T-minus 24 hours

Soaking up the sun.

Soaking up the sun.

In two days our schedule will change. I will be in my adopted classroom, taking over for a teacher who is going on maternity leave. It is in a middle school. I will be teaching algebra, geometry, and algebra 2. I’ve had to brush up on my trigonometry identities over spring break to get ready for the algebra 2 class.

Grandma's traveling companion.

Grandma’s traveling companion.

And Bear has been getting ready for the new schedule by spending more time in his confinement area. His crate and bed are in the office. And as long as my mom doesn’t let him out to roam around, he doesn’t chew any books up. Unfortunately, the new schedule will have Bear chilling in his office for almost all of the work day. He will go in around 730am, get a break around 1030 from someone (still trying to secure a person for this), get another break around 230 when Sam and Dec ride home from school, and then get released around 430 or 5 when I get home from school.

You don't want to know how much this one day excursion to Bachelor cost.

You don’t want to know how much this one day excursion to Bachelor cost.

We were in Sunriver last week. Or really the kids and I were in Sunriver. Heather had to stay home and work. It was her close week at work. So Bear was left behind in Portland, readying for the new schedule. His cousin, Sage, came over for a midday play. We are hoping that schedule continues. Maggie’s friend Ashley took Bear on mid-afternoon walks. And then Grandma arrived with her cat-dog Mimi. So Bear was left on his own to consume a couple of books.

Live alerts

On our first morning back from Sunriver, Declan and Bear came upstairs at their normal six-o-clock hour. Dec lounged on the leather love-seat when Bear pawed him. We checked Declan, who was easily in range. I’m getting more savvy at this dog-alerting-diabetes thing, so I went downstairs to Maggie’s room. It being 630, Maggie was deep in sleep. Bear immediately pawed Maggie, which elicited Maggie to yell at Bear, a non uncommon interaction between Maggie and Bear. Maggie was indeed low. Bear got liver treats and a party while Maggie screamed.

Bear has had a few other alerts, both accurate and inaccurate. We’ve noticed Bear is associating certain locations as an alerting station, a place to get treats if he paws Declan. The leather love-seat is one such place. Declan takes the opposite approach as Maggie, praising Bear and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he is not low after an alert. After checking and being in range, Declan will declare that a) “I feel dropping,” or b) “I might be dropping, let’s check in 15 minutes.”

New chore schedule

The old chore schedule, each kid having responsibility for one chore for one week, rotating each week, turned into each kid doing their assigned chore at most one-time. Without a stay-at-home parent to do these chores, we came up with another chore schedule with everyone responsible for chores throughout the week. I wish we didn’t have to have a checklist, but it is the only way to keep track of equity in a home filled with people keeping track of what everyone else does.

Changes coming

Bear rests after alerting Dec.

Bear rests after alerting Dec.

After spring break I start as the long-term sub for a middle school math teacher. I’ll teach five classes: two algebra, one algebra II, and two geometry.

Next week we go to Sun River for a family vacation (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents included). Unfortunately, Heather has to stay home because it is her closing week. This sucks for everybody, but especially for Heather.

We will not be bringing Bear to Sun River with us. He will be staying at home and we are lining up someone to come and walk him in the middle of the day. Getting ready for this change in his day, I have been putting Bear in the office for extended times over the past three days. His crate and dog bed are in the office with him and he is unable to jailbreak out and cause total havoc in the rest of the house.

Fro-gen.

Fro-gen.

After spring break Dec and Sam will walk and play with Bear right after school before heading to Sam’s house. In theory Fiona and Maggie get home around four. However, in practice the four o-clock time is just a boundary, never to be home before this time. Though Fiona is fairly reliable returning home near four, depending on the bus schedule, Maggie returns home anywhere from four to eight. My hope is that one of them will take Bear out for a short walk.

Live alert

Happened just now. Declan and Sam got home and hunkered down for some XBox. This is the usual Friday afternoon routine. I try to keep the door open or the smell can get overbearing. Dec says he is hungry. Before returning to the game with food he needs to lock his bike and take the garbage out. On his way back in, Dec announces that Bear just pawed him.

