Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Give Up

See this?

That's Charlie giving me the stink-eye after I did this to him:

I don't even know why I try to cut his toe nails myself.   Every time I do, we end up with something right out of Helter Skelter.  I even have one of those clippers that have the guide on them so that you don't cut too far into the quick of the nail.  Yeah.  See how effective that is?  That's it.  I'm throwing in the towel and calling a groomer.  Sorry Charlie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time Flies

It's been a year - 365 days with Charlie the wonder dog and I just can't believe it.  I could swear it was just a few weeks ago that Patty from North Star handed over the leash at the San Francisco airport and sent me on my way with her sage words of advice:  "I think he has to pee."  As luck would have it, there is actually a pet relief station at SFO and it was there that Charlie and I shared our first intimate moment.  [This picture was taken in the parking lot at SFO just before we headed home to meet Tim for the first time.]

I don't think I'll ever forget that day - meeting Patty after years of waiting for our dog's birth, meeting Charlie as a 5 month old puppy, and introducing Charlie to Tim in the back of my car.  What an exciting day it was.   [This next pic is when Tim met Charlie.]

[Here he was trying out his bed for the first time on that fateful day.]

Of course, I also remember the anxiety of having another non-verbal member of the family.  My first lesson in non-verbal canine communication came on that very first afternoon when I fed Charlie and then neglected to show him where the door to go outside was.  That was the first and only time Chuck pooped in my house.  (We're both quick learners.)

Over the course of the year we've had countless sessions with Wendy the Trainer, both privately and in her group classes, and we've even gotten within inches of the CGC brass ring.  We've watched Charlie learn how to hike, how to walk on a leash, and how to swim like a fish.  He even rides in the car without the nausea that plagued him as a young pup.  (Thanks to Judy the Puppy Raiser for getting him over that unpleasant hump.)  And we've watched him grow from gangly clumsy puppy to giant gangly clumsy dog.

[Look at him then ...]
[... and now.]

Charlie's come a long way for sure, but what is even more thrilling are the changes we've seen in Tim over the course of the year.  The rational side of my brain (whatever is left of it) tells me that the countless therapies, treatments, and specialized schooling that Tim receives every day is explanation for Tim's tremendous strides.  But my heart tells me that Charlie has played a huge role in Tim's development.

From day one Charlie's impact on Tim was evident as we found Tim curled up on the floor and talking to Charlie.  Tim rarely spoke before Charlie arrived.  Now not only does Tim talk to Charlie but Tim's spontaneous language has increased exponentially and it's increasing every week.    

Language isn't the only change in Tim since the arrival of Charlie.  Because we've made Tim responsible for the care and maintenance of Chuck (basically feeding and exercising him) he's learned a great lesson in responsibility.    We've also gotten the empathy lesson from our recent trip to the vet when Charlie suffered from an embedded foxtail and consequent infection.  

Charlie has become Tim's go-to guy for just about everything.  When I pick him up from school his first question is inevitably "Where's Charlie?"  At night he begs to let Charlie sleep on his bed.  At home they play in the yard together, wrestle on the floor, and chase each other all over the house.   The sounds of their companionship are nothing short of intoxicating.

Tim isn't the only one who's experienced the magic of Charlie.  My husband has become the evening walker taking vigorous nightly walks with Chuck which makes both of them very happy and healthy.  And me, ... well Charlie is as close to a second child as you can get without actually getting pregnant.  I absolutely love this dog and all that he has given to my family.

Sure, there have been some occasional headaches because of Charlie:  a few chewed up toys;  some big yellow spots in the yard;  the juice/soda/wine/coffee stains on the rug from an overzealous nose nudge;  vet bills;  the stain on the carpet underneath Charlie's crate.   At one time or another these may have irritated me.  But today, on this one year anniversary, I can barely remember any of them.  

Thanks so much to North Star for sending Charlie to us.  We're looking forward to many, many more dog years together!

Monday, May 25, 2009

CGC ... Aaargh!

There's a surprising amount of pressure when you have a service dog at your side, especially when it comes to any type of training.  I can fairly state that it is widely assumed that service dogs are inherently good (they are) and intuitively well behaved (they aren't.)  

There's no question that Charlie is a special dog.  I attribute that to intelligent breeding and excellent early socialization by all the folks at North Star.  Plus, I'd be ignoring the obvious fact that he is a golden retriever, a breed known for its docile and friendly demeanor.  However, that doesn't mean that they are born with good manners.  That's what training classes are for.

In order for Charlie to become fully certified as a public access service animal he needs to pass a test known as the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test.  It's generally administered by a dog training professional and is comprised of ten separate mini-tests which range from commands like "sit" and "stay" to traveling through a crowd without showing anything more than passing interest in anyone other than the handler.   It really doesn't sound terribly problematic, especially when you've had the advantage of expert training and a well bred dog.   

We failed.

Going into the test Charlie sailed through the first 6 parts, confidently sitting, staying, and even being separated from me for 5 minutes without so much as a whimper.  Then came our nemesis:   the stranger with a leashed dog.   He couldn't help himself.  Friendliness is in his blood!  He just wanted to make sure that other person's dog was having a great day so he basically leaped across the room, pulling me behind him, as he made his way to the unsuspecting lab at the end of the other leash.  ugh.

