Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Power of No

The Power of NO!

 Those of you have taken classes with me may have heard me say "No is not good information."  And it isn't!  We spend a lot of time telling people everything that is wrong and nothing that is right or good.  It really is a flaw in our system.  If only we would learn!!  If we would compliment and tell people what is right the world would be totally different.  This is true not only of people but also animals!!

I am on a professional list that recently had a discussion on the use of the word "no".  One person had posted about playing a trick on a group of people she was giving a presentation to.  I so love this, that I am going to share this with you, and while I don't know her, I am going to give Kathi O'Malley credit for this.  "The first thing I asked the group was "how many of you would like to teach you dog what "no" means?"  Every hand in a fairly large group went straight up!  I said firmly "Don't put your hands up".  They all took their hands down and one Gil put her pen up, I said "Don't put that pen up". They then put their hands on their chairs or laps and I said "Don't put your hands on your chairs or your laps".  Well, they didn't know me and I could see some would like to walk out on me at that point, so I put my hands fanned out from my forehead and said "How many of you knew I would not answer any question unless you gave me this signal?"  Well, they got that, how can anyone who hasn't learned what to do know what not to do!!!  All "no" or "don't" are are interrupters.  All my "Don't do that's" simply left my audience frustrated and ready to quit on me!  You can interrupt, or give a "no reward marker" as mentioned, but teach the pupil what you do want!

I think this is so well said and presented!  No is NOT really information about what you want at all!  Almost all of the problems I see with dogs and humans is a lack of communication in a language that they can both understand.  THAT is a topic for another blog, but communication is really important in the human-animal bond.

If you are constantly told NO!  and that is never followed up with what is truly wanted of you, learned helplessness can occur.  My challenge to all of my students is always if the word you have for "NO" comes out of your mouth you are to always follow it up with what exactly you do want!  Give them the entire bit of information!

This is my friend Linda and her dog Pip.  Pip has an interesting story, but in his previous life he had been told NO a lot, sometimes using shock collars.  Linda has worked VERY hard with him to keep him on the positive and to communicate in a proactive way.  I give her credit!  She stuck with it when so many others wouldn't have.  And Pip is thriving because of her.  

I have been very lucky to have known and studied many different animals doing many different types of behavior.  No matter what the species is still not information beyond don't do doesn't tell them what you do want!  

What does no mean?  When is no in effect?  No what?  No where?  Does no mean right now?  Ever?  Only when the sun is up?  It is unclear.

I think the important thing is to catch you dog doing what is right.  And tell them!  In their language.  Show them that you are happy.  Dogs want to please us, and they will start offering what you like more and more if you are clear to them.  And while you are at it....tell you co-worker or you boss, or your employee what you like as well.....IMAGINE what a wonderful world it would be!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Make someone's Day!

A little over 20 years ago a very special dog came into my families life.  Her name was Munchkin.  She had been hit by a car on route 680, and was left on the side of the road.  A local animal shelter had picked her up.  Her spine had been broken and she wasn't able to use her back legs.  One of the people who worked there, Peggy, begged them to let her live at the facility.  She would pull herself along on her font legs, and was truly so happy.  Munchkin lived there, and as she healed they bought her a wheelchair, and then they started to take he to 4 different area nursing homes.  
After living there for about a year, Peggy was pregnant.  Peggy would come in on her days off to take care of Munchkin.  She wore a diaper and needed care several times a day.  Peggy begged me to help her find Munchkin a home, and I did just that.  With my parents.  Part of the adoption agreement was that she would continue to go to area nursing homes.  