IMG_20130322_155139In my head I’m thinking that this could be an accurate one. Declan is often really hungry in the afternoon when a low occurs. With the lack of accuracy on signaling from Bear, we now give a low-value treat when he first signals, check blood sugar, and give a high-value treat if blood sugar was indeed low. With two people potentially having a low, this complicates things quite a bit, especially when one of them is quite belligerent about checking blood sugar. This time Declan was indeed low and Maggie was still at school. So Dec gave three liver chunks before getting his juice.

Mags with bangs.

Mags with bangs.

I’m beginning to think that going back to work might help with the training and Bear’s attentiveness. That is my hope.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Breakfast for t1D.

Breakfast for t1D.

Not sure if it will.

We spend a lot of time training. We walk. We hide scents in boxes. We hide scents in rooms. We take Bear to stores and restaurants.

When will Bear be ready? When can we say that he is truly a working dog?

Last night Dec was bouncing around, excited for a trip to Nectar after dinner. Bear jumped on the excitement train, following Dec around. Bear hopped a bit and nudged Dec with his nose. Then he pawed him. And I thought that this was a signal. But Dec checked his blood sugar and he was 160, well above a low reading. Could Maggie be low?

Bear models his new boots and collar.

Bear models his new boots and collar.

Maggie refuses to check. And she screams at Bear when he doesn’t signal when she is low.

How many times is it that Bear smells one of the two, possibly not nearby, and we don’t think to check both? There are times I have no idea that Maggie is home. She is squirreled away in her room streaming Psyche or Monk on her iTouch.

This morning I checked Maggie’s meter. She had tested at 3 am, one of two times she tests throughout the day. The other time “she” tests is when I take the meter downstairs in the morning. She was 46. Low. Her room is next to Dec’s, where Bear was sleeping.

I went down to get Maggie this morning. Bear came with me. I had the meter ready to check blood sugar. Bear sauntered over to Maggie’s garbage to sniff out any treasures. Maybe a stale bagel or a candy wrapper. Maggie was 68. Low. Bear didn’t find any treats nor signal a low.

Bear and Heather watch Fiona play futsal.

Bear and Heather watch Fiona play futsal.

Yesterday before dinner Declan came in from playing outside. He said he felt low. Bear was laying on the floor next to him. He checked his blood sugar and he was 68. Low.

Declan and Bear were playing on Bear’s bed. This gets Bear really riled up. He started humping the bed. Dec checked his blood sugar. He was 56. Bear kept humping.

Are the scent samples losing their scent? Are we training Bear to ignore the scent because we are not picking up on him signaling. And the humping better not turn into Bear’s signal. Or we don’t have the wherewithal to see that someone else in the room may need to check their blood sugar and so we don’t properly reward a live alert?

My head is about to burst.

Nine months

After breakfast Dec and Bear chill on the couch together.

After breakfast Dec and Bear chill on the couch together.

We picked Bear up in early July. He was two months old. He has been with us nearly nine months. Through all the hours of training I have attempted, I believe I finally figured out how to teach Bear to walk nicely on the leash. I’d like to take the credit, but I imagine it is largely Bear figuring out, and Bear maturing to where he is not completely unnerved by every piece of dirt in his path. The key is to not have a destination to get to. As soon as you have a place to go, the continued walking straight ahead gets Bear to thinking he knows where to go, and he starts taking charge and blasts ahead.

IMG_20130311_175149

Three buds enjoying the drive home from soccer.

With nowhere to go, but time to walk, Bear and I meander through our neighborhood. The length of the walk is largely dictated by whether I need to get back to the house for something and how many treats I have left. We will start walking down the street and suddenly cross the street. Halfway across the street we take a sharp right and continue in the middle of the road. A quick left gets us all the way across the street. A stop sign gives us something to circle around. Circling to the left is a bit more of a challenge as Bear is on the inside of the circle.

Y-axis a mystery.

Y-axis a mystery.

