Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Peter Piper....

A few of the Danville Therapy Dog group (Therapy Dogs Inc) dressed in their Christmas regalia. L to R:  Piper, Megan, Bonnie, Maggie and Bolt. Piper is not a registered therapy dog, he just tags along for outings.

As well as raising a puppy for St. Francis Service Dogs, I am also heavily involved in therapy dog work. It started about two years ago when I heard about a nearby therapy dog group that met on Tuesday mornings at nursing/assisted living homes for a hour. Each Tuesday of the month the group, consisting of between 6 and 10 therapy dog teams, went to a different facility. At that time I took my guide puppy, Emmy, and discovered that I enjoyed this work very much, besides its providing a great opportunity for my puppy to train around a variety of well-behaved, "working" dogs, including Irish Setters, dachshunds, Belgian sheepdogs and Pomeranians.

Since then I have taken each of my guide/service pups on therapy dog outings and find that some are natural-born therapy dogs - and some are not. My sweet, loveable guide pup, Emmy, enjoyed the excursions down rabbit-warren hallways and into rooms, but seemed to just be humoring me when it came to interacting with the residents. She would obediently sit, stiffly set her head in their lap in an obligatory fashion, then give me a sideways look as if to say, "Ok, I put my head here. She petted me. Now...can we go?"

In contrast, my over-the-top guide puppy, CeCe, who had such a difficult time with self-control when I took over her raising at the age of 9 months, turned out to be a natural at therapy dog work. Excited about everything, she seemed to intrinsically empathize with the nursing home and rehab residents resting in wheelchairs and beds. Her body would calm and her head sink with a sigh into their laps. Lifting her eyes to gaze up softly, she seemed to be saying "As long as you want me to stay, I will." What! My jaw dropped the first time I saw her do this. Dogs will amaze you.

Piper's "Good Meter" is in the green zone!
Since Piper was a little smidge he has been coming with me, off and on, to Tuesday therapy dogs. Initially his visits consisted of just five minutes of greeting a few therapy dog teams in the lobby. Later as Piper grew, we would walk partway down the main hall, say hello once or twice, then leave. As he got older I had to keep a close eye on what I call his Good Meter. I imagine a meter sticking out of Piper, with a needle and gauge that goes from green (Good Boy) to red (Caution:  Time to Go Now). When he was younger the green area was very narrow indeed, and the needle could quickly rise into the red "Time to Go Now" zone. We would take our cue and head for the exit. Now at 8.5 months, Piper stays in the green Good Boy zone the full 50 minutes or so, walking many halls, navigating tight spaces between tables, beds and chairs in rooms, and passing other therapy dog teams in close quarters. He really enjoys these times in the facilities. However when our visit is done and we gather at a lunch place, an exhausted Piper is happy to sack out under the table.

Now I need to qualify that Piper is NOT a perfect gentleman when he first comes in the facility door. He is Happy! Excited! Ready for Action! Yeah! It is my job to get all that good enthusiasm under control, so we can safely and comfortably interact with the residents and staff alike. So the first few people-visits we hang back. If a person wants to see Piper, then Piper sits politely a few feet away and does some obedience. Amid exclamations of awe and wonder he gets a cookie (he likes that part). When I feel the edge is being worn off his excitement, he moves in closer to a person's side, while I make sure to have my hand under his collar. Thus steadying Piper, the person can then pet for a minute or so. Several greeting sessions later, mixed with obedience, and hall and room navigation, Piper is now at the point where I can relax control a little. He is getting the idea this is all about "easy does it" for which you get lots of attention and treats.

I enjoy therapy dog work on many levels. It is fun and
challenging to work Piper safely in a facility where we are there for the express purpose of brightening someone's day. Also occasionally I find myself caught in a Kodak moment that can oscillate between poignancy and hilarity, as I observe the unique chemical magic between my dog and a strange person. One such moment was this Tuesday.

Piper and I were making the rounds through the home's large exercise room, when I noticed a lady slumped over in her wheelchair. Having just finished her workout, she was waiting to be wheeled back to her room. The woman looked completely done in, her body askew, head down on her chest, eyes closed. Her therapist stepped behind her and straightened her up in her chair. When she opened her eyes, I asked if she'd like to say hello to the dog. She weakly nodded, yes.

Piper came over and sat next to her, his head on a level with her resting arm. She slowly slid her hand over and stroked the top of his head and weakly asked, "What's his name?" I told her his name was Piper, as in Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. She kept stroking him, and then she started the tongue twister:  "Peter Piper..." Yes, I said, that's right, so you know it too. She kept going, very slowly, "...picked a peck of pickled peppers."

As we talked she told me she had a stroke three months ago, back in September. She said it happened in her yard and there was nobody there but the neighbor's dog, whom she often fed biscuits. The dog then alerted people to her plight, which she thinks may have saved her life. As she says this in a low voice she keeps stroking Piper's head and fingering his ears. Piper stayed very still. Before saying goodbye, together we finish the tongue twister:  "Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?" As she showed me her name on her bracelet, asking Piper and I to visit again, I noticed her voice was much stronger, her eyes were bright, she smiled.

First Christmas!
The therapist wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, winked at Piper and I, and wheeled her away. A moment in time. Mr. Piper, I hope you have many, many more of these moments where you charge the batteries of someone who needs you. At 8 months old, you haven't even had your first Christmas or birthday. You have no idea how important someday you could be to someone. You are just beginning your lifelong work. Yet, Peter Piper, Tuesday was an auspicious beginning.

Piper with his dog family:  Hazel (L) and Wrangell (R)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Twas the Eve of Thanksgiving

Twas the Eve of Thanksgiving

Twas the Eve of Thanksgiving
when I saw with much dread,
I had no more pie filling
and was all out of bread.

So I called to my pup
and we sprang to the car,
Heading off to Food Lion.
It was not very far.

Why this won't take long,
with my service pup...but
the day before Thanksgiving?
Was I crazy or what?

Dash away, with pup Dorian
My stocks to supply.
Back home we will be
In the wink of an eye. 

First stop is the bread aisle.
Stocking shelves by the way,
was a man - would you know,
he had something to say?

"Your dog looks so spoiled!"
"Just look at him lay
Sprawled there on the floor.
What a silly display."

As I'm mulling this over 
My mind in a fog,
He asks if I brought in
My own personal guard dog.

