Sunday, June 7, 2015

Completely Blessed!

Today I finally have a moment to slow down and attempt to do some blogging. For those that have followed this blog or my FaceBook post you know that this past month has been a rollercoaster like thrill ride. I have had some very low moments followed by some super high moments. Needless to say I am in recoup mode attempting to settle into a regular schedule again.

So after much thought this week I am going to go back in my Facebook and cut and past the account that I did there about the fantastic training I received from America's VetDogs. I am also including the link to the graduation at the Enfield Correctional Institution.

Enfield Prison Graduation: 
It was such an honor to be a part of getting this program going and then to be able to be there to see the first Pup actually graduate and head back to the foundation was a dream come true. America's VetDogs has changed my life with Iris, there is no doubt about that and now we see them making an impact in out community helping to change the inside what many consider the unchangeable. These Prisons as a whole along with the community around them are changed by these dogs in such a positive way long before the puppies can save a veterans life.To be a part of this project is just another blessing that has be bestowed on me by my disability that truly today is anything but. Thank you All of you that allowed me to be a part of this mission of love and service.
Beyond the barbed wire and heavy security, there was a special ceremony taking place inside of the Enfield Correctional Institution on Thursday evening.

Ok For all those waiting for updates, I am holding off on pictures and a name so as not to put out information that has not been delivered to donors and puppy raisers as of yet. Once we get the word from the foundation that everyone that should know I will post lots of pictures. Needless to say my new dog is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can tell you He is a male Yellow Lab and is a head turner for sure. He is not a small dog by anyones account that is for sure. The training program here at America's VetDogs continues to amaze me in the amount of time and effort they put into getting the dogs and us the Veterans ready to be a solid team. 
Class this time for me is great and much more educational in the presentation. They now spend a lot of time in the classroom making sure we understand the whys not just the hows of being a member of this team. More will come as the week goes along but for those that know me you can vouch that I am dragging now because it has been a very long day. Class has just finished up after the night session and I am ready to do some reading and take my meds and sleep like a baby. The puppy is already out and I am taking my lead from him.  smile emoticon

Day 4 of the Service Dog Person training program, yes person training program. These dogs have been trained and certified so they know what they're doing so this 10 day course is a person training course. We start at 0700 with feeding and relieving then on to classroom time. Today we hear rumor that we are going to be issued some more of the gear needed to get us out and about in the public. 
I know you all think old hat for me because I had Iris but oh so wrong. Yesterday during the training time my trainer introduced how my SD was going to handle my seizures while in public. The "new way" is very different then the way Iris used to handle it and I may point out I think it is much better also. I now have an alarm system that I will were that he will activate and then he will lay down next to me and be with me until I come to or help comes. The shrill alarm is much less scary then having a large dog barking to draw attention to me and maybe keeping people away from me.
That is one of many ways I love how America's VetDogs is always looking to improve how they work with the veterans to make sure the best possible resolution of issues is taken care of. There are so many other task that my new SD has been trained to work with I have a binder of things to keep track of and study. Just like getting a new high end performance sports car the learning process goes on. 
For those that wonder if he will be in tune with me like Iris was he has already woke me once at night just like Iris did on a regular occasion. Due to the fact the meds over time have been changed to better suit my needs the seizures or shall we call them "events" are much less traumatic so it's more just a waking to break the event and then back to rest.
Well enough for now and on with the day!

