Our (kinda) Skilled Companion

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Keegan is a Service Dog. To be exact, he’s a “Skilled Companion” which means that he has been trained to work with people with disabilities (JackO) under the guidance of a facilitator – that’s me. He was trained for two years by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and is qualified to be in public – wherever a human is allowed.

Today Jack, Keegan and I are going out to Long Island for our Public Access Certification Test. We will be meeting up with a CCI team and several other CCI graduates at a mall where they have us work for an hour to see whether on not we are still qualified (under CCI standards) for public access. I’m a little nervous.

I hope the folks at CCI don’t see this, but I am pretty sure we’ve ruined Keegan. Sure, compared to Finn (our other pup), Keegan is a star, but when I think back to the dog we brought home 7 years ago, I cringe. Keegan knew over 40 commands and did not need any guidance to behave perfectly when in public. Now he’s a very sweet, kinda smartISH pet.

I keep warning our CCI trainers that we may have gotten a little lax over the years, and that perhaps Keegan’s skills might be a little rusty. The team has been sweet, assuring me that they understand that Keegan’s primary role is to be Jack’s buddy. “As long as your team can be handled safely and appropriately in public you should be fine”.

Fingers crossed.

So why am I brining him? Because I am a rule follower AND because I feel that if I DESERVE to be scolded, I should be. A great deal of time, effort and money went into Keegan’s training. If we are falling short on our end of the bargain, I need to do what I can to rectify it. After all, I am the first person to judge people that take advantage of the rather loose definition of a service animal.

I am an animal lover and I know a pet can be a member of the family. I also know that many pets can be well behaved and probably wouldn’t cause much of an issue in public, but the training it takes to insure an animal is silent, respectful and helpful in caring for specific disabilities is huge.

If you buy a vest on-line for your pet so that he/she can accompany you on vacation, you are actually hurting people who can’t be independent without their animal. If your dog/cat/miniature horse/ferret does not behave appropriately in public, people start to complain that all service animals are just “pets with vests”. We don’t want laws to change regarding public access for service animals because so many people gain a huge amount of support and independence because of their four legged friend. I know for Jack, Keegan is primarily a best friend/furry pillow, but some people rely of their service animal for far more than licks and cuddles.

So we are up bright an early to drive out to Long Island. Keegan has been bathed, his nails have been cut and his vest has been cleaned. I’ve been working on “Wait” and “Under” and “Car” for weeks, and we are as ready as we are going to be. I will let you know as soon as soon as we get the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Love, Jess

PS If we do not pass, CCI isn’t going to put me in handcuffs and take Keegan away. They will work with us to regain what we have lost.

For more information about CCI go to http://www.CCI.org

 

UPDATE: We passed with flying colors!!!!!!!

 

My other silent boy

For those of you who have been worried that I may be sharing too much with Jack, I’m sorry. It is true that he has heard more than a teenage boy should about local gossip and various peri-manopausal symptoms. I am trying to be better at avoiding such topics when Jack’s in earshot. And, it’s not just because I’m worried that he is going to blackmail me – it’s just the right thing to do.

The truth is that he is not the only holder of my secrets. I have another silent boy in the house who’s also a really good listener. His ears are floppy and he lets me lie on the couch with him and rant about everything. He never gets bothered if my breath is bad or my feet are stinky. He just snuggles in and lets me vent about things and sort out my crap. He is the one that people should be worried about – Keegan knows EVERYTHING about EVERYONE.

Things I am too scared to even write in my private journal have been shared with my furry friend. There’s something about the way he looks at me, that I know he understands and cares. Keegan’s brother, Finn (AKA “Bad Dog”), walks away in the middle of a story if he hears a truck outside or the postman walking up the front steps. Keegan never leaves my side until he knows I’ve really let it all out.

Yes, I know that technically Keegan is Jack’s service dog, but the truth is that without him, I’m not sure that I could manage. There are just some days that I feel like I am going to explode (or implode). Stuff builds up and I need someone. I can’t always burden my friends and family – particularly when it’s my friends and family that I need to discuss. We all need a sounding board and Keegan is mine.

