it hasn't even been a year. She has been a priceless addition. The funny thing I noticed about having an autism assistance dog is that many times when we take her out, Chris feels so comfortable that his autistic behaviors are sometimes hardly visible. For some reason I didn't really expect that to happen. Lately we often find ourselves laughing and having fun when before even a trip to the store was an exhausting and stressful event. Most of the time Chris pretty much just looks like a boy with a dog.  We sometimes get confused looks as people try to figure out which one of us needs the assistance dog!
In her young career Mercy has stopped meltdowns, 'found' Chris at Kings Island and once in Target, provided comfort at the orthodontist, ER, doctor's office, church, field trips, and at family events. We even had fun at a mall - something my son would never have wanted to do before. Chris now sleeps in his own room-all night in fact. These are not small things to a child with autism. They are priceless things for the parent.
Mercy has brought so many laughs to us. Her quirkiness can lighten up the dreariest day. She watches T.V. and loves the cat to no end. She often gets frustrated with her kong and barks at it until I get the treat out. When she knows the time is coming to go to her kennel she goes to the couch and gives a dramatic performance that could win an Oscar. She drapes her head over the back of the couch and looks up at me as if to say "I am sooo comfortable here and ohh soo tired, can't I just stay here?". She can be such a drama queen. She also has an obsession with pillows. Of course keeping a highly intelligent and high energy dog happy and busy takes energy and patience. We have our share of 'puppy behaviors' when she doesn't get enough attention or mental activity. She has taught Chris to keep his shoes in the laundry room, that is for sure.
She sometimes acts as if she is my assistance dog too. When I come down with a cold or am just over stressed she will lay by me or lay her head on me and look up at me with those soulful loving eyes. Once when I slept without my sleep apnea machine she woke me up - standing over me with her muzzle in my face. The look on her face registered concern, she looked like she wanted to say "are you ok?"
The journey to get her took us in new directions and brought wonderful people into my life that I would have never known otherwise. I have seen acts of extreme kindness and met people who have overcome huge challenges and are the better for it. It has ignited in my soul a strong desire to pitch in and volunteer. In short, it reminds me of the title of my favorite childhood book: "The Incredible Journey".
So we give her an extra treat and extra time to play with the cat-it's her birthday after all. Then we sing happy birthday to her. "Happy birthday dear Mercy, happy birthday to you - and many more".
Oh yes, please, many many more.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

E R Visit - Mercy helps her boy

Two weeks ago at this time we were just getting back from a trip to Mercy Clermont Hospital to get a nasty cut stitched up that Chris got when playing on an exercise bike.
It all started off when I heard a terrifying scream downstairs. Chris was screaming uncontrollably and trying to come up the stairs with Mercy by his side. He had blood all over his legs and they were scraped up pretty bad, then I saw the back of his leg - there was a deep gash and it was laid open. For one minute of horror I wondered if something could have happened with the dog. Could she have gotten silly and accidentally hurt him? She was right there with him and was trying to figure out how to help. Finally he calmed down enough to tell me what happened. He was pedaling the stationery bike we just got and when he tried to get off the pedals were still going fast and the sharp  edges cut him.
My mind immediately flashed back to the time he cut his foot about 3 years ago and had to get stitches. It was a horrid experience. He screamed in terror for about an hour and the experience at the hospital was overwhelming. People he didn't know, so many talking to him and touching him. The sensory overload and the way his body experiences pain makes this kind of situation far worse than for most kids. How were we going to get through this, especially now since he was having a LOT of anxiety about illness and dying?
It sounds odd, but I wasn't sure if we should take Mercy. How was I going to control his bleeding, drive AND handle a dog? I tried to put her in her kennel but to no avail. She was NOT going to leave him. Her boy was hurt and she had a job to do. Decision made. I grabbed her leash and my purse and out the door we headed.
I needed not worry. Mercy was good as gold. She snuggled next to Chris and even though he found it a bit annoying when she nuzzled him, it did seem to take his mind off of things. The reception desk was a little taken aback at the sight of a dog in the ER. Our local hospital is quite small and in a rural area and I suspect they don't see a lot of service dogs. Chris had calmed down a bit by now and other than the same questions over and over, things were going ok. It wasn't until we got called back when the nurse stopped short and told us that the dog couldn't come back to the treatment area. Although I felt like screaming inside, I calmly but firmly told her that Mercy was an autism assistance dog and we really needed to have her there. I felt like kicking myself for not putting on her harness before we left, but with all the commotion I had left it behind. Luckily I always have her 4 Paws bandana in the car as well as her tags. The nurse seemed to sense that I wasn't going to budge, and it was obvious that Chris was in head butting mode. The nurse seemed suddenly to 'get it' and went to find the best room to put us in.
The wait seemed to take forever, but the experience was far easier than it had been the last time. Chris began to relax as the nurse explained what the process would be. They soon saw that Mercy was a calming influence for Chris and that she wasn't presenting any problem. The young doc was  a lover of golden retrievers as well and told Chris about the dog he had. This was another hidden benefit of an assistance dog in a situation like this. Chris seemed to enjoy the 'dog talk' and it helped take his mind off of the medical procedures. The whole ordeal took about 4 hours but having Mercy with us seemed to help the time pass a little easier. By the time we left, Chris was actually being silly and making jokes about "Mercy" going to a hospital with the same name. The whole experience was a complete 360 from the last time he had to get stitches. Given his anxiety issues I truly believe it would have been far worse than last time without Mercy there, distracting him and being her loveable, pettable self.  
Thanks again to 4 Paws and everyone who helped us get Mercy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We Passed - We are an official team!

