Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 11 – Graduation!!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Because packing up everything, loading up the car, and taking our public access test wasn’t stressful enough, it took us 35 minutes to get to the mall because of a crazy traffic jam.  We left Homewood at 11:30 to make the five-minute drive to the mall.  Despite leaving a half hour early, we were five minutes late.  I was seriously about to have a panic attack.  I screeched to a stop right in front of the entrance that said Dick’s Sporting Goods and threw Jake and April out of the car.  The kids and I parked and ran in.  We did not end up in Dick’s like the sign said but just in front of the kiddie rides.  That was fun.  I half-dragged, half-carried the kids past the rides and up the stairs to the food court.  We made it.

Jake did the public access test which was fantastic for me because my nerves were shot.  April passed with flying colors.  We headed back to 4 Paws where I sat down with Jennifer and went over all of our final paperwork.  We got her official badge to go in her harness, her collar with all of her tags, and her medical history.  We signed our contract and she was ours!543530_10151537891649697_332825084_n

The graduation started and we each went around the room and tried to share our thoughts.  Most of us ended up crying too hard to even get it all out.  Each family was called to the front where we took a family photo in front of the graduation banner.  Then we were handed our certificate.  At the end, the kids got to “sign” the banner with their names and the names of their dogs.

It was a moment we’ve dreamed of for a very long time.  It almost didn’t even feel real.

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We then bid teary farewells to our new friends and got in the car and headed south.  We made it to Corbin, Kentucky where we stopped for the night at the same hotel as my sister from another mister (college roomie) who was travelling north with her sweet family.  It was wonderful to hug their necks and have breakfast with them the next morning before starting out on the rest of the drive home.

We drove 500 miles yesterday.  It took us 12 hours.  It was an especially trying day for Caleb who had quite a few meltdowns.  I had a couple of my own.  I literally cried a tear of joy when we crossed the Florida line (about 10 miles from our house).  If I hadn’t been so crazed and desperate to get home, I would have stopped and taken a picture of us kissing the ground.  Okay, maybe we wouldn’t go that far.  But it was just so wonderful to be back home with the warm temperatures and the green.  Oh everything is so beautiful and green!  I absolutely loved our time in Ohio and it was beautiful there, too.  But there’s no place like home!  April seems to love her new home and has really enjoyed exploring it.  She’s still getting used to our laminate floors, though, and has been sliding a bit.  We took her over for a family Easter dinner and she enjoyed meeting my sister’s little dog, Jack.  When we returned the rental car, we decided to leave her at home.  We filled her “bong” (as Gracie calls the Kong…I’m sure that won’t raise any eyebrows) with peanut butter and turned on the TV music channel.  When we got home, she was just chillin’ and listenin’ to some P.M. Dawn.  Gotta love the 90s station!

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It has been amazing to have April here.  She has made such a huge difference already and I can’t imagine it without her now.  A few of you future 4 Paws class members have asked me some great questions.  Once I’ve had some time to reflect, I’ll compile a list of tips and tricks that we were given from previous members and also what we discovered to be helpful.

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Thank you so much to all of you who followed our journey to bring April home.  Some of you very loyal and wonderful people have been following this story since the whole Pepsi Pup fiasco.  I so appreciate your support, your prayers, your encouragement, your shoulders to cry on and your cheers along the way.  It has made all the difference and I am forever grateful!

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Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 10 – Packing It Up!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Today was a little bittersweet.  It was our last full class day.  We reviewed our obedience commands, discussed any issues or concerns, talked a lot about going home and what to expect.  The trainers told us that it’s a guarantee that we’ll be questioned about public access with April.  We heard several stories that just make your jaw drop at the rudeness and lack of tact that clients have experienced.  We learned a little bit about what ADA law covers.  April is protected under the law just the same as someone’s wheelchair.  A hotel or apartment complex wouldn’t charge someone extra because the wheels might wear on the carpet.  If there are damages, then we are absolutely responsible.  An example would be our rental car.  We purchased the insurance on the rental car that basically releases us of all liability.  But they made sure to inform us that we will be charged a $250 cleaning fee if there is any pet hair in the car.  So we’d come out cheaper to just push it off a cliff.  We’re responsible people and we plan to clean it out anyway, but we’re also not planning to pay $250.

