Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Trooper in a Chicago winter

I do not like:

1. North Evanston homeowners who do not shovel their walks. Makes it hard for geezers to get around atop the frozen slush. Especially if a lively small dog is on the other end of the leash. At one street corner I took a rolling tumble, but the thump of my landing did not spook Trooper. He just stood in place on the loose leash while I righted myself. Nothing was bruised except my pride.

2. North Evanston business owners who use a particularly corrosive form of ice melter to clear their walks instead of shoveling them. Trooper whimpered and shook all four of his paws after we walked past a guilty auto repair shop. I had to pick him up and carry him home. Then I had to wash the methyl-ethyl bad shit off Trooper’s paws in the bathtub.

Can’t wait for the jar of Musher’s Secret Dog Paw Wax, ordered yesterday, to arrive from tomorrow.

So it goes for this service dog team in winter.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is this a fake service dog? It's hard to say.

Service dog fraud—the deliberate passing off of an untrained pet as a true assistance dog, often with fake vests and credentials purchased from unscrupulous online merchants—is a growing problem. Some states make it a Class A or C misdemeanor.

Sometimes, however, fraud can be hard to determine.

At dinner on our train trip last week with Trooper, we shared a table with a woman who declared that she knew all about service dogs. (Trooper lay under the table and minded his own business.)

The woman said she had a good friend who is blind in one eye and impaired in the other. The friend has a service dog, she said, that helps her walk in a straight line and provides depth perception, especially in going upstairs. She just follows the dog with her limited vision.

Is that so? we said. What task has the dog been trained to perform?

Oh, the lady said, the dog isn’t trained. The friend just watches the dog as it trots ahead.

What breed of dog is it? we asked.

A Yorkshire terrier, she said.

Not wishing to seem unpleasant, we didn’t point out that according to the Justice Department’s guidelines, a genuine service dog is specifically trained to perform a particular task or tasks. Italics mine.

Maybe the Yorkie’s owner thinks the dog is actually providing a service just by trotting ahead of her. Possibly she thinks that makes Fluffy legally a service dog. The Yorkie’s mistress, the woman on the train said, takes it into public places such as restaurants and announces that it is a service dog. 

Is she committing fraud? Maybe she doesn’t believe so and honestly thinks her pooch is a true service animal. In which case she may be deluded.

On the other hand, Yorkies are intelligent and highly trainable, and some have become certified hearing dogs. Maybe that one somehow picked up on its owner’s particular need.

On the other other hand, unless it is trained to heel at the owner’s side, no dog I have ever known trots ahead in a straight line on the sidewalk. Its path tends to diverge willy-nilly from fencepost to flowerbed as it follows its nose.

Does this case fall into a gray area? Possibly, if one is charitable about the “trained to perform” requirement.

I just don’t know what to think. I just wish I could see this dog in action.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Trooper takes a train trip

Trooper and Debby in Chicago Union Station's sleeper lounge.
Yesterday Trooper and his crew returned from a Christmas jaunt on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited to Washington and back to Chicago.

He was perfect. The humans less so. Including Debby and me.

Like first-time parents with a new baby, we worried overmuch (way overmuch) about my new service dog’s retention tank. Would he be able to last from “fresh air stop” to “fresh air stop,” or would he have an accident in the sleeper, grounds for immediate banishment from the train? Would we be able to get off at South Bend or Toledo or Pittsburgh or Cumberland for quick whizzes?

Trooper on his blankie in our roomette, made up for the night.
So much fretting over nothing. Thanks in part to a dog and a sleeping car attendant who both knew their jobs, there were no incidents. Troop performed on cue at South Bend at 9:09 p.m., Pittsburgh at 5:05 a.m. and Cumberland at 9:20 a.m. The attendant, who looks like an African-American but is an Irishman named Jameel Kinney, even knew the best spots at every station for Trooper to transact his business and had the car door open as soon as the train stopped rolling. Jameel seemed as delighted as we were every time Troop succeeded.

During the ride itself, Trooper slept blissfully on his blankie, spread on one roomette seat and shared with his client. I did have to pick him up and carry him between the sleeper and the dining car because the slice-and-dice steel footplates in the vestibules are dangerous to dogs' tender paws.

At breakfast he lay quietly under the dining car table, invisible to passersby, like the professional hearing assistance dog he is.

