Service Dogs

It’s official: Doc is a registered service dog! Quite a long way from being on the to-be-euthanized-in-24-hours list at the shelter.

Here’s a little about me: I deal with anxiety. A few years back I finally got on medication, and WOW, what a difference it makes! But a few months ago I started having panic attacks on a regular basis — any time I’m in a crowd of strangers. This makes going to Costco, my honey’s work functions, or the kids’ sports games rather challenging. What we did notice that was that Doc helped.

Because I’ve never trained a psychiatric service dog before, I bought a book. It’s always hilarious for me to buy dog training books; in this case, I was able to briefly skim the first eighty pages on general good manners, and go straight to the last ten pages on psychiatric training! I learned some nifty new things, and got Doc trained.

Before this, I hadn’t known you could have a service dog for panic attacks. I thought that fell under the purview of emotional support animal, which aren’t allowed in many places and wouldn’t do me much good. But a service dog — a dog who is trained to actually DO something in certain situations — can alert to a panic attack, do certain things to make a panic attack less likely (in my case, lay behind me so that people are forced to give me extra space), and if it happens, help short circuit a panic attack (by pressing on the stomach and abdomen with their bodies). Cool!

To have a service dog, you must first have a disability (mental, emotional, or physical) that requires outside service. Anyone can train a service dog (note: a guide dog provides a service, but is not the same as a service dog and specific trainers need to train them), so for those people who can’t afford a trainer, they can do it themselves. A service dog MUST be housebroken and not a nuisance; those are the two reasons an establishment can ask you to remove your service dog.

By law, people can ask what service your dog provides (but may not ask for a demonstration; a good thing, as I can’t have a panic attack on command), but may not ask what your disability is (that is between you and your doctor).

All of this is really just to say, Way to go, Doc! He’ll have his badges and whatnot in the next couple of days. (By law, he doesn’t have to be registered or have any sort of identification. By practicality, it makes life easier if he does!)

Jenna

 

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I haven’t died, I swear!

Hi, guys! Long time since a post, I know. I went from once every two weeks to never! I’ve been struggling with major back pain, then had surgery (which went well!) and I’m still only back to work part time from surgery, doing physical therapy, and resting a lot. It’s remarkably difficult to type on the computer while laying on your side…

Cash and Lily have been champion cuddlers and caretakers, and I’m getting back on my feet slowly — and hopefully back to posting here a little more quickly! If you’d like to see what’s going on and get semi-regular updates (as well as links to studies, funny dog cartoons, and lots of cute pictures) you can join Lily and Cash’s Facebook page. The link is right on the sidebar, there!

Be back soon!

Jenna

The Feathers in Feathers and Fur

The name “Feathers and Fur” came about because of my mother. It was her idea! I’ve always had birds, and at the time I was training both birds and dogs. She suggested combining them. (The name appealed in other ways, too. For instance, the long fur on the legs of some breeds of dogs are referred to as “feathers.”)

I have a special place in my heart for African Greys, having owned one before. (That’s a long, and heartbreaking, story.) I get along better with them than with any other parrot. I know, because I’ve owned several other parrots!

Sadly, in October I had to put my last parrot down. Bobby was fantastic, a great help, truly frustrating, and hilarious. At the time, that was the end of the feathers of Feathers and Fur — the first time that’s happened since I started using the name eight years ago. It took some time for me to grieve and recover, and even then I wasn’t sure I was ready for another pet of any sort, and especially not a high-maintenance parrot.

After several months, something inside me shifted. I’ve done my research, bought books, read scientific articles, brushed up on parrot theory and raising practices, and it’s time to bring the feathers back into Feathers and Fur!

It is with great pleasure that I tell you I found Bird Heaven Aviaries (and their Facebook page) and their Timneh Greys!

My baby-to-be was born last Saturday. At that point, he or she looked like this:

 

(She or he is going to get uglier before he or she gets cuter, but eventually she or he will be adorable.)

As of this post, he or she looks like this:

Papooga / Foter.com / CC BY

I warned you: uglier. The cute yellow down leaves first, and pinfeathers will start coming in in the next few weeks. Along with dog info, I’ll start posting a picture a week, and you can follow along as the baby grows. He or she probably won’t come home until mid August, but a baby is on the way. Soon Feathers and Fur will have feathers once more!

Now… all I need is a name!

Jenna

Coming Out: Things people don’t know about me.

Well, shoot. I mis-dated this post, so it’s out almost two weeks late. Let’s just pretend it’s October, shall we?

“October?” I hear you cry. “Why?”

