It would be a pretty big understatement to say a lot has happened since the last post. Suzie is now living in her forever home in Washington state with her girl, Annie, a 14 year old T1d. And I am now living in Philadelphia, attending the University of Pennsylvania. So, the blogging and training will be on hold for an unknown amount of time. But, an update on Suzie and the transitioning is much overdue.
Near the end of July, I began corresponding with Annie about her interest in Suzie. After many emails/questions/applications, I thought Suzie would be a good fit for Annie and her family. Annie fit my criteria great – she enjoys working with the family’s Lab mix, she used to run track, and she hopes to be able to take Suzie to school to help keep her blood sugars stable during classes.
Annie’s family, the Westons, began fundraising and I began to prepare Suzie. The Westons live in Vancouver, Washington, which meant that either they would have to fly to Kentucky or I would have to fly to Washington. We had a very small window of time where we could spend 3 days together working on transitioning Suzie and teaching them. Because Suzie would have to fly, I thought it would be better for me to fly with Suzie to Washington because I know her so well, rather than have them try to navigate the airports, security, and over 5 hours of flying during their first day on their own with her. We planned to leave on August 13 to fly to Washington (“We” consisted of myself, Suzie, and my mom – because I was not about to fly alone to the other side of the country to meet people I didn’t know, and try to teach them how to take care of my baby girl!).
I began to work with Suzie on going “Under” chairs and other tight spaces, as well as teaching her to “back up” in order to prepare her for the trip. I was pretty stressed because airlines have been known to not allow service dogs or to give the passenger trouble about the dog.
The morning of the 13th, we drove to Cincinnati airport; our flight left at 8:00 am so we left the house around 4 or 5 am. When we checked in we asked where the animal relief area was and the employee quickly accusingly asked, “You have a pet with you?”. We responded by telling him we had a service animal, and he checked something on the computer and then told us where the relief area was and that we were checked in. That’s not a huge deal except that it was a little stressful, but I was proud that Suzie had been so invisible to him.
Going through security, I put her in a sit stay and I walked through, then called her – the TSA officer was very impressed (I know all real service dogs would be able to do that, but I’m sure they see a lot of fake ones). Suzie could not have been a better representative of a obedient, working service dog. And I was so proud of her.
When boarding the first flight, the stewardess at the gate was not happy that we had a dog with us, she rolled her eyes and muttered. She informed us that we were required to sit in the bulkhead, but then let us through. This plane was tiny so I was really glad we were required to sit in the bulkhead, not real appreciative of her attitude about it, but I’m not sure that Suzie could have fit under the seats anyway. As this was Suzie’s first ever flight I was pretty nervous. For takeoff, she was a little confused, but didn’t even get up out of her down. I pet her calmly and she did perfectly. For both flights, she was an angel. She only sat up one or two times in over 5 hours of flying. She was a little stressed – she would eat a treat or two but wouldn’t chew on any bones. But I could not have asked for her to be any calmer or more obedient. We traveled from 4am until 4pm, and for the entire 12 hours she was perfect.
We landed around 1pm in Washington (4pm in Lexington), and our hotel wasn’t available until later that afternoon. The three of us were exhausted – beyond exhausted – but we couldn’t go anywhere, so we met Annie and her mom for the first time. Because Suzie is so friendly and outgoing, I didn’t want her to immediately be going crazy over Annie when Annie pet her, so I asked them to completely ignore Suzie for this first meeting. This way they could see Suzie and I work together, how we interact, my commands, etc. I have to say, Annie and her mom were champs at this; I know it must have been hard for them to ignore their new girl, but they did a great job and it allowed Suzie to stay focused on working.
After about an hour or two, my mom, Suzie, and I then checked into our hotel and took a much needed nap! We then went to the Westons’ home to introduce Suzie to the new environment and the rest of the family, as well as to work out logistics such as where she would sleep, the boundaries, etc. I took her vest off and let them pet her, and she ran around in the backyard some. The Westons’ older dog, Lexie is a Chesapeake/Lab mix, and she wasn’t very fond of Suzie; her interactions were almost the exact same as Otto’s though (our Lab mix), so it didn’t phase Suzie (that’s both good and bad!) The two dogs started to get along a little better as the weekend went on. That evening Annie and I went to their small park near their house to let Annie work with Suzie a little for the first time. Suzie did okay for a few minutes, but then she started doing zoomies. She ran up jumped and grabbed the bringsel hanging from my belt loop, then ran off with it, dropped it, and kept running around; and she wouldn’t come when Annie called her. I called her, got her settled down, and put the leash and bringsel back on. Annie did a few more commands where she was more under control, then Suzie grabbed my bringsel and pawed me. I didn’t expect her to alert the first day, but we headed back to the house the check and sure enough – Annie was high! Her zoomy alert was not acceptable, but I think she was overtired and a little crazy from working all day, which is very understandable. She is still a dog!
