Friday, June 20, 2014

The hardest post

I've written this post over and over in my head.  It's easy for me to talk about Tourette's.  After all, nobody tells me to just suck it up and stop ticcing.  But talking about some of my other health problems isn't as easy.  It's harder to explain why I'm sick to my stomach with anxiety over nothing.  Why I can't leave my house except to go to work. 

To anybody whose texts/calls/emails/etc. I've ignored in the past 4 months, I'm sorry.  If I was short-tempered with you, I'm sorry.  If I told you I would do something and never did it or took too long to do it, I'm sorry.

I alluded to this on Facebook a few weeks ago, and promised an update once new medications had stabilized.  So here's the deal, since about early March I've been battling depression and anxiety.  (And if you know my history, no - it was not like that - but that's all I'm going to say about that.  Some stories don't need telling.)

I have a history of depression; my (more recent) history though has been that I get depressed, but if you give me enough time - and sometimes homeopathic medications - I snap out of it on my own.  This time though, I wasn't snapping out of it.

I am in chronic pain.  In the last year, I have had more days with pinched nerve pain than without.  And I know that there are lots of people in worse chronic pain than I am.  My pain is not bad enough to warrant pain medications (most days), but there were times at work very recently where I cried from pain, almost left early because of pain, or suffered through meetings with heat packs borrowed from the nurse's office.  I believe that the pain was the catalyst for what happened next.

My depression stemmed from being in pain all the time.  It's difficult to want to do anything when doing anything hurts.  I spent nights and weekends with heat pads and ice packs on my back, afraid of going anywhere because it might cause more pain.

The pain also caused my anxiety to spike.  I was scared of doing anything that would cause more pain.  I have always had anxiety - and I tell people that most of the time it's mild and I can control it with CBT techniques (ironically, the same things I teach my students in social skills).  But my anxiety spiked bad.  I had a panic attack for the first time in 7 years.  I'm talking, full-blown hyperventilating to the point of almost passing out, doubled over trying not to throw up, panic attack (Owen did awesome by the way).  I began having anxiety about everything; social anxiety that began to turn into fear of going anywhere where I would have to interact with people.  Owen causes more attention out in public and I was too anxious to take him places, but still needed him to be able to do things.  I didn't work out because the last few times at the gym my back had gone out and I'd dealt with severe pain as a result. 

And of course with worsening anxiety, came worsening OCD - this time in the form of intrusive thoughts.  Intrusive thoughts are a form of OCD that I didn't even realize was OCD for the longest time - I thought I was going crazy.  It's not voices in your head or anything like that; it's just the overwhelming urge to do something you know you shouldn't do.

          OCD: Your head hurts, you should stab yourself in the eye with the crochet 
          hook in your hand.
          Me: No, that would make it hurt more.
          OCD: Fine, why don't you put your hand on the hot burner.  That would           
          really hurt.
          Me: No, that would be stupid.
          OCD: What about intruders?  Maybe there's somebody hiding in the closet?
          Me: No, there's nobody in the closet - I already checked!
          OCD: What about under the bed?
          Me: There is no "under the bed"!

Now know this; I never ever would have acted on any of the harmful intrusive thoughts.  Sometimes, it is just easier to shut them up by checking in the closet (my rule is I can check once to shut the thoughts up, but refuse to check anymore than that).  But the other intrusive thoughts?  I can't shut them up - I just ride them out until my brain switches gears.  But they're annoying and distracting and upsetting.  And I was tired of dealing with them.

My trip to Chicago was a litmus test of sorts.  If the mental health problems I was dealing with would improve on their own, they would improve in Chicago.  It was a break from everything in my "normal" depression-anxiety-OCD-fueled life.   My dad had booked the plane ticket; my friend had booked the hotel; all I had to do was show up.

