Saturday, October 22, 2005

GOOD Anniversary Date: My Bundle of JOY!

Rowena's first snowstorm and her first service vest! This is one HAPPY puppy!

The hardest part for me while crate training Rowena was when she would whine or cry. However, I never gave in and she would stop before she could disrupt the whole apartment building. I also did the umbilical cord thing with the leash because she would not go to the bathroom while she was on the umbilical setup.

Here she is with my husband when we went to look at her at the breeder's. She is 8-weeks old here and we had not named her yet. I gave my husband the choice of either "Rowena" or "Paisley" for names. We both agreed on the name and agreed that it was the perfect name for this little pup.

Nothing is more cute than a fuzzy little puppy with floppy ears. When my Mom helped me purchase Rowena, I don't know if she realized all of the plans I had for the little bundle of energy and curiousity. I don't know if the term "Service Dog" was taken seriously or not. Either way, in the first few weeks of November, I was soon taking home a puppy that would change my life.
Rowena's introduction to her new home didn't go smoothly. After spending the evening shopping for last minute puppy supplies (because my mom didn't want to jinx the puppy purchase by getting things the day before we actually got the pup), we finally brought little 9 pound Rowena up to my apartment. Rowena spotted a couple of my 8 cats as we walked through the door, and when I put her down to pull out her new food dishes, leash still attached, she ran into the living room in search of a cat to play with. Before I even noticed, Rowena came yelping back into the kitchen to me and accidently back into her new metal dishes that clanged together, further terrifying her. I gathered the puppy in my arms, looked her over and straightened her dishes. I filled the bowls and coaxed Rowena, now unsure of these 2 loud metal bowls towards the food in the bowl. I remember when we had picked her up from the breeder's house, I had a little purple harness that was too big, and a leash hooked onto the back of it. I let her walk to the car and it was like she'd never been out before. The grass, the sky, the gravel in the driveway... and I pick her up into my lap after I get into the car. She watched curiously, as all this stuff goes on. It is like those pretty brown eyes were taking in everything. I held her in my lap and let her look out the window for the half hour drive back to Bangor. She was in my arms! She was mine! I can't believe that after wanting a Border Collie for so long, I actually have one! I can't believe that after 7 years of research, I was finally ready to do what I needed to do to get and train this tiny young service dog in training.
Potty training was my biggest anxiey. I didn't want to do the kennelling method to housebreaking the pup. No, I was determined not to do that. After a week of trying my approach, I broke down and dgragged our old dog kennel from out back inside. I new this approach would work, because I had tried putting wood chips in the kennel pan and she would only go once in the litter. Then she would go elsewhere. It's like she couldn't bear stand in a soiled tray of woodchips. She wouldn't go potty in that kennel. I could do this! With in a week, she was trained. She wasn't bombproof yet but was trained.
I will be adding on to this post later.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Most Embarrassing Training Moments"

