28 January 2012

What it Means to be Five

Happy fifth Woofday baby boy! My lil' redhead Man is five today. It is so hard to believe in many ways- from how could this much time have already passed, to how we actually pulled off Lyme survival.

I thought I would focus this post on what five means to me. See for me, five has some history and very deep meaning.

When Met first began having seizures, with his breed mix and the fact that the storm rose fiercely a couple months after the meds began again, the vets were candid with me. His life expectancy with his breeds and seizure picture was not good. The life expectancy presented to me was five years of age- forget about working career duration. Most reading know how we proved them wrong. I found the K9epilepsy forum and learned alternative ways to work in tandem with his meds. He not only lived more than double that expectancy, but he was working up until he passed.

With my history, it's no doubt how much impact turning five has on me. Its not a negative impact, but one where perseverance can change the world so to speak.

I never expected to be found in the fight for Thane's life and yet this past summer that is exactly where I found myself. I never thought too much about the fact that he was not even five years old when this all came to a head until recently. I began to think about everything we had conquered or learned together as a team, but also about what we would have missed out on in the future had my good friend Sharon at AfterGadget blog not encouraged me to pursue testing Thane for TBDs.

Rather than focus on the heartbreaking journey through Lyme, I thought I would share some of the highlights- some of those special things that we as a team managed to do over the past five years. Some of these accomplishments required letting go both of Met and of the cover of *in training* to trust in the new dog at my side.

Moving on was hard- sometimes harder than I imagined, but putting Met behind us and letting Thane blossom in his work was the best thing I ever could have let happen.

Accomplishments that have special meaning:

December 2007 at less than a year old, Thane stops for car I did not notice
January 2008 figured our way around a road tripod when I couldn't figure the way using my guide cane
January 2008 first short distance timer alert (pre tick bite)
February 2008 first instance of intelligent disobedience
April 2008 Thane Shines!  public access began
June 2008 Thane regularly alerts to my mailbox in a string of 22 boxes
July 2008 Thane works crowds with great precision
July 2008 Thane becomes my guide dog
Sept 2008 We rode Max!
Dec 2008 Thane guides in snow and ice
March 2009 Guide brace gives us more freedom and ease as a team
June 2009 Thane is retrieving
July 2009 Thane woke me when alarm went off
August 2009 Mr Bold and Courageous walked me across freeway overpass in pedestrian walkway
Sept 2009 Manager tells me: *You have done a great job training him*
Oct 2009 first night work
Nov 2009 Thane has learned to tug
Dec 2009 Thane is tugging indoor doors open or closed while homebound in manual chair
Dec 2009 Thane is nudging indoor doors open or closed while homebound in manual chair
Sept 2010 When MCS attack left me almost completely blind, Thane stepped up to plate guiding me in dark to get medical care
Oct 2010 turned off my pain from severe MCS attack in wee morning hours by laying his body right up against mine without any direction from me
March 2011 first distance timer alert
April 2011 Thane closes the fridge with *smack it* command
May 2011 Thane does hard block traffic check saving us both from being hit in middle of crosswalk
Dec 2011 first door knock alert
Jan 2011 first doorbell alert Needs more training for door alert accuracy still

When I look at just a sampling of our accomplishments together, see Lyme receding knowing that we are getting our life back, I wonder just how much more Thane has to do in how ever many years of work he has ahead.

Thane is a great dog who has taught me valuable lessons both as a person, as part of a partnership, medically, and in life in general. The lessons of Lyme and just how it can ravage a body, I could have done without, but every lesson be it in life, in partnership, in health makes us stronger as a team. I guess for that, I am grateful for the lessons and strength that we have endured and built over the past four years together, but most especially over the past seven months

So you see what it means to be five or to make it to five is all about perseverance and ones ability to turn a situation that seems so bleak into one that is not only survivable, but full of life, service, and happiness as well

Now there's a tongue waiting my raw-fed boy for his special woofday meal and oh the day wouldn't be complete without some new toys either grin

24 January 2012


When you live in *rain central USA* you take your opportunities to get out when they present themselves. Yesterday was one such opportunity.

I'd been trying to decide whether or not to schedule paratransit for shopping errands when the weekend weather forecast did not match the reality we were presented with. I needed some things for both of us at two different stores- one of which takes about an hour to get there by fixed route.