As a veterinary technician I could fully appreciate the amazing power of the human-animal bond.  However, I was really taken back by the lack of rules that go along with visiting with an animal at a facility.  While done correctly it is an amazing thing, I have seen many people that may have a dog that is awesome at their house become a completely different beast outside of their home.  And I truly believe most people aren't able to properly assess their dogs emotional state.  This can lead to real problems when you think about how many things are at facilities that most dogs never see!  Wheel chairs, walkers, ventilators, EKG machines, many people not just a few.  These are all task loading your dog and can lead to stress and fear which can lead to needing to make a choice if they can't get away, and that can mean injury to the exact people that you are trying to make feel better.  And then medically things could be going on as well.  A veterinary check and tests are essential to the safety of the therapy animal, however, so many facilities are happy to have animals visiting that as long as they have rabies they are allowed into the facility.  
So, I embarked in a journey then to find a way to bring facilitated animal therapy work into the Mahoning Valley, only with the twist of safety for everyone involved, dogs and people.  It lead me to investigating all of the national registries, and at the time going with (then) Delta Society because my goal was to be in hospitals and nursing homes and libraries and schools.  In my conservative part of the world, I saw the only way into especially hospitals was through the most stringent rules.  And I was right!  Me and my Dad started K-9's for Compassion, because of Munchkin and to make the world a little better of a place.  This group was truly my life for so many years.  I worked as a veterinary technician, but really all of my time was put into this group.  And we accomplished some pretty amazing things.

Our very first evaluations were held during a dog walk that I did to benefit a group that no longer exists in our area named C.H.A.I.N.  This was the foundation of K-9s for Compassion and where we grew from there was simply amazing.  I started to visit with Vickie, my black standard poodle.  This girl was my life.  I like to write, so we would go on visits and afterwards I would write in my journal anything special about our visits.  I cherish those journal entries like you can't believe.  Vickie has been gone for nearly 10 years.  Vickie taught me so much about life, and was truly my very best friend.  Our visits, and my first understanding of inter-species communication, understanding that her body language was how she communicated-allowed a different level of dog-human relationship than I had ever realized.  For Vickie I am forever grateful, and I miss her more than I can ever express.  She was the most gentle soul.  The kindest, sweetest being on the planet.  She made me fall head over heals with standard poodles, something that to this day is still very solidified.  She was brought to me by a deputy dog warden at the Trumbull County Dog Pound, taken from a sketchy situation.  

We did agility together, and if you see the pictures or the videos from that time that I have you can see an amazing, amazing bond.  2 beings loving each other at a level total of the soul.  Vickie and I went to special request, sat with people while they were dying, she was my flower girl in my wedding, she was my everything.  Truly.  My everything.  We shared a very special bond, many special moments and many memories.  We worked side by side in the world of therapy work for 11 years.  And she was the 2009 Therapy Dog of The Year recipient in the Rescue Dog Category.  An amazing accomplishment, and an award that still sits on my mantle.  One of the most special things in my life.  

As Vickie progressed through life we spent the majority of our time at St. Elizabeth's hospital, and as she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia we progressed to open room designs in nursing homes and then finally libraries, because she didn't have to walk far.  I couldn't stand the fact that she hurt, and I would do absolutely anything to help her.  

I lost her on Valentines Day.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, to lung cancer.  She died in my arms as she bled out.  And every single day since then I have missed her.  And remembered all of the good that she did.  She had so much local press it was amazing.  People would see her and say "OH!! That is Vickie!  I wrote a report in school based on articles."  She was inspirational, healing...pure love.  Those were some of the best years of my life.  Her collar still hangs on the corner of my bed, and her picture still hangs in my office.  

Munchkin also had some amazing stories!  Word was abound that people couldn't complain at all about being in a wheelchair or a walker when here was this sweet little dog that didn't complain at all about being in her own wheelchair.  My Dad totally loved visiting with her as well.  He would gloat in the fact that he was making someones day better just by being a driver.  Just by showing up.  It also allowed us a little time to be together and understand each other in a small way....we didn't always see eye to eye.  So true to real life!  All too often dogs facilitate magical ways.  One of a million reasons that dogs are so awesome.  

There was even one very special patient that we visited named Frank.  His family had requested that a dog visit them, so the hospital called me.  Frank was dying of cancer, and didn't have long to live.  I took Vickie to meet this family and felt an instant connection.  We talked about what their favorite dog was, and they said a golden retriever so I had called my very good friend take Emily to visit every other day.  We would alternate.....and on the final day of Franks life the public relations person at the hospital showed up with a photographer.  Pictures were taken of Vickie visiting with Frank and his family.  As fate would have it, those were the last pictures taken of Frank alive.

