Typical Day

Bear went on the last field trip with Dec's class. He found the rock tasty.

Bear went on the last field trip with Dec’s class. He found the rock tasty.

It may be that Bear is not getting enough food each day. Like the adult with ADHD who self medicates with marijuana, Bear makes up for his lack of nutrients received from dog food with treasures left around the house. And though Bear finds some small caches of food in easy to get to places, the coffee table often has some remnants of food in a discarded wrapper, the real prizes exist on the counter, requiring more stealth planning and more acrobatic search and seizure actions.

And although the reward can be abysmal, a dirty bowl with a few pieces of oatmeal, the cache can be ample and tasty, a pound of European butter left on the cutting board to soften. A quick risk-reward analysis signals two thumbs up, a strong buy, a giant green light, for Bear to seek treasure on the counter. Though there are risks, they are somewhat minimal for Bear.

Sleeping in the clsasroom while a group of students practice a dance.

Sleeping in the clsasroom while a group of students practice a dance.

Bear may be caught in the act, front paws on the counter, eyes scanning for dishes. Bear is reprimanded with strong, loud words, forcing a feeling of shame. He will then quietly sulk to the throw rug and plop down for some alone time. A completely different risk occurs when a seizure is successful without any reward. This occurred the other night when a used cereal bowl was captured from the counter, only to be dropped on the floor where it broke into two large pieces and many shards. Another note of interest for Bear (I believe he already has noted these things, I just wonder his recall accuracy) is the time of day the act occurs largely dictates not only success of mission, but also severity of penalty. The aforementioned broken cereal bowl occurred at two AM, bringing on a disproportionate penalty for such a measly amount taken.

Bear's preferred sleeping position.

Bear’s preferred sleeping position.

Because of Bear’s increased intake of counter food, his GI tract is less predictable, causing frequent trips outside. These often occur in the middle of the night. Bear will spend half the night with Dec, and then the chicken carcass will finish processing and need immediate attention. After waking Declan up to open the door and doing the same to me, Bear will be outside fertilizing the garden. I will then check blood sugars not knowing about the timing of the chicken carcass.

Quality lounge time with Dec.

Quality lounge time with Dec.

Bear attempts to show gratitude for being let outside to relieve himself by licking exposed faces, jumping up on the bed, and playing with the cat. His gratitude is countered with some solitary confinement in the office. Sleep must occur.

If Bear is not in the classroom with me, he will spend time on the couch. We continue to train him with scent samples and basic obedience. However, he is morphing into a house pet.



Laying in the sun

Laying in the sun

At first I thought it was being back in the classroom fulltime, but now I realize it is largely the number of times I am up to check blood sugars in the middle of the night. Last week there was one night I wasn’t woken up with a wet nose in my face at 2 am. I’ve trained myself to grab a kit and check both Maggie and Declan. It being in the middle of the night, and checking blood sugar requiring some mental and physical dexterity, by the time I’ve completed checking my mind and body are half awake. It then takes me a good 45 minutes to get back to sleep.

There are also the nights that I get downstairs to check only to find no test-strips in the kit. Climb back up the stairs and back down again. Body is more awake. And there are the nights that I check Dec and then remember to check Maggie only after I’ve gotten back in bed. And in the past week none of these checks have been a low-blood sugar. Bear whines at Dec’s door and he let’s him out. So the “alerts” the past week have more to do with Bear’s GI-tract than with Maggie and Dec’s blood-sugar levels.

On one glorious night Bear barked at something outside on his trip upstairs. After all the testing, our neighbor’s dog returned the favor, hoping to find a dog to chat with. The only thing to make this worse would have been Bear barking back from Dec’s room. I lay awake waiting to hear Bear’s bark from the basement only to hear the neighbor’s dog yap.


Snoozing in class.

Snoozing in class.

Bear is becoming a fixture at school. He was at school twice this past week. The students are getting used to him, expecting him to be there. Instead of saying hello to me, they simply ask if Bear is here.

Bear generally stays behind the desk sleeping. I’ll bring him out to lay next to a student later in the period after everyone has settled down. Most of the students forget that he is even there by the time I bring him out. If there is time I’ll do a scent sample test. He has done these with about 75% success rate.

Twice the principal came in to observe classes while Bear was in the room. Both times he was sleeping behind the desk and she never noticed him and still doesn’t know he was there. Had she known Bear was sleeping behind the desk she would have woken him up and said hello.

After a long day of napping behind the desk, Bear is exhausted and takes a nap in the sun.


IMG_20130427_073005Bear will be a year old in less than a week. Maggie asks what I am planning for his birthday. I’m thinking a Karaoke machine and Build-your-own-Sunday bar. With the birthday approaching, Bear is also filling out.


