Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to "Normal"

So finally, after a week with the hurricane and then a week with a recuperating dog, we got out and about a bit in nearby Sausalito.  Tim and Charlie happily navigated their way through the throngs of people out enjoying the holiday weekend and perfect weather.

As always, the boys (Tim & Charlie) found a way to get into some mischief together but they were enjoying the fountain so much (and since there was no one else there to object) I let them play on while I snapped a few photos.

After frolicking in the fountain (and tossing all of our pennies) Tim was lucky enough to score a good size feather left behind by what appeared to be a less fortunate bird of some sort.  

He was quite pleased with himself upon making this discovery and promptly began to tickle and tease Charlie.

All in all, it was a lovely day out with the whole gang. However, the funniest moment of the day came when Andy was left with Charlie to wait outside a shop while Tim and I went in search of the latest "must have." While waiting with the wonderdog, a young girl of about 8 years strolled up to Andy, looked him in the eyes and asked, "are you blind?"   It must have been the glasses!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Under the Weather

So after our week long trip away from Charlie I picked him up from our helpful dog sitter's house and discovered that he had a rather gooey looking eye.  I scheduled the next available appointment at our vet's office and took him in Monday morning only to learn that our sweet, lovable Charlie has ... TONSILITIS?  Who knew that dogs had tonsils?!

Fortunately he's on the mend with a number of pills and ointments that he gets daily.  He's also on a low exercise diet for a few days and strictly quarantined from other doggies (lest he infect them as well.)   Of course we all feel terrible that he got sick and I think Judy-the-NJ-puppy-raiser may have been right when she suggested that it was simply a thinly veiled plot by Charlie to shame us into never leaving him again.  (The only thing worse than Catholic guilt is Golden Retriever guilt.)

Of course, every turn of events is a potential learning moment so we've taken advantage of the opportunity to talk to Tim about Charlie being sick and needing some TLC.  Today it became clear that Tim fully grasped the notion of TLC as I watched him gently stroke Charlie's back and gingerly kiss him on his snout.  All the while Tim was softly explaining to me that "Charlie is sad ... I'm rubbing his back ... I love you Charlie."  Yet another great Charlie moment for us!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Took a Blog-Break this past week so that we could take our long awaited summer vacation (without Charlie - boohoohoo.)   

The trip was a week long visit with Tim's grandparents in central Florida.   Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Fay had the same itinerary and spent 5 days hammering my in-laws' town with heavy rain and wind.   Nevertheless, it was a great treat to spend some time with family and to let Tim enjoy the pampering that only grandparents can provide.

Ordinarily, Tim can't smile enough when he's with "Grappa & Gramma" but this trip we noticed that whenever someone mentioned Charlie, Tim would begin asking for him over and over and then say "I'm sad."  The funniest was when he found some pictures of himself with Charlie and he kept looking at them and talking about them.  

Many people have asked why we didn't take Charlie with us on the trip.  While he is a service dog, he is still "in training" which means that technically he doesn't enjoy the unfettered public access of a fully trained and certified service animal.  In fact, as an assistance dog in training we must rely upon the willingness of proprietors to permit us access to public places.  Fortunately, folks have been very kind about Charlie's presence and we've not had anyone ask us to remove Charlie from their property.  (I should note here that I consider ourselves to be extremely polite dog owners and we simply don't take Charlie places where we feel there might be any threat of bad behavior that could potentially disturb other patrons or disrupt business operations.)

I do believe that absence can make the heart grow fonder and when we finally escaped the clutches of Fay and made it back home, the reunion between dog and boy was sickeningly sweet.  Tim smiled from ear to ear and Charlie wouldn't leave any of us alone.    It was like he just wanted all of us to be together again.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Dog Likes to Dig

In keeping this chronicle of Charlie's evolution into Autism-Service-Dog-Extraordinaire, I feel it my duty to periodically disclose some of the lower points of his training (lest we all forget that this is a puppy we're working with.)   Despite hours and hours of training, Charlie has managed to get a few good dig sites started in our yard (note the incriminating paw although Charlie swears it's not his.)