On July 1st we passed our public access test. Mercy did great during the entire test except for a rocky start at first. She quickly composed herself and worked with me in the mall like she understood it's importance! I have to confess that I was so proud of her I got her a junior burger (plain of course) on the way home! Hooray!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Friday - Public Access Test Day!

Friday we are attempting the public access test. Mercy has been doing better on outings, but the mall at Beavercreek is not her favorite place by far. I am debating whether or not to bring Chris. He loves to come to 4 Paws but since I probably have to work afterwards, I will most likely send him to camp. Hopefully we can take her to practice one more time at Eastgate before Friday.
Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kings Island with Mercy!

Mercy gives Chris kisses

The day was great. She surpassed my expectations by far for such a big outing! Chris stayed longer than his usual 2 hours, he stayed until 6 in the evening! We even got to do a quick track when he took off with a buddy, and she was on it!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wrestle Against Autism Trip - Exhausted but worth it.

Mercy loves the attention at the radio interview. Photo by Chris!

Chris, Mercy and I just got back from a little overnight trip in Columbus to take Mercy up to the Annual Wrestle Against Autism event. Last year they presented us with a check that covered half the funds needed to get Chris' dog, so we wanted to go to say thank you and to help raise awareness for what the dogs do and how helpful this event has been for us.The fact that these folks work so hard to help kids with Autism is so inspiring. Each year they partner with 4 Paws and select a family (or several) who are working at fundraising but not quite there yet. Last year we were so lucky to have been one of them. As we were leaving it occurred to me how different it was for Chris this year and having Mercy with us. Last year he was completely overwhelmed as soon as we got in the door. Before the event was over, he ran out more than once, and was so uncomfortable I don't beleive he talked to anyone or would even take any interest in any of it. This year we were there for about an hour or more, most of the time he was just playing around, taking pictures and playing with the dogs. He was so proud of Mercy. Once  when he was on the floor she did a 'lap' on him, which got him giggling. He even said a few words for the radio interview with "Take Down Radio" - just a few good natured "weeps" which is a sound he makes when he wants to say something and be silly. He did eventually run out, but not far, and I knew he was pretty much ready to go at that point.  I felt so much calmer knowing that if he got out of sight, Mercy would find him.

We also met another wonderful '4 Paws' family that we have met on facebook. It is so nice to meet others who share some of the same challenges. I truly hope we get to see them again, they were so friendly and we could have compared notes for hours. Their dog is a yellow lab and quite a handsome dog and their cute son is a little older than Chris.

