Caymus, a fellow dream weaver…

Minutes after successfully completing (dog therapy) evaluation, Riley and I met Amy. W, she is a seasoned dog handler and veteran volunteer for the Mo-Kan Pet Partner Org. As we got to talking we clicked instantly and she graciously offered to take Riley and I under her wing, also, invited me to consider partnering with her team. (Currently, she volunteers at several local hospitals visiting behavioral and rehabilitation units.) , “well, that was easy,” I thought to myself. I didn’t even have to stress about how to make the next step. Sure sounded like a HUGE wide open door to me! So, I walked straight on through.  Amazing, 10 minutes after Riley’s score sheets and certificate were handed to me, a solid connection was made and the real adventure began…

Here’s the crazy thing about dreams, they don’t just happen. It takes an ‘all-in’ attitude: 1. Figure out what it is you really want. 2. Consider the obstacle without letting those obstacles intimidate you.  3. You will have to ask for help. Meet people. (Lots of people) People have resources and answers.  Recruit help, network, and start moving. (This requires talking to strangers. Scary, I know! However, the wisdom and perspective of others is a useful and powerful tool.) 4. Be brave enough to put the idea out there. Be brave enough to fail. Oh sure, some people won’t ‘get it’ or even care. (It’s all part of the process.) Be brave! 5. It is never too late.

Fact is…we DO need others to help make OUR dreams come true.

The next day, Sunday afternoon, I did my first shadow visit (w/out Riley at this time) at Advent Health Shawnee Mission Behavior Unit (where clients are treated for depression, grief, trauma, addiction recovery, and other behavioral issues.) 12:50 P.M. on the dot, I met with Amy W in the lobby of the hospital right across from the cafeteria. With her expert therapy dog in tow, his fluffy tail happily wagging all along the way, we made our way through the halls and up the elevator to a secure unit. Buzzed in by staff, I spent the next 2 hours observing, visiting and interacting with 15 beautiful strangers, all searching souls. I wondered what in life had brought their journey to this junction. My heart was bombarded with raw emotion that hovered in the room. Each individual seemed to be grappling with hope deferred but not totally extinguished. There were flickers of optimist through conversation, body language, and the expressive looks on their faces.  Silently I prayed, “Okay, God, 15 stories. 15 possibilities…”

Here’s the crazy thing about dreams, every time one comes true it echoes and resurfaces in someone else.  After the original dream is accomplished, reverberation…

Touching lives, improving health, I watched as 15 beautiful strangers buried their fingers into the thick velvety coat of a husky mix named Caymus. As soon as they did, oh boy, 14-year-old Caymus melted into their touch. And something magical happened, even though Caymus didn’t ask, people started to talk and tell stories about life…their life…the good parts. Before long the barriers that guarded the walls of their soul started to tumble and smiles emerged, laughter occurred, and happy accounts were recalled. I literally felt the echo of my dream reverberate…

Riley Passes The Test.

Riley dog has a genuine heart to please, seriously, he is ALL heart!  Back in January when I made the decision to begin training Rye as a therapy dog; I had reservations concerning lack of confidence he often displayed when presented with new situations. The world is a big scary place, noisy, crowded, and wildly smelly (the smelly part, that’s fun!) , and so, certain parts of the world , push Rye’s ‘worry now’ button.  Think, the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. What Riley needed was “courage,” but how do I help a timid dog become brave?  You practice courageousness.

      Our first hurdle, I have not known Rye since birth, I inherited relationship with him a little over 2 years ago when I married the Incredible Mr. T.  Since then, because he’s a cautious canine, it has taken a minute for Rye to connect with me; I’ve had to earn his trust and vice versa .

Then we first started exercises, honestly, I didn’t know if we’d end up being a ‘team success.’  I can’t tell you how many times Rye has side-eyed me like, ”are you crazy lady?” Yet I seemed to spark interest so Rye just went with it.

(Note: training should always be fun NOT just a demand of commands.)  It was clear early on, whatever Riley lacked in confidence he excelled in obedience. If he was ALL in, well then, so was I! When effort meets exuberance, an amazing experiences can happen?

