Monday, November 1, 2010

Mia graduates and begins her life with Erin...

After three weeks of daily training Mia and Erin are ready to begin their life together. Erin is a wonderful teenager with quadriplegia from a swimming accident just last summer. We are not sure who worked harder, and who was most exhausted by the time graduation came. It was so rewarding for us to see how well the team of Erin and Mia did by the end of the team training. They went to class, trained and trained, and went on field trips several times to practice skills in public. Erin seemed calm and happy and soon had Mia at her side ready to help out. Erin's Mom was there everyday doing all the things needed to help Erin be successful. The hard part was that Mom couldn't do the training, and didn't get to pet and love up Mia. That had to be Erin's job!

Graduation was a happy day. By graduation Mia behaved just like we had been told she would...happy to see us and receive an ear rub, but then right back to her work with Erin. Most of Mia's litter mates also graduated, and it was great to see them all on stage with their matches. The dogs were amazing, lying at the side of the wheelchairs and occassionally looking out at the auditorium full of supporters that came to honor them. We all gathered backstage, and each recipient drove their wheelchair out on the stage, one at a time. Soon it was Erin's turn, and after she arrived at center stage, George, Bonnie and Derek walked Mia out to where Erin waited. Mia separated from us without complaining, and of course enjoyed all the treats from Erin. With Erin and her parents' permission, we are sharing these photos of the "team". We wish them the best in everything they do, and know they have an awesome future together.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Team training starts tomorrow...

Mia has continued to train with us and go on many outings in preparation for her job as a service dog. Just last night she went to party at our friend's farm. There were other dogs, a cat and many children there, so Mia was challenged a bit. She stayed on leash and sat by the bonfire while we roasted brats and visited. Everyone has the same questions. What kind of dog is she, why is she small and won't it be hard to give her up? We have our answers pretty well down by now. She is a Chocolate Lab, her father was small, and yes, it will be hard to give her up, but we are very happy she is able to be a service dog, doing what she is trained to do!

So now we are down to the wire...tomorrow is the first day of team training. This means Mia will go to the Helping Paws center and work with the teenage girl she is matched with every afternoon for three weeks. They will work on cues, rewards, go on field trips, and learn about caring for a service dog. This includes Mia's grooming, health care, and learning the rules that determine what a service dog can do in public. Team training lasts for three weeks. What a lot to learn in such a short time.

The first 10 days Mia still comes home to our house, but on October 20th Mia will go home to stay with her new family. Graduation is the 29th of October at Hopkins High School at 7pm. What an exciting time for all of us.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mia had a great time at the Fair/Gala/Junior High/etc...

Mia continues to practice her skills and visit a wide variety of places. She went with George and Bonnie to the State Fair to participate in a demonstration that Helping Paws did the last Saturday at the fair. No photos were taken but you can be sure she did a great job. She and George joined a shift of about 6 dogs at the Pet Center, and demonstrated many of the dogs' skills. There were both recipients and training families there, all happy to share their dogs with a curious crowd. People were so interested in what these dogs do and lots of good conversations took place. It caused us to reflect on how many things we have come to expect from Mia.

Mia also spent about 90 minutes at St. Louis Park Junior High while school was in session. With a very helpful teacher as our escort, Bonnie and Mia navigated halls, rode the elevator, visited a few classes and worked on opening doors. The students were so respectful, asking good questions, and not touching Mia. Mia was good about not licking or sniffing anyone, and the day was proclaimed a success!

The annual Gala was a fun evening with more well behaved dogs in a hotel than you could ever imagine. We loved seeing so many of the graduates!

At one point all the big dogs got up and walked among the tables. Mia just rolled with it the whole evening, kissing some of her siblings over and over. We tried to be supportive of the people with puppies, telling them to just believe that their puppy will be a well behaved big dog someday.

Just a few weeks left and we have papers to fill out, medical records to get, food to buy and lots of anticipation for graduation day. We want to thank everyone who helped us along the way, and also to thank Mia for all her hard work!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mia has news for you, she has been placed...

We are excited and happy to report that a match has been made with a recipient for Mia! All of a sudden we received the news that she will live and work with a teenage girl with a disability, quadriplegia. After the first moment of disbelief and a myriad of emotions, we realized Mia would be going to school, which made us really happy both for Mia and for her recipient. Mia is a social girl, as we have told you, and she will love it. This also means there are things she needs to work on that relate to a school environment and the needs of a student in a wheelchair.