Our stay at the hotel was another matter. The challenges of travelling alone with a 10 year old with aspergers and a new fear of elevators was quite an experience. All would have been fine if it weren't for the fact that our room was on the 7th floor and there were no stairways that led to the lobby except one that went through the hotel office area. So each time we wanted to go downstairs to swim, let the dog out or get something out of the car, we had to get someone to let us in the office and lead us to the stairs. And then there was the issue with the huge dog crate and our luggage. Oh, and he had to check every fire door at each level because he was afraid we would get locked out. Eventually they got us a room on the second floor, but it still was a major headache. He was also worried that the people who were there the next day wouldn't let us use the stairs. Lessons learned: 1. Always make sure that there are fully accessible stairs! 2. Make sure you keep plenty of cash for unexpected tips. 3. Remember that ice buckets make great water dishes for dogs in the event that you forget to pack one.(just don't forget to let someone know it should be thoroughly cleaned) 4. Rocks can come in handy for multiple things.

Then there was the incident of where my son decided to change out of his swim clothes at the pool. I mean literally AT THE POOL! I don't know what he was thinking, but there were people fairly close by who could have come around the corner at any time. Impulse control is a wonderful thing.
We did have some really fun times throughout it all. As quirky as he is Chris can be a lot of fun. He also tried to help with as many things as he could by assembling the crate and carrying luggage. He also was able to eat at the restaurant in the hotel which was nice.
We were both happy that Mercy did so well on her trip. She encountered a lot of new things and even though she was a little nervous at times, she did really well. She didn't go nuts when we put her harness on numerous times and she seemed to enjoy the trip overall. As you can see by the pictures, both boy and dog were 'dog tired on the way home'. Once we were home Chris gave me a big hug and said I was the best mom ever. Guess it was worth it afterall!
"Dog Tired" on the way home. Chris and his pillow pet.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mercy Turns the Corner!

During Chris' spring break we went to 4 Paws for a visit and to get a little 'refresher' training. We were continuing to have problems with Mercy 'balking' when she had her harness on, which made taking her places a bit frustrating. Every time she would get a little nervous about something she would just stop. Trying to get a 65 pound golden to move when they don't want to can be an embarrassing thing to watch. Thank goodness we were so close to 4 Paws.
We had been working on the harrness issue for about a month and had finally made some progress. After the fence was put in we harness her up and let her out immediately so that she would associate 'harness' with something she loved, which is going out to play. It has helped, she allows us to put it on but still doesn't like it much. However, she does seem ok with it once the first 5 minutes is over and she doesn't run around frantic outside like she would inside.
So back to the balking part. We did some basic obedience commands with Jeremy and he seemed pleased with her progress. Then I showed him what happens when she balks and the solution was so simple it blows me away, I knew at least part of the problem was something I was doing and was that ever right! Every time she would balk, I would turn around completely and try to coax her to come. Apparently in the dog world this translates to "Ok, let's take a little break now". The solution? Don't turn around and just keep walking, even if it pulls her a little. I have to admit, that seemed a little too easy to really work, but it works!
Last Sunday we took her to the mall, which is somewhere that she simply hates, and she did fine! We had a good time and Chris (who hasn't been to a mall in at least 2 years) actually wants to go back - for fun! We were so proud of her!
She has brought us joy in so many ways. She is always good for a laugh, her personality is so unique. She loves to snuggle, watch tv and play, play, play! I have also noticed that she needs to keep busy and loves to do her obedience work, it is almost like she is proud of all the things she knows!
Recently she has learned a new 'skill'. I call it 'clean up'. Chris has a really bad habit of leaving his shoes around and she will pick them up and get ready to chew, but I will ask her to bring it. If I have a treat handy, she will bring it, drop it and get her treat! This could come in handy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

At long last, playing in the yard!

