Sunday, June 29, 2008

Applying for a Successor Service dog

I thought I would share with everyone what the process of applying for Summit Assistance Dogs has been like for me. I finally had made the decision to complete and mail in the application. Truth be told I had completed most of it a few months earlier, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish the final essay on why I wanted a service dog. Finally, in November with much travel looming in the first part of 2008 I decided that the best time for me to officially retire Bastien would be Christmas --I know what a present to myself. I really wanted to make sure I had time to take him and all of his things up to my mom's and get him settled in.

I had to fill out the form complete with contact information for my vet, groomer, and any trainers I had worked with in the past. I also needed a form from my doctor. Finally, I had to get two letters of personal reference from people who are not my family. I also needed the $35 application fee. I sent the application off and Bastien and I proceeded to leave on our last trip together. We spent a week in San Antonio attending the American Council of Foreign Language Teachers, which had an attendance of nearly 7,000 people. During our time there Summit made their first call to me;however, since I was in San Antonio they spoke to my sister/roommate who gave them a lot of much needed details about me and my lifestyle. When I returned they called again to schedule my first assessment, which would take place over two days in Anacortes, Wa. My assessment would be in January, since neither the weather or the holidays made earlier possible. Summit has only seven staff and many, many volunteers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Air Carrier Access Act Regs Simultaneously Improve and Potentially Limit Travel

The Air Carrier Access Act for those unfamiliar is the airline/air travel, it can best be explained as the ADA for airlines. Recently, I was surfing a new website for people with disabilities,, and I came across this article Air Carrier Access Act Amended. I was reading the article and generally happy with with the new rules which come into affect May 2009; that is until I read
"On flights over eight hours, airlines can require passengers with service animals to provide documentation that the animal won’t have to relieve itself, or that it can relieve itself in a way that won’t create a health or sanitation issue on the flight. "

I, for one, would like to know what that documentation has to be and just who has to provide it. For most vets the life of a traveling service dogs is little understood. My vet was astonished when my service dog and I went to Spain in 2005 and I told him my boy went 18 hours without relieving himself. My good friend and owner training mentor, Don Alfera, taught me you always fly you service dog high and dry. Meaning you didn't feed them the meal before you fly and you pick up the water bowl two hours before you fly.
I planned our flight carefully to go through San Fransisco International with plenty of time to visit the dog potty area. I got off the plan and immediately began telling airline staff that I needed to take my dog out. They said to ask the staff at my next gate. I kept insisting but to no avail. So I get to my gate in the international terminal and the staff their tell me that this is a secured area and no one can leave. Okay, plan B. I had packed puppy pee pads just in case. I took my service dog into the stall and put down the pad telling him to go. He had none of it. Had I been able to take him out as I had planned it would have only been about nine hours for him. I knew nine hours on a night flight would be no problem for my boy. Since it was not terribly unusual for him to go the workday between outings.
There are also huge rule changes and additional requirements for those who will be flying with Emotional Support animals as well as for those with Psychiatric Service Dogs. According to the document this is due to a large number of people claiming their animals were Emotional Support or Psychiatric SDs when in fact they were not! Every traveler with disabilities should read and know the new regulations especially section 382.117.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Choosing a program

I mentioned in an early post I mention that I had been accepted as a potential recipient for the Purdy Prison Pet Program years ago. The reason I did not reapply to the that program when Bastien needed to retire was that program had changed the format of its team training, so it was no longer possible for me to meet their requirements. Especially since I now lived more than 200 miles away. When choosing service dog programs to apply to there are many things one must consider such as:

1.Do they train the type of service dog you need?

Many programs only train certain types of service dogs. It is important to ask if the program trains dogs to do the type of work you require. Many programs train hearing dogs, mobility dogs, and dog guides; but few programs train medical alert/response, seizure alert/response, psychiatric service dogs, or dogs for people on the autism spectrum. Cross trained dogs (dogs that are trained in multiple skills such as guide/mobility dog or mobility/medical response) are also rare.