Rainy day training & fun

These stories of embarrassing training moments are so humiliating that I almost don't want to publish them. However accidents happen and so does misbehaviour. Rowena is her own person/dog and I cannot control her every breath. I do my best to train her and I believe she does her best to behave and do what I want. For the most part, Rowena is a well -behaved dog in public and we have never been kicked out of a place or even eye-balled for our behaviour. So I ask, What the heck happened!!??
Herding Instincts or Alert Dog?:
I had gone to the state hospital (BMHI) to attend their renaming ceremony. Even though changing the name from Bangor Mental Health Institute to The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center sounded nifty, it really wouldn't change what the place was or what peoples' experiences had been there. Everyone knew what the place really was and it could never hide from itself behind a fancy name. However, over the years I had come to respect the place for what it had done for me and I had a good working relationship with some of the doctors and other staff there. Too bad they won't take me there anymore... or is that a good thing? Anyway, I thought this ceremony would be a good place to take Rowena for a public training exercise. She had all her paperwork on file there and most everyone was familiar with her there already. It was a rainy, crappy day out so the ceremony would be held inside. I would have taken Rowena to play in the field first to get her to unwind a bit before the ceremony, but with the weather, I didn't want to take a very muddy and wet dog into the hospital. We got off the bus and I had to hold firmly to Rowena as we passed by the place she knows as "playtime". We go into the hospital and up stairs to the little auditorium (where in the old days they used to play movies) and we found a seat up front on the outside edge of the right side. The governor and some other political figures came over and pet Rowena, (some without asking I might add) and she enjoyed all the attention. As the ceremony began, the superintendent spoke a little and then announced the first politician up to speak. I think that one went okay, but as the next guy was called up, he came from behind us (my right) instead of up front where there was a row of important political figures sitting. He swiftly walked up from behind me and cut sharply in front and close to where Rowena lay, looking the other way. As the swift moving politician past her, she started up to chase him and lunge for his pant leg. Fortunately, she works on a 2 foot leash and I had it wrapped around the chair leg. She barely made it off the floor and I promptly stomped my foot down on the center of the leash. The politician didn't even notice. However, I get the feeling that the governor and others sitting up front facing the audience and the front row I sat in... including the medical director saw what had happened. I know my face blushed. I could see eyes looking my way. Rowena was under control, back in "down" on the floor again,but the damage was done. After the ceremony, I spoke to some individuals and decided to visit a friend of mine who was a patient there "indefinitely". On my way down the hall, the medical director (used to be my psychiatrist) comes up behind me and says: "I saw your dog nip at someone." My response was "She didn't 'nip'!" Was I in denial here? I didn't see the mouth open, only saw a restless young service dog in training totally screw up and make herself AND me look bad in front of the Governor of the State of Maine! I obsessed on this comment from this doctor for the whole week. Gees, is that what it looked like? Did they think she was acting in aggression? I hope they know that she's a herding dog who thought she was going to "play" with the jogging politician. If she really didn't like the guy, she would have avoided the guy and backed under my chair. I couldn't believe that she had done something like this. A year old and never had she done something like this while at work.
That wasn't the first thing that happened that day... Or maybe she was just alerting me of a "swift moving politician" as not a person I should be voting for?
When Rowena was about 9 to 20 weeks old, the end of the day found her exhausted as any puppy would be following me around all day. As a result, if she was going to have an "accident", it would be late in the work day. And so it did... about four different times. My husband and I saw the marriage counselor around six o'clock in the end of the week. The first week we had her, we proudly brought her in and laughed as she discovered herself in the mirror while enroute to the therapist's office. As we were leaving the session, she peed on the corner of the therapist's rug. He was cool with it, didn't make a big deal of it and I was glad. However, on another occasion (mind you, I try to get her to go to the bathroom outside BEFORE we go into appointments) we were walking down the hallway towards this therapist's office and as we are walking, she piddles down the hallway (carpet) leaving a trail behind us. Luckily, it being winter, it looked like we had just tracked in some snow. Another time, I was at the chiropractor's office, paying for services and Rowena was on the floor next to the corner of the counter and she just let it go... peed on the floor. The man behind the counter... knows me pretty well, didn't make a big deal of that and just said she's lucky she didn't do it on any of the chiropractor's carpeted areas. I agreed, but was embarrassed even though Rowena was still a little puppy and it was the end of the day. I think she may have gone in the marriage counselor's office one other time in the say exact spot as she did the first time. Then there was the time I was leaving the counseling agency around five thirty after seeing my psychiatrist late in the work day. We had made it to the rubber backed carpet that is down inside the front doors of the agency and she peed. We were like 10 feet from the outside and she just couldn't hold it. She was a young and worn out puppy back then. At almost a year old... she wouldn't have any more accidents.
Before Rowena and I headed off to the state hospital for the renaming ceremony, I had to drop some things off at the counseling agency. It was morning and I had taken Rowena out to go to the bathroom already. She only tinkled. We had to take off to be on time, so I couldn't wait around to see if she was going to eventually have a BM. On my way out of the agency, I was walking down the steps just before getting to the lobby and I noticed that Rowena was hesitating on the stairs and I was having to pull on her. I glanced back and noticed that Rowena was... midstep on the steps and "squatting" right there. I scolded her and picked her up with her tail tucked under her. I had quickly glanced back to see if she had deposited anything and didn't see. I explained to the security guy (and some individuals that were sitting there... I knew them and they knew me and Rowena) and ran out with her. I placed her on the first grassy spot and she wouldn't go. I had to march her over to her "favorite spot" on the grass next to the sidewalk before she would go. The following week, my friend would tell me that Rowena had indeed left a deposit on the steps and that security cleaned it up. I was so embarrassed! I apologized to security (we are quite familiar with one another) and told him that if I had known she left a mess, I would have cleaned it up. I apologized for my dog too.
What was it with this particular day that made Rowena act up so much? Was it inactivity? Had I not taken her out enough to play? What had I done wrong with her?
I don't know what it was that day. I only hope that what Rowena did doesn't permanently blemish her record as a future service dog. Thankfully, I still have 2 more years to iron out the kinks in her professional life.

