Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keeping Dry

By Fred
With all three dogs on the back porch, and with a gentle cold rain falling, I walk out into the yard and squat down near the stand of bamboo, just out of the dogs' sight, reasoning that their curiosity will soon overcome them and they will run out to find me. Everything is soaked to the bone--the plants, the patio stones.

I wait. Through a crack in the bamboo culms I can see them staring nervously at each other, not sure what to do, debating about whether I am worth the trouble.

Forget about curiosity. Isn't it just common decency to come out and see if I am OK? Maybe I've slipped on the stones and hurt myself. Or maybe I'm doing something fun--wouldn't a dog at least come out to see what I'm doing, at least pretend that I am slightly interesting and fun? Are your little paws so delicate that you can't walk on wet stones? Even you, Willow?

I wait, resolved to wait it out.

Finally little Dewey cannot hold himself back; he trots out to see me. What a good, good boy. I'm taking you to lunch today, little man.

I go back to the porch and Jam is staring out, pretending that he is still conflicted about the incident, pretending that he really wanted to come see me. Bull.

Jam and I both know that he wasn't ever getting off that porch, not even if I stayed out there for an hour or a day, not even if I bribed him with chewy treats, not even if the porch caught on fire or became infested with snakes. He was never moving off that porch.

What a complete and total baby.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Puppy Raiser Day for Coach

Thursday I went to the dentist.  I arrived an hour early because I had the time wrong.  Silly me.  So, I went out and did some browsing, lost track of time and and was almost late for my appointment.  Now, generally, I don't think of myself as a person who fears the dentist, but the dental hygienist took my blood pressure and said:

"Oh. Your blood pressure is 159 over 95. Is it usually that high?"


"Let's take it again." The machine shows 147/97. Not better. Tonya starts to tell me how this is heart attack range and did my prescriptions list have blood pressure medication on it?

"No, that was Crestor for cholesterol," I say.  "Couldn't it be that I'm just stressed about being at the dentist?"

"Or that you need to buy a blood pressure machine and have this checked out." She points at the machine.  "This brand is really good.  You can get it at Walgreens."

Great.  I start trying to do deep breaths.  In two days I will be going to puppy raiser day and the last thing I need is to have a heart attack and miss it.  Tonya starts to clean my teeth.

Are my arms going numb? I shake them surreptitiously.  Is that tingling? She is spraying water into my mouth and dragging a sharp pick over my teeth.  Deep breaths, deep breaths.  I try think about how long someone stays in the hospital if they have a heart attack.  Would I get out by Saturday? Would they just give me some blood thinners and send me home or could I check myself out by Saturday morning to go to puppy raiser day?

I'm pretty sure it's just stress. Deep breaths. I went to the doctor's last week and it wasn't that high. I am NOT missing puppy raiser day.

I made it through the appointment without a medical incident and made it to Saturday morning. We
got up early to get ready to make sure we were on the road to make it to Melisa's on time.

We picked up Melisa, dropped Jam at Larry and Gabrielle's (who were nice enough to baby sit for us!), Dewey was safe with Rita and Al, and we headed on down to Southeastern.

Yes. We arrived early.

Then we waited.  But it was a good thing because we had an opportunity to meet Steve Dunn and his wife Laurie.  They were the volunteers who took Coach home when he developed severe kennel stress.

Fred, Steve, Laurie and Cheryl at Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Coach was able to relax and rejuvenate at their house, which allowed him to remain in the program. We are so grateful for their kindness to Coach and willingness to take him back and forth.

Then it was outside to wait to see the graduates practice their route with their guide dogs.  It was just amazing.  I don't think I have ever seen anything so awe-inspiring or something that makes me happier.  Those dogs were so happy.  Every tail was sky high.

Kristen coming down the sidewalk with Coach.
You can tell Coach is intent on working because his tail is up and curly. Kristen was the smallest of the graduates and Coach was the largest dog.  Yet they made an amazing team.
Close up of Kristen and Coach photo by Durga Garcia.
She needed a dog who got along with horses and who had a fast pace and trust me, this team can move!

 Marisa was the head trainer for the group and she did an amazing job with Coach and we can't thank her enough for giving him all the skills he needed to get to the point he where he could do this amazing job for Kristen.

After the route, they brought Kristen and Coach out to see us.  It was so sweet.  Coach was sniffing around and knew something was up, but not quite what.  Then he saw us.  He did several tiny butt tucks, circles as fast as he could.  He was so sweet.  Then I bent down to kiss him and Coach jumped up and to kiss me.

