Jenny Levels Up

Life has continued to go on after the walk, despite the illusion that we are no longer moving forward in the physical, linear sense.  Though we don’t always know where to put it, we have been maintaining the energy and momentum we carried home with us, and slowly building the dream that will be our future.

Before I adopted Grace in 2007, I had little to no experience training dogs.  My horse background was certainly helpful in understanding training, but I did not grasp canine psychology.  I started my crash course in dog with Grace.  Two years later, I had my first certified therapy dog.

Grace at a Sycamore Run Early Education Center in 2009

I have always wanted to help animals, but have a difficult time focusing so much of my resources to rescuing animals when there are so many people – so many children – in need of help.  While being involved with pet therapy work, I finally saw my future taking shape.  As a firm believer in animal therapy, I saw the incredible ability that rescued and rehabilitated animals have to help people.  I don’t want to just re-home homeless animals – I want to give them a job where they can help a person in need.  I want to help animals help people – then it all comes full circle.

when we first met Jenny in Iowa last July

When Jenny ran into our lives last July (can you believe it’s been nearly a year?) we kept her because we felt that she was talented.  We could see that she had the mind, temperament, and will to do just about anything we asked of her.  With her sweet and gentle demeanor, she took to therapy work immediately.  And while she could behave in a hospital, she could also walk 30 or more miles in a day and still have energy to run circles around the campfire at night.  I wanted to capitalize on her talent (and energy!) So I set my sights on search and rescue work, training to volunteer myself and a specially trained dog to search for missing people.  I decided to teach the dog that was dumped like garbage on the side of the highway to find and comfort missing people.

I started going to service dog training classes through Pawsibilities Unleashed with Jenny about a month after returning home from the walk.  I began my formal education in dog training with several goals: to move Jenny forward in her training (more on that later), to learn how to train service and therapy dogs, and to work towards my canine good citizenship evaluator certification.  In short, to truly learn how to train dogs and use their natural abilities to do incredible things.

The early stages of training for most advanced work like search and rescue or service dog work are pretty consistent.  Manners, obedience, scent work, and public access practice are the foundation for any working dog, so we started attending Liz’s training class for service dogs.  With Liz’s support and direction, Jenny and I moved along quickly.  But she wasn’t just learning the things I was teaching her – she was learning from the other dogs in class as well.

Kait and Jenny in class

The training class I attend has several diabetic alert dogs in training who are taught to monitor and alert on their person’s blood sugar by scent.  During a class while one of these dogs was alerting on her human, Jenny tuned in on the dog’s distress and investigated the scent with the other dog, joining her on the alert.

The following week, I skipped breakfast on my way to dog class.  Several hours later, my body was out of fuel and I was running out of steam.  Another diabetic alert dog in our class decided he didn’t like the way I smelled and alerted to myself and then his owner.

The owner looked at his dog, then looked at me and said, “well, ask her.”

I held my hands out in front of me – one in a “high five” and the other in a fist and asked his dog, “Am I low or am I high?”

She dutifully bumped my fist with her nose – the signal for “low”.

Her handler smiled, patted her on the head, and told her “good girl.”

Embarrassed, I reached down and patted her on the head and then pulled my snack out of my bag.  I had just been tattled on.

Over the next several weeks, I noticed that Jenny was paying very close attention to my scent and had started getting agitated when my blood sugar dropped.  Having recently given up gluten due to a newly discovered allergy, I am having a difficult time keeping my blood sugar high enough at times.  My new dietary restrictions have required a wholesale change that has taken some getting used to.  Fortunately, Jenny has assigned herself the job of looking after me and making sure I am looking after myself.  Under the recommendation of our trainer, I began training Jenny to be my medical alert service dog.

Jenny at the YUM Center in downtown Louisville

As I started working with Jenny and keeping records of her alerts and my sugar levels, I learned something very interesting.  Grace is actually more dependable as a blood sugar monitor that Jenny is.  I always knew that Grace looked after me, but there is so much more to it than I ever knew.  Grace has been my service dog all along.  She just never wore the vest.

Kait and Grace, 2007

Over the past several months, Jenny has flown through her training, enjoying the attention and the challenge of learning new things every day.  She has loved going on daily field trips to all sorts of interesting places and learns daily from her growing array of experience in the world.  I, too, have loved the training and learned a great deal in the process.  Not only am I learning to train under the guidance of a master trainer, but it is directly applicable to my everyday life and my goals for the future.

But this transition has not come without its growing pains.  Being a person with a service dog in everyday life is an incredible social experiment.  It is socially awkward, embarrassing, and a daily test of patience.  A service dog is a magnet for attention.  People grab at her in public, cooing “Awww, puppy!”  They stare, looking you over trying to figure out what is wrong with you.  They ask inappropriate questions such as “what do you need a service dog for?” at which point I often inquire if they ask every person in a wheel chair why they can’t walk.

However, these rather difficult and time-consuming interactions do have an upside.  I have a unique opportunity to educate people who seem to have difficulty managing their interactions with working service dogs in public.  At some point, I’ll have to come up with cards I can hand out with some basic information on service dog etiquette or something like that.

