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Family, General, Godric, Sammy

How to think of service dogs

Yesterday we had a blitz day with the service dogs, who worked a total of six hours and were being trained for two of those. It made me think, as it often does, of how we got here.

Many of you know that Ginny decided to be Honour’s service dog before we even knew there could be such a thing for kids with emotional disabilities. Ginny was really the catalyst for almost everything – the fact that she was alerting to and responding to specific behaviors pushed us to get a diagnosis change, giving us something more useful than the words that had been attached to Honour since toddlerhood, and Ginny brought Honour to a point where she could understand her own feelings and give them a name.

During that time, we went through a lot of factual and emotional searching, since we were very, very concerned that we not do anything wrong. We were considering, after all, using a very interesting object (a dog) in a very public way, one that would bring attention to both the family and Honour. We worked through hundreds of questions, but the most pernicious one always was (and I suspect always will be) “Are we doing this because we have no choice? Or are we doing this because we have a choice?” In other words, if she could in any way get along without a service dog, be it ever so unpleasant, whether it meant drugging her while she was still a growing child, whether it meant rearranging our entire lives as a family to avoid her triggers, did we have a responsibility to do so in order to not ever inconvenience anyone else or ever made anyone else take notice?

The advice out there on the web varies from useful to awful. More of it is incorrect or unhelpful than good, honestly. It’s an unfortunate fact that most service dog dialogue occurs because somebody has an axe to grind. Sometimes there’s perceived to be an epidemic of fake disabled people with fake service dogs and therefore there need to be tighter requirements on what dogs can be called service dogs (and the loudest voices in that complaint tend to be people with service dogs, believe it or not; sadly, the age-old “I’m more miserable than you, so you should stop complaining” argument doesn’t stop at that threshold). Other sources of information are only there to make money – any organization offering to certify, ID, or register a dog without having trained that dog or tested that dog is taking advantage of your fear that you might have to prove that your dog is a service dog – which is illegal.

Because there are so many unreliable voices out there, I wrote up a few simple rules that I am absolutely sure are correct. I don’t claim to be an authority on service dogs, but these things I DO know:

1) Please don’t presume to know whether or not someone has a disability. It’s not up to you.

The likelihood that any human would know enough, medically and legally, about every possible disability to be able to diagnose the correct one (or eliminate an incorrect one) on sight – or even with substantial experience with the disabled person – is incredibly small. The definition of disability has a lot to do with professional medical diagnoses, but it is a LEGAL term, not a medical one. And it’s a legal term with a very wide base and very broad applicability. If you see someone who is using assistance of any kind – a dog, a crutch, a helper, visible meds, whatever – no matter how else they may behave, no matter how “well” they seem, assume they have a legal disability. Don’t congratulate yourself on spotting a faker.

2) The ONLY applicable definition of disability is the ADA one.

There’s a service dog website that gets a lot of pageviews and claims to be an authority on what service dogs can be used for, but it gets this wildly (and illegally) wrong, especially when it comes to psychiatric service dogs. It tries to argue that people with mental illness do not qualify for a service dog unless they have a “severe” mental illness, or that there’s a legal difference between an “impairment” and a “disability.” That’s absolute hogwash.

If your condition is, OR if its effects will be, OR if people around you assume its effects will be, long-term, and if one or more major life activities are substantially impacted, then you are disabled. Period. The EEOC has a very useful, and very long, explanation of exactly what a disability is, and if you ever have a question that’s the place to go. Not anywhere else.

3) There are no gradations of disability. There’s not a difference between severe and mild, between extremely limiting and substantially limiting.

When someone asks me about Honour, I say the words “severe OCD” because OCD is a disorder that’s been used as a joke for years. It’s easier to say that than to say “This is not the sitcom situation where somebody really likes a clean toilet; this is a human being who cannot touch you and cannot touch anything she thinks you may have touched, and, if something about you strikes her a certain way, she can’t touch or use anything you’ve looked at. She’s trying as hard as she can to not dwell on whether you’ve THOUGHT about that object, because if she faces that fact she can’t touch or use it either.”

But “severe” is not a diagnosis. She doesn’t need those words added on to make it a disability. Either you’re protected by the ADA or you are not; there’s no degrees.

4) There’s no reward for having a disability and refusing to take advantage of the protections you are granted by the ADA.

I’ve heard objections to ADA protections (including the use of a service dog) that basically go “Well, I have XYZ problem, and I don’t insist that anybody do anything for ME.”

Personal decisions are for individuals. How you choose to address your disability, or how Honour chooses to address hers, don’t get anybody brownie points in the game of life. That’s why the legal status of disability protections is so vital; the entire gamut of protections MUST be there for everyone, whether or not everyone chooses to take advantage of them.

5) Mitigating the disability – whether with medication or tools or a dog or whatever – has no effect on whether or not the person is disabled.