Friday, October 14, 2005

"More Personal Experience with Depression"

What I think makes depression so blatantly obvious to me is my memory of last year. What makes last year so memorable is the facts that it was the first year after my last and ever-so-memorable 4 month stay at the local state hospital, and the year I will always know as my "year of enlightenment". When I was in the state hospital, I had been put on a new antidepressant, and it apparently worked. I finally won my way out of the hospital and a new life began. My husband and I began marriage counseling and I started up again with my therapist. I seemed more at ease, more productive and felt more normal. (Whatever that is.) I used my camera a lot as (like in that antidepressant commercial) colors seemed more brilliant, details sharper, and I began to notice an inner peace that I had never felt before. Spring seemed to announce its self loudly to me. It was not all a bed of roses. I did have some PTSD episodes that without my therapist's order to not let the crisis team put me in the hospital, I would have been. Not even a crisis bed did I take. However, I kept going. Come the end of summer (August), our SuperActivity went to Baxter State Park for a week in August. It was a time of complete peace and self re-discovery. We hiked hard and enjoyed the complete wildness of everything. We came back in a natural state of highness. A few of us came down hard upon returning home to civilization. I had another PTSD episode that nearly killed me. However, I did not die. I was given another chance. It took me a good two weeks to regain control of myself, but with in the first week, the week I was given another chance, Rowena, my future service dog was born about 20 miles away. Utter joy in November ocurred when my mother helped me purchase Rowena, the charismatic puppy and her "first grandchild". However, perhaps I never fully regained my composure from August's episode. Maybe I did. Winter went a little rougher than last year. Rowena added joy to my days, but in February when she was attacked by the German Shepherd, my PTSD symptoms picked up big time. Things have been tough since then. Colors seem cloudy and days seem to float and fly by without my noticing. Social phobias seemed to be increasing as I am having a hard time getting myself to even take the bus to appointments... especially the one that is near the house where that damn German Shepherd lives. I get emotional drained from riding the bus and running errands. I am tired, and after just returning from this year's SuperActivity, I really see how bad I am. Where is my enthusiasm, my motivation, my creative energy, my inner peace, my outer rainbow? Where did it all go and Why has it gone? What have I done to deserve to lose it all after I had just gotten hold of it? Where is the hope of ever getting better? Where is my purpose? Perhaps if I feel like I have to ask all these questions then I have lost God. Does God only hang out with me if I go to church, do all my callings, and go to all my meetings and pay my tithes? Not the God I know. However, I feel as if blessings are being withheld, but then again, one often has a hard time feeling worthy of a blessing when they are depressed, and also have a hard time feeling blessed while depressed. I want to say that the biggest blessing I have is a dog named Rowena... but then I though of a joke I read on the internet... I think it goes kind of like this: "There's nothing like a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac who stays up all night wondering if there really is a dog". Okay, God has granted me the gift of humor that never seems to leave me.

"How Does Human Depression Affect a PSD?"

Here is Rowena in her free t-shirt and special service bandana, waiting to do the Mental Illness Awareness walk across the bridge from Brewer, Maine to Bangor, Maine and back on the other bridge. In this shot, she is resting after we had finished playing a quick game of frisbee toss. She was on her best behavior playing off-leash (leash dropped) and in a parking lot.

