The Slider Conclusion

Last Thursday was a day I have been anticipating since I met Slider: Graduation.Emotions were intense. It was a day I will not soon forget, for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t what I expected, either. The evening went by so quickly; I could hardly process it.

grad3

The mother of Slider’s warrior (Jason) approached me with kind words and a warm hug. She thanked me. I am a mother to a son as well, and my son happened to be by my side during this time. Some moments do not need to be justified with a ton of words. You do not need to know someone well – or at all – to share one of these memorable, touching instances with another being.

sam

Sometimes you just have the moment, recognize it, then you part ways. The feelings I experienced reminded me of a poem I came across as a child – Some People by Flavia Weedn. I think these words are very relevant in this situation.


The moment I experienced with Jason’s mom and the bond I will always share with Slider and Jason can be summarized by this:

some-people


slider222


Thank you, K9s For Warriors and Slider, for teaching me to be a selfless. I learned about putting others before myself a long time ago; but at some point – like many of us – I forgot how to do it. Getting lost in the shuffle of my own life, wants, needs, and pain… I forgot how wonderful it feels to live for others. I needed to remember what the human heart was capable of, and I wanted to share that with my son. I have.

My final words in this blog post will be to wish Jason and Slider well. May you have many special days together, doing what you love most with whom you love most. May you find comfort in each other. May your spirits dance.

grad

Advertisements

A Time For Training (and retrospect)

slider11

As a puppy-raiser, I opened my home and heart to Slider. For five months, he was MY black lab. He depended on me for love, care, shelter, food, and peanut butter… lots of peanut butter! As one could imagine, I was worried when I handed him over to his trainer. Not because I was afraid the trainer was not capable of being his caretaker but because I was concerned Slider may have thought I abandoned him. His first owner surrendered him, then he came to me. Not only did we bond, but we had fun together. I would be confused and have questions if I were him.

collage2

A few weeks after he moved into the kennel to train, I began to notice something – there was a shift in my thinking. I thought… “he is bonding with another great person right now and that is good for him.” The person I was referring to was his trainer, Andrew. I knew in my heart that Slider was not upset with me about no longer being his mom. He needed to continue down his own path. Another transition came when Slider went from Andrew to his veteran, Jason. That, of course, was the final and most significant event of them all. You see, I believe that all the dogs in this program are special. Almost like they have a sixth sense and understand the process. 

collage-1

If they are a puppy, like in Slider’s case, they start out with a special volunteer who devotes their time to the dog’s growth and development. I looked at it like this… I taught Slider how to love, so he could in-turn love his warrior… love that will help his warrior get past his pain. Throughout the course of Slider’s formal training, I heard so many positive things: that I did a great job raising him, that he was learning at a fast pace. Hearing those things made raising a service dog even more rewarding for me… and more than ever, the worry and fear began to fade away. Then I could just see what matter most: I helped two living things… an innocent, sweet, special dog AND a brave, loyal, and hard-working veteran. Now they are together.

slider22

When Slider lived with me, I worked with him on the basic service dog commands, but some areas we really shinned together in were socialization and public access. Slider went to work with me everyday. He went other with me places, too. If I needed a latte… he was in line! If I had to shop for groceries… he was by the cart! If I was dining at a restaurant… he was under the table! He went nearly every place I ventured to and interacted with so many people I came across. His formal training was a smooth process because of the events leading up to it… events that I played a role in.


With the above said, I can sum up the emotions of this experience in one phrase:

“Being selfless is not just a gift to others; it is also a gift to ourselves.”

Why are we here in this world if not to learn, feel, and experience meaningful things? Helping others do the same is a true testament to the beauty of the human heart.

sky

Meet Your Match

jason-and-slider-1

Last week, five new veterans arrived at Camp K9; Slider was matched to one of them. I was very surprised and excited when I was informed of this. Dog Day came (when veterans are introduced to their dogs), and I stayed inside while my K9s family observed and cheered, like we always do. It was a decision I made out of respect for both Slider and his warrior. I did not want to be a distraction. I, however, did peek out of the blinds from my desk, my view partially obstructed by a tree and the famous K9s Dog House.