Trooper at work during breakfast in our hotel.
Same thing at breakfast at our hotel in Arlington. A good service dog does not call attention to itself, but Trooper can’t help being fuzzy and cute, eliciting squeals of “How adorable!” We insisted, however, that he was working, and was not to be petted because that was a distraction. Most people were sensible about it.

Not so in the sleeper lounge at Chicago Union Station before our trip. There an older blind man with a huge Labrador guide dog sat down next to us and said “Working, working!” as he sensed the approach of a chattering family with two obstreperous toddlers.

The man asked them to keep their distance. “He’s not used to children,” he said. “They upset the dog.”

The father ignored the man and brought his little girl right up to the dog for a pet, but the Lab lay unmoving. Finally the family moved off, but not before the self-absorbed little boy stepped back and right upon the dog’s paw. I was amazed when the dog did not react. The dog did not even look at Trooper lying five feet away.

Nor did the family notice the diminutive Trooper either, and I felt fortunate that I did not have to sharply educate the bonehead.

The grands in Arlington: Ellie, Jordan, Henry, Walter, Trooper and Will.
Trooper did get some time off work in Arlington. He loved the joyous doggy chaos of my elder son’s living room, wrestling and dashing about with his cousins, a little Pomeranian named Jordan and an enormous Lab/mastiff called Walter.

Let the wild rumpus start.
Resting between rounds.
Before departure on the way home, I checked the Amtrak website to see if I could upgrade our accommodations. A roomette (booked in August before we knew Trooper was coming in December) is a tight squeeze at best for two geezers, more so with even a small dog. The full bedrooms were all booked, but the handicap room was still open, and we grabbed it for a mere $64 upgrade charge. (A week before departure, ”H” rooms are opened to all passengers if not taken by people with mobility disabilities.)

Half the spacious H room on the way home.
The “H” room has plenty of square footage for dressing (as well as a toilet and sink) and so getting up at 4:30 a.m. so Trooper could take the air at Toledo was not such a tight squeeze for Debby and me. We vowed that from then on we always would book at least a full bedroom while taking an overnight train. Old folks need their space.

At Chicago the cabbie, informed on Debby's cell phone booking that we had a service dog, took one look at Trooper and said, “That's not a service dog.”

“Yes it is,” Debby said.

“That’s no service dog,” the cabbie insisted. “Service dogs are big.”

“No, they’re not,” Debby said. “Hearing dogs don’t need to be big.”

“I’ll have to wash out the back of my cab,” the cabbie said.

In cabs, Trooper always rides in the lap of his client.
“No, you will not,” Debby said, standing her ground. “My husband will hold the dog in his lap. The dog will not touch any part of your cab.”

I did, Trooper didn’t, and he slept quietly all the way home.

What a pro.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Off to D.C. on the train

Not much to report about Trooper today. Yesterday was a fairly humdrum day, which is to say that he nailed his exercises in the morning and went to the store in the afternoon without interesting happenings.

But that will change this evening. At 6 p.m. we will board Amtrak's Capitol Limited for Washington.

We have a tiny roomette, having made the reservations early in the fall before learning that Trooper would come to us December 7. Sharing a narrow lower bunk with a small dog is going to be interesting.

What's going to be even more interesting is executing the pee and poo stops. There are only four possibilities after the train's 6:40 p.m. departure: South Bend at 9:09 p.m., Toledo at 11:39 p.m., Pittsburgh at 5:05 a.m., and Cumberland at 9:20 a.m. before the train arrives in Washington about 1 p.m. If it is on time.

And can we prevent oohing and ahing fellow passengers from wanting to pet Trooper? We really should say "Please don't, he's working," but who can refuse a small child who loves dogs? No, we have to harden our hearts and be tough.

We're returning on the Dec. 26 train. Expect a full report.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Not allowed? Huh!

“Dogs aren’t allowed in the store!” growled the Jewel supermarket worker as she swept past us down the aisle in high dudgeon.

A second later a Jewel checker halted by my cart and cooed to Trooper. “He’s so cute!” she said, asking if she could pet him.

That wasn’t enough for Debby, who by then had taken off after the cranky worker to read her the riot
Trooper semaphore.
act about service animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ms. Crank had disappeared into the shelves, so Debby stopped the friendly checker and told her what had happened.

