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!

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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!*

It’s a Girl! Meet Our Service Dog!

*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.*

As most of you know, we’ve been waiting on pins and needles for our official Match Letter from 4 Paws for Ability.  This letter would tell us which of these adorable wonderdogs would become a part of our family.

Friday morning, I was startled awake by a crazy dream and it led me to post this in our private Facebook group that only the families can see.

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Exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes later, we saw this post in the public group for the March class:
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Five minutes later, the first match was received.  Someone posted, “WE GOT OUR MATCH!  They’re coming!!!”  At that moment, I started bawling like a baby.

Two minutes later, I refreshed my e-mail and there it was.  An e-mail from the wonderful Karen Shirk with the subject line, “Dear Caleb.”

I took a deep breath and clicked.

And just like that, all of the disappointments and frustrations and discouragement and hard work and hope and patience and lessons learned along the way…It was all resolved in a beautiful reality.

Our goal, our dream, our hope had a beautiful face and name.

I am so honored and thrilled to introduce you to our new girl who will be joining our family in just 10 days.

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Meet April!

She’s a beautiful black Labrador Retriever who will have her first birthday on March 15th.

(Which also just so happens to be our 10th wedding anniversary – how’s that for a sweet “coincidence”?)

Every time I look at that sweet, smiling face, I start crying again.  I just can’t believe we have our match.  I cannot believe that we will have her in our arms in just ten days.

We are going out in just a bit to shop for our sweet April.  I’m going to try to contain myself even though I feel like I should be on a new TLC reality show, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant (until one week before I had a baby).”

Just like bringing a newborn home, there will be some major adjustments going on.  The training class will be intense and every day for eleven days.  Because our family lives so far from 4 Paws, I feel the pressure of getting it all in and getting it all right before we leave.

But now, whenever I start to get stressed, I just look at that sweet girl’s smile and I just feel that it’s all going to be alright.  I can look past the initial adjustment phase and see how it will be in a year, two years, five years, ten.

And that makes everything worth it.

We started down this path to a service dog exactly two years ago.  There have been some major roadblocks and detours.  I can’t help but feel it was because we were meant to be with this organization, this group of families, and this particular pup.

We were officially accepted into the 4 Paws program last February.  I remember, on our anniversary last year, seeing Karen post pictures of a brand new litter just born that day.  Knowing the age range of the dogs placed, I chuckled as I thought how sweet it would be to be matched with one of those babies born on our day of celebration.

It’s been a very long road.  But in just 10 short days, that road will end in Xenia, Ohio.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 12.12.48 PMAnd April is there.  Waiting for us.  Waiting for her boy.