Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My new "normal"

I was trying to think of a cute way to structure this blog post (or even a creative title for crying out loud), but the truth is that just isn't how my brain is functioning right now.  I had to take a muscle relaxant last week (my back went out in class last week and I ended up with a pinched sciatica nerve) and then I've had a migraine since Friday (which was only made better by going to Purim celebrations at the temple - Purim is a holiday we celebrate by eating sweets and giving children noisemakers).

My brain is fuzzy - I can do straightforward things, but my brain isn't being creative right now.

But I said I was going to do this post today and I want to do it.  I will try and be as creative as possible as today wears on, and if inspiration strikes (pray that it does) I may update the post to be creative later today.

All I have right now (and this is a stretch) is what I'm going to call the "24" format.  Remember that show a while back where each episode was supposed to be one hour of the guy's life and the whole season was supposed to add up to one day?  Well, imagine that horrid beeping noise that they had every time they showed you the time on the show as I continue to update this post today.

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.

8:30 - Wake up.  Yeah yeah yeah, it's late.  I stayed up way too late last night for no other reason than I can (and I found the latest season of a favorite show online that doesn't air in the states, so I was stuck watching just one more episode.  It's a problem.).  Owen is still sleeping in the crate at night - he was sleeping in bed for about a week, before he threw a party at night without me (the cat let him out of the bedroom) so I have Owen sleeping in the crate for now.  I sleep much better at night without him constantly getting in and out of bed and he doesn't seem to care at all.  We've gone on walks the last few days, but I want to make sure he is consistently tired before letting him sleep in bed at night, instead of kind of tired for a few days and then no walk due to weather problems.  (on a quick side note I found the dog park last night, and I think it may work - as long as the other dogs who go there aren't mean...).

Toby's spot while I try to get ready in the morning.  Gee thanks, Toby.

Our morning routine is pretty simple; probably close to what a lot of people's looks like.  I get up and get myself ready enough to take Owen outside (apartment complex, no taking Owen out in pajamas).  Then we come back in and I get Owen's breakfast ready.  After he eats breakfast I finish getting ready and figure out what we are doing for the rest of the day.  Or I blog.  Like today.

This is a picture of Owen's stash of supplements in the laundry room closet.  I will definitely be looking for extra storage space when we move this summer; there is not enough storage space in our apartment for all of Owen's stuff and my stuff.  We have so many supplements right now because I am now officially a member of the IAADP (International Association of Assistance Dogs and Partners) and as a member I can have our vet request certain products for us.  They all arrived last week, so now we have a 6-month supply of Welactin (fish oil), Dasuquin (for his joints), and flea/tick medication - somebody goofed and asked for the wrong thing (either me in the appointment or the vet tech when they phoned it in), I wanted the heartworm product because we will be going to Texas, but I'll just buy Heartguard when we go, and once we find a vet in Texas, we'll order the right stuff through the IAADP.

I was asked if Owen gets a special diet, the quick answer is "YES!"

The long answer is that Owen eats Acana, which is a high grade kibble that is made in North America and only from ingredients in North America.  He gets the grain free kind because too many carbs give him ear infections.  He also gets Honest Kitchen, which is a dehydrated "raw" (not really, because they have to dehydrate it and things get heated during the process - but it's as raw as anything will ever be in our apartment) food; it's made in a human-safe food facility and they list exactly where all of the ingredients come from on their website.  Not all from the US, but they know where they come from and that's good enough for me.  The Honest Kitchen, while unbearably expensive, has vitamins that kibble doesn't have, no matter how good it is.  He doesn't eat the grain free HK, but it's relatively low in grain and he eats so little of it that it's okay for him.  The HK has to be hydrated before Owen eats it - because of this, it expands in volume and helps him feel more full throughout the day (it also greatly reduces the chance that he may bloat).  On top of that, Owen gets fish oil and dasuquin as well as probiotics at every meal.

After Owen's breakfast, we go on a walk in the morning (it's length is determined by when we have to be somewhere).  For example, today we don't have anywhere to be in the morning, so we're about to go on a long walk and hope the sun comes out a little bit more.  Check in soon!