Fred and Cheryl meeting Kristen.  Trainer Caitlyn brought her to us. Photo by Durga Garcia.

We met in the middle.  Hard.  I heard my tooth make contact with his tooth.

We went into brunch and had a great time talking and learning more about Kristen and Coach and how they are working together. And then it came time to leave.  We gathered together for one more photo.

Marisa, Coach's trainer, Fred, Cheryl and Kristen and Coach
It had been a completely happy and lovely morning.  When I was using the restroom to leave, I checked my tooth out.  There was a small chip off my front tooth.  A permanent reminder that we had had a hand in make a guide dog, for it takes a village: puppy raising services, the kennel staff, trainers, the Dunns, puppy raisers and the people they interact with all combined to create a confident, well mannered dog who will be someone's partner for life. It's not one thing, it is many things.  It's not one person, it is many people working together for the benefit of that one dog and they all get to say: Coach is my guide dog. Coach is our fourth puppy to raise and our first puppy to make it as a guide dog, so for all of you puppy raisers out there who haven't had one make it yet: don't give up.  

As for me, I won't be going back to the dentist. I'll just live with the chip.  It gives me good memories.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Coach Retrospective

I spent last night putting together a look at our 14 months with Coach.  I hope you enjoy it.  We certainly enjoyed our time with him and look forward to hearing about how he is doing as a guide dog (fingers crossed his person wants to communicate back with us!).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bomb Proof

 Dewey is a very different dog than the others we have had.  It seems that we are on a path from crazy town to calm and sweet town.  Dewey being the latest in what seems to be a quite amazing job the breeding department is doing in creating puppies who are not only smart, but calm and sweet, too.  In Dewey's case, as in Coach's, there is the added benefit of liking to be hugged.

Dewey has a tendency during class to pick out one or two students and either curl up at their feet and fall asleep or choose their backpacks as his pillow.  During first period on Friday, Morgan was his favorite.

Morgan and Dewey.
The kids like it because it gives them a small interaction with Dewey.  I like it, because he is not glued to me, he is asleep and controlled.  Win-win.

This week we have had a few things that have happened where Dewey's reactions have been very impressive.  Or should I say, his non-reactions?

I was out walking by the clock tower doing some right abouts, left lefts, etc. with another teacher.  We had just stopped to let Dewey take a little busy busy break.  Out to the side of the clock tower there is an open field.  It was about half a football field away.  In the field there was a middle school teacher with 20 of her students.  I assume it was a science teacher as she seemed to have a large bunch of powders she was dumping in a metal pan.

Christy and I kept talking and Dewey went on peeing.  Then the teacher ignited the powder and there was a loud explosion! Christy and I both jumped and stopped talking as a huge plume of smoke started to drift over to us.  The 20 kids started to clap.

Dewey keep peeing and didn't even look over to the explosion.  

Yesterday, we had a surprise fire drill.  It happened near the end of second period.  It was a loud screech.  I jumped.  Dewey was sleeping nearby.  He opened his eyes and looked up.
Dewey with some of my advisory girls at our fire drill waiting spot.

That was the extent of his reaction.  Walking to the waiting spot, Dewey was calm and collected.  No rushing, no pulling.  The excitement of the crowd didn't rub off on him.

Dewey asleep on my book bag.
I remember his comment from puppy camp.  There was a question on energy level and they marked Dewey as having very low energy.  He does nap a LOT. But he does play with Jam very hard.

Dewey with his wake up face: Why do I have to wake up?

He has an active pace and is a thoughtful and sweet companion.  I think he saves his energy for those times when he needs it.  We used to call him turtle.  I think we were correct.  Slow and steady wins the race.  He knows what he needs to do, how much energy to expend and when to react.  He doesn't get excited by the small stuff.  

Let's hope he keeps it up! Go turtle!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Coach Got Matched!

Last Friday was my birthday.  I turned 50. I know a lot of people can get very angsty about turning 50, but I was pretty happy and calm about the whole thing.  Just a new chapter.  It had been a very pleasant day filled with pastries.
Photo of Coach smiling.
It had also been an amazingly busy day and it wasn't until 3:35 when I was in my last meeting of the day that I had an opportunity to glance at my phone.  My meeting was with Austin, who was Coach's sponsor (he raised the $3500 needed to name Coach) and another teacher.  We were going to be talking about the upcoming Southeastern Guide Dogs Walkathon (which if you want to donate to Dewey's walkathon, you can at  I was telling Austin about Coach's progress and how well he was doing.  Sort of giving him the last report card update.

