Sunday, February 22, 2015

How did we raise a DAD?

"We" includes one very important person, Melissa Hernandez of "Begging to be Good" Dog Obedience.

I don't mean to deceive any of our "fans," but Flint has spent 3/4 of his first year of puppy-hood with a professional trainer who worked with one very popular DAD org and another service dog organization for many moons. She knows obedience and scent work training very well. Her spouse allows for "live training" when it comes to in-home scent training, which is ideal.

Did I think we could do this on our own? Yes and no.

Having come off two organizations without a contract or promised dog for a total of 17 months, I figured better us than anyone else. Let's call the shots, let's find the dog, let's raise, it...Let's ROLL.

Truth be told, that was survival mentality from getting screwed. 

A long time ago, my neighbor showed me how to make earrings. I love jewelry, I have an eye for color and craft, and think stones are beautiful; I like manipulating them for design...I took a class and discovered the LEARNING CURVE was gigantic when it came to jewelry. The same can be applied to DAD training...
Melissa is our "jewelry class."  We have learned the curve is huge when it comes to dog obedience....There is a whole other "dog language." In fact, I caught myself crossing the road with my small children saying, "Wait... let's go." My 9yr old son said, "What are we, the dog?" HA! This is good. We are getting it.

Flint did not come to us as a 1-2yr old dog like most DAD orgs provide. He was 8 weeks! We wanted Sean to bond with Flint, and visa versa, but we also had to consider the chaos of our home and lifestyle.

I home-school, we have 4 kids under 14, and are committed to a rugby club at full throttle...Plus, we have ZERO experience besides raising pets (that's not the same) and weekly dog handling training with Melissa. We had an honest convo and are able to keep Melissa paid month to month for her time, so Flint learned his puppy manners and scent work with her. He came back and forth so we could learn what he already knew and how we could train together.

If you have the time, knowledge, discipline, and learning curve, then do it. I know people who have and it can be done. Resources are available to you.

If you need help, find it. Discover how priceless it is to take a class and learn the curve! It's only to your benefit. How to get a dog...?

If you want everything done for you and then handed to you, you are deceived. THIS IS NOT AVAILABLE to anyone. DADs require you know what the trainer knows; therefore, you need to find a trainer who you trust, who you can be vulnerable with, and who you can partner with for the lifetime of the dog.

Your DAD is only as good as you are. <----Click that! I stand by it through and through.

Below is the first amazing year we had with our DAD, which we could not do alone!

Monday, March 10, 2014

When picture's say 1,000 words, for the moment.

As you probably know now, our son has his diabetic alert dog! The puppy is probably not even what you expected, but our story is best told in pictures, within 3:12 sec below:

The song is "The Waiting" by Jamie Grace on her album "Ready to Fly." And waiting we have certainly done!
Back in 2012 we joined an organization that decided for us we would wait for a "finished dog". Just over a year turned into more years...We transferred funds and energy to a service dog organization to find a year old pup that had been obedience trained, etc, but one major thing lacked while Sean worked multiple dogs- BOND.

We learned so much between the two places, and do not regret our time or experience with either. I began writing a blog called DADs for Dummies to help newcomers, like myself, better gauge this whole world of diabetic alert dogs...

The industry was too new, and all we had were testimonials, photos, and scare sites on where NOT to go, or subliminal messages like "do your research" to which there wasn't any (at the time). In an attempt to be part of the solution, I networked with as many DAD orgs as able, and found some very positive information out there! I found "the flip side" of organizations and folks around the nation who are doing their very best to make Type 1 management successful and better through the use of DOGS. It's not an easy task. You have families that have cooky moms (ahem, I may know something about that), the fear-factor of this life-threatening disease, added with trying to find solutions, topped with the need for THOUSANDS of dollars.

So people network and ask around for help. Especially on Facebook. And as I've written, we left a few organizations along the way, so for us it wasn't perfect. But we didn't make a huge stink about it. It came up in my writing in nominal ways, but our experience can't be anyone else's, so what good would do being a loud mouth about it? It was a legit mess, and it was not fair (to us) but that does not matter in the big picture. Those orgs remain doing good work for happy families, and that's all that matters.

Yet, Facebook is a tricky place, I've come to realize. We are strangers really, but we feel connected to one another because of this disease and dogs. Do we really look at photos, read testimonials, and that suddenly builds a foundation of trust? It most certainly can and it does.