Beep.  Beep.  Beep. Beep.  (Apparently there are four beeps)

11:00 - Change in plans from what I thought we would do.  I got a lot of work done yesterday afternoon and didn't have much schoolwork that desperately needed doing today.  I still have some I need to get done, but not enough to warrant going somewhere to increase productivity.  So instead, this morning, we stayed home.  I worked on yarn projects (for the Etsy store; I swear I'll put it online soon) and Owen napped.

1:00 - Owen and I are about to step out the door, but I thought I'd give you a quick view of what we have to take with us. Owen and I together have a lot more stuff than I do alone, and I have to actively think about what we're bringing with us every time we go somewhere.

For example, today we are bringing: my backpack for school (thesis binder, text books, and laptop), Owen's harness (which has my wallet), snacks for me, a bone for Owen, Owen's water bottle (It has a special top so he drink out of it)... In the car I always have towels and a first aid kit. As well as extra water bottles. Think that's everything! I hope. :)

1:05 - Grooming time!  I think Owen is blowing out his coat now; Labradors are double coated and apparently twice yearly they "blow out" the undercoat.  Which basically means non-stop shedding until it's done.  I use a rake on Owen to pull out his undercoat and I use a slicker brush afterwards; about two weeks ago I was getting a little hair, but not much.  Now we get multiple clumps of hair every time I brush him.  Sometimes he's getting brushed twice daily.  I can't seem to keep up.  I hope this is him blowing out his coat because if this isn't, then it's going to really suck when he does blow out his coat.

Here's the balcony after only two days of brushing.  I have to take the vacuum out there every couple of days to clean it up.

Bonus points if you can spot the cat.

1:30 - We went to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.  This is how Owen rides in the truck!  He has the whole back of the truck to himself, I folded the seats down to make a level area and it's padded with towels and blankets (this also makes sure I always have spare towels with us in case of emergency).  When I get a new car though (after graduation and hopefully with my first job), I'm going to get a car that has a trunk for Owen.  As much as I love my truck (and believe me, I do), it's so much easier having Owen in the trunk of the car because that way I don't have to worry about parking.  We've managed to get in and out of the truck in some pretty tight spaces, but with a car we wouldn't have to worry about somebody boxing us in.  The things we give up for our service dogs...

2:00 - Time to get my nails done.  Not Owen's, because he's still being a stinker about it.  Owen's a rockstar at the nail salon, it's pretty small and he has to squeeze in real small under the desk and stay there for a long time.  Poor Owen got glitter spilled on him while we were there so he was very sparkly the rest of the day!  I took pity on him and tried to wipe most of it off.

4:05 - Potty break for Owen outside the chiropractor's office.  This is a typical Owen attitude, I'm doing what you told me to do, just not in a way that makes it easy for you.  Oh well!

Of course the leash snagged about a dozen times while I kept trying to get him to go around the bush instead of further down the hill.  Once he finally meandered back up to where I was standing, he looked all innocent like he didn't know why I was frustrated!

4:15 - Chiropractor appointment, thank goodness!  My back has been bad all week and I was so thankful that I had an appointment scheduled.

Actual quotes from my chiropractor during my visit yesterday: "Hallelujah!" & "It's like Orville Redenbacher in there!" (referencing how badly my back was popping)

4:30 - How to drive your service dog crazy and waste 30 minutes in the process.

1. Get a horrible migraine craving for good coffee.  Don't ask me why, it just happened.
2. Decide the only coffee that will be good enough is the coffee from this bakery that you've never actually been in (although you know their cookies are great).
3.  Ask Siri where the bakery is.  (She lies.)
4.  Drive around aimlessly in an area of Spokane you have never been in before, find the sign for the bakery but not the actual bakery.
5.  Give up because now you're going to be late for class.
6.  Drive 30 more minutes to get back to campus, fuming the whole way about how there is no good coffee in the entire city of Spokane.  Pass about 20 corner coffee stands on your way to school.
7.  Arrive at campus grumpy, hungry, and with a headache.  Make your service dog accompany you to get dinner.
8.  Done.