Then we woke up yesterday to a cloudy day that was staying cloudy. There was no rain in the forecast, but then as forecasts go, they are not always that trustworthy. Needless to say, we set out with the plan to do both stores in one swoop- not knowing when we could get another chance for this again. I knew the following day I'd feel like I'd been run over by a freight train, but I also knew that not taking advantage of a dry day would come back to bite me. We set off for leg one of our journey, taking a bit of a detour due to plant and hedge storm damage that has yet to be addressed by home owners or renters.

For the most part, I've been really enjoying working Thane when the opportunities arise- be it just a walk or real work together for errands in town or in the surrounding cities. Yesterday was no exception. Thane was really into his job, happy and working the way I have dreamed of experiencing again for so long. Lyme really changed things so lately I've really felt like I am getting to know him all over again or in some aspects getting to know him for the first time.

Yesterday was amazing. Other than a small amount of *ice walking* on slick floors, Thane did really superbly. When we left New Seasons to finally head home, I was already beginning to feel the impact of the multi-errand day we were putting in.

Though there were a number of really great things he did as he performed his job, I think the one that means so much to me is his ability to take my words, *I'm hurting*, and change from his already steady pace to be more gentle with the sidewalk bumps and terrain we had to travel. He was just pawsitively awesome.

And today, well it has been raining since we crawled out of bed- pouring most of the day.

21 January 2012

Life in the Pacific Northwest

From snow to flooding and uprooted trees, damaged plant life, blocked sidewalk access on narrow streets where the owners/ renters NEVER do their own trimming/ cleanup

Oh isn't access and life just a wonderful thing to behold in the pacific northwest


Thane and I managed an outing in town yesterday but boy oh boy did we ever get wet! It was just raining a bit when we took off, but you all know how murphy's law goes now don'tcha? grin

We managed to do the outing, but did not get everything needed because most of the stores are moving away from natural meat to enhanced. It is getting so old! I can't wrap my head around why they keep moving this direction since it certainly is not a healthy move for anyone. Thane can't have enhanced meats- nor would I feed him that crap even if he could tolerate it.

By the time we got home, we were a couple of drenched rats! Thane's harness was so muddy and wet it had to be laundered right away. And Thane, well his rain coat did a pretty good job where it covers. He was shaking his head all afternoon until I finally realized he must have gotten rain in his ears. Sometimes I'm slow to get what he is telling me Poor guy

I am so ready for July or perhaps a trip to say NOLA where its in the 70's I hear.

18 January 2012

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

We love snow, in case you did not get that drift. grin

The last few days we have had some snow stick overnight, but not the amount of accumulation necessary for playing in.

Thane is so cute with his football in the snow and frankly I was feeling jipped. Snow is definitely something that breaks up the monotony of all that rain we get here in the pacific northwest.

Last nights forecast was pretty straight forward: 1-3 inches accumulation turning to rain around 2AM. Can you read the big SHUCKS about the rain there.

I am like a little kid when it comes to snow. I wasn't so much this way with Met, but with Thane it is different. Thane is just a bundle of energy in the snow. He loves it. He loves football. This energizes my love of the stuff too.  December 2008, the year of the White Christmas, was also our first experience together with snow. It quite frankly spoiled us. We were home bound for about three weeks as every time the snow stopped long enough for anyone to think it might be through, another storm came rushing in. It was incredible!

Last night I was up at 11PM, up at 1AM, and again at 5AM. I checked out my snow, took pictures at 11PM and 1AM, hoped upon hope for it to still be usable at 8AM when quiet time at the complex ends.

The news at 6:30 was not promising. It had turned to rain everywhere they mentioned between 2AM and 4AM depending on the temperature in the city or town. It made me sad to think that the one chance for playing in the snow happened overnight and was going to be washed out before we could have a rip of the football and a springboard jump from this slender, agile redhead Border Collie boy.

Then we got up!

Our town had remained colder than everyone around us. It was fantastically fabulous! I tried to pass the time until 8AM as much as I could. I had to hope upon hope that the people on the corner who were fumigating us with their fabric softener at 7:15 would conclude and the air would clear out enough for our pleasure.

And then 8AM came!

Out the door he went.

First a busy

Then a sailing football sent him into action and it was so completely awesome! He jumped one way then the other- this way and that- jumped high, ducked low all to catch each sailing football as it was thrown through the air.