When Honour has a dog and she’s in a grocery store, she looks like a happy kid with a little dog. You’re likely to notice the hair a lot more than you would any behavior. But that does not mean she isn’t disabled. If, someday, she chooses to take medication to help with her OCD, and it allows her to live a much more average life, she will still be disabled, and still protected.

6) The name of the condition (or lack of name) has no bearing on anything. One person may be disabled by a condition that does not disable another person.

In other words, “I have X and I’m fine, so I don’t know why you can’t deal with it too,” is not an answer. Neither is “I have Y and I take meds for it and so should you.”

7) You do not have to be completely unable to do a life activity to be substantially limited in that life activity.

For example, someone with a certain class of disability might be able to work a full-time job where they do not have any physical contact with others. They may, in fact, do so with enormous success and rise to a position of prominence. They are still substantially limited in the major activity of working, and are still legally disabled. A wheelchair athlete is still substantially limited in the major activity of walking, and is legally disabled.

If because of severe acrophobia (fear of heights) I cannot work in an office above the second floor, I am legally disabled. It doesn’t matter that there are sixteen million jobs that are on the ground or first or second floors of buildings. I am substantially limited from working anywhere that is above the second floor, so it is a disability.

8) Service dogs do work or perform tasks. These are two separate things.

Honour’s dogs do both – they work independently to address her disability and they obey commands and do tasks. But they are not required to do both in order to be service dogs. You do not need to see a dog obeying a command to assume it is a service dog. You do not need to see them on the ground to assume that they are service dogs. Sammy, in fact, does best when she is carried, so she can be near Honour’s face and can pat her and lick her and so on. Both dogs do tasking on the ground, but are frequently up in arms.

Maybe the best way I can put “work” is that when I take a Cardigan out and spend the day with them going from activity to activity, they come home excited and energized. They may snooze happily in the car, but they see the whole thing as a big fireworks festival and come bouncing out of their seats and run around with the other dogs and brag about where they went.

Similarly, when we socialize service dog prospects as puppies, they run and preen and jump and show off, ending the day even more excited than they begin it it.

That all changes when they begin to understand what the vest means. When we get in the car after working with a dog, they DROP. As soon as the vest is off, they’re barely able to keep their heads up. They’ll sleep all that evening and barely rouse to go to bed. It’s as exhausting to them as a full day of manual labor would be.

9) There is no legal definition of what must be included in service dog tasking or training.

Service dogs do not need to know sit, down, stay, or come. They don’t need an out-of-sight stay. They don’t need to behave well with a strange handler away from their owner, and they don’t need to heel. All of those are test elements from specific service dog organizations, and any or none may apply to the tasks a service dog needs to do to help an individual disabled person. Service dogs need to be in control in public and they need to toilet appropriately. That’s IT.

Remember that the definition of substantial limitation of a major life activity is finding difficult or impossible anything that an average person would find easy to do. That includes not just “stuff you do,” but “how your body works.” Life activities can be seeing, hearing, responding to germs appropriately, socializing, working, and a huge number of other things. That means your service dog’s jobs can be just as varied, and their required tasks are almost infinite. If your disability involves the major life activity of standing or walking, then your service dog may need exactly that above list of training elements (a perfect heel, stay, tug, and so on) in order to do the tasks you need for your disability. But if your disability involves the major life activity of being in crowds, then your service dog needs to work independently, often away from your body, very seldom in heel position. They should never let you out of their sight, and they should object rather strongly to being removed from you by a strange handler. If your disability involves the major life activity of moving blood around your body because you have hypertension, and your dog reminds you to take your meds, then the LAST thing you want is for him to be sleeping in the corner because you told him he was on a long down.

This once again comes back to never assuming that you know more than the handler-dog team. You’re not “spotting a fake” if a dog is lying on somebody’s feet or curled around their necks. You don’t get to feel superior if you see a dog apparently pulling a person down an aisle.

10) A person with a disability may not always need a service dog. It’s normal for them to sometimes arrive with one and sometimes not.

Think of a service dog the way you would pain medication for a bad knee (very appropriate, because a chronic bad knee fits the legal definition of a disability too). If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of stairs that day, you need it, and if you forget it you absolutely cannot function. On a day that you know you’re going to be relaxing at the beach, you feel comfortable leaving the meds at home or in your purse.

We’ll rarely leave the service dogs at home, but we’ll often bring one or more with us “undressed.” They know when they’re on regular collars they can goof off and be silly and not freak out every time Honour takes a breath. If they’re undressed they do NOT come in to grocery stores or restaurants. They are off duty and not performing a service. If Honour realizes she needs them working, she puts on their vests and they turn on.

Someday, when she is living independently, she may find that she can leave her dog back in her dorm room while she goes to chemistry class, but must bring him or her to anthropology. That doesn’t mean she’s faking it in anthropology class or not disabled when she’s in chemistry class. It just means that she can see that the lab tables and stools are clean and everything gets autoclaved after it is used, but the anthropology chairs are still warm from the last person’s rear end when she comes in and has to sit in one. One place feels clean and safe; the other feels like a sucking cave of contamination. So she’ll have a dog in her lap in one class and not in the other, or she’ll someday have a dog in her lap during the lunch hour but it can be sleeping in a crate during most of the work day. That’s entirely normal for people with a disability, and has no impact on whether they’re protected by the ADA.