"Of course," I think dryly,
"grocer stores scare me silly.
All shoppers should bring one!"
(Ah no - not really).

Dash away, dash away
come Dorian, away!
Escape from this madness,
Almost Thanksgiving Day!

Over by produce,
Hover two ladies who spy
my approach with the puppy
And one gives a cold eye.

"Dogs should not be
in this store," she pronounces.
As a cat on a bird
she stalks and she pounces.

"These pups have a purpose."
I attempt to explain.
Yet to her the best dog
is staked out on a chain.

Dash away, dash away,
To the aisle with the cream,
If we don't escape soon,
I surely will scream.

"Mommy, a dog!"
Shrieks a toddler in tow. 
"Hush, baby!" says Mom. 
In a voice not too low.

"The poor lady can't see
 And the dog is to help."
"Can't she see me read labels?"
I am wanting to yelp.

Dash away, my young Dorian,
I say with a croon,
Our time at Food Lion
Will end very soon.

Yes, soon we'll be home,
and tomorrow we'll pray,
and thank God for His blessings,
this Thanksgiving Day.

For so much we are thankful,
Raising puppies is one.
Interesting, challenging,
NEVER dull...mostly fun!

***This poem is based on an actual experience I had last Thanksgiving Eve with my guide pup in training, Dorian, 10.5 months old at the time, when we did some last-minute grocery shopping. Of course as a puppy raiser, encounters like these can happen often, especially when you least expect them. It happened last Thanksgiving Eve we had all these encounters in a 20-minute period. Now, a year later, I can still vividly remember, and laugh about it!

P.S. I also make sure not to shop that day.

Current service pup in training Piper at 7 months.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Fine Match

Dorian and Carlene are now a fine twosome and I couldn't be happier. But let me back up, everything has been a whirlwind lately....

Dorian on a billboard. Really!

About three weeks ago, furiously packing for my visit to see Dad in California, I get The Call. You raisers know the one. My Area Coordinator, Joyce, announces the news Dorian has been matched! I am almost speechless, partly because my brain is stuck on a checklist track thinking about all the things I need to take to California:  dog treats (check), Piper's rabies certificate (check), 3-day supply dog food (check, check, check). So it is difficult to switch tracks and I am not prepared.

And yes, I admit, this news grieves me a little. This is surprising, since it is the goal all puppy raisers diligently strive towards, and then wait expectantly for word on. I ask myself, what could be better than learning your puppy has become a guide dog? Though my intellect knows this, my heart sings out the tiniest swan song, "Oh Dorian, this is really good-bye," that is drowned out in the realities of preparation for the days ahead.

Dorian at five months.

When your puppy is matched, the raiser and immediate family members are invited to Southeastern Guide Dogs for Puppy Raiser Day, where you and several fellow raisers have the opportunity to meet their pups' new partners, watch them work a route together, visit, take pictures and have brunch. It is a wonderful, heady morning full of laughter and tears. Yet you are given only two week's notice, so it's a mad scramble to plan the logistics of a 750-mile trip to Florida.

Still surprised over the news, Piper and I spend the next ten days in California enjoying my Dad. Three days after our return to Virginia, Sam and I (and Piper) make the 14-hour drive to Florida for Puppy Raiser Day in the '96 Volvo station wagon.

At Puppy Raiser Day several moments stand out sharply. As we watch from a distance, Dorian appears around the side of the building, guiding Carlene. He stops at the road crossing and lifts his head. Listening, searching, sniffing for a new disturbance, looking for the source, Dorian is alert. He spots our group of raisers, half-hidden behind the foliage, trying to be quiet and not disturb the teams' concentration. I am so proud of him, I could bust. Maybe he is just curious but I sense, at least in part, he is looking around and taking stock for Carlene's welfare. With Carlene's prompting Dorian moves on at a steady pace.

Trainer Joe, Carlene and Dorian doing a route.

Dorian stops at another curb. Ridiculous as it sounds, his stop holds great significance. My puppy stopped at the curb! Goofy, silly Dorian, my clog - part clown, part dog, dubbed my Peter Pan Puppy because I would ask myself a thousand times, "Will he EVER grow up?" Now he is stopping at a curb for someone who needs his eyes. Irrepressible silliness is replaced with solid, focused responsibility. And she trusts him to keep her safe. It is a powerful, beautiful thing.

Later Carlene, Dorian, Sam and I have a great visit together on a bench under the trees. Dorian remembered us immediately, which I knew he would. Dogs do not forget. I love Carlene's energy, enthusiasm and sense of humor. She is so right for Dorian, who exemplifies these traits as well. And I like the way she brags on him proudly, yet later, sensing him wiggling after an acorn, insists he mind her. Blind from birth, she has had several guides over her lifetime. I like that she is experienced, which complements Dorian's tendency to be a tad headstrong. We discover she lives with her adult son, who "has a way with animals", and a pug named Max. Again I am pleased - Dorian will be a part of a household. Southeastern Guide Dogs has done a fine job of training and a fine job of matchmaking.

We swap stories, laugh and talk about our favorite subject, Dorian, of course! Carlene has decided to keep the long version of his name - Dorian, rather than Dori. Although the sponsor named him after Marine sergeant Dorian _____ who was wounded in Afghanistan, the sponsor asked the name be shortened to Dori. As his puppy raiser, I preferred the more masculine-sounding Dorian, and Carlene feels the same.

Too soon the time is up and we say our good-byes. Dorian will be flying home next week with Carlene to Rochester, New York. She was worried about whether he would like snow, which unlike Virginia, comes in feet, not inches. I assured her that Dorian as a puppy loved playing in the snow. Also his two plane trips with me should hold him in good stead guiding her home. We hug a long moment, then away they walk. Together.

Dorian, the day you left my care I prayed you would fly to new heights. Now I am filled with gratitude and the absolute certainty you have! May God bless you and keep you, both you and your fine new partner, Carlene.