Day 5, 
Wow is a word that is being said often by all of us here. There are 2 of us on class that have both had service dogs from AVD and then the others have not had the experience of having a dog. Due to the changes there have been times that both of the groups have had advantages and disadvantages alike. The having to re-learn different commands and or ways of doing things has been a challenge but well worth it in the long haul. 
Watching the new SD users and being able to add a different perspective to their training by offering up our experiences I hope has been a positive addition to the overall class. I remember from my first time at AVD all those personal questions that I would ask a trainer and they could only pass on what they thought or maybe heard others say but never really experienced. So looking over yesterdays posting and seeing a few of the known SD active teams contemplating that eventual R word (retirement), there is some very positive value that your new pairing will add to the class that an instructor just can not bring to the table.
Let's talk about that R-word for a second since for those that have attended the "academy of AVD" and recall that dreaded day that even though you are just getting your dog you have to hear the what to look for and eventually prepare for when that dog can no longer safely do his or her job. I truly miss Iris more than words can express yet have found that a hole is being filled much faster then I was expecting it would be. That does not mean she is being replaced in the heart or any of those other areas that one might think but my mind is coming to grips with the mission that she was given to me in the first place for. That mission was to save my life and get me active with the community which she most definitely did 110%. To quote a past president "Mission Accomplished"
As I have been here at school I have been blessed with a Son and his Fiancé that have allowed me access to her progress, relaxation and integration into their home via text FaceTime and phone calls. This communication has given me the positive feedback in her peace to move forward with my new pairing here with (bet you thought I was going to type his name) my new pup. There is no regret or pain in the new pairing which I did approach originally with trepidation. So for those that are facing the eventual retirement process there is so much to look forward to I say sharpen the pencils and grab those cameras because the smiles that you are going to be able to experience from both the retirement and new pairing are limitless if you have an open-end and let go and let God.
Today we will be leaving campus for the first time. It seems like we have been working with our dogs for weeks and have them doing so much already and now the test of getting out in the public eye is not a worrisome process but something to be looked forward to with eagerness. Our new SD teams may have less faith in their ability but the trainers and the two retired teams have been working with them to give them the internal drive to know they are ready also and this is what it's all about. So if your in the area of Long Island today and see a busload of SD users remember talk to us if you want we're ready to take on the real world.

OK Everyone Here are pictures from the first day meeting with Mike my new Service Dog! He is a young Yellow Lab that is huge when compared to the size of Iris but I guess when filling shoes like that it only makes sense because well yes thats some big shoes to fill.
 — at America's VetDogs.

Day 6, 
My legs hurt (In a great way). Yesterday we went to the Smithtown public Library and municipal complex. Mike and I walked and walked and yes talked to a bunch of people, he is a stunning lab and I am working with the distractions to make sure he stays focused on task. 
That brings up a conversation that came up during dinner last night between the other new SD teams and trainer wanting to know what was one of the biggest mistakes a SD team makes when dealing with people over time. That mistake is was and probably always will be is letting your Service Dog be petted and treated like a pet. That goes for at the home even with family members that live in the house. 
Ok lets break this concept down a bit for those that just did the oh no you can't treat the dog like that its a dog it deserves to have time off from being a Service Dog and should be allowed to get loving and playtime with people other then it's partner when it's not working. Well first off it's always working, as the trainers so aptly pointed out to me. Actually my family and friends also would be the first to point out that Iris was always working, but that did not stop the well she is not wearing a vest and we can all play and interact with her Willi Nilli during that time. 
I will vouch that after time the home time with others around Iris was less then reliable with the button and her job and more social and that was my fault because I allowed it. I know that and understand that. The concept of TEAM goes both ways when you are a service dog team member and I have to do everything I can do to make this team a successful pairing and worthy of the ADI and AVD standards that have been set and will be upheld. 
What does that mean to all of you that come in contact with me and Mike? Well that means that I will do my best to control the situation for safety of Mike and great working conditions for him to allow him to do his JOB and I will also do my best to teach and inform you the general public way I do that. I will no longer have down time for Mike where he can get play and love from others because that special bond is what he works for and keeps me alive if and when I have an issue. Think about it as if I have a walking and breathing AED with me, he is there to focus on me allow him to do that, revel in his work and be grateful that I have been allowed to have such a gift. 
I will share that love and gratitude that he gives to me through my words and continued work with others passing his gift on in that way. I hope this rant today helps in some way for those that have the uncontrolled I have to reach out and touch your Service Dog issue understand the bond and why you should learn to work on it. 
God Bless.