I realize nine months is a long time to learn this skill, but it is satisfying. Bear and I can now walk down the street with a slack lead most of the time. And since I’ve mastered this skill,and since our account balance dwindles with one person unemployed, I am considering taking a long-term sub position. I have a lot of questions, though. And they don’t have anything to do with the job. They have to do with Bear, and to a lesser extent Dec. If I have to leave at 745 to get to work, what will Bear do? Will he be in his crate? Will we get a neighbor, or someone in the neighborhood, to come and walk Bear in the middle of the day? How will Bear adjust to not having me around all the time? I suppose it is also fair to ask how I will adjust without Bear around all the time.

As I write this, I realize that this might be a good breaking point with Bear. We were warned that training a diabetic assist dog on our own can be challenging, and one of the big challenges is getting the DAD to bond with the kid after they’ve spent so much time with the adult. This is more of a challenge because the trainer (me in this case) is still around when the DAD is placed. When you get a turn-key DAD, the trainer disappears from the dog’s life when they are placed, forcing the dog to bond with someone new, preferably the person with diabetes.

I am pretty sure that Bear is not ready to go to the classroom with Dec. However, maybe the increased time alone with Dec after school, along with the diminished time with me, will increase the bond that Dec and Bear have.

Exchange student

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Declan spends quality time in Bear’s crate.

A few months ago we signed up to host a student from France. To prepare for her arrival, I guilt some temporary walls to convert a common room downstairs into a guest room. My mom and my sister test drove the new room and found it quite enjoyable. Two weeks ago we picked her up after a grueling day of travel. She flew from France and then had a bus ride from Seattle down to the Target parking lot near the Portland Airport.

With someone seeing our city and our home for the first time, it made me view our environs a bit differently. We take two freeways and one busy street to get back to our neighborhood. On this drive I noticed all the industrial buildings more, and all the construction on the street. It brought me back to a family vacation I took back when I was Declan’s age. We went to a big city in Mexico, and I remember the drive from the airport. The area struck me as being dirty. There were houses crammed together. There were people walking barefoot. There seemed to be a lot of poverty. I distinctly remember a mom pulling her daughter. They were both barefoot wearing dirty white dresses. The girl saw me in the car and watched as we raced by.

She was tired from her trip and we were excited to meet her. We brought Bear along with us. Having visited France years ago, we saw how much the French love their dogs (another story, having witnessed a Doberman marking someone near him at the restaurant). Looking back, however, maybe we should have left Bear at home, making a bit more room in the van and a bit less commotion on the ride home.

It was late by the time we got home, near ten. I suddenly saw the guest room in a different light. Someone not related to me might see the temporary walls as a bit chintzy. And I noticed there was a slight gap between the panels, allowing light in and out. And suddenly the latch for the door seemed more appropriate for the barn than for a room, especially a non-kin guest. I fixed the gaps with duct tape, but I couldn’t do anything about the latch.

How weird that Bear goes everywhere with us?

How weird that Bear goes everywhere with us?

It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning as I pulled and administered two shots for Declan that I thought how this might look to our new family member. She had limited English, and I have no French, so I couldn’t explain or ask questions. I couldn’t ask if she knew about diabetes, if she knew anyone with diabetes. So I just plowed through, letting her figure it out. It must be strange at meal times, though. With the table all set and ready to go, I still linger in the kitchen gathering three syringes and two or three vials of insulin. And I generally start eating a bit after everyone else as I give the shot to Maggie and Declan.

She returns home this Sunday.

Come

Declan told me that Bear needs to be better at some things. Especially doing this outside, he said. I asked him what things and we could work on them. Dec says that Bear needs to come when he is called. I couldn’t agree more.

Dec explained how he and a friend let Bear outside while they were outside. And Bear just ran around, being chased by the two boys, playing keep away.

Dec and Bear pose with Dec's new Nerf gun from Grandpa.

Dec and Bear pose with Dec’s new Nerf gun from Grandpa.