No rain in sight yet for our little town. Cold had settled here to stay for a while longer

Each time the ball was snatched from the crisp air or collected when it fell to the soft white fluff of covered earth, it was raced back to my hand with lightening speed. After tapping the football on the door frame to release the snow from its grips, it was thrown once more into the air, sailing until *snatch* it was collected by this energized redhead.

It was incredible!

13 January 2012

The Lessons Learned through the Many Obstacles with Thane

This post is for the Sixth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. The topic is Obstacles.

As assistance dog partners, many things can stand in the way preventing us from experiencing the partnership we may have dreamed of with our canine partner. From a dog and handler that are not a good match, to an inability to bond and thus trust in each other, to difficulties with pace and harness pull, to medical problems, to endless scenarios.

After my first partnership with Chimette, I had a hard time believing that I could move on and bond with another dog, but more significantly that I could actually have a healthy partnership.

When Thane came into my life, it was indeed love at first sight. We seemed to bond instantly, but then things began to fall apart. There was a huge obstacle in my path. I was dealing with what some call *second dog syndrome*. I just could not let go of the tenure partnership I had with Met to truly bond in harness with the trainee at my side. I spent so much time wallowing in the dreams of my seasoned predecessor, that the bonding process, training, trust, and emotional health were literally stuck in what seemed like a feedback loop, unable to move forward individually or together.

During this time when we were at home off training and just being together, all was fine, but back in training mode in-harness and I had a hard time exploring what was causing the lack of cohesion we experienced. I could always point to how different Thane was from Met, but could not let go of Met to allow Thane to be his own dog and excel where he would. Everything I saw pointed towards Thane as the obstacle, when in fact, the obstacle was me, the handler.

Once I was able to let go of Met, Thane blossomed into a very intelligent in tune guide and service dog. Most things did not come naturally in the training process though which made me have to work harder at looking outside of the box as I trained each task he now performs as though he were born doing it.

It was hard for me to get through the obstacles in training Thane, with the constant reminders of memory (incomplete or inaccurate as this might be) that reminded me of a time when there was such simplicity in training. Accurate or not, I soon realized that one of Thane's roles was to teach me to be a better trainer. He was not stupid- in fact, far from that! He was there to *grow me* as a trainer.

Once this process had begun, we really began to grow as a team flourishing into a partnership I never could have dreamed of in the past. I know this could not have happened, if I had not allowed Thane to blossom into his own individual. If I had continued to try and mold him into the dog that Met was, I would have lost out on some amazing experiences, hard knocks, and lessons learned.

As if I had not already learned a lot of truths about myself, about how far my successor dog would go to protect my life, and yes, even some medical roller coaster rides through things like giarda; Thane was about to teach me about a disease that is so often looked upon as a northeast problem. He would teach me just how far one can go and how close one can come to answers coming too late. Of course, without my very special friend Sharon at the AfterGadget blog, I know those answers would have come too late for Thane.

If you don't know already, the obstacle I am talking about is chronic late stage Lyme Disease. I'd been through what seemed like hell and back with Met through severe vaccinosis, but I was ill prepared for the journey Thane was in the process of taking me on.

We'd been chasing symptoms for about two years when I went into the vet office and requested TBD testing for Thane. Though his symptoms at this point seemed to match up with a tick borne disease, my vet tried to convince me that the ticks in the northwest were *healthy*. I was not buying that propaganda, but still wanted to remain hopeful that this was not the direction we were headed. In the end, Thane has surprised many about the presence of TBDs locally.

Our journey through Lyme has been one obstacle after another- from medication reactions that compromised his liver in under two weeks time, to symptoms that seemed unlikely to resolve that could shorten our partnership or at the very least limit when he could work. Thankfully through supplemental and alternative therapies that were added to his antibiotic regimen, I have reason to be hopeful now.

It has been seven months since Thane collapsed unable to leave our home. Though time will tell just how complete his symptom resolution is to be, I find myself amazed at just how tenacious these spirochetes can be and how hard a body can fight to win. With the resolution of neurological symptoms, orthopedic symptoms, GI symptoms, and some collagen based symptoms which included coat, skin, vision and hearing; I know nothing can stand in our way except the reality that such chronic Lyme often comes with relapses due to cyst forms that managed to evade long term antibiotic and nutritional support therapies.

