Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Training Ground

Mom has been going to a physical therapist at Texas Women's hospital in Houston about once per week.  Dad and I accompany her (cause Dad's the best driver).  Hospitals are usually not considered fun places.  However, it gives us the opportunity to do some training.  There are lots of neat things to see and walk on there.  I get to work doors, elevators, parking garages, handicap ramps, waiting rooms, cars, sirens, benches, traffic and get exposure to lot of different walking surfaces.

The first time I went to that hospital, I was just a little guy (4 months old).  I saw a VERY shiny, slippery floor in the lobby that had a ramp with an upward incline.  It kind of freaked me out to walk on that floor so I decided I didn't really like that place. 

Since then, I have been back to the hospital about three or four times and I've got to admit's a pretty cool place.  I like it mostly because I get lots of questions from people asking why I'm there, and I get lots of looks and smiles from everyone.  Dad likes it because we get to see a lot of things that we don't normally see where we live, and, we get to work on a lot of different commands.  It is always an adventure for me to go the 4th largest city in the US (Houston) and I get to go quite often... enough that I am getting used to all the people and all the traffic.

Dad, try to remember where we parked this time

The first exposure that I'm getting used to is the parking garage.  It feels like a roller coaster ride -- all that driving around... trying to find a parking place and then get settled in.  It's dark in the garage and there are lots of echoes, but I don't mind it too much.

Next, we find the elevator.  I am working on my "Find The..." commands, one of which is "Find The Elevator".  Elevator is an awfully big word for a puppy.  I am much better with my other "Find The.." commands, because they are much smaller words.  Besides... there are no elevators in my small town, so I don't get all that much practice in elevators.

Once in the elevator, we take Mom up to the physical therapist, which is way up on the 11th floor -- a long ride in the elevator.  Sometimes we have to stop on the way up and let other people get in.  I can handle it when people get into the elevator with me (sometimes better than other people handle me being in the elevator with them), and sometimes it does get a little crowded. 

I like watching the fish swim around in the aquarium...Dad likes to snooze.

We settle into the waiting room for a little "chillin time" until Mom is called in for her treatment. Once Mom leaves us, Dad and I hit the bricks for about an hour of exposure time on the hospital grounds.

Bricked sidewalk

There are a lot of different walking surfaces around here.  This is great, because when I am in my coat I have a lot of things to focus on (eg. not pulling, not jumping, not sniffing, not pulling to greet people and about 100 other NOTS). Sometimes with all that focusing on the NOTS, a change in footing will freak me out a little.  When this happens, Dad lets me sniff the change in the floor and then we do it again.  Sometimes there are a lot of DO OVERS.

Walking across this grating used to scare me, but NOT ANYMORE!

There is Red Bumpy Stuff

There is yellow Bumpy Stuff

A manhole cover

(Dad calls this a manhole cover...but  I don't see any man!)

A grate venting steam.

Look at this cool thing we found! A grate with some steam coming out of it.  This is TOTALLY weird so Dad let me check this out for a long time.  The first time the wind blew a little of that steam on me, I didn't know what was happening!  I sniffed the metal part and it wasn't really hot...but let's just say I don't want to sniff it again...


We cross Fannin, a very busy street near the hospital complex.  

Wonder if anybody will mind if I track a little mud into the hospital ?

It seems to me that the mayor needs to put a little money into sidewalk repair around here!  This is a virtual obstacle course with a scrap of board, some mud, a manhole cover, and a big crack in the sidewalk.  Trust me when I say, there are a LOT of DO OVERS on this path.

Hey buddy, where is your blue jacket ?

It's about time to meet up with Mom and head for home.  In the gift shop, they have this black dog for sale that looks a little like me.  Well, at least he was black...and about my size.  I tried to get to know him a little, but he didn't have a lot to say.  Mom embarrasses me when she starts singing "how much is that doggie in the window?" Ruff Ruff

Find the Chair

As we are getting ready to head back home, I get to work on my other "Find The..." commands.  Remember? I told you that the smaller words are much easier for me.  "Find The Chair" is easy.

Find the Steps

But Dad has to remember that it the proper command is "Find the Steps", not "Find the Stairs".  Stairs and Chairs kind of sound alike to a little guy like me.

Finally, FIND THE CAR.

Yay, it's finally time to head for home. 
Isn't it almost my chow time, dad?  I'm getting hungry!

Patience is a virtue

It figures. First, the humans get to eat!  Not me! I have to lay still under the table while they eat.  Not only that, but I have to wait another two hours before it is MY meal time.  Something is wrong with this picture .  I do all the work, and THEY get to EAT.  Wonder what they would think if they had to lay under the table while I ate?

