The Grind

Dec's helmet now chewed up.

Dec’s helmet now chewed up.

I keep telling myself that it is Bear’s age, that it is some developmental plateau he is at.  Bear is nearing eight months of age and I keep hoping he will signal when Maggie or Declan are low.  We haven’t even introduced the high blood sugar scent, yet.  It is beginning to feel futile, like Groundhog Day (the movie), doing the same thing over and over again without much to show for it.  Bear continues to chew up books and shoes and helmets.  Dec’s bike helmet is now in the garbage.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is now in recycling.

I’ve tried to change it up a bit when possible.  I’ll put the scent sample in Dec’s pocket, or in Fiona’s pocket, or in Maggie’s sock.  Bear pretty quickly understands that it is game time.  With game face on, sniffing intently, he’ll search for the sample and signal once he finds it.  Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but it appears Bear knows when the sample is out and work is to be done with a yummy liver treat to be consumed.  Does he smell the sample as soon as the cap is taken off?  Can he hear the lid being placed on the counter?

I’m convinced that he can tell when I try and inconspicuously unscrew the sample while it is in my pocket.  He tilts his head the side, his ears perk up, and if we aren’t walking he will sit down and get ready to signal.  This won’t be a problem as long as Maggie and Declan unscrew a vial in their pocket whenever they are low.

Yesterday Maggie got down on the floor with Bear, got him to signal a low by putting her arm out, and then she tested with her kit.  Being the ultra sensitive person that she is, Maggie was indeed low.  This is when I realized what she was doing and asked if she could sit a bit longer with Bear, feeding him treats and blowing in his face.  She also suggested we take some low-scent samples.  In addition to being ultra sensitive, Maggie is also money motivated (Over the summer we agreed that they would get 25 cents for each scent sample).  She was planning a date at Starbucks the next day.

Starbucks date aside, Maggie got down on the floor with Bear, got him to signal and gave him treats on her own accord.  It may be that she has come to terms with the fact that Bear is around for the long haul, and that he may as well be an asset to her.  Similar to asking me what my plans are each morning, she may now see Bear as a resource worth utilizing.

At the PT office.

At the PT office.

Bear came with us today to a physical therapy appointment and to a dentist appointment.  Maggie took a few pictures with Bear, yet another sign she is coming to terms with him.  While Maggie got a cavity filled at the dentist, Fiona had the scent sample in her shoe, in her pocket, and under her leg.  Knowing the sample was out, Bear’s game face was on and he signaled when he found it.  After the filling we took the dentist out for some hot wings.  Bear laid under the table quietly.  As we got up to leave there were two guide-dogs in line to order some hot wings (with their handlers).  I had to forcibly direct Bear to the door.  Even so, the two other service dogs were distracted and had to be redirected by their handlers.  Not to be mean-spirited, but there was some solace in the fact that these guide-dogs were distracted, that it is not just Bear.

At the New Year Bear will be eight months old, which is the age some dogs are placed in their home.  At the New Year I will be half way through my year off.  I’m hoping for some milestones.


Last day of completeness

Bear snoring in the kitchen near the end of the long day.

Bear went in this morning.  Yesterday was his last day of being intact, of having a pair swinging.  So we made the most of it.  It might have been due to the experience at the Holiday Inn (see previous post), or it could have been just trying to get the most out of cyber Monday.  Whatever the reason, Bear had a busy day.

The day begin with the now usual ride to school with Sam, Dec, and Emma.  He is getting better, but still needs some training.  I am also getting a bit better at sensing when he MUST take a poop, when he is yanking to get to some grass.  I’ve learned to simply let go of the leash and get a bag out.

After getting back home, Bear’s usual three-hour morning nap was cut short to sign papers for our refinance (have you seen how low rates are?).  At this point I realized that I could have easily left Bear at home.  The decision to bring Bear was a combination of the Holiday Inn experience and Bear’s increasing maturity.  He is much calmer and able to hold it together for longer periods of time.  At the same time I am more aware of how people react when they see the “Service Dog” vest.

We rode the elevator up to the 14th floor.  Bear laid on the floor while we signed.  He was very still with the help of my foot on his leash, but he didn’t struggle.  We visited the Men’s room.  There was someone else in the restroom.  Luckily the stall was vacant.  At this point I realized that Bear hadn’t drunk any water and was likely very thirsty.  I waited for the other occupant to exit before letting Bear drink from the commode.  (It’s a well-known fact that the water from a toilet is cleaner than the water in the washing machine.)

After the Title company, there were some errands to do.  In particular, we had some stores to visit.  Before shopping, though, I needed some food.  So we went to one of the best places: Chipotle’s.  Bear got to practice his Army crawl while we inched forward in line.  Then he got to lay quietly below the table while Heather and I ate.

Then it was off to Nordstrom, then to Costco, and finally to Wal-Mart.  In general, people ignore the fact that I am walking around with a dog.  I suppose that this occurs when Bear is really behaving himself.  It may be that comments are more common when I have to correct him, put him in a sit, or redirect him.  People say how cute he is, or the fact that I am training him, or ask if it is difficult to give the dog up when they are grown.  I used to respond to these comments, but now I usually smile and nod.

