About The Foster Zoo

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We have decided to blog our adventures again. So much has changed since we last blogged. Bella and Shiloh both went to their forever homes and they are in wonderful families. June Bug got adopted. We quit fostering dogs after those adoptions because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. We quit doing therapy dog work because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. Tanker passed away June 9th, 2013. We adopted a senior border collie named Shania Tankerbelle in his memory. We still have our two cats, Sweet Pea and Little Bit. Wes has started rescuing pitiful bettas from Wal-Mart and we currently have seven. We have a camper. We camp. We have focused on giving our animals the best lives possible. We are The Foster Zoo Crew and we like to have fun.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Updated TnT's Business Cards

 Wes and I are both perfectionists.  Good thing we both are, otherwise we'd probably drive each other crazy.  It was bugging us that Topher and Tanker's picture would be too small on their old business card, so we decided to redo them and make the picture better.  Wes is at work.  I took this project on myself.  Then Wes text me and said we need to advocate our passion of rescuing animals through Tanker and Topher, which we have discussed many of times though our therapy dog training.  What better way than to do it on their cards?  So we did.  I think my rescue friends will be proud.

Here is us advocating everything we stand for in life:  John, he was the BEST example of loving others whole heartedly and valuing the important things in life.  The quote on the back is for John and our dedication to living the life he lived.  John also rescued a lot of animals in his lifetime.  When he passed away, he had several rescues living with him.  The quote is also for Blondie, who passed away last summer.  That quote came out of a journal I bought to write in after Blondie passed away.  The color of the cards are for Blondie.  I bought her a collar identical to that design when Wes was deployed once.  Blondie, the cats, and I were all decked out in red, white, and blue for Wes' fourth homecoming from a deployment.  Blondie passed away in the collar last summer.  The colors are also to represent Wes and his dedication to serving our country.  We are a military family.  Wes takes pride in his service to our great nation. 
 Therapy dog work is our way of wrapping our life's purpose all into one thing:  rescuing animals, helping others who have been through what we have, spreading God's love without judgement just as God instructed us to.  I hope the cards we pass out are a reflection of what we stand for.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TnT's Business Cards

 Topher and Tanker got business cards for when we go to the hospitals and schools!  We want to thank our friend, Brent, for giving our dogs the nickname TNT because they are DYNAMITE!  We ordered our cards through www.vistaprint.com.  Their prices were really cheap and their cards are great!  One of our therapy dog friends recommended them to us.  We are so excited to get started.  We are only waiting for our confirmation to come back from Delta Society and then our badges to be mailed shortly after.  Then we will be volunteering in the hospitals, schools, and military hospitals.  Watch out world, here we come!  Nobody can stop us now!  GO TNT!!!

 Paws a moment for the things that matter most is on the cover of a journal I bought for $1.00 at PetSmart after Blondie died. The reason we enjoy helping others so much is because that quote is our life philosophy, especially after John died. The colors of the card are the colors of Blondie's old collar. I bought it for her when Wes came home from one of his deployments so that we could all be patriotic for his homecoming. This card is a reflection of Blondie and John, the reasons behind us spreading God's love through therapy dog work.  (I'm tearing up now.)

The Topher Diaries

The Topher Diaries: We went on our normal walk down by the river. We saw paddle boats and kayaks. We walked by the ball fields and saw soccer practice, baseball practice, and lacross practice. Apparently kids love chasing after balls like Tanker does. I still don't see the point. A few people petted me and I loved that. I wish I had my work uniform on. Have you seen me in my work uniform? I'm dead sexy. Everybody looks at me and wants to pet me when my work vest is on.  We watched for storms because Mom's phone said Thunderstorm Watch. We didn't find any storms, so we came home.  That smart phone is not very smart.  My smart nose is smarter.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Busy dog day

Today was a busy day for our two boys!  First, a lady came over to our house this morning to evaluate our home to foster a dog.  This dog was rescued from a shelter in Fredericksburg and I found out about him from a friend of a friend.   He is 13 years old (supposedly...he seemed younger to me.) and his owner dumped him when her landlord said she couldn't have a dog.  After we got evaluated, we went and met him.  His name is Boomer.  I was a bit nervous about it because Topher is not crazy about other dogs.  This dog is a pit bull mix.  He is about Topher's size and surprisingly, Topher was really interested in him and really liked him!  We went to a park together and Topher, Boomer, and Tanker walked on a trail together side by side.

I said that we didn't need something extra on our plates right now.  We were asked to raise a lab puppy for Veterans Moving Forward to be a service dog for a wounded veteran not too long ago and we turned down the opportunity for the time being because we were busy training our dogs.  It seemed too overwhelming to me to add a third at the time.  I still feel that raising and training a puppy is too much for us at the moment until Wes can get through his upcoming test for work, we can get settled into our therapy dog volunteer roles, and life settles down a little.  Boomer already has obedience training, he is good with dogs, kids, and cats, and he will only be staying with us until he gets adopted.  The benefit for Topher is that he is gentle and it gives Topher another dog to trust.  This, I hope, will build Topher's confidence in bigger dogs.  Once Boomer gets adopted, we are going to look into raising a puppy to be a service dog for Veterans Moving Forward.

We did not bring Boomer home with us today.  The lady who is temporarily fostering him is bringing him over this week to introduce him to our dogs at our house.  She is really nice.  She is going to take Boomer back during the time that our friends, Brent and Amanda, come up to visit with their dogs next month.  Everything seems to be working out perfect in the situation, so I feel like fostering Boomer is the right thing to do.