So off Bonnie went with dog and wheelchair to the local junior high where our kids have gone. After a check in with the principal, we were welcome to train in the school. Today was our second trip to school and we worked on many things. The front doors were the first, working on position, switch and not being distracted by things on the floor. Trips down the long halls went well with some reminders about position, avoiding a toothpick on the floor, and the drips from a leak in the ceiling. We tried the heavy doors to the staff rest rooms and she amazingly opened them after a couple of tries. Bonnie had to learn how to block the door and then have Mia step over her feet to go ahead. We tried the elevator to the lower level. There was only one button outside which Mia knew to push with the "switch" command. Then remembering to have Mia on the side of the wheelchair away from the door and using "go ahead" and "around", we entered and exited as we have been taught. Lastly we did "retrieve", trying some objects a teenager might have; a marker, a cellphone, a package of kleenex and as a challenge object, a student ID card. Mia seems to enjoy working hard and being challenged. For us graduation in October will come before we know it.

Here's Mia napping this morning. We were trying to show how much she likes the bucket of balls, but there was no interfering with her after breakfast nap!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mia has a busy social life...

Mia has been going to Linda's and also to Lonnie's house while we are getting our young adult children to and from their colleges, and most recently for Laura (our daughter) and Kyle's wedding. We are so appreciative for the help they give us by dog sitting. Mia gets to work with other people and meet their dogs this way, which helps her learn to be more flexible with new people, for example, when she goes to meet applicants who might become her owner.

We had no idea life would be so full of change for us when we volunteered to be a foster family for Mia. In the past three months Laura and Kyle moved to Texas, and Michael and Sarah have come from their colleges, Michael went back to Madison this weekend, and soon Sarah will move to Madrid, Spain. Also, in the last two years three of our four parents have passed away, so the photos of them in earlier blog notes are especially sweet memories of our time with Mia. All of this has required Mia to be extremely flexible and patient, which we hope will help her in her future work.

On a lighter note, imagine our surprise when we uploaded from our camera and found a series of photos of Mia playing with our cleaning ladie's son. Adorable! Mia loves company at home, and this was just another fantastic fun day for her. I would show you more, but didn't ask permission to show the little boy that just loves her (and Mia loves him, too).

If you haven't seen the latest newsletter from Helping Paws, you should know you can read about all the dogs in the newsletter on the Helping Paws website. Mia's section in the newsletter is as follows...

Sometimes it’s hard to believe all the things Mia has learned and how responsible she has become. If we are not careful we focus on what we still want her to perfect when we should be celebrating her progress. In two years she has become incredibly connected to us and communicates in ways that continue to amaze us. Besides her commands she understands other words like “outside” and knows that a shimmy will always get our attention. Even as her skills improve, we continue to raise our expectations.

Mia has been exposed to lots of new experiences. She was a fine greeter for the Wag Walk and Run, as you can see from the photo. She traveled to Madison and helped our son move out of the dorm. (Think messy and smelly.) Then on to Iowa City for our daughter’s Master’s Degree ceremony, which she handled beautifully, including the horns and whistles plus a large crowd. She was quiet through a church service of several thousand at the convention center, and later that day attended a parade down Hennepin Avenue, still on her best behavior.

She traveled to the North Shore for a cabin weekend with a great day of jumping and swimming from the dock. Unfortunately she had painful “swimmer’s tail” the next day and fortunately we had been educated about this by Helping Paws, so we knew it would heal in a few days. No need for an emergency trip to the vet!

All these experiences have shown us Mia is getting ready to match with her life’s partner and new best friend!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Blog look for July...


Hello friends and dog lovers!

On goes the training, with emphasis on skills Mia will use the most often, like "bring", "hold", "give" and "stay". She is getting more excited about working without food and more reliable out in the world. We are working with motorized shopping carts and bringing her to more places with people and food. Last week we had a rash of people at Cub who wanted to share the back of their hand, so she could lick and sniff them. "Please don't pet" doesn't work for that, so we have decided to use "please don't touch" and see how that works.

Mia has has two more sessions with possible owners. No match yet, but we remain optimistic that she will be ready in the fall. Helping Paws cannot promise she will be done because it depends on how she works with the people who are hoping to get a dog. It reminds me of pregnancy, the baby will be born, but no one is sure when or how.

Mia is blissfully ignorant of all this and just loves the summer days and the rabbits in our back yard! We should all learn about appreciating the moment from her.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mia's big travel adventure, plus the WW&R...

