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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Not a good start...

Stuck at a standstill on southbound I-75, mile marker 126, and no way to tell what was happening. The temperature gauge on the van read 86. It was only 10:18 am.

After the first hour, people started getting out of their vehicles and walking around. I thought about the evacuees in Colorado ditching everything to outrace the wildfire. Apocalyptic. That's how it was described.

When FLD Scout sat up from her spot on the passenger side floorboard, panting, I took stock. Half a bottle of cool water, another bottle in back that had been in the van for who knows how long, a handful of salty pumpkin seeds. Luckily the van wasn't overheating.

I kicked up the air-conditioner fan and poured most of the cool water into Scout's collapsible water dish. I drank down the rest. We'd be okay, I thought.

Luckily, we were. An hour later we inched along the left shoulder, the three other lanes blocked by state trooper cars, a fire engine ladder truck, and a fire rescue vehicle. A surveyor's tripod stood rooted in the middle lane blackened with tire marks that veered off past the right shoulder and into the ditch. A gaggle of tired firemen, looking weary in their full gear, caught a bit of shade beside the rescue vehicle. They must have gotten most of the mess cleared up--what was left of a crinkled mini-van lay rubber-side-up in a burned patch of ditch grass. Windowless. I think it was blue. Hard to tell with how badly scorched it was.

Not good.

An instant later we were free and 70 miles an hour flying back to the city.

I had made arrangements to drop FLD Scout off at the kennel at Leader Dogs for the Blind for a few hours while I visited my parents. I'd be back at 5:00 to check in for "Puppy Counselor" training...three days of intensive training for 48 volunteer puppy counselors. Those of us from out of town got to stay in the Polk Residence Center, just like the blind or visually impaired handlers who come here to learn how to work with their Leader Dogs each month.

When I walked FLD Scout to Bay 1 and into her designated kennel, it felt like a rehearsal for what will happen in a short two months. Scout is due to return to Leader Dogs for her formal training before September 30.

With a toss of a few morsels of chow, FLD Scout scooted into the kennel. I had her leash off and the door closed before she gobbled them up. Three other dogs in the bay barked in typical Lab hysteria. 

I didn't look back as I walked away, but I did peak through the window as the door eased shut. FLD Scout was silent. She stood, stood looking calmly at the door after me.

I hope we both do as well in September.

I will try to post updates of our time here at Leader Dogs, but I suspect my brain might be too full in the evenings. So, posts might have to come later...

Lab-wrestling break--FLD Scout (on the right) hangs with her sister, FLD Anie.

Quiet now in our room, FLD Scout snoozes on her bed brought from home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ADBC--it cometh again!

The 8th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC) has just been announced by Brooke, at her blog "ruled by paws".  (For background information about the ADBC, and links to past issues, visit this link: About the ADBC.)

Brooke works with a guide dog and her blog is about her adventures with all of her pups. She is hosting this edition of the ADBC and her choice of topic is...drum roll please...

"Marchin' to Your Own Drum"

Brooke listed some examples on her post to help us get started. Here they are!
  • Does your assistance dog fit the traditional mold? (does he or she have any special quirks or behaviors?)
  • Does your dog do things differently from past partners (or the partners of friends)?
  • Why did you choose to go with a program dog after your owner-trained one retired? (or vice versa)
  • Why did you choose a non-traditional breed for your partner?
  • Did you have to overcome any sort of resistance from family, friends or employers when deciding to partner with an assistance dog?
  • Have you witnessed any unique or special assistance dogs in action? (what made them stand out?)
  • Did you have preconceived notions of what an assistance dog should look like, only to have them changed by witnessing one in action or reading about one?

As a puppy-raiser, and not an assistance-dog handler, I might add a few more ideas:
  • If you've raised multiple puppies, how have they been different?
  • Are there "required" techniques that you struggle with? (For example, loose-leash walking.)
  • Have you ever experienced a conflict for your decision to raise puppies (either within yourself, family members, or at work?) How did you handle it?

