Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Arrived! My Bold Lead Design Harness

I love the smell of new leather.

So this is Spirit's new rig.  We had been using the harness from Bridgeport, but there was too much twist and shifting with it.  Now that Spirit was done growing I decided to get him a big boy harness.

There aren't that many people out there that make mobility harness.  There is Bold Lead Design and Circle E.  It was a tough decision, but I decided to go with the Bold  Lead Design harness and here are a few reasons why:
  • Construction.  Since I needed a harness that could do double duty as a mobility harness (with a stiff handle) and a pulling harness (for walking uphill, stairs, etc) I felt that the BLD fit the description better.
  • I have issues with my left shoulder (probably from too many falls off of horses) and having the straight bar handle was aggravating my shoulder.  With the ergonomic handle that I selected, the handle feels natural in hand and I know that it is distributing weight evenly.
  • Ability to change the handle height.  I know that I am mobility challenged, but there are days that I don't want to wear sneakers and I want to slip on a pair of Fluevogs.  To do that I need to change the elevation of my harness handle.  This allows my arm to stay in the same position and not to have to reach for the handle, or bend my elbow too much.  I also like the ease of laying the handle down.
  • There are a quite a few places to adjust this harness, but once adjusted to the proper areas there are 2 quick release snaps that make it easy on and off. 
Here he is in his new harness (forgive the picture, all I have is my cell phone to take them):

I have him in his spring duds, otherwise all that you would see is a black blob :)

Here is a picture of the ergonomic handle:

We went outside in the backyard for about 15 minutes throwing the ball, running around like an idiot (Spirit not me), crashing through the trees, pit stop to mark a tree, bowing, laying down and jumping.  All the straps stayed where they belonged, he moved well and seemed to enjoy the fit.

We will be taking some walks this week to test it out some more.  Overall it is well made, the hardware is easy to handle and it is easy to put on the dog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

What is the one comment I always hear as we walk by? "Oh, look!! He's wearing shoes!"

Yep, the most amazing thing about my Service Dog, is that he wears shoes.  Not that he keeps me from falling over, alerts, picks things up when I drop them (repeatably sometimes to his annoyance).  When I respond, as I often do, "Well you wear shoes, why shouldn't he?"  I always get this puzzled look.

Dogs have paws, not hooves, and they are delicate.  There is all kinds of ooky stuff on the ground.  De-icer, sticky dirt, glass, etc.  If his feet become injured I have to reassess what I can do without him.  If I were to go to the grocery store I would have to part next to a cart return (with carts in it) so I could have a walker.  I would have to stay close at home because he wouldn't be there to alert and allow me to get into a safe location.  I could not walk through the local mall.  School would be difficult to navigate, and I would have to figure some way to carry my books and not be in pain from carrying them, or off balance because one hand would have to pull them and the other would have to work a cane and not entangle myself (it has happened, and it isn't pretty).

So here is a salute to all of our amazing, shoe wearing dogs!

Some shoes that are used: Muttluks, Ruffwear

Monday, March 21, 2011

Boys back home

So I've been away for about 4 months now and have gone into complete and total George withdrawal.  Today this picture came to me in my e-mail:

Just look at the perfect space between the eyes to kiss.  Look at it!!!  I've been molesting pitties here in Baltimore for the last week or so hoping to have a lovely between the eye kiss.  The spaces have been too tiny or without the right curve.  George's is perfect.

I was also reminded about how cute Jake was when he was a baby:

He was, but the little traitor left when Ryan did his "dog magic" on him.  At least George still likes to cuddle with me (if not sleep with me anymore).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Busy day

So today a friend and I went to the Pet Expo in Chantilly, VA.  Wow! A lot of dogs all in one place.  

I think it is really tough on SDs to work in that kind of environment. Other dogs are peeing everywhere, surprise dog noses in their butts, random people touching them, etc.

So what did I see? Was there anything I had to have? And how did Spirit do?

Today was the second day of busy, but fun, days.  I really should know not to do that.  About 5 minutes from the show Spirit did his car alert (doggie drool on the shoulder), but a just, "Hey mom, prepare for a little one" so I did my first loop through there in a daze.

First off all the bully people.  OMG how cute were all your little block heads!!!!  It could be that I am in sever withdrawal (been without George for 4 months now *sniff* ) or they are just that darned cute!

So we saw the Mutt's Matter Rescue crew and they had Baby J with them. Rescue Ink was there along with Bully PawsThen there was the french bulldogs, english bulldogs, a shepherd groupPuppies everywhere.

I think the hardest working man was the poor guy going around with the mop bucket.  So many dogs scent marking everything.

I ended up getting a soft harness for around the house on bad days.  Looked at some lovely leather goods.