Well, October was national coming out month. Thing is, there are few people in my life I can come out to anymore (because everyone knows), so I post here. I’m going to tell you all a little secret that everyone knows anyway: I’m lesbian. Or more specifically, butch-sexual. (It’s a term I made up. It means, “Wow, I’m really only attracted to masculine women, the occasional transman, and once in a great while a queer-gendered guy. Talk about picky.”) I’m going to come out again (and out my boifriend with me): my assistant trainer, Quin, is my boifriend. Since that spelling doesn’t fly when you say it out loud, I generally refer to her as my girlfriend.

Aren’t we cute?

Thanks, I think so. 😉

Northern California is a pretty great place to be queer of any sort, which is part of the reason I moved up here from my little town in Southern California. It’s cooler (I lived in the desert), more dog friendly, I’ve only lost two clients because of being gay since I got here, and I have yet to feel physically threatened. Woo hoo!

Here are some commonly asked questions/commonly made statements:

#1: “Why do you even bother telling people you’re gay? It’s none of your clients’ business.”

Well, anyone who has ever met me knows I’m a story-teller. The people who spend a great deal of time in my life are usually fodder for my stories. So, for instance, I might tell a client, “Hey, your dog will always behave better for a person setting new rules who isn’t you. It’s not because they don’t like you, and it’s not because I have a lot of practice — though that helps. It’s in large part because they have no bad habits to break with me.”
Client: *continues to look sad that dog listens to me and not them*
Me: “Okay, for instance, when I needed my dog, Cash, to walk with me better, I had to get Quin, my girlfriend, to walk him. He and I had too many bad habits together; she had to come up with a new training technique for him, that I could then practice to break the old bad habits.”

Do you see what just happened there? In using a story to explain to my client that it’s okay, they haven’t failed, I outed myself. Try going for a day where you interact with a dozen (in my case usually more) people at length and never once mention your significant other. It’s amazingly difficult.

“But,” I hear you cry, “you just announced it on your blog. That didn’t come up in conversation!”

No, that’s true. I’m a big believer in being myself, which also means being visible (as above). I also believe that the more people can put a face to a title (such as ‘gay’), the more likely they are to say, “Hey, those gay people are just people… maybe they should be able to get married, too. I like Jenna, after all, and I don’t want to tell her she can’t get married. That’s silly.” But I don’t believe in shoving it in peoples’ faces: it would be super annoying if I went around saying, “Hi! I’m gay!” At least this way, people have to search me out and decide to stay and read!

#2: People who hold your sexual orientation against you shouldn’t matter.

Yeeeaaaaah. But I have to eat. I’d rather be somewhere where people just don’t care, rather than try and cut out the clients who do care and then wonder if I’ll make enough money to pay the bills.

#3: Have people actually fired you because you’re gay?

Yes and no. If I say something about my girlfriend and they look at me with stunned silence before awkwardly changing the subject, then get off the phone/out of the appointment ASAP and never call me again… I’m pretty sure I can figure out what just happened. I know for a fact of two people who decided not to hire me for that reason. And that’s okay: if they’re that uncomfortable with it, then they wouldn’t be listening or learning very well. They need to find a trainer they’re more comfortable with. I would be vastly uncomfortable having a client that I had serious moral issues with, and I would teach poorly. In that case, I would suggest they find a new trainer. (This has also happened, though usually it happens because I realize that they need a different technique than I’m using, and I know just the person for them.)

#4: Do people ever ask you weird questions?

I am, apparently, an extremely approachable person. I’ve been told I’m very good at not judging. When people feel they can ask questions that might seem foolish or get them judged in other circumstances, and they can do so without being teased or ridiculed or otherwise emotionally harmed, they ask. So, yes, I’ve been asked a WIDE variety of questions. I love them. It means people are thinking.

#5: Are you still in touch with your family?

My family IS AWESOME. As are my friends. My extended family… well, I didn’t see my aunts and uncles much anyway, those I did see are supportive, and my cousins rock. I don’t actually think I came out to my immediate family so much as started waxing poetic about my first butch boifriend, DK (who later became a very good male friend, Ryan). My coming out moments went like this:

Chelsea (my little sister): Would you date her?
Me: YES.
Chelsea (relieved): Oh, good. I thought you might be stringing her along without realizing it.
Me: Hey! I’m not that mean!
Chelsea: But you can be that clueless.
(She’s right.)

and:

Me: And she’s wonderful and handsome and so on–!!
Dad: *highly amused* So… are you gay? Or bi? Or do you just love people?
Me: *ponders* …I just love people.
Dad: I’m glad for you, Jenna.