After Frank died the public relations person called me and asked if Cheryl and I would go and take Vickie and Emily to Franks funeral.  We were concerned about offending anyone, however, we walked into the funeral home with our girls and Franks kids said "Oh my goodness!!  We were just talking about these dogs!"  To which I was taken back that our dogs were being spoken about at their fathers funeral.  Sometimes you really don't realize how much you are touching someone's life just by being there.  At that point, Franks wife came over to us and got on her knees and said "You gave my husband the medicine he most needed in his darkest of hours and now you are giving that to me."  I was more humbled than I have probably ever been.  

Through all of the pain of losing Vickie a friend, Eva, kept calling me about a standard poodle who needed help.  She was being used as a breeding dog, and the last litter caused her to be spayed and she needed a home.  I ignored it because Vickie was actively dying and then did die and I couldn't handle it.  In a moment of complete weakness I called the number many weeks after Vickie died.  Gwen still had Eve, who I went to see and immediately took.  She had so many Vickie qualities.  I brought her home that same day, and fell madly in love.   changed her name to Garbo, who many people got to know.  She was forever by my side and active really in so much that I did.  I wanted to do therapy work with her, and we tested twice....but I really struggled to get past always visiting with Vickie, so I couldn't do it.  My heart wasn't ready.  We did visit in a limited capacity but I always felt worse when we finished than before I started.  Garbo had a lot to give, but I just didn't yet.

In the last year I re-evaluated everything with K-9's for Compassion.  It seems that as life changes, thoughts change and as you get older you become wiser.  The old "Delta Society" was no longer going in the direction that I wanted to go.  BUT it was difficult walking away from what I felt was a legacy with Vickie and my Dad and Garbo who were all gone.  But change is the one promise of life. While change is difficult is it often the best thing in the world.

My BFF Lorri and I recently looked for that change and found some pretty amazing stuff in Alliance of Therapy Dogs group.  I left the old Delta Society, and NEVER looked back. Who they have become is definitely not what we were looking for.  Alliance hold endless promise....and so K-9's for Compassion is reborn.  And ready to build to amazing proportions again.

To everyone along the journey of K-9's for Compassion, I thank you...I thank you for keeping it alive when I couldn't....for continuing a legacy of something that I created, gave my heart and soul to, walked away from, and came back...and I vow to make it bigger and better than ever.  Given of the heart...only good things can happen from that.  In Memory of Munchkin, Vickie, my dad and Garbo....AMAZING things will happen from that.

And so now, I have Benny.  And Benny is about to embark on this amazing adventure of visiting people.  Taking them out of their current situations and helping them to remember a kinder time.  Reminding them of a pet that made all of the difference in their life.  We have had patients in Alzheimers units that remember our dogs names that couldn't remember their own names.  People whose children sat with a dying parent as our dogs comforted them, patients who were actively dying that petted our dogs at the same time that pain management doctors stood behind us shaking their heads behind us in disbelief because this patient had been screaming in pain for days with nothing-medications or other-helping them.

There are a million stories abound like this.  Truly touching the lives of those that need help.  All that we can only hope comes to us in our times of need.  And yet it was as simple as being the driver.  Showing up.  Spending some very real quality time with your dog.  AMAZING moments that you will NEVER regret.

Through therapy work I have laughed, cried, contemplated my own need, lost, found myself again, and eventually moved on to the concept that I am the only thing stopping that from doing it again.  I have some amazing dogs ready to give of themselves.  And so we turn the page.  A new chapter.

K-9's for Compassion is a legacy that I hope continues for a very long time.  Do you want an even more special layer to your relationship with your dog?  Want to make people feel better?  Just show up?  Please....PLEASE join us.  There are so many facilities that want us....and so much need...but so few that will give of their time to make the magic happen. We have a new therapy dog class coming up that can help you prepare...and at the end we will be doing the actual evaluation.  Join us!  Build the bond....celebrate the beauty of dogs and people!  We would love to have you...and people need you!

Let the magic begin........

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Love is a many splendor thing......

It is funny how love finds us....just walks into your life out of no where...sometimes in the happiest of times, sometimes in the darkest of times.  It can blindside you..come out of no where and just steal your heart completely.  It heals you.  