“It’s not your fault,” Debby said, “but I’m hoping you’ll tell your supervisor about this incident and that he’ll pass on to all the employees the information that the law says service dogs are allowed everywhere, especially supermarkets.

“My husband shops here all the time and he will be bringing his service dog along. We spend a lot of money here, you know.”

I was standing with Trooper and the loaded cart several feet away, watching as my wife of almost 49 years vigorously held forth on my behalf, bringing to mind the Shakespearean phrase “And though she be but little she is fierce.”

Debby and I have noticed that many people who express disapproval toward Trooper’s presence in public places tend to be immigrants from the Third World and presumably have never heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Some come from cultures that consider dogs to be unclean and take wide and scowling berths around Trooper.

In the evening, nobody demurred about the dog’s attendance at the condo party in the lobby. I made sure everyone gave him a treat, thus forever cementing their friendships.

One small victory at a time.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Shootout at Levy Center

Trooper in official uniform.
You can’t have that dog in here,” said the tall young man, apparently the Levy Senior Center’s weekend manager. “They’re not allowed.” He spoke quietly and calmly.

Because the temperatures were in the teens, i had taken Trooper yesterday to Evanston’s geezer hangout to walk the wide rectangular indoor corridor, 13 laps to the mile.

“He’s a service dog,” I said.

“Service dog?” the young man said.

“Yes. I’m deaf and he’s my ears.”

“I don’t know anything about service dogs. I don’t know if they can be in here.” The young man was honest about his ignorance and didn’t try to bluster.

“Federal law,” I said as amiably as I could.  “Service dogs are allowed anywhere in public. Trust me.”

“Okay, I guess that’s fine, then,” he said, and went about his business.

And so the brief encounter ended. I was gratified but a little disappointed. I’ve got a whole arsenal of legal facts and other documentary weapons to unholster in showdowns with hostile jacks-in-office.

Not that I’m spoiling for a fight, but it might be fun to put a jerk in his place now and then.

Not many of those around, it seems, at least in Evanston.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trooper's electrifying day

Trooper with granddaughter Alice and granddog Ginny. They and their family came to an early Christmas dinner yesterday evening, and after everyone had stopped dashing like banshees around the condo and settled down, a bonding experience was had by all.

Yesterday was my first visit to a doctor’s office with Trooper in tow.

It was to my dermatologist for an annual full-body skin scan. The doc was not at all perturbed by the service dog’s presence in the examination room nor by my quick-shift handling of his leash as she swooped around me, probing and prodding my epidermis. Trooper just lay quietly by the exam table, quite ungalvanized by the sight of his master standing stark naked on the vinyl floor.

He was, however, charged with plenty of static electricity by the nylon carpet in the medical center’s waiting room. Poor dog. It was a cold day, and his shaggy fur must have harbored watts and volts and amps by the hundreds, and whenever I tried to give him a treat he recoiled as if I’d proffered him a hand grenade. Not until we got outside and were both grounded would he take the treats.

Same thing happens in our condo when temperatures in the dry air outside fall below freezing. During our training exercises I have to drop the treats on the floor rather than hand them to him.

Trooper, by the way, scored 100 per cent in the day’s exercises. Three times he jumped up on me, then led me to the source (Debby) calling my name, three times he jumped up on me and led me to the ringing phone in my office, and three times he jumped up and led me to the door knock. Of course we are still giving him treats every step of the way, and soon we will reduce their frequency until he doesn’t expect them any more, just showers of praise.

Troop has developed one bad habit. He has been hoovering up anything edible he sees on the floor, in particular a slice of Christmas ham that got away from me in the carving. He may be a highly trained assistance dog, but he is a dog, and dogs always go for the main chance if they think they can get away with it. I emailed Laura, his trainer at Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon, and asked what to do. She replied:

“Having him practice ‘leave it’ is the best thing to avoid scavenging. He has done this extensively with me and should transfer to you easily with practice. Start by having a treat in a closed fist, with Trooper knowing you have it. As soon as he is not mugging your hand he gets the treat by you opening your fist and letting him have it.  

“Repeat this exercise and incorporate the command ‘leave it.’  Also, when he is on leash, you can place some food on the floor. Walk past the treat and encourage him to ‘leave it’ with another treat in your hand. He gets a reward for looking away and not taking the treat. It Is good to have him on leash so you can help him stay away from a treat on the floor if necessary. The more practice with this, you will eventually be able to say ‘leave it’ and he will respond by leaving it.”