If there’s one major overarching thing I can say, it is this: The protections that are put in place for people under the ADA are not there so you have to treat certain people like they have a disability. They are there so you have to treat people like they DON’T have a disability. When Honour walks into Stop and Shop, she doesn’t want life to stop. She just wants to get a yogurt, pay, and leave. She is allowed to have whatever accommodations she needs to let her do those things in as close to an “average” way as possible. That is really what it’s all about.

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Note in 2015: If you are visiting this page in the years since I wrote it, I am happy to say that the statements remain true, and legally valid. A new guidance document was released very recently; it can be found HERE. It addresses things like whether service dogs can be carried (yes) and whether multiple service dogs can be used at the same time (yes). If you have any other questions on what service dogs have helped us with, feel free to contact me.

Oh, and yes, every single day of our lives is still made possible by service dogs. In fact, a year ago Meriwether (Honour’s older sister) was diagnosed with an unrelated disability, and Oswin the Standard Poodle joined the family. It’s been an adventure training a big dog, but she has been remarkable for Meri. Honour continues to work with Sammy, who is now mostly retired but still sharp as a whip, and with Zola the Tibetan Spaniel and Katniss the Cardigan.

Sammy

Samantha

Sammy has now been with us long enough that I would not want to imagine life without her. She came as Sambuca and is now Sam, Samantha, SAMUEL! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?, Sammy, and Blackie the Ottoman-Shaped Dog.

In all the time she’s been here, I have never once seen her lie down on the floor. She’ll hop lightly up onto a bed, and then curl up around your knee for just long enough to fool you into dozing. Then into your dreams will come an odd groaning snarfle and the overwhelming smell of corn chips as she shoves you over on your pillow and smashes her body around your head. If you dare to move, a paw will press itself against your eye and she’ll start licking your forehead until you submit and lie back down again; then she’ll snurfmoan at you approvingly and close her eyes. Pretty soon her head will fall back and an awful whistling snore will make its way around her lips, interrupted only by bouts of sneezing when it’s so loud that she wakes herself up.

The fact that we fight over who gets to sleep with Sammy should tell you exactly how much we love her. Because wow.

In other news, one of our roosters appears to be playing for the other team. He is a lovely Easter Egger boy who was actually a gift to us, and after seeing how well he did out in the mixed group, where Big Bottom the Jersey Giant rooster reigns supreme, and remarking at how how polite and kind he was, we decided to give him his own group of hens. So Molly and Polly, our black Ameraucanas, joined him in wedded bliss. Unfortunately, that bliss consists of him sitting on their sectional and giving them fashion advice and telling them to look at their choices. Molly and Polly are laying like gangbusters and not a single egg is fertile. And I keep catching him staring longingly at Big Bottom…

Family, Godric, Sammy

Wherein I tell a dirty story

Here I sit, in my chair, looking over at dogs sleeping on my pillow, and trying my best to not think about what stil has to be done in my kitchen.

Here is the story:

In the middle of last week, we got a dusting of snow on the ground and everybody kind of nodded gravely and said oh my goodness, snow in mid-October, haven’t seen this since my gramps was knee high to a coon dog and hadn’t met grandmama yet.

Just as this was petering out as a topic of conversation in the self-checkout in Shaws to ease the embarrassment of not being able to find the barcode on the jar of vienna sausage, the weathermen announced that we might have some real snow that weekend.

Piffle! we all sniffed. Tosh! One more reason to get all worried over nothing.

Doug and the kids and I had to drive out on Saturday to meet Amanda, who is socializing Bosco for us for a few weeks or until someone decides they want to be his devoted slave and nose-kisser for the rest of his life. We had vague plans to get back home before the snow got deep, with a very world-weary attitude of “Just in case they actually know what they’re talking about FOR ONCE.”

Sure enough, as we headed back up the highway the flakes were falling and even beginning to gather a little bit on the ground. It was so charming; the kids were oohing and aahing over the first real snow of the season. I had visions of getting home and brewing a big pot of coffee and beginning my night’s work in cozy peace.

Halfway home, we stopped for a few things at the store, and I was so buoyed by contentment and picturing Bosco riding off into the horse-scented sunset that I was super indulgent and let the kids pick out paperback books and halloween candy. We paid and headed for the big double doors, which opened gracefully for us.

Doug turned to me and yelled something, but I have no idea what because the wind had just whipped sixty pounds of snow down my throat and the kids were yelling incoherent things about death and escaping. We managed to wheel our cart through the four inches of snow that had appeared from some trapdoor in the sky while we were pricing peanut butter cups and got to the car, where we stared at each other in shock and then drove in dread-tinged silence out to the road.

