IMG_20170318_090714The routine is we get up early for a walk. Normally Bear comes to our room before we are even up. Sometimes I hear him downstairs at Dec’s door asking to get out of his room. One or two quick barks, one more, the click of claws on the wood stairs, the swing of the door after he noses the door open, and then the steam from open-mouth breathing. Good morning to you to.

On this particular morning Bear was a bit more of a voracious breather. After the usual routine I grabbed the poop bags and a handful of kibble for our morning walk to the park. On opening the door this morning, Bear aggressively nudged me from the threshold, squeezing himself past me through the door. How rude. He trotted quick-like to the grass strip in front, proceeding to heavy breath and bobbing his head until puking a giant pile. My moment of relief in realizing that I didn’t have to scoop up bile from the rug just inside the door disappeared as I began scooping the pile of mostly granola bar wrappers into a bag meant for solid number twos.

IMG_20161116_205623998My throat constricted, my eyes watered, and whatever remained in my stomach before my breakfast turned, preparing for evacuation. Quickly I looked away from the pile, held my breath, and completed two quick hard swallows, in hopes that sensory deprivation from the object that brought this automatic bodily response on would also deprive my body from completing the evacuation process. Something beyond the smell, feel, and image of the pile forced this response. I think it was the wrappers that I saw that touched something deeper in me. For some reason identifying so vividly what caused this purge in Bear, knowing that I’d picked that box of granola bars off the shelf just the previous week, doubled down my bodily response.


Declan and Maggie’s “Sibling” picture in the yearbook.

Through vision blurred from watery eyes, on wobbly legs, I caught a glimpse of Bear in the next yard over squatting for a number two. And somehow through my blurred vision, as though hyper focused on the cause, the silver on the inside of the granola bar wrappers gleamed and twinkled at me. Not to disappoint, but I was able to maintain control of my body, barely. I completed the pick up with multiple slamming shut of my eyes and holding my breath.

Limping along the sidewalk after, I couldn’t help but think how much better Bear must feel after getting rid of that load from both ends.

The view of Mt. Hood always helps the day.IMG_20170214_072017502


Crystal Clear


Fiona’s Bear portrait. @fionasararose

I realized Bear’s challenge last week while standing on the front porch. Bear stared across the street as the mail-truck eased to the curb. Not only do we need Bear to not act like a dog, ignoring attentions from admirers, which is everyone in his eyes, and ignoring food and scent treats, but we also need him to rely on scent to signal when someone has low-blood sugar. It was while I stood on the porch with Bear that I realized Bear relies more on sight then he does on scent.

He stood on the porch, staring at the mailman for a moment before he snapped a quick bark to him. It was not a threatening bark, but rather a “Hello there person that always has treats in his pocket for me, don’t you go anywhere, I’m coming over for my treat because I know you love giving me treats” bark. He skipped four steps to the sidewalk, belting out another bark while on final approach. On tiptoes, anticipating the attention and treat, Bear wagged his body, looking more like a worm than a dog.

At some point the US Postal Service changed from pepper spray to treats to protect themselves from the canines. Without inside information I don’t know when this strategic shift from stick to carrot occurred, but I do know it was at least four years ago. As far as Bear knows, postmen deliver treats to dogs. And so it is that when walking Bear off leash (another story about off leash walking to come), he will suddenly break into a sprint at the site of a mail truck, postmen, or mail bag.

bear on porchBear aggressively noses the walking postman, nudging his chops into the post bag and the pockets, searching for the treats, while the postman attempts to find his treats. I trail Bear, apologizing and explaining that he associates mail with treats. And then I wonder if that comment somehow belittles the postman. They deliver mail and hand out treats. So sometimes I dispense with the explanation and simply apologize.

And so I realize the main challenge for Bear in signaling low blood sugars is more the fact that he relies on sight more than he does on scent. If only we could train Bear on the draining of pigment that occurs with a low-blood sugar, which is a very subtle change for those of Irish descent, which I’m sure Bear could distinguish with his ability to spot postmen; then he could switch from his now lagging low-blood sugar indicator, pawing and barking when he sees Maggie or Dec drinking a juice-box, into a leading low-blood sugar indicator, pawing before they find out they are actually low.

Turning the corner

Bear takes a selfie

Bear takes a selfie

So Declan asked, “When can I take Bear to school?” I thought, ‘it’ll be a while, quite a while; and do you really want to take him to school?’ But I said, “You could probably take him this year, but we have to work with Bear to calm him down more in public places.”

