Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 1 – Meeting April!

*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 the day.

My eyes flew open before my alarm had even finished the first beep.

Today was the day!

Even with all of our excitement and nervous energy, we still managed to be 40 minutes late to breakfast.  But I know us and had planned accordingly. So we just ate a bit faster and we left the hotel right on time.

We headed to 4 Paws and arrived right at the suggested half hour early. I expected to have beaten most of the group there but when we walked in, the place was buzzing! Half of the large room is devoted to training exercises with seating around the edges. The other half of the room has tables, video games, toys, movies, puzzles, sensory activities, and all sorts of other things to keep the kids entertained.

There were kennels nearby.  With dogs in them.  Were they ours?  Were we allowed to go closer and investigate?  I hesitantly started moving down the row.

The fourth kennel on the left had our girl in it.  She was right. there.  We bent down to say hello.  She quickly sat up and backed away.  She seemed a little nervous with all of the excitement and commotion going on around her.

Then I started to get nervous, too.  What if she doesn’t like us?  What if it turns out that she’s not ready?  What if the bond doesn’t form?

There are 12 families in our class.  After an introduction of 4 Paws staff from Jeremy, the training director, and introductions of each family, bags of treats were passed out to each family.  My heart started to beat faster.  One by one, the dogs were brought out and introduced to their new families.  One by one, I watched as months and years of preparation, planning, struggle and hope came to a beautiful fruition.  One by one, each family shed some happy tears and beamed with joy as they embraced the newest member of their family.

Even though we were anxious to get our girl in our arms, it was a beautiful experience to go last and be able to witness these eleven families change before my very eyes.

And then, suddenly, there she was.

As the trainer led her over to our family, I just hoped that she would like us and grow to love us as much as we already loved her.  They say the quickest way to a dog’s heart is through her stomach so we just shoveled treats into her mouth.  So far, it seems about right!  She came right to us and enjoyed all the attention and kibble.  

meeting april

I have no words for what this day has been like.

As for April?  I’m already like a biased mother.  She is the sweetest, smartest, most beautiful dog that has ever lived.  We worked on “sit” and “down” today.  And by “we,” I mean the humans.  The dogs are already awesomely trained.  We just have to practice together and get her used to our voices giving the commands instead of the familiar trainers.

We rocked it today.

Between all the crazy emotions and anticipation and lack of sleep and a trip to Walmart, I am so beyond exhausted.    Apparently, so was Gracie.  While we were walking around like zombies at Walmart, she said she had to go potty.  She totally fell asleep on the toilet and slept through the rest of the trip back to the hotel.

One day down, ten more to go!  And I’m not sure how I feel about that yet.  I wish we could stay in this safe cocoon of a learning environment for a few months.

Tomorrow, we will start right in with training and practice from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Then, April will come home to the hotel with us and she will be that much closer to being ours!

The 4 Paws Adventure Begins – Road Trip!

*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.*

They say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I say, “A journey of a thousand miles (or 785 to be exact) begins with a portable DVD player.”

We started our adventure yesterday afternoon with a rented Chevy Traverse crammed full of everything we might even remotely find possibly necessary for the next couple of weeks.  There is even a Crock Pot and a toaster oven somewhere in the pile.

We made it out of Florida before someone had to stop and go potty.  Before you are too impressed, let me admit that we only live about 10 miles from the state line.

Our goal was to make it to Chattanooga, TN before finding a place to stop for the night.  Our kids will not fall asleep in the car so driving all night was definitely not a good idea.  For anyone.  We found a Holiday Inn Express just off the interstate that worked perfectly for us.  There is something to be said about just walking in with no reservation.  If you get a smart employee, they will usually give you a bit of a discount.    And put you on the top floor.  At the end of the hallway.  With the stairwell between your family and the nearest neighbor.  Our kids who were so sleepy when we stopped were miraculously energized by riding the elevator.  It was a long night.

When the sun rose the next morning, we looked out over the beautiful Tennessee hills and couldn’t wait to get back on the road.  After breakfast downstairs, we hopped back into the rental car (that I am totally in love with and wish I could keep) and tried to get a good start before the rain caught us.

To keep the kids entertained, I had a proud mommy moment when I came up with a fun game.  We named all the colors we could think of and wrote them on a score card.  Each time we saw a semi truck, we would put a tick mark next to the matching color.  We called it our research project and planned to find the most popular color for semi trucks.

I did not think this thing through.  Do you have any idea how many semi trucks are on the interstate on a Monday?  Combine the hundreds of trucks out and about with the obsessive tendencies of my sweet son (who would be an incredibly thorough research assistant, by the way) and you have a game that was forbidden to leave the state.  The most popular color (by far) is white.  You know.  Just in case it ever comes up.  Like at a dinner party.  At a truck stop.  Or Jeopardy.  Who knows?

We made it to Kentucky just in time for lunch.  We were pretty tired of sandwich-type meals, so Jake suggested KFC.  I knew they had stuff besides fried chicken these days, so I agreed.  When we got settled in at our booth in the window that looked out over the misty foothills while Alison Krauss played on the radio, I started giggling.  The fact that we were eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky just entertained me way more than it should.  That’s when I knew delirium had set in.

A few (hundred) hours later, we didn’t think we would ever see Ohio.  Then we rounded a curve on I-75 and there was Cincinnati just across the river.  It was beautiful!  And terrifying.  We timed it just right to see what rush hour is like.  But it didn’t matter!  We had made it to Ohio!!!

After making it through bumper to bumper traffic and then immediately getting us lost in more bumper to bumper traffic, we finally rolled into our Home Sweet Homewood Suites.

Just in time for the free supper (with wine!) and to meet fellow blogger and 4 Paws classmate, Nicole, from Modified Mamas.

We got all unpacked in our comfy room and settled in and now I cannot sleep.  I am so excited and nervous and happy and scared all at the same time.  In the morning, we will meet April.  I hope everything works out beautifully.  I will try to blog at least a short update every day.  I know there are a lot of parents who are considering a service dog for their family, so I want to give you an honest insider’s look into the good, the bad, and the amazing during this experience.

For those of you who are headed to 4 Paws in the future, I just have to say we’ve been really pleased with Homewood Suites (the recommended hotel).  They have been very accommodating during the reservation process and check-in.  The free nightly meals are pretty decent, too!  Here are a few pictures of the room for any of you in upcoming classes who want a good look!  We have the one bedroom suite with two double beds.

*I may have lost the pictures from this post. I’m working on finding copies and will update if I do!*