Instead, I had to talk my anxiety down twice, just on the way to the airport.  Once because I thought I'd forgotten Owen at home and once because I thought I'd forgotten my keys (even though I was driving my car down the highway doing 70 mph).  On the airplane I had to talk myself down no less than 3 times because I was convinced that the plane was going to Fall Out Of The Sky and I was the Only One Who Knew and we would all die unless I did something about it.  And the coup de gras was when I landed in Chicago and was convinced in the taxi on the way to the hotel that I was in the wrong city and would be stranded for an entire weekend with no friends, no conference, and no hotel reservation.

Clearly, I had to change something.

When Owen and I got home from Chicago I made an appointment at my doctor (after some tough love from my friends) and I have been happily medicated for a little over a week now.  I have been riding out the medication adjustment period, some days are really really good, and some days I spend the whole day on the couch crying watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix.  But I'm having more good days than bad lately.  I'm going to the gym, taking Owen to the dog park, and cooking again.  I'm insanely dizzy if I do anything strenuous, but no longer dizzy just sitting down (side effect of medication).  I'm sleeping better at night (with Owen in the kennel as I've become a very light sleeper on the pills) and am able to wake up in the morning.  I'm no longer sleeping 12+ hours a night.  I am finally feeling like myself again.

I've been giving a lot of thought to my blog and in what direction I want it to go.  I think for the time being, I might stick to Facebook updates while I tinker around with my blog and decide what kind of posts I want to be focusing on.

For now, I just want to be able to enjoy being able to leave my apartment to do things I want to do for the first time in months.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Warmer weather is coming...

Winter is Coming - Brace yourselves warmer weather is coming 

It's no surprise that I've become engrossed in Game of Thrones recently* (it hits every highlight of what I love as a nerd), so this meme seems very appropriate.  In fact, as long as I live in Texas, I think these will become my "house motto".  You see, warmer weather brings dastardly blood sucking bastards fleas.  Here is what I have learned about dealing with a flea infestation.

First, do not believe people who tell you that you are imagining fleas.  That "if you had fleas, you would know it".  That, if they don't jump they aren't fleas.  That dogs get lots of fleas at once, not just one or two.  These, my friends, are all lies.  My poor baby has had fleas since Thanksgiving.  That was when the itching started and when I started seeing one or two black specks on his back legs.  I also had a wicked concussion at the time and couldn't see straight.  People told me I was hallucinating, that OCD and anxiety were creating a problem that didn't exist.  If you live in Texas and think you have fleas, you have fleas.

Fleas can be suffocated (slowly and painfully is best).  When you don't have a flea comb, bathing your animal of choice and letting them sit with suds on them for a few minutes before rinsing is normally enough to drown the fleas, at least most of them.  Your animal in the bath will (1) look pitifully at you and give you kisses, hoping you will let them out or (2) howl incessantly.  Owen spent 30 mins in the tub (and got soaped up 2 different times) before I felt confident enough to rinse him off and run to the store to get a flea comb and topical flea treatment.

Don't call your vet in a panic the minute they open about fleas in Texas.  They'll (likely) put a sticker on your chart that reads "crazy".  (The amazing person who answered the phone talked me down and explained about why, even though Owen was on a preventative, I was still seeing fleas.  And she scheduled me an appointment to come in the next day - because apparently fleas don't constitute an emergency here in Texas... go figure.)

Inexplicably, for every flea you find on your service dog who goes everywhere with you, there will be half-a-dozen more on your indoor cat who has never set foot in the grass as long as he's been alive.  And your cat will take so much better to getting dunked in the bathtub.  There were multiple escape attempts followed by me chasing a wet, soapy cat around the apartment.  Thankfully the only witness was Owen.

Know how your flea preventative works.  Owen is on Sentinel - a flea/heartworm/etc. preventative that is great for living in Texas.  Here's the thing though, it doesn't actually kill fleas.  Any fleas that bite Owen are "altered" so that they cannot reproduce - it makes any eggs they lay infertile and the flea life-cycle stops there.  However, they can still bite and live on your dog, and hop to your cat (who is not on preventative...).  Ugh.