This conversation occurred a few times, along with Declan suggesting that we take Bear to the store more often to get him more calm in public. I think it is great that Dec is thinking about this. And I wonder if there are some slightly ulterior motives. You see Declan is on the shy side. And he is in middle school. I’m wondering if he is thinking Bear might be a great icebreaker with some coeds. Bear is as outgoing as Declan is an introvert. I imagine Dec walking down the hallway, Bear on leash walking up to every kid for a hello. And some of them going crazy, “Oh my God! How cute! He is so soft! What’s his name?” Which is where Dec would finally be able to step in and have words with them.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

But maybe I’m just projecting what I’d have been thinking if I were in Dec’s position. I’d have leveraged it past diminishing returns, into the land of negative returns. So maybe Dec just really wants to be around Bear more, to have Bear have a fuller life, one bigger than the two walks a day and laying belly-up on the couch. And this is more in Dec’s nature, always looking out for those around him.

And so we dug into the closet to find the “Service Dog” vest for Bear. Bear remembers it, pulling his ears back and even shying away when he sees it. But once it is on, he is fine.

All smiles

All smiles

Taking him into the store I remember how I used to take him when he was a puppy and wonder what I was thinking. I’m not sure why, but I would take him in the store and do the shopping. Bear lurched for every little crumb on the floor and I’d be trying to control him with one hand while pushing the cart with the other. I realize hindsight is 20:20, but I’m shocked I’d never thought of walking through the store, Bear in tow, without shopping. Now when I take Bear I feel superior to my self of two years ago who tried shopping while taking Bear around.

Bear is older now as well, which makes the stroll around the store easier. He no longer dives for each little crumb on the floor. He is wizened now, he knows a loaf of bread waits for him in the pantry, and he must know the foraging return is much greater at home. Which brings us to the bread aisle. This is by for the most challenging part of the store for Bear. My presence dampens his drive to forage, but he looks to bread, planning his return to the bread aisle off-leash, and probably calculating if he could take the loaf all the way back to the TV room, the place to consume contraband.

Bear is not only less eager to sniff and grab at the nose-level food, but he is also not as interested in meeting everyone. This as much as the interest in food makes the lap around the store more promising. And looking ahead, makes me think that Dec might actually be able to take Bear to school someday.


Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear is alerting more often. He is keen to the signal that the glucose meter means someone might be low. So he always signals the person checking blood sugar, which is not a bad strategy for Bear, but the timing is all wrong for us. The kids have not had many night time lows recently, and this remains the blind spot for Bear’s signaling. If only I could be ninja-like, sneaking into Dec’s room in the middle of the night, not waking Bear, and holding a scent-sample to his nose (after checking both Maggie and Dec to make sure they weren’t already low), then maybe we could get Bear’s heavy sleeping days behind him, and get him a bit more aware of potential low-scents in his area.


Bear got to meet up with one of his litter-mates. They met at the river together, caught up on this and that, and traded new moves.

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.

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.


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.


photo (2)

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).

Want to play “Try and catch me?”


New bed from Costco

No thanks. How embarrassing, though. I met a friend for lunch at a place called “Shut up and Eat.” I brought Bear along. Other than cleaning the floor with his tongue, he did pretty good. He also liked the smell of the woman’s boots sitting behind me.

After lunch Bear and I went for a walk in the neighborhood. Confined to the floor under the table at lunch, Bear was a little rambunctious, but he did alright considering. I threatened to put on his “gentle” lead by showing it to him, and he calmed down. We found a really nice park on our walk. Rolling hills and open grass beckoned some off leash time.

As we entered the park I took Bear off leash. He went bonkers, charging down the soupy grass. He attempted to stop at the bottom of the hill, sliding in the mud. It was an ideal situation for Bear being able to stretch out in the open and no one around for him to pester. We neared the playground with a toddler on a swing. I called Bear to come. And he did!

Dec, Sam, and Bear play dog-pile on Bear's new bed.

Dec, Sam, and Bear play dog-pile on Bear’s new bed.

Then we came to another off-leash dog, playing fetch. Since the dog was off-leash, I figured it would be fine for Bear to play with him. And they did. Bear had mud up his legs and on his back. Problems began when Bear gained possession of his ball. Bear threw it up in the air, he pushed it around with his nose, and he kicked it with his paw. What he didn’t do was give it up. And what he didn’t do was get anywhere near a person. Catch me if you can, sucker.

