Friday, June 12, 2009

Frequently asked questions

Dempsey, we are proud to say, was recently featured as the "Puppy of the Day" on the "Daily Puppy" Website. As a result, we've received a number of new visitors (if you're one of them: Welcome!), as well as a bunch of questions in the Dempsey mailbag.

We've actually been getting questions all along, but I thought this might be a good time to share our answers. Now that we have some repeat questions, we can honestly say these are "frequently asked." We love feeling like know-it-all's, so please keep those questions coming!

You must work Dempsey so hard. He looks so tired!
If you think Dempsey looks tired, wait till you see his parents! :-)

I realized after I had put up the pictures on Daily Puppy that Dempsey is either sleeping or in training in virtually all of them. There's a simple reason for this: Those are the only times when he's not zooming around, and he sits still long enough for us to take pictures. Here's a more typical picture of Dempsey:

And this is one of the better ones! We have a million more where all you can see is a fuzzy streak, or sometimes, when he has run off before I can click the shutter, nothing at all.

Dempsey actually only trains for about an hour and a half every day (half an hour after each meal), plus a half-hour walk/field trip. This is about all he can handle at his age. For the other 22 hours of the day, he is napping, playing, or using the bathroom.

So if you think Dempsey always looks tired, please rest assured: most of the time, he just looks blurry.

Won't you be sad to give Dempsey away?

How can you give Dempsey away?
It's absolutely the right thing to do, and we would be dreadful selfish people if we didn't.

When we train Dempsey in public, we often have strangers come up to us and shake our hands. We hear stories about how service dogs have changed people's lives, and we're thanked for the work we do. We feel like saints, though really, we're not worthy, we're not worthy!

It's really incredible what a dog can do for a person. Here's a quote from a woman in England who got a service dog:
In the years since the accident that caused my disabilty I had become more and more socially isolated. It was physically difficult to go out, and as I went out less and less it became emotionally difficult too. Sometimes people would ask well intentioned questions, but I could not help feeling a bit of a spectacle. The pain of social isolation is more intense than one can imagine. Caesar has changed that! He has to go out everyday and naturally he has to have someone to take him! People don't stop me and ask about my disability as much now, they stop me and ask about Caesar and what he does...and that is fine by me. We have met some lovely canine friends as well as their humans of course!
With her service dog, Wendy went from feeling socially isolated to traveling extensively: to Paris, Scotland, Wimbledon, the U.S. How could we deny someone an opportunity like this?

We know service dogs are terrific for people, but we also think they're great for the dogs. Dempsey's most favoritest thing in the whole wide world -- more than food, more than toys, more than treats -- is to be with his "human." I can think of no better gift to Dempsey than the training that will allow him to go everywhere with his human.

Do you keep Dempsey hungry all the time so that he'll work for his treats?
Hmm. I wonder who leaked this photo?

Actually, Dempsey is very well fed. He gets three meals a day of "ultra premium" dog food, plus treats for training. In the evenings, we give him more treats when we catch him being a good little puppy (e.g., sitting quietly in the kitchen, lying by the sofa and not chewing the leg, etc.).

Dempsey gets the same amount of food every day, regardless of whether he did well in training or not. (Shhh! Don't tell him!) Our long-term goal is to train a service dog, but that's overridden by the short-term goal of taking good care of Dempsey. Not every dog has what it takes to be a service dog, and that's ok. If Dempsey is not "getting" something in training, he never goes hungry. Our goal at this point is to help Dempsey grow up to be the best dog he can be, whatever his ultimate "career" may be. (But, we're proud to say, he's doing a fantastic job in his training!)

Are you just raising Dempsey, or are you training him?
We're both raising Dempsey and training him. One of the great things about Helping Paws is that they don't have separate puppy-raisers and trainers. You get to do everything! We expect to have him for about 2 to 3 years, and we will be doing all the training, under the guidance of instructors at Helping Paws. We think it will be enormously rewarding to train Dempsey all the way through graduation.

How can I volunteer?
You can click here to find out more about volunteering with Helping Paws.

It it fun taking Dempsey everywhere?
It's a lot of fun to be with Dempsey, but Helping Paws wisely does not allow us to take him everywhere. He's still a puppy, liable to have accidents, chew things up, or jump onto people. As a "service dog-in-training," Dempsey is allowed by Minnesota law to go anyplace, but it's just not the right thing to do at his age.

An example is the nice manager at the Coach outlet, who invited Dempsey into the store. She knows the laws regarding public access for service animals, but we politely declined her invitation. A Coach store -- even an outlet -- can be one very expensive place to make a mistake! There's already enough misunderstanding about service animals that we don't want to add it to by bringing an unprepared puppy to a public location.