I was told that both Slider and his veteran seemed happy, and since that day, they have been training together… bonding and preparing for their new life together. Still, I remain low-key. When I hear that the warriors are back from training, I look through my blinds. Slider walks with a jubilant hop – almost like he knows that his hard work has paid off. He is still the same to me: sweet, whimsical, and inquisitive… except now he is dedicated to his mission, being a service dog.

j-and-s

Parting Ways

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Purposely, I’ve been delaying it. Writing  makes it real. Right now, I am fighting to hold back tears. But at the same time, I am so proud.

collage-1

Three weeks ago, Slider returned to the Kennel. He is currently in his 30-day period of observation, but is receiving basic training until he is officially cleared to enter the K9s program. Andrew is now his trainer. He is in good hands. I believe Slider will do well with his training and make a hell of a service dog!

collage-2

Before I said goodbye to Slider, we had a festive BABL (badass black lab) party. My son, Mason, happened to be off from school that day, so he was able to participate in the celebration. There were decorations, dog cake, dog beer (non-alcoholic… so hush, trolls), and most importantly – my K9s family! Mason was also recognized for his work as a junior puppy raiser, dog trainer, and volunteer ambassador. He and I did this together; I believe it will be one of those treasured childhood memories that he carries closely with him well into adulthood. More importantly, it will serve him as a real life learning example in putting others before himself.

collage-3

My favorite moment of the day was one that was very emotional and metaphorical. We walked outside with Slider; Mason and I removed Slider’s puppy training vest; we handed Slider to his trainer, Andrew; Then, Andrew put Slider in a real service dog vest. At that point, Mason and I said goodbye to Slider, told him we love him, and watched Andrew walk Slider into the kennel.

collage-4

Since then, I have had my moments were I miss Slider and wonder what he is up to. I question if he has forgotten me. But then, I tell myself, “this isn’t about me; it’s about a veteran in need.” This is my sacrifice, and I am glad my son could be a part of it.

This is my lesson to my only son through the quote of a true American patriot:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

-Ronald Reagan

flags

Well, I’ll Be A Dog’s (not a monkey’s) Uncle!

My sweet puppy dog will be leaving me soon. Next Friday, he will officially begin his training to become a service dog and save the life of a veteran. I have been reflecting on this experience. One of my favorite parts has been watching my foster dog bond with my coworkers.

20160526_155901

Slider and Uncle Greg

Slider has been the unofficial “house” dog in the admin office of K9s. When Slider is absent from a day of work, he is missed. What is even better is that when I felt like I couldn’t succeed as a foster mom, my coworkers believed in me. That means a lot.

I believe that animals, especially dogs, bring out the best in humanity. They are innocent, sweet, and have authentic hearts, which is why they can alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. I think my coworkers would agree, and it goes without saying that they have enjoyed bonding with Slider.

ranger

Slider and Uncle Ranger


list2


20160730_143900

Slider with Uncle Bryan and Cousin Dell

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.”
—Gilda Radner

No Rain On This Parade

img_2205

Recently Fletcher High, Slider’s Sponsor, had their homecoming week. Because of my ties to this school, I reached out to them and asked if there was anything that Slider and I could do to be apart of this time honored tradition.

img_2211

img_2203

Of course, Interact Club’s sponsor and my former teacher, Mr. Brown, was super enthused by our offer; he invited us to ride on Interact’s float during Fletcher’s homecoming parade. It was terribly hot, but such a wonderful time. Best of all, it was great training for Slider. I must say, I was a little concerned that he would try to jump off the side of the float to chase some candy. He did not though.

I was so proud to be on that float with Slider, representing K9s For Warriors in the wonderful community where I grew up. I also continue to be in awe of these students who are committed to helping K9s For Warriors, our veterans, and our rescue dogs.

img_2206

A Namesake In Neptune

Slider is an interesting, whimsical name. I get asked all the time: “why is your dog named Slider?” Well, his sponsor, Fletcher High, chose this name. But where did the idea for this name come from? This name was given in honor of a little seafood restaurant in Neptune Beach, Florida.

untitled-3

Sliders Seafood Grille has been a local favorite for quite some time but more so than that, Fletcher has hosted charity events at this Neptune Beach staple… and so, the school named their fourth sponsored dog “Slider.”

