J-Bear and Me

learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: blossom

In Poodle We Trust

A friend I made through APAW tossed around the phrase “In Poodle We Trust” as something we should put on t-shirts for a potential fundraiser. Those of us who live with APAW poodles, or wonderful poodles in general, learn that you come to trust the instinct and wit on these dogs pretty fast.

Blossom first came home with us the first week of March. She visited for a long weekend, stole all our hearts, took diligent care of a sick and miserable J and then went back to APAW for a few days. The following weekend we attempted to bring home a sweet boy named Valor. He is charming, adorable, energetic… but his energy was a complete mismatch for J. They overwhelmed each other in all the wrong ways. Valor, who holds no grudge, went back to APAW and Blossom came home for what we hope to be forever.

j and blossom in the backseat of the car, j in his carseat and blossom sniffing his handShe fit. I can’t explain it. It’s like a million tiny missteps occurred at the will of the universe to bring her and our family together. An organization lied and deceived us. J’s heart was broken. Blossom had potential situations fall through. Everything just kept happening until one day, as a joke, I said to the founder of APAW that it was Blossom I wanted for J. Everything about her was exactly right and I prayed a puppy would be born that walked in her shadow. I didn’t have to wait. The original was right there, waiting and fate took over.

She has read us all from day 1 when we met in the lobby of APAW’s former location. She saw broken hearts. She saw a reticent little boy and a troubled mom. Her, her cohort Charlie and her son Eager didn’t let us stay that way. They showed off what is so special about their breed and drew out laughter and joy. I am a sucker I’ll admit but I was won over, fully and completely. J soon was as well.

The day she came home with us, she was anxious about the change of setting but still had our numbers. It took her longer to get used to Papa Bear but soon she was snuggling on the couch with him in the evenings. She knew when J was getting sick just what to do and where to be, all without direction. She knew how to calm him, how to make him smile and even better, how to make us laugh. Her utter love of fetch can keep J happy for hours…

Until times came when she wouldn’t play it.

I thought I was ruining their bond when she’d refuse. This is Blossom after all, she lives for catching her tennis ball or her kong bone! She loves to run and play and chase, yet… she refused. Every time J would start, she’d come over to me and lay down, watching him like a hawk. I could not convince her to engage. J would inevitably get very upset and unless redirected it sometimes landed in a pretty intense meltdown.

But other times, they’d play happily for hours. Hours!

It did not make sense and I beat myself up terribly over it. I was failing them as partners. There was no bond. I ruined this somehow.

Turns out, I couldn’t see what was actually going on.

blossom in the foreground and j in the background on the couch, j holding a long silly pink dog toyBlossom doesn’t refuse a preferred activity for giggles. There has to be something there, which I can see now. She saw that J’s energy was not in a healthy place. He was radiating something sharply negative and she was reading it and responding. I saw this behavior from her again last week, through the ER visits and episodes leading up to them. If J is in a good mental state, Blossom is relaxed. She is aware of where he is but she’ll pay attention to other stuff too: kids nearby, me, squirrels, passing leaves caught on the wind. If his mental state is poor, however, her attention will not be deterred from him.  You could stand in front of her and she’d fight her way around you to see where he is. She is saying “something is wrong, I need to keep an eye on this”.

This explains the way she greets him after school, sniffing him over a couple of times and getting her read on the afternoon ahead. This explains her behavior in our home, whether she’s playful or not playful. This all finally makes sense through the lens of hindsight and where we now stand in terms of understanding our sweet boy.

It wasn’t that a bond was failing, it’s that they have made an incredible bond that is different from the one I thought he needed. I thought he just needed a friend that helped out. It turns out he needs a mix of a keeper, a friend, and a mom to look after him and support him right now.

And here she is. We call her Blossom and in her we now trust as our extra eyes and nose.

Blossom went back to APAW for a short vacation last week starting Wednesday morning. She enjoyed staying with her poodle friends and celebrating the first birthday of her sweet puppies, all of whom are working towards their own careers now. Yesterday, I went for training class thinking I might not be taking her home with me again just yet. The moment I was with her again though I knew that was a wrong choice. I need her, too. If I am going to get through this with my sanity intact, it will be with her by my side.

She is home, now. I hope forever barring times she returns to APAW to bring more beautiful service puppies to be into the world. J is so happy she came home and so happy she’ll be visiting him regularly.

The only thing better right now would be for him to be home. Soon, though. Soon.

Of Brooklyn and Blossom

service dog on leash

we miss you brookie cookie

The comparisons are inevitable. Every day we see things that either sharply contrast or deeply coincide with our previous experience. It cannot be helped, we talk about Brooklyn even as we’re praising Blossom. That lovely golden girl is here every day even though she is not.

This will perhaps be the last time I talk about this in any detail. Brooklyn was stolen from us. There’s nothing I can do about that now. In fact, because 4 Paws for Ability chose to act in a deceptive manner and passed her on likely without any of her previous history to a new family, I would not do anything even if I could. I would support the new family she is with in all the ways we were not supported. I would fight to help them make this work, not because we have Blossom and APAW but because I know the deep horrible pain ripping her away would cause. It never should have been done to my child and I will never allow it to be done to another so long as I can help it.

Brooklyn is gorgeous, gentle, sweet…. The right heart with the wrong upbringing. The puppy years are so crucial for a service dog. They have to be exposed to so much during critical periods in order to stand a chance at a successful working life. Brooklyn’s upbringing was limited. She was not out in the world for most of it, she was in prison. Do I blame the prisoners? Not at all, ever. They gave her all they could and clearly put their heart and souls into her training. She had a lot of beautiful skills and qualities, she just could not overcome her anxiety and her fear.

