Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Charlie's Night Before Christmas

T'was the night before Christmas and Tim lie in his bed,
hoping and dreaming of Santa's full sled.
But before he retired he had just one more chore,
he had to wrap a gift for a friend he adores.

The present was picked and ready to wrap, 
so he wrestled some tape and some paper and crap,

and with the help of his other best friend (Dad),
the final wrapped gift didn't look too bad!

Then to the tree with the package he went,
and stuffed, and crammed and gave it a dent.

Charlie watched on as the parcel was placed
sniffing and nosing as he curiously paced.

And then with a grin on his cute little mug,
Tim wished Charlie a Merry Christmas

and gave him a big hug.

May you all enjoy some love and kindness this Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Charlie's Sister

Through the magic of the internet, I have located Charlie's sister!  Meet Sassy and her boy Jack.  (She sure looks like Charlie doesn't she?  I bet some of you thought that was Charlie!)  Sassy is another North Star dog that lives with a boy near Portland, Oregon.  

I stumbled upon Sassy's blog (being kept by Jack's mom) and discovered that Sassy and Charlie were born on the same day!  Then I re-read my old e-mails from Patty at North Star and found one that mentioned that she had two North Star litters born on the same day.  Charlie and Sassy apparently share the same father (a dog named Huff).  I'm not sure if they have the same mother but it sure wouldn't surprise me in light of their uncanny resemblance.  (Take a peek at our Christmas card photo posted below (for my "virtual friends" please consider this your Christmas card!) and check out their likeness ... it's undeniable, right?)

Sassy and Jack's story is positive and inspiring and I am thrilled to have found another North Star blogger with whom to share stories and ideas.   As an added bonus, Jack's mom is an avid photographer so her blog is loaded with great pictures telling the story of Sassy's bond with Jack and his siblings.   (My personal favorite so far is a photo of Sassy hanging out with all four of "his kids" in front of the fireplace - LOVE THAT.)

When I borrowed the picture of Jack and Sassy to post on my blog, Tim sidled up behind me and immediately said, "that's Charlie."  (He also called Jack "Gabe" -  Gabe is one of Tim's best friends who just happens to have a slight resemblance to Jack but that's another story.)   Turned out to be a great opportunity to talk to Tim about siblings.  (Everything is a teaching opportunity, right?!)  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Decorating the Tree

Every year as we clean up our Thanksgiving mess I start nagging my husband about putting up a Christmas tree and every year he puts me off for at least a week.  So last week we packed everyone up and headed out to our local tree lot to select our very own holiday icon.

Charlie waited patiently in the car while we toured the lot in search of the perfect evergreen pyramid but when the tree man began securing our selection to the top of the car, Charlie unleashed his frustration.  I'm still not sure if the tree man tied up the tree in record time or if he was just a very seasoned tree loader, but let's just say that tree was up on the roof and secured in seconds.  

Once we got the tree home, Charlie wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  He sniffed and circled it, refusing to get within more than a nose-length of the tree.

Our grand plan was to erect and illuminate the tree while Tim was in school leaving the task of ornament placement for Tim.   All went well and Tim happily obliged us with his decorating sensibility (although I must admit to a certain density of decor at about the 4 foot level.)  Charlie was a curious and devoted design partner.  He watched intently as Tim placed each ornament and then dutifully sniffed each one as soon as Tim's hand released it.    
It was great fun to watch, particularly because this was the first year that Tim expressed so much interest in this particular holiday ritual.  Of course, the "boys" took periodic wrestling breaks (I swear these two act like brothers at times - they wrestle every day) ...

... but in the end, they made an excellent design team.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Charlie!

One year ago today Charlie was just a warm little bundle of puppy loveliness and now ... he's a strapping 60+ pound loving companion to my kid.   I don't have any of his actual "baby" pictures but check out this one from the day he was delivered to Judy the Puppy Raiser Extraordinaire.   I think this was taken in early February.  (I think that the woman holding him is Sharon, another North Star Super Hero.)