We visit Pat Allen, Tom and her guide Dave, who we raised in 2008-2009. Dave is 5 now, and he and Pat work as a docent team at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, giving art tours. She says their tour is one of the most popular at the museum.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Westward Ho! Piper on US Airways Flight 461

Part II - Piper on US Airways Flight 461

Kung Fu Panda and the yawning chasm.
Continuing with the story started in Part I of Westward Ho, Piper and I walk down the jetway from the gate to the airplane. When we get to the plane entrance however, Piper stops cold. Where the tunnel and the plane door meet there is an obvious threshold, with a 1 to 2-inch gap where daylight and fresh air leak thru, and a change in elevation of maybe an inch. To Piper there is something highly suspicious about all this. I imagine a warning sound going off in his brain:  "Ah-oo-ga - proceed with extreme caution!" I step over the threshold, keeping his leash slack. Piper momentarily sniffs the ground then summoning his courage, he soars Kung Fu Panda-style over the yawning chasm, landing on the hard floor of the plane and sliding up to the flight attendant, interrupting her cheery "Welcome aboard!" in mid-sentence. The momentum of his entrance carries him, skittering, to the front of first class, where several passengers raise their heads. Acting nonchalant, I step in front of Piper and lead him down the aisle, past the first class section to Seat 5A in steerage (I mean regular class).

Seat 5A is a bulkhead window seat that US Airways thoughtfully assigned me when I first made the reservation and told them I was traveling with a service dog in training. Way to go US Airways! My new neighbor in the middle seat immediately introduces himself as Steve and asks if he can help me. You know, I have flown close to 30 times with the dogs in training and have always sat next to a friendly or neutral person. What are the odds of that? Steve kindly takes my pack and stashes it for me while I introduce Piper to his new surroundings:  a 2-foot by 2-foot square area at my feet. Piper is still learning how to lay quietly at my feet for extended periods of time, so I know a 5-hour flight in a small space is going to be a challenge for him. But I am confident he can do it!

He lays down, I sit down. Within minutes I look down to see him licking the floor, as if saying "Hey, this rug is delicious!"
"No, Piper, leave it."
He does, then proceeds to lick the adjacent wall below the window.
"No, Piper, leave it."
OK. He stops. "Good boy!"
Moments later, he is licking the seat legs where they attach to the floor. To Piper, his new space seems to be one big lollipop.
"Piper, NO!"
Piper looks at me questioningly. Obviously, he is not generalizing that when I mean Leave It, I mean leave the whole space alone.
I get out his blankie and arrange it rather awkwardly under him, then get him a toy slathered with peanut butter. Now he is quite happy to direct his attention away from taste-testing the airplane.

All is bliss and happiness. The plane takes off. Steve and I chat about service dogs a few minutes. He is a Very Nice Man. After awhile he gets out a thick paperback book and starts reading. Piper finishes his peanut butter treat and pops up.
"Hi, how's it goin'?" he asks.
"Fine. You are a Good Boy, but now Settle."
Piper looks blankly at me. Temporary amnesia has set in.
"Piper, Settle."
The amnesia is the long-term type. Time to up the ante.
"Piper," I say in my Low but Serious Voice, while I point my index finger at the floor. "Settle."
Piper looks at my finger, as if I am condemning him to Hades. And does not move.
"I prefer to Sit," he seems to say.
I am well aware that my neighbor, Steve, just inches away, is probably listening in on this mini-drama. I pull down on Piper's collar. Piper is a stone statue. I pull one of his front legs out. Stone statue. I pull the other leg out. He collapses into a stiff rigid line on the floor, invading Steve's space. I bodily slide him over. I tell him to Wait. I lean back in my seat.
Up pops Piper between my legs. "Hi, how's the atmosphere up here?"
My patience has flown the coop. Well aware that Steve is inches away, and that just minutes ago I bragged on what a great boy Piper is, I up the ante again. I pounce on Piper, wrestling him down and growl, "SETTLE!"
Taken by surprise by my intensity, Piper finally, really relaxes into a nice Settle. He looks up at me as if to say, "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?"

All is well, Piper decides he was tired anyway and falls asleep. I lean back and relax and soon fall asleep too. Much later I wake up, my neck stiff from sleeping in a chair with a headrest for a bigger person. I lean forward, elbows on knees, holding my head in my hands. I look down at Piper and half-doze. I can see Piper is in a REM (rapid eye movement) cycle and is starting to twitch his paws. Soon he starts emitting little squeaks. Then an occasional shudder along his back, like a horse getting rid of a fly. This is almost as entertaining as the movie the airline didn't show. I wish I had my book, but it is miles away, stashed overhead in first-class somewhere. Sigh. I watch as Steve sneaks a hand over to pet Piper on the head. He thinks I'm asleep - funny!

Now I am really bored. Two hours to go. I order some ice and wake Piper up. We play my idea of a  fun game where I put ice inside a Kong and I hold it while he gets the ice out and chews it up. Piper is sleepy and could easily drift off if I would let him. But I am still bored, so we walk up to first class and stuff ourselves into the telephone booth-like restroom. Piper is very OK with this. Well, that was fun, now what? Piper looks at me with sleepy eyes. I tell him to Settle and he plops happily down. I amuse myself by looking out the window at the myriad twinkling lights as we descend into Los Angeles. Soon I can see the arteries of criss-crossing highways, with blood cell-like cars pulsing along them.

The plane lands. Passengers start to stand up and pull down their luggage. Behind me two children peek over the top of my seat to tell me how good my dog was during the flight. I take their compliments with a smile and thank-you. Only Piper, Steve and I know what really went down in Seat 5A on US Airways Flight 461.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Westward Ho! Piper at RDU Airport

Last Saturday six-month old service pup in training, Piper, reached a special milestone - his first air trip - from Raleigh-Durham, NC to Los Angeles, CA. As his raiser, I would say it was a journey worth writing about. In fact so much happened I am splitting the story into two posts:  Part 1 - Piper at the RDU Airport, and Part II - Piper on US Airways Flight 461.

Part I - Piper at the RDU Airport
Our flight from Raleigh-Durham was scheduled to depart at 4:10 on a Saturday afternoon. Although we left the house with plenty of time to spare, a terrible snarl on I-40 caused by a combination traffic accident / UNC football game made our airport arrival a little too close for comfort. At the parking lot we "parked" Piper, then Frank and I walked in and went thru ticketing and check-in on US Airways in record time. As I started to thread my way thru the maze of ropes and posts at the security entrance, a TSA agent motioned me to a much shorter line for the flight crew. Yes! I turn and wave good-bye to Frank who smiles from the departure entrance and gives me a thumbs up.