Riley started to realize, ”hey, maybe this lady isn’t just a roommate who feeds me and gives occasional treats?” We started to become buddies.  Think, “You’ve got a friend in me.”(Do you know how many times I sang that song to him? A lot!)

  And so, Jan 01, 2019, ‘Operation Build Confidence’ officially began.

 

It would have been easy for me to take advance of Riley’s sweetheart disposition, his readiness to please, but blind submission does NOT produce confidence. Teaching Riley, I understood it would take a ‘make-it-fun’ with ‘ lots-of-praise’ kind of approach. (Clearly, Riley’s love language is words of affirmation. Treats, oh sure, there good, but not his motivator.)

It wasn’t long before Riley clicked into what I was teaching. Every ounce of what we did together became a block of building clear communication of commands. I became Riley’s advocate, vigilant to protect him while he learned to be confident in new surroundings. 

Riley is a mastermind at reading human body language, it was vital that I understand his too, important to watch for signs of extreme anxiety.  Forcing an already submissive dog to suffer prolong scary situations could have an adverse effect. Instead of docile, you’d will end up with aggression

’Operation Build Confidence’ now in full swing. Everything we did was a progression of slow steps toward the end game of bringing hope and comfort to our community.

We used all of Kansas City as our launching pad. We trained everywhere.  (Hardware Stores, Coffee Shops, Bass Pro Shop, downtown at the Crossroads District, Westport, Record Stores, the Plaza, Pet Stores,  (human) parks,  walking trails, and Off-Leash Dog Parks. )

  Almost 6 months under the collar, Riley’s disposition started to transform. He started walking into buildings without shaking , but standing tall. He started greeting strangers with curiosity vs. caution. ”Perhaps the world is less a scary place and more a curious place?”

  April 20, 2019, the big day, Pet Partner Evaluation Day: Test location, North KC, in the industrial area of Kansas City, MO.  Not going to lie, I felt anxious that morning. First, at the prospect of getting lost. Second,at the prospect of failure.

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling fully confident myself. So, how was Riley supposed to remain poised?

I watched Riley through the rearview mirror as I drove. “Yeah, you’ve got no idea do you, buddy?  Smart enough? Sure. Sweet enough? Of course. Confident enough? Well, Rye, I just don’t know.”

  Fast forward to the evaluation, it was going pretty well. I was pleasantly surprised. But, obviously, my nervousness transferred down the leash to Riley. Halfway through the evaluation, someone behind us caused a sudden VERY loud ‘BOOMING’ bang (a planned distraction on their part). I jumped, and Riley was spooked.  And even though, we recovered quick and finishing the course, after the BOOMING BANG I knew Rye felt vulnerable. With a quiet-steel-will, he refused the next command. Nope, no way, he has not going to be put in a submissive ’down/stay’. He just kept glancing up at me and then the exit.  I knew he was done. The evaluation immediately ceased.   We failed.

Initially, I was pretty disappointed. We had worked hard.

As I drive home I kept reviewing each exercise over and over in my mind. Okay, maybe not all was lost; the evaluator did complimented us on tight communication. “It is obvious that Riley trusts you,” she had stated as such.  (Ha, pretty amazing considering all we had experienced in the months prior.) “Yeah, I guess we’ve bonded, boy,” Riley briefly glances at me and then back out the window. He’s glad to be going home. 

We are not quitters and most teams don’t make the first drift anyway. Back to practicing we go…

  Strategically planned, Riley and I started hanging out in some of Kansas City’s noisiest places. We clocked SO MANY hours, the busiest part of the day, at Lowe’s Hardware.

I have found it is key to allow Riley the ability to acknowledge loud noises rather than working to distract him from them. If he is can investigate it, try to understand it, then he can tolerate it. (Yet still NO submissive down when vulnerable.)

6/16/19 Max dog died after 12 years of faithful services. I was so devastated I stopped working with Riley. All I could do was mourn. Exactly a month after Maxie’s departure, Riley stroll over, put his face on my lap, and averts eyes up at me. (Therapy Dog) I knew it was time to stop grieving Max and time to move forward.