We had a chance to voice any fears about public access and the most common one seemed to be the poop issue.  We’re all scared that our dog will be in a store or mall or somewhere and poop on the floor.  So the first thing they reassured us about is that it will happen.  We heard some hilarious stories from the 4 Paws founder, Karen Shirk, that put us all at ease.  As she put it…When, not if, but when it happens and you’re embarrassed and cleaning it up, just remember the stories I told you and know that at least it’s not as bad as what happened to me.

We came back to the hotel tonight and have been rushing around trying to pack it all up.  April definitely is a little more clingy than usual.  She’s definitely picking up that something is going on.  Some extra snuggles and cuddles and she seemed to feel better.  So Jake will get up in the morning and take the borrowed kennel and food dishes back to 4 Paws and maybe run April a bit.  Then he’ll come back here and we’ll load up the car.  We will check out of our Home Sweet Homewood Suites and head to the mall at 11:30.  At noon, we will take our public access test.  EEEEEK!  Assuming we pass, we’ll head back to 4 Paws to do all of our final paperwork, get April’s medical records, etc.  Our classmates and some of the foster families will join us at 2:30 for our graduation ceremony.  I’m just accepting that I’m going to be a crying mess tomorrow for pretty much the whole day.  After all of our celebrating and tearful goodbyes, we’ll hop in the car and head south.  We’ll see how far we get!

Prayers are definitely appreciated for our test and our travels tomorrow.  I’ll try to update from the road tomorrow because it will be a huge day, but it might be a bit difficult.  I’ll at least add some updates and pics to the Stinker Babies Facebook page (http://facebook.com/stinkerbabies *That address is now facebook.com/ashleydpooser*).  If a blog post doesn’t happen tomorrow, you’ll be sure to get an earful (eyeful?) on Saturday after we make it home.  Thank you so much to everyone who has been following this journey and for your prayers and your support and your encouragement.  We are looking forward to getting April all settled in at her new home and getting back to our routines.  It should definitely be an interesting transition and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories!

Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 9 – First Walk of Shame

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Yes.  They said it would happen.  But, seriously, after eight days of perfection, I just thought we were golden.

After practicing the commands off leash in class and an outdoor track in which I very, very nearly ate mud (the infield of a softball field after 8 inches of snow melts is turned into ankle-deep mud…you know…fyi), we headed to the mall for an obedience practice and indoor track.  We followed Jessa, the trainer, to Macy’s for a couple of indoor tracks so that I could get some practice in.  April did beautifully.  I learned some important stuff.  Probably the most important thing I learned is that when the trainer says, “She’ll probably need to go potty after a track,” it means head to the nearest exit.  Don’t try to find a convenient one that’s on your way to the next thing.  Nearest. Exit. Now.

Poor April.  She tried so hard to hold it.  We made it to JCPenney’s  before she couldn’t do it anymore.  The puddle just happened to be right in front of the customer service desk.  Awesome.  But because we were prepared, it really wasn’t a big deal.  Before anyone really noticed what was going on, I grabbed the handy dandy “clean-up pack” that we received in class earlier this week.  We had paper towels to absorb the mess and a ziplock bag to put it in until we could find a trashcan.  I was really grateful for very sweet and understanding employees at Penney’s.  They were very quick to tell us to please not worry about it and that it was no big deal at all.  If it had to happen ever (and I’m sure it does), we couldn’t have asked for a better first experience.  Of course, I was totally mortified.  Not at April but more at ourselves for not making it outside quicker.  I felt so bad for our poor pup.  This is the first accident she’s had indoors and I know she probably felt ashamed.

So that’s a lesson to remember, future class members.  Tracking gets the dogs’ adrenaline up and when it comes back down?  Potty break.  Immediately.

After we were done with all of those great lessons, we took the kids to ride the train again and during the ride, Jake sniffed out a great treat.  So, we had another big first today.  We were adventurous in our food tasting.  Chocolate-Covered Bacon.  I don’t even know how you come up with chocolate-covered bacon.  I guess someone was sitting around, probably after a big night of drinking, and thought, “Chocolate?  Good.  Bacon?  Good.  Chocolate-Covered Bacon?  Awesome.”