Well, the answer to this question is: I don't really know, but it must affect a PSD... how can it not.
As I come to realize the extent of my depression this year, I come to realize how... though very helpful in keeping me on the psychiatric straight and narrow, Rowena makes it very difficult for me to seek out the help I need when I am in crisis. I know that if I get to the point where someone hospitalizes me, I cannot take her with me. What would I do with her and how well could either one of us do without one another? Would this indeed actually a therapeutic hospitalization for me? I doubt it. Would it affect Rowena to be separated from me (and even my husband) for any length of time? It certainly would. My best bet would be to get in at the crisis unit because I could take Rowena with me, but they have a time limit and have a limited tolerance to exactly how much crisis they will accept at the crisis place. For example, I have recently begun the long and painful process of a med change. If during this process I need extra support, will the crisis unit be able to keep me long enough? (Usually a 5-7 day limit on crises).
Another aspect of my level of depression as of late is my lack of energy. Rowena, being a young Border Collie is full of life thus full of energy. She wants to go out and just play play play... and only with me! She is very patient letting me sleep in late and does her very best to restrain herself, just ringing the bell to go out more frequently than usual. I am trying to build a little agility practice set for her, so I let her out on the deck with me, but for an intelligent dog, she is not totally satisfied unless I am playing with her continuously. We try to take her out to the field or the forest for a long free run or game of frisbee (or ball) at least on weekends. Often at the end of the day we are too tired to run around too much. We have had so much rain, it has made playing outside for any period of time rather unpleasant. Last week, I went out back to build a small drainage ditch as the water was gathering in the middle of the yard. I brought Rowena with me and she got totally covered with mud, and so did I. We came inside and I brought her directly to the shower to wash off. She seemed satisfied though, even if I did not play directly with her.
As a service animal, she is taught to "Lap up" and check me out when I seem upset or am crying. Perhaps if she grows restless from an extended period of depression, she might get to distracted to do her work appropriately. I know that she has a tendency to be a bit more unruly when she doesn't get enough play time... and I see that in her inability to remain still when another dog is present. Luckily she is still young and is not yet a full fledged Service Dog.
So in the midst of a really crappy night, rain falling and I am out for a "poop time" and walk to call the help line, I get a busy message and go to the police station to ask: "so what else can I do?" I am crying my head off and Rowena, doing her job, comes over and leaps up on me. I feel so bad, like I am letting her down, am the worst dog owner around. Standing there in the pouring rain, Ro's leash hangs as my hand droops down. Her leaping up is not working to her satisfaction so then she begins grabbing her leash and yanking on it. (She knows this is a "No-No" normally). Not only does she yank on it, she is growling. She is looking at me... frisky like, pulling and yanking her leash back and forth... GGRRR...GRRrrr! Well she knows she's not supposed to do this. However, in my tears, I can't help but begin laughing at her. This is not routine misbehaviour happening here. This is her alert system working at "code Yellow." Instead of falling on my knees and curling up into a little ball outside the police station at three in the morning, I am able to regain enough of my composure to look at Rowena and think to myself "I can't give up!" If this is the only type of alerting that Rowena ever did for me, she has earned her service dog title. Had I not had her at all, I certainly would have given up and slid down to a point where I would have required more professional help than what I sought out that night (morning).
I owe Rowena all the time she wants for all the time "outside" of hospitals I have had since I have been with her. It often feels like hell to stay out of the hospital for this long when I feel so miserable, but most of the time I feel the quality of my life is still better at home with Rowena and hibernating than it would be in a hospital with out Rowena. People (the MH providers) often say: "Oh that's great... you've stayed out of the hospital for so long!" What is not considered by these misguided providers is the quality of that outpatient time and the overall state of my mental health while I am out. What makes it worth it? I'd say Rowena does.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

SuperActivity 2005: Photo Scrapbook

Here we are on top of Mt. Battie in Camden, Maine. Usually one would be able to see the town and harbor in Camden in the background, but the fog pretty much left us in the clouds. Fog was a chronic problem (as was rain) the whole week.

This was Rowena's first time in a Kayak and I thought she did surprizingly well! In this photo she looks like my faithful navigator. Actually she was not crazy about the kayaking experience and I do have photos of her looking back at me as if she were asking "Umm, is this what is supposed to be happening??" I attached her retriever toy to the front of my kayak and threw it out for her toward the end. She pulled me about 50 feet to shore by her retriever toy.

Here is Rowena warming up the camping cot for me at the end of the day. She was a cot hog as she wanted to sleep as close to me as possible, which on a tiny cot means "ontop" of me. She adjusted to the fluttering tent the first night we were out, but remained a bit wary of the tarps and tents when outside. Today the Venture Crew had an open house and I went in the tent we had displayed. Rowena went right in with me without much hesitation. Progress is being made!