Once Thane was well enough to work part time in daylight situations again, I found myself struggling with this major obstacle- that of a dog that had lost so much of his experience and function. He was at that stage for all intense of purposes, a green dog that could not learn from the experiences we were taking in. There was too much *fighting* of the disease taking place for me to even begin to consider the possibility that what I was seeing may always be what he would be now. I was grieving this huge loss while at the same time trying to remain hopeful that we would conquer this huge obstacle. I tried hard to put it to the back of my mind, but I found myself thinking about the reality that retirement may become necessary in the end. Thankfully, it looks as though those fears have been put to bed, at least for the near future any way.

Right now, we are literally experiencing something I never once took the time to think about during the hardest most heart breaking times in the previous months. Thane has literally come alive. The energizer bunny has returned and frankly it is taking a bit of getting used to after how settled Thane had seemed to be over the past two years. Energy aside, his incentive and instincts are surfacing as we work towards finding that perfect balance again.

I've struggled with his energy. Frankly it has been quite an obstacle since I also have developed chronic nerve pain this past year. I've found a number of obstacles though as we work back to the team we once were- many of them stem from his energy which makes it harder for him to focus. Some of it however stems from how *stuck* we were for so long in that *green team* mode where Thane could not learn from our new experiences. I guess the best way to describe it is that he was stuck in brain fog which has finally lifted.

For so long, I had to second guess his decisions with the tactile mini guide or be really in tune with our environment. It was truly exhausting, but as long as Thane was able and willing to work, I felt giving him the opportunities might one day just flip that switch again. Some days he seemed really on and other days, it was still a huge deal to work him, even if only for a walk. I kept looking for the reason for the changes from day to day. I kept looking for something in him that would point towards the issue.

Earlier this week, I was in significant pain, but knew Thane needed work and groceries needed to be picked up. Thane had been working the best he had in a while once some energy was worn off. Shortly after we left home, I laid my head back on the headrest and relaxed in harness for the first time since Lyme took so much from us. As I relaxed, letting Thane do what I had trained him to, instead of the frequent reminders for *easy*, *slow down*, etc, I discovered something quite amazing. There was no issue with Thane's work. He guided me with a smooth, easy rhythm of perfect pull in harness through some of the most horrific sidewalk terrain our town has to offer.

After this outing that took nearly three hours, I was not quite ready to believe that this was really all there was to the *growing pains* as we worked back towards becoming the team we once had been. I guess I needed to see this duplicated a couple more times- so duplicate it he did.

Perhaps there is yet another lesson Thane is meant to teach me before our partnership is through, that of not focusing all my energy into finding the obstacles in our work solely in his part of the team, but to look at the entire team when something is amiss.

I don't know what the future holds for our partnership, but I know this much, the obstacles we have encountered and risen above, are a big part of the strength we embody today.

10 January 2012

The Backseat Driver

As we made our way back from chronic Lyme, I had been seeing things in Thane's work in areas we navigate regularly that I did not like. It was like we had to go back to the beginnings of training on some of the very basics of guide work. It was frustrating at best and could be dangerous at worst if I did not get it nipped in the bud.

Working with Thane through Lyme treatment was not like working with Thane beforehand. For lack of a better way to describe it, it was like working with a green dog who did not learn from the experiences you encountered together. It was a lot of work, but working without him was even more work, so I stuck it out once he was an able and a willing participant. Many days I was wanting to pull my hair out from the frustrations. It was hard not to grieve for what we once had and to wonder if it would ever be had again.

With most of that behind us now and his renewed energy to contend with, Thane and I are trying to get out more frequently. I continued lately to struggle with the change in his guide work that resembled a beginner, but I kept with it believing that this too would resolve itself just as so many symptoms of the disease had.

Today when we headed out, we were right behind the garbage truck. I really did not feel like dealing with his exhaust, frequent stops and starts, and careless approach to handling of the empty garbage cans so I decided to do something different for our pre-bus trip walk.

We headed the opposite direction we normally do to connect with the bus. We got to the main street the bus runs on for heading out of town and I just decided to take it towards down town. We've actually never gone that direction on that street before so this was a brand new experience for both of us. I laid my head back on the headrest and relaxed for the first time since all this began; just letting Thane do the job he was trained to do and you know what, we survived! LOL No, seriously, we got on the sidewalk from hell. You know the kind- those where in many places the sidewalk was completely gone from disrepair so that we had to navigate carefully through or around the areas. We did so without a hair on our heads out of place (so to speak)

Thane's work was relaxed, with a much easier pull than I had experienced from him in a while. I was letting him do his job instead of issuing the frequent commands of *easy*, *slow down*, *surface* or the like. I took myself out of the backseat driver mode and let him do what I had trained him to do. He excelled and we had an awesome day together.