Onto the next adventure.  After the park, we went to Lowes with Topher and Tanker.  Lowes was really busy!  Topher and Tanker did really well.  Topher really enjoyed watching the forklift.  A lot of dogs go into Lowes to train as therapy/service dogs.  The employees are used to seeing us in there.  The guy operating the forklift made extra noise and did extra moves to get them used to it.  Topher was so interested.  He intently watched the boards being moved from the top shelf to the bottom.  When we moved to the concrete aisle, both Topher and Tanker layed down to watch.  I guess it wasn't so interesting anymore.  That's how laid back they are.  Noises, horns, beeps, boards dropping all around them, and they wanted to nap.

Great day overall!  Topher and Tanker are sacked out.  Wes and I are pretty tired ourselves.

Topher and Tanker's first outing to Lowes as official certified therapy dogs. They got to wear their new vests. Everybody loved them and they did so well!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Good Tanker Update

All of Tanker's supporters deserve a good update on him. 

Tanker has been home for two days now and is still seizure free.  He is doing great!  We added the Keppra into his daily meds on Tuesday afternoon.  He has since become pretty weak in his back end.  He is still on the higher doses of Phenobarbital and Zonisimide.  I will lower those doses back to normal tomorrow.  The Keppra needed three days to get into his system before we could lower the other drugs.

Other than being weak in his back end and pretty tired, he has lost his appetite.  The zonisimide can cause that, but the Potassium Bromide causes him to eat more, so they have always balanced each other out.  I don't know if the Keppra causes lack of appetite or not.  I'm hoping that once we decrease his Zonismide tomorrow that his appetite will go back to normal.

Yesterday was a difficult day with him not wanting to eat.  He only ate half his breakfast, he didn't want his dinner, and he didn't want to take his meds wrapped in turkey.  I had to give every one of his pills by shoving them down his throat yesterday afternoon.  That's six pills!  It was a struggle!  I soaked his food in water just like he likes it and let it sog up until late last night.  I then hand fed him piece by piece.  We both enjoyed that.  If you want to bond with your dogs, hand feed them!  It was a really sweet experience.

After all that, it sounds like Tanker is really not doing well, but he really is!  He loves going outside and every time I let the dogs out back, he runs around.  He then goes and sunbathes in his favorite spot where he can look up at the road and see the cars go by.  Yesterday, I did a lot of training with Topher with the "TWO PAWS" command.  Tanker layed and watched us the entire time.  I would walk over and try to give him a treat to make him feel involved.  He didn't want the treat.  He eventually got up and would follow Topher and I around the house as I made Topher "two paws" on everything.  He really wanted to be involved.  I made him sit and down occasionally so that he felt like he was part of the training too.  I wan't going to start him on the "two paws" command yet as weak has he has been in his back end.  He really loves to learn and be involved in our lives.  That's what makes him and Topher GREAT therapy dogs!

Things are calm and life is good here at the Foster Farm. The entire zoo crew is healthy and happy!

This command is called Paws Up. I say "Paws Up" and Topher puts his two front feet on the stool. I taught him this command in only 15 minutes. This command will be used to transition into the Pray command where he will put his two front feet on something and bow his head. As fast as a learner as Topher is, I hope to show that one to you all within a week.

The Topher Diaries: I am practicing the TWO PAWS command with my big cat sister, Sweet Pea, in the chair like she is a patient. Dad says to be prepared in all situations. I could encounter this in the hospital. Fat cat patients, here I come!

I usually lay here and watch my brother, Topher, learn more commands. I am a smart boy. I am learning by watching. Before long, I will be good as new and will be doing them too.

Tanker and Wes are testing for their Delta therapy dog certification on Saturday.  Tomorrow evening, we are going to a reading orientation through Blue Grey Therapy Dogs so that we can take the dogs into the schools to allow kids to read to them.  We are excited about it.  Everything is looking up.  It won't be long before we are going into schools to work with autistic kids, reading with kids in schools, visiting the military hospitals to be with the wounded troops, and volunteering in our local hospitals.  This bump in the road will not stop us from living our dreams of helping others.  Tanker and Topher are ready to make a difference in the world!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tanker Is Home!!!

 First off, I want to thank each and every one of you for your love, support, friendship, and genuine concern during this rough weekend.  I want to thank the several coworkers of Wes' who asked Wes about Tanker at work last night.  I can't tell you how much that means to us.  We are blessed with a wonderful support system that exists here in the D.C. area, Washington, Georgia, Florida, and everywhere else.  We owe gratitude to each and every one of you for helping us through tough times such as this weekend.  Thank you.

Wes picked up Tanker from the vet after work this morning and they got home about 5 am.  We were all exhausted, but were energized by our delight for the homecoming of our sweet boy.  Tanker was his old self!  As soon as Topher heard the garage door go up and I told him that "Pom Pom" was home, he stood at the basement door patiently waiting to be reunited with his best friend.  They trotted around the house for a while and then both settled into the same dog bed.  Topher just plopped down right on top of Tanker.  We stayed up until 5:30 am because that is when Tanker is due for his regular scheduled meds.  When the medicine alarm, a.k.a turkey alarm (that's what they know it as), went off on our phones at 5:30, they all congregated in the kitchen.  Life in the Foster Zoo is back to normal.