On our walk last evening he lunged for something unidentifiable but no doubt awful in the grass, and I said "Leave it!” sharply. He left it. 

Good boy. Both of us.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Stars in my eyes

A "starred review" in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, or Booklist means the magazine thinks the book under review is exceptional. In my career I'd collected only one such review, a Kirkus star for my 1990 memoir What's That Pig Outdoors?

No. 2 just arrived in the latest Booklist, the review organ of the American Library Association, for my new mystery, Tracking the Beast.

It concluded: "The fifth [Steve] Martinez mystery is a mesmerizing mix of high-tech procedural and small-town cozy. The plot is ingenious, the dialogue realistic, and Kisor’s characters could never be mistaken for types from central casting. Mix in the economically depressed but beautiful UP, and the unusual premise, and you have an almost perfect mystery."

The whole thing is here.

Made my day, it did.

By the way, Five Star has moved the publication date for Beast back to March 16, 2016.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trooper and the barber

“No dogs! No dogs!” said my barber when Debby phoned the other day to get an appointment for me for a haircut. (Trooper hasn’t yet been trained to do that. Phone for appointments, I mean. We can't expect him to wield electric clippers.)

“But he’s a service dog,” Debby said.

“No dogs!” my barber insisted.

Calmly Debby explained. Service dogs for people with disabilities have the right of full access to public places. It’s the law.

“Okay,” said my barber after a moment of reflection. My barber is a recent immigrant and evidently not au courant with the fine points of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And so yesterday morning I visited the barber, who welcomed both me and Trooper (a tad nervously) and gave me my usual 20-minute No. 1 buzz cut with trimmings and polishing, a job that takes most barbers less than five minutes. Instead of lying at my feet, Trooper stood calmly at the chair across the room where I tied his leash. (We couldn’t very well have him underfoot, could we?)

So ended the first negative (but hardly hostile) response I’ve had to Trooper in public places. I hope they’ll all be like that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A charity worth your dough

It is high time I put the arm on my friends and relatives for a donation to Dogs for the Deaf, the splendid Oregon charitable organization that trained Trooper to be not only my buddy but also my ears.

Listen. It takes four to six months of training and testing before a pooch is ready to go out and work as a full-fledged service dog for the deaf. After that, a trainer travels with the dog to the client for a week of placement.

These things are not cheap. Nor is the continuing attention Dogs for the Deaf gives to maintaining the health and training of the dogs it has placed. Over the life of an assistance dog, the organization’s expenses can run as high as $25,000. These are valuable animals.

To the client there is no charge except a $50 application fee and a $500 good-faith deposit that is returned after one year. (I’ll bet most of us just turn the money back to Dogs for the Deaf as a donation.)

If you go to the organization’s website, you will see that deaf folks aren’t the only people it trains dogs for. There are also “program assistance dogs” for organizations that work with teachers, doctors and health personnel who treat special needs children and others with disabilities. These dogs are a great calming influence.

Dogs for the Deaf is restarting its autism assistance dog program, put on hiatus because the group had a hard time finding suitable dogs among the shelter rescues it takes pride in acquiring. Shelter dogs are often abused and may not be temperamentally suitable for autism work. They need to be utterly laid-back and unflappable. Dogs for the Deaf most likely will acquire its autism dogs either from breeders or breed its own.

Only about 30 per cent of the shelter dogs recruited make it through the program, and that number is winnowed down even more in the rigorous testing required for certification. Those who don’t make the grade are not returned to the shelters but are put up for local adoption as “career change dogs.” They’re perfectly happy and healthy, and often surprisingly well trained, but just not suited to be working dogs.

Even a small donation to Dogs for the Deaf will make these good folks happy. Me, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Trooper the Shredder

Trooper and his latest victim.
Uh-oh, another unanticipated expense in owning a service dog.

“We’re going to have to hire the cleaning service at least once a month,” Debby said. “Maybe more.”

Usually we do the light housekeeping in our condo ourselves, but every three months or so a service does the heavy stuff and gets the place sparkling.

But now that Trooper has demonstrated his proficiency ripping apart plush chew toys, bits of stuffing and fragments of fabric are scattered all over the house. (He doesn’t eat those things, of course.)

