Thursday, March 21, 2013

United Airlines - Two Opposable Thumbs Up!

Last week my trusty guide pup and I traveled across the United States to visit my father. From the extreme east side of the United States to the west coast of California - and back again, this is a distance of some 5,000 miles or 8,000 km.


Map of the US, showing our flight routes. Outward bound we flew from Raleigh, North Carolina via Houston to Los Angeles. Going home we flew from Los Angeles via Washington, DC back to Raleigh.

 At 14 months of age, and a weight of 66 lbs, Dorian is a biggish Lab. Although he can fold himself into tight pretzel shapes and fall asleep like a good sport, still I was pleasantly surprised how much United Airlines ended up caring about his comfort.

The gate
Before arriving at the gate, I steeled myself for the long, cramped flight ahead. I had been warned we would have to rough it, since we were assigned a window seat with no extra floor room, and the adjacent two seats would be occupied. For this particular flight the bulkhead row doubles as the emergency row, so bulkhead seating was not an option. Just for kicks at the counter, I tentatively asked if there might be a better seat available. One of the staff walked around the counter, took a good look at Dorian, and nodded to the other attendant. "Yep, he's big," she said.

After a few minutes of computer wizardry, I was handed a new seat assignment. To my surprise upon boarding, we had a row to ourselves. Not just two seats, but three! Dorian could stretch out a little, I could too. I sent up a thank-you to God for sending the nice angels posing as United flight staff.

Tight quarters on the flight - no tails sticking out into the aisle!

Homeward bound, the last flight was out of Washington, DC. The airport runway was a chilly, windy 30 degrees as we walked across the tarmac and ascended the stairs past the jets and onto the plane. Dorian didn't hesitate. Good Boy! It turned out our seat neighbor was a man who had just arrived from the Middle East. He had bare feet with sandals and looked rather cold. We chatted, then I settled in for a short nap. Later I woke to find the man taking a picture of Dorian with his cell phone. Dorian was fast asleep, using his sandalled feet as a makeshift pillow! I started to apologize and move my dog. He stopped me. "Please don't," he smiled. "He's keeping my feet warm."

I sincerely commend United Airlines on their red carpet treatment of service dogs in training. And if my guide pup had opposable thumbs, he might rate his experience on United Air as "Two Thumbs Up." He got to stretch out a little, meet some nice people and even use a lumpy pillow. What more could a traveler ask for?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Greetings from the Planet Zot

**Jenny's note:  This post is about our trip to California and was written by my 14 month-old pup-in-training, Dorian. I claim no responsibility for the validity of Dorian's report.

Waiting to board the spaceship for Zot.

This week my raiser and I took a spaceship to the planet Zot. Amazingly the spaceship ride was not as long as you would think. The spaceship landed at the bustling city of LAX which is the capital of Zot. How did I know I was on another planet? Because everything was so different. For starters it was night. We went out to a wide, noisy sidewalk with cars crawling by and climbed into a van. The inhabitants of LAX talk fast, walk fast and drive even faster. They are none too friendly and honk horns a lot. I was very tired and the rest of the trip that night was a blur.

We go with "Dad" to Zotco - a very busy store.

In the house we stay is a man called "Dad". He doesn't seem to walk very well and is kind of wrinkly. My raiser says he is 91 years old, but I don't believe her because that is almost 650 in dog years, which is impossible! But Dad is very nice. I put my head on his knee and he pats me. Dad has a cat. Cats on the planet Zot are very spoiled and get fancy soft food which I think is not fair. It smells delicious but I barely got to try a taste before my raiser put the bowl up high. Rats! I am making the best of the Zot cat and have not chased him once. Actually, he just stands his ground so he's not much fun.

My raiser and I make shadows across the ground.

Every day my raiser and I take a long walk. On the planet Zot the houses are in long rows with strips of grass in front and sidewalks everywhere. We do not have that many sidewalks on the planet Virginia. Also there are tons of brand new smells, which drove my raiser crazy the first day because I just had to stop and smell everything - even the dirt, the grass and the sidewalks! Behind the houses my raiser walked me on a dirt trail. That's when I smelled the most incredible object of all - poop from an animal that was like a dog...but not a dog. My raiser called its maker Coyote. The pieces were here and there and full of hair, seeds and tiny bones. Most interesting! However, although I continue to search I cannot find Coyote's house.

I mingle with a young native, known as a Zot-ling.

 Because of all the sidewalks on Zot, my raiser is practicing walking in straight lines with me when I have my Superman cape on. It sounds easy, but it can be hard with smells and distractions and all. But I am trying not to smell unless it's something very enticing. Wherever we go we also practice making right angle turns. She tells me that it must be 90 degrees - not 72 or 55 or 38 or...well, you get the idea! This is so a person who can't see can stay on course when they make a right or left turn. Such a clever dog I am to learn geometry!

Soon we leave the planet Zot and head back home. I will miss "Dad" and the Zot-ling. But not so much the Zot cat.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tummy Time!

Puppy raisers put an awful lot of hours under their belt, working with their pups on a myriad of obedience lessons and exposures. But just as important are those quiet moments at the end of a hectic day. Those moments where pup and raiser can really bond and trust is strengthened...a time when pup and raiser can relax close together, gaze into each other's eyes and soak up the peace. One terrific way of doing this is Tummy Time.

The designation "Tummy Time" was given by my young adult son, Sam. He also happens to be it's biggest advocate. When Sam comes to our house, after exchanging the usual hellos and other niceties, it's not long before he's sitting on the kitchen floor with his legs straight out. He calls  our service pup over, has him lay down between his legs, then rolls him onto his back.
Young Dorian at 6 months.

Initially the young pups are not real keen on exposing their vulnerable underbellies to the entire world, so we start off with short, easy doses. But it doesn't take long before they are enjoying the warmth, security and sociability of Tummy Time. Many of the pups will fall asleep in this position for minutes at a time. Added benefits include giving you a good vantage point for checking and massaging paws and inspecting their neck and belly - areas not easily reached. It also teaches an excited puppy to relax!

Nene, a chocolate, who was puppy camping with us.
Sometimes Sam does Tummy Time variations, such as holding the puppy in his arms across his lap. This gets to be a challenge after the puppy goes through his growth spurt, becomes gangly and approaches weights of 40-60 lbs plus! But again, this exercise has the added value of a lesson in trust and closeness.

If you haven't tried Tummy Time, you and your pup may be missing out. Again, be sure to start out easy with your pup just downing between your legs. Gradually ask her to relax and roll onto her side, then graduate to her laying entirely on her back. Take your time so Pup enjoys it. Start with short sessions and slowly increase the duration. Before long your puppy will be looking forward to Tummy Time. After a busy day with your service dog in training, you will be too!


Emmy, puppy in training at 5 months of age. Now a working guide dog, her partner calls her "Princess Emmy."


The very same Emmy just 3.5 months later. Wow, what happened? She may be overflowing Sam's lap, but still loves to be held like a puppy.

A summer day on the deck in Alaska. Dorian appears to have fallen asleep.