And then began an adventure called “Oh my gosh, all the lights are out here, Here too!, Did you see that tree? Get behind that sand truck; he is our salvation, Are the street lights gone too? That guy’s garage is totaled!”

Two hours to travel what should have been thirty minutes, and we were home. We could hear the dogs howling in panic from the driveway, and we hadn’t seen any lights on in five miles.

I’ll spare you the details of trying to walk dogs, wondering whether we should put food in the dead fridge or on the deck for the snow to keep cold, and then bringing every blanket from every bed in the entire house and piling it on the queen-size bed in our bedroom, then slipping kids under the quilts and stacking dogs on top of them. I will say this: Six people and seven dogs and two puppies in one bed is very warm, but you wake up with a splitting headache and a lot of hair in your mouth.

The next day came word from the power company – there were only six customers in our town who still had power. No repairs expected for days. Two thousand limbs down just in our one little town. Don’t be a hero.

So we were not heroes. Doug began calling hotels while I began to make our bedroom into a place where we could leave dogs for days on end; crating and using the dog room in the basement were out of the question because the weather was predicted to be in the teens. They had to be able to get up off the floor and snuggle together for warmth. So gates were installed, cords up and unplugged, chairs covered with blankets, enormous bowls of food and water in the corners. He found a place 30 minutes away and we packed up Sammy and Godric and left.

For the next two nights and three days, I didn’t come home. Doug drove the distance four times a day to feed and water; the big kids went morning and evening to do chickens and puppies. I, knowing what I’d face when we finally got home, took 30-minute showers, read three books with Extremely Naughty Vampires in them, and entertained the two little kids by convincing them that the Food Channel was the most awesome thing on television. In short, I luxuriated. I hadn’t stayed in a hotel room for three years, and that was because our house had half-burned down. The last time I stayed in a hotel and was able to relax was over seven years ago. So wow did I relax. I ate breakfast. Actually, who am I kidding. I ate second breakfast and third breakfast on my way to early lunch.

When word came this morning that a) we had power and b) we were not going to be able to eat for several weeks if we paid for one more night in a hotel, we packed up and drove home, waving a sad goodbye to the heated pool and the nice ladies who gave us clean sheets every morning, to the colossal shower and the TV in every room.

On the way in the door of our house, I grabbed the enormous shop vac off the porch and turned it on while I was walking. After that there wasn’t much except a lot of gagging noises and cries of “I don’t care! Throw it OUT!” and “Did this used to be a shoe?” Every time I appeared from the room, I gritted out something about if you guys are not advancing the laundry every 45 minutes there will be heckfire to pay, now sweep up whatever awful thing that is and tell Daddy that the shop vac needs to be dumped out. Again.

Then there were mop buckets with bleach, then mop buckets with simple green, then mop buckets with clean, hot water so the open windows could dry the floor and blow away the last of the funk.

Finally, I opened a bottle of hard cider and drank it where I stood, and then sat on the bed with Zuzu in my lap until Oswald the Friendly Octopus made my eyes close and I dreamed of very large, hot showers.

Half of my bedroom is now out in the woods on the mulch pile. I have a hundred e-mails to return. But we are warm again, and content, and the correct number of dogs are on the bed once more. All I need is an extremely naughty vampire hot shower and I’ll be set for the next seven years.

puppies, Sammy

Update on availability and Woods Walk!

Hey, everybody! I hadn’t talked before now about what applications were still being taken, because I was feeling like I had so many puppies and so many people that I needed to meet everybody on the current list and make sure that their needs were being met, and also get to know the puppies a little better.

I think I have all my ducks in a row now, so I can open up for applications again. At this point I believe I have two boy spaces open and one girl space. I am looking for people who will give lifelong homes, whether show or pet. That usually means they end up in pet homes, which is more than fine by me! If you want a show prospect I may have one, but please keep in mind that I am a grumpy curmudgeon with very bossy ideas and I really do mean it when I say lifelong, and that a failed show prospect that is not happy in your home and therefore would be better off when placed must come back to me, not be passed along.

The Big Fat Welsh Evaluation Party a week from Saturday is when we’ll be doing the final decisions on who goes where. If you’re a new applicant and we’ve been able to meet before then you could be part of that selection process; otherwise after that point I’ll update on who is still around and what their ideal homes would be.

I can tell you right now that I am over the moon about temperaments. Just LOVE these babies. They are so happy, so adaptable and confident. They adore my kids (and all kids), they love dogs, they play with horrid Bramble, they respect Sammy, and they’ve been well-tutored by Friday. None is incredibly dependent; I don’t get frantic licking when I pick them up. I get kisses and then they settle calmly to see what’s next. When we go outside it’s all business, heading with determination off on the chosen path, no crying. They’re just terrific little dogs, and I think any one of them could go into a family home or a fun-performance home. If you want to do serious full-time work or performance I get a little deeper into the screening process but I suspect I’d have something, especially in the boys.