It was not a bad day, tho. It's fun to practice and learn my commands. I want to grow up and be the best guide-dog ever!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Why we love what we do...

Posted by Greg:

Those of you that follow this blog, know by now that Melissa is the photographer in the family.  I just can't seem to get the right things in that little viewfinder screen of the camera.  It looks okay when I snap the photo, but not so much when it comes out.  I have taken too many pictures of my foot, or the sky as I was trying to get the camera to my face.  So this blog article will use the works of others. 

Puppy raisers are constantly asked why we decided to take on this task.  We all have a few different takes, but it all boils down to a HOPE that someday our efforts will help a person with a visual impairment gain freedom. Or maybe our work will allow a veteran to gain the confidence needed to leave his or her house again.  I have attached 3 links below that illustrate the importance that the guide dog handlers put on their freedom and independence. They are all inspirational stories, and I hope you take the time to read them.

The first link shown below is the from the Bradenton Patch, a newspaper near Southeastern Guide Dog School.  They have done many feature articles on the school.  This article contains bio's of the graduates of a recent class at the school.  The thing that I noticed about this was the diversity of the graduates.  There are some first time guide dog handlers, and some that are on their second or third guide.  They comprise various walks of life --  such as housewives or company CEO's that travel with their guide dog.  There are folks that have been blind since birth and folks that have recently been declared legally blind and are losing the rest of their sight day by day.  The commonality is the drive to use these dogs to gain independence and freedom.  I don't know any of these folks, but I am very impressed with their drive to be independent. It is also obvious they do not want to be seen as a burden to their friends or family.

The next link is a video about another recent graduate of Southeastern, a young man named Cody and his guide dog Bingo.  Cody is a college student, and with Bingo he has the ability to get around campus.  When ask what he would be doing if he didn't have the available technology or a guide dog his answer was: "Sitting at home getting checks from the government."  This is particularly significant since Southeastern Guide Dogs doesn't get any government subsidies, and Bingo (and obviously Cody's drive) allows him to attend college and live independently.  This particular video gives Melissa and I hope.  Take note of Bingo's action when she is playing with her toy in the dorm room - see that look in her eye and her scooting around doing the circular bunny hop?  Smokey has those same tendencies.  We call them TPC (The Puppy CRAZYS).  Here is the link.  Enjoy Cody and Bingo and watch for TPC.,0,2802798.story

The last link is an article from a newspaper in Pennsylvania about a guide helping a high school student do what she loves - run Cross Country competitively.  Another example of the power of these dogs to break the bonds of blindness and give these folks the freedom and independence to do what they want or need to do.

These three links all hit home with me for different reasons.  For Melissa and I, raising and training a puppy is fun and has definitely brought joy and variety to our days. To think it MIGHT help someone less fortunate is just icing on the cake.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

A blessed event...

St.Timothy's Episcopal church in Lake Jackson has welcomed Smokey, mom, and dad to worship with them in their beautiful sanctuary. Smokey is very lucky to be able to attend church and learn the proper behavior for worship services.  Smokey loves to go to church and behaves well...the parishioners at St.Tim's are always happy to see Smokey and in the rare event we attend without him, he is missed. Let's just say..having a dog at church is rare ..and the kids think it's pretty cool to attend church with a dog.

An annual event for St. Tim's is the Blessing of the Pet's. In honor of St.Francis of Assisi, a saint of the church, we gather to give thanks for our pets, service animals, and all God's creatures - for what they do for us and for what they mean to us. 

This event usually takes place outdoors, but this day was our first day of rain in many months. The event was moved indoors, and not only did we thank the Lord for our pets, we thanked Him for the rain!

Dogs of every size and shape came to be blessed. A cat or two as well. The rain may have kept the larger animals that usually attend from coming, but all who came received a blessing. Pictured is Liz Parker, co-rector of St.Tim's, blessing someone's beloved pet.

Smokey receives his blessing from Andy Parker, co-rector of St.Tim's. Andy was courteous to ask if he could touch Smokey to receive his blessing. Smokey wears his jacket at church because he is working. The parishioners at St.Tim's are knowledgeable and respectful of Smokey's training and the work that we are trying to do with him.

After the blessing, there was a fellowship in parish hall for both man and beast.  Pictured here is one of our friends' pet schnauzers. Although we can't distinguish who it is, Rango or Rainey, the blur leads us to believe this is Rainey -- who spins around relentlessly in circles.

