Thursday, March 25, 2010

Walk & Roll For Hope!

Caitlin & Abrah are doing well. They are bonding more and more and we are hoping to get them out in public a little more often in the next few weeks.

We have started a group in the "Walk and Roll For Hope" on April 10 from 9-Noon in the Wasilla Indoor Sports Complex. No guessing about the weather!

Caitlin now receives support services from Hope Community Resources, a non-profit agency and we are hoping to give them lots of support back. :)

Please consider joining our team, Caitibug's Friends.

Thanks so much! :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Going Well!

We are in love with Abrah! He is such a great dog! Everyday he is teaching us more & more that he can do. We now are positive that this was the right choice for Caitlin.

Training has been amazing. We feel almost like we are away at a special camp for parents that all understand exactly what we are trying to do--because they are doing the exact same thing for their child in need of a special friend. There are some very wonderful families here.

We have been spending our days doing lots of training. Today we are going to the local mall for the third time for public access practice. Abrah does great.
Thursday is already our last day of class! It is so hard to believe how quickly time has flown by. We will have our testing in the morning, and then graduation ceremony in the afternoon.

I thought that I would be updating my blog daily, but it has been an extremely busy 10 days! By the time I get home from training all day, lots of attention needs to be paid to the girls (and the dog by the girls) so I apologize that I haven't been able to get on more often.

Thanks so much for checking in!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tough Decision, But For The Best

Well, after a lot of thought and observation, we & the 4 Paws trainers have decided that Caitin will be better off with a different dog--Abraham (we are calling him Abrah as this is easier for Caitlin). Abraham is a 1 year old black lab.

Amos was a very sweet boy, but also quite spoiled and high maintenance. While all dogs need lots of attention, service dogs need even more attention--but he was a bit much for us to handle and would require many adaptations to life in Alaska. He became very attached to me and was getting protective to the point that they were concerned that he would likely never fully bond with Caitlin. She had two seizures in bed last night and he did not react to her at all, only focused on me. He has done super well in his training up to this point, but if we have hesitations now, we have to resolve things before it is too late.

As far as Caitlin goes, her condition has changed so much since we first applied to 4 Paws. Now she not only has multiple seizures from Tuberous Sclerosis, but as most of you know, her condition has also progressed to autism. This requires much more behavior modification and tolerance abilities that a small dog like Amos can give her. She needs to be able to hug on and bump up against a larger dog and be provided with stabilization assistance at times. Plus, we never know where this disease may lead, so it will give her further support options in the future with a larger dog. Not to mention that a larger dog is going to enjoy our life in Alaska much more than little Amos will.

Abrah was actually scheduled to go to New Zealand to be a Seizure Alert & Autism Assistance Dog. He is now going to be Caitlin's dog. He is trained in seizure detection and behavior modification, but also in tracking and search & rescue. We hope that the latter is never needed with Caitlin, but it does leave the possibility if we need it (some autistic children become "escape artists" as some lose their sense of fear). He is also trained in harnessing, so he will wear a harness vest when he is out & about rather than a standard service vest. This will allow a special loop for Caitlin to have her own "leash" attachment and be able to hold a leash handle as we walk him too. She will really enjoy this when she is older. There is also the possibility that she could be tethered to him in this way for mobility assistance if it is ever needed. He has received over 800 hours of training, and was a back up dog for Caitlin, as apparently they had some concerns whether she would need more as they had a chance to observe her.

So anyway, as you can see, the rationale to switch dogs is certainly there. While he won't be as cute & unique as little Amos--he will be better for Caitlin's needs--which is the whole point. We worked extra hard this morning and we are already working just as well as everyone else as a team (he is very pupperoni influenced!) and we are all caught up with the class. We go out in public tomorrow (Friday) for the first time for class training at the local mall. He is also allowing both Paul & Ashley to walk him (Amos wouldn't) and accepting commands from both of them. This is important to make an easier transition to the classroom when I won't be there. Emily is loving and hugging all over him and he loves it equally as much. Caitlin seems much more vocal and affectionate towards him. She says his name a lot and is including him in some of her songs. She loves watching his big tail wag and says he is like Clifford the Big Red Dog. Best of all, we believe he was alerting us to a seizure she had about 5 minutes after his behavior.

