J-Bear and Me

learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: poodles

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.

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.

Openness

These past two weeks have had a theme, I think. That theme is building.

The meeting with J’s new doc started the building process of a new path to help J garner the most appropriate tools to assist him for where he is at today rather than where he was at when he was three years old. It is going to be a process, likely a long one at that, but it is laid out and we all know what it is we want and how to focus on getting it. Everyone involved already and who will be involved in future will be focused on J’s best interests first and foremost. There will be no veering from him being the center of his care rather than an arbitrary rule book decided by others who have never met him. He will be respected, loved and guided so he can grow and thrive. It’s a situation that fills me with hope, anxiety, relief and optimism all at once: Anxiety over new things yet to begin; hope, relief and optimism that we have opportunities to focus on what is most important to us.

That meeting rolled nicely into a long, open conversation with the founder of APAW on Monday. She is remarkably easy to talk to and we discussed how things should progress in terms of J’s future partner. The open honesty with which she and her organization conduct their business should not surprise me by now and yet it does. If I ask a question, I am not given a run around. I am given a clear and honest answer. It does not matter if that answer is one I like or do not like, it is the truth and it is what it is for good reasons they are always open to share.

When we began the efforts towards a service dog back in 2013 there was never a feeling of “wow, these people actually care about my child”. We were just another client of many and shuffled through like we were checking out at the grocery store. We filled out forms, we did as we were told, we shuffled along ignorant that things did not have to be this way. There were only a few moments during training where it seemed like J mattered to anyone but us, despite his worshipful views of some of them. The on the ground training staff… Well, I can’t blame them. When you’re moving that many dogs, it’s hard to get to know every client deeply. That’s not on them. They don’t run the show.  Their big hearts can only do so much at once.

The difference between that and now blows me away.

black poodle puppy

Eclipse as a young pup. APAW poodle in training. Photo courtesy of APAW’s website

The focus of our conversation was dogs, of course, but also J-Bear. It was as meaningful to her as it is to me making sure that what is decided upon in terms of his future partner meets his needs. His healthy understanding of what is going on is not an added bonus now, it is an essential part of the process. His hurt does not mean nothing to them. His concrete manner of learning things is not disregarded. I didn’t have to bring some of my concerns up, they were anticipated and answered before I could because she, the founder, saw them.

So there’s a plan.

The first step will be to have some poodle weekenders come stay with us at our home. These are poodles on retreat. I have already been teaching J that sometimes, poodles need a break from poodle house and they want to come vacation with us. They hang out with us, he can play with them but they are not forever dogs. They visit, but they don’t get to do things like cuddle in bed with him or go to school necessarily. They come, we have fun for a few days and then they go back to their house. This is a process we hope to start this weekend and see how he manages. From here, we can work towards all future steps which will be determined based on how he manages over these visits. Right now, like any five-year-old, he’s pretty excited about a poodle visit! He loves poodle house (his name for APAW) and it will be fun for him to have one to one time with a poodle.

If this works and J adapts to this, fantastic! If this does not work, we have learned that too and we can move on with future planning from there.

Do I think it will work? I think it has a strong chance. He has a beginning grasp on the concept of what we’re doing thanks to him being a frequent guest at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The whole process is being presented to him very differently than how Brookie was, too. Everything related to the dog is out in the center of our home now. He will be in the loop on when to expect there to be a dog, when to not expect there to be a dog and most importantly whether or not to expect a dog’s (any dog, not necessarily a specific dog) return. We have firm answers now that he can rely on.  It’s miles above what we went through last year.

Am I ready for it to fail? I prepare for the worst while planning for the best. If this goes poorly after a couple of trials, since one is never quite enough to get a full picture with J, we’ll not push him further and we’ll work on a new plan. We have the luxury of not needing to hurry. He needs a partner but if the right one isn’t ready yet, we’re able to sustain him until that day. The right one is always worth waiting for and always worth working for. We are building towards a bright future and are happy to be laying foundations with care alongside tremendous people. Things are looking bright!

 

This and That

I am really good at these posts that have a lot of random bits but not enough of each bit for a real meaty entry. Buckle up and hang on for the ride!

——

J has been fighting within himself for a couple of weeks now.  It is hard for me to explain what is going on. People in general, no matter how they are wired, can often encounter this rift between what they are feeling and their ability to express said feeling. It seems right now that for J, that rift is more of a large, deep and tumultuous gulf. It is understandably upsetting and frustrating to feel things that you want to express and let out but you do not know how to do so. This often leads to outbursts, to acting out, to just him not being himself.

Frankly I cannot blame him. I’d be equally inconsolable if I felt lost in my own skin. I just don’t know how to reach him in these moments.