Last week, I was contacted by the owner of Sliders. She asked if she and the restaurant employees could meet Slider. I excitedly agreed. Slider, a few friends, and I dined at the establishment last Friday. The staff was very happy to meet Slider; he had a great time sitting outside, enjoying the salty breeze. It was a memorable outing. Now we are looking forward to graduation day, when we can invite all our new friends to share in the joy of saving a veteran. Stay tuned!


untitled-4

 

photostudio_1473466178321

Mindful Moments

I have experienced a bit of stress in the last few weeks, and so has Slider. It’s funny to me though; he seems to handle things so well. Many dogs do. They seem to master what we can’t… embracing turbulence and accepting situations for what they are. Most people struggle with that. I know I do. Maybe it’s because dogs are simple creatures. They are not concerned with phone upgrades and job promotions… nor do they immerse themselves in drama or dwell in what they cannot change. Dogs concentrate on being, not doing. Emily Dickinson once said, “Dogs are better than humans because they know but do not tell.” They cannot betray or disrespect others with words the way people do. Dogs are truly loyal.

mindfulness

I find the phenomenon of mindfulness very intriguing. It’s hard to grasp, but most people describe it as “being focused on the present moment.” I sometimes get so tied up in my worries and thoughts that I run autopilot. I try to remind myself of this when it occurs, so I can return to what is important: the beauty of now. It is difficult to do. Although dogs cannot speak and do not have the advanced skills that humans possess, I believe they  cultivate mindfulness. I observe it on a daily basis when I am with Slider.

fdsfsd

When I take him outside for a walk, he is completely in the moment. His attention is set on nature and his senses become awakened. The way he examines his surroundings… eyes fixated, noise twitching; it is obvious that he is taking everything in. It’s almost like he is saying, “I really like this place and being here. Life is good.” Seeing him this way brings me back to the present and for a brief moment, there is space between my thoughts. I am free of worry. I can let go. It is peaceful.

No wonder dogs can mitigate the horrifying symptoms associated with PTSD and other disabilities. They have many gifts that human beings lack. There are moments when Slider will look at me, in my eyes, and I feel like he is saying… “everything will be ok.” There is a sense of spiritual connectivity that reassure me.

A few nights ago, I was really in need of that reassurance. I called out to Slider, and he jumped onto the sofa to lay by my side. I was reading Whitman. I turned to my favorite poem and read it aloud. Slider intrigued, cuddled closer to me. The poem was:

untitled-14

 Upon completion of this poem, I realized I was being mindful. A warm feeling of comfort washed over me. I wrapped my arms around Slider and told him thank you.
ww2

A Letter To My Warrior: From Your Future Service Dog

letter

Dear Future Warrior/Handler,

It will not be long before I am by your side. I am still young – ten months – but the cool new dog training manager, Mike, at K9s For Warriors gave me a pre-evaluation. Mike said he believes I will make a good service dog. He also said I can get a jump start on my training. This works out well because my mom brings me on campus everyday anyway. Now, instead of being near her desk while she works, I get to hang out in the kennel and work with the dog trainers.

kennel

I was assigned my very own kennel and trainer. My trainer’s name is Barb. She is really nice and gives me treats when I do a good job. I miss my mom sometimes and worry she misses me, but I know she understands the mission. I am doing my best to pay attention in training, so I can help you get better. At times, I get distracted. I see interesting people and dogs and want to play with them. But, then I remember that I need to help you, so I work hard to regain my focus. I know you are a veteran and that you have experienced trauma. I also know that you may be sad and worried. I am very sorry, and I understand what it feels like to hurt inside.

20160818_141327

Barb and I

The first family I lived with didn’t want to take care of me. I was lonely and felt like I was doing something wrong… something to make them not love me. I tried my best to be a good puppy. I became depressed and confused. My former family’s neighbors happen to be puppy-raisers for K9s. These special volunteers are fostering my friend Macho, who is also an aspiring service dog! They saw how I was treated and offered to take me to K9s For Warriors; they thought I would be a good candidate for the program. My former family agreed to let me go, and I heard them say that I would fail. It was very easy for them to give me away, which broke my heart. When the volunteers brought me to Camp K9, I was evaluated by a lady named Deb. She told me I was pretty awesome and that I passed my evaluation. I was so excited! I learned that I was going to a new home until I am old enough to move into the kennel, where I will learn to become your service dog.