In order to pass thru the security check, I decide to keep Piper's leash, collar and vest on (I live to regret this decision). So I put Piper in a Sit/Wait, walk thru the scanner myself, and then call Piper through, which he does like a pro. Piper needs to be checked, wanded and patted down, but first we have to wait till they call Al over. I am guessing Al is the dog-check man. Arriving, Al is a large, friendly security agent whom Piper takes an immediate and serious liking to. However when Piper curls himself into a "C" around Big Al's legs, it definitely makes Al's dog-check job a little tricky. Peeling the encircling dog from off his legs, agent Al next unzips Piper's vest pockets and digs thru the poop bags and rabies certificate stashed inside. As he stuffs them back and zips the pockets shut, Piper reacts with a "Whoa, that tickles!" and twists onto his back, exposing his soft underbelly for scratching and inspection. Thankfully Al has seen (or had) enough and gives us the OK to leave. Piper follows me reluctantly with a backward glance at his new friend while I make a mental note:  next time remove the vest and send thru on the conveyor!

After collecting my belongings, we grab the elevator, and head down the concourse toward our gate. I like the RDU Airport. It is not very big, yet the terminals have high, sunny spaces that make you feel as though you're already airborne. On this Saturday afternoon it is blessedly quiet. Checking our gate, we discover we still have a half-hour before boarding, so I decide to familiarize Piper with the concourse surroundings. Yet I notice as we walk along that Piper's ears are pulled slightly back, his head is just a little too low, and there is not a nice looseness to his gait. Instead of walking with me, he is a little too far in front and staring fixedly ahead. Basically, Piper's body language says "I'm not so sure about all this." So I spend several minutes engaging and relaxing Piper until I see the sweet sparkle return to his eyes, and the flash of his toothy grin reappears. Once again he is enjoying his day at the airport and we're a team as he loosely trots at my side. That's my boy!

I love watching Piper's reaction (or lack of) as we meet odd and interesting airport personalities. There is The Cowboy, clunking along in his 8 gallon hat, with white toes on his boots so long and pointy he could skewer a horned toad. Piper gives him a perfunctory glance. Later my pup observes a little boy dangling a strange doll that looks like a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and a skeleton. Piper's gaze takes in the little guy and his toy and moves on, as if giving his dog stamp of approval that every preschooler should have a cadaverous doll for a best friend. Come to think of it, some of Piper's best playthings are bones....

Soon the loudspeaker blares that it's time to board and off we start on Part II of Piper's journey westward across America.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Every year St Francis Service Dogs puts on an outdoor festival at "The Farm", celebrating dog-lovers and their best buddies. Dogtoberfest is also a fundraiser, with proceeds going towards the running of the school. Frank and I, with 6-month service pup Piper in tow, headed up to Roanoke on a bright October Saturday to check it out and...we had a doggie blast!

What did we find? All sorts of activities for dogs and their owners to try out, including Fly Ball, agility rings, several fun dog games, a doggy day spa, caricaturists, and PawCasso (a matted photo of your dog surrounded by his paw prints).


There was a Parade of the Dogs in costume, a blessing of the animals, a DogGone Good Diner and service dog and police dog demos. Of course there was St Francis merchandise for sale as well as other vendors.

Piper gets a pedicure from a St Francis trainer.

Piper gets a pedicure from one of the St Francis trainers. I usually do his nails, but wanted him to experience having them done in a different setting. I've also done his nails in the back of my car by the grocery store.

We bought tickets and Piper tried out the agility ring. In charge of the two agility rings was Connie, Piper's weekly trainer. Piper recognized her immediately and had no problem going in and out of tunnels, clearing low jumps and trotting along a board-walk. Piper loved it. Then he cooled off under a hose spray.

In a shady spot, we hung out and watched the amazing array of dogs walking by. Everywhere were dogs of every shape, size, breed and color imaginable, some in costume. What struck me was how dogs and people mingled, played, sniffed (the dogs) and explored without so much as a growl or hey-you bark. I guess everyone was too busy taking in the sights and having fun. It was great training for Piper to sit calmly and watch the dog-world go by. I wonder what he thought looking at all those dogs. Did he recognize them as part of his "family"?

Soon we packed up Piper and headed home. Down a country road, I snapped this fall picture of an old farm house "afloat" in a field of tobacco - a perfect day.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The People in Line Behind Me

When you raise a puppy and you're out in public, you try your best to project a good image. You vigilantly keep Puppy from sniffing the lower shelves at the grocery, from blocking a busy doorway at a store, from tugging towards an interesting person passing by, from squirming as you stand in line. But of course, nobody (me or Puppy) is perfect. Sometimes it can feel like you and Pup are against the world, that the eyes watching your movements may be a little harsh and unduly critical. That is until you get a pleasant surprise.

Yesterday Piper and I had a package to mail at the Danville post office. Normally we go to our tiny p.o. in Chatham, but today, running errands in "the big city", we stop at their large main post office. We take our place in line, and Piper plops down and takes five. After an already busy morning doing his best effort at Being Good with the therapy dog group at an assisted living home, he is rather tuckered out. A middle-aged couple drops into line behind us. Soon we are chatting about service dogs and all the jobs they do, how far along Piper is in his training and the usual things a PR discusses to interested, friendly people. It does make the time go by. As we talk the line lengthens and stretches out behind us. Every so often, the line moves and Piper obligingly rises up, moves forward by my side, and plops down again.

Piper last weekend at "Dog Days", a sale at a local greenhouse business. Every year I set up a table and tell people about service/guide/therapy dogs. People bring their pets. It is much fun and a great exposure for Piper.

Finally our turn. The clerk behind the counter calls us, and we walk over to the high counter. "Is that a dog you have there with you?" she asks, just a little too sharply I think. As she leans forward she reminds me of a disapproving judge at his bench in court. "Well, yes, he's a service dog in training," I answer. Her eyes narrow. "Do you have a disability?" "No, I don't, he's in training to be a service dog. I am training him." "Well, if you don't have a disability, then he can't be in here. I will go ahead and wait on you this time, but I don't ever want to see you bring a dog in here again."

Oh, groan. It's as if you can see the shades roll down and the shutters slam shut on her face. There is no reasoning with a person like this. Still I make one last feeble attempt. "How can a service dog do his job if he isn't allowed to train in facilities like this?" I ask. But she isn't considering anything. If I had more time, I would ask to speak to her supervisor, but it has already been a long morning, I have more errands to run with Piper and am in no mood for a fight. Since I normally don't come here anyway, why even bother? I pay the postage on the package and turn to leave.