And it is something I work on with Bear. We practice inside, first with the short leash, and now with the longer rope. But when he gets outside, it turns into a game, and it gets very frustrating for the person trying to get a hand on him. I realize this is a skill Bear should have had down months ago, but my inconsistent training has kept him from mastering it.

Job?

I just went and spoke to an administrator at a school about helping out for the rest of the year. I’d take over a classroom. Along with all the usual questions that arise when a job goes from being a posting to a potential reality, like what are the people like I’ll be working with and what kind of coffee do they have in the break room, I now have questions about what Bear will do while I’m not at home. Could I bring him to school occasionally? Could Heather take Bear to work? Will we need to get someone to come over and walk him in the middle of the day?

And I begin wondering what we were thinking when we signed up for training a service dog ourselves.

Still chewing

Bear checking out the new dirt in the planter box.

Bear checking out the new dirt in the planter box.

We near the third week of being attached to each other (most of the time), yet Bear still loves stealing away and finding something to chew on. Earlier this week Bear found Fiona’s Chemistry book and rounded out the corners of her text. This was the first book in quite a while, but likely an expensive one. His preference is leaning more toward recyclables, especially when the can is full, sitting by the kitchen door waiting to be taken to the big container. He’ll poke his head around, finding choice cans to drag out.

If it were just me, I imagine the chewing issue would be solved. Or at least I can hope it would be. The tethering is not completely consistent because I am not always at home, and I don’t always bring Bear with me. I ran to the store the other day and didn’t want to bring Bear. I ask Dec if he wouldn’t mind having Bear tethered to him. Dec loves Bear and of course doesn’t mind. But at some point while I’m gone, Bear gets annoying and Dec unties the chord. On the flip-side, if Bear is in his crate home alone, he whines and barks when anyone gets home, but especially Dec. So Dec lets him out to say hello. Either way when I get home there will be some chewed up cardboard and a cream cheese container mangled on his bed.

Alerting

Bear is becoming much more consistent alerting. Last night Dec, Bear, and I were down in Dec’s room getting ready for bed. This is after we all head out to the backyard and take care of business. Bear sits up straight businesslike and paws me. Sure enough Dec was low. Two days ago Maggie grumbled upstairs in the usual teenage fashion and Bear signaled her. Either not understanding what he was doing, or just being a teenager, Maggie yelled at Bear. But when she tested she was 64.

We are becoming more comfortable with Bear’s sense of low blood-sugar. The other day Dec was getting ready for bed and he felt low. I brought Bear in to see if he might sense it also. Bear simply walked around and gave Dec a hello lick. Not long ago I would have been disappointed, wanting Bear to signal. When Dec tested he was actually high, 340. There have also been times when Bear signals ahead of the meter getting the low, which is very common in diabetic service dogs.

Things are moving in the right direction and it is great to get the signal from Bear. It is not a sure thing yet. We are getting there.

Visitors

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At Jade with his new vest.

My mom and her dog, Mimi, were in town for two days. Bear was very excited to have a dog in the house. However, Mimi is about half the size of our cats, so she didn’t quite know what to do with Bear. In the end Mimi would snarl and snap when Bear’s massive mass was overbearing. And Bear does respond to that, settling down with the correction from a dog the size of Templeton.

I took Bear to a local restaurant with my mom. It was packed with the lunchtime crowd. Bear did great, laying below the table, watching as kids walked by.

Bear impersonating a hot dog at four weeks.

Bear impersonating a hot dog at four weeks.

We continue the scent training, walking without pulling, waiting at doors to go in and out, waiting on stairs, staying in a lie-down position. We need a LOT more work on “come”, however. I’m working on working on it. I often forget to work it into the rotation of drills when we are inside. And I think it has gotten worse as he was home bound for over a week with his split pad. When we finally got back outside he ran around like a wild banshee. He is in a full on sprint, running in circles, tail in a violent circle action, hindquarters slightly slouched down, and head up high. I don’t even think about calling him to me, and I just pray that there is not someone for him to annoy (like an annoying owner who wants his torn up tennis ball back).