2. Do they place dogs in your area?

All programs have geographic areas they will or will not serve. Make sure you apply only for those programs that serve the area where you live. If there is program training the type of service dog you need and they say they will accept applicants outside the geographic area,make sure you fully understand and can commit to those terms. You may need to travel to the facility several times before placement, you must attend team training, and will need to be re-certified every so often.

3. Do they have limits on the types of tasks they will train? Do you need any of these tasks?

Common examples of tasks that some programs will not train nor allow their dogs to be used for are wheelchair pulling and keeping a child in the confines of the house/yard.

4. What is the policy on other animals in the home?

Some programs do not allow their dogs to be placed in homes with other dogs. The reasoning behind this can include fear that the original dog in the house will not accept the new dog, concern that loyalty on the part of the handler to the resident dog will interfere with bonding with the service dog, and fear that the recipient will not have enough time or resources to properly care for all of the animals.

5. Who maintains ownership of the dog?
Some programs maintain ownership of the dog for the life of the dog. Other programs maintain ownership of the dog for the working life of the dog, relinquishing ownership only after the dog retires. Some programs relinquish ownership at placement. Still others maintain ownership through the first year. It is important to know who under the contract you sign with any organization owns the dog. Many programs maintain ownership to prevent These highly skilled dogs:
  • From ending up in shelters or other horrible situations in the event something happens to the handler or the dog gets loose
  • To ensure that the dog and partner remain safe to work in public
  • To ensure the safety and health of the dogs they place
  • To ensure the human partner maintains and works the dog as agreed at placement
    6. What training methods does the program employ? Are you willing and able to learn and use these methods?
      Do not apply for a dog that uses training methods you disagree with or are unwilling to learn and use. I have seen many dogs come out of training schools highly skilled and trained only to watch the dog turn into little more than a nice dog because the handlers did not maintain the training.
      7. What is the placement process and can you meet these requirements?
      The placement process each program has it there for very specific reasons. If you cannot or do not want to participate in any part of a particular program's process do not waste their time and yours by submitting an application. If you do not understand any part of the process ask questions!
        8. What costs are involved in placement?
        While many service dog programs are non-profits and do not charge charge for the dogs themselves. Many do require their clients to pay their room, board, and transportation for team training. Also, some may provide basic gear for the dog, but require the client to purchase specialized gear.
        9. What types of support/follow up does the program provide after placement?
        • Do they want the client to submit regular updates?
        • Do they require the team to come back to the training center at specific intervals for follow up?
        • How do they handle training maintenance questions after placement?
        • Will they assist with training additional tasks if needed after placement?
        • What is the procedure for retiring/replacing dogs if needed?
        • What is the procedure for determining if the match is successful or not?

        Saturday, June 21, 2008

        No one owner trains in a vacuum

        Successful Owner Trainers of their service dogs do not train in a vacuum. I, for one, had a lot of support each and every bit of which I am eternally grateful. When I got Bastien, as I had mentioned in previous posts, I had had dogs as family pets but my parents did much of the work. The house training, the leash training, and the setting of the rules relating to the dogs and children.

        With Bastien I learned, tried, made mistakes, had successes and many frustrations. We tried out many training tools, but I steadfastly stuck to operant conditioning training and as much as I could positive reinforcement. I will admit to using a training collar for my safety and his during those dunderhead teenage months. Training collars include things like choke chains, pronged collars, no pull harnesses, head collars (i.e. Gentle Leader, Haltis, and Snoot Loops). Training collars are often used on fully trained service dogs to assist the handler, to assist the dog in focusing, or a combination of both. Head collars should not ever be confused for muzzles they are not built to limit a dog's ability to drink, eat, bark or bite. They do work on a on the theory of where the head goes the body will follow. Same idea a horse halters. It also takes less strength to control a dog wearing a head halter, since it is difficult for dogs to use their full body strength like they can on regular collars and body harnesses.