6:00 - Time for class!  (By this point I had eaten dinner and was feeling considerably less grumpy).  Owen got a potty break before class started, but don't think I'm above saying I have to take my dog out to go potty if I need a stretch break in class!  He gets his comfy mat on days where I know we'll be in class a long time, but he chose to sleep on my feet instead.  He keeps his gear on in this class, in tomorrow nights' class he gets to go "naked" and visit with his friends.  I keep telling Owen he needs to learn how to pay attention to the lecture and take notes so I can take naps under the table!

When I say Owen goes everywhere with me, I mean it.  He's hanging out in the corner of the bathroom stall here; we have to use the handicap stall because there is no way we fit in any others.  Owen has to stand up in the bathroom, even when he thinks he'd rather lay down.  I'm sure it leads to some interesting experiences for other bathroom goers to hear me hissing at him, "Stand up!"  Once, Owen kept laying down in the bathroom and sliding under the barrier into the stall next to us where there was a little girl and every time he did there was a cry of "doggie doggie doggie".  I was thoroughly embarrassed.  I think Owen was doing it on purpose.

I don't know what Owen did, but class really wore him out!  He snored the whole way home.
9:00 - We finally arrive home after being gone almost 8 hours.  Owen's a great travel companion, I have no worries about driving back to California with him when I'm done with school (first stop on the way to Texas).  Luckily, both of my animals are great in the car...  Just not sure how they'll do together.

9:15 - Time for Owen's dinner! 

Yes, he is sticking his tongue out at me while I make him "wait" to eat his dinner.

He has to sit and wait every time he eats, he's very good at this and he hasn't tested me since the very first time I fed him dinner during team training.

10:00 - Good night from Owen.  Owen likes to pester Toby after he eats and chew a bone, but by 10:00 he is out.  I practically have to beg him to get up at 11:00 or 12:00 to go "last out".  He's a happy boy when I finally decide to go to bed and turn out the lights!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why Tourette's is not the same as OCD

This is something I see blurred all the time.  With the new DSM coming out soon, I am afraid the line will be blurred even more.  The DSMV is attempting to categorize Tourette's alongside other mental health problems, including OCD.  Something that could have drastic implications for somebody like me who has a neurological disability not a mental health problem.

Tourette's is not the same as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  They think that they are related genetically; this is why you may see OCD in a family and have a case of TS pop up (like my family) or why you see a lot of comorbidity between OCD and TS.  But they are NOT the same thing.

I have both.  My OCD is so mild, it's really not even worth talking about.  Except for the context of this post.  I am what is called a "checker".  I check things; that the doors are locked, the stove is off, etc.  My rituals (if you can even call something so mild a ritual) take maybe 3 minutes total out of my day.  Occasionally when my anxiety spikes, my OCD spikes as well.  Then the rituals become a little more demanding, and I have to actively work to control the OCD.  I can do it if I try hard.  Sometimes it's harder than others; but I can actively choose to not engage in the rituals if I want to deal with the stress of doing so and the mental effort required to resist.

But OCD rituals are not the same as having a tic.  When I turn a doorknob to make sure it's locked, I'm not ticcing.  When I want to get up and check if the stove is off, standing up to do so is not a tic.

For some reason, one I can't quite understand, it seems that parents are much more happy attributing their child's idiosyncrasies to Tourette's instead of OCD.  A compulsion to lick things, smell things, touch things, or taste things is just that.  It's a compulsion.  It is due to obsessive compulsive behaviors.  It is not due to Tourette's.

It makes me upset to see these things.  Tourette Syndrome is not a mental health problem.  It isn't psychiatric.  It is a neurological disorder.  This is a distinction that apparently even doctors have trouble making, seeing as the new DSM plans to place Tourette Syndrome under the same heading as mental health problems - "Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders".

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm in no way saying that mental health problems are in any way less "severe" of a disability than what I have.  I'm not saying there is a problem with having a mental health problem.  Just that I don't have one.