As you can see, some pets came well dressed for the rain outside. This cute dachshund pup pranced away wearing a bright red raincoat. Smokey was quite impressed because HIS  jacket isn't water proof!  LOL

Thank you Andy, Liz and everyone at St. Timothy's for a blessed event, and, for welcoming the three of us to worship with you.  For more information on St.Timothy's Episcopal church in Lake Jackson, click the link shown above.

Change has come...

Listen up everyone...

Let's just say that mom and I have had similar medical experiences of late. 
First mom and now they want ME to go under the knife. 

Here I am being good, just chewing on my bone..

Due to issues with some of my siblings, Southeastern told me I needed to be 
...NEUTERED (shock and awe). 

you're gonna do WHAT?

Being a little guy, I didn't know what that meant, but I soon found out.
My big day was Wed. Oct 5th.
I don't remember much about what happened. 
When I got home I was so drowsy...

And I had to take pills for 4 days afterwards
which made me very...


I don't know if it's a dream, or a nightmare...
but I  feel like something's missing.
Hey dad, did we happen to leave anything at Dr. Miller's?

When I wasn't sleeping, I felt like my old self. This was a piece of cake for me.
Mom....not so much.  She took a while longer to feel better.
But we got in some good recovery snuggles together.

Good snuggles = good medicine

Note from mom and dad: 
Southeastern normally does not neuter the pups until they are returned for training. They want to keep them "entact" in order to evaluate them for potential breeders.

Wake me up when September ends

Oh yeah... September HAS ended and we bet you have wondered where we've been? We didn't fall off the edge of the earth - well, not quite, but September was a blur for us.  We will try to do a quick update and catch you up on where September went.

Melissa was scheduled for surgery on Sept 12. We thought it was going to be a routine experience including an overnight stay in the hospital.  Twelve days later, after receiving a couple of pints of blood and the wonderful experience of an ICU stay, we finally got home to began the long recovery process.  We are getting back into a routine again, and realize how much we have neglected Smokey's blog.

Smokey has been doing great. He was able to spend a couple of weeks of puppy camp with Lauren while we were in the hospital.  What a relief it was to us to know that Smokey was in good hands and having a great time with a really neat lady.  We packed him up on Sept 11 for puppy camp and took a few photos of him with the American flag in recognition of the 10th anniversary of Sept 11th.

This was Smokey's second puppy camp. It just so happened that Melissa's surgery coincided with the fall puppy camp schedule.  This puppy camp is supposed to be 2 weeks long - a time when puppy raisers exchange puppies for that time period. With our situation, we could not trade puppies, so Lauren came to our rescue. Lauren is a past puppy-raiser (she raised CupCake, now a successful guide dog for a lucky gentleman in Atlanta). Lauren has taken on the role as our group's certified puppy "sitter" -- e.g. willing to fill in at what seems to be the drop of a hat, and has been a relief to many of us in the Houston puppy raiser group. She enjoys interacting with all the pups, which is probably her reward, but she still deserves a gold star. Thank you Lauren!

Packed for puppy camp - food in tow. Have food..will travel!

For those of you who may not know already know, puppy camp is a time where the pups-in-training go to another raiser's house/environment for a period of time. This experience gives the puppy different exposures and teaches the pup to respond and obey the "human on the end of the leash". So many people ask us about separation anxiety - believe us when we say, the anxiety is more on the human's part than the pup's. These pups adapt very quickly and don't seem to miss a beat. We are teaching them to respond obediently in service to whomever gives the proper commands.

Lauren reported that Smokey settled in nicely after a few days. She has a cat, which was Smokey's first in-house contact with a feline (a suggested exposure for guide-pups-in-training). Lauren said they got along nicely, definitely on the cat's terms.

Smokey meets Lauren's pet cat

Lauren took Smokey on hours long shopping trips, which he endured with a few dirty looks. Lauren says, "Well, Mr. Excitement had no idea what he was getting into while accompanying me grocery shopping. We hit three stores in three hours and by the last store he was giving me the look: "are we done yet?"   I guess Lauren shops more than Melissa does (Greg says this is not possible)!

Smokey relaxing at Lauren's house during puppy camp

Lauren took Smokey to the Mercer Arboretum in Spring where he got to greet a turtle and various people in the gift shop where Lauren volunteers.

Below, Lauren's grandson, Forrest, and Smokey are pictured shareing some snuggle time.

Forrest and Smokey
Lauren, and another fellow puppy raiser Cynthia, drove Smokey back home on Sept 27. We enjoyed visiting with them and were also very happy to welcome our Smokey boy back home.

Thanks again, Lauren, and to ALL of you who called, sent well wishes, cards, emails, and prayers during Melissa's hospital stay and for showing love and support through the recovery process.  We're on the mend and finally back on the blog train, so stay tuned!!


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