An so, we began again…

We have worked, practiced, and visited every day of the week without fail. One Monday morning we stopped by Oddly Correct Coffee Shop downtown KC. We thought we’d kill two birds with one stone. We’d visit Luke while simultaneously try to acclimate to a noisy-wildly-smelly environment.

Upon entering the shop, I moved to situate myself on a countertop stool and order a drink. I hand-motioned Riley to ‘down’ and ‘wait’. AND, I’ll be if he didn’t do it like he’s been doing it his whole long-lived life!! I was so shocked and proud, I kind of froze staring at him speechless for a second.

Then I hugged and hugged and hugged him, “Good dog, Riley, good boy!”  Somehow, Riley found courage. Since that day, he has done it again and again. Riley has learned he can be a-okay even in environments he doesn’t fully understand. We are edging closer and closer to our goal.

06/29/19 The second go around, Evaluation Day, the test. What’s different this time around? We both are confident. I trust him. He trusts me.

Did you pass? You bet we did! We will start working with local hospitals almost immediately.

We gave ourselves 12 months to accomplish the goal. We finished in 6 months. I swear, this morning, Riley dog walked out of that hospital 10 feet tall with a smile on his face. Every dog needs a purpose.

How do you help a timid dog become brave? You practice courageousness. 

The Great Max Dog

Riley pup and I have been on a hiatus from training due to the unexpected passing of my beloved Schnauzer, Max dog. The eldest of the 3 dog tribe, ‘Maxie-Waxy-Doodle-All-Day’, he was definitely the bossiest of the bunch and king of my heart. He was brilliantly sassy ALWAYS, cunning as Houdini, full of humor and words, ever our protector, and unimaginably loyal to the family, especially me.

 

My “Mr. Sir-Barks-A lot”, the day of our goodbye, I had no idea the huge weight and gap that Max dog’s departure would place upon my heart. It hurt so badly! For two solid weeks, I literally grappled with physical pain in my chest, a hollowness that waylaid inside of me. I wanted Max dog back, but he was gone! His tour of duty over, successful, accomplished, and well-done.

 

  It’s been one month since our farewell; I still miss that angry little German guy. For sure, time buffers pain, I can, now, recall stories and lead with laughter instead of tears.  I tell you, 12 years of wild shenanigans gives me a sizable memory file to pull from, oodles of stories! (Maybe someday I will share a few?)

Max weathered so many chapters of life with me…ups and downs, the rearing of children, a marriage that fell apart, a new relationship that leads to a new beginning, career changes, and much much more. He did it all with a spirit of companionship, patience, and support. Max dog was my best friend. I loved him. Fierce little canine, he became a legend of sorts to those who knew him well. Seems funny to say about a dog, but it’s true.

 

The other day, Riley pup strolled over to me, he pressed his weight against my body… I’m not sure if he was needing me or I was needing him? Nevertheless, instantly, his warmth brought that old familiar feeling of an alliance that is only present between trusted friends.

“Riley”, he cocked his head slightly sideways as if he were measuring the meaning of my words. “You will have to be my boy now, okay?”  From the look in his amber eyes, he seemed 100% all right with that fact. I patted his head, he nuzzled in closer. Sometimes I think he’d melt into me if he could.

God gave me Riley just in time for the departure of Max. The cracks that Max’s absent left will begin to fill. Maybe it’s already begun? Kinda ironic, don’t you think? “ aspiring therapy dog and all!”

 

 It’s time, time to get Riley back into training mode. I’m sure Riley’s been perplexed why the sudden delay and sadness in the house.

A shift in the canine pack has begun. Where did that little black bossy dog go anyway? I wonder, does Riley wonder? Or does he just know?

 

Wish us luck and love in our endeavor. We will wholeheartedly do the same for you.

 

”Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Joy Comes in the Morning

This blog is such a blessing to me. Thank you for so candidly sharing the inner you. You words have blessed me AGAIN!

She Speaks Faith

Hey Everyone! It has been awhile since I have written. Starting new goals is one thing, but follow through is another. I haven’t written as much as I would like, but I am hoping to change that!

In my first blog post on this site, I shared with you all some of the trials my husband and I went through last year. All of those things resulted in us having to move in with my parents at the end of last summer. When I came to the realization that things were so out of control, and that the only way we would make it through, was by moving in with my parents – I was devastated.
I had just turned 23, hadn’t been married for quite a year, and had to move in with my parents.