That night, Thursday, the three of us went back to the hotel room to rest up. Friday was spent doing errands. We first went to their grocery store, Fred Meyers. I started off working with Suzie just to refresh Annie’s memory on how Suzie and I interact. Then, I officially handed Suzie off to Annie, and Annie worked with her from then on. This was a little difficult for me as Suzie and I had such a strong relationship and I knew this was the last time I’d work with her, but Suzie did very well heeling politely next to Annie throughout the whole store. After that we did some little things like go to the bank and the post office. We also visited Annie’s school; this is when Annie had to start telling people they couldn’t pet Suzie – which is one of the hardest things to do when you have a service dog!
We returned to the Weston’s home and my mom and I went to take a nap at the hotel (a common theme!). This was the first time the Westons had Suzie without us around. As I left, they were standing in the yard and I made the mistake of looking back, so I saw Suzie watching intently as I left, and looking confused. It broke my heart.
But, what made it all better is that while we were gone I received a text from Annie’s mom that said Suzie alerted Annie to a 72!! Good low Suzie girl!
Later that evening we went to have dinner with the family. Annie put Suzie on place next to her while we ate. Suzie did get up once when the door was opened for Lexie (the Lab mix) to go outside, and the door was right by Suzie’s nose. But Suzie got right back when asked and stayed there until released after dinner. We went to the Weston’s church to let Annie practice working with Suzie. We used their empty full sized gym, which was a perfect place to work. At first, Suzie was not obeying some of the commands such as “Close” and “Side”; but we worked through it. During the training Suzie did keep alerting, even though Annie didn’t go out of range. Annie was dropping because of the insulin for dinner, and I can’t know for sure, but I think Suzie was alerting because she’s not used to that sort of dropping, since I’m not diabetic my body drops more gradually rather than all in one shot. So Suzie has to get used to the daily drops and rises that aren’t necessarily out of range.
That night, Suzie stayed with the Westons overnight. Saturday morning Suzie alerted by pulling the bringsel in her kennel, Annie was 67! Good low Suzie!
My mom and I, Suzie, Annie, and Annie’s mom (Lori) all went on a walk that morning on nearby trail. Then we went to the church again to continue working on Suzie obeying commands from Annie. One thing that we really emphasized was making recalls exciting. Because Annie wasn’t used to Suzie, nor Suzie to Annie, Suzie would perform a recall for Annie but she would sloooowwwlllllyyyy walk to her and sit in front. So, I held Suzie’s vest and Annie would get her all revved up and excited, then when she said “Suzie come!” I released her and Annie would run backwards and when Suzie reached her, she gave her a high value reward. This helped a lot because after a few repetitions of this, we did a more formal recall and Suzie was still excited from the revved up recalls, but under control.
After practice we went to lunch at a restaurant so that they could practice in that situation. As always, Suzie did very well. It was a booth on a raised platform so it was a little more difficult than most seating, but Suzie just went under and laid down like always.
The Weston family, Suzie, my mom, and I then went to a pig roast at their friend's. There were lots of people everywhere, as well as a beagle that charged Suzie as soon as it saw her. Annie did a great job of fending off the beagle and Suzie stayed completely calm (this could be because Suzie’s convinced everyone loves her and wants to be her friend!). We ate, talked, I met some of Annie’s cousins, then my mom and I had to head out for our flight that left at 10pm.
I miss her love and excitement of training that caused her “Close” command to become more similar to the hop of a jackrabbit than anything else; I miss her hilarious personality that caused me to call her a dork on a daily basis. I miss how she would sometimes bring me 3 bringsels to alert, to ensure she received her puppy party. I miss how when she wanted to sit on my lap she went head first, flopping the rest of her body down afterwards. I even miss how my Doozy learned to false alert in hopes of being allowed on the bed for the night. And I miss how when I caved, and did let her on the bed, she always laid her head on my stomach and we would fall asleep together.
Suzie, we spent more time together than apart for those months; you were my partner and my friend. But as much as I enjoyed our 9 months together and as much as it hurts to let you go, you have a much bigger and more important job; my role was only to prepare you as best as I could. As the song says, “I’ll have tears as you take off, but I’ll cheer as you fly.” You could not have been placed with a better, or more dedicated girl and family. So watch over Annie and protect her, this is what you were made for.
Suzie is now Annie's girl. She is now bringing Annie 3 bringsels, is flopping onto Annie's lap, and perhaps even sleeping on Annie's stomach. Suzie is working on transitioning into her new life; Annie and I are still having lots of communication as Suzie tries to fit into their family, schedule, and environment. I wish I could have stayed with the Westons for about 3 weeks instead of 3 days to help them learn to work with Suzie, but part of the transition is just spending time with each other and forming a relationship. And they are doing a great job working with Suzie, especially considering that my teaching was often not nearly as clear as I would have liked it to have been! (I'm much better at teaching dogs than humans...) But as work through the changes and challenges, Annie is learning how to trouble shoot and she continues to work with Suzie on a daily basis. Having a DAD is hard work! But in the end, when the alerts become more consistent and the relationship is strong, the hard work pays off.
Currently I am in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, so the dog training has come to a halt. I am volunteering at the Working Dog Center at Penn in an attempt to satisfy my dog addiction. I hope to be able to train another DAD at some point, until then I’ll be studying among the concrete and skyscrapers!