A look back to June 2009 when our daughter Hope first received her black lab service dog Tabor.
Today Hope got her new service dog Tabor at CARES, Inc. in Concordia, KS. He is a 17 month old shiny black lab and he seems like a great dog. He’s much smaller than Mowgli but still large enough to be comfortably at Hope’s side when she’s in her wheelchair.
What is most striking to Dan and me (and the trainers) is how much more assertive Hope is with him than she ever was with Mowgli (who the dog we received that unfortunately proved not to be the best fit for Hope). Hope is speaking to Tabor loudly and clearly and he is responding well. And she’s getting very excited when he does what she says. Already that’s a great sign and we are all very pleased with things the first day.
The class is about the same size as our last class — 17 dogs or so. We’ve met families from TX, KS, IL, NE, CA, and three from IA, including a teacher from near our home. We all went out for pizza together tonight with the dogs.
Our second day at CARES went very well. Concordia is a relatively small town but the people are really, really friendly. And our hotel is great and the staff is very comfortable with the 10-12 dogs that are living here this week.
We’ve met so many nice families including TK and his two girls from Texas; another nice couple from Texas with their boy Sam, who is 10 and uses a walker; 5 year old Coleman and his dad from Tennessee; Melanie (she reminds me of an older Hope) and her mom and 16 year old Grace and her mom and grandparents from Missouri. There is also a film crew here from California shooting a documentary. The writer has a service dog here for some refresher training.
Tabor and Hope are continuing to bond and Hope is doing well at giving him commands. We had an outing today with the group at an assisted living center and we went to Walmart to practice public access skills. Then we went to a Mexican restaurant in town. Tabor behaved well and especially liked the ride home in the back seat with Hope…she always has a few remaining tasty morsels from her dinner somewhere on her and I think Tabor may have decided she’s his personal human lollypop. We didn’t scold him too much because it was too cute and Hope loved it. Later this evening we went swimming and Tabor waited patiently under a patio table. Very good for a water-loving lab.
Tomorrow we have class for the day and then we head to the prison on Thursday to visit the inmates who trained the dogs. Friday is graduation. We are excited because my parents are going to come on Friday to attend the graduation. They will be on their way to Colorado. I think they’ll enjoy seeing the dogs and kids.
I’ll keep you posted. Here are a few photos from today. — Karen for all
The CARES trainers said the third day of training is the day the dogs usually test their new masters by ignoring commands or otherwise acting up to see who is the boss between dog and new owner. (Perhaps we blew it that day with Mowgli…who knows?) But today we testedTabor with a trip to the local ER.
Early this morning Hope woke up and was having a hard time breathing. Her breaths and attempts at talking kept halting like the air and words were getting stuck. She has had some problems with wheezing when she has a bad cold so I brought along her inhaler and we used it and it seemed to help. But this was unusual enough and alarming enough to us that we decided to have her checked out. Luckily the county medical center is here in Concordia so within a few minutes she was hooked up to a pulse ox machine and getting another albuterol treatment. We felt pretty comfortable with the care and plan. In the meantime, Tabor never budged from the corner of the exam room where he sat by Dan. By the end of the exam, Hope was doing much better and we eventually made it to dog class. Tabor got through his first real life “situation” without getting flapped whatsoever.
As far as Hope, I talked to her doctor in Iowa and he agreed with the local doctor that it was probably an asthma attack brought on by something new to her either in the air or the hotel. Perhaps you might wonder, could it be the new dog? Possible, but not likely, according to both doctors; Hope has been exposed to dogs many times before and never had a problem. The docs said we’ll know soon enough if that’s the problem. And we hope it isn’t that because Tabor and Hope are getting along so well.
Back to dog training, the discussion today included a review of the commands (the command to have Tabor pick up his leash and give it to Hope is adorable), tips on grooming and a discussion of the ins and outs of taking service dogs to school.
We also reviewed the procedures for our visit tomorrow to the correctional facility where the dogs were trained. I’m not exactly looking forward to returning there (we went with Mowlgi last summer). Going through security is a pretty sobering ordeal but I do appreciate the efforts the inmates in the program put forth to get the dogs trained. They have to work really hard just to earn the right to have a dog and be in the training program. Seeing the kids with the dogs is very rewarding and motivating to them, according to our trainers. Going to the prison is a bit overwhelming because you realize you are entering a different world. There’s a strict security procedure and we have a dress code (no sleeveless tops, shorts, open toed shoes or hooded sweatshirts) and you have to leave everything in your car or a locker except your child (and wheelchair), dog and picture ID. More on that tomorrow.