I figure that two days, maybe three, is the maximum service life of a plush toy around him.

In other news, my fledgling hearing assistance dog absolutely rocked his three sound-work tasks Monday morning. Five out of five at the calling of my name, five out of five at the door knock, and five out of five at the phone ring. Each time we did not lay treats at the source of the sounds and rewarded Trooper only when he led me to the source right away.

He still needs a “hup!” command to jump on me when he hears a sound, but we are working on making that an automatic response.

He was perfectly behaved at Office Depot, the bank, and Curt’s Cafe.

I think that’s pretty damn good for just eight days of work with us. I’m sure he thinks so, too.

That unanticipated expense is going to be well worth it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trooper's first date

Trooper and Ginny say hello. (Photo by Deborah Abbott)
Yesterday was a very good day for Trooper at the end of his first week with us.

In the morning we practiced three hearing-dog tasks: Debby’s call of my name in the kitchen while I sat in the TV room; the ringing of the phone, and a knock at the door. Each time Trooper was to approach me and jump on my leg as I said “hup!”, then lead me to the source of the sound.

He absolutely nailed the name-calling. Five out of five.

He very nearly nailed the knock at the door. Four and a half out of five. (On one try he was a little slow to come get me.)

He did pretty well at the phone ringing. Three out of five. That’s a toughie because there are four different phones in the house and he has to lead me to the one in my office.

And we didn’t have a treat waiting every step of the way. We must eliminate most of those as well as the need for me to say “hup!” in order for him to jump on me.

But we made good progress, and I think Troop was as pleased as I was.

In the afternoon he had his first formal arranged meeting with another dog—Ginny, who lives with my son Conan and his family in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago. Ginny is an interesting dog in her own right: she is a big viszla-Plott hound cross with a beautiful brindle coat.

At trainer Laura’s suggestion, the dogs met on neutral territory, a sidewalk a few houses down from Conan’s place. Even though Ginny is about four times Trooper’s size, the little dog had no fear. He had been well socialized in the shelter and at Dogs for the Deaf. (Ginny loves every dog she has ever met.)

After the formal diplomatic sniffing protocol had been followed, we put the dogs in Conan’s back yard for some exercise—frantic high-speed dashes from fence to fence and house to garage, Trooper usually in the lead. Ginny had better speed but Trooper had the maneuvering edge.

Later, in the house after demudding, the two dogs stood about amiably while their histories were discussed and seven-year-old Alice told her daddy she wanted a little fuzzy dog too.

Ginny and her family are coming to dinner at our condo Friday, and it will be interesting to see if we can prevent the dogs from knocking over all the decorations in mad abandon.

Cousins. (Photo by Conan Kisor)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Life with Trooper

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.
Living with a new service dog “is like having a baby in the house,” Debby observed as we sank wearily into our recliners shortly after lunch yesterday. “Except that Trooper sleeps straight through the night.”

True. Our day began with a quick whiz-walk at 6 a.m., then after breakfast a brief working session in which Debby stood in the kitchen and called my name. Trooper alerted me in the TV room, then I followed him to the source of the call. Three times he nailed the task to fulsome praise.

Just before 8 came a nine-block trudge around the neighborhood, making sure the dog sat at every crosswalk. He still pulled eagerly at the leash. But he did his business.

At 9 we stopped at Office Depot to ship a couple of packages to our elder son’s family in Virginia. Trooper of course accompanied us, and I worked at getting him to do a down-stay for more than ten seconds while we did our own business. He improved to about 12 or 15 seconds, and earned a treat.

Then it was off to our doctor’s office in downtown Evanston to drop off some papers for my internist to sign. The day before, I had taken Trooper to City Hall to get his ten-dollar dog license, and on a whim asked the clerk if service dogs were maybe exempt from the fee. 

She asked her boss, who asked his boss, who asked his boss, and in about 20 minutes the clerk came back with an application for a service dog tag. No charge. 

But I had to take the application to my internist so that he could attest that his patient indeed was deaf and thus eligible for a service dog. In a few days I’ll have it back to take to City Hall with Troop’s rabies vaccination papers.

Having an official government collar tag that specifies its wearer is a service animal ought to help in any dispute over Trooper’s right to enter stores and restaurants. Not that there ever will be one.

