The Influence of Bacon

February 28, 2010 · Posted in People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · 5 Comments 
Marcie Davis accepting Women of Influence award

Recently, I was honored as a “Women of Influence” by the New Mexico Business Weekly. Over 550 people attended the sold-out luncheon that honored 30 women for their contributions to New Mexico’s economy and community.

During the luncheon, each honoree was to take the stage, share five things about herself that no one knew, and exit the stage for a photo with two prominent female business leaders.

Several of my dearest friends and clients attended the luncheon with me. We dined on a chef salad and other assorted treats. As a woman with a disability, I have limited balance, and the thought of eating a chef salad while wearing a business suit and anticipating my turn on stage, was a little nerve racking.

As I lifted the fork to my mouth, bits of bacon immediately fell from the fork and came to rest down my shirt. As I looked around at the crowded room, I dared not to try and retrieve it. I thought I would just live with it and remove it once we were loaded safely in my van for the drive home.

Whistle was tucked nicely under the table and my husband, Franz, and I visited with the attendees and cheered as each honoree took the stage for her five minutes of recognition. Before I knew it, it was my turn. As the hostess, local award-winning journalist Augusta Meyers, called my name and read my bio, Whistle and I made our way to the stage.

Augusta greeted me on the accessible stage and I boldly shared five things about myself that weren’t too embarrassing, but would hopefully give the audience a glimpse into who I am as a person. As I left the stage, Whistle and I made our way to the foot of the ramp where the two prominent community leaders presented me with various swag including a bottle of wine, flowers and a gift certificate to a local jewelry store. I felt like a runner-up to Ms. America.

Trying to juggle all this stuff in a wheelchair, things were starting to get a little precarious. I was trying to hold the plaque, the flowers, a bottle of wine, and the other gift items, when I caught a twinkle in Whistle’s eye.

Lo and behold, as I was positioning my wheelchair for the photo, Whistle had caught the scent of bacon. It was nothing short of the television commercial where the dog is chanting, “bacon, bacon, bacon”.

Whistle was obsessed with getting the bacon that was down my shirt. He jumped in my lap and proceeded to stick his nose down my shirt. I was mortified as I could hear the two women saying, “Oh, how sweet. He loves you so much.” And I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? He loves bacon!”

As the photographer tried to get Whistle to look toward the camera for the photo, Whistle was fixated on my chest. He was staring right at my chest with a look of sheer determination.

I just chuckled to myself and told the photographer not to worry and to just get the best shot he could. As Whistle and I made it back to our assigned table, I had to laugh at the situation. When you’re at your zenith, there’s nothing like a dog to give you a lesson in humility and reality.

The next day, I received an email from the New Mexico Business Weekly announcing the honorees and celebrating the event. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a photo of me with the two community leaders and Whistle is positioned next to me staring intensely at my chest. I had to chuckle once again.

I was so honored to be recognized as a “Woman of Influence” among my peers. And, I believe I am the luckiest girl in the world to have a service dog. Whistle provides me with the independence to get out into the world alone and he also makes each day an adventure and a lesson in what’s really important!

A Visit to the Emergency Vet Clinic

February 10, 2010 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare, Service Dogs · Comment 
Saturday Evening Post

We woke up this past Sunday as usual and followed our morning routine. Morgan and Whistle went out in the back yard for their usual bathroom time. However when they returned, Franz noticed Morgan looked a little odd. He was holding his body in an unusual way that seemed to tell us he was in pain.

We tried to assess Morgan’s condition and decided this was strange enough behavior that warranted a trip to the emergency vet. After arriving at the emergency vet, the receptionist greeted us and immediately began to triage Morgan. He was whisked back into the back for further assessment while we completed the necessary paperwork.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we have been to this emergency vet clinic several times and they had all of our information and they knew Morgan from previous visits. After a quick triage, they determined that Morgan was not in any immediate danger and they placed us in an examination room to await the vet.

The vet came in and examined Morgan. Morgan is almost 12 and he has a host of medical issues including chronic intestinal disease. As the vet examined Morgan’s body, he turned Morgan’s head from side to side. Morgan winced and then let out a cry.