Spirit was in his Spring Suit today:
and got lots of compliments.  Though, as usual, everyone was impressed that he wore shoes.
Things I expected to find and didn't:
  • Reasonably priced martingale collars.  Clara's Collars has them on her website, but didn't bring any because she prefers to make them custom.  I do like her material selections so will probably pick a few up as Christmas gifts.
  • Dog treat holder.  I am looking for one that is either a spring or has magnetic closure.  I cannot work the ones in the drawstring pouches.  My dexterity is just not up to it.
  • 6 - in - 1 leashes.  I was looking to pick one up for my brother.  The only place that had them was the lovely leather store, but I didn't want to spend $50 on a leash.  Sorry Steve, I don't love you that much today!
He did well, though was very happy to get into Sara's car and crash on the way home.  He put up with random dogs being rude, tight aisles, me trying things on (and off) him.  He did tons of bracing work, great counterbalance and alerted me to both fatigue spells (wouldn't do pick up work, but that could be when he tried to pick something up, so other dog would put his nose up Spirit's butt and goose him).  He came home and had a double bowl of food and drank lots of water then cuddled on the couch while I read for a bit.

That's it for today folks.  I am tired and Spirit is pre-heating my bed for sleepy time, so until later. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

A little quick note

I have been thinking (and looking) for years for a photographer who captures the true essence of an animal and captures that in film.  I have finally found her, but she is so far away.  I wonder if she would like a weekend trip to Seattle?

Sara Riddle, you are amazing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The cost of a Service Dog - once in your home

I know that I just talked about Spirit being a cheap date, which he is.  But someone I know today talked about how expensive it was to have a pet.  While I agree the price can run high, a Service Dog is a completely different animal.  But I thought I would make a run down of expenses for those of you who might be thinking about a dog to assist with your disability.
  • Food:  This is the fuel that your dog runs on.  Don't  cheap out on this.  Not only will better dog food mean that there will be less poo, it typically means no stinky farts, better teeth, and a healthier more stable dog.  My main choice to feed is Evo, with Taste of the Wild as my second choice.  Cost per month to feed $85
  • Shampoo:  You will be bathing your dog more often than the typical owner will.  Our dogs MUST be clean and presentable as much as the weather allows.  This means either a shower head in your bathroom and a Hair Dryer ($99.99) or use the facilities at your local self service dog wash, typically $15 a session.  
  • Grooming - the shedding breeds:  If you have a dog that sheds you have to keep the shedding to a minimum.  This can be done with bathing and using a force air blower along with daily grooming.  My favorite shedding rakes are by Pawz Brothers.  Different blade widths allow for pulling out the undercoat.  My favorite number is the 13 ($19.99).
  • Grooming - non-shedding breeds:  The poodle is the most typical non-shedding dog that is used for Service Dog work.  These dogs do not have to be kept in a "Poodle Cut" but can be done in a "Sport Clip" which is one equal trim.  This is easy to do with blade guards ($15.99 on sale) and is much easier than brushing out a full coated poodle every day (or multiple times).  A set of Oster A5 Clippers new are about $120, though you can find them on sale or used from $50.00 on up.
  • Gear - There is SOOO much gear out there, but I will go by what I need for my mobility dog:
    • Leads: The lead that so many of us use and love is the Police Lead .  This lead is double headed and has many adjustable points on it.  You can use it going across your chest as a 4' lead or shorten it to a 30" lead.  It can be wrapped around your waist, or doubled up to a 3' lead.  It is versicle and comes in many price points.  Starting price can be as low at $18.
    • Collars: there are so many to have, depending on what theory you prescribe to.  Here is what I was taught and believe.
      • A flat collar, when used on a dog that pulls can do damage to their trachea.  I do not believe in head halters because they put specific pressure on very delicate nerves on the surface of a dogs face.  Slip collars can also create damage because they are typically narrow and can be pulled against
      • For training purposes I like a Prong Collar ($40-$90).  Yes I know they look horrible, like rows of teeth.  If used wrong, they are a bad tool.  If used correctly they are wonderful.  They give the dog instant feed back, the pressure is reminiscent of a mother correcting a child, they are not near any major nerves and if placed & fitted properly they in no way endanger a dog's trachea.  These are for training purposes only and are taken off when not in use.  
      • For a daily use collar I like a 2" wide Martingale collar.  This is wide enough to distribute force with the squeeze action versus a constricting action of a slip collar or the flat, no information flat collar.  Price about $20
      • And just because they are pretty and I WANT one, here is a beautiful leather collar by Ella's Leads.
    • Harness:  There is a huge debate going on about what is an appropriate mobility harness for a dog.  There aren't many out there on the market, but I will show you the leading three out there with a rigid handle.
      • Bridgeport:  This is your economy harness.  It's Y front is adjustable on both sides, the rear cinch provides some stability.  The downside is that the handle does not fold down, causing problems when trying to fit your dog into tight spaces.  This harness runs from about $75 - $81.
      • Circle E: This is a light mobility harness made for light stability purposes and not for a handler that needs mid to heavy pulling work from their dog.  It is padded with real sheepskin and has a Y based front.  It is created using leather and orthopedic M2 straps; it is created using custom measurements from your own dog.  The handle can fold down but is not adjustable.  Price $350
      • Bold Lead Design:  This design has a straight front breast collar and can be used as a mobility assist with an adjustable handle or can be used to assist with wheel chair pulling.  This one is also custom made according to your dog's measurements.  With handle it is $395, without it is $285
    • Shoes:  Yes our dogs need shoes.  They travel on surfaces that might get too hot, or too cold.  They are in danger of broken glass, sharp stones or chemicals.  Without your dog's feet, many of us could not go out as easily as we do.  I like two types. there are the MuttLuks for winter and the RuffWear for summer.  Like us, the snow and ice can hurt their feet, just as too hot pavement can burn them.  Shoes start at around $60 a set
    • Packs and vests: This depends on the specific user.  Since I have a handled harness I make my own capes to go over the top.  They are vinyl and are clearly labeled with large letters "Service Dog" "Do Not Pet".  There are many places on line that sell smaller vests and patches.  This can range anywhere from $5 a patch to saddle bags over $80.