Day 7:
Yesterday I made two post one with the link to the video so everyone could see Mike in action. These dogs are so well trained it is mind boggling to really think about what they can do. This morning lets think about the other side of what they do, the emotional bond that is made with the veteran. 
I have already had a service dog that I will never forget and will never be replaced. For those of you that have followed my pages for any amount of time you have heard the story of Iris and how I attribute her actions and activities to saving my life. Well the same thing happens here on a regular basis with so many veterans when they walk onto campus and meet their furry little friend. 
For those that have not seen the pictures posted from the first time Mike was brought over and introduced to me check them out. You will see that when he came close to me he bounded towards me with an enthusiasm of a long lost child reuniting with a parent yet it was his first meeting. The trainers and staff here at AVD are so experienced with pairing dogs and their methods of research on our needs going into our history's medical and social allow them to find that perfect match. Seldom do they get it wrong.
I can tell you that Mike and I were only one of the meet and greets that happened that day, the others were just as excited and emotional. The bonding process was instantaneous. I watch with awe as the other teams train their tasks and start to figure each other out. Establishing the boundaries of working together is a fine ballet that take practice and time yet in less then a week we have teams that can go into public and interact in most situations completely safely. 
This morning around 0400 or so I must have been having one of my many "Bad dreams", thank God I never remember them, and I was woke up by Mike pulling the covers off the bed. This is how they train the dogs to handle nightmare interruption. It woke me up and when I realized what was I acknowledged him with a big yes and he was all wiggles and kisses. Such a great way to deal with situations like that. He has already woke me like Iris has done so many times in the night by having his face gently near mine nudging me only to allow me to go back to sleep once I have assured him I am fine. The timing of these coincide with the timing that Iris would wake me and the timing that when I am in the hospital that I would get anomalies on the monitors. So we know that I still have events but just not full onset events and it is a satisfying feeling knowing that we seem to be in tune with each other already. 
Watching the others in class each and everyone has their own little story of how the fine tuning of getting to know their new pup is coming along. Hopefully we will hear from them as they become more comfortable and want to share their experiences. I know you all and I have come to love hearing from friends such as Brian Pearce and others so I will encourage them as you all encourage me.
Today is Celebration Sunday here where the puppy raisers and sponsors come to campus and meet with us. Having been through this before it is a wonderful day that allows for a full circle in the process of a service dogs life. Often that unsung hero the people that make getting a dog possible are forgotten in the joy of the moment. The fact that AVD takes the time and effort to bring everyone together and complete the circle really is special allow us the veteran to thank those that help save our lives. For those of you out there that help save our lives daily through prayers and support know that you are here in my heart today as part of my celebration Sunday. Thank you.

Thought I'd do a quick middle of the day post. Here's the set up, I'm going to share a video of Mike doing one of his task. This is his inside button which is a direct line to 911. His job is to see me out call for help with the button here the bottom activate then come and lay down next to me. What you have to understand is there is an outside task where he pulls a loud alarm attached to my belt then lays down next to me so he has to determine that we're indoors first which is why he checks my belt area first before pushing the button. Remember that 911 responds to calls with no response and they also know my home number because I have been called so many times.

Day 8:
Where's the coffee? My eyes feel blurry and every muscle aches but we will roll on and continue to work on our task! The training we are going through is nonstop Mike is with me 24/7 even though today is Memorial Day we are training. We will have picnics (yes plural) and distractions abound but that is all part of the training. Imagine if you will an average day of your life and then try to throw in a bunch of extra rough moments to try to put your new teammate through his paces during that day. We may not be running a marathon but it is stressful in it's own way.
Now thats out it is also very gratifying to be able to get through these task without having issues. The empowerment achieved once you realize that your dog is going to be there and do what he's supposed to even if we make a mistake is wonderful. This time of feeling each other out is such a blessing and is one of the things that makes the training here at AVD such a unique experience over many other methods. 10 days of immersion training without home distractions is so worth it. Not to mention that they have a world class chef and the food is unbelievable. I have had to ask for half portions and even skipped a meal or two because it's just more then I am used to eating. 
One of the neat things we did was go as a group out to a local dog park to watch other dogs interact with each other. I would never have thought about doing something like this but it was very enlightening to see who and why the dogs act the way they do. Dog Psych 101. The other thing is to watch dog owners in the park and their lack of understanding of what the dogs are really doing.
So yesterday we had the Celebration Sunday were the puppy raisers and sponsors came to the Foundation and met with us. It was a great time and fun for all. We also did the Train training that you all so pictures of (if not go back on the timeline and you will see Mike sitting regally). We (the veterans not the dogs though) were taken on a tour of the facilities. The kennels are huge here every dog is treated like a king or queen some people in America would love to have such nice living arraignments. I am including a couple puppy pictures because who doesn't love puppies? Then we went to the coast and dealt with the gear heads loud music and some fireworks all good distractions and finally got back to the foundation around 8 last night. 
So there you have it another day in the books. Today we have a very busy day planned so time for me to move on and get ready.

This is a nightmare interruption practice where he pulls the covers down and off to wake me. Pretty amazing to see all the things Mike does.

We went to a local mall this morning and with distractions and new place he still hammered the personal alarm. I have waited him out for much longer but to keep crowds down this was a quick test.

Day 9:
Memorial Day was a good day of training the staff took their holiday weekend and set it aside so that our class could continue. This actually made for some good hands on training because Long Island really fills up over the holiday weekend so our trips out into the Malls and other stores had a good number of people and kids to work around. 
We all did our ADI (Assistance Dogs International) test yesterday, which is a test that makes sure we as a team can handle ourselves in public in a number of different situations. To be honest with all the training and situational awareness practices the trainers run us through it's a piece of cake. We all passed with flying colors in case anyone was worried. Most of you have seen the videos and know that Mike has walked me through and made me look good even in my foggy old man state.
On a foodie note the baby back ribs last night that Chef Kevin made were scrumptious but as usual with this class there were leftovers. (Hoping to see them as an offering at lunch maybe) we can alway dream right?
We did not do any of the parades or other functions that we were invited to as a class and just focused on training and recharging our batteries when allowed some downtime. This morning I am much more rest and actually got a chance to read some yesterday which is always a nice centering time for me. 
On the schedule today we are hitting the ground running looking for interesting obstacles and continuing to work the basics. The key to good handling is to always remember the basics and build off of them on a daily cycle so what we do here is what we will continue to do at home. The head trainer Ken has really brought a lot of the train like you fight mentality of the Army into the training here. Being a proud member of both the Army and the VetDogs team I own the concept and stand behind it completely.
I am including a video from one of the early days of training with pushing the buttons to open doors. and because you all have been so great with comments and getting the word out about the great effort of America's VetDogs also one more puppy picture. wink emoticon

Day 10:
I can not believe that it is day 10 already (other then my waistline seems to be 10 sizes larger due to the great food served up by the great chef here) but it is. Yesterday that video of Mike and I falling in public was shared on the VetDogs Facebook page and it has had over 10k in views. for some of you that may be internet marketing geniuses I guess thats not big news but I have never seen a post of mine go like that so I am going to address a few of the points that have come up in comments today.
First off I would like to point out that the video is of the two of us in training not an actual event so it is a controlled environment. The process of teaching the dogs here is something called chaining where they take small task and put them together to create a larger task. It is an amazing way of working with dogs and something I had never heard about until I got down here this time. (I have had a service dog before that performed tasks for me but I did not know the process of training). If you go back and watch the video again you will notice at the end of the hall there is a person standing there to ensure that no unsuspecting bystander walks up and breaks the chain of events we are imprinting on both Mike and myself.
I point this out because it is a huge part of what we as a team have been doing here at the America's VetDogs Foundation for the past week plus. We started with very simple task creating the bond between us with those small task and eye contact and just voice corrections long before ever putting a leash correction into our arsenal. Once we put a leash correction in the dog it became a secondary correction for us the handler not the primary as happens so often with handlers. (Spoken from truth having been a handler with a disability) the leash is a tool that is to easy to use so using the voice alone really makes me work for the command.
Once we had the simple stuff working we added slowly some of the other stuff that the dogs were already trained to do. Remember that the dogs have all been trained before we got here so this time is people training time not dog training time. I sometimes think that the collars and other aids should really be worn by us just like my hearing aids because I find myself wandering off just like the dogs do. The staff here is great at watching our telltale motions to make sure they keep us on track thus keeping the training moving forward. It's almost like they have the little chips in my head to know I am losing it or something.
Back to the falling video! The concept of the falling video was to show people how Mike pulls this alarm that makes a large shrill sound that will attack people. Yes it will attract people believe me, I hear it even with my bad hearing. Mike lays down next to me because some people can be afraid of dogs especially large dogs like mike so having him in a down position is the least aggressive position and safest place for him. We have since added people walking up and talking to me with him staying but at the time of the video that piece had not been added. 
So I hope all this adds insight to the process of how the advanced chaining of task is done here and why the video while very impressive may not have been a complete 911 scene. 
Training continues until Fri which is our travel day home (I am going to be leaving on Thursday evening after training is done because I live across the sound and can) so Thursday morning will be my last day update. I hope you all have enjoyed these as much as I have enjoyed doing them.

