Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Caden and Elf's Journey Begins

It has been an absolutely crazy few days but it is great to finally be writing the blog from home again.  I am surrounded by my furry feline babies who have been amazingly tolerant of the new 73 pound member of our family and seem to have forgiven me for being gone for so long.  Our border collie is on the fence; she isn’t quite sure she enjoys someone else getting some of the doggy attention in the house but she loves having someone else to play with out in the yard.  Our beagle, on the other hand, is absolutely convinced that we have ruined her life and she isn’t missing an opportunity to register her complaints.  We are trying to utilize all of our 4 Paws training with her and have all of our fingers and toes crossed that she will come around sooner rather than later.  Caden’s only observation upon arrival home is that our dogs got smaller…..interesting how his perception of small and large has changed after 11 days with the 4 Paws dogs.

So you are probably wondering about our public access test.  Honestly it went beautifully but it was without a doubt one of the most anxiety inducing activities I have gone through in a long time.  Thankfully Caden was feeling a little better so we were all able to go to the mall and go through the test together.  The test had 3 components: obedience to demonstrate control over the dog in public, distractions, and the ability to load the dog into the vehicle smoothly in the parking lot. The only stumbling block during obedience was my own literal interpretation of the directions. We needed to heel Elf, drop the leash, and then pick the leash up again while maintaining Elf’s heel.  Everything was going smoothly until I realized I had no idea how to pick the leash up while still walking without falling on my face or running into someone or something.  Turns out I could have just stopped and picked up the leash---oops. Distractions were definitely a test for Elf or at least the cooked chicken less than a foot from where he was laying was but thankfully he handled it like a champ. Rest of the day went smoothly and we headed back to the facility to complete our paperwork (contracts that rival mortgages in length and obligations) and await graduation.  Honestly graduation was more for the all of the individuals who take part in the care and training of the dogs than the families receiving them but I think everyone is okay with that. The foster families, kennel staff, 4 Paws staff, and trainers spend so much time with the dogs and become so emotionally attached that I think it is important that they have the chance to say goodbye and see the dogs with their new families. Those moments probably go a long way to helping them gear up for the next batch of dogs they need to care for and train.  Having said all of that Caden was very proud to receive his and Elf’s certificate and wants to frame it for his room.  We were absolutely thrilled to receive a photo album from Elf’s foster mom and trainer and it is such an amazing keepsake to have.

After leaving graduation we realized that we received more training to bring our service dog home than we did either of our children.  I’m not quite sure what to say about that but we are most definitely putting all of our training to use (and given the fact that the kids have argued over everything from who finished their drink first to who got to the front porch first I’m wondering if we would have been allowed to bring both kids home if we would have had to pass a public access test first). We actually had our first encounter of sorts at the very first non 4 Paws hotel that we stayed at. After checking in, we brought the kids and Elf into the lobby. Upon seeing Elf, the desk clerk immediately asked us if we would mind moving into a pet room.  We pointed out politely that Elf was a service dog to which she replied that she knew that but wondered if we would move. We said no thank you and she didn’t push the issue but I was still really disappointed. The trainers did a great job of prepping us for this very situation but I guess I still wanted to naively believe that people would recognize and respect the Americans with Disabilities Act under which service dogs are covered. In fairness I wouldn’t have known much (or anything) about ADA when I was working at the mall and I suppose I can’t expect others to either. It is a little overwhelming though to realize that I just inadvertently inherited another awareness cause simply by trying to give my kids the best life that they can have.  Between autism awareness, primary immune deficiency awareness, animal cruelty awareness, and now service dog awareness I’m wondering how I’ll have time to actually live life when I’m spending all of my time on my soap box. Maybe that’s the key though to really changing things; living life and treating people like we hope they treat our kids, sneaking in info when we can, and hoping that somehow we make a difference along the way. We are home now and I guess the next chapter of Caden and Elf’s tale really begins.