The rest of today was good. We also had an outing to the Sisters of St. Joseph Nazareth Motherhouse (a base for 125 nuns) here in town. They were having an ice cream social to honor their 125th year so we roamed around to practice with the dogs at a public event. Of course we all enjoyed the ice cream and Tabor remained a good boy. We met a set of twins that had served as nuns for 61 years (one had a Ph D in nursing and one was a research Ph D). They were so cute and had grown up in Concordia but mostly lived apart while active as nuns and now were living at the Motherhouse together as retirees. They enjoyed talking with Hope and Tabor.
Hope seemed a little out of it today after her episode but was better tonight and wanted to eat and swim as usually. She enjoys getting “kisses” from Tabor and gave him one on the head tonight. She is now sleeping peacefully and Dan has Tabor out for a late night stroll and break from the girls. Will close for now.
Here are a few photos from today.
Hope and Tabor are snuggled on their pullout couch and Dan is downstairs for a quick dip in the hot tub. It is very quiet after a busy day. Hope is doing well despite her asthma attack yesterday, although she was rather sleepy today. Thanks for the many notes of concern.
This morning we caravanned to Ellsworth, KS, about 75 miles from Concordia, to visit the maximum-security correctional facility where our dogs were trained. Our group included 17-18 dogs plus the families or individuals that were receiving them and three staff members from CARES, our training center.
We were led through a check point, similar to airport screening, and then placed in small groups in a holding room before being let into a large multipurpose room similar to a school cafeteria. Sitting on one side of the room were 20 male inmates dressed in light blue work shirts and jeans. Several of the men were holding onto the leashes of puppies or young dogs. There were chocolate, yellow and black lab pubs plus a vizsla, a pug and a boxer mix. There were no barks, whines or rambunctious puppies; they each sat quietly at their inmate’s side.
After we all got settled in, a young inmate named Craig stood up and welcomed us. Craig has been in the CARES dog program for three years. Along with two other experienced trainers, he teaches all those coming into the program an 11- week course on grooming, care and basic manners like potty training, heeling, plus the advanced commands like picking up keys or moving under a table. Craig explained that being involved with the program and working with the dogs allowed he and the other inmates to learn three important lessons that most of them had never learned before: teamwork, patience and goal setting. He emphasized the need for those skills before they get out of prison. He was articulate, polished and very sincere.
Dan spoke for our family and Hope introduced Tabor (though the inmates knew him already and we could tell were happy to see him). Dan shared that our hope is that a dog will give Hope something to focus on and a new buddy to interact with, in addition to possibly a helper for small tasks like retrieving books or picking up things she drops. He told them having a dog that added a lot of extra work for us or concern, especially in stressful situations (think asthma attacks in an unfamiliar town), really wasn’t possible for us; we needed a dog that could just go with the flow with us. He thanked them for training Tabor so well.
Hearing the stories from our classmates was very moving, and really today was the first opportunity. One young woman hopes that her dog will help prevent her from getting injured like she has in the past when she drops with no warning due to her seizure disorder; a mom told how her daughter, who is in a wheelchair, is now getting her second service dog after 12 years of almost non-stop companionship with her first. The mom said her daughter gained independence and self confidence from the dog. A dad told how his young son had already said more words since having the dog for just four days. I got choked up when a beautiful 16 year old girl (with mild autism and a seizure disorder), told the inmates she hoped her dog would help her with friends at school.
Someone from the correctional facility said that the CARES dog program clearly helps two groups of people — the recipients of the dogs plus the inmates — and this was obvious by what we heard today. We left feeling very inspired by the program.
We then drove to a nearby town for a group lunch at a restaurant and then on to the mall for our public access testing. We had to show that we could control our dogs in a busy place full of distractions like enticing smells, food, kids and people wanting to come and pet our dogs. Hope and Tabor did fine although Hope sometimes has a hard time remembering to speak loud enough for Tabor to hear her (or animated enough for him to want to) but they are both learning what they need to do.
Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Today was our last day at CARES and we are all exhausted. In addition to instructions for going home and distribution of health and ownership papers, we rehearsed for the graduation ceremony, went to dinner at the local country club with our class and then had the graduation ceremony at the Grand Brown Theatre, a restored opera house in Concordia. A highlight was having my parents join us to see Hope and Tabor graduate. Here are a few photos from today:
Last minute instructions before graduation from CARES.
Dinner with Grandpa and Grandma A.
First family picture.
Ice cream with my folks and their friends the Elliotts from nearby Belleville, KS.
NOTE: We were sad to say goodbye to Tabor on July 7, 2018. He was born January 20, 2008, and was our daughter’s faithful friend and a beloved part of our family for nine years. One of the last outings our family took with Tabor was to return last month to Concordia for the 25th Anniversary Celebration for CARES (shown at the party below).
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