As I start to walk away, I pass the line of people. The line I had so recently stood in. I see their eyes resting on me and my service pup who walks calmly by my side. I head outside, walk Piper along the edges of the parking lot, then give him some water A lady appears and she tells me how sorry she is I got treated that way inside. I guess she heard the whole thing. She is upset and ready to go back in, and wait in line to speak to the supervisor. We talk a little, say good-bye and I thank her for being supportive.

Later that afternoon I get a call. It's the same lady from outside the p.o. She did indeed go back in the building, waited in line and talked to the supervisor. The supervisor said - get this - SEVERAL other people had complained about the way Piper and I were treated! Wow, I thought, it was the people in the line behind me. And they cared enough to stand up for me, Piper and assistance dogs everywhere, when I was too busy and tired to try. How awesome is that?

It makes me take a fresh look at the public:  the anonymous people in line, in the crowd, the ones we think don't notice us. Or maybe we think they watch with a critical eye as we work our service pups with faltering steps up the ladder towards their important future role. Yet in fact this anonymous public often secretly and silently watches with approval, and is surprisingly ready to spring to our defense when the going for us gets tough. You guys at the post office Tuesday morning, I don't know you and I'll probably never see you again, but I just have to say "Thanks" to the people in line behind me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Summer Magic and Therapy Dogs

As a therapy dog, Wrangell enjoys being surrounded by admiring fans.
It is early June, the beginning of summer. Yellow Lab Wrangell, sporting an orange vest with a Therapy Dogs Inc. patch, walks into one of the rooms at the day facility for the intellectually disabled in Danville, VA. Therapy dog, Prissy, a perky little black Pomeranian smartly dressed in the latest dog fashion and her handler, Betty, join Wrangell and I making the rounds between the tables. Several people sit at tables doing puzzles, drawing and playing games, but the activity stops abruptly as soon as we enter. Most of the people are just a little nervous and prefer to watch the dogs. A few braver ones tentatively touch, talking low, cradling the dogs' heads in their hands, fingering soft velvet ears and coarser fur across their backs.

In one of the game rooms occupied by residents,

far back in the corner slumped behind a large round table, sits a solitary man about thirty years of age. Although the man does not seem to notice the visiting dogs, as I slowly approach with Wrangell, he grasps his lunch bag and becomes agitated. One of the staff turns to him. "Joel, would you like to pet the dog?" Holding onto his lunch sack for dear life, Joel makes an unhappy sound. His tense body signals loud and clear - No, absolutely not. Wrangell and I retreat, and the staff lady gives us a faint smile and shrug. It's OK. Never push a dog on anyone, you do not know what sort of experience they may have had. Better to step back and give things time.

In the photo at right, Wrangell tries out a noise machine at the facility. He listens to the different noises made when he steps on the colored blocks. Fun!

As the summer progresses and our two therapy dogs continue their weekly visits to the facility, we start greeting people by their first names and making genuine friends. Relationships between the residents, staff and the dogs bud and blossom. The rooms fill with smiles and laughter. Over time the dogs learn which ones like to gently rough them up, which like to lightly caress them and with which they need to be ever so still as a mouse. Joel watches from his solitary corner, sheltered behind his big round table. Never have I seen him walk or talk, yet I notice how his head and eyes follow the dogs as they move from person to person. Often he clutches his lunch bag, but not so tightly as before.

Early August and a chorus of greetings, like old friends, meets us as we walk the halls and enter the rooms. As Wrangell and I slowly approach Joel, I can tell this time is different. For once his face is open, inviting. We move closer. Leaning toward the big Lab just a little, Joel raises his hand and lightly touches Wrangell on his head. A pat! He quickly pulls the hand away, flashes a grin, then turns as the staff and I in amazed voices congratulate him for what he has just done. Why am I so surprised to see Joel touch the Lab's head? Haven't I seen before the magic therapy dogs work on people over time?

However the next week things have changed again. When Wrangell and I approach I can tell Joel is not as receptive. Yet he does slide over one chair, coming out of his corner, and crouches over a pegboard puzzle, working the pieces. I imagine it is his way of saying, "I am happy you are here." The next week, the last of August, is our final visit to the facility. Somehow it feels like the final act of a play. We promise our summer friends we will come back over the holidays. Understanding, they nod. Finally we enter Joel's usual room, and make our way to the back corner. Then Joel does a curious thing. Instead of extending his hand, he slowly, laboriously, leans down to Wrangell and offers his face. Wrangell gently licks his cheek. Again Joel offers his face, again the dog licks his cheek. With an exhaled breath we all laugh and exclaim, "Hey, Joel, he kissed you!" With a triumphant grin, Joel rears his upper body, leaning way back. His personal victory dance. Although he cannot talk, it is plain what he is feeling inside. It is magic to behold - the mysterious magic that dogs weave as they touch the hearts of people like Joel - and those nearby who get to witness and celebrate.

Note:  Thank-you to Danville-Pittsylvania County Community Services for giving me permission to post this story and the photos.

Therapy dogs Wrangell and Prissy take a break outside the Danville facility. We joke that the two dogs have all the bases covered. Wrangell is large, yellow, short-haired and male. Prissy is small, dark, long-haired and female!

Brad and Wrangell become friends.
Administrative staff enjoy the therapy dogs as much as the day-goers.

Monday, September 9, 2013

You is Smart...You is Nice...You is Important

The movie "The Help" came out in 2011, based on a book by the same name by Kathryn Stockett. I enjoyed both the movie and the book immensely. It takes place in the Jim Crow South of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, and is one of those stories that has many strong, wonderful characters in it - most virtuous and a few wicked. The main character is a black maid, Aibileen, who works for a family struggling to keep up with the Southern aristocratic "Joneses".

To me one of the marks of a good story are lines said worth remembering, adopting and repeating. Although it has nothing to do with dogs, there is one line in the movie I have held on to as a puppy raiser. It is actually spoken in three scenes in the movie, between Aibileen and her little charge, a chubby, sweet 3-year old white girl named Mae Mobley. Mae Mobley does not have it easy. Having had the little girl while still practically a girl herself, her mother is unhappy, preoccupied and icy towards her daughter. So Mae Mobley turns to the maid Aibileen, who not only takes care of her physical needs, but loves her and gently guides her thru the early stages of life, including fundamentals like potty training and sore throats.