The verdict?  I’ll let the pics tell you…

*I’m so so sad that all my pics disappeared when my other site went down. So the spoiler is that Jake and Caleb liked it. They’re all, “Chocolate? Bacon? Both are favorites.” Grace screwed up her little face in the most adorably disgusted way and she thought they were crazy.

Some people have asked if training is tiring.  Just an example: We got back from the mall today and I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes.  2 1/2 hours later, I woke up and realized that Jake had let me sleep and the kids were fed, had dessert, and were getting ready for a bath.  That is the awesomeness of my incredible husband.  And almost feeling human again?  Bonus.

Tomorrow is our last full class day.  I’m really getting ready to be home again.  I’m definitely really ready to have my own bedroom and my own bed again.  But just as much as I’m ready to get home, I’m also that sad to be leaving.  It’s such a strange feeling.  I just wish I could bring everyone home to Florida with us.  This is definitely one of those times when I’m so happy to have social media to keep up with our new friends.  These are bonds like no other and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these great families and awesome kids.

Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 8 – First Bath

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Everyone seemed a little off today.  The kids were wound up extra tight and seemed to fall apart over the least little thing.  I’ve had allergy issues all week and my RA started flaring today so I was wound up extra tight and wanted to fall apart over the least little thing.  April seemed to sense all that and seemed pretty restless with everyone else on edge.  Bedtime could not come soon enough.  That’s all I’m sayin’.  They are not asleep yet but at least they’re contained in a smaller area.  Although I did just hear Caleb on the monitor say something about going out the window.  I hope that’s just talk. We did a practice track in the halls tonight with April and she did great but I really don’t feel like testing it out for real.  Not tonight.  I just want to sit down with my Homewood Suites coffee cup that my sweet husband used to smuggle wine from the lobby.  Okay, scratch all of that.  It took me 48 minutes to type this paragraph because of how many times they got out of bed or basically terrorized each other.  I’m done.  My mind is 1000% gone.  This day can be over.  Now.

In class today, we practiced “place” from longer distances.  We did alright but we need to work on that one more during the evening.  We also worked on some behavioral disruptions.  “Nudge” will ask April to go over to Caleb if he’s crying and she will nudge him and try to distract him.  “Touch” will ask her to put her paw on him to hopefully distract him from any kind of stimming that we want to reduce (like gnawing on objects or loud vocals in a public place).  “Kisses” will just have her go over and do exactly that- give a little doggy kiss to help distract.  We didn’t practice this one because Caleb is a bit weirded out by licking.

Our track today was in a new place that was still covered in snow.  It was beautiful and kinda fun to be the first person to walk that path.  I have found that I absolutely love going for walks in the snow.  As long as I have the right shoes, it’s awesome.  We walked the outer edge of the park to the tree and then took a right towards the woods.  We half-slid, half-walked down a hill and found ourselves in this little bit of woods.  The snow covered all the underbrush so it was just the trees and the snow.  It was so quiet and peaceful.  In between the snowballs, anyway.  Each one of my kids has a pretty good aim, by the way, so watch out.

After class today, April went out back to play with some pals and confirmed her need for a bath.  When we got back to the hotel, she hesitantly got into the tub.  Our lab may or may not have gotten the memo that she’s supposed to love water.  The jury is still out, I think.  Apparently, when we get back home, it will already be summertime so we’ll be figuring this out soon.

It’s hard to believe that we only have two class days left.  Our test will be Friday and then we’ll (hopefully) be celebrating our graduation with all of our classmates.  You really do connect with your classmates and make lifelong friends.  Everyone told us that 4 Paws is just a wonderful oasis from the real world and it really, truly is.

Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 7 – Snow Day!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Today we practiced using just the hand signals for commands so we wouldn’t have to verbally command all the time.  We also took some notes on tracking and received our Flexi Leash.  It was all really important, but this post will probably end up being mostly pictures.  I can’t stop looking at, taking pictures of, or talking about this snow.  It is crazy beautiful.  It’s probably going to spoil me for any kind of other wintry  weather.  This freshly fallen, powdery soft, heavy flakes kinda snow is what I’ll think of forever and ever until another 20 years goes by before I see it again!