Saying Tourette Syndrome is a mental health problem is the same thing as saying Parkinson's or Huntington's are mental health problems.  Everybody knows that is not true.  Why is it so hard to accept that Tourette's is neurological in nature?  No amount of therapy is going to cure me.  There is no "end" for me; sure, they could do things to my brain that might help.  But nothing is certain.  Something is haywire in my brain that cannot be fixed; but that doesn't make it a "mental health" problem.  It makes it neurological.

And these parents who are blurring the lines between Tourette's and OCD are perpetuating the idea that Tourette's is a mental health problem.  It's frustrating as an adult with Tourette's to continually read these things.  It isn't my place to step in and say I think somebody's child has OCD or that a compulsion (like smelling/tasting) is not a tic.  There are even adults with the dual-diagnosis who write about those compulsions being tics.  Who am I to say they are wrong?  Of course, it sounds "better" to say it is a tic than to say it is due to OCD.  But just because somebody thinks it sounds better, doesn't make it true.

My personal theory, is that the reason things like Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) and Habit Reversal Training (HRT) are popular amongst the Tourette's population is that so many of us have the dual-diagnosis.  The line is blurred for many of us between tic and compulsion.  And when that line gets blurred, things like CBIT and HRT can work. 

Let me explain with an example from my own life.

A few years ago I had a string of horrible self-injurious tics.  They were still tics, not considered compulsions, but they were tics that had "mutated," so to speak.  Initially, I had a tic where my hands would fly up.  Then once, accidentally, one of my hands hit my head.  Over time, and due to a very severe migraine and weeks of poor sleep, those tics mutated into self-injurious behaviors.  I would ball up my fists and bash myself in the head.  Over and over and over.  But, it wasn't just a tic.

There was an inherently reinforcing quality to hitting myself in the head (sounds crazy, right?).  Migraines are helped by pressure; I've even bought (and lost) compression headbands to put ice packs in because the pressure can help dull the pain of a migraine.  By walloping myself in the head, I was temporarily relieving migraine pain.  So, over time, this tic became more of a compulsion.  It was being reinforced by the relief of migraine pain, which made the tic harder and harder to suppress.

This was the one tic I have ever been able to stop through the use of CBIT.  (No, I've never paid anybody to teach me the techniques - this was a crash course by my neurologist.)  Because the tic wasn't just a tic, I was able to use CBIT to stop it.  Other tics?  CBIT doesn't make a difference.

Now, there are some CBIT techniques I use daily that I feel are helpful.  I have taught myself how to recognize when a tic is going to happen, and I can suppress for an amount of time.  I can "transfer" tics; so if I don't want to squawk, maybe I can clear my throat or chirp (both of which are less noticeable than a giant squawk).  It's not an exact science and some people with Tourette's can't do this.  Is that because they haven't figured it out yet?  Because they aren't trying hard enough?

I don't think so.  With severe Tourette's you would do anything to try and make it stop.  If it were possible for a person to suppress, I have to believe they would learn how to do it.  However, I also think that no matter what was going on in my brain, I would have figured out how to do this.  The first year or so I didn't know how to suppress; it was a gradual learning process and it was not easy to learn how to do.  During that one year (first year of college) when my tics improved for no apparent reason, I forgot how to actively suppress.  And when those tics came back the next year, it was brutal for months while I re-taught myself how to suppress the tics and control my brain.  I think that no matter what, I would have learned how to do these things, no matter how extreme my Tourette's.  I can't imagine life without these coping strategies.

There are no tests for Tourette's, just like there are no tests for OCD.  There is no blood draw or CAT scan or MRI where they can look and say definitively whether or not you have either of these diagnoses.  They are diagnoses of last resort; when nothing else is wrong with you and you fit a certain number of criteria, the doctors can diagnose you with things like this.  The difference lies in the nuances, which may not seem that important to somebody else.  But when I am applying for work accommodations with my service dog, I would really prefer the DSMV accurately reflect my diagnosis instead of muddying up the water.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear parents of kids with Tourette's,

The other day I inadvertently stepped on some toes on an online group (thus solidifying my acceptance into the "extremes" group, but that's a different story).  I'm tired of censoring myself on online groups and trying to play nice.  It's hard to tell someone that is 15- or 20-years your senior that you don't value their opinion.  So often in these online groups I see medical advice traded by people with no medical background.  And I'm tired of it.  The thing is, I have two parents and a whole slew of medical professionals on my payroll.  I've seen so many specialists over the years; and the specialist I'm currently seeing is the last one.  There isn't anybody else he can refer me to.  When he says, "I don't know," it's really because there are no other choices.