The line is first spoken during a very touching part of the movie, when the maid Aibileen tells Mae Mobley in a very soft, intimate, singsong voice, "You is smart....You is nice....You is important." The little girl solemnly listens and repeats after Aibileen as best she can, " important." Given her young age, you wonder how much of those concepts little Mae can really understand, yet somehow Mae Mobley recognizes the gravity of the words and tries hard to grasp and commit them to memory.

When Piper was a younger puppy he was a double handful of curiosity mixed with a strong helping of independence, and a dash of wildness. To top it off, he was not a napper! There were days when I yearned for a timeout from him, but since my husband was gone on a job and the nearest sitter was miles away, it wasn't going to happen. Sometimes it helped to sit him down in front of me, look into his puppy eyes and recite meaningfully the lines from The Help:  "You is smart...You is nice...You is important." Oddly enough, Piper would listen with great seriousness to the tone of my voice, as if trying to grasp the meaning of my words. Dogs may not know what you say, but they can certainly hear how you say it, thereby getting a handle on your feelings.

Saying those lines was a reminder to me of the importance of what I was doing. By reciting those words and believing in them, I was showing Piper my trust in his ability to fulfill those words. As puppy raisers, I think we all fiercely believe in our puppies and strive with all that we have to see that their smartness, niceness and future importance as service dogs will someday come to pass. We are our puppy's strongest advocates and supporters. Even if our puppies are throwing up or chewing something irreplaceable or embarrassing us in public, we puppy raisers fix or clean it up best we can, forgive, and with unquenchable optimism move on.

These days Piper is a much more well-behaved pup and I am happy with his steady progress. Although I don't need to say the lines out of sheer desperation anymore, I love to recite them to master Piper anyway and it strikes me that they ring with greater clarity as the days go by: "You is smart....You is nice....You is important."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sing for Your Supper

There is a nursery rhyme about a little English lad that goes:

Little Tommy Tucker,
Sings for his supper.
What shall we give him?
White bread and butter.

Just like little Tommy Tucker in the nursery rhyme, 5-month Piper has started to sing for his supper. Well, not actually sing, but work for his supper, which is what little Tommy (an orphan) had to do in the England of yesteryear when unfortunate orphans often had to fend for themselves.


Master Piper is a puppy-and-a-half. If I could give him a Dickensian counterpart he would be a hybrid between Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. He is quick and smart and mostly sweet, but he does like to stay busy. As I have learned, if you don't give him constructive tasks to occupy the hours and his mind, he will find his own tasks - and they may not be to your liking. Tasks like bothering the cat or the more senior dog members of the family, or inspecting the counters in the kitchen, etc, etc. You get the idea.

One terrific way to diffuse some of that excess energy is prolonging Piper's mealtimes. Instead of releasing him to his food bowl, where he can polish off the contents in a couple minutes, I drag his meals out for a good 30 to 45 minutes. This is done in two ways:

This stuffable toy is called a Tux.

Part of his food I moisten with water or broth for about 3-5 minutes, then stuff into two Kongs and place in the freezer. The kibble isn't soft all the way thru, it's just wet and slightly soft enough on the outside that it sticks together when frozen. At mealtime I take out the Kongs, one at a time, and my lad Piper spends some quality time "singing for his supper", whether it is by licking or chewing or rolling or dropping the Kong on the floor. I can tell this Get-the-kibble-out-of-the-Kong game is very satisfying for him and a great way to expend some of his restless puppy energy. As an added benefit, because Piper is growing in his new set of teeth, the cold probably feels good on his gums.

Looking at the Kong photos above, it is interesting to note how many positions the dog gets into, how he grasps the Kong with his paws and the various ways he tries to manipulate the toy to get the chow out. He is totally engaged and working quite hard the entire time.

The leftover dry kibble I use to work young Master Piper thru some obedience. Right now we are working on good sits, with his back legs tucked directly under him, not flopped to one side (my lad can be rather a slouchy sitter). When Piper does it correctly, he gets a few kibble. Then I release him or make him settle, give him a few more kibble, ask him to sit again, give him more kibble, tell him to wait, release, give him more kibble, and so on till the kibble is gone. This can take about 5-7 minutes and really engages both Piper's brain and body.

The whole time Piper is "singing for his supper" he wears his Gentle Leader. He really does not like wearing the head halter, but all St Francis service dogs need to be accustomed to it. When he wears it while eating, the exercise serves a dual purpose. First, his mind is not on the Gentle Leader but on the chow so there is a positive association:  halter = chow = good! That is the idea anyway. Also it prolongs the amount of time he is wearing the Gentle Leader while not trying to rub it off - close to an hour.

Piper chews on a twig in a hay bale.

Some dog aficionados may think me a hard taskmaster, making poor little Piper sing for his supper. But I believe a higher drive puppy like Piper enjoys, actually needs, the challenge and interest of working for his meals. When the young master has finished the job he appears calm and relaxed. As they would say in jolly old England, "Well done, Piper, me lad!"

**Added to post 8-27-13:  I just realized that in the two weeks since Piper has started working for his meals, he has completely quit jumping on the furniture, going in my closet and stealing/chewing on shoes, chewing on the toilet brush in the bathroom (yuk!), bothering the cat as much, etc. In general his house manners have greatly improved. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Patricia McConnell; Update on Dorian at Guide Dog U

Speakers Steve White and Patricia McConnell (rather blurry).
Last weekend I got to meet one of Dog-dom's greatest - Patricia McConnell - PhD and author of numerous books on canine behavior and training, including "The Other End of the Leash." She spoke for most of Saturday and I was totally riveted by her charm, wit and scientific knowledge based on dog and animal behavior research. The seminar was attended by a broad mix of dog trainers, shelter and rescue workers, pet owners and surprisingly, a few zookeepers!

The second day Steve White, a K-9 police officer of 25+ years and founder of Proactive K9 Dog Training, spoke on problem-solving. He was amazing as well. Patricia McConnell introduced him as the police officer "you want to have show up at your door." As he looked across the room of several 100 people, he remarked that the majority were women. Twenty years ago, he said, the room would have been full of men instead. His reasoning for the gender-shift is that there has been a fundamental shift in dog training from the use of power to control a dog, to the use of positive reinforcement instead. Interesting!

The seminar was a huge hit. I got three cherished books signed by Trisha, came home and immediately applied some of the principles I learned. In the midst of all the travels and the seminar, I also received Dorian's third training report. In mid-April he had gone back to the school at Southeastern Guide Dogs, Florida to start his final round of training. He has now been there four months and below is shown some of his recent progress.