Last night, the view from our windows was mesmerizing.  Which is saying a lot because our view is of a parking lot, office building, and then I-675 behind that.  After we put the kids to bed, I ran out to the car to get our boots inside for the morning.  When I started back, I saw that Caleb was peeking out of the window instead of sleeping.  I couldn’t blame him in the least.  So instead of correcting him, I threw a snowball at the window and watched him collapse in a giggle fit.  He ended up falling asleep between the window and the curtains.  That had to be an interesting sight for the guy clearing the sidewalks with that snow-be-gone machine thing.  When he woke up this morning to find that the trucks had cleared the parking lot, I thought we were going to have the meltdown to end all meltdowns.  He thought it had all melted and wouldn’t believe us that there was still more than enough snow for lots of fun.  Tracking practice fixed that!

It has continued to snow throughout today and will continue off and on all day tomorrow.  I can’t believe how much the snow changes the way the landscape looks.  On one hand, it looks like a fresh start with a clean slate and all the imperfections covered up with a pure white blanket.  On the other hand, it can sometimes look like a bland and dreary nothingness.  To my inexperienced eyes, it looks like the first scenario.  I can totally understand, though, how it would look like a never-ending frozen blah if you’ve been dealing with it for six months.

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For example, I guess I never really thought about how much longer it takes you to get the day started.  If we didn’t have the handyman with the snow-be-gone thing, we’d have to be out early to shovel a path.  Just like every other day, Jake walked the kids and April over to the lobby for breakfast while I loaded the car and then drove over to the front so we could easily scoot out when we were done.  So I sent them on their merry way and I turned to the car.  And stopped.  And looked.  And scratched my head.  I couldn’t even find the door handles.  There was at least four inches of snow waiting to fall in the seat as soon as I opened the door.  Hmmm.  How was this going to work?  Just as I started attacking it with my hands and arms, wiping as much as I could into the parking lot, our classmate rounded the corner and just had to laugh a bit.  He very politely offered me his snow brush scraper thing and just mentioned that “This might work a bit better.”  He ended up scraping the windshield for me because, apparently, if I had continued on my way and just used the wipers, they would have frozen?  Or something very negative.  When I parked the car today, I noticed some cars with Ohio plates left their windshield wipers standing straight up.  I have no idea what this does, but I assume they know what they’re doing so I copied them.

We are learning all sorts of snow stuff.  Except the correct terms or names for anything, I guess.  All I know is I’m so so happy for my rainboots.  Especially during the tracking!!  And once we leave the snow and head back to the Sunshine State, they’ll be ready for hurricane season…

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Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 6 – All Kinds of Fun!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

This day has just been nonstop excitement!

We learned “lap” and “over” commands which will be helpful in comforting Caleb and giving him some of that sensory input he seeks.  We can tell April, “lap,” and she will come and lay her head on whatever we’re pointing at (most often, Caleb’s lap).  We can tell her “over” and she will lay down across whatever we indicate.  This will definitely come in handy and also help with the bonding process.

We also found out that April knows how to bark on command.  While this is mostly used for the seizure alert dogs, it can be handy if we want to train April to bark if she sees Caleb wander away without an adult.  I’m also thinking it could be handy while Jake is working the night shift at the hospital.  If I hear a noise at the front door, I just have to say, “Bark!” and April will most likely scare away any of the neighborhood troublemakers who have been breaking into cars lately.  She has a great bark!

Our track today was long and fast and I got to hold the leash.  I was so nervous, but Jessa (our trainer) said I handled her well.  I’m going to take her word for it!  Besides just running in the cold with allergy issues, it was fun!  April found Caleb very quickly again today.  On the way back to the starting point, I noticed tons of deer tracks everywhere.  I was even more impressed that she was able to focus in on Caleb’s scent and not be distracted by all the other scents that must have been lingering around.  As soon as we got back in the car, it started to snow.  Like real snow!  First time in my whole life that I’ve ever seen it snowing for real.  It was absolutely beautiful.  The kids and Jake thought it was awesome, too.