Owen is now double-dipping.  He's going to get Sentinel and Frontline monthly, this way I know all fleas will be dead.  And for good measure, Toby will be on Revolution.  (I can already hear my wallet weeping.)

Your cat will be completely inept at grooming himself.  Without getting too graphic, you will likely spend an entire Friday night soaping up his chin and combing dead fleas off of his chin.  And he will be so thankful for this treatment... *achem*

Raid goes a long way towards peace of mind.  I don't think we ever had an infestation in the home, but after staying up until 1:00am washing every single thing in the apartment that could fit in the washing machine, it was very satisfying to spray every available surface with Raid (flea/egg killer).  I went through one-and-a-half cans between my one-bedroom apartment and my car.

Owen is feeling much better as a result of all of my newly acquired flea murdering knowledge.  I thought he was having seasonal allergies after moving to Texas, turns out he likely has a flea allergy - which means all it takes is one flea to turn his skin bright-red and itchy.  (We initially thought he had allergies so I was giving him weekly oatmeal and aloe baths, and while it probably made him feel better initially, it was disguising the real problem at hand.)  

I know fully accept that fleas are something I will deal with year-round while living here.  But I'm hoping that with being very strict about preventatives, I can keep it under control and out of my apartment for good.

*My health is starting that decline that happens this time every year.  I'm losing about two months of productivity here y'all...  From that first week of April until the end of school I have to accept that nothing productive will happen.  Doing so results in weekends like I've had the last couple of weeks - drugged up on the couch in unimaginable pain binging on new television shows, or ticcing myself into oblivion.  I suppose I'm supposed to be grateful that with Owen these weekends only happen for short periods of time instead of every week of the year, but right now it's hard to be grateful for that.  The list of things I want to do this summer continues to grow...  including resurrect my blogs - look to "Losing It" in the next few months to read about the new gym I've been going to and my (fingers crossed) foray into healthy food preservation.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

12 months.

12 months together.  365 days.  Go figure.

In honor of our 1-year anniversary, here are a few lists of 12 things about life with a service dog and and about Owen that I have learned along the way.

About living with a service dog...

1.  People will stare at you, every time you go anywhere.  Sometimes they try to disguise it, most of the time they will not.

2.  Even though I will look people directly in the eye, majority of the time they will ask me if Owen is a "seeing-eye dog".  I had one parent explain to her kids - as I was getting out of MY CAR - that Owen was a guide dog to help me see.

3.  Strangers will think you're a walking, talking show-and-tell exhibit.  Apparently walking around with a service dog entitles people to intimate details about my life.  I'll share details about my neurological disorder with strangers in the middle of Target when they want to share the results of their last pap smear/prostate exam.

4.  You will get to hear about everybody's dog that has died.  And everybody who has a Labrador (which no matter what color, looks EXACTLY like Owen).  And about everybody's dog.  And everybody's dog who definitely has the right temperament to be a service dog.  And everybody's friend who knew someone who had a dog...

5.  Even with 3 signs on Owen that say DO NOT PET, people still ask to pet and try to sneak pets without you seeing.  I think there must be fine print somewhere on the sign that says "this rule does not apply to you"...

6.  In a town like mine, where I am the ONLY service dog team, I have to be cautious of how Owen and I act at all times out in public.  It wouldn't be very hard for someone to find out where I worked.  This means I have to keep the snark under wraps out in public (though I cannot be held responsible for what is said in the Starbucks line before I've had my coffee).

7.  Everybody will stare at you.  All the time.  People will stalk you in stores and stop and stare open-mouthed at you.  People will talk about you right in front of you, as if you aren't there.

8.  Sometimes people will be angry with you for no reason.  Like when you don't want to stand in the middle of a busy grocery store to talk to them.  Or when you tell their toddler "no" while they look on, allowing their two-year-old to run up to the "doggy" and try to grab its tail.