The medical advice of a parent that I don't know online, isn't going to be anything I haven't heard or tried before.

So right about now you're asking yourself, why are you asking for medical advice online?

I'm not.

These parents see people like me venting about our day (because who can you vent to except somebody else who really gets it) and they step in to offer medical advice.  And then get mad when you tell them their advice isn't wanted or helpful (or that the advice they're offering is totally whack).  I know it comes from a good place; but really... I just can't get behind it.

If I wanted advice - I would explicitly say so.  But when I'm having a rotten day because I have pinched nerves and because my hands are going numb from carpal-tunnel syndrome, I'm not going to preface my vent with a disclaimer statement.  In my opinion, if somebody does not state that they want help, then don't offer it.

I'm years, countless pills, and many doctors into this diagnosis.  Do you really think that some random person on the internet is going to have heard of something I haven't tried yet?

This has long been my problem with online support groups for people like me with Tourette's.

They don't exist.

Approximately 90% of the people in these groups are parents moms of a child with Tourette's.  There are a few token adults in the group; but the "extremes" (which I don't even count as technically - think me times 10) get pushed aside.  People pity them and feel bad for them, but nobody can relate to it or empathize except other extremes.  The "extreme" group I am now a member of has 10 people in it - including myself.  The main page of the group?  There are over 800 people now.

The moms like to empathize with each other; they talk about how annoyed they are by their Touretter's tics and they trade medical advice.  They rant about their children's teachers but in the same breath say they don't believe in getting their child an IEP because that would "label" them.  Not to be callous, but if you won't label your child, you can't demand accommodations or modifications to the curriculum.  You can ask, but nobody is going to be forced to comply.  They talk about going to due process and suing the school district, which as a teacher upsets me.  I think any teacher, given the chance, would do the right thing by a child with special needs.  But when parents come in upset and angry and threatening, it isn't going to end well for anybody.

These moms blur the line between Tourette's and OCD - as if it is better to have tics than to have OCD.  Because then they don't feel the need to force their child to try and curb the behavior, if it's a tic, you can't do anything about it.  But if you label it OCD, then you should be trying to fix it.  My personal experience with OCD is that if you start allowing the rituals to occur without trying to quell them, they'll only escalate.  I'm working on a blog about it - but here's the situation in a nutshell: compulsions to taste, touch, smell, or lick things or people are not tics.

These moms like to offer people like me advice and sympathy; as though them telling you that they are proud of your accomplishments means anything.  As if them asking you if you've tried Tenex (the first pill everyone with Tourette's is given) is going to help.  But it makes them feel better.  They don't want to hear from us about the bad crap.  They want us to console them when they feel bad about their ticcer in the house.  They want to hear people tell them it's okay when their ticcer is driving them up the wall; they want to be told that they aren't a bad mother for losing their patience with their ticcer.

My honest opinion?  You don't want to hear it.

If I sound ticked off, it's because I am.  I'm tired of not having a safe space to talk about Tourette's.  I'm tired of having people who have no idea what I'm living with trying to help me.  I'm tired of constantly hearing about CBIT or HRT or some magical homeopathic supplement that you think is working.  Tourette's sucks.  It takes everything you have and then wants more.  It's hard to learn how to cope with and it's a fight every single day.  But it's one you have to learn how to fight - doping yourself up isn't going to help you learn how to cope with it.

So you know what?  Here's my unsolicited medical advice.  I know you didn't ask for it - but I'm going to give it anyway.  So there.