        My Support and Learning Circle included:

        • My Family
        • My Friends
        • The Members and Trainers of the Puget Sound Assistance Dog Club Club
        • The About Face K9 Academy in Olympia, WA for puppy class, basic and intermediate obedience.
        • The Good Citizen Canine in Tacoma, WA for advanced obedience, remedial recall work (screwed it up in my rookiness), rehab for the incidents with the automatic doors (will post more on this later), Prep course for the Canine Good Citizen Test
        • Jeanne Hampl- Hampl's Dog Obedience, Former Head trainer for the Purdy Prison Pet Program for task training, Public Access Testing
        • Books tons of them

        I wanted to ensure that both my dog and I met the industry and legal standard for service dogs. Only in the U.S. are owner trained service dogs recognized and given access the same as school/program trained dogs, and I wanted to ensure my dog was as well trained as a program dog. Bastien over his career passed the Canine good Citizen and Public Access Test twice and the Therapy Dogs International Therapy Dog Test. If we as an owner training community do not maintain high standards of training owner training may very well become a thing of the past.

        Thursday, June 19, 2008

        Donate to Summit Assisantce Dogs

        Summit Assistance Dogs relies almost entirely on the generosity of individual donors, corporate donors, and foundation grants to fulfill our mission of “empowering people with disabilities to greater heights”. Each assistance dog placed costs thousands of dollars to train and although we encourage our applicants to be proactive in raising what money they can, many are able to contribute only a small amount. Summit never denies a person based on financial ability and it is our goal to provide a dog to every person who wishes this special partnership. We can do so only with your help. Please consider partnering with us by sending your donation today. We are so grateful for the support of our loyal donors!
        -Donate Now
        -Donate via Mail
        Please print our PDF donation form and/or mail a check to:Summit Assistance Dogs7575 Chestnut LaneAnacortes, WA 98221
        -Workplace Donations
        Donate through your workplace by designating Summit Assistance Dogs as your charity of choice. Our most common employee campaign designation numbers are listed on our home page. Be sure to ask your employer if they will make a matching gift.
        -Bank Transfers
        Summit can arrange automatic withdrawals from your bank account for donors who wish to give monthly.
        -Memorial/Tribute Donations
        Please print our PDF donation form and mail along with information about who the memorial or tribute donation is for, and to whom you would like a card sent acknowledging your gift.
        -Donate Stock
        Please contact our CPA David Hall at or (360) 293-9505 for details.
        -Donate a Vehicle
        Visit Donate for Charity at or call 1-866-392-4483 to arrange a vehicle donation to Summit.
        -Make a Bequest
        Please contact your attorney and Summit Assistance Dogs to arrange a bequest.
        -Donate In-Kind Goods or Services Check out our wishlist for needs.
        Questions? Please call or e-mail us at: (360) 293-5609 or

        Contribute to my new Service Dog

        Even though Summit Assistance Dogs does not charge for the dog itself, each recipient must be able to attend a team training with their new dog in Anacortes, WA for anywhere between 10-21 days.
        I am working to save money myself, but I work for a non-profit and I have to take at least two weeks from work to get my dog.
        Expenses to get Service dog:
        -1 large dog crate $100
        -Service dog gear (harness, leashes, collars,dog beds, dog toys, treats) $350
        -Placement vet visit $65
        -Gas to get to and from Anacortes $250
        -Hotel Fees $1,400
        -Groceries for two weeks $150

        Wednesday, June 18, 2008

        Deciding to Owner Train

        Owner training your service dog is not a decision to make lightly. There are many variables that go into such a decision including:

        • Energy levels
        • Health status (are you healthy enough to keep up with a young untrained dog?)
        • Funds for buying/adopting a dog
        • Time to assess potential candidates
        • Funds to care for the dog
        • Funds for training
        • Full support from family/friends
        • Time to work with the dog
        • Ability to wait for the skills you need to be trained
        • Ability to learn to train then train the skills you need
        • Ability/resources to train the skills you need from a service dog
        • Accept that the dog you picked very well may not make it as a service dog
        • Willingness to start from scratch if a candidate dog turns out to be poorly suited for service dog work