20160819_153223

That day, I met my foster mom, Samantha. She embraced me with a very warm hug and made me feel special. I began to feel better, and the images of my former owners began to fade away. I went home with my mom that night, and we bonded right away. I love Samantha. I am not afraid to be myself around her. She will act silly with me. She also takes me to cool places like Starbucks. Samantha has a little boy named Mason, and I love him, too. I sleep in his bedroom with him every night. He tells me that I keep him safe. I enjoy feeling needed. Samantha and Mason have been very supportive of me. When Samantha was told that I would begin training, she was very happy and proud.

FB_IMG_1471990009789

Look at me practicing “down.” See the determination on my face?

It’s only been a few days since I started training. I have had some ups and downs, but I am ok with that. When I first went into the kennel, I was scared. But, I knew this would be an opportunity for me to conquer fear and doubt. I would like to help you do that as well. I believe we will make a good team. I am going to help you do the things you once enjoyed. I’ve learned some things about PTSD, TBI, and MST. I know I am a dog and don’t always comprehend people things, but I have a big heart and special spirit. I can feel emotions. I am a good listener, too. You can tell me anything. I won’t judge you. I can’t talk, so your secrets are safe! But, even if I had the ability to use words, I wouldn’t tell anyone. My mom recently went through a difficult time, and I would jump into her lap when she was upset. I know it made her feel better. I will do the same for you. Until then, I will be working hard to prepare for the day we become a team. I can’t wait to be your battle buddy.

Sincerely,

Slider

Woof-Worthy Places Of Jax

untitled-9

As part of Slider’s socialization and pre-service dog training, I take him to a ton of places with me around Jacksonville. I’ve been keeping a mental note of which ones have been the most welcoming. Under the ADA, I am not required to get permission to access a public place with Slider. However, it is very nice when business employees and owners enjoy our presence. Believe it or not, there are places that would prefer us to take our business elsewhere. We still go on in, of course. Sometimes we may even get snarky!

On the contraire – there are places out there on the First Coast that think we are awesome. These businesses engage with us and show an authentic interest us. They are very courteous and respectful, which is certainly appreciated. In other words, we basically love these establishments!

Places approved by Slider with a tail-wag!


Woof Gang Bakery

featured-photo

This chic doggy boutique and spa has a great energy. Slider enjoyed exploring all their great product lines, including his very favorite… Merrick. Slider picked out some super fancy bakery items and got a spiffy doughnut toy. The staff was very friendly and even gave us a bunch of samples to take back to Camp K9. We can’t wait to go back to order his birthday cake!


World of Beer

IMG_8527

Meeting my friends here when I have Slider is always a good time. The staff is very hospitable – always offering him treats and fresh water. Slider likes sitting at (or under) the high-top tables because it is super roomy for him.


Bank Of America (Baymeadows Rd Location)

Bank-of-America

This is the first place Slider understood the “cover” command. I was at the bank to make a transaction but also practicing training with Slider. The staff could see that I was trying to work with him, and they were very understanding.


Starbucks (Southside Blvd and Gate Pkwy Locations)

czczx

They have a poster on their community board that says “we welcome service animals!” I have to say… they really do. Slider and I venture into Starbucks a few times a week, so I can get a cinnamon dolce latte, and it is always a positive experience. Slider is a big fan of the cup of whipped cream topped with a dog treat!


Poe’s

1

This environment is so relaxed. With outdoor patio seating, patrons can dine with their dogs. Slider likes the smell of burgers and if I accidentally drop a shoestring french fry onto the floor – his day has improved. The employees here are very outgoing and easy to chat with.


Veteran’s United Brewery

photostudio_1469926596002

This brewery understands the importance of service dogs, because they are all about veterans. Slider has met some of the employees here and has even helped them out with a recent social media post. VU also permits nonservice dogs inside, which is great because Slider can socialize with other dogs while I socialize with other people.


I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these wonderful places for their great service and awareness of service dog etiquette.

20160610_120047

Thanks!!!