I am the planner, the person that trys to ensure everything is put together…

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Dog Diary: Riley’s Spring Break Adventures: Operation Build Confidence. Therapy Dog In Training

03-16-19 Day 1 Spring Break:  Visit Tails & Trails Dog Park –

Such a great place for socialization, I don’t know why I’ve never taken Riley to an off-leash dog park, but today that’s exactly what we did.

Riley jumped out of the car with his normal reluctant curiosity. We stood still for a moment so Rye could put courage in his pocket with a few strong sniffs.

”Rye, I promise if you give this a chance you’re going to like it here.” Off we go, legs a bit shaky, ears perked and listening, Riley obediently follows prompting to walk on.

Upon entering the playground, several dogs immediately came up to greet the new kid. Riley politely sniffed each rear in return with a ”Howdy, how are you” manner.

The four-legged welcoming sessions completed, Riley suddenly seems more interested in all the humans present. So, instead of romping around with the tail-waggers, Rye walks the perimeter of the yard to investigate each person present. With an ”All good here,” sniffle of interrogation is over, Riley turns his attention back to me.

After 30-minutes of freedom and roaming, Riley and I went just outside the park to the side country road that runs alongside the length of the park. It’s interesting that Riley is becoming aware that his black vest means ‘it’s time to get serious and work’. He did well.

Day 2 Spring Break: Visit Lowe’s Hardware Store:

It’s a typical Monday morning at the hardware store, busy. All the sounds and smells alert Riley sensibilities. Although progress is being made, it often takes a considerable amount of consistent reassurance for Riley to remain confident and react with focus.

As I help Rye maneuver the busy parking lot out of nowhere this elderly man steps directly in our path and stops. He is so abrupt it almost makes me start Laughing. Obviously, he wishes to chat!

Before I can utter one word he blurts out. “Good looking pup you’ve got there, a bit on the shy side, though?” Yes, both accounts are true, so I remark ‘with a nodding yes’. The gentleman seems satisfied with my silent answer and keeps right on talking. I wonder if he might need a break to breathe.

He moves on quickly from Riley to telling me his own story, “I rescued a Brindle Brittany Spaniel, one-year-old now. Oh boy, was he sick when I got him!” he states. “I spent over $6000 on that dog just to get him well. So sick, he was! What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t just give up on him, “he recalls in a long emphasized way. Then finally he pauses. He goes silent and searches my expression like he is waiting for a response.

Realizing he is suddenly silent, I snap to attention, “You, Sir, are a SAINT, I assure. YES, you’ve got yourself, one fine friend, now, I’m sure of that!” I smile.  

He smiles in return. He seems satisfied with our encounter. He wishes us luck, and just like that, as abruptly as he came, off he went. 

Riley and I watch the white-haired stranger walk away. Then we glance at one another. I’m pretty sure Riley wanted to laugh. So, I did it for him.

Riley does fairly in Lowe’s. It didn’t take long for him to forget about being worried. He listens to all voice command and follows direction. He is becoming familiar with the staff and the layout of the building.

Day 4 Spring Break: Visit Oddly Correct Coffee Shop Downtown Kansas City :

Late morning we made our way to downtown KC stopping off at Oddly Correct for a coffee and chat. Upon arriving Rye had to be encouraged out of the car due to this being his 1st downtown visit.

How welcoming a screaming ambulance followed by the screeching brakes of the metro bus! He was a bit shook up by all the rushing movement.

Shaking like a leaf as we enter Oddly Correct Coffee Shop, I tried to image what Rye might be processing. Crashing all around him a huge noisy explosion; music blaring, shrilling stream of an espresso machine singing, unknown smells waffle the air, and tons of unfamiliar voices chattering. That’s quite a lot for a four-legged gentleman to take in!

It took Riley a good thirty minutes to soak in the new environment and relax. We didn’t worry about focusing on voice command training today. We simply focused on being okay when thrown into a new diverse environment.

The entire time Riley stayed calm and stood obediently by my side. Often he would gaze up at me study my expression to reassure his nerves. I was proud of him today. Every new situation is a building block. He is one fine dog.