So there will always be a little place in my heart for Amos, but Abraham is going to be the best dog for her and we are so happy for that. He does have a brother Jefferson in class with us. (There are also siblings Truman, Kennedy, Reagan & Monroe--see a pattern?)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A few days of training under our belts now...

Well, obviously we made it! The plane ride was very difficult at first for Caitlin--we thought we were headed for a disaster there for a bit--but with a lot of patience (and honestly, some medication) she settled down and actually was smiling on the last leg of the flight between Chicago & Cincinnati.

4 Paws for Ability is wonderful. So many dogs and the staff is so great, caring and knowledgable. It was such an emotional feeling to finally be there and see the other children be introduced to their dogs one at a time. Caitlin caught a cold on the plane. Combined with the fact that the training started when it was still 6 AM "Alaska Time", she had a rough morning and it was not exactly a picture perfect introduction to Amos, but I can tell that she will warm up and he is certainly affectionate enough that I know the relationship will build. It already has in the last 24 hours.

On the first days we have covered basic obedience commands. However, just the basic commands are so impressive! I am of course impressed that the dogs all know the commands and do them so well, but I think I am even more impressed that every parent there (and some of the kids) are able to do the commands with the dogs as well.
Amos & I practice a lot during and after "school". Paul has "girl duty" while I am learning to handle him and help to nurture the relationship between Caitlin & Amos. Ashley has been enjoying coming to training with me. She enjoys watching the other dogs just a much as I do. They are all so beautiful and amazing!

Caitlin has had a very high seizure count since the morning after our flight so we don't believe that Amos has had enough of a "baseline" scent to detect when she has the elevated scent, so he has not alerted us to any of her seizures yet. We must understand that this situation is the perfect "recipe" for Caitlin to have increased seizures & stress. 4 hour time difference is really throwing off her sleep schedule--which is so connected to her seizure level. The amount of commotion yesterday in class totally overwhelmed her sensory receptors (she only spent a few hours there and we knew it was enough and she will likely have very limited time there for this reason). The fact that we are in a totally different place with totally different routine & schedule than normal. Combine all of this with catching a cold from the flight that is making her quite miserable. No one can blame her for being out of sorts and not being set up for the ideal first few days with Amos in her life. With that being said, Caitlin was "stimming" last night and Amos caught right on to that and tried to behavior disrupt her, which is something he is supposed to do. It was actually very obvious what he was doing and hopefully it will be something that will keep her from getting to "obsessed" on certain items and rubbing her fingers raw so often. Amos also slept in bed with Caitlin & I, sleeping at Caitlin's feet. He was so good I didn't even notice him there!

It is so inspiring to see all of the other kids in class, all with their own struggles, but all so loving and wonderful. I have to admit it is nice to be surrounded by other parents that understand what it is like to have the kind of challenges our kids have been handed. The love in their eyes as they are talking about their children is just so heartwarming. I look forward to continuing to get to know everyone and hopefully building some very supportive friendships between our families. There are 14 of us altogether for this class.

I am posting several pics here from the last few days and will post more as time allows. Thanks for checking in! And thanks again to those that helped to make this possible!

Amos comforting a pitiful feeling Caitibug on night 1

Such a gorgeous little guy!

His first photo op in his service dog vest

Trying to distract Caitlin during "stimming"

Look at this cute guy! Adorable Devon with Charm

Sweet Madison & her affectionate labradoodle Arvani

Nicholas & his dog Shane--so lucky to have eachother!

Anthony & beautiful Ladybug doing a harness walk

P.S. If you would like to read another story of a child that could use a service dog, please read Andrew's Hope at