Visit Brooke's post (ADBC Call for Submissions) to submit your entry to the Carnival. You will need to comment on her post with the name of your blog, your name, the name of your post, and a URL to your post. Deadline is "7:47 pm" on July 29, 2012. Brooke will compile and "publish" the 8th edition on July 31st.

Thank you Brooke, for hosting!

Stay tuned for my entry!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A day of firsts, part 2

The afternoon of May 18.


FLD Scout and I have a busy day ahead of us after the 2nd-grade field trip to the high school pool. Next stop, The Skate Place in West Branch to cover a story for the Ogemaw County Voice. This is the day that Rose City Middle School students with good grades and citizenship are rewarded with an afternoon of free skating.

The parking lot is empty except for two buses, but when I open the entrance door the noise of a crowd rolls over us. The owner of the place sits in an office behind a high counter-top window, like he's taking bets on a horse race.

FLD Scout is a good ambassador when I'm out on assignment for the Voice. She puts my interviewees at ease; after a few minutes of explaining what puppy raising for Leader Dogs for the Blind means, they are relaxed and open to my questions. Scout is no different here. Before I know it, the owner introduces me to his wife and the three of us are chatting like we're long-lost friends.

As I'm taking notes (with FLD Scout sitting calmly next to me), a young teen rolls by on one skate, his other leg kicked up trying to counter balance his imminent butt plant. Scout doesn't break her sit. At the last moment, the boy grabs a counter and saves himself. "I've crashed seven times," he says, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Eventually I break away from the owners to interview Mr. Erickson, chaperone and science teacher. He sits near the opening to the maple-wood floor of the rink. The room is dark except for the flashes from the sparkling round strobe light hanging above the skating arena. His shirt collar glows neon white and when I glance at my notepad, it is glowing too. Everywhere, everything white is luminous. I doubt that FLD Scout even notices. Her nose is to the rainbow and black-carpeted floor.

I am pleasantly surprised that Scout is so calm with the racket of the teens surrounding us. I leave her with Erickson and two girls who fawn over her while I venture into the rink for photos. Scout never even notices I'm gone.

FLD Scout tolerates the attention of two Rose City middle-schoolers.


Our day is not done. After The Skate Place, I have an interview with a Master Gardener for another story. FLD Scout curls up on the passenger side floor and snoozes for the short drive to her garden-ringed home not far out of town. Marlane is gracious and allows Scout to roam her house while we chat in the kitchen. She even fills a water dish. I suppose we talk too long--eventually Scout settles at my feet on the cool tile floor.

Outside, it's picture time. As we wander around raised vegetable gardens and winding flower beds, Scout notices a horse in a pen behind the barn. She strains against the leash with her nose wagging in the air. Marlane invites us to meet the brown and white dusty mare, but it takes Scout a while to realize she's not going anywhere pulling like that.

Finally we reach the fence. The mare ducks her head to get a sniff of this black dog. Scout has second thoughts and backs away. The horse does too. I hang out with Scout outside of the fence until she's comfy. Marlane enters the pen and asks us to follow.

What gets Scout over her trepidation is the horse smell on the gardener's hand. Horse and dog never get nose-to-nose, but close enough.

Marlane: Master Gardener, Master Mediator.

It's been an eventful day for FLD Scout!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A day of firsts

May 18

Another chance to expose FLD Scout to the kids in our adopted 2nd grade class. We're taking a field trip to the high school pool! No, Scout won't get a chance to swim, but it turns out it's a day of firsts for my little growing Future Leader Dog.


Scout, sit, I say at the bottom of the steep steps of the school bus. The students are all aboard. FLD Scout sits and looks up at the bus driver, who is leaning over from his seat in a welcoming stance. With no hesitation, she tiptoes up the three steps and stretches to greet the driver. Scout, leave it, I say and coax her down the aisle to an empty seat. She settles in a lump at my feet, her nose immediately busy in hard-to-reach corners.

FLD Scout, comfy on the school bus.

After a 15-minute bouncing bus ride, we arrive at the high school. Scout waves an interested nose into the aisle as the group from the back of the bus funnel past, but she stays seated until it's our turn to go. She strains to greet the driver again, and it takes a finger poke to reel her in. She sits, then takes the steps down one at a time like a pro.

The kids from the back of the bus.


Just being in the natatorium offers unique challenges for FLD Scout--the wet and slippery tile floor, chlorine puddles, humidity, and the echo-y quality of the cavernous room. Her demeanor is calm, but curious. She seems as bored as the kids are during the pool-rules lecture; she spreads herself out on the cool tile like a wet towel.

The pool-rule lecture.

FLD Scout, being a towel.

The swim coach breaks the students into three groups. They'll have time to "free swim" after learning safety tips at stations around the pool. FLD Scout and I are just a few feet from the "Throw, Don't Go" station, next to some parents who've come to assist. Coach has a pile of stuff you might have at a beach picnic--coolers, water-jugs, noodles, kickboards. What floats, what doesn't, and why?

A boy picks out a lunch cooler and underhands it toward a high school girl who is staged in the water as a drowning victim. FLD Scout leaps up, a limp towel no longer. She strains a little against the leash, stretching toward the pool.

"Does she want to rescue her?" one parent asks. I laugh, but insist that Scout not pull. Scout, sit. She sits, intent on the swimmer floating with her chin on the cooler.

Now a girl chooses a neon green noodle. She swings it and as the noodle launches, Scout charges forward with a booming bark. Good thing I'm ready, or we'd both be getting wet.

Hey Scout! I say with a high-pitched voice. Name recognition. What are you doing? Blah, blah, blah I go on, drawing her attention away from the action. One by one, each kid tosses one of the items to the now-shivering girl in the pool. Each time, Scout settles a bit more, until she calmly lies back down to watch.


At one station the kids learn about the proper fit and use of life jackets. One little boy, Jason, is eager to strap one on. When it comes time to enter the water, though, the most he will do is sit on the edge and dangle his feet. He gets braver as he moves from station to station. Soon he lowers himself at the ladder, but his feet stay planted on the steps.

"Come on, Jason," says Coach. "You can do it." Coach is encouraging, but Jason wants to do this on his own terms. I cringe when Coach reaches down to pry Jason's hands from the side of the pool. Jason cries out in alarm.

Scout, heel, I say. Jason is a special kid and he and Scout have really warmed up to each other. Maybe we can run interference.

"Scouty!" Jason cries as we approach. He wrenches free of Coach and grabs the ladder to reach her. Scout cautiously nears the edge of the pool and sniffs. I don't mind when Jason pets her. Show Scout how you can go in the water, I say. He lowers himself. Suddenly his feet float off the steps and he's buoyed in the water up to his neck. His hands still clutch the lip, and his toes quickly feel for the wall, but he's in!

FLD Scout and I run interference for Jason at pool's edge. Coach hangs his head in frustration.

Yay! Way to go Jason! I move FLD Scout a step or so further to our left. Jason slides himself along the edge to get closer. "Hi Scouty!" We do this several more times before Jason realizes he's 10 feet or so away from the ladder. He scurries back and climbs out, dripping water all over the deck when he comes to give Scout another pet. I don't interfere.


Not long after, Jason lowers himself at the ladder on the other side of the pool. A few of his classmates notice; someone yells, "Go Jason, go! Go, Jason, go!" The others start clapping and take up the cheer. Soon the chant is ricocheting around the room.

I'd like to report that at the last minute, Jason lets go of the wall and floats freely, but that will have to happen another day.

For this day, the water-shy boy proudly says to his teacher (after Coach eventually gets Jason's hands in his and holds him away from the wall), "Did you see me, Mrs. Matthews? I did it!" He turns to us, "Scouty, I did it!"

Nice job,  Scout.