Medications don't fix everything.  You talk about how great your kids are doing on Risperidone or Xenazine (tetrabenazine), but do you know what those medications are doing to your child?  Do you understand the risks?  The side effects?  I read one parent talking about how there were no side effects on Xenazine - WRONG!  This is the pill I refused to even try.  There is a high rate of depression and even suicide on this medication.  With my history, there was no way I was going near it.  Insurance does not like to pay for it, making it hundreds of dollars a month for people with Tourette's.  Risperidone is highly addictive and very difficult to get off of.  It causes horrible side effects, including significant weight gain (mine came mainly from Orap, which is in the same class - antipsychotics - as Risperidone).

All of these medications eventually build up in your body; which cause the doctors to try and prescribe more.

Parents ask about Topomax a lot now; even though a lot of us with (bad) experience with the medication caution people about it, nobody listens.

Everybody says, "Medication works differently for everybody.  It's worth a chance."

But nobody says, "Medication works differently for everybody.  Maybe nothing will work."

Is it worth the chance?

Is that anybody's decision to make except the person taking the medication?

Is that the choice a parent should be allowed to make for their child?  How old should the child be until they can make that decision themselves?

The kids know they don't like the pills...  I read time and time again stories about how to get a child to take these medications.  Maybe they shouldn't be taking them...  Maybe there is a reason they are resisting the medications.

Maybe parents should listen.

My opinion - even though I know nobody asked for it - is that it's better to learn how to fight this early on.  Every minute of everyday, I have to fight the impulses in my brain that are trying to make my body do things I don't want it to.  Most of the time, I'm able to win.  But that is with years and years of practice.  If I were doped up on Risperidone or Haldol, I wouldn't be able to think straight - much less deal with my tics.  In my opinion it is always better to be clear headed than be doped up on pills.  What are you going to do when the pills stop working?  When they increase the dosage and the side effects get worse?  When the pharmacy messes up your pills?

Me?  I don't have to worry about those things.  I'm (tic) medication free and loving it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Perplexing Question

So, I get asked this one question a lot.

And it probably isn't the question you're thinking of.

It isn't, "Is that a service dog?"

It's not, "What does he do for you?  You don't look disabled."

The question - believe it or not - is something along the lines of: Do you pet him at home?

Um... really?

Owen is exceedingly spoiled.  I don't think it's possible for a dog to be spoiled (in healthy, dog-appropriate ways) anymore than Owen is.  He eats food that is leaps and bounds above what I eat.  He "wears" gear that costs more than anything I have ever bought in my whole life.  I take better care of his nails than I do of my own.  I give Owen regular "massages" on his shoulders and upper back (where the harness sits).  He gets groomed all the time and has oodles of toys and good chew things.  He even has a cat to play with 24/7!

People act surprised that Owen gets to be primarily off-duty at home.  So, here I am, clearing the air.

Owen never wears his harness at home.  That is a "going out" harness.  Do I struggle to keep my balance at home?  Sure.  I'm slow and careful on the stairs going to and from my apartment.  In my apartment I wobble and keep my arms outstretched to help me balance.  I still tap walls and door frames inside my home.  Occasionally, I still fall.  When I do, Owen is right there to help me get up.

When he helps me get up, I'm not putting my whole weight on him.  In fact, I barely put any weight on him at all.  I use him to balance.  I put one hand on my knee (like I would anyway), and the other hand on his back.  He gets told the command "stand" twice; the first time to stand, and the second time to brace (they used to teach the command "brace" but it sounded too similar to "break" which caused confusion).  Having him to balance with when there isn't something else nearby makes a huge difference.  But he isn't in his harness at home.

I suck it up going to and from my truck.  The other morning I was unstable and hit a patch of ice and went down.  Owen was a little upset that I had fallen, but he helped me get up and we went on our way.  When we take walks, he isn't in his gear.  He's allowed to wander on-leash and sniff things and just be a dog.  He still has to mind though; if I say "here", I expect him to come here immediately.  Practicing these things is good, it encourages him minding me at all times - even when he is "off-duty".  Owen has to mind his manners regardless of where we are; he gets told "quiet" if he barks at home and gets told "enough" when playtime gets too rough for me (he likes to jump on top of me on the couch, ignoring whatever is in my lap).  He is expected to ignore other dogs (within reason) when he is off duty, I don't allow him to pull towards anything or anybody.  But he is still allowed to be a dog, just a well-behaved dog, when he is off-duty.