I don't blame Chuck for this failure.  After all, he's still a big puppy - in fact, he was the youngest one in our class.  Furthermore, the only way he's going to get over his need to greet other dogs is to have opportunities to practice restraint, which he needs me to do.  I have to shamefully admit my failure in that department.  We've had great training and we've got a well bred dog but without the significant time commitment from the handler (me), how could I ever expect him to pass?  

So, now we're re-grouping and getting back to work on the hard things.  We can re-take the test any time and once we pass (which we eventually will - I'm quite certain of that) then we will be just a few short hours away from earning our full service credentials which means unfettered public access for Charlie.  It may take a bit longer than we thought but we're going to enjoy the journey and remain resolute in our commitment. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Recovery

After what seemed like an endless day without our four legged family member, Charlie came home and boy oh boy, were we happy to have him back.  The vet's suspicions about a foxtail in his ear proved to be correct and after sedating him they were able to extract it.  Turns out he also has some yeast infection in there too (probably due to the water being trapped in his floppy ears) so for the next week Charlie is strictly a landlubber while we treat him with some very expensive ear drops.  

The reunion was as expected:  an extremely jumpy/leapy/licky/happy dog and a giggling/smiling/snuggling boy.  Tim presented Charlie with his recovery toy (ironically, a water toy but we'll enjoy some dry play for the next week) and Charlie happily accepted. 

So it seems that things are back to normal now.  Thanks to all for your warm wishes - rest assured, Chuck is on the mend!

QUICK UPDATE:  I've had lots of folks asking about foxtails.  They're nasty little weed seeds that embed in the coats of unsuspecting doggies causing great pain and in some extreme cases, fatalities.  Read a great blog about them here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Where's Charlie?

Have I mentioned how much we all love Charlie?  I know how much I adore the snuggling moppet, but I don't think I've actually absorbed the depths of Tim's love and concern for Charlie.

After a wonderful weekend full of swimming in the lake (a Friday morning outing with Wendy the Trainer and her dog Renegade) ...,

... posing for pictures with friends ..., 

... climbing trees with Renegade, ...

and followed by a Sunday spent surfing in  the Pacific, 

... and hanging out with family and friends on the beach, ...

... Charlie started to repeatedly shake his noggin, causing his ears to flap madly about his head.   Wendy mentioned to me on Friday that he might have gotten a Foxtail trapped in one of his ears or that it could be a bit of water trapped down there so we should keep a watch on his behavior.  

By this morning Charlie was still flopping his ears around so I made an early appointment with our vet to have things checked out.  Ironically, Tim is home from school today due to a slight cough (and a general oversensitivity to the whole swine flu panic around here) so he kept Charlie company while we waited in the vet's office.

As soon as the Dr started fishing down in his ear Charlie began to wince and whine.  I knew it was bad news.  The vet then asked if she could take our normally docile dog back to the operating room area so that they could get a better look.  I agreed and waited with Tim in the examination room.  

After a few thumps, thuds, and thrashing sounds the vet came back and advised that she thought there was a foxtail lodged near his eardrum and that he would need to be sedated for them to actually extract and examine what was happening down there.   I hate the idea of sedating him but I really didn't know what else to do so I agreed.  She printed out a diagnostic plan (along with an UNBELIEVABLE estimate of the cost for the work) and Tim and I made our way out of the examination room.  

As soon as I opened the door and Tim realized that Charlie wasn't coming with us he burst into tears.  Not the manipulative crocodile type tears ... these were the kind that start silently with big wells in the eyes followed by a wet sniffle, a scrunched up face and a mouth open in a silent scream.  Ugh.  How heartbreaking to watch your kid's heart break.   The receptionist and the vet techs all tried to reassure him that we'd be seeing Charlie this afternoon but he was inconsolable.   We slowly made our way to the car as he sniffled and wept with every shuffle of his sad little feet.

Buckling him into the car, my heart was heavy with the sorrow of my son and concern for our family's best pal.  I repeatedly explained that we'd see Charlie in a few hours but there was simply no diffusing this awful moment.  Then I suggested that we go buy a new toy for Charlie to have when he comes home from the doctor.  Tim tearfully agreed and off we went to our local pet shop.

As we made our way out of the parking lot, his tears had slowed and I thought the retail therapy would be a good distraction for Tim so I snuck in a quick trip to the dry cleaners to collect some long overdue cleaning.  Tim ran in front of me and pleaded with the dry cleaning lady "Where's Charlie?!"  And then the tears started again.   Obviously this plan wasn't working.  We needed to get to the pet shop, STAT.  

So, back in the car, the tears slowly subsided, and we made our way to the pet shop.  Once again Tim ran ahead of me, up to the saleslady at the counter and burst into tears crying "Where's Charlie?!"  The shocked saleslady looked to me for interpretation but not before Tim could blurt out one more tearfully plaintive "WHERE'S CHARLIE?"   I  made it to the counter, explained the situation and then suggested to Tim that we select a toy from their expansive toy collection.  The calm settled in and he carefully and thoughtfully made a selection for his beloved companion.