So the costs do add up.  Some of them you can deduct as a medical deduction (since Service Dogs are considered "durable medical equipment") So keep all of your receipts, you might need them for next tax time!

On a fun note, today we had an employee of Luna Flooring come to bid out a job here at my mother's house.  He left us with a little present that Spirit now loves.  His Luna Bear! (those living here hope that he breaks the little box inside with the company jingle; otherwise little Miss Luna will be going under the knife soon).

Total Price on Gear - runs about $775.  Having your dog do your laundry? Priceless.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Dog & Human Show

As part of a Service Dog team you are no longer invisible.  You are walking into a store with a DOG!! People will stop and stare, they will point, they will muse loudly to themselves, they will want pictures and they will ask lots, and lots and lots of questions when you only wanted to run in for some milk.

As we all start, many of us smile and are so happy that our dogs have gotten us out of the house and in the world of humans that we are happy to talk and inform the public.  As the months have gone on, I've realized that I just don't have that much time in my day.  The ones I will stop and talk to are the children.

So, during the first week of my stay in Baltimore, I had to go fill a prescription at Walmart.  While standing outside waiting to be picked up a group of young men passed in front of us, then they all yelled and jumped back.  (because a 30" black standard poodle is invisible until you are 6" away from him) The age range was about 6 to 14.  I got "does he bite?" question, the "what are you doing here question" and we talked for a little bit.  The older two asking questions and being very polite about it.  As my brother's car was pulling up they asked did I buy him.  I told them yes and then the little one looked up at me with wide open eyes "Walmart sells them!?!"

That was super cute.  Then my brother brought me to Wagmans (which is an awesome store!) and we ran into a woman with her daughter who was in a scooter.  They were so excited, they had recently found out that a dog had been selected for them and he had about 4 months left of training until he would be placed.  Her daughter was about 11 yrs old and I believe CP (cerebral palsy) along with other issues.  She had wanted a Standard Poodle (which Spirit is) and we talked about how the people with her program would pick out the best dog for her and that she will end up loving it so much that it won't matter the breed.

I've also been hanging out with my new friend Sara (hi!!!) and she isn't as forthcoming as I am but it is interesting to watch how she calmly says that "he is working" or "not today" and keeps on going.  I think I'm going to have to take a page from her book, because sometimes,  I'm just out to get milk (and Oreos).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My dog is such a cheap date

Well, it's been awhile and I was going to write about some of the fun people we bump into, but (like in most of my life) Spirit has decided the topic of tonight.

As a SD user, we have tons of expenses for our dogs, from gear to food we try to get the best for them.  This allows them to be health, work well and keep us sane and going.  That being said, Spirit is a cheap date.

He doesn't ask for much and is quite self entertaining (a lot like my son).  If he doesn't have a toy, he will invent something.  Now there are lots of toys out on the market to "encourage dogs to learn".  These "toys" test your dog's memory, cause and effect skills and problem solving abilities.

Then there are the stuffed toys: You can see what this dog is saying with his eyes, "Free treats for LIFE is not worth having this thing around my neck".  This poor puppy probably has nightmares about orangutans chasing him.  The new craze is the "stuffing free" "semi-stuffed" dog toys. Isn't that half the fun for most dogs?  The disemboweling, stuffing strewn around the house, the elusive squeaker finally removed?

So, wanting to get Spirit a present for being such a good boy, we ventured out to the pet store.  He walked past them, nudged a few of them and looked at me to say "What? None of these work for me".  So off we went to Ross (I needed a new pair of jeans).

There we passed the pet department as we left the changing room.  They had some non-stuffed toys for $6.  There was a Squirrel and a Skunk.  Spirit rolled his eyes up to me and say "Really? Seriously mom I don't need a new toy.  I'm too busy rounding up dirty laundry to take to the basement".  He then looked at the bottom shelf and fell in love (yes there were little hearts in his eyes, I saw them) and he gently plucked this toy off of it's peg.

What did he get? A $2.50 ducky.  Very yellow, just a firm tube really.  He carried it all the way to the front counter, then through the parking lot into the car, from the car, up the steps into the house (he had to put it down for a moment while he got naked) and up on the couch.  Then I realized something horrible.  It not only squeaked it "quacked".

Have you ever heard the Penguin from Batman? It was very disturbing until Spirit provided a lobotomy via crushing it's head repeatedly, thus killing the evil quack.  It is currently very wet and in between his paws right now, with his nose sitting on top of it, making sure it doesn't run away.