Monday, May 04, 2009

Big Shoes (Paws) to Fill - New Service Dog

It is not clear to me what the various feeds pick up. I know that my Amazon blog is not picking up the video but I'm not sure about these pictures. If you can't see the pictures just click on the link to the blog it's from and it will take you to where you can see the pictures.

This is Tonka (yellow lab, named because he is the biggest and most fun of the litter), who is 9 weeks old. He is going to become Billy Ray's service dog when he is about six months old. We are going to visit him this weekend.

This time we are going to do things a little different because of Billy Ray's health and my schedule. The breeder (whose name and contact information I will reveal when she is ready for that) is going to do more of the basic training before I start working with Billy Ray and Tonka at about six months old. As I have been taking notes and talking to the breeder about what is important in terms of training, I have been thinking about what Billy Ray (and all of us) has gained from his dogs and what we have learned.

Dogs have been important to Billy Ray. His first experience with a dog was in foster care before we adopted him at 15 months old. He was a little much for my older poodle on placement so the veterinarian selected five month old Katie for him.
Together Katie and Billy Ray, then about 4 years old, went through basic dog obedience training and he learned how to handle her pretty well. He had her from the time she was 5 months old until about 14 years old. She was a pet not a service dog but she made a real difference in his life.

As Katie was aging, I began to look at a replacement. I looked into the idea of a service dog but couldn't find appropriate trainers. Somehow I found Dana PawsAbilities in northern Washington state. Her organization is primarily obedience training not a service dog trainer but she took time on the phone to give me tips for making it work. I remember the first thing she advised me to figure out was what jobs the dog would be expected to do for Billy Ray. I don't know why Dana didn't get impatient with me given it wouldn't benefit her business but she was always helpful.

Thanks to Dana's help and Carolyn Jones, 4-H leader and friend, who found us what was to become the perfect service dog for Billy Ray, we had several good years with Sheba. We took Sheba almost everywhere with Billy Ray. His support staff took her with him to his school program and other activities. The picture below is my favorite - he is shredding papers at Silver Falls School District Office and she is right there comforting him.

Unfortunately, Sheba, while perfect for Billy Ray had one flaw, she loved to chase cars along our fence when they drove onto the neighbors property. She injured her leg. We treated it for a long time and it was felt that surgery wouldn't help. Eventually she couldn't work with Billy Ray but remained a pet until there was nothing else that could be done to keep her comfortable and we put her down.

Enter Penny Lane who was in foster care with Heartland Weim Rescue and we heard about her through our friends Cliff and Shela Nielsen . Through a chain of events and the fact we had a friend's son coming home from college in Olathe, KS and could transport her Penny Lane came to be Billy Ray's next service dog. She was the dog no one wanted and was at risk of being put down because she had problems with her ears and was partially deaf. I had provided similar care to Katie when she had problems with her ears so was not frightened away from Penny Lane. However, what I didn't realize was that Katie was well trained before her ears became and issue and we needed to provide more extensive training to Penny Lane because she was a service dog whereas Katie had been a pet. Training for Penny Lane has not been very successful and she has become much more of a pet than a service dog.

However, Penny Lane has contributed to Billy Ray and to me in ways I could have never trained her to do. We got her about a year before Billy Ray had the health crisis and ventilator episode shared previously. When he began go through breathing changes which have never been thoroughly diagnosed but he appears to literally stop breathing and Penny Lane somehow senses it and comes to get me. I can sleep because I trust her to monitor it. I wrote about it here .

Below is a picture that shows the relationship between the two. He doesn't really want her to sleep on the bed because she lays on the covers and he can turn over as well. However, this one morning he was dressed and went back to bed and crawled up beside him on his other pillow. He covered her up and fortunately this was one of those Kodak momemts I didn't miss.

As a rescue dog her exact age was a guess. It was suggested that she might be 2 years old but our vets have suggested she was probably 4-5 years old when we got her nearly 5 years ago. She has had multiple health issues the entire time but she has been manageable. Her weight has been a constant struggle and it was just believed that Billy Ray gave her too many bites (which he does) but it was finally discovered that she has a thyroid problem and we have been treating that. However, recent tests performed show that she has liver issues as well. She is being treated for both and is on a special diet for the liver issues. Her vet advised that we would probably be able to maintain her another year but two years was stretching it.

Thus, it seemed time to consider a new service dog. There are now service dog agencies that we could work with but because it is used a specific way for Billy Ray and I want to work with it myself, we are going through a breeder we know. I hope to share on pictures and video blogging when we get started training.

Until next time,

Peggy Lou Morgan

for a complete list of my blogs and sites see


Gina Hale said...

it is great to read this. thanks for the posting. we have been training a service dog for Em and appreciate the insights. we have always said that emma speaks dog.


Cliff and Shela Nielsen said...

Peggy sorry it took me so long to get back to you .....thank you for the link. I need to put a link back to you. I will see what I can do. I want you to know there is a young woman here in Ontario that has founded an autism center. She is close friends with our daughter and daughter-in-law. I will ask our daughter to pass on this information.