I don’t think any of my other family said much of anything. They all took it in stride. *grins*

One of the other things that comes up in my life on a semi-regular basis is people apologizing for outing me. So I’m going to stay it now: Out me! Feel free to use me as an example. Tell people about the wacky gay dog trainer or the sensible gay homeschooler who came out okay after all. (Thanks, Mom!) It gives me a secret pleasure to know I”m helping to broaden peoples’ horizons! Silly, I know, but there you have it.

“Wait,” I hear you cry. “You were HOMESCHOOLED?” Yup! I went to kindergarten and college and nothing in between. It probably saved my life. Other things that people are surprised to hear, that put a face to unusual experiences:
– I suffered from severe depression as a teen and young adult, including suicidal thoughts, ideation, and near-actions.
– I have an extreme case of a type of sensory disability that affects my reading, depth perception, writing, light sensitivity, and other minor things. You can learn about it here.
– I used to get panic attacks thinking about going to work, the one and only semester I worked at a “normal” job (ie, one that wasn’t outdoors and/or didn’t involve animals).
– I am caffeine sensitive: it will also give me panic attacks. (So sad. But I love my decaf coffee!)
– I had to stop riding and training horses because I was very good at it, and so ended up with some seriously naughty horses who wanted to hurt their riders. Riding horses is now anxiety-provoking for me. I hope to get back into lessons and overcome this anxiety some time in the next year.
– I write novels. I have five novels published and a number of short stories as well, but none of them have a thing to do with dog training.

Finally, to celebrate National Coming Out Month, I’ll link you to a few articles, if you’d like to keep reading:

Don’t Ask. Tell On coming out as a straight ally. I quite liked it, and everyone could use more allies.
National Coming Out Day: It’s Actually Okay to Stay Closeted When it’s safer to stay “in” than to come out, that’s what you should do.

Now… back to plotting my next book. 😉

Jenna

Charity

Business has been good lately. Good enough, in fact, that I’m making it a point to send a minimum of $100/month to various charities, both local and international. (This is in addition to the money I put in the plastic boxes at grocery and pet stores, clothes and food donated regularly, and the money I give to the nearby homeless guys.)

I’m grateful for the fact that I can pay my bills, save for bigger things, and have a little left over, and very aware of the fact that we’re all a step away from needing help. I do what I can to extend that help. When I was barely making ends meet I could do a lot less, and mostly in the form of non-monetary things. Now, I have a larger cash flow, and I’m excited to pay it forward.

This month I sent money to War Child InternationalWe Can Be Heroes (DC comics will match donations sent through here to the Horn of Africa), and now the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.

I’d like to extend a thank you to my clients, who’ve helped make this paying forward possible. If you have a charity you particularly like, let me know in the comments and I’ll see about it making the list for an upcoming month!

J

The passing on of the wheelchair

Have I mentioned my wheelchair dog, Sam?

Sam is who got me into dog training. I met Sam when he was about 4 years old, and aggressive. Normally there are types of aggression; dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs specifically, or humans specifically, or are very prey-driven. Sam was all of the above. He was a 125 pounds of muscle and fur, and he attacked people.

I ended up taking him on because I was fearless, needed the money, and no one else would. (That is probably my biggest weakness! “No one else will help you? I WILL!”) Dog trainers often don’t work with human aggression because it’s very difficult to turn a dog around (for many reasons), and because it’s such a high liability. I got bit two years ago, for instance, and was stuck with thousands of dollars of hospital costs (thank goodness for health insurance; the bills racked up to over $24,000 eventually, most of which was covered) and almost two months off work, with no sick days or paid leave! When I’m off work, I don’t make money.

Something like this can destroy a dog training business, if you don’t have the cushion to ride through it. I did, along with parents who were willing to fly up and help out, but I can understand why most dog trainers don’t want to take the risk!

That said, I was willing. I re-trained Sam, fell in love with him, and when he started to go crippled four years later I took him home to southern California. (Don’t panic; I do live in the NorCal Bay Area now! I didn’t then, though.)

Sam did really well for the first six months. I found some alternative treatments that helped, including a dog chiropractor, we were able to get his back feet (which he’d been dragging until they were bloody) to stop bleeding through the use of dog boots, and strengthened the muscles in his back, hips, and legs so he could walk better. Then he took a downturn, and I was afraid that I’d have to put him down.