Day 5 Spring Break: Visit Bass Pro Shop:

Riley walked with a slight hesitation through the large wooden front storeroom doors. We did an immediate “stop” and “Riley, wait” at the entrance ’hearth room’ area so he could study and steady himself.

I swear to you, Riley’s entire demeanor and body language perked up into this sort of ‘well-what-do-we-have-here? kind of manner.

The new noises, sights, and oh-so-fantastic smells, Riley forgot about being anxious. He liked this place!

Today he followed voice commands well. He enjoyed meeting new friends/employees and patrons.

All of Riley’s apprehensions were replaced by curiosity. He relished the enormous catfish tank. Oh yeah, this was his place!

Day 6: Operation Relax.

Today we took a break from all the hard work to play Fort Night the favorite boy. Rye is happy to have him home back from Cali.

Spring break 2019 is in the books. All is well and good. Rileys next hurdle to jump is the completion of the evaluation test. Which is coming up soon.

…but until then, we relax and rest in a job well done this week.

Wish us luck and success in our endeavors and goals.

Love Is Real…The Canine. Riley’s Journey…

One of the steps obligated to accomplish in partnering Riley dog with a therapy team, Saturday, February 02, I attended the Pet Partners Animal Hander Course. It was a plethora of information crammed into 9 hours of lectors and class participation acting out potential scenarios.  From the beginning to the end of class what struck me the most was the heartbeat of each instructor. Concluded in their words I heard a genuine passion to help and assist others with no attached strings of judgments or questions, just transparency of hopefully making life a little bit better for those hurting.

Currently, (Pet Partners) Animal-Assisted Therapy teams are scheduled and actively volunteering in such facilities ranging for Hospitals and Elders Centers, Public Schools, Behavioral and Psychiatric Centers, Rehab centers, Hospice, Mid-Continent Public Libraries, Municipal Court system, and Connectional Centers. As you can see, there is a great need for even more registered encouragers (dog therapy teams) to jump on board.

Even as I type this, there are several facilities that eagerly anticipate registered teams to come and undertake there.  It is all hands (or should I says, all paws) on deck. One of the instructors, Julie, warned though,

“Be careful because after just one visit you will be hooked. I can promise you this…you will take more away from this experience than you could ever give. You will encounter incredible stories of sadness and great stories of courage…it will change you.”

At the closing of the classroom day Julie told us of an account on a recent hospital visit, she was teamed with pet partner Jordan, her regal coal black standard puddle. As they were about to enter the last room on the hospital unit Jordan dog began to show signs of exhaustion. Julie knew it was time to start to wind down and wrap up their day. At the threshold of what she thought would be her last stop of the day, a nurse approached her and whispered in her ear,

“I know this was your last scheduled visit of the day, however, would you please visit Room 412 before you leave?”

Although tired, Julie and Jordon obliged her request. Room 412, a dimly lit room, a single bed, with a frail framed man lying still eyes closed. Jordan dog, comfortable and seasoned in such settings, instinctively jumped up and nettles alongside the fragile man. Jordan sighs slightly and rests his head on the man’s chest. The lingering of the day would end, peaceful, man and dog, cuddled together in the solitude of a hospital room. The only sounds that remain are the rasping quiet breaths of a 33-year-old man followed by the “I know I’m here” sighs of a dog.

God-given wisdom of canines, unlike humans, they have the foreknowledge to understand, some situations require no word, and silence is perfect and okay. Only once would the frail man open his eyes, smile at Jordan, and then rest a hand on Jordan’s side. Unspoken comfort passing between them.

Sometime later Julie would learn that the frail man in Room 412 did not make it through the day. In his last moments, he would have one visitor to enter his room, Jordan.

Incredible! What else can I say to such an account?! I will leave you with this thought, a thought that keeps processing and turning in my mind, a statement that was proposed to us that day in class,

“If you were to ask your dog what time is it? What do you think your dog say?”

Unequivocally, Riley would say, it is RIGHT NOW. Right now is the time to step up, embrace our community, and care for those in need. An incredible statement by Donald L. Hicks,

”Those who teach the most about humanity, aren’t always human.”