Then I glanced at my phone.  Now, usually, I'm not the sort of person who is constantly looking at my phone.  I hadn't looked at it all day.  But the other teacher hadn't arrived and we were still waiting, so I grabbed the phone and looked to see if there were any messages.  

Stephanie, our AC had called.

Then she had texted.

Coach had been matched.

Oh my God! I read it, I said it in my head and then I said it out loud to Austin. "I can't believe it.  Coach got matched. He has a partner." Then I jumped up and gave Austin a hug and ran out in the library and yelled at Mrs. Connors, "Coach got matched!"

"What?" Jan was helping a student check a book out.

"Ms. Arcuri, Coach got matched with a blind person.  He's going to be a guide dog!" I'm still yelling mind you, but it is after hours and there are maybe three kids in the library and they are all smiling. Now Jan is yelling and Christina is hopping around and there is general merriment in the library.

What a good boy.  You gave me the best birthday present ever! You worked hard for your trainer and I know your trainer worked hard for you. We are so proud of you. See you soon.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let Me Drive

By Fred
Dewey has become (easily) the most gentle, sweet and polite dog we've had. Sure, Berkeley was very sweet, but she could be a little mean to Willow. Coach was (and surely still is) the best dog on earth, so it's not a fair comparison. The other dogs are documented sufficiently. Anyway...

Dewey is always glad to bring us the shoe or the other thing that's in his mouth--he gives it up willingly. When Willow says No, Dewey says OK and gives her space. When it's time for bed, Dewey wants a hug, and then he is a good boy all night and is patiently waiting while Jam wakes us at 5:30 or 6. Dewey is a rule-follower, as much as is possible for a young lab.

Today at noon I decided to let Dewey take me on a tour of downtown Dunedin. We go there twice a week for lunch so he knows the area, and we take the same general route, with me in charge. Today I said Dewey, let's go, and I waited for him to determine the route.

He took us to our usual path to the Pinellas trail but then to the bank and to the park by the ice cream shop, not the usual way, but still we eventually came to our traffic light. I pushed the button and we waited for the light to change.

I wanted to think that he was excited, or proud, like a teenager first-time driver in his dad's car. But I'm not sure if he even noticed that he was more in charge than usual.

The light changed and the recorded message started to play (The walk light is on. You may now cross Main street, or whatever it says). Dewey sat still even after the person next to me walked into the intersection. Rule follower. Good boy.

So we crossed the street and he led me straight to the restaurant door. OK, not exactly straight, but he got me there.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Two-hour Lunch

By Fred
On Dewey days I take a 2-hour lunch.

11:30: Jam sticks to me like glue.  He knows it's lunch time, and he's determined to make sure I don't forget that he exists.
Jam trying to squeeze his head between my legs
11:35.  I put Dewey in his crate so that I can walk Jam and Willow.
Dewey, not caring
11:40.  Jam and Willow are suited up in their Gentle Leader leashes.  Little do they know (or care) that it's 35 degress outside.  Taking a walk is a critical component of Jam's training routine (working on his separation anxiety). We take a fast walk.  He's happy to go, but is still pensive.
Jam and Willow at the kitchen door, being good.
11:55. Back from the walk.  I inspect the house to make sure that any possible edible is out of reach.  Pineapple on the fridge?  Absolutely.
I've got a pineapple on the fridge because of Jam. 
12:05.  The house is ready.  I go out the back door with Dewey and ask Jam to sit.  This part used to drive Jam nuts but now he seems unconcerned. 
Jam looks away as Dewey and I walk out the back door.
12:15. Dewey and I arrive and talk a long walk down the Pinellas Trail.  It's so cold I can't get my hand out of my pock to take any pictures.  Dewey loves to walk these days.

12:35.  Dewey gets settled in at the restaurant.  He was especially good today.  But I could barely eat because some retired people wanted to hear all about Dewey.  So I'm all blah, blah, blah. God, I'm so boring that I can see their eyes flutter.. And then I realize that I'm as old as they are.
Dewey under the table, being good.
1:20.  I arrive back home and pull into my parking space.  Jam is waiting, as usual, looking out the living room window.
Jam is standing up and has a serious face. 
1:25.  But now the question is: has Jam been a good boy, or has he tossed the toaster oven onto the floor? (Oh, wait, he did that yesterday and now it's broken.)  Today, he was a perfect boy--no items on the floor.  Yea!  And he really wants to tell me about it.
Jam. Good boy. You get a cookie today.