31 May 2011

MCS Awareness in Form of Medical Alert Training for Multiple Disability Service Dogs

MCS is not just for thirty-one days- it's a 365 day a year variable disease that one lives with and finds ways to cope with and reduce reactions. Its a disease of abstinence of the triggers and parts of life that can and often will bring on symptoms from mild to profound. This is a disease I have lived with for over a decade in the severe to profound form and at least another decade in milder form- not to mention the triggers I can remember from as far back as age 9 and 10. Thanks to my friend Sharon at After Gadget, I learned what this was and how to help myself be as healthy as I can be.

My previous service dog, Chimette (AKA Met) began to naturally alert me when I was getting into trouble. Once this began, fine tuning his alert and follow through saved me many times from severe reactions. When he died, I lost much more than a guide, hearing, and service dog. My MCS stability tanked out. I knew what I had with Met was something very special. Its rare to have a dog who works really effectively for two disabilities let alone to encompass four areas. That all said, I had to live my life believing it would happen again- for after all if I didn't have that hope, what kind of life was ahead for me in finding stability again.

Thane has turned out to be an awesome guide dog, a good service dog, but in the other areas as a hearing dog and medical alert dog for MCS, my hopes were waning. Some of it could be in strategy and training approach. Its a whole different thing to train a dog who is not naturally alerting first to actually alert and follow through than it is to just fine tune and train the follow through phase for MCS alerts.

Some people laugh when they hear me say that a Border Collie is a born guide dog but not so much as a hearing dog. Thane has overcome a lot in the time with me including some intense intervals of sound reactivity. Met was also sound reactive so I don't believe this plays a roll. I have come to terms with the aspect that Thane may very well never make an indoor hearing dog- drat that ball obsession! Its OK and I can get along with other alerting mechanisms in the home. Its certainly not quite as reliable as a hearing dog- but for now, I've taken the pressure off of both of us by tabling this type of training. I once felt the same way about retrieve however and he is now an awesome retriever. Training is not over until the last breath he takes.

Another reason for tabling hearing dog training is that recently I have realized that Thane has become more alert to problems in the environment for me. Where this has really shown up is with smokers that are walking ahead of us, waiting at bus stops, or nearby. Just as I had to do with guide dog training, I am having to learn to trust my dog when he slows down dramatically, speeds up, or chooses a different spot than our usual place to wait for the bus or max. I got myself a hefty reinforcement of this one day last week when I did not trust in Thane's judgment. I thought he was just fooling around and gave him commands which in fact ignored his attempt at alerting me. I paid for disregarding Thane's attempt because I had an older mask on that did not block as completely the toxins around me. That nasty whiff of cigarette smoke was the best thing that could have happened to show me that Thane had a good reason for what he was doing.

Alert training for MCS is much different than other Medical Alert task training. It is trained a lot along the lines of scent training, but with one HUGE difference. The goal in training this for MCS is not for the dog to take you towards the scent but away from. In my situation as a deafblind individual in a wheelchair, the situation does not always allow for my dogs to get me out of the area immediately. Often times the best approach is one where my dog halts and we wait for a bit while the offender/ offensive smell leaves our vicinity as opposed to us increasing our speed and thus me being exposed even more so to the trigger.

In time, I have no doubt that Thane will  alert and follow through on my MCS triggers just as effectively as he traffic checks me when drivers try to run us down.

MCS is and always will be until a cure is found a big part of my life. Some days I feel pretty well considering where I have come from- nearly bed ridden when Sharon began her education and support with me, but all it takes is one bad exposure to lower my resistance and bring on the symptoms like what I have been dealing with since this weekends rude neighbor marathon burning episode.

I am just grateful that Thane is beginning the path towards becoming my Medical Alert dog. Its an amazing feeling to have my perception of his capability proven wrong.

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