learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: service dog (Page 3 of 6)

4 More Days

That’s right. 4 more days until the Great Mini Giveaway!

4 more days to help us get J to Dog.

4 more days until the 30 days til Ohio mark is crossed.

4 more days to spread the word!

It is sinking in more and more how real Dog to Be Named Later is. The September class will be graduating on Friday as well, preparing to return home to their completely changed lives now that their own dogs have come to join their families. We then settle in for the wait to learn who J’s match is.

Will it be a boy or a girl? Will it be a lab, a golden, a golden lab, a goldendoodle, or some wildcard we had not even considered? Will J fall in love with their photo or will it be love at first sight when they are in person beside each other?

So many questions that YOU can be part of the answer to! If you have not done so yet, please consider sharing the Great Mini Giveaway (linked above) on social media. J and I will do the drawing on Friday and post it both here and on Facebook for everyone to cheer for the winner!

Thank you to everyone who has so generously donated, shared and supported us in this effort so far. This next month is going to be one of the most exciting times in our lives and I cannot wait to share it with all of you!

60 Days and Questions

Today marks 60 days until J meets his fur-ever friend. It would be a complete understatement to say we are excited. He is understanding finally what we are going to be doing and he, like most 4 year olds, wants results right this second. He has a stuffed Nonie (Baby Nonie Dog) and I am trying to keep him as busy as I can manage. He does not start school until September 9th however, so until then I am going to be hearing a lot about “Yeh-no” and “Nonie Dog”.

I could not be happier.

Since we have engaged in full boogie tilt fundraising for our trip, I have received a lot of comments and questions various places. The biggest comment is on the amount we fundraised initially to receive J’s dog: $13,000.

That’s a big amount, unless you’re some ginormously wealthy soul. That’s an overwhelming on paper to a small family. It is true that most if not all of the people I talk to regularly or know cannot simply plunk that down. It’s just not possible, and thus makes a service dog for our children seem wildly out of reach.

4 Paws knows this. They get this. They do not want their dogs to be inaccessible due to money. This is why when you get accepted into the program, the agreement you sign is not to pay $13,000* but to fundraise and share the mission of 4 Paws for Ability. It is but a part of the cost to raise and train our dog, and in fundraising we’re raising community awareness of just what service dogs can do for the disabled – both children and adults, though 4 Paws keeps their focus on children and veterans.

We spent 6 months fundraising. It was hard. There were times it was absolutely painful, I dare to say, yet it is so worth it. It is worth it beyond the amount we raised, and worth it beyond what I can put into words. That money will provide my son with something I could not otherwise give him: He will have a companion and a guardian in this dog. He does not have to be scared. His family does not have to be scared. If, God forbid, J ever got away from us this dog will track him down straight away.

That. That right there, added to everything else this dog will be trained to task for, can’t have a price tag placed on it.

We have also gained through this process a phenomenal support group of 4 Paws families. I have made some fantastic friends and look forward to making more through this journey. We also gain a backup. If anything should happen with J’s dog, they’re there for us. If the dog needs refresher training, they are there for us. If we have any confusion or struggles once we are home, they’re a phone call away. They want us to succeed and give us every tool by which to do so.

Is it worth $13,000? Yes. Again and again, yes.


*= The current amount one must fundraise if they join the program today is $14,000. This is still just a part of the $22,000-$24,000 it takes to breed, raise, train and support a well-trained service dog.

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 

Future Tense

My heart is still so heavy about a man I never met. Maybe I am just so sad because the turmoil seems so very familiar and thus, so very painful. Maybe I am sad because, looking back at his body of work, he was one of those faces that has always been in the world since I was a child. It’s hard to say, but the sad remains.


I am in this weird state, and it is generally surrounding J’s dog. We under 80 days until we meet his dog and it feels so much like when I was waiting for J to be born but with markedly less discomfort and cravings for strange things. All of the fear, anxiety, anticipation, excitement and eagerness collide on a regular basis but thankfully for now in a low-key manner. I want to know his dog. I know 4 Paws will pick his right dog. I cannot wait to see J with this dog, and see the life changing things his friend Z is going through right now.

Then there is the panic. The “oh my God I have this, this, this, this and oh my god this that needs to be done!” and the panic over fundraising to help us along in paying for our long stay out there… My stars. I don’t know if this is just part of my own general weirdness or not but when there is a lot to do, I can get paralyzed real quick. I am trying to work it down into bite sized pieces but the pieces are all sort of on hold. It’s hard to do a lot of the heavy work while J is out of school, and he does not go back til September.

See, that is the other part in all this. J is out of school for several weeks now. Children like J thrive on routine. That is when he learns and grows the best and is happy. He does not have it in the sense he needs it right now. We had a down day today, for example, and while he did mostly fine he lost it right around bedtime. Bedtime is the same time every day, mind you, but without the busy busy busy day leading up to bedtime, bedtime gets downright insane.