Day 12:
Yesterday was a very interesting day we did something that I wish would had done the first time I went through training, we went to the airport. As we drove in the first thing we saw was 4 K9 units parked in the roundabout and in my mind I kept thinking back to the last year with Iris and her aversion to other dogs. This last year has been so hard having to be on guard all the time to make sure that I saw all the dogs first or I would be surprised with an angry bark and then go into my want to hide mode because I knew a service dog should not act out like that. It was a hard time but it was part of the process of me getting ready and being honest with myself about her needing to retire.
Having a service dog is so much more then just having a dog that performs task for you when you need them. It is a bonding of two individuals to make a team and you may not understand the nature of the process when you have to evaluate letting one become a pet and live out their life comfortably without worrying about the other all the time. The staff here at America's VetDogs was so instrumental in helping me get through the process and allowing me to make that decision without the guilt of feeling like I was leaving a good friend when in fact I was helping her by letting her off the hook from working when she was stressing to stay on the job. Now that I see her living so happily with my son and future daughter and see the bond growing every minute with Mike and I there is no doubt the decision was the right one.
Today is my last day on campus! I will be packing our bags and heading to the ferry later this afternoon and driving back to home looking forward to standing tall in the community with many less worries then I have had in a long time. the past week I can tell everyone that I have not had a single back spasm which is amazing considering I have been having them on a almost daily basis for a while lately. Who knows if it has been the stressors of the Iris in the community or the retirement or a combination of all sorts of things but just to not have them for a whole week has been glorious.Our bodies can tell us so much about our surroundings if we listen sometimes.
So many cool things learned yesterday! Mike is a prison dog we all already know that but what I thought his age was happened to be 24 months come to find out yesterday it is actually 17 months. YES 17 months! That means those paws of his really do have some growing left in them and man he is already a beast of the east when it comes to size. He weighs in at a lean 74 pounds (if only I could be so lean). Who knows maybe his desire to walk and play will get me down a few more pounds God knows I could lose an easy 50 or so to feel lean but I would take 10 to 20. (Now I sound like the judge, pun intended )
This morning we are going on a walkabout in Port Jefferson, a wonderful little seaport town on the Long Island Sound side of LI. It is where Mike and I will be back to this evening to travel home because the ferry comes in there. I enjoy all the little shops there and have walked around the town many a time. Who knows a nice cup of jo on the water and a few pics to boot, what more could someone ask for?
For those of you that have enjoyed this last twelve days I will be upping my blogging some I doubt I will push it to a daily version but the willy nilly nature that I have done over the past two years or so I promise to improve. So feel free to check out our adventures on the blog and see what we're up to. The blog address is http::/
The first couple months most of our travels will most likely be camping and legion events because I will be letting Mike and I continue to bond as a team not out letting other veterans know about how they can benefit from having a service dog. After that though I hope to travel and shout from mountain tops because these guys at America's VetDogs are amazing and deserve to have a loudmouth like me spouting off about how they have saved my life! I can never say thank you enough for what they have done for me twice now. For anyone that wants to show your appreciation in my name a while back I asked VetDogs to setup a campaign page so I could banner to the nose on my camper. The web address for that is http:;/ and on that page there is a secure give page. Once I get home and settle I will be going in and updating that also. 
Thank you everyone for all the great comments and support and God Bless.

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