9.  Somehow, even with a 75-pound Labrador, you will scare people.  You will be accused of being "sneaky".  Because my big galumphing Labrador is "sneaky".  The best is when you tell your service dog to "chill out" because "mom doesn't have time for this" and people think you're talking to a child.

10.  People become incapable of talking to you about anything other than your service dog.  I am so shocked in public when people ask me questions about me, that I don't even know how to appropriately answer them.  99.99% of my conversations with Owen go like this: "He is so cute." "Yes, he certainly thinks he is." "Oh, haha."  And repeat.

11.  People will stare at you.  (Did I mention this already?)  You will not be able to go anywhere without people staring; sometimes, they'll crawl under your table at a restaurant to see the "puppy".

12. Everyday is an adventure.

And about Owen...

1.  Owen knows about 40 tasks and commands.  He also knows the words "cute" and "handsome".  If you use them in his presence he will turn on the charm.  It's a con to get you to pay attention to him, try and resist.  Otherwise you are falling right into his trap.

2.  Owen has an attitude.  When he doesn't get his way he will sulk.  Sometimes I even get the silent treatment.  He can only hold out for about 10 minutes before he caves, so I'm not too worried.

3.  He has no shame.  None.  He will eat a textbook and leave the evidence on his bed.  And not even look guilty about it.

4.  Owen loves the airport.  Like, a lot.  To the point that, when we get to baggage claim, I don't even try to control his behavior.  It doesn't matter if 10 people are meeting us in baggage claim, or if there is nobody there to meet us, Owen is a dork.  You never know who you might find at an airport; he especially likes looking for my dad and will try to approach random guys who have my dad's same build/height in an airport (the last time we were in an airport, he was so frantically looking for my dad he had me convinced he was about to have a potty accident - he only wanted to see my dad, stinker held it until we got to my parent's house, an hour later).

5.  Owen loves getting to work.  After doing deep pressure therapy (his favorite), he races around the room with a goofy grin on his face, very proud of what he's done.

6.  Owen loves watermelon.

7.  While watermelon might be his favorite treat (that he's allowed to eat - popcorn would be the winner if he were allowed to eat it), everything on the floor has the potential to be edible, and if I'm not paying attention, he'll try it.

8.  Everybody in the world has the potential to be a best friend.  When I don't let him meet someone he wants to, it's like I'm standing in the way of the world's best friendship.  See point #2.

9.  When he is off-duty it is like he's never had a day of training in his life.  When we go to the dog park he pretends like he doesn't know who I am (but if he loses sight of me, he panics and I have to call him over so he doesn't freak).

10.  Owen thinks he's a 75-pound lap-dog, and he tries to convince me of this at least once a day.

11.  Owen also thinks that my new, pillow-top, queen-sized bed is his bed and that he allows me to sleep in it every night instead of the other way around.

12.  He finds some way to make me laugh every single day.

One year ago I had no idea what was in store.  I didn't have a job lined up for this year, I hadn't written my thesis, I didn't know where I was going to be moving to or how I would get there.  I couldn't imagine what life with a service dog would be like.  Now, I couldn't imagine life without him.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Future

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the future of my blog.  What I want to talk about, how often I should be writing...  I have a slew of half-written posts, some that I may look at in the future, but most of which will probably never see the light of day.