I LOVE Woodbridge Animal Hospital.  Tanker was supposed to be picked up by midnight last night or shortly thereafter.  Their billing cycle starts at midnight for overnight stays.  They charge for 24-hour increments.  Because they knew our situation of Wes having to work late and me not being able to drive, they only charged us a half day to keep Tanker until this morning.  That is against their policy, but they made an exception for us.  I thank God everyday for the good people in this world.  Woodbridge Animal Hospital has always been very good to us and all of our pets.  Blondie was there for her heat stroke; Sweet Pea was there for a consultation when she had hepatic lipidosis (in which they didn't even charge us for!); they have been beyond wonderful to us.  I felt Tanker was in great hands all weekend long.  Wes brought them something a little special this morning to thank them for their services.

Tanker is a little bit tired this morning.  If I had ten seizures over the weekend, I would be tired and sore too!  He is still on the increased dose of Phenobarbital and Zonisimide.  Wes got up this morning at 9 to go to Costco and pick up Tanker's Keppra prescription.  (He is so dedicated to his family.  He worked all night, but woke up to be at Costco's doors when they opened.  Have I ever mentioned I am married to the greatest man alive?)  Keppra has to be given every eight hours, so we will start it this evening with his regular scheduled meds.  5:30 pm, 1:30 am, 5:30 am (for his other meds), and 9:30 am is a schedule that works well for us.  Luckily our dogs volunteer with us, so they will be with us most of the time anyway when we volunteer with each other once or twice a week.  Because Keppra takes about three full days to build up in the system, Tanker will remain on the higher doses of Phenobarbital and Zonisimide until Friday.  We will then wean him back down to his regular dosage.  I have a lot of faith in this drug.  It is a human drug (as are most of Tanker's medications) and it controls seizures well in humans.  Being able to get this drug at a very reduced cost through Costco's uninsured drug program (since Tanker doesn't have a paying job) was an answer to prayers in itself.  I can't help but to think this medication will also be an answer to a lot of prayers in controlling Tanker's seizures.

Tanker and Wes still plan to test for their therapy dog test this weekend.  Talk about dedication!  Tanker is running around and following commands (in between napping) and Wes feels that he will do just fine on it.  Tanker and Wes both LOVE to get out and help others and I know both are anxious to join Topher and I as Delta Society Pet Partners.  We are all excited to volunteer once or twice a week for an hour or so in the mornings before Wes goes to work.  Helping others through our animals.  This is our life purpose.

Waiting for his brother to walk through the door.

Hello Tanker!  Welcome home!

Trotting around the house together.

Thanks to all my human and furry friends for crossing your paws for me. You must have all wished on your lucky bones because I am alive and well!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tanker Update

 We went up to Woodbridge Animal Hospital to visit Tanker last night.  We brought Topher with us because we knew it would do both dogs good to see each other.  We didn't get to go until around 11:30 last night because they were really busy with emergencies up until then.  Because Tanker is hooked up to an IV, we have to have a private room to visit with him.  I don't know if I have ever mentioned how much I love Woodbridge Animal Hospital.  We take the animals there for all their regular vet needs.  They also have an emergency clinic and several specialty vets in house.  We love them!  They are very compassionate towards animals. 

Tanker was really drugged up last night.  He had two seizures yesterday evening.  Plus he had the additional Valium in his system, extra Phenobarbital, and Zonisimide.  Although he was really sedate, he was glad to see us and Topher.  He wagged his tail and enjoyed us petting him.  He then layed down by the door to go back to sleep.  Topher layed with him and loved on his brother.  He even gave  him kisses on the head.  It was very sweet.  When we left, Topher didn't want to jump up into the car.  I think he felt that he should have his brother going home with him.  After attempt three, he got in the back of the car and sighed like he was saying, "okay fine, but we're only leaving him one more night."

We talked with the vet this morning.  Tanker remained seizure free all night.  He did well.  Tanker's neurologist then called me.  (She is based out of Springfield and Leesburg, not Woodbridge.)  She was puzzled as to why we didn't start the Keppra yet.  I told her it was because it was too expensive and that we couldn't afford a $400 a month drug.  I told her how we had increased the Phenobarbital to 60 mg bid and increased the Zonisimide to 250 mg bid.  She seemed irritated that the emergency doctor didn't follow her recommendations.  She said Tanker would be too drunk on those levels.  (Like I said before, he's been on 300 mg of Zonisimide bid before and did fine on it, although she thought he was too drunk.)  She said that the generic form of Keppra is much cheaper at Costco.  She called it into Costco where we usually pick up his meds.  Wes is going to pick it up now and drive it over to Woodbridge.  (Woodbridge does not keep it on stock because it is a human drug and it is not used very often in dogs.  Same goes for the Zonisimide.)  I am hoping it is  A LOT cheaper at Costco, because we really cannot afford $400 a month for one drug.  There is a reason we drive older cars.  We're military.  We don't make tons of money.  Adding Keppra is like a car payment.

If Tanker does fine all day, he'll be coming home tonight.  Wes is working 3:30 until midnight.  He'll pick Tanker up on his way home from work.  I am keeping my fingers crossed and saying my prayers that he does fine and that we can afford to keep him seizure free for as long as we can.  Tanker and Topher have jobs to do.  They are trained and ready to spread their love to others.  Tanker's purpose is to help children with disabilities.  Tanker has a disability.  He is the perfect dog to show others that's it's okay to not be "normal."  That's our purpose as therapy dog teams.