Finally got the fence in and Mercy had the best day ever! She seemed to know when we opened the door that it was ok for her to just run out there and play. And play she did! We tossed the ball and watched her run through the mud puddles. Finally she discovered the garden pond and wanted to pull out the waterlilly plant, which signalled to me that play time was over for the day. As you can see she was horribly muddy, but at least she didn't have a care about her harness!
Thankfully she doesn't mind jumping in the bathtub for cleanup.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mercy Settles In


Mercy seems to know she is finally home. She is such a loving and clever dog! She enjoys going outside here and I wish the weather was warmer to take her out longer for a good walk. We have been practicing her obedience skills and she responds so well. Mercy definitely likes Chris a lot and she always wants to be with one of us. Chris played with her for about a half an hour straight and has been feeding and watering her.
She likes to try to find and chew stuffed animals that Chris has left out though, she wants them so bad. She takes turns sleeping with each of us and is a great bed warmer!
She is such a wonderful addition to the family, now if only I could talk Chris into posing for a family picture with her!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chris Gets His Dream!

Today was the day!
Chris got to bring home Mercy today, and it has been a good one. She seemed to remember him and was glad to see him. On the way home she sat next to him most of the way and now that she is home has been glad to hang out with us.
We practiced basic obedience and she did everything well so far. She is such a playful dog!
We will have to go back in a few weeks to get her harness and start working with that, but for now it is just getting her used to being in a new home and learning her place in our pack. Then I will have to take her for her public access test at the mall!
We are so thankful to everyone who helped us get her and to the wonderful people at 4 Paws!
Hopefully we can post more tomorrow.
Chris practices 'Down'

First Ride Home!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mercy makes more progress

Our latest check in last Friday with Jeremy was hopeful. He says that she has made good progress with the harness and will hopefully be ready next week or if we are really lucky, maybe as soon as this Friday. I certainly can't wait!

Friday, December 31, 2010

The right dog will come at the right time...the joys of fostering

I once heard Ceaser Milan say something to the effect of 'each dog will come into your life at just the right time' and as soon as I heard it I thought about how true that is. Recently two dogs have come into my life at just the right time and for very different reasons.
As most of you know we began to foster dogs for 4 Paws while we were waiting for my son's service dog. Our family dog of 9 years had died last new years eve after a five month fight with lymphoma. It was a heart wrenching decision to let her go but she kept getting infections due to her chemo and wasn't showing a lot of improvement. She had been my 'barn buddy' and quiet companion for so long and it was hard to imagine not having her with me.
Later that winter I was home on sick leave after a very painful surgery that had a long recuperation time. It was in the dead of winter, the snow was so deep I couldn't even go out to the barn to see the horses. My marriage of 12 years was falling apart and my son who has autism could go into his own world of play for hours. It was a tremendously lonely time. In addition to that I was trying to fund raise to get my son his dog and it was not going well, everything seemed to come to a standstill and I was exhausted and overwhelmed. The surgery had left me weak and it seemed like a tremendous undertaking to just go from one room to the other. I had wondered if I would ever feel good again.
After looking for some info on the 4 Paws site I saw that they were greatly in need of foster families for the pups in training. My son was also bereft at the loss of our dog and we talked about fostering. He liked the idea too, even though it meant giving up the dog eventually. We decided to go for it. As soon as I was physically able to make the trip we went up and picked out our new temporary dog.