Now back to the fun stuff – I have class today and it’s cold as heck, but it’s going to warm up this weekend and be great weather for photographs and activity. I am thinking of doing the Woods Walk (where puppies are taken on a lovely little light hike and I get to see how they interact with new people, new surfaces, and being away from home) on either Sunday or Monday. Would anyone like to volunteer to help out with that? The more the merrier, because goodness knows I’m going to need help! We’ll be walking and playing and also doing some temperament testing, though the walk itself tends to be the best test of all. It’ll probably be at Maudslay Park in Newburyport, MA, which I know is clean and safe and lovely, unless somebody who reads this happens to own some woods and not mind a horde of puppies :). Looking toward the future, we’re doing first vaccines toward the end of the week, and a Beach Walk in Kittery or York, Maine, on Thursday or Friday. Then the Puppy Party on Saturday.

Hopefully it’ll be so busy that I don’t have time to think about them leaving – oh, puppies, you have been the most fun ever.

Godric, Sammy

How’s Godric doing?

Well, he’s great.

He is the most joyful puppy I think I have ever known. He adores everyone and everything and is pretty sure that they adore him back whether or not there is any evidence to support that.

Those butterfly ears are coming in well. His color is changing by the day, with red separating from black, his mask deepening and then lightening. He’s going to end up with lots of black shading on a red base, but exactly what that will look like is still a mystery.

He is HUGELY dramatic. This was him insisting that he was in terrible pain because he had stepped on a pinecone. That’s his injury paw – no matter what happens to him, whether it’s a stubbed toe on a back foot or a nip from Sammy for insolence, that paw comes up. It’s often held as far up as his eye, and he cries and weeps and limps around until you catch him up and kiss him and tell him that you saw the horrible thing that happened and you feel awful for him, and then he miraculously recovers.

His tongue is the stuff of legend. He is pretty sure the greatest pleasure in life is to rooter out the sinuses of anyone who holds him. I have had that tongue up my nose so many times that I almost don’t care anymore – ALMOST.

He’s not working on task training yet, and Sammy is much more reliable in public, but he flat-out LOVES Honour and is very attached to her. His natural inclination is to be on top of or tucked in beside her and he is already helping a huge amount.

And that means I get a heck of a lot more of THIS, which makes my heart very happy.

I know there’s been no puppy update in a few days – they’re great. It’s been very hot here even with the window air conditioning on, and I have avoided stirring them up for pictures because then they get stressed and can’t get back to sleep easily because they’re trying to pant. Their eyes are starting to crack a bit and they’ll start solids next weekend. They range from a pound and a half to almost two pounds now. I am thrilled with the moms and very happy with the babies and should have more pictures in the next day or two.

Until then!

 

Family, Godric, Sammy

Zee camera, she lives! Kind of!

I know, Sammy, I agree!

So here’s what happened: When the camera got back from Maine (where I had sent it for one last hoorah with the kids) it wouldn’t release the shutter at all but just made sad grinding noises. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I went to work with q-tips and the most powerful solvent we own, which is (of course) clipper blade wash.

[As an aside, I am of the firm belief that blade wash is one of those things that fifty years from now we’ll tell stories about, like our grandparents would tell us how they could buy chloroform and dynamite at the local hardware store. I’m going to be sitting in a rocking chair as an old lady, cackling to my great-grandchildren, Hrothgarr and Snorri (Scandanavian names are huge in 2050, especially after the Tilly Williams presidential administration of the ’40s) about how we could just order blade wash from anywhere, and use it with our bare hands! Even though it melts your brain! And the children would look at each other and think brain melting is right and then I’d ask for one of them to scratch my itchy ankle and I’d give them a dollar.]

Back in 2011, fifteen filthy q-tips later I had a camera that complains loudly and doesn’t focus very well, but it clicks! And some of the pictures are even usable!

The only way it works is if it’s on Auto, so don’t expect pictures of any great technical prowess, but at least I can take them again.

Which means that I can finally get some shots of a dog who is putting every bit of his tiny weight into growing as much hair as possible on his ears.

When he’s not attacking pregnant Juno, of course.

Sammy is far too dignified for any such nonsense.

Sammy mostly hangs out with Honour and Honour’s tiny hens, who come out and sit in her lap in the sun and get licked by the puppy.

When he looks up his ear hair wafts in the gentle afternoon breeze…

And then, like a tiny bubble in the wind, he is up and away.


 

 

 

Dog Behavior and Training, Godric, Sammy

Godric and Sammy’s 9-to-5

A horrible camera-phone pic of Sammy on the way to church this morning.

Sammy and Godric have had a few weeks to settle in and get used to home, so now the daily work has begun. Every day they go somewhere with us – a restaurant, a building where they have to climb stairs, someone’s house, etc. Sammy is ready to start public interior training – like libraries and so on – and will do that next; Godric’s bladder is still a bit too small but he’s not far off. The story that I want to tell is not whether or not they’re doing well (they’re doing great!) but how this has made me think about the work that dogs do.