First, a month ago I received his June training report (#2).
Dorian with SEGD trainer Joe Menendez.
Here are the school's comments:
COMMENTS- Dori is an exceptional dog; he is a quick learner and easy to handle. I hope he was as easy on leash for you as he is being for the trainer! He is still enjoying life with his buddies in the kennel, although he can get loud at times when he wants to get out training!  

I had to laugh at the trainer's remark about their hoping Dorian was easy on leash for me. Actually, my New Year's resolution when Dorian was almost one year old, was to get him to walk nice on a leash and quit repeatedly stopping and sniffing. The school trainers gave me suggestions on this, but it still took about six weeks of walking him every morning to work him through it. Still I am pleased to see the hard work has paid off!

Next, in mid-July, a group of puppies was called back to start their training, known at the school as In For Training Day. Touching pictures of the puppies saying good-bye to their raisers were posted on the school's Facebook page. In amongst the photos are two pictures of Dorian, and I was surprised to discover he was one of the dogs chosen from the training kennel to do blindfold walks with visitors and raisers.

The photo to the left shows Dorian doing a blindfold walk on July IFT Day. Dorian's trainer Joe is on the right. Dorian is guiding Paul Wilson of Wilson Van Band, who has done benefit concerts for Southeastern Guide Dogs. This photo and the one above were posted on the school's Facebook page.

 Finally, his recent training report (#3) for July included this comment from the school:
COMMENTS- Dori is now onto the freelance stage of training. He is still progressing well as we have hoped. As I said before he is a quick learner, and VERY easy to handle on leash! I look forward to pushing him to be the best guide he can be and try to keep him on his toes during training. 

I was not exactly sure what freelance training was, so I asked and got this answer back from the school:
 "Freelance" means they are not doing specified, protocol routes; Dori is learning to generalize his training to different areas. It's "trainer's choice" basically and it means that Dori understands the concepts well enough to take his training to different venues. :)   
So in other words Dorian has completed his basic guide dog training and is now working on refining and gaining more experience. It's up to the trainer where that training takes place and what he wants to work the dog on - a more individualized program, so to speak. 

Meanwhile, life goes on with Piper. This week we are working on good sits, where he tucks his butt in when he sits, keeping his front paws stationary, rather than rocking backwards. This is so he can stay in very close range to his future partner. He is a busy boy, so...I am busy too!

Summer hay fields in Virginia. From left:  Piper, Hazel and Wrangell. I love that I captured Wrangell's yawn!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Of Puppies and Preschoolers

Piper the Ivy Gnome.
Preschoolers are fascinating creatures - and a little intimidating if you don't understand them. This past week I was thrown into a swimming pool of preschoolers. In other words I led a class of squirmy 3, 4 and 5 year olds at our church's Vacation Bible School. It was there I discovered that preschoolers and puppies have quite a bit in common.

Day One:  My two good helpers and I greet the kids in the preschool room. Like any good teacher, I am armed with a sheet of carefully prepared activities:  stories, crafts, songs and games meant to teach the little guys about God and His love for them. Within 10 minutes, no, five minutes, I throw my lesson plan away. Waist-high children mill and babble. One crying, a couple whining, some squealing, toys being dragged off shelves. Chaos, a teacher's mortal enemy, has reared its ugly head. This is not about teaching, I say to myself, this is about keeping miniature people from a pint-size riot. What was I thinking when I agreed to do this?

Inside me panic is rising. Until now my teaching has been limited to older children, teens, young adults, adults and...puppies. Wait a minute....puppies! Tiny little flash bulbs go off in my brain. Even as I watch the preschoolers I can recognize uncanny similarities between them and my puppies. Yes, I will approach the problem as a puppy raiser would, maybe it will solve this dilemma. Hmm, harnesses and leashes are out of the question. Too bad for that! 

Days One - Four:  These were the observations, skills and tools in my PR repertoire that I used to make our class of preschoolers roll along and keep our time together enjoyable:
  • Keep commands short and simple.  SIT and STAY (with a hand signal) work great on preschoolers.
  • Let them get their wiggles out.  Just like puppies, little people need to move and play.
Piper retrieves the Wubba on a long line.
  • Read facial expression and body language.  If a child's face is open, learning will happen. If her face is closed, she doesn't hear you and doesn't care. Dogs will show similar expressions.
    Piper's open expression means he's ready to listen and learn.
  • Blocking stops them in their tracks.  One little girl was getting ready to do a feet-first cowabunga onto a cardboard building. Without thinking I automatically blocked her, and saved the building. The same method works when Piper dives for dropped food.
  • Your focus has to be stronger than their focus.  If you want the kids (or puppy) to do something, you have to patiently keep at it and eventually they will do it. Later they will be glad they did! 
  • Though you can't use leashes, ropes work great.  To take the kiddies through the hall and downstairs to the snack area without scattering, we had them hold on to a long climbing rope with knots.
  • Short attention spans = short teaching sessions.  Obedience training puppies is all about this. 10 minutes is too long.
  • If a preschooler or puppy can't leave others alone, distance them.
  • A slow voice and slow movements help calm excited little guys.
  • Their vocabulary is very limited.  I spent the longest time getting the preschool group to form a line, only to realize later many of them didn't know what a "line" is! Remember these are PREschoolers. In the same light how many times have I repeatedly said a word or asked for an action my puppy didn't understand?
  • Reward good behavior instead of correcting bad.  When a child was quiet and listening I paid attention to them, let them go first, etc. The others pick up on this rewarding fast! When Piper stops barking, I tell him he's a good boy and keep telling him as he remains quiet.
  • Set boundaries and follow through.  Important rules (like no hitting) need to be enforced. Although I couldn't crate a child, one child did go in time out and another was sent to his parent/guardian. Crating is my last resort when Piper refuses to listen and gets rowdy.
  • Puppies and preschoolers like routines.  Routines are comfortable. I like them too!
  • The less distractions the better.  A room with no toys, a play field without other kids, a darkened room where each child has a tiny flashlight candle to bring them close together - all these helped. Puppies focus better in low-key environments too.
The preschoolers, my two great helpers and I all stayed VERY busy, had fun, and yes, we even did some learning. Some of you are probably wondering if I brought 4-month Piper along to the preschool room. Uh - no! If he had been older I would have tried, but Piper was a preschooler himself just a few short weeks ago. Mixing young puppies with preschoolers could have led to a Mt. St. Helens-type eruption. Instead Piper stayed home in his crate or was puppy sat and was all the better for it. But I am grateful that Piper and all my pups helped me unlock the door to that amazing stage in a kid's life - the preschool stage.
Visiting Ohio State University.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wacky Women of Walmart

Piper is finally old enough to go into Walmart. Not that I make a point of frequenting the store, but if I have a list of odds and ends, like a watchband, hair conditioner and a birthday card, Walmart is the one-stop place to go. However, from my experience as a puppy raiser in southside Virginia, one cannot venture into the Danville Walmart anonymously. The Wacky Women of Walmart make sure of that.

