learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: 4 paws for ability (Page 1 of 2)

Good Riddance, 2015

It’s been a year, as many of you know.

We started the year so positive. Even when we were under 5 feet of snow with drifts well over our heads, everything was okay. J-Bear was healthy. Brookie had arrived. Everything was going to be great now, right?

Then the accidents kept happening, in public of all places. The warning bells really began to ring when they happened at home. Something was just wrong. She was sick, and then she got even more sick.

We loved her through it. Even J doted upon her, for she was as part of us all as he is.

The accidents continued. Accidents and service dogs don’t mix. We knew she was an anxious girl but we just couldn’t figure out the crux of this issue.

And I stupidly trusted the wrong people.

Brookie went back to Ohio. I never should have brought her, but I did. From there, I was bullied and lied to repeatedly, backed into a corner by the founder of 4 Paws constantly and disallowed contact with any other. When I did reach out to the head trainer, I discovered things were not as they were depicted.

3 days later she was taken away. 3 days later, we were accused of abuse… but put into the July 2016 class.

Folks, the tale you’re being told about our experience with 4 Paws for Ability is a sham. We were in a future class. I asked, in November, to be removed from the class and have funds sent to our new agency to secure a dog there for J. If we’re such terribly abusive people, why on earth would they have placed us in a class or given our funds to another agency to place another animal in our home? Why would all of Brookie’s vet reports note a dog in wonderful condition who was extremely sweet and loving? Why would none of our vet care (her regular vet and the hospital she was cared for by) be contacted about such allegations? Why would no local to us who actually spent time with us regularly be reached out to?

Instead, in October 2015, Brookie was placed with another family. This family lives in a foreign country and I cannot state this enough: They are absolutely innocent in everything going on here. They are likely completely ignorant of what has gone on and of this dog’s full history. My heart hurts for them. I fear them getting hurt as we were. I do not want this poor dog disrupted anew, nor do I want to see their child ache as mine does. They are likely good, kind people who were out to do for their child what we did for ours: give them an amazing resource and a bridge to a world frequently inaccessible to them. I want success for them. I want joy, peace and calm for them. I want them to know how loved she was, and for them to have every possible tool to make this work.  This is why I will never publicly identify anything about them. I want them protected, not harmed or bullied like we have been.

That’s not coming from 4 Paws for Ability, who handled this situation appallingly. This is an organization that has the pieces within it to be tremendous yet without solid, positive, committed and transparent leadership will do nothing but flounder as it is right now. Their clients deserve well trained, ready to work dogs that go home prepared for their new lives… the way things used to be many many months ago there. The trainers have the skills, they just need the ability and resources with which to exercise these skills without upper level greed and blindness disrupting the process.

Also, if your big thing is to brag that you only have 80 foster homes for 400 dogs, as their director has done… That’s something you need to clearly reevaluate. Not a bragging point.

2016 is the year I do not get bullied. It is the year we find collaboration, healing and a tremendous opportunity to learn. I will get to take part in the raising of J’s new dog from the very start I hope and for that I am overwhelmingly excited. Learning is something I love, and learning something that will help my child for many years to come is a gift for which I can never repay this group enough. I am excited to also be able to give back to them and help them further their mission. They are good people, kind-hearted and dedicated. It will be nice to just spend time with them and the dogs of the program… Nice as well as healing.

2015, you destroyed me and my family in a lot of ways. You devastated my mental health… but I will fight back. Worse than you has not killed me yet though it has tried. I have lost a lot of people who lied and called themselves friends but I have gained so very much more.

2016 will be good. I can’t wait to share that with you all. Thank you again, for all the love and support you offer. We could not do this without you.

I Didn’t Choose Her

I didn’t choose her.

It’s true, we chose to have a dog. A service dog. I read about various benefits and various agencies. I learned what these dogs could do and what they could provide that we, the adults in his world, could not. I chose to apply and to fundraise and to rally to J’s cause.