The truth is, that I've been out living.  I'm working full-time; Owen and I are at school most times 10+ hours a day.  I'm using the weekends to rest, but I'm not crashing like I used to.  My body is tired, but not exhausted.  I'm not tied to my computer on the couch all day, I've taken on a lot of DIY projects.  Most Saturdays I can be found in sweats and an old t-shirt, staining and painting and sanding away.  I am planning what I want to put in my apartment to make it seem more like a home, instead of the sparse apartment I used to live in (I'm also wishing to move into a rented house sooner rather than later... if wishes were horses...) ;)

My teaching job consumes so much of my energy; planning lessons, trying to work my schedule around everyone else, and trying to teach to both IEP goals and district curriculum.  It's a lot to juggle, and just as I think I've got it figured out, another curve ball gets thrown my way.  I am so fortunate to have an amazing partner teacher who never seems to get frustrated with my endless questions and to have a very supportive team and administration.  I try hard to not bring work home, I'd rather stay at school until 7 at night than take it home.  Most nights when I get home, I can barely cook dinner before crashing on the couch.  It's exhausting, and in some ways I feel like we should be much further than the 50-something-th day of school, but a lot of days I can't believe it's almost the holidays and I worry that I've wasted time with my kids.

I've been mildly irritated by many things lately, causing me to step farther away from the internet world.  In September I stepped away from the Tourrette's facebook pages because I couldn't stand the things that were being posted.  I've spoken about it before - the overwhelming majority of parents to adults with Tourette's, the hatred towards schools, the lack of understanding of disability culture, the endless searching for a cure as opposed to raising awareness - and my biggest pet peeve, persons without a disability fighting my fight for me.  I'll be the first person to write about things I find offensive, but I try to do so in a calm, rational manner.  When people pick fights over things that are [at best] mildly offensive, and they do so with vulgar language and let their emotions overrule their message, it puts people all people with Tourette's in a bad light, even if we aren't the ones making the comments.

I'm sick of seeing posts online of people bringing dogs out into public who have no business being there.  It's not "cool" to have a disability, but apparently it's cool to bring dogs out into public pretending that you have a service dog.  People who feed their pet dogs at restaurants, who allow their dogs to greet people, who carry their dogs or put them into grocery store carts, placing them well above the level of most food give service dogs a bad image - even if they aren't a service dog.  It makes people question all service dogs in public, especially those whose handlers have invisible disabilities.  I'm sick of being yelled at in public, of children screaming about the dog in the store, of people thinking that my service dog means I want to talk to strangers about intimate details of my life, of employees getting down on all fours calling out to my dog, of somehow scaring people when my 80-pound Labrador manages to "sneak up" on them...  It makes going out incredibly frustrating at times.

My solution has been to have Owen accompany me most of the time, but not all.  He goes with me to work all day every day.  Some days he stays in my room all day while I go out and run around.  Most days he's with me about 50 - 70% of my day.  There are places I go at school that are just not reasonable for Owen to go with me, like PE with 70 1st graders.  There are times where I'm called at my room to go get a kiddo because of behaviors, and I have to leave quickly - Owen stays those times.  There are days where Owen is noticeably tired and when he pouts about having to leave my room - so if I'm feeling good enough to leave him, he can stay.  Owen goes with me to the chiropractor and the grocery store for quick after-school runs.  He doesn't go with me to get my nails done or to do my weekly grocery shopping run.  A lot of thought went into that decision, but what it came down to was that it was taking over an hour and a half to go shopping at the giant store 5 mins up the road.  I had to bring Owen with me because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to shop, but with Owen there, navigating the store was a nightmare.  Now, I drive about 20 mins into Houston to go to Trader Joe's, which is such a small, easy-to-navigate store, that I don't bring Owen.

Now that Owen and I have been partnered up almost a year, I am understanding why the one year mark is typically a tough time for teams to get through.  The director of our program identified two months, six months, and a year as troublesome times for teams - and teams who work with the program now must do followups at those points in time.  Owen and I worked through the first two rough patches pretty well on our own.  At about two months I finally stopped feeling panicked every minute of the day and started asserting myself more in our partnership, working more to having Owen actually assist me instead of just following me around.  At the six month mark, Owen started testing the water, trying to see how far he could push the boundaries (this is who Owen is, and I love him for it).  At each point in time, it was tough going for a while, and then it would get better.  Looking back on it, I could see that we were at a new point in our partnership and were having to figure things out.  I know the first year is the toughest, I just hope I'm not placing too much stock in this "one year" mark...