When we got there we were presented with several choices, one was a wiggly hound mix that had so much energy I thought it would knock me over. Chris and I agreed that that one may not be the best choice at this time. Then the trainer brought out a beautiful little golden, tail wagging her entire body and hopelessly affectionate.  Kind of a no brainer. Cammy had quickly wormed her way into our hearts and we made arrangements to take her home.
When we go home I realized that my lack of energy had disappeared. I felt energized and connected to life again. It was impossible not to smile at the antics of this loving and silly pup, and she wouldn't let you sit still much at all. Energy, energy, energy...she had enough for all of us. The darkness of that winter had finally passed. It was the right dog at the right time.
Spring breezed by and now summer was upon us. We knew it was almost time for Cammy to leave. She was smart and needing to learn more. It wasn't the only change on the horizon, my husband had decided to leave. A chapter in my life was coming to an end.
In July we got word that it was time to bring Cammy back. Chris did not want to go with us to say goodbye and it was probably best that way, so 'the Camster' and I had our last drive together. When we got to 4 Paws, Cammy was happy to see her old friends. I gave her a hug before I could get all choked up and they whisked her off. Three months later we attended her graduation where she became a multipurpose service dog trained in seizure alert. She is now a partner to a lovely little girl who loves her dearly and we were so proud of her. We said goodbye again and Cammy left with her new family to go home to Pennsylvania. Have a happy life my friend.
Fostering is a great experience but it can be exhausting. I knew my work schedule was going to be crazy and adjusting to life as a single mom was not going to be easy, so we decided to take a break from fostering for awhile. We had received a huge donation for our service dog and now I had to get busy making preparations. 
But life without a dog is, well in my opinion, not much of a life. Chris and I both wanted a dog in our lives again and knew it wouldn't be until December until we would have one. We decided to foster again and made arangements to pick up a dog.
This time our choices were a goldendoodle that seemed to think he was a lap dog and a quiet, unassuming black lab. The quiet, sweet nature of Atticus won us over.
As we settled in with Atticus we discovered what a good and gentle soul he possessed. While he wasn't especially playful he had such a kind and soothing presence. Where ever I was he would seek me out and lay down next to me, often putting his paw on my foot. He would listen to the slightest correction and respectfully stop what he was doing. He was obedient but dignified. He was so glad to see us we would laugh about getting bruises from his powerful tail! When I would come home from work, weary and frazzled he would climb up next to me on the couch and plaster me with kisses or just lay his head gently on my lap. He seemed to know which was needed and when.
Soon we were at 4 paws in training with our new dog Mercy, but she was having problems with wearing her harness. Atticus came too, but he was getting ready to go into advanced training, so we sadly had to bid farewell. But during the last day of trainining we realized that we had to leave 4 Paws without our service dog 'Mercy' for awhile and we were sad. I worried about how to break the news to Chris, but then a thought came to me. Maybe we could take Atticus back with us for a few more weeks. Chris loved him so much I knew it would probably help fill the void.
So it was. We left 4 Paws with Atticus, sad to leave Mercy behind, but happy to see the silly doggy grin on Atticus face when they brought him out to us.
As I write this on New Years eve I realize that it is a year to the day I said goodbye to my Andi dog.  Atticus comes over to me and lies down resting his head gently on my foot as if consoling me. Once again, it was the right dog at the right time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Waiting for Mercy