Topher comforting Tanker at the vet last night. Topher is Tanker's therapy dog. He is my therapy dog. He has been a blessing to our family.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tanker Update

We called up to the vet and Tanker just had another seizure.  Wes and I are heartbroken over this.  He was doing so well before yesterday.  I just don't understand. 

Tanker's Phenobarbital has been increased to 60 mg morning and night.  His Zonisimide has been increased to 250 mg morning and night.  His Zonisimide can go up to 300 mg morning and night.  He has been on that dose before and did really well on it.  The last option would be to add Keppra, which we cannot afford.  Keppra, alone, costs about $400 a month.  We already spend over $100 a month on drugs alone for him.  We can work our budget, but I'm not sure we can add in another $400 every month for one drug.  We still have vet and neurology visits too.

We are hoping, praying, wishing on the stars, crossing our fingers, the animals are crossing their paws, etc. that he snaps out of this and it is just some funky seizure cycle he has slipped into.  I honestly don't know what we're going to do at this point if he keeps seizing like he is.  If he has another seizure, they are going to sedate him with a Valium drip.  Wes has already said that he doesn't want Tanker to pass away there.  We want to bring him home.  That is our commitment to him.  He needs to be with his family.

My mom keeps reminding me that Tankers are tough.  Wes found Tanker out on the flightline at Fairchild AFB in the middle of the winter.  He had been living on his own for a week in the snow.  We rescued him and gave him a nice place to stay.  He had a seizure the first night.  We made a commitment then to always give Tanker a good home and a comfortable life, no matter what.  We will not give up now.  We will do whatever it takes to keep him comfortable.  Just as the KC-135s Stratotankers break, and then are made new with the work of highly skilled maintainers, Tanker will be made new through our care.  We are just not sure what God's definition of new will be for him yet.

Tanker with the Tanker Pride banner off of a KC-135 engine cover.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tanker's emergency

Yesterday, Wes and I said to each other that it was about time Tanker was due for a seizure.  He has normal seizure cycles and he hasn't had one since January.

Topher woke us up at 1:45 to tell us Tanker was having a seizure.  He then had another, and another.  Pretty typical of his normal cycle.  We gave his meds, went back to sleep, and he was fine.  Throughout the day, he ended up having five more.  They were all spaced out and he was normal in between.  We ended up giving him a lot of Valium and extra Phenobarbital.  At the end of the day, we thought he was done, but at 8:45 he ended up having another one.  We called his neurologist.  She advised us to take him to the emergency vet.

Although Tanker was walking, he was pretty clumsy from all the extra meds today.   He was able to jump up into the back of the SUV on his own.  We took him to the emergency vet because we couldn't risk him having another seizure.  Eight is too many in one day. 

When we got to the emergency vet, Tanker's neurologist had already called ahead and talked to the vet who would be treating Tanker.  She advised to start him on a Valium drip for several hours to shut his brain activity down and prevent further seizures.  She also advised us to start him on Keppra.  We disagreed on starting the Keppra because I don't feel we need to start such an expensive drug when he still as room to go up on his Phenobarbital and Zonisimide.  (Adding Keppra into his daily medication regimine would cost us an extra $300 to $400 a month.)  The ER vet agreed that we needed to first work on adding more Phenobarbital and Zonisimide.  He used to be on a higher dose of Zonisimide and he did really well on it.  The neurologist felt it made him too "drunk."  That's why the dose was lowered.

Tanker is staying the night at the emergency vet.  He is currently on a Valium drip to sedate him and the ER vet is giving him an extra 50mg of Zonisimide.  (on top of the Zonisimide, Phenobarb, and bromide already in his system.)  If he does well without any seizures tonight (which I expect he will), they will slow down the Valium, wake him up, and he'll be able to come home tomorrow evening.  If he has more seizures tonight, he will stay longer.  I am expecting him to do well.

Kris met us at the vet tonight.  She is very, very sweet.  She was there with Topher while we talked to the vet.  (Topher is, I am not kidding, like Tanker's seizure service dog.  It would have been really hard on Topher to leave him home while we loaded Tanker up in the car after having so many seizures today.)  Topher loves Kris very much and he was calm and collected as he always is.  Tanker and Wes, obviously, will not be able to test for their therapy dog certification tomorrow.  Kris told me that if Topher seemed stressed tonight with Tanker being gone, that we could reschedule our therapy dog test too.  Right now, Topher is curled up next to me on the couch.  I think he is going to be fine.  Actually, it will probably help him to get out and test tomorrow.  Nothing makes Topher happier than being around people.  It will be good for me too. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Therapy Dog Training Note: Lowes

 I am making up for my lack of note writing by writing a second note for the day.  Lowes was so exciting that I just have to share.

Topher and Tanker did FANTASTIC!!!!!  Topher kept his attention on me the entire time.  He was not nervous at all.  He did better in Lowes than in Petsmart.  I guess because there were no other dogs there.  He didn't get scared of anything.  Carts rolled past him, lumber was being stacked, people walked by...he didn't care.  He heeled the entire time on a loose leash.  Everytime I said his name, he looked up.  Everytime I said sit, he sat.  Everytime I said down, he downed.  Everytime I made him stay by himself, he stayed by himself.  I honestly could not have had a more perfect experience with him than I did tonight.  I am very, very proud of him. 