Seems like we are pretty busy these days. So busy we forgot to set up dog sitting for Mia so that we could travel for Sarah's graduation in Iowa. Not to mention picking up Michael in Madison the same weekend. Mia has always been a little restless in the car, especially if we are going to her favorite park. A weekend on the road would be her challenge. And she did a great job of adjusting to the long hours on the road and sleeping in Sarah's apartment without her "mom and dad". That's Sarah on the right, after receiving her Masters degree.
Picking up Michael was lots of fun. His dorm room and the hall were pretty messy and chaotic, so we took turns with Mia, making sure she didn't get into anything "dangerous". Michael didn't know we were bringing her, so that was a fantastic surprise for him after a week of finals.
Once we were in Iowa, Mia had a blast going to parties and out to restaurants. Her going out behavior is just about ready for her own graduation!
Then there was the Wag Walk and Run event last weekend. George and Mia were greeters and there were lots and lots of people and dogs participating in a wide variety of events. George was very happy with how patient Mia was during greeting time. Then they walked 5K, which had Mia tired out the whole next day. What a great organization, Helping Paws!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mia had a birthday...

Mia turned two at the end of March. She is settling down and easier to have around the house. Two of her litter mates have graduated, but Mia still has some work to do to be ready. Michael is happy that she will be here when he is home this summer.

Today we went to Purgatory Park for a walk, all beautiful after they did a "burn" so that the natural prairie plants will grow. Helping Paws will have their Wag Walk and Run there on May 23rd. You can read about it at the website. Mia is seriously into sticks, the bigger the better as you can see from this picture.

On Monday we did a demo for a Cub Scout Troop which was a lot of fun. Mia did a good job and so did the boys. They asked a lot of good questions and were very attentive. We counted and Mia has over 60 commands she has learned. Now our job is to make sure she does them well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mia has a moment of fame on television...

As you can see Mia and George visited Channel 9 News earlier this month. It was bright and early and both George and Mia did a great job. She is getting more reliable all the time, but there still was the stress of being on live TV. Would Mia be able to work without distraction?

That seems to be the biggest training issue we face these days. Mia can do all the commands she has learned really quite well, that is until something else more interesting comes along. We work on this everyday. For example today on her walk there was a breeze which I could tell brought many new scents. Then there were the multiple garbage trucks that arrive every Monday. And of course the melting of the snow which left us with lots of old candles, wrappers, bottles and other things that require the "leave it" command. Oh, and how about all the other dogs out in their yards or on a walk on this lovely day. Actually she did pretty well.

Here is a really special action shot from the trip to the TV station. Notice the pink tongue you can see against the announcer's suit. Those labs just love to lick things. But you have to say he put his face pretty more thing to work on when greeting.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mia is just keeps learning and growing...

Mia has had lots of new experiences since you last heard from her. She is becoming more and more attached to us in our daily routine. She reliably comes from other parts of the house and likes to stay with us when we are working in the study or the kitchen. She is getting out on many errands to the grocery store, fabric store, the mall and of course loves to play in the snow.

Since we last wrote in our blog Mia has been at home for two dinner parties. Part of the time she stayed in her kennel and later she came out and visited with the guests. She and George demonstrated her skills and everyone is so amazed at all the things she does.

This week she is training for the Doggie Olympics which has been created by the Helping Paws teachers. Trainers and dogs work in teams in events with names such as "The Pivot and Spin" and the "Hamel Camel Drop". Mia is practicing retrieving hockey pucks and lifting a heavy red weight. In one event Mia does a "roll over" and George does a "spin".

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How we combine training Mia with everyday life...

Just like humans, Mia is learning in class and then applies that learning to life. There are many ways we incorporate her skills every day, and it is fun to be creative in trying new things. Today I taught her how to open and close her kennel door (not to unlock it though). We also worked on "leave it" with our small wastebaskets. I put a really good treat in the wastebasket so that she is interested, and then reward her when she turns to me instead of the wastebasket.

She is becoming more reliable around the house so that we now have taken down the gate to the living room. All we have to do is to shut the bedroom doors and she doesn't get into things or cause trouble.

On the days it is too cold to walk we invent games. She gets a tennis ball and drops it down the stairs and then runs after it, bouncing all the way. We have a long hall where she can run for a ball over and over, which helps her blow off steam.

We try to imagine all the times she will have to wait for her owner, so when she wakes in the morning and barks I tell her to wait and she stops barking and waits for me. She waits when we go out the back door and lies at my feet waiting while I cook or wash the dishes.

It looks like Mia may graduate in the fall, with a small chance it could be sooner. It will be nice to enjoy some better weather with her in the spring. She has come a long way!