I've ended the above video with Flint at the vet with Sean. Just after those photos were taken, our pup got a list of diagnosis and treatments. He went on to get an x-ray two days later and is being looked after carefully. He came to us with giardia, and a round of pills for that. His breeder is top notch, and via the "Puppy Lemon Law" the breeder has reimbursed us fees related to his ongoing illnesses. (Flint has tonsillitis and a respiratory illness). As we signed our 4 page contract with the breeder promising Flint would be a service dog, (his blood lines are such), the Press Enterprise of Riverside County was interviewing them on their dogs and such... So illness happens, and guarantees and compensations can be contractually agreed regarding it. I could share it, or I could keep posting all the glory and cuteness of our near-week with this adorable fluff-ball.

I could have shared ALL the ugly of our experience from day one. What happened, who with, what "they did to us"...I vented that to select trusted Facebook friends; one I had met in person because of this "DAD world." What a mistake. The point of this journey is and was to share the positive, to go on forth with what is important and pertinent to share, that COULD make a difference in your journey, too. The moments that make a difference to donors and supporters, those are the moments to share. The struggles? Yea, some of those, too. Because you may be able to help from your own experiences. All we can do is share our photos and testimonials. Sometimes they are the full story, for just that moment only; because they are dogs, afterall!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where to begin...

Isn't that usually where to start? Asking...


No, first comes "Why do I want a DAD? And 4 points to consider
Next, how to begin...
We are a family of 6, with our oldest son (nearly 14) a Type 1 diabetic. When he was diagnosed at 11, we observed this idea of a diabetic alert dog for 6 months before applying and fundraising for a dog. 10 months into it all, we left a very well-known CA non-profit DAD organization. Donor assigned funds were transfered to another local non-profit org that has done service dogs for over 2 decades, and had begun placing DADs. We finally got to handle DOG after DOG, attend puppy classes, handling experience, etc. It was a friendly environment, but long story short, neither the ideal place to get a DAD from. WHAT? Yes. Two orgs down and...& NO MORE TO GO.
See, I'm crazy. I don't know a single T1 mom that doesn't share a bit of that with me. I'm nuts about making this journey THE BEST possible for our son. So much so, I began researching and networking with whoever was gracious enough to have not banned me or shunned me publicly yet from the rumors. (Leaving the popular crowd isn't easy). 

Our family came to know talented and honest individuals in this field of work. We also learned hard truths...There's no over-seeing party (like gov) to tell us who can and cannot provide these dogs. There is no nationally required certification, registration, etc. for these animals. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) protects and provides legal guard for our T1's right to own and go into public with one, but NOTHING ELSE. ADA info on T1's and DADs

So I can honestly set up a website, start a 501c3 (non profit) and go into business providing these dogs. Me. A nobody. A (crazy for my kid) BLOGGER MOM who is passionate about knowing HOW TO make this DAD thing a success for our family.

On the flip side: I support DAD orgs. I network with many of them on a weekly/monthly basis! (Again, just the ones who aren't afraid of being "seen" with me). We had a few options left to continue with various DAD orgs, but that wasn't a family decision we could agree on. And let's face it. I fouled up. Twice over. 

So what to do next? Think back and focus on the one person this all started because of... Our (now) TEENAGE SON. Sean was much more "a kid" when we began this journey. But since, he has sprouted half a foot tall, and his voice is deep, and he is a YOUNG INDEPENDENT MAN! No longer a young kid. This is where crazy mom begins to let go of the reigns. 
My best friend died a month after Sean was diagnosed. I wrote about "The days I watched Type 1 Take her away". We had him doing his own shots before he left the hospital. We have him carry his OWN bag of supplies EVERYWHERE. Sean began this journey with a lot of expected responsibility. I wanted to keep him alive to the best of my "mom" abilities considering his blooming age. And now it is time to get back to SEAN on the issue of HIS diabetic alert dog...