How do I add a dog to our crazy? Will the dog really help our crazy? I ask myself so many questions, but following the tales of other families I am slowly having more faith that the dog will do exactly what we need them to do. They will fit our lives just fine, and they will enrich our lives.

J is still talking about Nonie Dog. He is so giddy about the Nonie Dog in his mind, but I still do not think it will truly matter what dog we get. Any dog will be loved, and he loves animals regardless. I think it is just such a fun name for him to say, and he truly does enjoy her sweet face, so the association is happy and positive and will I pray make this addition to our lives easier.

Could I be any more all over the map? Welcome to my brain, internet.

In closing, here’s our countdown counter – It’s also on the right side of the main blog page:


Pay It Forward – Saving Gabriel

I mentioned on Facebook something about wanting to pay the good fortune J has been blessed with forward. When you stand back and look at J’s short life, he’s been one lucky boy. He has people who love him, he has everything he could need and a lot of that which he wants…

Given the blessings paid to us last year in helping us fundraise for his service dog it only seems fair to work on paying that good fortune forward. J’s birthday is in late June and I have been trying to figure out what way we turn that into a way to share good fortune with our world rather than just with ribbons and bows for an already blessed boy.

Here’s our chance.

I want you all to meet Jake Murphy and his service dog from 4 Paws, Gabriel. You can read a better version of their story here but here’s the brief version: Jake, while serving our country in Afghanistan, lost his legs. Twists of fate brought him and Gabriel together as a team just last year. Recently, Gabriel grew ill with an illness that attacks his kidneys. Thankfully he is being cared for at an amazing veterinary hospital but he needs to be there at least 15 days  more for dialysis and treatment.

Those of you familiar with vet bills are probably agape thinking of the cost of that.

Let’s help Gabriel and Jake.

You can donate to Gabriel’s care fund here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Help-Save-Gabriel — All funds that exceed the cost of Gabriel’s care will be set aside to help other 4 Paws dogs in crisis.


Odds and Ends

For those just joining us this evening, there is a fundraiser you can find information on here: https://www.jbearandme.com/fundraising-with-thirty-one/ — It’s a Thirty-One party and 20% of all the sales go to Operation J to Dog. The party ends April 24th!


J actually missed school today because of, get this, an extreme aversion to pants.

Don’t we all have these days? Today just happened to be his.

Pants eventually did happen, but it was a tough day. There really does seem to be a pattern developing between unsettled weather and J having a more difficult time coping with things that otherwise are not an issue. I am hoping that this passes as the weather passes but it remains to be seen.


Progress is the name of the game for J of late. Listening to how his language is developing is quite simply fascinating. He is communicating, with people he is comfortable with, in his own way and in his own time. He mimics like a pro of late, and he uses what language he does know to try to make his wants and needs known. “Get out!” when I am not turning into the parking lot he wished me to, “Push!” when he wishes me to be in a different lane while driving, “Hop on!” to demand me join him on the bus (LOVED this one)…. Lots of little phrases and mega personality.

Today he met several babies when we were out and about and he was so curious and actually initiated teaching one small girl how to take turns! This is huge, both for his communication struggles and for the fact… he’s not even four, and what child of that age group is an expert in sharing?! I was blown out of the water and proud. He can be a bear when he wants but at heart, my son is so very sweet, caring and gentle. It amazes me. He has a lot of cards in his past that pull towards a manner very opposite that and he’s proving he can overcome genetic predisposition in that regard.


There are days I worry about the service dog decision. I wonder if I am overstating need and so on, because a brain on an anxiety disorder is frankly a jerk and loves to create doubts and fears. This past week it has occurred to me that the dog could provide something huge for J I had not anticipated and that is a constant to allow for him to better generalize his skills. The dog can be everywhere with him, and provided that others will be willing to be consistent handlers, he or she can go where I will not be. This is tremendous for J. It will help him carry skills that only occur in specific locations with specific people translate to other places and folks. It will be the invitation for him to open more doors and leave them open, sharing himself with the world at large.

That is so very exciting! I do want the world to see what a hilarious and engaging child he is when he’s with those who know him best. He’s trying to be it everywhere, but something gets lost in translation. It can be yet another thing his dog can help with.


Opened with fundraising now ending with fundraising: Mid to late May we might do an iPad Mini raffle. Details will follow about how to purchase tickets and the date of the drawing. Hopefully this can be our biggest fundraiser to get J to his dog in October!

The New Fundraiser

The time has come that I finally write a post about this.

In October of this year, J will meet his service dog. This requires a two-week stay for us in Ohio for the training required. That means hotel, gas, food, and so on… It adds up, and it adds up fast. The current forecasted need we have for this is $3,500.