Unfortunately, the things I dislike about having a service dog aren't going to miraculously change on December 20th.  I love Owen, he has given me back my independence and has allowed me to do things I had only dreamed of previously.  But if you told me tomorrow I could trade him in for a healthy brain, I would.

I guess I'm lucky nobody is forcing me to make that choice.

While I love working full time (and finally earning a paycheck I can actually live on with minimal family support), I am more than ready for the holidays.  I am looking forward to seeing my family for the first time in months, and I am looking forward to getting a small break from the daily craziness.  Owen and I will be flying for the first time since May to visit my parents over Thanksgiving - and I am trying very hard not to get worked up about flying.  Before Owen, I was so anxious over flying that I had to be medicated just to get on an airplane.  After getting Owen, we traveled so frequently that I never really had time to get stressed out about it because we were constantly on the move.  I've enjoyed not flying and traveling, but I wish we were a bit more in-practice.  Luckily, my dad has upgraded Owen and I on both our Thanksgiving and winter holiday flights, so I don't have to worry about having enough room for Owen.  And we are flying United the entire time; they are great about Owen and the only problem I've ever had with them was Owen not fitting on a small plane (and the attendants were great about it and helped move passengers around so we fit).

I have also not been talking about my weight loss journey.  It's not because I have bad news; it's because I have no news.  My weight has fluctuated between 245 and 247 since I started teaching.  Considering I have not been active except for the [very] occasional walk, and I have not had the best eating habits since the school year started, I'm happy with my weight staying right where it is.  Over the holidays I'm going to work on getting my medication dosage (for insulin resistance) back where it is supposed to be (the pills make me very sick initially, so I stopped taking them during school hours - which is bad, I know).  Next semester, I want to focus on becoming more active - even if it just means a walk once or twice a week after school with Owen.  With those things combined, and keeping an eye on my carb intake, I'm not too concerned about my weight.  Obviously, I wish it were better - but I keep reminding myself that I used to weigh 274 pounds, and wear a size 22...  And then I feel a little better about not having gained any weight this year.

For the future of my blog, I am going to try and focus on one post a week.  I know there will be weeks I don't post at all, but I do not want to let months go by without posts anymore.  I am considering a series of posts about service dog etiquette as well as terminology (like the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog, and an emotional support animal) as well as addressing the growing problem of fake/untrained service dogs and "certification".  I also want to write about disability; my thoughts on the Tourette's culture and community and how it impacts my daily life (as well as how disability has impacted my personality, opinions, and life choices).

And of course, I will be continuing to write about my partner-in-crime and our adventures together.  Now to begin planning how we will celebrate our one-year partnership!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Successfully getting a job with a service dog

Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on interviewing or working with a service dog, but this is what worked for me.

Legally, I would be within my right to interview for a job without Owen and not say one word about needing accommodations until I had been hired for the job and received my contract.  There are service dog handlers who advocate this method, citing multiple instances where they have been denied for jobs allegedly because they brought their service dog to the interview. 

Personally, I did not feel like that was the road I wanted to go down.  I completely understand why some handlers would chose to go to an interview without their service dog, but I did not want to get a job if Owen and I as a team were not wanted.  I did not want to get hired and force a service dog on a principal who wanted nothing to do with one.  I was very up front in all of my interviews and today I have officially gotten word from human resources in my school district that I can bring Owen to work with me.

I had three in-person interviews, one skype interview, and one phone interview.  Ironically, the job I will be starting in a few weeks is at the school I phone interviewed with.  They offered me the job without every having seen Owen (or me!).

After two of the in-person interviews, I left knowing I would not get the job.  Whether it was a result of Owen being there or not, I don't know.  One principal was very iffy about Owen and not warm about him being there; the other interview was extremely impersonal from the very beginning.  The third in-person interview went well; I think I may have been able to get that job, but there was a lot of red tape I had to get through in order for their district to consider me for employment, and by the time I had jumped through all their hoops, I had already received a job offer in another district.