What a masterful creature, the canine! Purposeful comes to mind. If you were to proposed the question to me, “how do I know God’s love is real?” I’d simply say, the canine.

Riley and I received our email confirmation for Team Evaluation today! Riley will test as some as a couple months from now. Until then we will be training, training, training! Wish us well and luck as we journey…

File 1993: Luke

Have you seen the new-ish Netflix series ’Tide Up’? The premise, this sweet little (very cheery) Japanese lady named Marie Kondo pops around spreading her life-changing-magic of tidying? It’s phenomenal. Seriously, motivation mojo will rub off on you. Before you can snuff it out, suppressed OCD will kick into overdrive and you will find yourself ditching, rearranging, organizing and you will actually do with intention. How DOES she do it? If magic exists…Kondo is her name.  No joke, I watched (all) episodes over holiday break, it sent me on a tiding spree. My poor unsuspecting kitchen cabinets, linen closets, and dresser drawers rummaged, ransacked, and finally straightened to (kind-of-like) precision. Kondo’s system of organizing known as the ”KonMari method” consists of gathering together all your items into one area (yay, you get to come face to face ALL your junk. You own it.), you work through one category at a time, room to room, and then you keep only the items that ‘spark joy’ inside of you. It is a process of purposefully becoming thankful and intentional, keeping only things that add true treasure and value to your life, while eliminating waste. It’s brilliant. Or should I say, ブリリアン? Often throughout this process of purging participants will suddenly become attached to ‘wow-haven’t-seen-this-thing-in-a-billion-years’, and they will have trouble letting go. This is when Kondo steps in, in her matter of fact (yet cheery) way asks, “Does it spark joy?” Somehow, like magic, this simple but profound question gives them the ability to release all their lesser things. And so, after binge-watching episode upon episode, I started to deliberate deeper on the ‘Kondo process’. Thinking not only of all the inanimate junk in my life but also of all the internal junk, you know, the confidential hidden files. I came to the conclusion; not all nostalgia is worth the cluttered space. Maybe before flinging certain file back into the corners of my mind, I should start asking myself the question, “Does it spark joy?” This brings me to January 29, one day before Luke’s 26th birthday, I absentmindedly started sorting through a confidential mind file, a 26-year-old file. Which lead me to began writing a piece titled “The weight of reality crashing down in the form of two thin purple lines.”(i didn’t finish that writing.) Honestly, I had not revisited that day since the moment of its happening. Why open this folder now? Except for talk and the ruling of NY Senate Bill S2796, the so-called Reproductive Health Act flung it wide open for me. How did I go from Kondo to this? Nevertheless, for me, File 1993 was on display now: me, preachers daughter, unwed, barely out of high school, living several States from family, working and supporting myself, and now, pregnant. Upon revelation of the coming baby, Luke’s dad simple walked out of our lives, but not first before offering only the condolence of payment to abort. It was either him or baby. Not both! Just like that, after a two-year long relationship, here today, gone tomorrow. I released him from obligation and tried desperately to not hold him in judgment, but I was devastated. My life, my discussions seem to wind around me, speeding fast in slow motions kind of way that made absolutely no sense. The next series of events that would unfold over the course of the following eight months left me challenged, crushed, strengthened, and eventually changed forever. There was no turning back. Honestly, I just dug my free in and excepted the truth. It is so interesting, some consequences are weaved with such fierce pain and reward within the same cord, bittersweet. This 26-year-old confidential file now opened, it sent me through a two-day emotional downward spiral. Until Tuesday, I was working the morning away in my small corner office, when I stopped briefly and look up, push-pinned to my bulletin board is a question, “Does it spark joy?” I took that question and I weighed all the evidence of file 1993 against it. Why yes. Yes, it does spark joy! The entire file. To this day, even with all the uncertainty that surrounded it, I would CHOOSE LIFE again.

I’d choose Luke, always. I made peace long ago with the bygones. I hold no one hostage of discussions they made or pain they perpetrated, including myself. So, tonight as I close file 1993 and place it back into the cluster of my mind, without question I can say…”Luke, you spark joy.” Seriously, y’ all, have you met that kid?