Wes says:  Tanker did great!  He listened to me very well.  He was a little curious about some things, but was not scared.  He couldn't quite figure out the mirror.  He wagged his tail and wanted to play with the dog on the other side.  Then he went around to the other side to see where the dog was since he couldn't smell him.  I cracked up watching him.  He did really well.  He was Tanker.

How many dogs can say they have downed and stayed in Lowes? Only cool ones like me and Tanker.

Yup, I am cool.

Therapy Dog Training Notes: March 7th - March 9th

I have been slacking on my notes.  I've been tired and not motivated to write them for some reason.  I guess I thought not many people enjoyed them.  Thank you, Kelly, for reminding me that a few of you do and for letting me know that I need to keep them up.  I currently have three days to write about.  The first day is a practice day with our dogs and the next two days are shadow days.  I hope you all enjoy them!

March 7th:

We went to Petsmart to practice doing obedience work with our dogs in other places and to get hugs for Tanker.  It was a busy night at Petsmart.  When we first walked in, we were greeted by an employee.  Tanker and Topher went over to visit him.  I was telling him about how we were getting ready to take our therapy dog test when a German Shepherd (yes, Topher's worst fear) pulled his owner up to us.  He was obviously not well controlled by his owner.  When he got about two feet from us, Topher let out a bark.  I immediately said no and pulled him towards me.  I wish I had reacted quicker, but really the GSD came at us so quickly.  Tanker even let out a little growl, which is not at all like Tanker, so the GSD must have been a little intimidating for them.  I was really discouraged about that.  Once we left the situation, Topher was fine the rest of the night.  We did meets and greets with a lot of different people.  One little boy particularly stood out and Topher made me really proud.  He was maybe two years old.  He was over by the fish and staring at Topher and Tanker.  I asked him if he would like to pet the dogs.  He did not answer.  Topher and I walked up to him and I told Topher to go visit.  Topher went right up to him and did his little "cuddle."  Topher does this thing where he'll sit down right in front of you, lean up on you, and look up at your face trying to lick you.  I call it his cuddle move.  He gave the little boy a kiss on the chin and on his hand.  The little boy scrunched up his nose and said, "eww", but also laughed.  He patted Topher on the head and then walked off.  His mom said that the little boy did not like dogs and she was shocked that he liked Topher.  She wanted me to try again with letting Topher interact with the little boy.  The little boy did not seem interested anymore.  Topher must have sensed that he did not want Topher visiting and Topher would not walk up closer to him than about a foot away.  It was like Topher knew his limits and he could sense that the boy was not comfortable visiting again.  I was really proud of Topher for using his instincts and reading the little boy so well.  He will make a great therapy dog.  We visited with other people as well.  Tanker got hugged and did fine.  Overall, it was a decent night with the exception of the german shepherd encounter.  When I later talked to Kris about it, she said that it was actually a good encounter and showed that Topher had gained confidence.  It would have been bad if Topher cried and ran behind me.  It would have been bad if Topher growled.  Instead, Topher made his boundries and told the dog not to come closer.  Kris always makes me feel better.  There were other dogs in the store and Topher did not seem bothered by them.  None of the other dogs were pulling toward him and dragging their owners though.  It seems that Topher is fine with other dogs as long as they mind their own business and they don't get in his personal bubble.

March 8th:  I shadowed Kris in Dixon Smith Middle School in Fredericksburg where she works with a classroom of autistic kids.  Kris and Titus never cease to amaze me.  I can write pages and pages on what she does with these children.  I will tell you about one encounter yesterday that stands out to me and is a great example of the great work Kris and Titus do.  One of the severely autistic girls was sitting on the floor.  Titus went up and layed next to her.  She did not want anything to do with him at first.  After a few minutes, she petted him just a little.  Kris stayed at Titus' head to reassure him that he was okay.  Then the girl started kicking and hitting at Kris because she didn't want anyone around her and Titus.  Kris scooted back away and stopped looking in their direction.  She kept an eye on Titus, but did not look at the girl. (autistic children do not do well with eye contact)  The girl settled down and started petting Titus again.  She was very gentle with Titus, although she wanted to hit Kris.  After about five minutes, Kris pulled out a ball for Titus.  The girl knew what it was because she had seen the other kids play with Titus.  She focused on the ball and allowed Kris and Titus to get up.  The girl got up and picked up the ball.  She tossed it into Titus' mouth.  Kris doesn't allow the kids to take the ball from Titus.  She gets the ball and hands it back to the kid.  After a few times of doing this, the girl started laughing and eventually started making eye contact with Kris.  Kris had gained her trust through Titus.  She was making noises and interacting with both Titus and Kris.  Titus allowed the girl to open up and enjoy life.  Titus showed the girl it was okay to interect with others.  It was truly amazing to watch.