This is the story of a love affair...between 2 hearts that beat in sync.  Somehow, Benny walked into my life and completed the world as I needed to know it.  But in order to understand this, you must understand what happened just prior to see sometimes everything has to fall apart in order to come back together.

I was involved in a car accident where I was going less than 5 miles an hour and a car hit me going 70. He admitted that to the police, and in all honesty it is the speed I was going just prior to stopping for the turkey that was crossing the road. The vehicle went up and over my car, (my very first new car, my VW beetle), and then hit the car in oncoming traffic that was stopped swerving and hitting the car in front of me.  Honestly, we were lucky to be alive.  The injuries that were sustained were small in comparison to what could have happened.  Something to be thankful for.  My car was totaled, which devastated me.  I truly am not a materialistic person at all, short of my books, and my VW beetles, which are loves of mine.

My Dad had been helping me to find another VW beetle, but I didn't like the newer models, so it wasn't an option to buy a new car.  He found one in NY State.  One day in June, me, my Dad and my BFF standard poodle, Garbo, drove to pick up the new car.  Little did I know at that time that both beings in that car that I loved so much both had lung cancer.  Little did I know in less than a year, I would lose them both.  There is nothing that can prepare you for that type of loss.  Within weeks of that trip, both would be diagnosed.

Garbo was first to get sick.  And in spite of chemo, she died very quickly.  She was the most gentle of souls, and I loved her more than I could say.  She came to me right after I lost Vickie, who was my entire heart.  She helped me survive a divorce, and was a constant in my life.  We would go for long walks and talk about how we were going to travel to all 50 states together, just like the Standard poodle in Travels with Charley by Steinbeck.  As a matter of fact, we read that story together multiple times.  We made it to about 10 states before she died, bewilderingly, also to lung cancer.  She was my therapy dog for 11 years, and there is nothing like working with a dog to add a layer to your relationship.  It is because of Vickie that I continue to pursue everything I can find about the human animal bond.


We have always been a multi dog household, but Garbo was my girl.  We had one heck of a special vacation at one of my favorite places in the world, Assateague, where she was with us non-stop.  I cried so hard when we left that vacation.  It was like leaving the paradise where all things are okay and stepping back into the reality that I would lose her soon.  And I did, about 3 weeks later.  

During that 3 weeks I was then hit with my Dad's diagnosis.  He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and while I was as hopeful as I could possibly be, I realized that his chances were horrible as well.  Nothing in life can prepare you for the loss of a parent that will haunt you for the rest of your life.  NOTHING.  And Garbo and my Dad within such a short period of time?  The floor had dropped out of my world, for certain.  It seemed like months before I stopped falling.

During this dark period of time, I was consulting with a company in Florida about a separation anxiety product.  Of our 7 dogs, they couldn't believe I didn't have a dog that had separation anxiety.  So, I went looking.  (ONLY a behavior geek would do such a thing!). My favorite breed has always been standard poodle, and I started to scour the internet, as all of my dogs are always rescues.  I found a rescue named Ben in Missouri who had been turned in for separation anxiety by a couple who were in their 80's.  I will admit I got a little cocky.  I mean, how often were 80 year olds leaving the house?  And the destruction wasn't walls, it was merely housebreaking.  And I was convinced that this was a housebreaking issue.  And his eyes.  That is what I loved SOOO much with Vickie, and Garbo...and there Benny was, staring me down with those large eyes searching your soul.  And so I contacted Heart of America Poodle Rescue, was approved and made arrangements to leave.

My Dad didn't want me to drive to Missouri by myself, and I wanted to get him as quickly as possible.  My Dad went with me on this trip.  All was well on the way there.  When we arrived we hurriedly took some pictures and left as a snow storm was headed our way...and we were going to try to beat it.  By the time of our first rest area, about 3 hours into our trip, I knew I was in trouble.  I went into the rest area, and Ben and my Dad stayed in the car.  I walked out of the building and could hear Benny screaming.  In 3 hours he had already formed a bond that was causing him discomfort.