The vet recommended getting some x-rays of Morgan’s neck and abdomen based on his medical history. After these tests were completed, Morgan was returned to us with some medication to help ease his neck pain. The vet recommended having a radiologist to review the x-rays just to be safe and we were able to return home.

Thank goodness this emergency clinic is open on nights and weekends. We were so appreciative of the excellent and immediate care that Morgan was able to receive. This care was more costly that our regular vet but for us, it was worth every cent to know that nothing more serious was happening to Morgan.

After returning home and breathing a sigh of relief that Morgan’s episode wasn’t more serious. I started thinking about what could I have done differently that would have helped me in this time of crisis?

  1. I keep a file folder prepared and readily available that houses Morgan and Whistle’s most recent medical information including bloodwork, shots, list of medications and their regular vet’s contact information.
  2. Knowing where the emergency vet is located and paying them a visit when your service dog isn’t in crisis and in need of their services is a good idea. Fortunately, I was very familiar with the emergency vet clinic and they are familiar with me. I also keep their business card posted on my refrigerator where I can easily find it.
  3. Having advanced knowledge of how you can pay for such medical services in advance is helpful or having a back-up plan of who you could call for financial assistance. Emergency vet care can be costly. And for me, I keep one credit card available that I know I can use for such emergency situations.
  4. As a person with a disability, it can be hard for me to get dressed quickly in such an emergency situation. I identify a couple of outfits that are easy for me to put on in case I am dressing in the middle of the night or early in the morning which includes a hat so that I don’t worry about my hair. I also try to make sure that I keep my van with enough gas to get me to my vet or the emergency vet. Likewise, I try to make sure my cell phone is charged in case I need to let the emergency vet know I am on my way and require assistance. I used that when Morgan’s stomach turned a couple of years ago and it meant the difference between life and death when we arrived at the emergency vet clinic.
  5. I also keep an extra leash and blanket in my van just in case I am in a hurry and forget their leash or need a blanket for someone to carry my dog into the clinic.

When we are in a crisis situation, it can be difficult to think clearly and function normally. These are a few tips that I rely on and will continue to practice. I hope these tips will help you if you ever find yourself in need of an emergency vet.

Assistance Dogs of the West – Pioneers in Service Dog Training Programs

February 8, 2010 · Posted in Puppyraisers, Service Dogs, Training · 1 Comment 
puppy

Recently I got to visit with Carolyn Clark Beedle, Executive Director of Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW), on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. Carolyn stopped by to talk about the work she and her staff and volunteers are accomplishing at ADW in Santa Fe, NM.

ADW has been around since 1995 and they provide trained service dogs to people with disabilities in order to increase self-reliance and independence. They are relatively a small to medium size assistance dog agency that places about 20 dogs a year to clients in New Mexico and other parts of the country.

One of the things I enjoyed most during our visit was learning about ADW’s innovative educational and vocational programs. These programs engage elementary, middle and high school students at young as 8, at-risk teenagers, juvenile detainees, and youth and adult student trainers with developmental and physical disabilities.

ADW is unique in working with these populations to become student trainers. Since 1996, ADW trainers have worked with students at Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other Northern New Mexico schools and agencies to deliver the ADW School Assistance Dog Program curricula. These innovative programs are teaching participating youth and adults the importance of patience and leadership, how to give and receive love, the necessity for emotional self-control, and the value of encouragement. As students build a relationship with their assistance dog, students also gain an understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities. They also learn about generosity and sacrifice when they present the assistance dog they have trained to the client.

The genius of these programs is that the student participants pay a program fee to enroll in these classes. However, ADW does offer some scholarships and financial assistance for those who want to participate but can not pay the fees. ADW generates critical income and the student participants gain valuable social and personal skills. It is a win/win situation for everyone involved.

I was also encouraged by ADW’s Self Training Program where clients can bring in their own dogs for evaluation and training. A client’s potential service dog (of any breed) is assessed for temperament and “interest” in doing the work. If the dog and client are accepted into the program, for a fee, they can work with ADW trainers for a minimum of 40 weeks. Graduates of the ADW Self Training leave the program with Public Access Certification and an identified set of skills to support each individual client.