I feel the need to state that despite these social discomforts, the benefits far outweigh the downsides.  She has let me know that I need to go home and manage my business before I have a problem in public.  She is tuned in to me when I am too distracted to be.  And I have come to accept that even the downsides have their benefits.  The opportunity to educate people about service dogs, how to interact with their handlers (and not the dog), and the many ways that service dogs help people.

Jenny out to lunch

Just a couple of weeks ago, Jenny took her public access exam – a test that evaluates her manners, behavior, and service dog tasks while working in public.  She did beautifully and is now a certified medical alert service dog.  She goes to the grocery store, the post office, out to dinner – on all of my daily errands.  She is always in training, but always learning.  I can’t believe she has come so far in only 11 months.  As so many of our readers and supporters told us, she is special and worked her way into our walk and our hearts for a reason.

our first walk

Animal assisted crisis response and canine search and rescue work is still in our future.  We have continued to attend training class and to learn how far specialized training can really go – and how to get there.  It is no longer sorcery to me; it’s just a lot of structured work, time, repetition, and patience.  Jenny and I are loving every minute of it – all this from someone else’s garbage that we decided to pick up off the side of the road.

Jenny #9

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9 Responses to Jenny Levels Up

  1. Theresa Cahill says:

    I also have a service dog for my PTSD. My dog is a long haired Chihuahua. She goes everywhere with me. I too get the same response from people. A lot of people will reach over and pet her when I am in a store when my back is turned looking at something on the shelf. She doesn’t like fast movements around her so kids really scare her because they move so quickly. Of course everyone looks at her then looks at me and will always say “what kind of service does she do with her being so small.” She wears a vest with two patches on her, one says service dog, the other one says PTSD dog. So when I get asked that I say to them “what her patch says, she helps me with my PTSD”. Then more times then not I get asked “what is PTSD”. I then tell them Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. Then they always ask oh, so were in the war. I look at them and tell them no mine is from childhood stuff. I recently had one guy question me like he didn’t believe me. So I blurted out to him “if you must know I was molested by 3 family members” needless to say he didn’t know what to say about that. There has been times I have not gone out because I need to take her and I didn’t want to deal with the people doing all that stuff so I just stay at home. Anyway your comments hit home and I know exactly how you feel. I have followed you for a while now and also sent you a picture of the dogs with my grandkids when you were in IL. I also have lows with my sugar, but I am not sure how I would go about teaching my dog how to pick up on that. But it is very interesting. What you and your husband are doing is so great and thank you.

    Theresa Cahill

  2. stephanie says:

    Kait, what a lovely and inspiring missive. I truly rejoice in your triumphs and know that you have exciting adventures ahead.
    I want you to teach me everything that you are learning~

  3. Mecia Crutcher says:

    Kait: So glad you & Jenny are in training with
    Liz Norris, the best trainer ever, and attending
    our class. JaZee and I have been unable to
    attend while I am undergoing some eye
    problems but will be back soon!
    Isn’t it amazing how these wonderful dogs come
    into our lives!
    Appreciate you sharing your thoughts and how
    you and Jenny came to know each other!!
    The public needs all of us to share the loving &
    positive ways our furbies serve us – with
    unconditional love!
    Stay in touch with Liz’s program & spread
    the word about her services! She loves all her
    dogs that pass her temperment test!!
    Stay in touch!

  4. Lesley Nord says:

    Congratulations on your continued journey.
    May your path contine to be filled with much
    Success, Joy & Sunshine! You have a wonder-
    ful trainer in Liz Norris, a phenomenal hubby,
    John, and fantastastic fur kids. I am so enjoying
    reading and sharing a bit as your amazing dreams
    and plans come true. This post captures so much!
    Well done! Hugs and peace,

  5. James says:

    Great Post 🙂

  6. Laurie says:

    I learned of your Walk from reddit. I followed your progress and felt like I was a part of your journey. I am happy to hear about Jenny. From an unwanted throw away to an amazing helper. Such is the power of love.

  7. Mary Lou says:

    I cannot express as well as others how wonderful this makes me feel to read your post. I have had you all on my mind recently, thinking of your journey from last year and thankful that as hot as it was last year, this year may have been worse with early spring flooding through the plains and now horrendous heat further west plus fires..

    Jenny truly did come into your lives for a reason.. what a gift she is.

    Blessings for your continued training and success, I have no doubt even greater things are in store for all of you.

    You continue to inspire.

  8. Dog Training says:

    Great post! Been reading a lot about dog training. Thanks for the info here!

  9. Hi Jenny, I just read this post and even though its been nearly 2 years since this post, I still think it resonates to this day. The bond between a service dog and handler is a strong one that really allows growth for both parties. Many people that see a person with a service dog assumes that they are fake. There may be a few bad seeds without any disabilities, but the majority of service dog owners actually need them. I don’t think we should discount everyone from the actions of a few.

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