Now step back and consider that number. It seems an easy number for a family to reach, right? Yet, it’s not. It’s actually almost as scary as the $13,000 goal we raised for 4 Paws for Ability last year. This time though, we’re fundraising for ourselves.

If you’re interested in helping, you can read more about this latest endeavour here: https://www.jbearandme.com/operation-j-to-dog/. The link to our Razoo page is both on the sidebar and on that page. There are special rewards for different levels of donations! We’ve already gotten two! If you don’t want to donate, please consider sharing that page around. Every drop in the bucket helps.

The Service Dog Question

I have been talking a lot about the decision to get a service dog for J or any child or adult lately in various mediums so I figured I would bring it here and chat it out somewhere I could have everything neatly laid out. Okay after writing the post that likely should be messily but I tried at least! 

Children with complex special needs kind of force their parents, like it or not, to reach far outside traditional boxes. We’re parents, after all. We want the best for our children, but the path we’re on isn’t going to be typical. Quickly, to meet your child’s needs and help them to succeed, you have to start reaching outside the expected. You have to twist your world view to include things you never considered before. You become adept at planning, able to sort out anything from a grocery trip to a hospital stay with the precision of a well seasoned general: You deploy your troops, you select your arms, and you make the situation you are in work. Does it always work? Oh heck no. Failure becomes your teacher on a daily basis, from big things to small, and there are many days where you come out of the battle going “Did no one turn blue? Is everyone at least clean and somewhat fed? Good, let’s call it done and do it again tomorrow but better.”

It’s life.

In thinking outside the traditional I found 4 Paws for Ability. What they offer suits my son’s needs and my family’s needs. There are many organizations that offer service dogs and they run the gamut in terms of how reputable they are. This is the organization that caught my attention. They focus they place on individuals, their families and their specific needs meant the world. They train specific to the needs of each child or adult and make every effort to give you the dog you need, even if this is not the dog you envision. Trust me, I envision these sweet shaggy faced golden doodles every time I look at the puppies but when the staff at 4 Paws sit down to find J the right dog for him, it could be any of their larger breed dogs. If for some reason the match does not work out, they are right there supporting you to make things right. Every step of the way the support is incredible.

We have not even gotten our dog yet and I can say the latter. The moment you enter the program and begin your fundraising you join this group of families representing a wide swath of the special needs community and they quickly become your family. You lean on each other, you bolster each other, you laugh and cry with one another… It’s the hidden treasure you never thought you’d get in starting such a journey to be sure.

Do I think the choice to get a service dog is a light one or an easy one? Absolutely not. It should be considered with great care. You are, after all, committing to a new family member who has their own needs as well. Can you handle the cost of the dog? Are you able to commit to their care too, from walking to play to working the commands to keep the dog’s skills fresh? Are you willing to handle the potential confrontations from people who do not understand the laws pertaining to where service dogs are and are not allowed (4 Paws does educate you in this and is there to assist you in situations of an animal being denied access to a place they are by law allowed)?  Are you willing to accept that this dog is at heart a dog and will do dog things, like chew on something they should not or carry all your socks around in their mouths because it’s fun?

When I sat down and weighed this out, the benefits to my son by far outweighed the drawbacks. He needs the companionship, the security and the safety this dog will be able to give him. This could be the key to unlocking some of these emerging skills that seem to get stuck. The dog could also help with his increasingly severe separation anxiety… Every day the “YES” list grows and every day I get more excited for October.

If you’re considering a service dog for someone in your life I strongly encourage you to do your research, ask questions and trust your gut instinct. I am always happy to answer questions about our journey thus far and will continue to do so as we get our dog and meet our future. If you would like to learn more about 4 Paws for Ability, please check out their website at http://www.4pawsforability.org.

A Dog Named Elmo

There’s a member of the 4 Paws for Ability family who could use our help. If you could donate, or share this story, I would dearly appreciate it.


This link will take you to a donation page for the family of Lyssa and Elmo. Elmo is a service dog trained by 4 Paws for Ability to work for his girl, Lyssa, as a seizure alert dog. This is an important part of young Lyssa’s life, but her beloved Elmo is now so sick he is being fed by a tube 4 times a day and is in the animal hospital tonight due to vomitting blood. The bond between dog and child is rare and precious, something these two have enjoyed and it is now threatened. The need for Lyssa to have a seizure alert dog is so great that 4 Paws has already placed she and her family in the June 2014 class to give her another dog to work where Elmo cannot.

Meanwhile, Elmo’s illness is desperate. Costs are mounting and, most heartbreakingly, Lyssa is without her dog and Elmo is without his girl.

They need our  help. Please share their story. Let’s get them donations to help with Elmo’s care and with getting Lyssa and her family to Ohio to receive another dog this June. These dogs become a part of their children, and we cannot leave a one of them behind.

Thank you all!

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