But I did not choose her.

service dog on leashThe process is long. When you engage 4 Paws for Ability and have finished your fundraising, you begin the match process. This involves videos of your life and your child alongside intensive questions so that the trainers can get the most complete view of what your family needs in a dog. It will help them understand the dog’s tasks, if the child will be able to command the dog at all, if the household is a busy and chaotic one or a more low-key one… Everything that might make a perfect fit. It feels like a dating profile. You’re putting yourself out there laid bare – yourself and your family of course – and you’re hoping that these trusted at that point strangers can sift through it and add the piece you’re missing.

They can, and they do.

Brooklyn was sassy from the start. She was a confident, silly puppy from what I am told. She has known herself better than I know my human self, to the point where she may have seemed overconfident. She had her early struggles. Whoever her prisoners were, God bless them deeply. They took her in hand and gave her the tools to be great. They had a rough stone and set to creating something shining and unique from it. When it was ready for finishing, they handed it to the loving hands of the 4 Paws training staff.

They shined her up into a diamond.

golden retriever

thanks to Stephen Herron for this beautiful photo

We did not choose Brooklyn. She was chosen for us, by the trainers and by fate. Her body could have been any shape, size or color but her heart; her spirit are exactly what we needed. She compliments J in ways we could not have anticipated until we met her. She slotted into our lives like she had never not been there. She minds all of us along with everyone she comes to know. We are her people, and she loves us openly and completely. There is never a waver or falter, only forgiveness and love.

It’s amazing. She is amazing.

Right now, Brooklyn is sick. We aren’t sure what besides these awful recurrent bladder infections. We’re hoping it turns out to be just those, because then we can move forward and get her healed. Whatever it is, whatever it turns out to be, we will carry her through. I did not choose her, we were blessed by having her chosen for us and we will not let her down or let her suffer. She has only been with us 6 months. It is our job as her caretakers and family to make sure she has so, so, so many more months and years of good life left with us all, no matter what it takes.

Done Her Job

Last night was a doozy. J has these episodes where he wakes up and if he can’t be immediately soothed back to sleep, the world somehow ends. The crying and falling apart is heartbreaking to see and extremely difficult to settle.

Brookie doesn’t like to hear her boy upset. She gets agitated so once she came into the bedroom with us, she hopped on the bed. J’s initial reaction is to push her away. Brooklyn is a sensitive girl but not when it comes to this – she knew her job. She pushed close and laid her head across him (the “lap” command, which she’s been shown to do at these times before). She kept him firmly snuggled between herself and me until he was dozing once more. She looked up, a sort of “yep, did my job” expression, and hopped off to go lay in her bed in the living room once more.

This morning, some of the same unsettled behavior returned as we headed into school. Again, Brooklyn did her job. He was upset walking down the hallway so she nudged him with her nose to get his attention. He was fine by the time he entered his classroom and we’re hoping for a great day.

It’s hard to explain to people what Brooklyn’s jobs actually boil down to when it comes to behavior disruption. The behaviors she’s responding to, like the crying and the agitation, are things that we have shown her are things she should be responding to. It is a very hard process, showing Brooklyn this, because your instinct is to focus on soothing your child rather than teach a lesson to anyone else about it. You want to comfort them yet sometimes your repertoire does not include the needed antidote for what ails them. This is Brooklyn’s cue to step in and step up. It is a process that began the day they met and slowly grows a tiny bit every day until we have moments like we’ve had this week where she successfully brings him back to a good place faster than we could have without her. She offers a sense of uncomplicated peace and reassurance that not even a parent can quite muster. Parents grow impatient. Parents get anxiety. Parents feel their child’s hurt and pain. Brooklyn sees past it. She sees a situation she’s been taught before and knows that when her boy is calm again, so many good things happen. She knows that no matter what, he will be calm again even when the people standing around think he’s lost for a long time. Patiently, peculiarly and perfectly she loves J back to his best self and marches on with her day once she has.

She is such a good girl, this Brooklyn. She is confident enough to withstand the initial rebuffs her boy might give, sensitive enough to know when he needs her despite the rebuffing and silly enough to always be able to do something unexpected to make him giggle once more. This is one hell of a learning process but I have to say I am loving every minute of it. Every day, these two do something that amazes me. There’s little better in this world than that.

For Future Families

A friend asked me about things to bring when they themselves go to training soon so I figured this would be a great place to post this. I ask anyone who refers to this to remember that this is purely personal perspective. Those of you engaged in the 4 Paws for Ability journey will receive paperwork that outlines both what 4 Paws for Ability provides and what you will need at home. Also, while in Ohio, they will give you loan of a food bowl plus a kennel. You return these in the last two days you are there. They will give you food and have treats available at the training center for you to give the dogs.

Here is a list of what we brought to OH for Brooklyn and/or what we purchased while there:

  • A flat collar (traditional dog collar for tags) – we had chosen this long before we knew we were getting Brooklyn and it happened to work for our lady dog. Not a necessity.
  • Travel food and water bowls. We use collapsible bowls like these: Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture – Rosh Silicone Pet Expandable/Collapsible Travel Bowl with Carabineer for Leash – Size: 1.5 Cups, Color: Green I brought 2 with us and it came in very handy when we needed to stop on the way home for an overnight. They clean easy and hang off my backpack.
  • Backpack/Bag: Those of you who are used to carrying around a lot of stuff for your children/family are used to carrying an accommodating bag. Now is the time to consider how to carry such a bag while managing a child and a dog. Will you need to be hands free? Will you have a stroller or wheelchair on which to place it? I bought a backpack from LL Bean that is phenomenal for all I need, however backpacks are not always for everyone.
  • Toys: Some toys for the dogs can be universal. KONG toys and Nylabones are what is directed as good for the dogs. If you are getting a larger breed dog it is best to err on the side of caution and purchase bones for heavy/powerful chewers. Brooklyn isn’t powerful per se, but she is persistent. They are always clearly labelled. This is one of Brooklyn’s faves:KONG Extreme Dog Toy, Large, Black If you choose to go the Nylabone route be wary of “flexichew” or any almost translucent seeming bones. These are good for mild chewers but retrievers and doodles can go through these like milk bones. You want the opaque, hard versions for strong chewers.
  • Heavy duty work gloves: This applies if your dog is doing tracking work. If not, you can skip this! When you handle the flexi during an outdoor track you WILL need this. I had thinner gloves and burned a finger on the flexi midtrack one day. Learned my lesson good! A suggestion: G & F 5015L-5 Regular Cowhide Leather Palm Gloves with rubberized safety cuff Large, 5-Pair pack – The reinforced palm and thumb are critical. They do have gloves you can use while there but you’re going to need them at some point anyway.
  • Poop bags and dispenser: They will provide you some but you have to go back to the hotel at some point. It’s super convenient to hang the dispenser off your leash. That way, you always have them with you. I also keep a spare roll in the backpack just in case. We use these: 900-Count Earth Rated® Lavender-Scented Dog Waste Bags, 60 Refill Rolls (no, I did not buy 900, there’s other options 😉

A side note: All links in this post are Amazon Associates links and contribute to the J-Bear and Brooklyn Necessities Fund ™. Such links give small amounts of Amazon credit when used to make a purchase from. 

There are probably a thousand niceties I am forgetting but honestly, this is a great start. Fellow past families, anything you’d like to add? Comment here or on Facebook, I can add to the list continually!

Other things you should know:

  • If you forget anything, there’s a store that has your back nearby. The only thing you might have a slight struggle with would be medical or incontinence supplies but most families dealing with that have themselves covered. There’s also several pharmacies near the hotels and a large hospital right near the mall in which we do public access. Dayton Children’s is not too far off too.
  • All weather gear. Unless you’re in the heart of winter or depths of summer during your class, weather will vary wildly. I went from winter gear to rain gear to no gear but plain clothes through the course of our class. Pack layers that work well together and make sure you have at least two pairs of shoes you don’t mine getting muddy/wet/possibly poop bombed. Layers for the kids are great too and even just inexpensive ponchos for family members hiding during tracking practice can work a treat.
  • Make sure the people you are rooming with are people with whom you have a strong relationship and who are comfortable looking after your child in every respect. If they are not willing to change diapers, to dispense discipline as your family handles discipline or maintain your child’s needs class is going to be twice as hard for you. Two weeks in an environment like this tests any relationship, so if you’re not going in strong you’re going to get frazzled. Reduce your own stress, prepare everyone going beforehand to be all hands in and aware that sometimes, whoever is the primary handler is going to need to be fully focused elsewhere and not helping them through. This doesn’t mean you’re unable to do anything for your child, you just won’t be able to do kids 24/7 as you may at home. This was hard on J-Bear. He’s never shared me before, so we’re learning.
  • Pee and poop can and likely will happen in public at some point. You’re new, your dog is young and you’re learning each other’s language. Make sure you have a means to clean it up. We used a diaper, a poop bag and wipes to make it like Brooklyn had never lost control of her pea sized bladder. It’s since grown to roughly the size of a golf ball 😉
  • Stuffed animals can be a blessing and a curse. If your child is very, very stuffed animal oriented you’re going to learn very, very quickly about distraction training. J is after all very attached to Miss Kitty, and Miss Kitty has zero back up waiting in case something ever happens. We’ve tried, it never works. Brooklyn went after her once and we started distraction training with stuffed animals on the spot. It’s a very difficult process, especially when you have a very young child, but one you need to be aware of. If stuffed animals aren’t a big deal in your home you might be best leaving them behind when you come to training.
  • There will be dog hair everywhere. If you’re bothered by this, start getting ready for it as of this post. Seriously. You cannot escape it. It will be on your clothes, in your car, in your food…. It will be everywhere, and you oddly will feel so happy to see it once you see your dog and child meet.
  • You are going to meet a group of diverse families with children who have a wide range of needs. You will learn more in these two weeks about humanity than you might ever learn again in your life. You will see families gel in ways you think you only see on TV. I saw a family without a word rally around their daughter as she suffered a seizure, each fitting together like a piece of a perfect puzzle to make sure the daughter was beautifully looked after. I learned more about seizure disorders in those two weeks than I have in my whole life until this point. I saw the broad spectrum of autism displayed before my eyes and saw what Fetal Alcohol Syndrome really means. It was incredible. The children and families will cement a special place in your heart, which will grow exponentially from the experience.
  • The trainers are as invested as you are. They want your success as much as you do. They are there for you. They will help you with anything you need in terms of working with your dog. It does not matter if you’ve been around animals your whole life or never been in the same room with a dog alone before… They have got your back, as do your fellow families.

This experience is intense to say the least. I likely left out a lot, so this post may see a lot of edits. I hope this can help those looking forward to their training classes!

An Ending and A Beginning


Preparing to start our lives together. (Thanks to Jaki W. for taking this)

Today marked the end of our two weeks here at 4 Paws for Ability. It was not without random adventure, for we were forced out of the building we started in and back into a much smaller space for class yet in the end it all worked out perfectly as it ought to have.

We met a lot of kids, a lot of families and a lot of dogs. We met the dozens of people behind each and every dog who have been dedicated to improving the lives of our children long before they even knew them. We saw the faces of those who do not say “no” to children and families with very particular, very complicated needs… We found the one place that says “yes”.

It has been two weeks of acceptance, of hard work, of encouragement, of laughter and of tears. We have communicated in barks, in yells, in hand flapping, in clicking, in screams, in whistles and in sighs. We have stood at the start, shoulder to shoulder, nearly all thinking “there is no way I can do this” while talented trainers and staff stood in front of us saying “there’s no way you can fail” while taking our proverbial hands and guiding us along.

There’s not a tool left out of our toolbox to work with these dogs and our children alongside them now. If we find down the road there is, it just takes a phone call to work on getting it in place. The investment each member of the 4 Paws staff has made in each and every dog shines with every lesson given. They know these dogs carry a large burden and they know they can carry it and then some thanks to their hard work and most importantly, their love.

Their love shines through in their dogs. It shines through in the delight on our children’s faces seeing the only friend they might have known thus far in their lives. It shines through in the hope it plants in every family they touch.

All because they love what they do.

This isn’t just a punch the clock job for these men and women, these volunteers and staff. This is all heart. This is all passion. The dogs feel it from birth to the day they go to their forever family, whatever their future may hold and it shows.

Now J is a part of it. J and Brooklyn are a perfect match. Brooklyn is not who I necessarily envisioned but then again, I do not know what I envisioned… They gave us exactly the dog we needed though.

The torch has now been passed as Brooklyn is now a full-fledged certified 4 Paws service dog. It is in our hands now to continue with what they started. We must maintain her impeccable training and manners and show those we encounter just how incredible and life changing these dogs are. I would say it is a daunting thing to face, turning to look towards the future, but it’s not. The love the 4 Paws for Ability staff gave our dogs in their upbringing they gave to us as families during the training. Jeremy, Brit, Shelby, Jessa, Y, Lindsey, Jennifer, all the kennel and training staff… They gave us everything we need. The future can only be amazing from here, all for the love they showed.

Thank you, 4 Paws for Ability. Thank you for believing in our children and our families. Thank you for this gift of hope, love and joy in the shape of a beautiful golden retriever named Brooklyn. Thank you for what you do every day.




She is Love

That is all I can even say about this gorgeous girl. She is love. Sweet, eager to please and loving beyond what you could even imagine possible. She is soft, she is gentle, she is perfect for her boy.

She is just love. Please enjoy the photos courtesy of Stephen Herron, a dear friend who has been in my life so long, he’s beyond family to me now.








Skidding to a Thanks

Last night at midnight, our fundraiser with Ride to Give ended.

It not only met its goal but exceeded it. That in and of itself is amazing, right? However…

It gave us a community. We have our 4 Paws family online and nearby and now we have this incredible extended Ride to Give family joining us. Our family has grown exponentially overnight and I am looking forward to what that will mean to J and Brooklyn’s future together.

You all gave us hope, peace and relief. We’re hoping that you find joy, humor and awe in what’s to come with J and his girl. I have been sharing his journey from the start thanks to the release that is writing a blog, now we have even more people to hop on the ride we’re on to see just where it’s going to go.

When we start training, the posts will be very Brooklyn-centric. We’ll be learning everything we need to do to make J and his girl successful, and it is tradition in a way for 4 Paws families who are willing to chronicle their class time to share with future classes as well as their own families. After they graduate… Watch out, world! The real adventures shall begin.

We skidded to a halt after our amazing Ride to Give race, that so many helped us finish in record time. Forgive me if over the next week I might be a little more quiet than usual, we have a lot of rearranging and packing to do to prepare for our new girl. I am not abandoning all our new friends and followers but focusing on J, Brooklyn and our new family as it is going to soon be. It’s kind of like getting ready for a new baby, right?

Thank you all again. Now sit back, relax, and get ready for what promises to be one heck of an amazing ride upcoming!

It’s A…


Everyone, I am so pleased to introduce J’s best friend, the newest member of our family:

This is Brooklyn. She is part of the Cities Litter born on 11-21-2013 and named by the Falzarano family in honor of their beautiful son Hawke. Hawke passed away before he could meet his service dog because of a seizure disorder. This is the second litter they have named, as each of their sons have a city middle name themselves. If you would like to learn more about Hawke and his family, please go here.

This is our beautiful new girl!

brooklyn boy

She is an English Cream Golden Retriever. Look at her swooshy tail! J will be -over the moon- for her, and given her heritage she ought to have just the right amount of mischief to fit into our family seamlessly.

I thought at first that Brooklyn was a boy. It was hilarious to find out after I emailed family that I had to email them again and correct her gender, but I am sure she will forgive me my faux pas.

That beautiful face right there? Everyone who has cheered us on and helped us along the way has made this possible. That smile is as much for you all as it is for my beloved boy and in 11 days, we’ll get to see them both together for the first time! I cannot wait, and we have plenty of tennis balls awaiting her!

Crystal Ball

I was blessed with a chance to get a small glimpse at what our future with J’s service dog can hold. J’s friend, Z, received his dog earlier this month and his mom invited us down to meet the newest member of their family.

Before I get to what happened upon meeting him, let me tell you I had zero clue what I was going to encounter in terms of J’s behavior and reaction. I knew this dog would be a model canine citizen. He graduated as a service dog from 4 Paws for Ability and their dogs come highly trained and recommended. I knew this dog would also be a perfect fit for his boy, and that he would be trained to do all Z could need him to do plus even maybe a little more.

J was the unknown factor. My mind and unknowns can get really ugly, really fast. It’s a talent, I tell you. There has been such anxiety that I was making a wrong choice for my son somehow; that there was no way he would even care about this dog or worse, would be too nervous to ever be near the poor thing once we brought them home.