March 9th:  Today I shadowed Linda and Kelly with their dogs Muffin and Amber at Mary Washington Hospital.  It was really a fun day!  (Gosh, I know this hospital really well.  This is the hospital my dad was in the ICU in for a month.)  We first went to the ER.  I loved that.  I feel right at home in the ICU and ER.  Those were the favorite areas of nursing I have worked in.  I had a big smile on my face!  We greeted the nurses and staff mostly.  The LOVE Amber and Muffin.  They had a jar of dog bones waiting for them.  You could just see the stress melt away as the nurses intereracted with the dogs.  Next we went up to the pediatric unit.  They did not have a lot of kids today.  The nurses told us of one little boy who really wanted to see the dogs.  We walked down to his room and I think Muffin and Amber made his day!  He was so happy to pet and interact with them.  Linda and Kelly gave him stickers and notecards with Amber and Muffin's pictures on them.  It was a happy moment enjoyed by all!  We then visited various other units in the hospital.  We had requests from family members to go to specific rooms.  A few patients cried when they got to intereract with the dogs because they made their day.  We ended our visiting in the ICU waiting room and surgery waiting room.  So many people loved on the dogs and I could tell that it really brightened their day.  Kelly and Linda said they don't actually go into the ICU unless they are requested by a patient or patient's family.  When they do though, the dogs will do things such as lay next to a patient in bed to stimulate a patient; lay on the legs of patients; be petted by patients who are able to pet, etc.  That will be one of my favorite areas to work in.  I have so much personal experience with being a patient in the ICU that having my dog lay next to a brain injured patient to stimulate his brain will touch my soul and bring tears to my eyes.  (I am tearing up just writing about it.)  What a way to give back to the world something that has been given to me.  This is my purpose in life.

We're hoping to go to Lowes this evening to practice with our dogs.  I didn't write this in the beginning, but Topher and Tanker got their therapy dog vests in the mail a couple of days ago.  I have not sewn their patches on yet because we're waiting for one more patch to come in.  With their vests, we can go to places that are dog friendly, such as Lowes, and practice with them.  We can't wait to test on Sunday! 

Topher and Tanker got their therapy dog vests in!!!! I just am waiting on their Delta Society patches and they'll be ready to go! We are SO EXCITED!!!!!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

 I wasn't going to write a note today because I am tired, grouchy, and I have a headache.  Since being tired and having a headache is part of my life 99% of the time that I am awake, I decided that the additional being grouchy part is a lame reason to not write about our progress today.  One day, I will look back on our notes and see how far we've come.  I will appreciate that I took the time to document our every step. 

Kris came over again today to do neutral dog practice and to work on a few other things she wanted to work on with Malachi for his upcoming therapy dog test.  She really has little to worry about with him.  He is just a big moose.  I think they will do better on the test than she thinks they will.  Practice makes perfect though, so we keep practicing.

Kris ran through the entire Delta evaluation with me and Topher.  Wes watched.  She is not allowed to see or work with Tanker yet because she is still his evaluator.  I am really glad that she went through the test with me.  Topher did not have much difficulty, but I did.  My processing speed and coordination are so messed up.  Multitasking is very difficult.  Watching, thinking, and acting are three things I have a hard time putting together.  Stupid brain injury.  By the time we get through practicing over and over again, I hope that I will know the test like the back of my hand and I will not mess anything up on the day of evaluation.  I sure messed up a lot today, but Kris is so very patient, and so very kind, and extremely encouraging to me.  Have I ever mentioned how much I look up to her?  She is a great mentor.  I love her to pieces and I am blessed to have her in my life.

Topher did the neutral dog portion of the test PERFECT!  He didn't seem nervous.  That part of the test was my biggest obstacle and I am proud to say that I think we have overcome it.  Yay Topher!  Honestly, I think he really likes Malachi.  He has yet to be allowed to sniff him or have any contact with him except for looking across the driveway at him, but I can tell by his interest in Malachi that they will be great playmates once we can allow them to interact.  Right now we have to keep them as neutral dogs to each other for practice purposes until the test next week.  After that, they can play and act like dogs together all they want.

Topher showed a couple of stress signs throughout our mock test, but they were very minimal.  He only licked his lips a few times during times that he was just a little unsure.  Of course, his handler (me) has difficulties of her own, so the fact that he can deal with his miscombobulated mom and the situations he as to go though on the test shows that he is a pretty good dog.  Topher is such a calm dog that I have to engage with him a little more to "revv" him back up sometimes.  When he is a little unsure about something, if I say, "yay Topher, good boy" and pet his ears, he perks right up and says, "oh okay, it must be okay" and he usually wags his tail.  I have to work a little harder at reading his body language.  I had difficulties today with following directions, carrying out the actions of what I was supposed to be doing, watching his body language, and reacting to him to encourage him.  Kris really helped me with that.  Again, the more I practice the test, the more I will learn it so that it's like second nature.  Then my simple mind can focus on Topher more.  Stupid brain injury.

Overall, Topher did great!  He is the perfect dog for me.  Blondie really must have gone to Heaven and sent him to me because I really can't think of anything he could do better to help me overcome some of the issues I am dealing with.  If he wasn't helping me in any other area, him helping me gain confidence is enough.  What a great dog! 

Once Kris left, Wes got Tanker out and we went through the test with him in the driveway with a neighbor.  Tanker does excellent.  The only issue he is having is with the restraining hug.  He gets excited and wants to play.  When he wants to play, he talks.  Unfortunately, that would make him fail his test.  So what are we doing this week?  We are taking the dogs out to stores every day to have as many strangers we can find to hug Tanker.

I took a few pictures of Wes and Tanker practicing. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Neutral Dog Practice

I really hope you guys aren't getting tired of my training notes.  I really enjoy writing them.  I am very excited about what God is doing in my life right now and I just have to share it.  Given the things I've had to overcome to get to this point, the challenges that Wes has faced (and the wonderful person that he is), and the transformations that have occured in Tanker and Topher's lives (going from a stray/rescued from the pound to therapy dogs), I am just overjoyed that God brought all four of us together to serve the same common purpose:  to spread love to others!  What a magnificent job!  Can you begin to sense the amount of joy we've been blessed with?  I can't help but want to record everyday of it.  I can't wait to see what the future holds for the four of us and I love going back to read every step of the way.  So that's why I write about it.