It's funny how when I looked at what was wrong in his work, I always looked for problems with him when at this point (at least lately) I was the obstacle standing in our way.

07 January 2012

A Hiccup

Thane's been doing doorbell alerts with absolute perfection when I trigger the training doorbell unit. I keep it hidden in my pocket, trigger it when he is not near me, watching me, or in the same room as me. In other words, I make this as normal as I can for the real experience (minus the presence of a person on the other side of the door). Its only been a couple days, so I get that it will take some time before this is really a solid skill.

Yesterday I had some packages arrive. One by UPS and one by USPS. When the doorbell rang, I ignored the pager and stayed where I was awaiting Thane's alert only it did not happen. For UPS, he eventually came about halfway back to me, but never all the way to me. With USPS he did not even leave the door so I had to go ahead and respond to the pager on this one.

The only difference that I can ascertain between the training doorbell practice and the real deal is that there is a person on the other side of the door. Thane is a real people dog- meaning he would be a social butterfly if he were not a service dog.

I'm unsure how I can rectify this situation. I can't be made toxic multiple times a day by people. I also don't really have physical friends. Its a sad reality that many people who live with severe MCS face. Thane is my everything- my service dog, my companion, my friend. The point of sharing this is that I can't call up a friend and ask them to come each day at different times to ring my doorbell for some real practice.

This part of the month when orders are coming in, there is more practice opportunity, but generally my doorbell might get wrung once a week otherwise. As you see, not a very good setup for training now is it?

I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sure if in time, the person on the other side of the door will fit into Thane's criteria for alerting me to the door. I'm really taken back by this hiccup and am not really sure just how to address it. I have to admit, I find this funny. Thane is way too smart for his own good sometimes. This scenario with a person on the other side of the door, in his mind, must not be what we trained for. LOL

05 January 2012

2012 Starts with a Bang!

Its been an exhilarating past couple of days. Thane's door knock alert that ended 2011 on a high note was just the beginning of what he had in store.

The dream of a well rounded hearing dog was as of yet, still very much a dream rather than reality in my partnership with Thane. Though he did fairly well with in harness and public access type of alerts necessary for my safety, those in our home life were hit and miss at best.

That is until now

For the longest time I really wondered if Thane could ever achieve this training- if we would ever be a hearing dog team. The last couple days have proven to me that the stars are our limit (to use a cliche). Once I saw that Thane actually did make the connection to put each step in the chain of events for an alert together, I realized it was time for me to make the time to focus once more on training with Thane.

Right now I don't much care what the reason is for the change in our ability to pull this off- though just about everyone seems to concur that it has to do with Lyme receding. What has become important to me is that the hope I saw at the end of 2011, has become much more than that. It has become reality as we spend time working together on the doorbell alert.

As I returned to the training phase of the doorbell alert, it was pretty clear that the alert to a door knock on New Year's Eve was not just a coincidence. The first day back at the grind, Thane alerted perfectly 3 out of 5 times. The two times that were not perfect just needed some work on follow through. He seemed to have the concept when we were a good distance from each other, but when we were in close proximity the follow through was lacking. Despite that aspect, I truly felt this was an amazing start after all the struggles we encountered in the past just trying to put two parts of the chain together.

This was just to be the beginning of what was to come though. Today's practice has been amazing. Every single time I triggered the doorbell (with my backup training unit), Thane bounded to the door, back to me, and back to the door with me in tow. One time I stopped midway just to see what would happen. To my happy surprise, Thane bounded back to me with a follow-up alert and back to the door with me on his tail.

I'd be unrealistic if I were to say that this alert is trained solidly enough that he will be able to perform it with such perfection from here on out. That said, it does not squelch my enthusiasm over the joy that is bubbling within me. This is a huge accomplishment that at various times I actually wondered if it would ever ring true.

Over the past two years, Lyme stole a lot from our partnership that I had no idea the depths of. Now though, with Lyme receding and the fog lifted, I am getting the opportunity to experience the partnership (and training) that we were meant to have.