Even though I walked into all of my interviews with Owen by my side, an interviewer is not allowed to bring up the topic of disability.  I did not disclose to anybody when I was scheduling interviews that I was bringing a service dog along, so he was a bit of a surprise.  At the point in the interview when they would ask if I had any questions or wanted to add anything (and they all reach that point), I would bring up Owen and tell them a little bit about him.

What I chose to disclose was: I have a neurological condition, Owen is a mobility assist dog, he helps me by providing support when I walk to help me stay balanced as well as doing some other tasks to mitigate my disability.

I would then turn it around on them and ask if they had any questions about Owen or any thoughts about having a service dog on their school campus.  During the two in-person interviews that did not go as well, the principals did not really have anything to say at this point in time.  During the interview that went well, they had lots to say about Owen and how well trained he was - they talked about getting him a badge and how cool it would be to have a service dog on staff.  In this interview, they had all talked about being dog people, and at the end of the interview I took Owen's gear off and let him "say hi" to the people interviewing us.

I had a fourth in-person "interview" of sorts; I will be working a part-time job with an after-school social skills group for individuals with Autism in the area.  I'm still working on figuring out exactly what this job will look like, but people who work with the special needs population are always better about Owen than other people - at the social skills group they barely noticed him.  I'm optimistic about this job, and the extra income (no matter how small) will be a big help - not to mention this job will help me work towards my BCBA certification.

The skype interview went very well as well.  It was with the district that was making me jump through hoops, so had I pursued working in that district, I think I may have been a top contender for the job.  The conversation about Owen went the same way as it did during the phone interview.

When given the opportunity to ask my own questions, I simply stated that there was something I wanted to speak with them about that came up very easily when I meet people in person, but wouldn't come up unless I brought it up with them.  I described Owen (yellow, male Labrador) so that they would have a picture of him in their head and described what our gear set up looks like.  I explain that he is a very laid back dog who loves to work and ended by saying I would love to meet in person and have them see for themselves how Owen conducts himself.  I gave them the chance to ask questions about Owen if they wanted.

I was also open about being disabled during interviews; not necessarily the extent to which I am disabled, but how it affects me as a teacher.

When I met with my school principal in person we talked more about Owen and thoughts for how to integrate him successfully into the school environment.  We didn't come to any conclusions then, but it was a good first introduction to a service dog.  Owen (of course) was on his best behavior and was a good example of what a service dog should act like - mildly curious about his surroundings, but ignored the people and kids and stuff in the school.

After receiving notice that I had gotten the job (yay!), I found out who to contact in human resources about disability accommodations and sent him an email.  A week or so ago, I got the disability accommodation request form from him and filled it out.  I sent back the request form, the letter of support from my neurologist, and Owen's information from Heeling Allies.  I met this morning with my contact in HR about Owen.  He let me know that all of my paperwork was fine and that Owen is cleared to go into work with me; Owen and I are the first service dog team that has ever been hired by the district.  We are kind of like pioneers!  :)

It's nice that we are the first in that they don't have an expectations, good or bad, to place on us.  But it also puts pressure on me as a handler to make sure we succeed as a team.  There are 4000+ teachers in the district, and hundreds of new hires this year, but everybody we meet will remember us.  I am so fortunate that Owen is a great service dog, he does his job well with minimal distractions.  And he loves kids and loves getting to go to work.  He is easy going and very tolerable, he will be able to handle anything school throws at us.  It is my job to make sure Owen is always well turned-out, that he is well groomed and that our gear is clean.  I will likely get a small hand-held vacuum to keep at school so I can clean up stray hairs as needed.  I will have to stay on top of keeping him groomed so that if there are any dog allergies in my school, I can have as little impact on them as possible.