After that we visited PetSmart and bought Troop a couple of collapsible bowls for traveling and a martingale collar for obedience training. That collar applies a gentle squeeze to the neck if the dog pulls on the leash.

Finally it was to the local Jewel for half an hour of hunting and gathering. Navigating a small dog and a heavily laden shopping cart through a busy suburban supermarket on a Saturday morning is  a wearying job. Shopping carts just don’t steer well one-handed; I needed the other hand to keep Trooper from being trampled in the scrum.

Note to self: Shop early in the middle of the week when there’s a lot less traffic. Then I can use the two-handed grip on cart and leash the way trainer Laura taught me.

Then came lunch, and Trooper’s early afternoon stroll. We napped for a while, and just before 5 p.m. I took him for a quick walk before his supper. He heeled much better with his new martingale collar.

At 9 we had our pre-bedtime outing, then collapsed.

I think I’m losing weight from all this activity. That’s a good thing. Trooper may be even better for my health than I’d thought.

Crashing on his personal futon at 9 p.m.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trooper's fifth day . . . and Laura's last.

Troop's first ride in the Odyssey. (Photo by trainer Jessica Reichmuth.)
Yesterday was a bittersweet day for Trooper, my new hearing assistance dog.

Sweet because he nailed most of his sound work during a lively half-hour of training in the morning. 

When Jessica, the assistant trainer, knocked at the door outside, he ran first to the door to pick up a treat laid there as bait, then ran to me in my recliner and at my “hup!” jumped up on my knee (he is a small dog) to alert me to the knock. I gave him a treat and said “What? What?” He then led me to the door and collected a third treat as well as enthusiastic praise.

We repeated the task with me lying in bed. 

We did the same with the phone. This one’s a little more difficult, because all three of the phones scattered around the condo plus the special CaptionCall captioning phone in my office ring at the same time. Trooper has to lead me to the CaptionCall.

Then we tried the calling of my name. I sat in my recliner in the TV room and Debby called “Henry!” from the kitchen. Trooper, at my feet, jumped up and ran to her for a treat laid at her feet, then to me for a “hup!” and another treat. Upon which I said “What?” and Trooper led me back to Debby.

The idea is to practice and practice until it’s second nature for us both—and neither of us needs a treat except lots of praise.

After that there was an hour of paperwork. Laura, his trainer, presented me with a training plan and sprang a pop quiz, most of which I answered correctly. Each wrong answer resulted in a mini-lecture. Then I signed a contract promising not only to care for Trooper but also continue his training. Every two weeks I must file a lengthy training report.

And Trooper and I received our official photo identification card attesting to his purpose and my clienthood. We are now a certified service dog team.

After lunch at Bonsai Asian Fusion down the street (Troop behaved beautifully), the bitter time arrived.  It was the fifth and last day of our training, and Laura and Jessica said goodbye, soon to return to their headquarters at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon.

There Laura trains six dogs at a time, and I suppose that makes each placement a little easier than if her heart had been bound to a single dog. All the same, after tousling Trooper’s hair one final time, she walked through the door and said goodbye in quite a professional manner.

I was the one with a lump in the throat. Trooper will miss her, and so will I.

Now the hard work begins.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Trooper's fourth day

This morning Trooper didn’t feel like working his sounds. Maybe he had a bug. More likely he was just weary from all the stress of adjusting to a new home and a new human.

Let’s forget the sound tasks, said Laura, Trooper's Dogs for the Deaf trainer, and just get on with the rest of the day.

Waiting on a train.
Which was a milestone: Trooper’s first foray into the big city of Chicago. We took the 10:57 a.m. Metra commuter train from Evanston Central Street into Ogilvie Transportation Center, had lunch at the Corner Bakery, and then caught the 12:35 back to Evanston.

Calming the new rider with Laura.
Trooper lived up to his name. Not knowing whether he would willingly board the great iron beast, I carried him up the vestibule steps into the car. As soon as the train started up, he began quivering from the unaccustomed noise and motion, and at Laura's suggestion I put him on my lap. Within ten minutes he had settled down, but I cradled him all the way in nonetheless.

At Ogilvie we waited until the car emptied, and I put Trooper on the floor. With utter aplomb he trotted down the aisle and off the steps onto the platform.