Knowing Charlie's propensity for earth moving, I now keep a vigilant eye on him when he is in the yard.   This morning, I had to chuckle when Charlie happily trotted from behind Tim's playhouse with an instrument of yard destruction clenched in his jaws.

When I finished laughing, Charlie graciously posed for me with his new found toy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Bonding Continues

So we took Tim and Charlie for a hike this weekend at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Park to see how well they would both do.  Typically when we hike we let Tim ride in a converted bike trailer but this was a bit of a test to see just how far he'd go without the aid of the cart.   Much to our pleasure, he hiked like a trooper and I'm confident that his buddy Charlie is, in part, responsible for his motivation.

It turned out to be a great hike with a half-way turnaround point of a lovely little waterfall.  The boys ambled all the way down the "cliff" (with me trailing much less confidently behind) and spent a good part of the afternoon splashing around in the pools at the bottom of the falls.

As usual, Charlie was a great companion and followed Tim all through the pools and stream.   On the hike back when everyone was hot, tired and almost cranky,  Charlie kept Tim going by running with him down the trails back to our car.  It was a great day and so fun to see the pleasure that Tim and Charlie derive from being together.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Charlie Effect

I know I've written before about Charlie's magnetic draw and the desire he instills in complete strangers to ask about Charlie or North Star Dogs.   While that hasn't changed one bit, I've recently begun to recognize a more subtle effect of Charlie's presence.

Yesterday after dropping Tim off to a speech therapy session, I took Charlie with me for a quick romp in the park followed by a stop at our local Starbucks to quench the thirst I had worked up watching Charlie play like a puppy.  

I'm no different than any other formerly-working-now-stay-at-home-mom type who, when found without her charge(s), can feel a little beige in the seemingly colorful chaos of the working masses.  However, put the end of Charlie's leash in my hand and suddenly life is a musical.  People start smiling at me, holding doors open, ... why, yesterday this nice young man actually offered to give me tickets to take my son to an Oakland A's game ... and I didn't even have my kid with me!  

All this unsolicited kindness made me think about this same effect spilling over onto Tim and makes me more grateful than ever for Charlie.

Monday, August 4, 2008


I've been told that it's a positive development when your child "generalizes" concepts although I'm not always certain exactly what that means.  Could it be that Tim's recent interest in Star Wars and consequent re-naming of Charlie as Chewbaca is a form of generalization?  (Apologies to Charlie for this humiliation.) 

Unexpected Benefits of the Autism Service Dog

When we decided to go forward with obtaining a service dog for our autistic son, our hopes were high (and our expectations somewhat lower.)  We'd read Patty Dobbs-Gross' book about service dogs for kids with autism, scoured the internet for information about success and not-so-successful stories, and made mental notes about exactly how a service dog could help Tim.  But in the end, our primary objectives were to provide Tim with a non-judgmental companion who could also help keep tabs on him in the event that he should wander from us.  Of course, since Charlie entered our lives we've been repeatedly surprised by the myriad ways in which this loveable little canine has helped Tim find his voice and develop unexpected skills and interests.

In addition to the increased engagement and focus on tasks with Charlie, and the heretofore undiscovered language abilities that Charlie has apparently inspired in Tim, and the new interests in things like obedience and agility training, and the development of a compassionate relationship with Charlie where Tim expresses a wide range of emotions (and often describes what he believes Charlie is feeling), and the CONSTANT opportunities to practice language with the endless stream of strangers stopping to ask us about Charlie, ... well, as though that were all not enough to keep us happy about this placement, we are also seeing some unexpected results from Tim's relationship with Charlie.

I recently unearthed the seldom used video camera that my husband and I earnestly purchased in the days preceding Tim's birth.   Tim often sees me with a still camera in my hands, typically pointed in his direction, but the video camera was a new sight for him and he immediately took interest.  

Tim spent well over an hour filming Charlie and since then has spent several hours on our computer re-playing all of the video (along with other archived videos.)  I've begun introducing the camera in other  situations too using it as an opportunity to help Tim look at people's eyes when filming and to encourage discussion about the subject of his film.  It's been an interesting development and I'm hopeful that we'll continue to see his interest in video develop.