Sunday, March 28, 2010

Downtown train

Yesterday was Dempsey's anniversary: It was March 27, 2009, that we brought Dempsey home for the first time. To celebrate, we took Dempsey on a train ride downtown on the new Northstar commuter train.

This wasn't his first trip on public transportation; we had warmed up a couple of weeks ago on the parking lot tram at the airport. But even on that very first trip, we think he did well:

It's hard for us to believe how quickly Dempsey has grown up. On this trip, he did everything a service dog should do: pushed the button to open the door to the waiting area; sat calmly by my feet while people boarded the train and ignored the kids yelling "Doggie!"; retrieved keys while the train was moving; did nice braces on the steps and in the restroom to help me get up. Except for trying to chew the strap by the bicycle storage area, he seemed like a real service dog.

This is quite a contrast from the day we met Dempsey, when, we must admit, we had serious doubts about whether he could ever be a service dog. The very first thing Dempsey did when I first picked him up was to pee on my jacket. When I put him down, he pooped on the floor -- and then tried eating it. On the car ride home, he peed in the crate, despite the fact that everyone said puppies are very reluctant to potty in their kennel.

Needless to say, he was quite stinky before we even walked in the door, and our first order of business was to give him a bath. He cried the whole time:

When we finally let him loose on the hardwood floors, he slipped and fell. For the first few hours, he was literally bouncing off the walls every time he tried running and crashed. This little clown is going to be a service dog?

For his part, Dempsey wasn't too impressed with our first-time parenting skills, either. We had been told to feed him a cup and a half of food every day, and when he didn't eat it all, I went into panic mode, thinking I might kill the puppy through starvation, or at least malnutrition. Here's the e-mail exchange I had with Nancy, our endlessly patient instructor:

Paul: We think the puppy is hungry, but he is not eating. On Sunday, he ate about 1 1/4 cup of food total. He has eaten maybe 1/4 cup of kibble for breakfast today. I took him outside to play, and he started eating mulch. Help!!!

Nancy: Is he having stools (are they loose or firm), is he urinating, and is he active? Does he appear to be sick, lethargic in any way?

Paul: Puppy seems healthy. He is not, repeat NOT, lethargic. He is pooping and peeing very, very regularly.
Nancy: Ha, I get the picture, Mr. Wildman?! I think maybe he's just not hungry.
Just not hungry? Well, I hadn't considered that.
Since then, I've learned to relax and not get too freaked out if Dempsey does not eat precisely 1.50 cups of food. For the past couple of months, despite the fact that we haven't measured his treats carefully, he has maintained a mean weight of 69.0 pounds,  + 0.5 pound, with a standard deviation of 0.3. See, I've learned to relax! Somewhat.
You've come a long way, baby Dempsey.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Goodness

Helping Paws is part of a select group of nonprofits competing for grants based on fundraising through the Razoo giving network. Here's how it works:
Sixty-four nonprofits (16 in each of four regions) will participate in the main tournament, which runs through March 30. This competition is based on the number of unique donations of $10, as tracked by e-mail addresses. The winner in each region will win a grant, in addition to the money they raise. The regional winners also go on to play in the Final Four, April 2-6, where they can compete for another grant!

Dempsey encourages you to make a small, $10 donation to Helping Paws so we can win the prize! We think it's a great cause. You can re-read our pitch and Dempsey's interview from last year here.

Though the bean-counters say Dempsey will be worth $15,000 when he graduates, we know his true value to someone with a physical disability will be priceless. And if that's not enough, here are 11 good reasons why Helping Paws could use your dough. (And sometime later this week, we'll have another 10 or so reasons, too.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The hunter

Being a retriever, Dempsey has been retrieving things most of his life. When he was younger, he would sometimes bring me the remote control -- while I was in the bathroom. Or my socks: after I had washed them and taken them from the laundry room to the bedroom, he would find them upstairs and bring them back downstairs to me in the laundry room. Thanks a lot, Demps. Real helpful.

He's gotten much better about not retrieving unless asked, so now we're teaching him hunting. To be more specific, Doreen has taught Dempsey to "get the keys." Dempsey now understands what keys are, and he knows that when we say "get the keys," we want him to get the keys, and not the phone or the remote or the socks. We've now started trying to hide the keys, so Dempsey has to go hunt for them. We think this will be a useful skill.

You'll notice Dempsey is cheating. Instead of covering his eyes and counting to ten like we want him to, he watches where I might have left the keys, and goes to look there first. He's a smart dog, but lazy.

It's a good start, though. Eventually we'll teach Dempsey that when I can't find my keys, they're mostly likely in my pants. In the washing machine. But I don't think we'll cover that till we're in "big dogs" class.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Puppies coming!

Last week, Dempsey went to the Helping Paws open house to help introduce people to the Helping Paws program. Along with Angel and Hudson, Dempsey represented the "Working Wonders" class.

I thought he was a wonderful ambassador, shaking hands with everyone and kissing babies. With his people skills and good looks, Dempsey might have a future in politics.

The open house was an important event because Helping Paws has some new puppies on the way! Both Cheers (Dempsey's mom) and Faith have puppies coming, probably within a day or two of each other, no less. All these puppies will need foster homes, and the open house was geared towards educating prospective foster homes about the Helping Paws program.

Last year's open house was where Doreen suckered persuaded me to volunteer. I didn't think I had the time or the patience to train a service dog, but Doreen insisted we go to the open house, "just for research." My research, unfortunately, consisted mainly of getting kisses and snuggles from the puppies, and falling completely and hopelessly in love. The rest, as they say, is history.

Having said that, training Dempsey has been by far the most rewarding thing either of us have ever done. I'd seen service dogs in public, but I never imagined I could actually train one myself. And now that we've met a few people who have received Helping Paws dogs, we know that a service dog will touch people's lives in ways that we never imagined possible.

If you live in the Minneapolis/St Paul area, love dogs, and are willing to take the time to learn some new skills, I highly recommend you try the Kool Aid. I can promise that if you work hard at it, fostering and training a service dog will be one of your proudest accomplishments.

You can start your own research about the Helping Paws training program here, or feel free to drop us a line!