Before I had these little dogs – Ginny and now Godric and Sammy – I had the same thought about companion dogs that most “big dog” people do: They basically sit on laps. Not a heck of a lot of utility.

Now I realize that I was totally wrong – because companion dogs don’t sit on laps – they SIT ON LAPS. It’s like the difference between chasing sheep and herding them, honestly – at church, for example, Sammy and Godric greeted many people, they sat on Honour’s lap without asking to get off, and they were handed around to the gentle old ladies and the not-so-gentle youth leaders and the kids getting lemonade afterward. In every set of arms they were still and accepting; to every face they were friendly; they never barked or fought to get down and they quietly stood between Honour’s feet when they weren’t greeting people.

If you want to appreciate how difficult that is for a dog, imagine carrying around and handing a one-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer to five eighty-year-old women in a row. A Papillon and a GSP are the same animal. Same brain, same basic instinctive reactions. It’s just as much a specialized behavior for a dog to sit still on a stranger’s lap as she plays with your hair and sniffs your head (everybody sniffs Sammy’s head; I know that it’s actually because she’s super, super clean and soft all the time and they’re surprised how nice she feels and smells, but I have to laugh because it’s like she’s made out of cheesecake) as it is for a dog to point a bird.

And you can tell afterward, too. When we got back in the car after two hours of being social, the two of them CRASHED. They were so exhausted they licked at food for a minute and then fell asleep with their faces in the bowl. These are dogs who run and play all day, but being still and perfect is concentrated, deliberate work.

It’s honestly amazing to watch; they change just as much as a corgi changes when they turn on to sheep. It’s not that they don’t need training, because of course they do, but the basic brain structures are already there. When we were at an outdoor restaurant on Saturday, we were eating fries with a three-month-old Papillon puppy lounging on the picnic table next to plates of food. He’s a complete wild man at home, but out and about he watched everybody walk by, wagged at them, didn’t move toward them unless told to, and took food only when it was handed to him. Trust me, it’s not because I am a great trainer. It’s because for three hundred years his breed has been refined until that kind of thing is hard-wired.

It’s given me a whole new facet of dog-ness to appreciate, honestly, and be fascinated by. And it doesn’t hurt that they are so cute it’s ridiculous.

Godric, Sammy

So here’s the deal –

1) Godric – amazing. Must get pictures of him somehow. He is driving to touch on command, he’s tugged since the day he arrived, he’s about 90% on “pull me out of the chair” (which is a pretty big one – he has to set his teeth on my finger and pull until I stand up, without actually biting down) and he’s learning the difference between biting and kisses.

He’s being trained a completely different way than I usually train puppies, because he’s not being discouraged from biting at all – in fact, he’s being encouraged. He’s never heard “no bite” or “leave it” or “drop it.” We want him offering biting and carrying and scratching and pushing behaviors as a default, rather than offering the more submissive sits and downs and bows and so on that you usually get after you’ve trained a puppy to keep his mouth shut.

As a result, we started with a confident but pretty calm puppy and now have a MONSTER. I love it – he’s turbo charged. Put him on the bed and he’ll offer to move the blankets, grab your hair, grab your hands, bring you a pillow. Put him on the floor and he’ll take paper out of the printer, move shoes around, shove chairs over, anything.

Our job right now is just to capture and encourage all those behaviors, basically to tell him a thousand things are good; later we’ll chose ten or twenty of those to further develop. But he is going to be drop-dead awesome.

2) Sammy – everyone’s favorite. I asked Honour to tell me the difference between the dogs and she said “Godric is such a great dog – I know all the things he’s going to do for me and he distracts me and he’s always fun and fat and wonderful. But he doesn’t really care about me as being different from anyone else… which is fine. He’s not supposed to yet. But Sammy cares about ME. She comes and finds me when I am feeling bad.”

Sammy is just the most gracious, lovely dog. She’s like having Queen Elizabeth in the house, if every afternoon Liz let her hair down and rolled around on a bed and made snurfling noises and threw things around her own head for ten minutes, and then sat up and patted her bun back into place and ruled once more.

Sammy is gorgeous and tidy and quiet and a huge snuggler. Three times a day she asks to go out, efficiently does her business, comes back in and hops back up on a bed. She’s always touching somebody, even when she’s asleep.

She won’t eat her chicken upstairs until Honour has gone to sleep – I think this is because the first time it got Honour really upset to have the raw food in her room (one of the times when even though she knows it’s fine and even initiated it, the reality can be crushing for someone with dirt issues because yes, it is pretty gross). But Sammy is a slow eater and has to be separated from the others, so the bedroom it is. Now Sammy waits until Honour goes to sleep, eats very slowly and crunchily for a couple of hours, then back up on the bed to sleep against Honour’s neck. Honour wipes the floor in the morning and can tell herself that she has no idea what just went on. Those are the kind of routines Sammy is offering on her own, and they make me very happy.