The holidays are almost over and we have been spoiling Atticus like crazy. I have been taking him out for quick jogs in the snow and he loves that. We also have let him on the couch to snuggle with us which Chris just really loves. We figured out how to fix the back seats in the Honda so he would feel more comfortable back there and he seems to like it. We will use the same technique for Mercy when she comes home. Since Atticus has some skin problems that were getting worse, we made a visit to 4 Paws yesterday with him to get it checked out. They suspect ringworm so we have some medication to try. Poor guy, he has had so many little issues but he get through them all like a trooper. We were glad that he didn't have to stay there for treatment because we weren't quite ready to say goodbye.
We had hoped to see Mercy but on the other hand I was glad that she was with Jeremy since it might mean that she would be back quicker. We had a good visit though and Chris enjoyed seeing his old doggie friends again, including Coda. He was hoping Conner would be there but he was taking the day off.
One item on my to-do list is to send out thank yous and updates to all of the contributors, but I feel kind of awkward doing it since I am not 100% sure that we will be getting Mercy. I guess I will be patient and get it finished once we know.
So far we are hoping for mid January, maybe we will get an update this week. So for now, we will enjoy Atticus and wait and see.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back Home, but no Mercy

As is often the case, our journey has taken a detour! Mercy's harness issues became such a problem for her that we decided to let Jeremy take her home with him for a while to figure out what is going on and to get her past it. We are crossing our fingers and hoping she gets over it since she was such a great dog in every other way. We have the option of getting another dog, but will have to go through the training again if we go that route.
In the meantime we have taken Atticus back home with us to help Chris feel better about not having his dog. He was really happy about spending more time with Atticus so it was a blessing that we were able to do that.
I have been fighting what is probably bronchitis for the past two days, I actually spent all of yesterday sleeping. On the way back from Xenia I could barely stay awake driving, which was a little scary.
We did go through the graduation, and I was sad to think we may not see some of these families again since many lived so far away. It was so inspiring to see the depth of the love these families have for their children. They have more challenges in one day than most people encounter in a year, but they get through it with patience and often times humor. I am so amazed at the attitude of the siblings that I saw there and how they pitched in and helped when ever they could. The love they had for their brother or sister was so evident and it was truly heartwarming. I only wished we had more time to get to know each other better.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Harness Hysteria Continues....

Clowning around in class...

Yesterday and today were challenging days due to Mercy having an extreme phobia about her new and very stiff harness. We had hoped and expected that she would get used to it as all the other dogs did, but it only seemed to get worse when we went to the mall. Unfortunately she has to be wearing her harness when taking the public access test, and wouldn't you know, it is at the mall! So we stayed after class today and yesterday to work on it, we will probably go in early tomorrow as well. Tonight I am placing her favorite treats all around the harness on the floor to help her feel better about it.  The part that really perplexes me is that she tracks with her vest on and it only seems to bother her a little out there. She did a little better this afternoon with an older harness that was broken in, so we will work with that one.

Chris loves on Conner

But gives Mercy hugs too...

Conner wonders when they will get to the peanut butter part of the class

Mercy wonders why they would put a bowl of homemade chicken soup on the floor and not expect us to eat it!??
Chris had a great time with all the dogs this afternoon especially Conner who is the trainers demo dog and companion. He also practiced teaching Mercy to nuzzle or 'touch' him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tracking Wears us all out!


Chris was so delighted that Mercy has a whole repertoire of tricks. Everything from the standard shake to 'High Five' and 'Go to sleep'. He got her to do a few of them on his own!
Tomorrow we learn more about behaviour disruption, which I am very interested in. I have already seen that she knows two of them, one is a 'nuzzle' which she has been using for other things, such as asking to go out. I also know that she has learned 'touch' - she kept 'touching' me with her paw during the training lecture today...what a clown. I think my dog is the only one that wants her paw held during class.
She is truly an original and we love her!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An even deeper respect for dogs

Today Mercy did an inside and an outside track for Chris. Outside it was blowing hard and fiercely cold, the ground coated with snow. It was my first time holding her leash and I don't know why, but it is even more amazing when you feel their 'energy' on the line. I also went with two other families later and observed their dogs tracking, they were all beyond amazing. Here we were out in the wide open this morning, the children could have been anywhere and in a matter of minutes these dogs zeroed in on them. It is like a miracle. We tracked in the mall later in the day and even in a store with all different kinds of smells, Mercy found Chris every time!
The part that really hit home to me was how helpless a parent could feel if there child was lost out in the open, in conditions such as what we had today. During the search today, I had no idea where they were hiding, and it looked so hopeless at one point. the dog would go up dirt piles and behind rocks to no avail. It seemed like we would never find them, then on the last dirt mound she ran over we heard the shouts of 'Good Girl, Good Girl' and knew that she had found her child. It was great. We found out that the parent and child had chosen several different spots, which was why the dog had gone to those very dirt piles. Wow.
These dogs are priceless.

Pretty much describes her....

mer·cy [ múrssee ]   Audio player
  1. compassion: kindness or forgiveness shown especially to somebody a person has power over
  2. compassionate disposition: a disposition to be compassionate or forgiving of others
  3. something to be thankful for: a welcome event or situation that provides relief or prevents something unpleasant from happening

Tracking day #2

Day 4 of training Today was cold but Chris seemed to have fun most of the time. We did tracking in the morning (see pics) and went to the mall in the afternoon. Tracking went great, except for Mercy taking a pit stop during the run - didn't deter her on her mission though! Got giggles from onlookers of course, second time she did that :o(  . Oh well, when a girl has to go, well a girl has to go!
The mall was quite hectic though, first day we had any problems with her. She didn't like the shaking floor and wasn't pleased about her stiff new harness either. She would rather be outside any day apparently!
She did ok though, and it was AWESOME having Chris hold onto her harness instead of dashing across a busy parking lot with me running frantically behind him!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First day of tracking - whew!!!