We didn't miss the storm.  It was snowing hard from Indianapolis all the way through Ohio until we arrived home.  In Akron we had to pull over because I couldn't see the road.  Benny was very calm and happy as long as I was there.  He rested his head on the arm rest in between me and my Dad where sitting, and remained there for the entire 13 hours it took us to get home that day.  There was no doubt that by the end of that trip we already loved each other.  My Dad announced twice, "He is going to be okay.  He is going to be a good dog."  And he is!  He is simply the best!

That trip was nearly 4 years ago.  Benny and I have found new ways to love each other every day.  But it certainly hasn't been effortless.  My cockiness was certainly brought to a screeching halt within days of returning home.  This boy certainly had and still has separation anxiety.  It isn't curable.  It is manageable.  It is treatable to some degree.  I am not going to lessen the degree of this problem by giving you a cookie cutter approach to separation anxiety, it just doesn't work like that.  Each dog is individual.  All of the dogs that I help with separation anxiety does not get the same instructions for help at all.  There are some thing that can help, and are worth trying.  Adaptil collars or spray, lavender essential oils, composure pro, thunder shirts, leaving a sweatshirt or shirt or something that you sleep on for your dog, not always assuming that crating is the answer, confinement usually is, though.  Here is something that I think is the most important thing you can hear.  True separation anxiety is profound. These dogs think they are going to die because you have left them.  It is a physiological response the body has and it is VERY uncomfortable.  

One of the things I tell people to try to determine if your dog doesn't like when you leave versus true anxiety is to give your dog something absolutely irresistible for your dog.  Whatever that is, but typically some sort of human food.  VERY high value.  Then leave.  Does your dog eat it?  If so, it probably isn't to the degree of full blown anxiety.  Think fight or flight.  You aren't thinking about your next meal if you think you are going to die.  Your body is chemically preparing you to survive.  

For Benny, 300 mg a day of trazadone, 40 mg of prozac, thunder shirt, and lavender in the house plus confinement in our kitchen with a shirt of mine levels him off.  Yes, it is a lot.  It is.  But Benny didn't ask for this.  I know all about anxiety, having generalized anxiety much of my life.  Another way Benny and I connect.  1 panic attack and I was ready to do whatever it took to NEVER go back to that place.  I can empathize with him.  Anxiety isn't something you can rationalize, unfortunately.  And it isn't healthy!  These dogs need help!!  We also worked on relaxation protocols, and I many other behavior exercises to keep him from practicing the anxiety.

I hear stories from clients where they don't have a choice but to put their dogs into crates, and they come home and there is so much salivation that the cages or soaked, or their dogs paws are bloody, or  I have known a handful of dogs that have gone through front picture windows because their owners left.  That I NOT fair to them, and it is NOT a fun way to leave.  Sometimes I have to explain that medication that so many people are opposed to is actually a much kinder thing that continuing to do the thing they are doing that aren't working.  If medication is the right dosage and the right drug, you will not see any detrimental effects.  Your dog won't be a "Zombie" a matter of fact, they should be exactly who they are only minus all of the anxiety!!  

Love in't alway easy, but it is always worth it.  His eyes melt my heart, he is a constant friend, always next to me, ready to do anything I want!  He never complain.  He is willing to go an extra mile to make me happy.  The is a relationship that is worth everything.  Dogs with separation anxiety can be it!  Find a positive based trainer in your area and seek options.  Talk to your veterinarian or consider a veterinary behaviorist.  Don't let your dog go on thinking he will get past it.  In spite of a lot of help, Benny still struggles, and some days are worse than others.  There are lots of options out there.  Seek the truth that your dog needs.  And remember, the human-animal bond is one of the most special forms of love out there.  Anything that you put in will be given back to you 150%.

Lastly, keep Benny in your thoughts over the next 6 weeks.  My husband, Sam,  is a veterinarian, and he found Benny to have a heart problem.  We have an appointment with a veterinary cardiologist on February 13.  I was freaked out when he said he made an appointment with the cardiologist.  Sam decided he wasn't about to make any decision with Benny, he wanted a specialist so as every single thing that can be done is done by someone who does nothing but heart problems all day.  I will keep you posted in a future blog post, probably about heart disease.  I already know what his problem is...he loves TOOOOO much.  Of course he has a big heart.