Hats off to Carolyn and her team of staff and volunteers for the innovative work they are doing to train and place assistance dogs with individuals with various types of disabilities!

Rescue Dog Helps Kids Save Themselves and Father from House Fire

February 6, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs · Comment 
Dayna Sparkles and Spanner

Today I had the privilege of interviewing Firefight Dayna Hilton and her fire safety Dalmatian dog, Sparkles, on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. It was so great to experience Firefighter Dayna’s passion for working with Sparkles to educate children and their caregivers throughout the United States about fire safety.

Firefighter Dayna has created some really cool interactive web sites and (www.firefighterdayna.com and www.sparklesthefiresafetydog.com) that engage children, parents and teachers to learn about fire safety with Sparkles’ guidance. I never cease to be amazed by all of the ways that animals enhance our lives. Listening to Firefighter Dayna talk about Sparkles and how they have worked to change people’s perceptions and increased their knowledge about fire safety is just one more reminder.

Dayna shared with us about one family in particular whose child participated in one of her and Sparkles fire safety presentations in Oklahoma. The child listened to Dayna share fire safety messages in the program and then watched Sparkles reinforce how to crawl low under smoke.

Little did they know that the young girl that witnessed Sparkles’ demonstration would have to put those newly acquired skills to use when she was awakened early one morning by the smell of smoke. Thankfully, she knew what to do and was able to help her father get out to safety. Their home was completely engulfed in flames but fortunately, because of Sparkles and Firefighter Dayna’s fire safety presentation, they knew what to do and they were all saved.

I hope you get a chance to listen in to Firefighter Dayna’s interview so that you can hear another story of how dogs have given of selflessly of their talents and love to once again, serve us. It always makes me smile when I think of our canine partners and the unwavering devotion and love that they so freely shower upon us every day. Thank you Firefighter Dayna and Sparkles for all the wonderful work you are doing together!

Dog Food: What’s the Best Canine Diet Choice?

February 4, 2010 · Posted in Service Dogs · 3 Comments 
doggie chef

Nutrition is such an important issue for us and our dogs. I have been reading Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live and as I contemplate my own dietary choices, I can’t help but be concerned with Whistle’s diet. Whistle has been eating the same commercial, traditional dog food that he’s eaten his whole life. And although I don’t think it’s the worst food in the world, I also don’t think it is necessarily the best food that he should be eating.

As I’ve shared before, I’ve tried all kinds of diets with my retired service dog, Morgan. But due to his severe allergies, the only food he has been able to tolerate is a prescriptive rabbit and potato dry food. I can also give him potatoes as treats. He gets low salt potato chips, French fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, etc. And, boy does he love them.

Whistle, on the other hand, has not exhibited any dietary restrictions. But Whistle will be turning five on April 1. From my experiences, age five has always been a big turning point for my service dogs. It’s when they have really reached their peaks as adult dogs. And, it is after age five that they started developing some minor health concerns.

I want to be as proactive and preventative as I possibly can for Whistle’s health. And I feel the first step toward preventive health care is his diet.

There are so many foods out there that claim to be healthy and/or organic but I am so nervous about switching his food. I am afraid he will develop digestive issues like my previous service dogs.

I guess I just need to study about the nutrients that Whistle requires to be a healthy canine. Years ago I took Morgan to a holistic vet who put him on a raw diet. Although he loved the food, I honestly felt like it was not a good choice for him. His allergies escalated and his digestive problems seemed to worsen.

Every time I purchase another bag of Whistle’s traditional dog food, I tell myself, “This is the last bag I am buying because I am going to change his diet.” Whistle and I have been together for three years now and I am sorry to say, he’s still on that same food!

I recently bought another bag of that dog food and this time, I bought an even larger bag. I consciously purchased the larger bag and I said to myself, “I am getting the larger bag because it will give me a few more weeks to figure out Whistle’s new diet strategy.”

Help! I would love to hear what you are feeding your dog and how you switched his or her diet in the past. Whistle and I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and/or suggestions!