Safe to say, I am something of an idiot here and glad to have been proven so.

Photo from 4 Paws for Ability

Photo from 4 Paws for Ability

Enter Leno. He is a handsome golden retriever/labrador mix, gold of hair and sweet of face. Second of his name, but less of chin, but I digress. He is sturdy, handsome and absolutely the single most laid back dog I have ever met. He exudes this mellow air of confidence and subtle, gentle curiosity that needs no great action to convey, especially to children like Z and J. They just get it immediately and he gets them, especially his boy. He regarded J and I with curiosity and interest and let J approach him. This was key. His training and L’s handling shone like stars in this moment.

J approached him with exuberant interest. He was nervous, as his giggling betrayed, but he was interested. He learned to say Leno’s name. He patted him. He touched his head. He circled back to him several times during the length of our visit. If he looked over and Leno was dozing he yelled at the (poor, dear) dog to wake up!  He got a chance to play a brief game of ‘fetch’ with Leno and found he loved it and loved having this dog be as happy to play with him as he could have ever wished. You see, J frequently tries to engage other children who are running around and most sadly ignore him. They don’t understand how he is trying to engage them, and even when I facilitate active chase and tag and play, children who don’t understand look askance at J and leave him be. His dog, well… We now have seen that he or she won’t.

Then it happened, a moment of even greater magic: We were out to eat in a local greasy spoon and L offered J a piece of treat to give to Leno. J, who I cannot get to touch much in the way of anything food related, took it readily… and let Leno eat it right out of his hand, laughing when he was licked by the gentle dog.

A child who resists hand washing, hates dampness that is not from obviously running water, freaks out with a drop of anything spills on him and is not cleaned immediately allowed a dog to eat from his hand and thought the licks he got were funny.

It’s hard to write that without tears. It may seem overstating, to draw it out like that, but this is a keen example of an everyday occurrence that can be a startling breakthrough for my boy.

This wasn’t even his dog. This was his friend’s service dog.

Can you imagine what his life will be like when he meets his dog in two months? It’s going to change so much, and for the better by a thousand miles. There is no doubt now, only intense eagerness for the moment he and his future dog meet and a renewed drive to get funds raised to help get us out there. More on that later though. For now, I’m just going to sit back and remain in star-struck awe over the gift L, Z and Leno gave to us!

A note about this post: Z’s mother is the fantastic photographer responsible for the pictures of J and Miss Kitty on the beach last summer. If you’re looking for an MA area photographer capable of not just fantastic work but understanding of children with special needs and able to show their inner light with ease, please visit http://www.myfamilytreephotography.com 

The Nonie Dog

One of the perils of our wait for J’s service dog is looking at all the dogs in training. I follow them as much as I can without being intrusive on the lives of the foster people. There are families who foster and college students who foster, all of whom offer a brilliant foundation for advanced training. The foster system usually takes over training after the dogs receive their basic obedience, though sometimes the foster families take the dogs from weaning right up until it’s time for advanced training to begin.

Now, that all said, J has fallen in love with a dog.

Please be aware that I never, ever, for anything on this earth, tell him any specific dog is his dog. I ask him daily “what will your dog be like? Will they be a big dog or small dog? What color will your dog be?” and questions of this nature just to keep dogs in his awareness and to keep him associating that a dog will be a part of his life at some point. There is never anything specific. Some of the answers I have received include: small mama dog, small blue chicken dog, dolphin dog, white dog, blue or purple dog.

Easy requests, right? But at least it has him thinking….

Until he remembers her.

Ain't she a beauty? Photo courtesy of her foster mama

Ain’t she a beauty? Photo courtesy of her foster mama

Meet Nonie. Nonie is one of the 4 Paws service dogs in training. She is currently in advanced training and was fostered by a lovely young lady from one of the area universities with foster programs. She appears a loving, playful and sweet girl and J could not be any more smitten. He sing-songs about “Nonie-dog” frequently now. It is as cute as it is vaguely worrying.

I was reminded today though that no matter what dog he gets he could call them Nonie Dog. It would be Nonie Dog, the First of Her Name. If it is a “her” at all, of course. If it is a him… Well, we’ll see what happens.

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