Yesterday was Keegan’s 7th birthday. I tend to forget birthdays of people/creatures I love (just ask my nieces and nephews). Ironic, because I expect everyone to remember mine — November 19 — 13 more shopping days left. Keegan’s puppy raisers reminded me today and I instantly stopped what I was doing to showered our boy with some love. Then, I gave him a nice long walk and two cups of kibble for dinner. Next year, I promise to throw in some balloons and streamers.

Thank you Keegan for being Jack’s best friend and my therapist.

Love, Jess

For more information about Canine Companions for Independence check out: http://www.CCI.org

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A great listener and so handsome.

a crowded, wonderful holiday

I spent the entire drive to the Block Island ferry lying on top of the luggage in the back of the car. I’m not sure why everyone else gets a proper seat. Even Keegan gets a prized spot at Jack’s feet. At least they were taking me with them this time. Last week the whole family left me at home with Maria. She’s sweet, but I miss my family when they’re gone. It’s hard to tell them, so I decided to show them. That guy who keeps showing up at our front door, filling our mailbox and leaving without even a hello — I bit him.

I’m guessing that I will own the title of Worst Dog for a while longer. That’s one of the humans’ favorite games over the Fourth of July on Block Island. There are 18 of them and 5 of us dogs. Seems unfair that they highlight our bad behavior when they are creating most of the chaos. Parades with candy being thrown, loud explosions coming from the sky, days at the beach leading to lines at the outdoor shower and so many dishes in the sink. And, there is the excessive bad language, especially during dinner time. It’s as if there is something wrong with me eating out of Dylan’s hands. WHY serve meat if you don’t want the dogs to have some? Besides so many of the kids are at just the right height for me.

After three days, it was time to say good-bye. My mom tried (again) to put me in the wrong car as she was packing, but I’m on to her and settled into my usual spot on top of the dirty laundry. We made it home safe and sound. I’ve been told that we are heading back up to the island in another few weeks, but it’s not quite the same as our Fourth of July madness. There are never more than four dogs at a time in August!

Thanks PopPop and Sue for hosting another fun-filled holiday!! It’s always a little nuts, but we all enjoyed every second!!

Love, Finn

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Keegan

Keegan

Last Friday I found myself at the veterinarians office explaining to the woman behind the desk that NOTHING could happen to Keegan, “Seriously. He’s not just my son’s assistance dog, he’s family.

Keegan is an exceptionally well-trained dog but, as we were told again and again in team training (the 2 week boot camp Jack and I attended before bringing Keegan home), dogs are dogs and we need to make sure they don’t get into anything they shouldn’t. I lost my focus last week and Keegan ate a “foreign object”.

At first I didn’t think too much about it. Finn (our pet dog who also goes by the name “Bad Dog”) eats things all the time and he’s managed to live longer than his breeder promised — I mean, estimated. But, when Keegan started vomiting I took him directly to his veterinarian. X-rays and sonograms determined that he’d done a number on his stomach but he’d managed to expel the majority of the the object and he should pass the remainder. He was given IV fluids and we were sent home with special food and instructions to closely monitor him and sort threw his elimination. I assured his doctors that I was well versed in both monitoring and elimination.

“Monitoring” translated into lots of middle of the night check ins, and “sorting through his elimination” was especially interesting with limited sleep. It was a tough few days before he bounced back, but we were willing to do anything for Keegan. I  knew how important he was for Jack, but until last week I hadn’t appreciated how important our furry friend is to our entire family. He keeps me company while Jack’s at school. He’s my walking partner and my sounding board. He knows all of Anna’s secrets. He allows Dan and I to sleep comfortably, knowing that Jack has his buddy cuddling next to him in bed. And, Keegan warms all of our hearts with his ability to entice people into approaching Jack – people otherwise intimidated by his quirkiness.

I’m often asked what Keegan does as an assistance dog and I’ve always answered with the same explanation, “He’s Jack’s best friend – his constant companion”. Now I know that Keegan is much more than Jack’s dog; he belongs to all of us. He’s a big, hairy piece of duct tape.

Love, Jess

If you would like to learn more about assistance dogs (or make a donation), please check out http://www.cci.org