Once home Bear plopped down in the kitchen where dinner was being made, but he quickly fell fast asleep, snoring on his side.  Again his nap was cut short to ride to Sam’s and pickup Dec.  On our ride home we stopped at a field for Bear to run off leash, and then back home.

He slept soundly.    This morning it was another ride to school before being dropped off at the vet’s for the chopping block.


  • How much will this surgery set Bear back in scent training.
  • How much do we want Bear to be with us when we are not at home?
  • How many Hanukkah presents will Bear destroy?


  • Lord of the Flies from Fiona’s English class.

    Dec demonstrating the consumption of Lord of the Flies.

  • Another set of earphones.
  • Dec’s slipper.
  • A plastic Army soldier.
  • Dec’s walkie-talkie (I hope it still works).


Special Friend Day at Sellwood Middle School

After making fourteen phone calls to all of her uncles, aunts, and cousins that could have possibly attended special friends day, Maggie called me.  It was 905 in the morning.  She called from the office, minutes  before the tardy bell.

“Can you come to school at ten for the special friends assembly?”  Maggie asked, winded from running from her locker when she remembered that I was the only one left.  She caught me just in time.  I had just geared up for a long walk with Bear.  I was ready to head to the dog park: clicker on wrist, treat bag (not a fanny pack) clicked on, poop bags hanging from the treat bag, scent sample in right pocket, “no scent” sample in left pocket, low-value treats, and high-value treats.  I only had to harness up Bear and clip on his “Service Dog” vest.

So when Maggie asked if I could come for special friends day, I was first inclined to drop her softly, but then I realized that Bear would be Maggie’s special friend.  Instead of declining the invitation, giving Maggie her fifteenth negative response, I told her that I’d bring Bear, her truly special friend.

“No you can’t.  You better not.” I could hear her brain narrowing in on the best reason.  “The principal prohibits dogs in school.  She won’t let you inside.  She has already kicked out other people’s dogs.”

I have to give it to Maggie; she can really be convincing.  And had I not been briefed about where service dogs can and cannot go, I may have left Bear at home (or left Maggie at school alone, and taken Bear for a walk.  I mean, do middle schooler’s need a grandparent coming in to visit?).  But I knew better.  I knew that Bear could go anywhere without explicit permission, save for religious institutions.

And so I clipped leash to harness and headed out.

Visiting the school allowed Bear to practice sitting in a small space and being in large crowds.  The marimba band banged out a few songs, students gave some announcements, people walked by our chair, the jazz band blared out a medley of Les Miserables, and Bear stayed under the chair with the help of my foot on his leash.  Bear struggled at first, attempting to lick the shoes traveling by nose-level, but he soon settled down.

After the assembly we walked the halls with all the other special friends.  With no shortage of distractions, my hand was full of treats, doling them out at a constant stream.  The vest kept everyone from approaching Bear.  A few people could not help themselves, and asked nicely if they could pet Bear.  After a quick explanation that he needed to be sitting and stay sitting, they got their wish of a few pets as Bear slobbered over their fingers.  One person that could not help herself was the principal.  So much for being kicked out of school.  In fact, she had recently had to put down her yellow lab of fifteen years, and immediately created a strong bond with Bear.

Leigh and Maggie strike a pose. Bear not impressed.

Because part of Maggie’s evil plan involved going out to lunch after the assembly and tour of school (“It’s part of special friends day,” she said), we had to go be her friend Ashley’s block class and silently confer about if she was coming to lunch.  You remember silently communicating with friends across the room in school.  It’s pretty obvious to everyone.  I conspicuously stood in the doorway as Maggie attempted to pull me to the stairwell, terrified that the teacher would invite us in to his class.  Fiona had this teacher two years ago, and he knows that I am taking a year off to train Bear (among other things…hopefully).

Sure enough he spotted us and invited us in at which point Maggie disappeared.  So Bear and I went without Maggie.  I answered questions about what he was being trained for and other parts of training.  We demonstrated signalling a low-scent.  One of the students who sat in our row at the assembly said he didn’t even realize Bear was under my seat at the assembly.

We left the class, left the school and went to Killer Burgers for lunch, where Bear laid quietly beside our table with the help of my foot on his leash.  I can’t help but feel a little cruel taking Bear to a hamburger joint and forcing him to silently lay beside us.  Most of Bear’s world is through smells.  It would be like taking a recovering alcoholic to an all-you-can-drink party and not giving them a cup.

Bear did great.  Though not totally under control, he never completely lost it.  More trips are planned.  In fact, today we went to Costco.  Tomorrow we go on a field trip with Declan’s class to the Sellwood Bridge.  This will be very challenging as it is right next to the dog park.  Maybe we will steal away for a little bit of free time.

I continue to be concerned that Bear is smelling the plastic or the cotton swab when I present the low-scent sample.  I remain nervous each time I present the “no-scent” sample that he will signal for a low-scent.

On day one, before Bear pooped in Maggie’s room, she loved him (I think she still does), and he was a bit afraid.