It's only 2:00 pm here now and we won't be able to collect Charlie for a few more hours but while we wait I am struck by the deep seated love and concern that Tim has for his pal Charlie.   More importantly this seems to be an indication of Tim's empathy for Charlie, something that lots of medical-types have declared that autistic people don't possess.   Perhaps Tim didn't have empathy before Charlie but there's simply no denying what I witnessed today.  I look forward to this afternoon's reunion ... as does Tim.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mother's Day Traditions?

While we may not be terribly interesting people, I can say with confidence that we're not conventional.  To wit, our Mother's Day Pinata tradition started by my often hilarious husband.  I don't know why he started this tradition (and being one with an ENORMOUS sweet tooth, I don't really care) but I do know it's become an annual event that we all enjoy.

Of course, some of us enjoy it more than others.  Upon seeing this year's papier mache candy receptacle, Charlie gave it a tentative sniff before recoiling violently as Andy hoisted it up into batting position.  

While Tim stood swinging wildly at that fish, Charlie went into hiding, probably fearing a wayward swing from Tim's bat.  
Then when Andy stepped in to finish the job, the fish nearly exploded with a huge BANG sending Charlie running for the safety of the house.

Fortunately he quickly calmed down and re-joined the party showering all of us with his irrepressible affections!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Dog is a Dog

Every once in a while I feel it's necessary to post something about Charlie's less-than-optimal behavior lest we all forget that he is, after all, a dog.

So, it is in that spirit I present Exhibit A:  the remains of what was once a lovely jeweled nail file made for me by my sweet little boy.  (Note the traces of fur that confirmed my suspicions about the suspect.)

And now I present Exhibit B:  the guilt laden mug of the cute but terribly guilty perpetrator.

Although I'll miss my son's token of affection, in the spirit of Mother's Day I have forgiven the culprit and will simply enjoy the sound of my boy and his dog frolicking in the yard.  (BUT, he is on probation.)

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Swimming Dog

The longer we have Charlie, the more we realize how much he and Tim are alike.  They both have strangely long legs, are extremely affectionate, love to play, and would be heartbroken without each other.  Lately we've discovered that they are both extremely fond of the water.  

Yesterday afternoon Andy called me from work and suggested, "Let's have a picnic tonight."  We love picnics around here and Tim eagerly agreed that a Tuesday night picnic would be perfect.  So, after packing a cooler that would make Yogi Bear proud, we loaded the whole gang into the car and headed out to our local picnic spot at the lake.
After Tim selected a table for us, we set up our site and indulged in turkey sandwiches, chips, and root beers (with some havarti cheese nibbles for Charlie.)   In spite of a slight wind, it was a lovely night and there wasn't another soul in sight.  

I may have mentioned before that Charlie has a bit of a pine cone fetish and this particular park is loaded with these enormous California redwood pine cones.  So after our meal Andy launched a few into the lake for Chuck to chase.    

Let me tell you, this dog can swim.  In fact, I'd put him up against Michael Phelps (sans the bong).   Although we'd been working on Charlie's swimming, I have to credit Wendy the Trainer with pushing him over the hump because it wasn't until after Charlie's stay at Camp Wendy that he really started putting his head underwater and going into depths much deeper than he is tall.

It's an absolute joy to watch him leap into the lake and track down his bait.  He has a laser like focus when we're playing this game and is even oblivious to other dogs in the area.  (Dogs are a huge distraction for Charlie - in fact, this distraction is what kept him from passing his CGC test ... an issue for another post.)  There are other benefits of his swimming too:  after a good swimming session he sleeps like a baby!  

Plus, Tim just loves to see his pal having so much fun and will often throw sticks and pine cones for him to chase.  

But, just like Tim, Charlie hates for the fun to end and will shamelessly beg for just one more throw into the lake.   He's even got the whining down ... he'll whine all the way back to the car ... just like someone else I know.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where Does the Time Go?

Every Spring I find myself feeling the same "stretched-too-thin" feeling as I struggle to stay on top of IEP's, class plays, teacher appreciation days, PAR 4 Kids' Sake, Walk Now, the extended family birthdays (which all seem to fall within the first few months of the year), mother's day, father's day, CGC classes, gymnastics, speech therapy, OT, blah, blah, blah, BLAH!   Sadly, this year's victim of neglect has been Charlie's blog.  Even as I furiously pound this out (placing all my faith in my spell check to correct my reckless spelling and grammatical errors), I'm seeing the clock out of the corner of my eye which appears to scream at me with every obnoxious tick, "GET BACK INTO THE CAR AND TAKE YOUR KID TO HIS NEXT SCHEDULED EVENT."    It is truly an obnoxious clock.

Today, like the previous 20 days or so since my last post, I have more tasks than time to complete them so I'm going to simply post a favorite pic from this weekend and hope for more time ... VERY SOON.  More "tails" to come ....