First there is the Walmart Town Crier. I think the actual term for this lady's job is a Walmart greeter. The one who welcomes you to the store, maybe gets you a cart, etc. However at my Walmart, this greeter has added to her duties the public announcing, to all Walmart shoppers within earshot, that here comes a service dog.

Although this is not Walmart, it is a town crier.
"Well, look at this!" she announces. "Here comes a service dog doing his job. You are such a sweet little thing! I'm sorry, I wish I could rub you" (raising her voice to a falsetto), "but I know I can't. Yes, I bet you wish I could rub you, you poor baby, but no, I sure can't. Look at how good you're being, you are doin' a job...." and on and on and on. I hustle my puppy past her, making little eye contact. If I was a turtle my head would sink in. Deep into the store I can still hear her announcement, sometimes she even follows us a ways. The town crier effectively blows any attempt to keep a low PR profile, opening us up to further Walmart encounters. Although I have tried to nicely tell the Town Crier she needn't be so enthusiastic, she feels strongly she is doing a service.
She is indeed a bonafide Wacky Woman of Walmart.

One particular Wacky Woman of Walmart encounter will always stand out in my memory. It happened last summer, when my previous guide puppy, Dorian, was about 5 months old. Dorian, like all young puppies with service capes on, looked extremely cute and appealing. But...appealing was not the word for the wacky woman attack that ensued. After innocently inspecting the summer squash in the produce area, I turned around to find myself surrounded - front, back and sides by women with shopping carts.

Dorian and I were trapped. One woman had me distracted, locked in the age-old discussion of how could I ever give the puppy back because she certainly couldn't. That's when I looked down to check on Dorian. To my dismay I saw one of the ladies LYING ON HER STOMACH ON THE FLOOR, her face outstretched to Dorian's. I think she was doing a sort of Dog Whisperer move, explaining to the rest of the group how much dogs related to her.

Young Dorian at 5 months.
Maybe they do because Dorian could so easily have nipped her outstretched nose with his sharp little puppy teeth. Instead he was a young gentleman and watched her calmly but with great fascination. Seriously outnumbered, Dorian and I managed to break the puppy love fest off and graciously extricate ourselves from the circle of shopping carts. Shaken, I decided against summer squash, called it a PR day, and headed for the exit.

But wait, the nearest exit was the station of the Walmart Town Crier! No, we certainly did not need our exit from the store proclaimed, so Dorian and I headed for the yard and garden exit and made a clean getaway. Ha-ha, you Wacky Women of Walmart, we have dodged you once again!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Joe's Garage and Puppy Exposure Emporium

Joe's Garage on Main Street in Chatham, VA
You have your puppy exposures and have your puppy exposures. Some are carefully planned and executed and some are purely accidental. It was really not my bright idea to take my service pup to a garage for an outing, but my car had a light on the dash panel that would not go out. So off we went to Joe's Garage early one summer morning.

Going to Joe's is like going back in time 30 years. Sitting on the corner of Main Street in the sleepy town of Chatham, Virginia, the garage is old and musty, with peeling paint. The weedy lot is small and crammed with cars, mostly older models. It has 4 full service gas pumps served by a young attendant. Over the years Frank and I have cultivated a trust with the owner and head mechanic, Joe. When you own older cars with high miles like we do, the relationship with your mechanic takes on a depth akin to what you might forge with a son-in-law. Joe's wife works at the shop off and on, and their boy comes in after school to do his homework at the front counter. They love dogs and at times have kept their St Bernard or Great Dane in the shop. Joe is always busy, yet always has time, and is always polite.

"So much junk there is!"

As Kevin the mechanic drives my car inside the shop, Piper and I walk around outside. Lots of mechanical stuff, lined up and stacked along the outside wall. Old motor oil scent hangs heavy in the air. Piper sniffs and inspects engine blocks, some metal tubing and other junk.

The arrangement of tires is interesting too. I try lifting Piper inside a stack of tires for a photo but he will have none of that and hops out quickly. Meanwhile the loud clattering of an impact wrench taking the wheel off a car makes us both turn around. Piper is intrigued and moves in for a closer look but I make him watch from a polite distance.

Checking out the changing of a tire.

When Kevin comes back he stops for a minute to ask about Piper, then they have a petting session. Caressed by rough, greasy hands, Piper is enjoying himself. Then the mechanic goes back to work while Piper and I cross Main Street over to Jesse Sours Garage to see the pigeons flapping and roosting in the rafters of the old, abandoned building.

Back at Joe's, it is time to sit on the bench outside and watch cars getting filled up. "Beep-beep-beep," the Pittsylvania County bookmobile bus is backing up to the diesel pump right next to us. The driver lets the air brakes out - "Whoosh!" Piper startles slightly at that, as do I, but we quickly recover. Across the street and down the sidewalk comes a man on an adult tricycle with a high red flag swaying back and forth. He smiles and waves. I wave back and Piper, from a prone position, eyes the flag-contraption thing. After that activity quiets down so Piper takes 40 winks under the bench.

Under a bench outside the shop.

Soon the work is done, the charge $10. "Are you sure?" I ask. "Oh yeah," Kevin shrugs. He hands me the little light from off the dash that has been a problem since our daughter sideswiped a tree several years ago and the door quit closing properly. This kept the dash light on, which drained the battery continuously, which meant having to jump-start the car at the most inopportune times. For instance in the drive-thru line at the bank. It was as if Kevin had extracted a bad tooth and put it in my hand. He is a genius. I load Piper in his crate where he settles in for a good long nap as I drive away from Joe's Garage. A fine outing, I say to myself.