        Many people choose to owner train, because they believe they will get the dog and assistance they want and need faster than applying for a program. The average wait for a program dog is one to three years. Owner training to get a dog faster is a rediculous notion. It can take months sometimes years to find an appropriate candidate, and this potential to make it as a service dog may not turn out to be cut out for the work. Then you spend several months to a year, depending upon the age of the dog, the person's skill as a trainer, and the ability of a dog and human to learn and work together(in other words are you and the dog a good match). Then you spend at least six months training the specific tasks you need to help you with your disability. If you have a dog who cannot pass the Canine Good Citizen, is fearful, is aggressive towards people, children, small animals or other dogs; the dog you have is not an appropriate service dog candidate. All in all you are at at least two years to owner train your dog.

        Friday, June 13, 2008

        What kind of dog is that?

        Ever since I rescued Bastien from the Seattle Humane Society people have wanted to know what kind of dog he is. Originally, the shelter has him classed as a Newfoundland mix (which was what I was looking for), we believed the other part to be Australian Shepherd. Over the years we have come to believe that he is an English Shepherd. These dogs are not for first time dog owners and must have a job. If you don't given them work they will create their own! Bastien in his retirement has taken to freeing my mother's house of vermin, keeping the peace between all the dogs, and become the office dog for my father's business.

        Wednesday, June 11, 2008

        The Process of Retirement

        Retiring Bastien was a long process mostly because that's the way I needed it to be. I remember the process of choosing him though to today, and I know my life and the person I am has been forever changed by having him in my life.

        I knew Bastien needed to retire. I had known he would have to retire fairly young as working dogs go since when I saw his hip x-rays at two years old. I asked the vet if I should retire him then and there. He asked me about the kind of work I would be using Bastien for and after giving him a detailed list the vet felt the work would not hurt him. He did ask me if I understood that his working life would be shorter and that I might not be able to ask him to do certain tasks. He also pointed out I would have to watch for signs that his hips were deteriorating. I started him on glucosomine and chrondroitin and fish oil supplements. For many years these supple allowed him to work and play with little sign of the the bad hips underneath all that fur. The last two years I had him with me, it slowly became apparent that what I was doing was no long enough to allow him work happily starting with more easily overdoing it during romps at the dog park. Overtime, it morphed into an out and out refusal to do certain thing or maintain some positions. I can remember filling out the application to Summit Assistance Dogs with tears in my eyes and Bastien snoring at my feet. Bastien is my twenties, outlasting and sticking with me through three jobs, three apartments, three moves and a boyfriend. I still find myself giving the "wait" command at curbs or talking to him and he is not there. I do feel silly but these are hard habits to break. December 27th I packed Bastien and all of his things (he has a lot of things) to move him to my mom's.
        Why I re-homed Bastien
        Many people can't understand how I could give Bastien up. The answer is simple: it was the best thing for him. Bastien has always had me to himself and never spent more than a few hours alone. It was completely unfair to expect that he could understand why I was going with another dog and not him. Furthermore, he had always been reluctant about sharing my affection with other dogs. He was never aggressive, but always made it clear I was his and that was that. He will not even allow me to train other dogs without the world's loudest hissy fit. The need to re-home is not always an automatic. It depends on the working dog in question. For Bastien it is the right thing. I visit him regularly and hound my parents regarding his care (also a hard habit to give up). He is very happy in his retirement and is always showing my parents how smart he is.

        Sorry for my long absence

        Hi all,
        I began this blog with good intentions of keeping you all posted throughout the process of retiring Bastien, the furry love of my life. While I knew the process would be difficult, I don't think one can ever prepare for giving up a life partner of seven and a half years. I have now been living without Bastien for six months and am deep in the process of getting a new partner. I am also struggling to learn to let Bastien be and enjoy his retirement.