And then the other dog’s owner started getting all pesky. “We need to go. I need to get the ball. Can you call your dog?” Not sure if he was mean or just really dim, but at this point I thought it pretty obvious to anyone in a three-block radius that I could not get my disobedient dog to obey. The last thing I wanted to do was chase after Bear, making more of a fool of myself and probably falling in the mud in the process.

I calmly called for Bear, walking slowly to him, as he bounded away with a visible smile pasted on his snout. “Could you please call your dog?” the dog’s owner asked again, clearly annoyed. Not wanting to change the scene from dogs playing to adults fighting, I chose to keep my thoughts to myself.

I continued my slow walk towards Bear, and Bear continued his throwing, pushing, and nosing of the stolen ball. Not wanting the fun to end, Bear kept his distance from any upright animal with an oppose-able thumb. If I had a few bucks in my wallet, I would have just offered to purchase the bloody ball from this guy. The way he coveted the ball I’m afraid he would have demanded twenty bucks for it.

All the fun came to an end when the other dog was finally able to secure possession of the damn ball. We finished the loop of the park on-leash.

Does the gift need returning?

Jelly cleans Bear's ears.

Jelly cleans Bear’s ears.

We were at Costco doing some last-minute shopping, Declan, Bear, and I, when Dec suggested getting something for Bear.  Back in the pet area he spotted a four-pack of chew toys.  Little stuffed animals with a squeaker inside would be a nice addition to the three-pack of squeaky toys obtained a few months back.  I figured we might be able to wrap one of the stuffed animals for a young niece as well.

Not only was it the holiday season, but Bear’s off-list chewing has been increasing.  It seems that Bear did not get the list of approved chew toys, the ones purchased for the distinct function of being chewed.  Given a choice between a floppy, squeaky, stuffed-animal with a rope going through it (on-list) and a paperback book (off-list), Bear goes for the book every time.  And he has become quite the reader.  Bear’s chew library is now into double digits with the addition of In the Garden of the Beast.

Over our head

Over our head

At this point I’m beginning to wonder if we’re in over our heads.  We decided to jump in with both feet, and I think we’ve now hit bottom.  And the water is well over our heads, or at least above my head.  Going out on a walk Bear tugs.  Left on his own, Bear finds gloves and shoes to chew on.  Presented with a low-scent Bear signals nicely, but when Dec or Maggie is low Bear doesn’t notice, needing quite a bit of encouragement to signal on Dec or Maggie.

I’ve always felt like I can handle dogs, able to convey to them appropriate behavior, but I am beginning to rethink that.  We walked to Columbia Outlet for some socks and boots for our sledding excursion.  Bear was being more of a pain than normal.  At one point he jumped up on Dec.  And he pulled more than usual.  It was so frustrating I had to take a different route home than Heather and Dec.  Bear continued to search out Dec, occasionally hearing them on a different block.

We got home and Declan was sitting quietly working on a Lego set when the timer went off.  The timer was for treating a low.  Dec was 34 when they got home.  On the re-test Dec was still low at 60.  What had I just done?  In trying to train Bear to walk nicely, I scolded him for signaling that Dec was low.  He jumped up on Dec, and I yanked him down to get in the appropriate place for a walk.

I am lost in the trees, focusing on individual skills while overlooking the biggest skill of all.  And I wonder why Bear still doesn’t “live” signal.

Trip to the Mountain

Dec and Bear digging

Dec and Bear digging

Regardless of my lack of dog-training ability, and Bear’s lack of obedience, we brought him along on our annual inter-tubing excursion.  Bear had yet to experience snow, and if I do anything right it is introducing Bear to a bunch of different environs.  Following up on my stellar training performance from earlier in the day, I forgot his “Service Dog” vest as well as a leash.

Bear waits for Kenny to throw snow

Bear waits for Kenny to throw snow

Bear loved the snow, exploring the hill with Declan, Fiona, and Kenny (aka Maggie).  Ever the socialite, Bear found a dog nearby to play with.  Wanting to meet more dogs, Bear was attracted to the jingling of chains out in the parking lot.  Scary thing was that it was the local shuttle bus with tire chains rattling.  Bear continued looking for the giant dog after the bus passed.

On national Return and Exchange day, the day after Christmas, I begin to wonder if it is time to return this gift.  Is it possible to somehow return Bear?  Are his talents wasted on our abilities to train him?  Given the appropriate training, where would Bear be now?