For now, Dempsey is only allowed to go places where "civilian" dogs can go: pet stores, vet clinics, parks, outside strip malls, etc. His field trips aren't that glamorous: truck stops, highway overpasses, transit centers, strip mall parking lots. But it's still a lot of fun looking at things through a puppy's eyes. Everything is so new and exciting!

Is Dempsey a registered service dog?
This one is a little tricky. By the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. However, the law does not stipulate that service dogs be "registered" or "certified."

There are a few outfits out there that will "register" or "certify" a dog as a service animal, but this is not required by law. In fact, businesses cannot require special identification for service animals.

These places that offer "registration" or "certification" strike me as "diploma mills": pay some money, and you get a piece of paper that's really meaningless. For example, there's a place in Texas that, for $50, will send you a laminated card if you can prove that 1) you have a disability and 2) your dog has been vaccinated. Now, compare those "standards" with the ADI Public Access Test that Dempsey will be taking. It's like the difference between a degree from Harvard and one from the Online University of Bora Bora.

Getting on my soapbox here (and reiterating these views are mine, and not necessarily those of Helping Paws), I'm a little offended by places like this that take money from well-meaning people without really giving them anything. Their "standards" are a mockery of all the hard work we put into training Dempsey.

The really sad part is that there is a lot of misunderstanding out there about service animals. Some people are allergic to dogs, or afraid of dogs, or (hard as it is for me to believe) simply don't like dogs. For these people, the presence of a dog pushes their comfort zone. People with disabilities have a right to have service animals, but it's just common decency to make sure the animals are well behaved. Having an untrained (or poorly trained) dog doesn't help the person with a disability and contributes to the misunderstandings people have about service animals.

Aargh! Off my soapbox now. Sorry about the rant. I wasn't like this before, but once you see all the hard work Helping Paws puts into their dogs, it's very hard for me not to be offended. :-)

All I ever hear is "Dempsey, Dempsey, Dempsey." Why don't you have more stuff about Bailey the cat?

We adore Bailey, but her charms don't translate as well to the Web as Dempsey's. It's like the difference between a fine film by Satyajit Ray and a typical Bollywood flick. One is a subtle, contemplative psychological portrait where nothing much happens; the other is an action-packed, multi-hour song-and-dance extravaganza with a cast of thousands. Market research shows more people would prefer to see Amrita Rao -- meow! But for you Satyajit Ray fans, grab your molto grande doppio espresso macchiatos or whatever, and be prepared to be blown away by this video of Bailey playing with toys at the pet store:

Why is Dempsey wearing a muzzle?
He's not. He's wearing a Gentle Leader, which is a humane collar that helps prevent tugging and pulling. We thought it looked like a muzzle at first, too, but it's really more like a horse's bridle. It's not painful, and it doesn't restrain him. Dempsey never wears a choke collar or those remote-controlled doodads that give electric shocks. All his training is humane.

Did you really poke your eye with a chopstick?
Ah, I assume you're referring to the story where I sprayed myself with Dempsey's pee. Well, to answer your question: Yes, I have poked my eye with chopstick. It happened when I bonked my head with the vacuum cleaner. I was using a chopstick to dislodge a ball of lint from the dryer vent so I could vacuum it up. It was a weird angle, and when I tugged on the vacuum cleaner hose, the vacuum toppled over onto my head, knocking my glasses off and throwing my head forward into the the chopstick. I know it sounds ridiculous, but really, it could happen to anyone.

You sound like an incompetent buffoon in your blog. Are you sure you know what you're doing?
Yes! The great thing about Helping Paws is that they give you a smart dog and then tell you what to do. And it really works well! The other day, I was training Dempsey at a Petsmart, and he was so well behaved, two people came up to me and asked me if I was taking any new clients for doggie training! They were stunned when I told them that I was just a volunteer, and Dempsey is my first puppy.

As for the buffoonery, I will be the first to admit I'm a bit of an oaf. But we're trying to make this blog better than our previous, unloved and unpopular blog, "Road Trip: North Dakota." We're doing this by sharing only the funny/interesting stories, and not giving you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happens. Trust me, we could go on for weeks about what a cute, sweet, smart, cute, handsome, brave, cute, adorable, friendly, patient, cute puppy Dempsey is, but I can already see some of your eyes glazing over.

Um, you know "Ralph" isn't real, right?
Not real? You're crazy. I can plainly see him right here.


  1. That was an entirely real and entertaining post. I also detest those sites that "certify" service dogs so I don't think you were on a soapbox /grin/ You're a good writer and able to explain your crazy adventures as a puppy raiser well! (we all have them, some of us just don't convey them as well /grin/) Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for giving me the first laugh-out-loud, wake-up-my-daughter-at-6am, opportunity I've had since Dave Barry stopped writing. Great post.

    ps. The video of Bailey was priceless!

  3. What a wonderful thing you are make the world a better place. Have a wonderful day.
    ~Lexi's Mom~