I sit, patiently waiting. I set boundaries and make my expectations as clear as I can. I get frustrated, too. I get upset. I’ve broken down and cried once with him in my arms. It’s not pretty, it’s not perfect, it’s not fun.

A lot seems to circle back to grief. Loss is becoming real to him. J’s way is to slowly come to a full realization of an abstract, difficult concept. He’s always observing, thinking and putting pieces together but those abstract emotional things are plain hard for a concrete, linear thinker. He’s realizing that there can be massive upheaval. He is realizing that his beloved girl was forever taken from him. He cries for her regularly and grows possessive of his precious stuffies.

No matter how long you saw this coming it still shocks the system and weighs down the heart.

We have light now, though. We will get through this.

——–

Who knew light could arrive on four prancing feet and covered in the softest, curliest fur?

J and I volunteered at APAW last week and for the first time in months, we both were light and free. J was so proud to have purpose. I hold back tears typing this because I had not seen that centered boy since June. He listened well to Jillian, APAW’s caring leader, and greeted the volunteers and their dogs amiably as well as some clients. He beamed over kisses doled out by sweet Empathy, a poodle in training, and chatted about the different dogs the whole drive home.

The class made it easy to realize that no matter how long our wait for his perfect partner is, it will be worth it. We are with people who care for him and his best interests now. What his needs are matter first and foremost when it comes to making a great match for him. There can be no deadline set for this. An arbitrary date will not produce perfection, it will merely limit prospects and possibilities. Would we rather a partner sooner over later? Of course we would. I would be lying to say bringing home a puppy tomorrow wouldn’t put me over the moon… But I am realistic. We engaged APAW because they make it their business to be subject matter experts in what they do. They have welcomed us into their fold and let us help in any way we are able, so the love we have ached over carrying since Brookie was snatched away will not go to naught. It will be shared with all these lovely poodles we meet and we can happily watch them on their journeys.

Do I wonder sometimes if a pup I meet will be J’s one day? I’d be lying to say I didn’t, but it is easier to immediately think “wow, they are sure going to make someone so happy”… Because they are, no matter what their role. Someday, it’ll be J’s turn and we’ll be okay until that day comes.

Puppy kisses help the time pass a little faster, though. I cannot complain about that!

 

—–

Those of you who have experienced life with IEPs for your children or as an educator know that every 3 years, re-evaluation must occur. J is in the midst of that right now and let me tell you,  I am nervous. It came as a great relief to learn that his beloved preschool teacher is doing much of the evaluating for him, so he is agreeable and trusts her. I know how much J has grown and how much he’s gained. He is so smart and quick, it’s just always nerve-wracking to see what people put down on paper to attempt and quantify your child. It’s not hard to see where his weaknesses are but here’s hoping that his strengths are seen and celebrated, too.

Our New Journey

It is with great pleasure that I get to share this now!

Our new partners in the journey to reach a service dog for J-Bear is American Poodles at Work (APAW). They are located in central MA, so none too far from us, and are a small organization focused on their strengths. They work primarily with people who require mobility assistance dogs, psychiatric service dogs and a handful of autism service dogs. The placement of dogs from APAW stays within a 200 mile radius from their home base so they can be involved with their clients, something else we deeply appreciate.

But, you might ask… why poodles?

J-Bear currently shuts down when faced with a golden retriever, one of the most common dogs used for service work. Labradors he is open to, but they can still skirt the line of his ability to bond. When I saw APAW and realized there was zero chance of him receiving a dog who by appearances alone he would struggle to bond with, I was intrigued. Poodles are natural people pleasers and when raised with good socialization lead long, happy working lives. We met a half-dozen APAW dogs several weeks ago and had the opportunity to see these dogs shine doing what it was they love. The elder statesman of the group, Charlie, really blew me away. Here he is showing off his stuff in Dogs 101’s episode on the poodle: http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/dogs-101/videos/poodle/ – He is the big cream boy showing off on the white background and in various other bits of the segment.

There are other selling points, such as poodles being low allergy dogs due to having hair rather than fur and the fact that they as a breed are generally very sturdy in terms of their health and known breed issues. They have a long, active life… Something that coupled with a loving, caring home will give J-Bear a partner for many years to come.

He needs this certainty and comfort. We need the ongoing, positive and friendly support of a great organization.

APAW has stepped up and we are so, so looking forward to seeing what the next year brings with it. We are uncertain as to timeline in terms of when J will meet a new partner but as things progress I will of course update. We’re hoping for the first half of 2016 but we’re working with dogs here, which means anything can happen.

© 2017 J-Bear and Me

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: