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.