Owen is expected to do deep pressure therapy at home, but he loves it.  The other night I invited him up on the couch and he immediately settled right on top of me and fell asleep.  For Owen, DPT is a chance to snuggle - he loves doing it and will do it any chance I give him.  It's not "work".

I'm shocked that people don't realize that a service dog does get a chance to be a pet.  Just because I don't want random people petting Owen, doesn't mean I don't pet him.  It means I don't want you petting him.  Just because he is expected to be calm and quiet out in public doesn't mean he has to be that way all the time.  Owen is a naturally calm dog; they had to pair me with a chill dog who doesn't take things personally (I couldn't begin to count the number of times I walk into Owen or drop things on/near him).  Owen is slow and steady where I need him to be.  But he still gets zoomies like other animals and can act like a complete goofball when he wants to.

If there were anything I could do to give Owen a better life, I would do it.  We added in more exercise into our routine this week because he was getting destructive at night.  (The whole story is on our facebook page.)  But as far as Owen is concerned, he's got a pretty good life.  He gets to go with his person everywhere she goes (with the exception of a few places - like when I go to the gym for crazy busy classes), he eats good food, he has lots of toys and he even gets peanut butter once in a while. 

Wednesday night, in my grad class (6 other people and one professor I am very comfortable with) Owen had a great night.  He was a total stinker when we went to class; I went to get him situated under my desk and when I told him "under" he went under.  And kept going.  All the desks were pushed together, so Owen started wandering around under the tables looking for suckers to pet him.  He came right back when I called him and laid down at my feet, completely angelic.  I was so impressed with the other grad students.  Nobody paid him any attention at all; no pets, no looks, nothing.  It was great.  Had somebody pet him (or even looked at him), it would have reinforced the wandering under tables behavior.  Instead though, he got a correction from me and no attention from anybody in the classroom.  In Owen's mind, why would he ever do that again? 

After class we were hanging around talking informally for a bit and Owen was doing a "paws up" with me.  I told him "all done" and decided to give him some "off-duty" time.  This was something I would never ever do in any other class setting.  But the people in this class know me very well; they have seen me on the floor ticcing, unable to sit in desks.  They listen to me chirp and squawk in the observation room.  They help me out when I need it; whether that's carrying stuff or always being the scribe during group assignments.  They get me.  So I took Owen's gear off and told him "okay".

Oh my gosh, you've never seen a happier dog.  He couldn't figure out who to visit with first, and he got tons of pets.  Off-duty time ended when he tried to do a "paws-up" in my professor's lap.  Whoops!  She kind of patted her legs and leaned back in her chair a bit, a clear "signal" to Owen.  He knew he had made a goof though, and he got a few more pets before he went back to work.  He was a perfect gentleman on the way out.

With people I know, I'm comfortable with them petting Owen.  He got lots of pets in the office at school today while I was doing some paperwork.  He and I are working on differentiating "work" from "off-duty" time, even at school.  And so far he is doing quite well with it.  Obviously, if he were to start acting distracted at school, the pets would stop.  But for now, Owen loves getting to go to campus and I'm happy to let him keep enjoying it as long as he remembers he has a job to do.

Good service dog owners make sure that their dogs have time for play and downtime.  It's about finding a balance; when we start working as teachers (because yes, Owen will get to be a teacher too), I will have to make sure he gets downtime at school.  I pay close attention to Owen, looking for stress signals while we are working.  If we were in a situation where Owen wasn't comfortable and I didn't feel like we could work through it, we would leave.  And when we start working longer days, Owen and I will have to work harder to make sure we have that downtime in our schedule so he doesn't get burnt out.

So no, just because I won't let you pet my dog, doesn't mean I don't show him any affection whatsoever.  I love this crazy, goofy dog - and there's nothing I wouldn't do for him.