A big part of having a service dog is being a good steward and understanding the reasonable part of reasonable accommodations.  I'll talk more about that in another post though.

My plan now is to contact my principal and meet with her about making sure Owen and I have a smooth transition into school this fall.  I will work on getting my classroom set up so that Owen has his own space to stay, and I am going to get a baby gate so that if I ever had to go deal with something where Owen couldn't come (think aggressive behaviors), Owen would be safe.  I will get a water bowl to keep at school for Owen to have access to during the day, and a few good bones of course.  How I introduce Owen to the school will depend on what my principal thinks is best.

Wish us luck!  As crazy as it's going to be, I'm happy to start school with my best friend by my side. :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

For anybody checking in (or just stumbling on my blog) - I wanted to let everyone know, I'm alive. :)

I'm working on getting my thesis finished as well as packing to move (in 3 weeks!) and blogging has not been the first thing on my mind lately.

I promise, once I have a few less things on my to-do list, I will be blogging all about Owen and my adventures with our new home and new job!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The one with the almost embarrassing Winco disaster.

Thank you to all of the service dog handlers out there in the internet world who preach that you should listen to your dog.

Thanks to their knowledge and wisdom (and embarrassing stories), Owen and avoided an embarrassing encounter today at the grocery store.

(Poor Owen would be so embarrassed if he knew I was telling this story, but I do so in order to add my wisdom to those that have gone before me).

If you're easily grossed out, you may not to read this story - but rest assured, we didn't have anything too embarrassing happen. :)

Owen had an upset tummy yesterday when we got up; as far as I knew he hadn't eaten anything funny.  For the last few days his stool had been kinda loose, but not bad.  Nothing that made me worry.  But yesterday morning, he was clearly not feeling well.  I wasn't feeling well, and I gave Owen his regular amount of fish oil in the morning because I didn't think to withhold it (which I should have).  Which meant Owen's tummy stayed upset all morning.

Once I realized he really wasn't feeling well, I gave him a snack of pumpkin and kibble.  He got pumpkin frozen in a Kong later on in the day for a snack, and more pumpkin last night for dinner and this morning.  As a result, when he had a BM this morning, I thought he was feeling fine.  A whole can of pumpkin will apparently do that.

We went to work this morning where Owen was fine, he was a little goofy when we were leaving, but I thought that was because he had been sleeping for 3 hours.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

I had to go grocery shopping, so we went to Winco.  Immediately, Owen was acting funny, dancing around the cart, pulling me forward, and not heeling at all.  I was completely flummoxed (trying to make him behave while I shopped), and then I recalled the stories I had read on forums of handlers who didn't listen when their service dog was sick because they had only been teamed up for short periods of time.  I looked at Owen, ditched our cart in the middle of the store, and we high-tailed it out of the store.  Fast. 

There was a small median right outside the store with some mud and sad looking plants.  Owen just made it.  I was very happy I pack extra poop bags in his harness just in case.

He was so embarrassed, and of course I felt so bad for having drug him to the store and for reprimanding him when I thought he was messing around.  I packed him up in the car and brought him home.  He got to snooze in his kennel while I went back to Winco.  (Hilariously, my cart was right where I left it, totally in everybody's way.)  I finished my shopping, but it was way harder without Owen at my side.  Just walking in from the parking lot, I felt so dizzy and disoriented.  I could tell I was weaving and I was having trouble making sure my feet stayed where they were supposed to.  Once I had a cart, I did better because I had something to stabilize myself with, but getting there was hard. 

Now Owen and I are both home and are both very tired; he's going to be getting meals of rice, cottage cheese, and pumpkin until his tummy problems clear up.  If he's still sick in a few days, we will be going to the vet to make sure there's nothing else I can be doing.  (Owen also has a slightly yucky looking ear, which I think may be contributing to his overall feeling of ickiness.)

The moral of this story is clear: Listen to your dog!  I know I will be from now on.