We survived the first day of tracking. What an amazing sight. Mercy found Chris within just a few minutes, it was pretty incredible to see, even though we later learned she really was tracking one of the trainers who was with him. For the next few days we will be transistioning to Chris' scent. But I was so impressed to see her do it, I didn't know goldens could do that.
Luckily it was sunny, but still pretty cold. I hope we get used to that part! Hopefully we can get pictures tomorrow or some video. We will also be going to the mall.
Tonight we took her down to the restaurant with us, she did pretty well. We were told that she would try to test us a bit, and of course she did, but nothing major.
Well, time to get to bed - a very busy day tomorrow!

The first day..

The first day of class was busy and exciting. There are 12 families in our class, all were anxious to meet their dogs! Even though it was hectic and often noisy, Chris hung in there. Finally he got to meet his new dog, and we weren't disappointed!! Before the end of class Jeremy the instructor remarked on how Mercy and Chris had already bonded.
As you can see by the pictures below, he already loves his doggy partner.
I was impressed by how well all of the dogs behaved and how freindly and playful all of them are. All of the dogs in our class are specialists in tracking, and it becomes quite obvious when you take them outside. Their noses are all over the place!
Mercy did well on her first night at the hotel. As you can see, she enjoyed playing on the bed, and turned out to be quite a clown.  She is playful and ohh so loveable. She is very well behaved. We woke up the second day to some doggie kisses.
She was a bit perplexed by the dog in the mirror...when she saw herself chewing her bone she growled at herself, then appeared to realize who it was!
Chris says she is the best service dog in the world.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Tonight I am enjoying Atticus' company and spoiling him as much as I am allowed. He is such a wonderful dog, I am going to miss him more than I ever thought. He has the most soulful eyes I have seen in a dog, sometimes it is like he knows what I am thinking. Weirds me out a little! 
I have to laugh sometimes because he is such a 'slippery' dog. All of our floors downstairs are either wood or vinyl and when he sits down, he just kind of slides and ends up laying down, looking a bit perplexed. I don't know why this is, Cammy didn't have this problem. I cringe when he runs through the house though - if he was staying longer I would get him some booties to grip with!
Fostering has been an adventure, it really has helped in my understanding of dogs. I wonder what they think about it? I hope he knows he has an important job to do someday. It would be nice if he ends  up somewhere close by, I would love to see him again and see him in action as a service dog. Whoever gets him will be getting one great dog, he might be the most perfect dog I have ever had.

Chris match letter

Here is Chris' 'match letter' from his dog-he loved it:
I am SOOOOOOO excited! I can't believe it. Cammy told me ALL about you! I am so lucky to be picked for you! My name is Mercy and like Cammy I am a Golden Retriever. My birthday is 9-30-2009. I am also happy because you live so close to 4 paws and can visit them after you get me! That is so exciting. I will miss 4 Paws but I sure can't wait to be with you! We will be the best of friends I know it! You are really coming next week? Can we be best friends and do everything together and sleep in your room? This is all so exciting! Well don't let anyone eat too much turkey or they will be sleeping for a week and miss the grand meeting day on Tuesday. See ya soon! xoxo Mercy

Monday, November 22, 2010

1 Week to go - no match yet!

It's Monday night and we are getting antsy, still no word of a match! Chris and I looked through the dogs for the tenth time on in the 'In Training' section. We varied the routine tonight, by picking our 'least favorite', funny thing was we couldn't pick one. They all had redeeming qualities!  I think I like Frodo the best, or maybe one of the goldens, Gosh I don't know!
Still need to get to Petsmart, meant to go at lunch time, but had a dentist appointment instead!
The part I am  sad about is thinking about our dear Atticus leaving us.  He is such a wonderful and sweet dog. I will soo miss his foot on my foot while I am  cooking or on the computer. Never had a dog do that before.
Maybe tomorrow we will know who our new family member is!