We try to use every moment as a teaching moment so we've spent the last few days talking to Tim about Charlie's upcoming birthday.  Tim immediately mentioned "party" and "presents" (his two favorite things) so we decided to indulge Charlie a bit with a little family party.  We made three stops yesterday in the hunt for a doggie party hat and finally found one at Murphy's Paw. (Seems like a potential business opportunity here ... there are loads of costumes, holiday hats, sweaters, and other adornments for dogs but very few birthday hats.)

After scoring the perfect hat, we took a trip to our favorite Pet Food Express store where Tim selected a few new toys for his loyal servant.  Apparently, Tim knows his dog well as Charlie seems quite pleased with Tim's selections.  Tonight he'll be served a special treat of canned food (he'll go absolutely bonkers for this, literally walking around in circles in the kitchen until I put the bowl down on his place.)  After dinner we'll take a walk and then settle in all together and watch Tim's favorite golden retriever movie, "Snow Buddies."  Tonight, Charlie gets a spot up on the bed.  Happy Birthday buddy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Guardian Charlie

One of the many services for which an autism service dog may be trained is safety.  Many A-club kids have a tendency to wander, or even run away from caretakers or safe locations.  A service dog can be trained to divert a runner and redirect him back to a caretaker or to a place of safety.  (Sort of like a herding function.)  Dogs may also be trained to get in between a child and a point of danger like a busy road or an approaching stranger.

I knew that safety was going to be an added benefit of having Charlie around but since we haven't formally endeavored to train any safety related behaviors yet, I didn't expect Charlie to have a particularly protective instinct.

Boy was I wrong.

Las weekend at 3:00 am while we all soundly slept, our doorbell started to ring. An absolutely ferocious barking snapped me out of my sub-conscious state of dreamy denial.  The next thing I knew, my husband and I were frantically whispering instructions to each other and peering out the windows into the darkness to discern what was happening. Inexplicably, Tim slept throughout the entire episode.

Knowing that people with good intentions don't generally show up unannounced on your doorstep at 3:00 am, (although I do recall one such incident with my brother many, many years back) I phoned the local police and asked if they would send a squad car to patrol our street.  They agreed. So there we stood, in our jammies, noses pressed to the window watching the patrol car cruise our street until eventually their scanning spotlights landed on three unfortunate young men whose big night out ended with a stay in Hotel PD. (According to the police officer, the young men were so inebriated that they may have actually been lost in the neighborhood.    Sorry for the buzz kill guys but you just can't come ringing our bell in the middle of the night!)

When our heart rates returned to more normal levels, we noticed that Charlie wasn't with us.  I don't know when he stopped barking but at some point during all the commotion, Charlie found his way to where Tim was sleeping and lay himself on the floor in between the door and the bed.  He wasn't sleeping.  In fact, he was in a position of full alert with his head raised and staring into the darkness for something ... anything.   It literally took our breath away.  

By 4:00 am the Sergeant called us to close out the incident and we made our way back to bed.  That night, Charlie earned a spot with us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Model Behavior

Thanksgiving weekend at our house revolves around a few simple traditions:  loads of leftover turkey and hours spent untangling miles of light strings to be hung from every square inch of our house.  This is my favorite time of year and each year seems to be more fun than the last because of Tim's increasing understanding of and excitement about our holiday rituals.  

Most of our holiday decor adorns the front of our house so we all spent the better part of a chilly day sprawled out over the lawn, driveway and garage.  Charlie eagerly joined us and happily sniffed all of our kitsch.   

Of course I was thrilled to witness Tim's enthusiasm about this activity but what was really impressive was that Charlie remained off-leash without incident for the entire day.  Yes, off-leash in our front yard in this crazy state where everyone and all their brothers and sisters own at least one dog.  I attribute Charlie's compliance to Wendy the Trainer  who worked tirelessly with us on the "stay" command (I've learned that it's rarely the dog that can't be trained but the owner who doesn't really grasp the concept of consistency and reward.  ahem.)  Wendy also spent many sessions with us working on getting Charlie to ignore the distraction of other dogs.  (Wendy always makes a point to practice this skill with us at least once during all of our sessions.) 
I'm proud to say that Charlie was BRILLIANT all day and not once did he leave our property.  He was so well behaved that several folks actually crossed the street to admire him and compliment his extraordinary behavior.   And, as always, he obliged me with an appropriate photo to commemorate the day.