And of course there’s that every-afternoon off-the-hizzle snarfle dance.

3) School for Joanna – Yes. and NO. And Yes. And Hmmm.

Here’s what happened – I got a very flattering scholarship and grants offer from the School at the Museum of Fine Arts, one that would cover over a third of tuition. This was TOTALLY GREAT until I had a conversation with financial aid where they said “OK, since you’re an independent student, we estimate your total cost of attendance for one year to be…” and I said “I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood because I could have sworn you said fifty-six thousand dollars.” And she said, “Yes, you’re right, I did say that wrong – it’s actually closer to fifty-seven, so you should round it up.”

After my mouth closed, I said, “And what are my options for that?” and she cheerily told me that since for tax purposes they prefer to keep the post-bac certificate program in the undergrad category, my government loans would max out at eleven thousand. “Fortunately,” she said, “Most students can get a private loan if they need more. We suggest you check out the Discover Card deals!”

At this point Doug, who had been listening in, made a sound like large rocks falling off a cliff, and I had to shove him out of the room so his spleen could burst into flames out of range of the receiver.

The reality turned out to be not QUITE that dire – turns out that Discover does indeed have private student loans – but a personal loan for thirty thousand dollars is just not a possibility. JUST NOT. Paying back Staffords or PLUS loans is designed to be easy and there are tons of protections in place and deferral schedules and so on. The private loans are structured like low-interest credit card loans, which is something we want to avoid at all cost (pun very much intended).

That night, after hours of talking, Doug said “Are you very, very sad? I’m so sorry.” And I said, “You know, I thought I’d be just crushed. But a year in Boston – it’s amazing, but it’s not FIFTY-SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS amazing!”

So plan B rolls into place – I spend this year in photography school, but I do part-time at the community college down the road instead of the glorious airy halls of the SMFA. I learn darkroom in a smelly closet instead of in a four-hundred-square-foot lab with dedicated ventilation systems and recycled paper. I keep working, at the job I may rail about because I am just so TIRED of never sleeping or eating at normal hours, but which has blessed us with the ability to have me at home with the kids.

And I dig down and I give myself an education. I’m a smart girl, I keep telling myself. School is books and research and practice. You can do that anywhere. So I have been gathering curricula and book lists from the classes I would have taken. I’ll order the books on my own and dedicate one day a week to shooting. I’ll get a film camera at goodwill instead of at B+H, and I’ll get out the moderate amount of loans we know we can afford and set them toward upgrading my digital system.

An aside: Which is now an absolute must, because my camera is yelling at me that no matter how long I spend with a q-tip and solvent, it’s not going to release that shutter anymore without screaming and did you notice that I’m blinking a red light now? DID YOU? Do I have to be more plain with you, woman? Here! Let me click really loudly as I focus! We got those pictures of Shade and Juno and Clue by putting it on “Auto” and wincing as the flangerdoodles inside went whack! sweeeq! rrrrrrrrrr! and then FINE, I’LL TAKE A PICTURE, BITCH. THAT HURT A LOT. ARE YOU HAPPY? I HOPE THE DOG WAS LOOKING IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION BY THE TIME I LET THIS HAPPEN.

back to non-aside: I’m not going to let this dream die – I just have to be clever about it and considerate of my family and the sacrifices they’ll have to make.

4) Standardized testing: Meriwether – 99th percentile. Honour – 99th percentile. Tabitha – 99th percentile. Zuzu – was ticked off that she didn’t get an envelope too. Those certificates were just what I needed, wow, to validate a bit of the total chaos that our lives usually take the form of. Since we do virtually no testing during the school year and our days and weeks are fluid and the kids are largely self-directed, it’s awfully nice to have the assurance that the school district is off our backs for one more year. Meri starts high school in the fall – and yes, she’s staying home. She had to write an essay to the state for the application to be home educated – because we’ll be taking advantage of a few of the state’s online resources for languages and so on – and when she came to me and said “Does this sentence end better with et cetera or et al?” I knew we were going to be fine.

5) Puppies. Oh my heck, puppies on the way. Suddenly it’s very real and requires me to DO STUFF. Up until 28 days I don’t change any food or amounts; after that (in other words, for the final five weeks of the pregnancy) I will be feeding more and making sure my calcium levels are appropriate. Right now I’m letting them eat about a third more than they usually do, but still once a day. In a couple of weeks we worm the heck out of them (to help prevent transmission of the larval worms to the puppies through the placenta and milk) and divide the food into two or three meals. By the end I am usually feeding them as much as they want in many small meals. They’ll continue to exercise as they like.