Getting comfortable at the front of the class

Getting comfortable at the front of the class

Bear went to work today. He came with me to the classroom. It was a late start, which made the day a bit shorter and more manageable with Bear there. Before the students arrived he quickly found comfort on his pad and started sleeping. We were at the door to greet students and they went bonkers. They pet and scratched him. They nuzzled him and cajoled him. And for the most part Bear sat nicely soaking up all the attention. Probably not the best practice for a dog that loves the attention, but I reminded him to look at me every so often. And he quickly responded, moving his head to the side to get a good look at the treat that I held in front of my face.

Once in the classroom I reminded the students about Bear being a working dog and that this is part of his training. I put him in a down/stay on his pad and he promptly relaxed. Several of the students were completely enamored with him and laid on the floor trying to get closer to him. At this point I had to pull out the “I hope to bring him back for more days, but I can’t if he is too much of a distraction” card. They leaped back into their chairs and got to work. These kids are great.

Near the end of class I showed the class the scent sample and how he signals when he smells a low. Bear demonstrated this great when the students were sitting at their desks but struggled when he was surrounded by adoring fans.

Each class Bear got comfy.

Each class Bear got comfy.

Each period was a similar story, but I limited student contact with him. Instead of letting the kids approach and pet him at the beginning of class, I introduced  Bear and put him in a down, letting the students know that they’d get a chance later to interact with him. At the front of the class most students couldn’t see him, so when he came out to greet students some had forgotten that he was even there. Teenagers attention span is about as long as their arm. Some students put Bear through some commands.

Live alerts

This morning Bear signaled me while I read the paper. It was early. Both Dec and Maggie were asleep. He was persistent, so we went down to check blood sugar. Dec was 70 and Maggie was 47.

After soccer practice Dec came home and cuddled on the couch with the fur blanket. Bear looked up at him and barked. He was 89 and likely dropping from the exercise.

Two nights ago Bear woke up at 2am. I checked Dec and he was 240. I didn’t check Maggie, but I heard her about 30 minutes later checking and treating a low blood sugar. It took me a while to get back to sleep thinking about not checking Maggie’s blood sugar (she was 400 before bed with no correction: post exercise drop!)

Post soccer practice cuddle

Post soccer practice cuddle

So last night Bear woke up at 1230. Remembering the previous night I went down to check both Maggie and Declan. There was one test-strip left, so after checking Dec I had to come back upstairs to get some strips. Neither of them were low or anywhere near low. And sleep was far away from my trips down and up and down and up the stairs. But they were both low by morning time. I don’t even try to figure some things out.

Second group lesson

Attempting to get comfortable outside.

Attempting to get comfortable outside.

We have completed the first week of tethering and the second group lesson. To lessen tethering time, I’ve been outside with Bear working on a planter box. Unable to get entirely comfortable without his leather love-seat, the outside time wears Bear down. He does enjoy being outside, but I catch him looking longingly at the love-seat through the window.

Between carrying cinder blocks and bags of concrete to the side deck, Bear and I went on a field trip with Declan’s class. We went to the climbing wall at Club Sports. As we left I told the  teacher and another student to get near Bear if they felt low during the trip. They are both T1D. On this field trip I felt Bear would have some chances to practice live alerts.

Soon after arriving the teacher told me that he felt low. Instead of pawing, Bear started getting super playful, licking the teacher. He tested and he was 87 and probably dropping. I’m not sure what the signal was, but I am starting to think that Bear being super playful, out of nowhere, is one way that he signals. A little later the other student said that he felt low. He presented his arm out for Bear to sniff, and Bear signaled. Not so sure on this one. Bear may have been taking the cue to paw because of the outstretched arm. The boy was 154, in range, but he probably was dropping since he felt low. And here lies a giant grey area with this training. With the meter reporting 15-30 minutes behind what the actual blood sugar is, it is difficult to distinguish between an erroneous signal and a signal that is just perfect, which happens to be before the meter will register a low (or high).

And this also reflects some of the difficulty with type 1 diabetes in general. In training Bear there are many factors at play, making it difficult to nail down a definitive signal. In managing diabetes there are many more factors to consider. Why is Dec’s blood sugar low (or high)? It could be the extra running around at recess. Did he finish breakfast? Did some of the insulin leak out on the injection site? Is the insulin bad? Anxiety is also known to increase blood sugar a LOT. Did he eat a snack that we didn’t know about? And it could be any of these things, or all of them. Instead of focusing on why he is out of range, I try to remember the last dose and activity and give a shot or sugar to fix it. Then we start all over again with the next shot and meal.

Declan on a bouldering wall. Bear watches.

Declan on a bouldering wall. Bear watches.

