To my chagrin, I am facing 2011 with an all too familiar New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Mind you, this is the same New Year’s resolution that I have proclaimed every year since I became a wheelchair user at age six. As a sedentary individual with a love for food, weight is always an ongoing issue for me.
As the old year ended this weekend and I pondered my New Year’s resolutions, I received a large brown envelope in the mail from my service dog provider agency, Paws With A Cause.
You can imagine my surprise when I perused the official correspondence from PAWS declaring that Whistle must be within HIS target weight or it could jeopardize his recertification process. PAWS requires each service dog team to renew its public access certification every 18-24 months throughout the working life of an assistance dog. Although during each recertification process, I have to report Whistle’s weight, this is the first time that PAWS has declared a target weight policy. This new policy states:
The health, well-being and longevity of your Assistance Dog are dependent on keeping your dog within its target weight. Even a slight increase in weight can dramatically impact the working life of your Assistance Dog! PAWS and your veterinarian will help you monitor this for the lifetime of your dog. Certification and recertification will include verification that your dog is within their approved weight range.
Certification/recertification will be delayed if your dog is 15-20% above its target weight. Certification along with your dog’s harnesses and ID card will be removed if your dog is 20% or more over their target weight.
Whistle’s target weight is 68 pounds. 15% over would be 78 pounds and 20% would be 82 pounds. Yikes, I guess this means that Whistle has a date with the scale at our vet’s office and he will be joining me with a New Year’s weight loss resolution of his own!
I know weight is a serious issue for all beings, including humans and canines. However, this is the first time, as far as I know, that my service dog agency has declared weight management as a policy much less instituted consequences for noncompliance with this policy.
If your dog is more than 15% over its target weight, please seek veterinary counsel in determining a safe weight reduction plan. Monthly weigh-ins must be initialed by a staff member at your veterinary hospital, and the veterinary staff should scan and email or fax this form to PAWS.
Whistle is definitely not the sleek 2-year-old golden/lab that arrived almost 4 years ago. He will be six years old on April 1, 2011 and I have noticed he is not as spry as he was a year ago. He has also gained a few pounds over the years. This new policy will definitely motivate me to be more cognizant of his weight which in turn, will hopefully help me to be more cognizant of my own weight loss issues. Whistle and I both have some serious work to do to reach and maintain our target weight goals in 2011!
I am happy to report that Whistle completed his recertification requirements with flying colors! His Paws With A Cause field trainer, Dani, showed up at our house around 10:00 a.m. She had an array of paperwork that had to be completed. She asked all the usual questions about Whistle’s performance and overall wellness. After all the paperwork was completed, she enlisted my husband, Franz, to assist her by filming Whistle and me as we performed each command.
It was show time and Whistle and I began going through his repertoire of commands. We started with some of the simpler commands. Whistle was asked to perform a sit, down, and stay under Dani’s watchful eye while Franz captured the performance on video camera. We continued through the list of commands and finished with his most difficult command “Get Help”. In this task, Whistle is trained to locate Franz in our home and alert him that I need assistance. Once he alerts Franz, he is trained to return to me.
I don’t know why I was so nervous about Whistle’s performance? I guess I was nervous for Whistle. Or perhaps I was just worried that Whistle would pick up on my nervousness. I didn’t want him to think that I doubted his ability.
People always talk about the bond between a person with a disability and their service dog. It’s true, it is a unique bond that is difficult if not impossible to describe. I love Whistle so unconditionally that I wanted him to be successful. And yet, as I can only imagine how many parents feel, I couldn’t complete the test for him. He had to perform the commands. He was on his own, under the microscope and I was so afraid he might falter.
I have to say, I don’t’ know what I was worried about. I was blown away by Whistle’s professionalism and motivation. He genuinely loved working and it showed. He attacked every command with such precision. How could I ever have doubted his abilities? Whistle and I are together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Did I take his abilities for granted? Am I so used to his performance that I didn’t recognize it?
After Whistle completed all of his tasks in our home, we loaded up into my van and went to the local shopping mall. Once again, Whistle had to demonstrate his ability to perform each of his trained tasks but this time, he had to do it in public.
We arrived at the mall during the busy lunch hour. People were strolling around the mall looking for lunch and weekend bargains. Many people were beginning to stare as Whistle and I, along with Dani and Franz, huddled to discuss each task that Whistle would perform.
Once again, Whistle remained focused and deliberate as I asked him to perform each task. He ignored the onlookers and the food that was strategically placed in his path. Once again he performed flawlessly.
I have been partnered with a canine companion now for over 17 years and I am in awe of their unwavering dedication to us, their determination to help us, and the genuine pleasure they take in being by our side. I have said this before but I really mean it, I am the luckiest girl in the world to have the opportunity to live and work with a canine partner. They are truly amazing and they change the lives of their human partners in ways that can not be expressed or defined.
Whistle is officially recertified as a service dog for two more years. In two years, he and I will go through this exercise once again to demonstrate our ability to work together in public as an official Paws With A Cause service dog team.
After we said our good-byes to Dani, we returned home. Franz and I were so proud of Whistle. He had worked so hard and he had earned his recertification. We resumed our usual routine. I went back to work in my office and Whistle snuggled into his bed under my desk. After a few short minutes, I heard him snoring. He was curled up in a deep sleep, the poor guy was exhausted and I was elated.
Whistle and I are counting down the days until it’s time for our first recertification as a working service dog team. Our recertification will take place this Friday. I know every service dog organization is unique with its own requirements and specifications for its working dog teams. Our agency, Paws With A Cause (PWAC), requires Whistle and I to be recertified as a working dog team every two years.
Our working dog team identification card states that Whistle and I are a certified service dog team for a certain amount of time, usually 1-1/2 to two years. Once that time lapses, we have to get recertified in order to obtain a new identification card. That identification card has proven priceless in alleviating access issues, especially access issues that have arisen in airports. I can’t believe it’s already been two years since our last certification.
What is PWAC’s recertification? Recertification is a process where Whistle and I have to perform our repertoire of commands both at our home and out in public in front of Dani, our PWAC Field Trainer. We usually go to a local shopping mall. He and I will have to go through every command and demonstrate our proficiency performing that command.
Although, Whistle and I work as a unified team every day, it is a little intimidating to be required to perform these tasks under the watchful eyes of his Field Trainer, Dani and her faithful video recorder. Not only does Dani oversee our performance, she also videotapes it and submits the tape to the head trainer back at PWAC Headquarters in Michigan.
If they like what they see, Whistle and I will be recertified for another two years and issued a new identification card. If they don’t like what they see, then they will recommend further training or other activities that we might have to complete. It also gives the trainers an opportunity to see Whistle to make sure he is physically fit and that he is being cared for properly.
I’m feeling pretty confident that Whistle and I will get recertified. However, you never know what might happen, and what if Whistle or I get nervous and make some mistakes? As I said, it is a little daunting and stressful for both of us.
I have been trying to practice some of Whistle’s most difficult tasks just to make sure we are ready for our recertification test. Whistle is a very sensitive dog and he will definitely sense any nervousness that I might be experiencing. As his handler, I have to be confident and trust his ability to perform each required task. We have to trust each other. Wish us luck!