I wish I had known in October 2014 all that I  have learned in the time since then. I wish I had learned all that Blossom is now teaching me. It maybe could have changed Brooklyn’s life in a positive manner… but that cannot be changed now.

And Blossom is here, mothering us all and healing such a deep wound as best she can.

pillows

she really does love to sleep on pillows

It’s not perfect. I won’t lie and pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows. We have plenty to work on, which is the nature of new relationships. There is a wonderful trust though between she and myself. She is very in tune with me which makes working on everything else easier. She catches nuances that we knew existed thanks to Brooklyn and acts upon them. She loves the social aspect that will be a part of her job as a social bridge for J. Kids circle around her and her tail just wags and wags. She has a tremendous foundation of training on which we can build. Now it will be a period of fine tuning her training to see if she is a perfect forever for our family.

I’d be lying if I said I did not want her to be the one. Every day her sweet face and charming nature win me over more and more. She’s pretty much the embodiment of all I could have wished for in a 45lbs standard poodle body. I never saw a smaller dog as his best friend and yet, it’s just fantastic. She races around the apartment with him. She snuggles him to sleep. She checks on him when he’s out of school and before she lets herself sleep for the night.

goobers

goofballs before Blossom’s haircut!

There will be challenges. Her obligation to APAW is very important and precious. You cannot run an organization like APAW and not take advantage of your every asset. Blossom is entirely that. It’d be shameful to not forward her genes on to the next generation of service dogs as well as her general way of being. She’ll raise her pups in her own shadow, something that is invaluable. It will be hard when she’s limited by the demands of this obligation but it is not forever. The interruptions to her service will, long-term, seem ever so brief and will only happen a very few times.

J is a unique boy who had a unique need, a whole left wide open in his heart and world and a family struggling to help him. Blossom is a special dog, filled with so much skill and love but a noble job to birth and raise the next generation of service dogs. It’s not a combination that could work for many but we are hopeful it will work for them. If not, then at least for a while Blossom has had a home where she was loved and cherished while she awaited her forever and J had a tremendous friend during his own long wait. It’s truly a win-win for all involved.

We miss Brooklyn and love her. We just happen to love Blossom too, so very much. Onwards and upwards.

Sun Shone Our Way

Three years, quite nearly to the day. That’s  how long I have been pursuing a service dog for J. He had only recently been diagnosed when I started and the notion was one that was come up with on a whim. I knew, of course, that there’s a camaraderie that animals can offer that reaches beyond that which fellow humans are sometimes capable of. It is the most clear with people who struggle to communicate traditionally and with people who struggle to fit into what is considered “mainstream” society. This bond with animals had been so very precious to me as a child, sometimes all that got me through. The moment I saw that actual service dogs were possible for children with autism I was sold on the idea.

The involvement with 4 Paws for Ability, while educational, was ultimately a major and massive mistake. I was ignorant going in and I regret that now. The information I needed to know was not easily and readily accessible to me. Maybe, prior to 2013, it was a different organization but currently it is not what I was led to believe.

A little boy in glasses and a winter coat sitting in a car while a black poodle sniffs his finger

J and Blossom meeting in the car after school

Yet still I fought. Still I believed in Brooklyn. I still, right now, believe in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is an amazing girl. She cannot help that she was failed in her upbringing. She deserved better, as did J.

If you follow our Facebook page you’ve seen me gushing all weekend. How could I not? Blossom has been the finest guest and a fine ambassador for her breed. She’s been a fantastic friend to J and a wonderful breath of fresh air to our household. That sore, aching hole we were left with by the actions of another was eased tenderly for a while. It’s an important step towards our healing, like the first stitch placed in a deep wound.

Tonight something happened that in the immediate occurrence I believed was going to slam the door shut on a poodle being a great choice of dog. I was so scared we’d put Blossom off to ever wanting to spend time with us ever again; that we would be an unsuitable place for her to spend time. You see, J had a meltdown. I do not often talk about his meltdowns because it’s a hard thing for him to endure. I don’t want to splash those details publicly. It’s disrespectful to him, so please forgive a lack of details in this blog. Suffice to say it was chaotic, extremely loud and extremely overwhelming if you’ve never witnessed such a thing.  Initially, Blossom was unsure. She looked to the adults for guidance and took our cues. Where we could we reassured her but honestly I got so wrapped into caring for J it was hard to give her non-stop coddling as I would have had to for Brooklyn through these initial episodes.

Blossom didn’t need it. She was observing, taking reassurance when it was offered and intelligently disobeying commands. I sent her out of the room when J was at his most overwhelmed. She moved away but refused to leave. If there was an opportunity, she pushed in to help try to calm J. She licked his feet, knowing he responds warmly to her kisses. She nuzzled his hands. She cuddled against him. She backed off when he wasn’t receptive and rather than be rebuffed, she tried again when it seemed a better idea.

blossomnuzzleWhen he finally started to fall asleep she curled at his feet and waited. I tried to send her away again. She politely refused and laid her head by him, occasionally sniffing him and checking on him.

I’m going to start crying again typing this.

Once all was calm and I could leave J to sleep I beckoned her over and just hugged her. I cried into her soft, curly coat. I told her thank you a hundred times.

The goal I had in mind in 2013 seemed increasingly like a figment and I did not know how much of my initial dream I had thought impossible until suddenly I saw it play out. This was from a dog who is magnificently trained with many tasks yet not trained for a child with autism specifically, too.

If she can do it I have every reason to hope that someday soon there will be a dog from her line in our home full time able to do that and more.

The sun shone our way, finally. And I smiled.

Thank you Blossom, Smile Sunshine My Way. We needed you and you answered the call. Any further time we have with you is a bonus after this gift.

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