Back at the rock gym, one of the difficulties I’ve had with taking Bear out in public is getting him enough water. Arriving back home from the store, Bear would sit at his water dish lapping up the water until it was gone and then continue lapping it up after I refilled it. On this trip I remembered. We went to the drinking fountain several times where I filled a water cup and he lapped it up. We went to check on Declan. He was on one of the bouldering walls without a belay rope. He fell back onto the mat underneath him; Bear lunged out onto the mat, meeting Declan right as he landed. I was surprised at this.

Declan treating a low at the climbing wall. Bear watches.

Declan treating a low at the climbing wall. Bear watches.

Bear continued to whine and pull towards Declan. The bell finally went off in my head. “Hey Dec, I think Bear is trying to tell you to test.” Sure enough, Dec was 60. Bear continued to nuzzle up against Dec while he had his juice. And this makes me wonder how many other times has Bear tried to tell us that something was wrong and we were unable to see or hear him? So much of this journey is about the human figuring things out and being more aware of what the dog is trying to communicate.

Which makes me wonder why Bear loves Tucker Max so much. Or maybe he really doesn’t like him. Bear was able to sneak around the house un-tethered while I was out on a bike ride, and he found Hilarity Ensues and chewed it up…again. This was the replacement book that he’d chewed already. This is another blow to the relationship building between Bear and Fiona as he continues to concentrate on grinding his teeth on her stuff.

Fiona's friend, Maddie, spending quality time with Bear on his couch.

Fiona’s friend, Maddie, spending quality time with Bear on his couch.

Though Bear is not Fiona’s favorite, her friends continue to adore him even though he is no longer a puppy, tipping the scales at over 80 pounds.

Down by the river

Kids learn about traffic in work-zones. Bear not interested.

It would have been a nice walking field trip.  Bear can handle walking with a group of kids, though he pulls on the leash in the beginning with kids running around.  He settles in pretty quick.

I thought the walk to school would take the edge off, settling him down.  Though he is able to sleep through nearly the entire day, I learned Bear has been saving his energy.  We left before eight, and returned at noon, a time that normally would be filled with a three and a half hour nap, which you could actually say about any four-hour chunk of the day for Bear.  Whether from the children surrounding us, or from the destination, Bear was on high alert the entire trip.

Waiting outside the class to depart, each kid greeted Bear as they took turns going to the bathroom.  Bear was settling into nice walking with the class soon after we left.  However, as we neared the park he began tugging on the leash.  Though I would have normally been correcting him by changing direction, crossing the street a few times, and going through some other obedience commands, I refrained since we were on a field trip.  I had to make due with smaller corrections and letting him roam more in the “party” right hand walk.

To be fair to Bear, we were going to the park that he identifies with being off-leash, playing with whoever is present.  We first had to walk through the park that I let him run off-leash.  Then we descended to the dog-park by the river, which was the destination of the trip.  Because the Sellwood Bridge is falling down, they are finally beginning to replace it, including making a detour bridge.  This trip included three interactive stations around the dog park.  Students learned how the old bridge was going to slide over to make the detour bridge; Engineers explained about the layers of the soil and having to drill down to rock; and they learned about challenges of directing traffic around work zones.

While the class learned about moving the bridge, Bear watched (mostly) quietly while other dogs played.

I began to feel a bit like the dungeon master, drinking a hot coffee on a couch while the prisoners shivered on the cold hard stone, restricting Bear to the group of non-fun, non-four-legged, non-furry animals.  As much for Bear’s sake as for mine, we departed from the presentations and demonstrations to wreak havoc with some dogs.

First in the grassy part and later on the beach, Bear ran free, demonstrating so well how he can ignore me when I call him to return.  He is so adept at this.  He actually stops, looks at me, scans the field for something better than the treat he knows I’m holding in my hand, and sprints to the muddy spaniel retrieving a soggy tennis ball.


Bear enjoys himself on the beach with a border collie in close pursuit.

Even after gathering Bear back on the leash, I allowed him back off at the beach.  Students learned about landslides with sandpaper, bricks, plywood, and a protractor.  Bear stared out at the river, occasionally whining at the dogs running free.  I felt the students were in good hands with the other four chaperones, so Bear and I went absent again.

Though there were three people with diabetes on the trip (teacher and two students), Bear did not signal any lows other than the scent samples I pulled out of my pocket occasionally.

What I learned:

  • Bear has some work on behaving on the leash.
  • People quickly get used to having a dog with them.
  • There is always one or two dogs that begin to get aggressive with Bear and wonder if it is because he is “intact” still.
  • Bear doesn’t have to sleep seven out of every eight hours.

Rivaling best hair on boys: Dec’s mop and classmate’s well-kept hair. Dec attempted to stay warm with his long sleeve T-shirt in the 42 degree air with a bit of rain.

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.