Sean was sick of me running the show (I get it, I heard it). Since we have great communication, we ALL sat down and talked. 
  • What kind of dog do you like?
  • What did/didn't you like about what we've done so far?
  • What does this look like TO YOU, son...
Answers included:
  1. "Can I get a Rottweiler?" (he grew up with 2 that have since passed)
  2. "I don't want to be told who my dog is, can I pick the dog out?" 
  3. "I don't want to keep waiting for something that feels so distant to the future." (Mind you the 10 months as accepted clients with our first org, we were not promised a "tentative"dog, had no contract, were fully funded in 5 months, and hardly EVER handled their pups; even tho we attended half of the events. We were not permitted to puppy raise for them & were told within a year we would know our dog, then one year became two..."Bonding" was a foreign word. Things changed for this org shortly after we left. So looking back, I only speak of it as "our personal unfortunate timing during their transitions." Which was not fun for an 11yr old).
  4. "I like Melissa."
Number 4 is why this is going to work now. Who is "Melissa?"
Sean's biggest fundraiser event back in Nov 2012, was a "BINGO" night sponsored by an amazing family friend that donated supplies and funds to help make it happen. Our church hosted it in their youth room, and local businesses donated prizes per round. 
I was told after we announced our event on Facebook, that we could have invited our org to represent, but, "It was too late as there was another client event and all trainers would be there instead." ALL DOGS, ALL CURRENT FAMILIES. ALL TRAINERS.

Melissa and Jessica far left
So that was that. I hadn't anticipated or even thought of them coming to begin with (totally new to fundraising efforts!), so it was a minor let down...Until that night came, and in the shadows from the parking lot I saw 6 human legs and 8 others. My heart DROPPED! A trainer brought another trainer, and her partner with...DOGS!
As we introduced ourselves and then these wonderful women to our supporters at the event, one 5mo old pup in training alerted Sean of his blood sugar drop. APPLAUSE. BELIEVERS. We were on our way!
Melissa was one of those trainers. It was a good night.

4 months into being clients, outings began. It was a rough start since no consistent day of the month had been established, and we travel a LOT. Emails came just weeks before dates, and we knew we were missing precious "doggie visits" only attending half of them. So we planned a special field trip with the ladies from BINGO night.

Disneyland/Public access with DOGS?! Whoa. New territory. Again, one young pup alerted Sean. APPLAUSE. BELIEVERS.
Melissa and her wife were such a huge asset to that field trip. One of our DONORS from TEXAS happen to be there and we met up for an hour in California Adventure. I grew up with the kids from this family, their dad is over 50 with Type 1 diabetes and manages it beautifully. They asked SO MANY questions, and Melissa and Jessica were prompt to share with passion and detail. That was huge for us to witness and have our donors walk away with.

The Hirt family on left and far right...Sean in "33" jersey
Since Melissa has been an intricate part of this journey since it began, plus she knows dogs, knows I'm crazy, and considers SEAN; we asked her about his vision..."Can he have a Rottweiler?" She took that in and replied, (being patient and listening as usual) is there ANY other breed you like, Sean? He replied, "Australian Shepherd." Melissa LIT UP. Melissa is very comfortable raising that breed for diabetic alert dog work!
So long story short:
Meet "FLINT"

He comes from a breeder that has two litters; one from working lines. That doesn't guarantee success, but it certainly helps. Melissa met the Dame and Sire separate from us to learn their temperament. She was impressed. Sean meets with Flint once a week before he is ready for pick up at 8 weeks old. 
Melissa educated us on her "puppy test"in which the breeder is also very familiar with! This breeder trained her Dame and Sire (and father to Sire) as asthma alert, seizure response, Tachycardia (heart beat) and autism support dogs. JACKPOT.

I do not plan to "self train" alone. Shoot, recall how this started? We had an organization/s! I am not in a remote area, and I have worked long and hard enough to get feedback (and pro support) for this round. THIRD TIME IS A CHARM! Online, FB org friends and acquaintances have become part of this journey too. It's like a village effort, as I am a "village person." This may have started out as "Sean's Journey" but now it's more like "Following Flint"...What is FLINT? Besides the name of the main character from "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (Which is how his younger bro came up with the name)!
"The exact mode of formation of flint is not yet clear but it is thought that it occurs as a result of chemical changes in compressed sedimentary rock formations, during the process of 'diagenesis'. (change of sediment)" -Thank you Wikipedia.

If you know about blood sugar and DADs, you can appreciate that definition. Diabetic Alert Dogs, DO NOT SMELL BLOOD SUGAR! They smell some unknown "X-factor",my friend Debby Kay calls it in THIS must have book on scent work. 
What they catch is more or less the chemical change- THE RISE AND FALL within blood sugar changes. So capturing the scent incapsulates the "X-factor" we work from that, mostly.
Each of us starts somewhere. This is OUR JOURNEY. You are welcome to come alongside us! 
Find me on Facebook, friend me and send me a message you'd like to join the "Diabetic Alert Dog self-training support group." You will find Melissa in there, as well as other qualified DAD trainers that assist in self-training support. You will NOT be hunted down for business reasons in there. It's a good place to find help.