Enough feel good hug your fuzzy puppy talk.  Let me get on to business.  Up until this week, I was confident about passing every portion of the Delta Therapy Dog Test, except for the neutral dog portion.  Topher, being an Australian Cattle Dog, likes to have his mommy all to himself and not share her with some strange unruly big dog.  He's not a show his teeth aggressive kind of dog by any means, but when another dog gets within a couple feet of us, he would grumble and let it be known that he didn't like that dog there.  As I have said over and over again, I am extremely fortunate to have amazing dog trainer/therapy dog friends.  (That alone was truly a gift from God.  The way we all met, when we met, etc, but that's another story for another day.)  Our friend, Kris, has two therapy dogs, and a third who is about to test on the same day we are.  She is certified through Delta Society and is also a Delta Society Therapy Dog Evaluator.  She has pointed us down the right path all along and given us great tips, but up until today, has not been allowed to meet our dogs since she will be evaluating us.  Because her dog, Malachi, (who is about to test) also needs neutral dog work, she decided to find someone else to evaluate us on the 13th and she came over today to do neutral dog work with me and Topher.

Malachi is a one year old BIG Golden Retriever.  He is goofy, fun, loving, and happy.  He is nicknamed "the moose."  He has difficulty with getting too excited to visit people and other dogs.  Topher gets intimidated by big over excited dogs.  They were just what each other needed.  I really can only speak about Topher from this point on because as we practiced, I focused entirely on him so that I could read his signals and anticipate his actions.  There was not a lot to read.  Topher did excellent.  He obviously got the message during the last neutral dog practice that it doesn't matter if he doesn't like another big dog within a couple feet of us, his job is to heel and listen to my every command.  His job is to keep his eyes on me.  And that's exactly what he did.  He got curious a few times, turned and looked, and sniffed the air.  That's okay.  What's important is that he stayed by my side, he looked up and made eye contact when I said his name, he listened to my every command (even if it took twice a couple of times) he sat when I asked him to sit once we walked up to Kris and Malachi, and he waited while Kris and I shook hands and spoke.  He then heeled nicely next to me when I said, "let's go" and we walked away.  PERFECT!!!  100% ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!!!  I could not have asked for better behavior out of Mr. Topher.  I feel that, without a doubt, we will pass the neutral dog portion of the Delta Evaluation with flying colors.

Kris is coming back over tomorrow to practice more.  She thinks that Malachi still needs a little work before next Sunday.  Every bit of practice helps us, so it's a win-win opportunity.  Fortunately, Wes will be here to watch this time.  He needs to watch because he and Tanker are volunteering on the 19th to be the neutral dog team for evaluations that Kris is doing on other dogs.  Kris is bringing a walker over and we will practice on walking next to walker too.  It will be another great day!

Tanker and Topher waiting to go outside and do neutral dog practice with Malachi.

Malachi getting ready to leave.

Topher and Tanker's AKC Canine Good Citizen patches came in for their therapy dog vests.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fun Obedience Practice

I wasn't going to write a note about this because it's really not a big deal, but I keep thinking about it as I do other things.  I walk around the house composing my training note in my head.  Then I tell myself I shouldn't post it because people are probably sick of hearing about my dogs and my life.  I have become quite the Facebook junkie, so to speak.  The thing is that I LOVE TO WRITE!!!  People ask if I have a blog, and no I do not.  Quite frankly, I am trying to uncomplicate my life and I'd rather just keep everything consolidated here on Facebook.  People will either have to grin and bear it, read and enjoy it, or hide me from their newsfeed.  It doesn't matter.  I am doing this for me because I love recording what I am doing in life.  That's how excited I am about it! 

I started out today being lazy.  My day starts at 4 am.  I can't think of any other way to be but lazy that early in the morning.  Eventually though, the beautiful sunshine came pouring through the windows.  That brightened my ordinarily boring life.  Apparently it did for the dogs too because they were not going to let me be lazy.  They wanted to be outside, so we comprimised and went out back.  What did they do when they got there?  Laid around like lazy dogs.  It was in the lower 30s and a bit chilly, but the sun made being outside worth it.  I sat under the trees with Topher and fell asleep with him.  Sounds crazy, I know, but our yard is really private and it's not like many people can see the crazy lady sleeping under the tree with her dog.   Sunbathing was SO NICE!!!  Apparently I needed the Vitamin D because I woke up just ten minutes later feeling great!  I then decided it would be a nice day to take the dogs for a short walk on the road that runs back around behind our house.  It's very quiet and I can walk in the middle of the street and work with the dogs.  So, that's what we did.

What did I ever do before owning a Droid?  I found an app that tracks me walking on the GPS and measures how long I walked, how fast we walked, etc.  The speed was not accurate because I was doing obedience work with the dogs along the way.  It was really cool to use though.  I found myself walking faster and faster because I knew I was being recorded. 