 We had lunch at the mall with April and met up with our group for tethering practice and a couple of indoor tracks.  I walked off with Caleb inside JCPenney and we laid down a scent trail.  This is different in a few ways from the outdoor tracks, but mostly because there is no wind.  Our superdog found Caleb once again.  As a “reward,” she got to ride the train with us.  I have no idea if she liked it, but she at least tolerated it politely.

When we left the mall, there was a shallow covering of snow all over.  We embarrassed ourselves.  But I don’t care one little bit.  It was so much fun!  We had our first snowball fight right there in front of the sporting goods store.

 Back at the hotel, our awesome suite keeper had left a note warning us of the coming snowfall and left us a few peppermints.  We made some hot chocolate and are now just hanging out and watching for more snow.  In just a minute, I’ll get up and start cooking some chili.  Today is the first day on this trip that felt like a vacation.  I have been so exhausted after finally being done with class and practice and playtime and dinner and baths and prep for the next day.  But today?  Today has been all kinds of fun and we are so grateful!blog collage

Our 4 Paws Adventure – Service Dog Training Day 5 – Tethering

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

This day has been so up and down emotionally.  This post might be kinda short because I am so exhausted.

Today was the first day since meeting April that I’ve had some weepy moments.  This morning was the first time tracking without a trainer hiding with Caleb.  It was just me and Caleb and Grace.  We walked in one direction and then took a right for a bit.  We finally hid behind a utility shed just outside of right field at a local high school.  This was kind of the true test.  April was used to tracking her trainers.  Maybe the first couple of days had been so successful because she was very familiar with the trainer’s scent.  When she found us, I just about lost it.  This was the track that really hit me.  The long walk back to the parking area was spent trying to get it together.  I’m about to get weepy again just thinking about the significance of it.

So then we grabbed a bite to eat for lunch.  April came with us into a restaurant for the first time with just us on our own.  We were just trying to play it cool but she is a total pro.  And she is already making such a huge difference!  Waiting is not an easy thing to do for Caleb.  He just laid down on the booth seat and spent the time petting April.  It was so awesome.

After lunch, we were introduced to the tether.  We learned how to attach it all and then practiced with adults pulling at the tether and our dogs staying in place.  Whether in a “heel” or in a “down,” April was awesome.  I can’t quite tell yet if it’s because she wants to please us or if it’s because she seriously loves her Pupperoni treats.  I’d like to think it’s a combination of both.

As awesome as tracking is, tethering is the moment I’ve been waiting for.  This is what will make the most enormous daily difference in our lives.  So, of course, like the emotional basket case I apparently am, I got weepy all over again just talking about it.  We went to dinner with Pretzel’s family at the mall and we got a chance to try out the tether.  This was the first time that I can remember that we were walking somewhere like the mall and I didn’t have a death grip on his hand.  The tether is attached to April’s harness on one end.  The other end is clipped to a belt around Caleb’s waist.  He also has a little leash that he can hold and “walk” his dog.  There was absolutely a subtle shift in the way he carried himself tonight.  He was able to walk around the mall and hold his drink and not be completely dependent on a parent just to walk through the food court.  He absolutely loved introducing April to people.  He seemed to have such a sense of pride.  It made my heart so happy. 

I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to work on tomorrow.  I think we’ll be headed back to the mall as a group to practice public access.  I’m not worried about it at all.  Pretzel and April made a friend tonight.  A baby boy was just having the best time climbing all over them and giving them kisses.  They loved it.  Once, Caleb tripped over a metal plate on the floor and it startled April but she didn’t break heel.  I’m amazed.

Tracking will definitely take an interesting turn with this crazy winter storm on its way.  They’re expecting 5-9 inches of snow here in the next couple of days.  Ummm…yeahhhh.  That whole excitement over snow thing might be about to bite me…

No matter what we end up working on, I know it will be awesome.  April has made such a huge difference in so many ways already.  We’ve only had her for five days and it’s already so difficult for me to imagine life without her.