Enter my then-landlord, who welded as a hobby, and my neighbor’s daughter, who had outgrown her child’s bike. She donated her bike, he took it apart and put it back together, and with a lot of ingenuity we soon had a perfectly-balanced dog wheelchair. I taught Sam to walk in it, and like he had done with so many things, he took to it right away with all the trust and confidence I’d come to expect from him. (To the left: Sam, a few days after getting his wheelchair, with all four feet square on the ground –at this point he could use them as long as they weren’t bearing weight — and the tires still pink. We had yet to add the padding across his shoulders and did so soon, but the pressure wasn’t great so it was worth letting him run around even without it!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is Sam, the day before I put him down. You can see from the sway in his back and how low his hips sit in the sling that his spinal control is going; before that, his spine was flat and his hips tucked down. There’s me in 2006, and Lily, whom I’d just adopted. She was my neighbor’s dog, and I had no intentino of keeping her — I was going to re-train her and send her home — but Sam LOVED her, and the neighbors didn’t really want her back after everything she’d destroyed, so she came to live with me full time and has been a big help!)

 

 

Sam lived just another six months before the paralysis started creeping up his spine, affecting his bladder and bowel control, and then soon his shoulders, too. I brought him home about two days before Christmas, and had him put down almost exactly a year later, on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve kept his wheelchair. I told myself I should post an ad on Craigslist, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was holding it for someone who needed a wheelchair but didn’t have the money to buy one (large wheelchairs are expensive), someone I could meet. Over the years I’ve offered it to people, or had people ask if they could use it, only for things to fall through. I kept it, and waited.

A few weeks ago a friend from SoCal contacted me and said that her friend had a German shepherd who has the same degenerative problem Sam had, and could she put us in contact in case I knew anything that would help? I said, Certainly!

Dawn contacted me right after. I didn’t have any information she didn’t already know — in fact, in the six years since everything happened with Sam, medicine has come farther and she had far more knowledge than I had — but I offered her Sam’s wheelchair. The timing was perfect; I was headed down to visit my family, and could bring it with me.

I met Sheba on a sunny Friday afternoon. She’s a beautiful long haired shepherd with big, rounded ears and a slender nose. She’s smaller than Sam, 80 pounds to his 115 (he’d lost weight by the time we got him in the wheelchair), and she has a hitch in her step where her left hind just doesn’t quite respond well anymore. We put her in Sam’s wheelchair, made some hip slings for her that fit her better than Sam’s would, and started making adjustments.

The chair was built specifically for Sam and was too big for Sheba, but she was a trooper. Very patient as we fussed and adjusted, making it work as well as possible. She has less control in one hind leg than the other, whereas Sam was evenly losing control, which gives her a limp. Her compensation pulls her to the right as she walks, so that overall she remains in a straight line — except when the wheelchair removes her limp, suddenly she veers right! Luckily the chair has bars that a human can grab to help keep it straight, and hopefully Sheba will figure it out. (She might not be able to, but that’s okay. Dawn and I figured it was possible to hook a carbiner on a bar and just attach it to Dawn’s belt, which would counter that right-leaning tendency with a human body!)

It pulls a little on Sheba in ways it didn’t on Sam, because she’s smaller, but I think we figured that out for the most part, too. Dawn will have to keep an eye on things, and Sheba will need to practice, but it should work. Sheba didn’t balk at having a wheelchair on, or at pulling it around or having us tug on her. Dawn agreed that when she’s done with it, she’ll pass it on as well. I gave her Sam’s boots (specially made from real shoe soles so that they don’t wear through right away) as well, and his hip slings. It leaves me with nothing from him anymore, except his old collar with his dog tag (“Yosemite Sam,” which I put down on a lark and always enjoyed), on top of the box with his ashes and a paw print from the vet.

It was hard to give it away, but I knew it would be. It helped to know that it was going to help another dog. I hope it does help; it was big for Sheba, and didn’t fit perfectly, but I hope that it does some good. Sheba is in good hands with Dawn, and I can let go knowing that Sam’s wheelchair is doing what it was meant to do, and Sam’s memory lives on with me.

Closests: Not just for litter boxes

Yesterday was National Coming Out day, and though I’m a bit late (what else is new?) I decided this was the perfect place to talk about it. See, I have several other personal blogs,  but those readers all know about me already. I don’t really live in the closet, and if a client asks me about my romantic life I tell them. Even still, when I was working to defeat Prop 8, it occurred to me that we would be a much less fearful country if all the people who were queer of any shade told the people around them. Suddenly, everyone would know a queer person, and it wouldn’t be so scary anymore.

So, toward that end, and since it is national coming out day, hi. I’m queer, for lack of a better word, since I don’t fit neatly into any of the LGBTQ boxes. I am currently dating a woman of the gender butch, and though it has nothing to do with dog training, you are more than welcome to ask me all the questions you like. 😉

Jenna