Topher really looks up to his big brother.  I haven't worked with Tanker in probably a week because I have been focusing so much on Topher.  Tanker is pretty much bomb proof.  However, Tanker can get in these moods where he is like, "you want me to sit?  Show me what I'm going to get out of it."  I then have to show him that I have a hotdog and he'll sit.  He's a smart dog.  He's probably too smart for his own good.  We eventually got past the "show me what I'm going to get out of it" stage and all was well.  We walked, we sat, we waited, we stayed, we left it, we heeled the entire time, etc.  It was quite the sight, actually.  I had one dog on each side of me heeling.  I'm sure people driving by were impressed.  I hate to brag, but my dogs are awesome at heeling and walking on a leash.  Anyway, to get back to how Topher looks up to his big brother: at the end, Tanker did not want to sit and stay.  He stayed for a few minutes, and then got up.  Topher is usually excellent with stay, but if his brother gets up, so is he.  I got really frustrated with them over that.  Tanker really needs some one on one work without Topher.  It's hard for me to do during the day because Topher is always there.  Wes said he was going to start working with Tanker more one on one when he gets home from work.  Poor guy has been working a lot and he is still sick.  Plus, he's studying, preparing for his PT test, etc.  I have been doing most of the training so that he didn't have to add that to his plate.  He enjoys training dogs though.  I just honestly don't know how he juggles everything he does and then adds one more thing to his plate with a smile on his face.  I admire him. 

My GPS tracking program on my phone says we only walked a half a mile.  We did a lot of obedience work though, so that took extra energy for the dogs.  They are now sacked out.  They are tired, happy boys.  They loved their walk today.  I am happy to make them happy.  I am content and a little less stressed.  That's what walking my dogs and being outside in nature does to me.  That's what writing about it does for me too.  If you read this, thanks for reading.  If you didn't, that's okay.  If I were someone else, especially if I didn't like dogs, I'd get tired of me too.  ;)

It's cold outside and we are bored indoors. Do we look like we're having fun? We're not.


I am busy being cute.

I convinced Mom to go out back and sunbathe with me. I get what I want most of the time. This is the life I always wanted. Life is good!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Topher Training and Therapy Dog Shadowing

Today was a GREAT day for all who were involved.  This morning, Kelly and Linda came over with Amber and Muffin to work on neutral dog practice with me and Topher.  If you remember, the last time we did this Topher did great on the first few passes, but then kind of growled under his breath the last few times.  That is unacceptable and will fail us on the Delta test.  I have some of the greatest dog trainer/therapy dog friends and mentors.  Kris, the lady who has been leading me down great roads all along did some research and talked to Kelly about how Topher behaved on our last practice.  She really researched his breed: the Australian Cattle Dog.  They felt (and I agree) that what happened with Amber and Muffin on our last practice was not a fear/uncertainty type of aggression, but more of a Australian Cattle Dog protecting his owner "back off" kind of aggression.  As I have mentioned before, I am not an incredibly assertive person.  I am a calm, get along with everybody, dislike conflict, soft spoken kind of person.  Topher, of course, knows that and because of that, he feels he has to take charge in situations where other dogs are around.  This training session really was more about training ME, not Topher.  Kris told me I needed to be schizophrenic with Topher.  As soon as he grumbled, I needed to say "ehh, NO" in a deep, mad tone.  As soon as he stops grumbling, I praise him with a "yay, yes, good boy!" in a high pitch tone.  The key here is the tone of my voice, not the words.  Topher is a very sensitive dog.  I knew that this method would work on him because he gets very upset if he does something wrong.  Yesterday, I practiced this with Topher and a non-neutral, "neutral cat", Neo.  It worked perfectly.  Today, during neutral dog meet and greet practice, at about the third handshake, Topher grumbled.  I instantly tightened up on his harness, said "ehh, no" in a deep voice, and Topher was like "holy cow, what did I just do??"  Topher was upset that he upset me, but just as quick as I reprimanded him, I praised him for his good behavior of stopping.  I never once more had an issue.  We walked, did handshakes, and Topher never once made a peep when around the other dog.  He, of course, got lots of hugs, kisses, and praises.  That made Topher's day.  I did discover that Topher does better if I have him sit as soon as we come up on the person and the neutral dog.  I think that it reassures him that I am in control and it keeps his focus on me while I shake the person's hand.  I am very proud of Topher.  He did great!  It was a wonderful training session.

After neutral dog practice, I went with Linda and Kelly to Stafford Hospital to visit with their two therapy dogs, Muffin and Amber.  We visited most of the units, including the ER and ICU.  (I, of course, felt right at home there.  It was nice to get back into my old kind of setting without having the stress of actually working.  I was very happy to be there and have part of my old life back.)  The staff seemed to love the dogs.  The patients we visited loved the dogs.  It filled my heart with joy to see other's smile.  This is most definitely, without a doubt, the best volunteer work I have ever done.  Wes and I were made for this.  I can't wait for the day he gets to orient in the hospital.  (He's already shadowed in the schools, but working in the school and the hospital with the dogs is completely different.)

Thank you, again, Kelly and Linda for taking your time to work with me and Topher.  Thank you for letting me shadow you today.  I will be grinning from ear to ear for several days.  Thank you, Kris, for your advice and for always steering me in the right path.  You guys are the best!  I can't wait for Tanker and Wes, and Topher and I to get our certifications so that we can join you as actual pet partner teams!

Stickers/cards that Amber and Muffin pass out to people they visit. I cannot wait to make stickers and cards for Topher and Tanker!

Muffin is on the left and Amber is on the right. They are GREAT therapy dogs! I loved shadowing them today.

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