This time Clue is so much happier; it’s lovely. Her first litter she was incredibly sick – acted nauseous and miserable – the entire nine weeks. This time if it weren’t for the fact that she’s already losing her tuckup and her mammary glands are the color of cherry Fanta I’d think that she was just faking it. She feels GREAT. She feels so good she killed a chicken today (also – oops. Don’t assume that two-inch wire spacing is good enough when a mom dog decides that she has a craving). Juno, on the other hand, while she’s been happy and cuddly, barely ate and threw up a ton from the day after her final breeding until now. Must be a familial curse on first pregnancies! Juno is going on a good kibble from here to the end because she seems to be much happier eating it and she shouldn’t lose any weight if we can stop it.

Can’t promise a puppy cam but if I can make it happen I will. You all need to understand that we live in a 1,500 sq ft 3-bedroom house with four kids and six dogs and three cats. There is not a warm dark corner where I can just set up a webcam and you can watch babies quietly nurse. If there was, I WOULD BE IN IT. And I’d be sleeping. And hoarding chocolate. And reading The Millionaire Pirate’s Secret Greek Mistress. And all of that would be embarrassing on a webcam.

6) Blogging. Will happen. A lot. I know. Yell at me now, because I’ve sucked at it lately. After Ginny died, I was just so SAD. I’d open up a new window and start typing and just stop and look away. And then I had two months of living at EMERGENCY CRITICAL EMERGENCY state because Honour was falling apart and I had to work and we had no money and Zuzu never put clothes on and all my mugs broke and I drank coffee out of a creamer vase once because the last mug with no handle left was dirty and the roof leaked and I cried a lot and Doug brought me desperation sushi even though we couldn’t afford it because he knows that raw salmon makes it better.

Zuzu still won’t put clothes on, and we’ve still got no money, but Honour is so much better – and she is, she really is; for her having those dogs is like being on medication. Nothing goes away but a lot of it gets blunted and shortened and eased. Many, many more happy moments and good conversations. So instead of staring at the wall I am writing posts in my head again. And hopefully you forgive me for writing so little and I can get back to writing two thousand words every night or two and bossing you around again.

Love – and LOVE – to all.

Joanna

General, Godric, Sammy

Most likely RIP, Nikon D5000, 2010-2011

It is kaput. I will keep trying; maybe a cleaning will work – but it’s overexposing everything and refusing to use the motor drive properly. Forgive me for not giving you pictures for a few days while I fiddle with cleaning fluid and curse at dog hair in the gears. The good thing is that it gave its all until the right time – I would love for it to have lived another two months, and maybe we can limp along taking snapshots until school starts, but either way once I am taking classes I’ll have been forced to invest in a different camera and then you’ll be inundated again.

Meanwhile, everything is going well here. It’s four million degrees out and my house looks like it needs to be cleaned with a bulldozer because I can’t stand to be out there for longer than it takes to visit the bathroom and scurry back to our bedroom, which is the one room that has air conditioning. In fact, everybody feels that way, so we have a TV, the Wii, dog beds, and two computers crammed in here so we can all lie around panting and moaning about how hot it is.

Sammy is settling in and showing some really encouraging instincts. She hates it when Honour cries, for example, and rushes over to her and howls at her. She’s still feeling her way through the household routine and we’re just loving her up constantly and getting our foreheads washed a lot. In a few weeks we’ll start some simple commands and see if she likes public access training. Godric is pretty much the worst puppy ever in the history of earth, which means he’s the best puppy in the history of earth. I am thrilled at the prospect of him as a service dog once we can harness his confidence and drive, and SO THANKFUL we won’t have to take him out to do public work for a while! Right now I am pretty sure he’d drag most of the contents of Target out the door with him.

That’s it from here for now – if you see a sudden influx of color pictures it means I got the camera going again (the horrible exposures it’s taking right now can be somewhat mitigated by changing them to black and white, which is why everything’s been monotone on here this week). Otherwise look for a bunch of text-only posts for a while!

Kisses to all from the broiling glacial plains of New Hampshire,

Joanna

Godric, Sammy

The dream team

 Get used to this view! Today we went and picked up Ch. Kndrd Sprt Shot O Sambuca, now forever known as Sammy. She is a retired Tibetan Spaniel who was a staggeringly amazing gift from her wonderful breeders/owners. They NEVER place retired dogs, so we know how very special this is.

My habit when picking up a new dog has always been to stop on the way home and take a good walk. I have found over a lot of dogs that taking a break and talking and walking settles the excitement and helps us set the right tone for the whole bonding experience. You start to get into a good pace, everybody’s muscles get stretched, and the nerves calm down and you begin to feel like a team. Since Honour had to spend a couple of hours at the dog show today and was pretty much ripped to shreds after that long of having people brush against her, there was great relief as we all fell out of the car and ran the paths and threw pebbles into the stream and did cartwheels until we fell down and rolled around on the grass. Godric just got his 12-week shots and is therefore safe for public consumption, so this was his first experience with woods walking as well.

Yes, he’s still super cute. And still only twice the height of the grass.

And then, sleepy and happy, we walked off into the sunset, home to baths and bread and bed.