At the concourse we met the first ever public objection to my little service dog’s presence: a snarling Belgian Malinois on the arm of a burly Chicago cop on security duty, who was nearly pulled over when his animal partner lunged, teeth flashing, at my little dog. Trooper’s a terrier, I wanted to say, not a terrorist. We did not hang around for apologies but headed right into the station.

At lunch in the Corner Bakery we sat happily unremarked and unnoticed.

Boarding at Ogilvie Transportation Center.
On the way back Trooper trotted down the platform and onto the train easily, and lay down at my feet for the entire ride, the image of a veteran commuter bound for home. All he needed to complete the picture was a newspaper and a cocktail in a brown paper bag.

Commuters on the 12:35.
Or an iPhone, like everyone else these days.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Trooper's third day

Something’s not going as I’d expected.

After reading (on the Internet, naturally) all sorts of stories from service dog owners about having to deal with hostile ignorance in public places, I’d thought that Trooper and I would encounter that, too.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Yesterday, accompanied by his trainers Laura and Jessica, we visited Trooper’s new veterinarian, Dr. Robert Fox of Fox Animal Hospital in Evanston. After a quick once-over, Dr. Fox pronounced Trooper hale and hearty, and we discussed his medication schedule and other doggie concerns. I think Trooper liked Dr. Fox and vice versa. I did, too. Dr. Fox said a first visit was complimentary, and all I paid for were Trooper’s meds.
Dr Fox with Trooper: All's well.
(Photo by trainer Laure Burke.)

Then we shopped at the Jewel supermarket in Skokie, then the Fresh Market grocery store in Wilmette, and finally lunched at Curt’s Cafe across the street.

Nobody said a word. Not “nice doggie” or “get that beast out of here!” He was barely noticed. Shoppers and clerks strode past him without pausing. One lady did have to redirect her cart around Trooper, but did so with a smile.

At Curt's he lay quietly at my feet and partly behind a low table, quite out of sight of the rest of the customers. The servers did notice him but said nothing.

Either people are much more knowledgeable about service dogs than I’d thought, or they just didn’t see Trooper. He’s so very small and so very dark, and only his orange vest is visible when he’s in shadow.

Today comes the biggest adventure so far: we’re taking the Metra commuter train into Chicago for lunch at the bustling Ogilvie Transportation Center. Trooper will never have seen so many people in one place, and I’m wondering how he’ll handle it.

Of course, there will be time for “sound work” training at home. He’s improving on that. I hope I am, too.

The day's single downer: In the evening, Trooper threw up his supper. That wasn't overly troubling.  All dogs do that now and then. Maybe he had too many rich treats during the day. I won't be quite so generous with them today. He did wolf down his breakfast this morning and seems quite chipper.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trooper's second day

Trainer Laura took this shot of an odd couple at the local PetSmart.
Yesterday there was some progress and a couple of setbacks. That’s to be expected.

After a morning of working on sounds—the behavior handoff from trainer to client hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still very early days—we went out in commercial public for the first time.

First to Petsmart to buy some more stuff, including a crate for long trips in the car, more treats (we're going through them at an alarming rate), more toys, a brush, a comb, whatnot. The place was full of dogs, but Trooper didn’t lunge to greet them. That’s good.

Then to the Levy Center, the senior club where I work out several times a week, to introduce Trooper to the exercise room. He will have to learn to get used to the noise of exercise machines as well as the gasping and puffing of sweaty geezers. 

Nobody commented on his presence. Either they’re au courant with service dogs or too bleary-eyed to see him. (He is small and inconspicuous.)

Finally to the Linz & Vail coffee shop, where we partook in dishes of gelato while Trooper lay quietly under the table.

While Debby and the two trainers were getting their goodies, a counterman came around and told me quite pleasantly that dogs weren’t allowed in Linz & Vail. (He couldn’t see Trooper’s Dogs for the Deaf vest under the table.)

“I’m deaf,” I responded, “and he’s my service dog.”

“Oh, okay,” the counterman said, and returned to his post.

I have a feeling that most such confrontations are going to end that way, especially in Evanston, a liberal and well-educated town. I'm prepared for hostility, however. Some folks won't have heard of the law.

Now for the setbacks. 

Trooper peed against a wall in the master bathroom. After a fast cleanup and spray with urine neutralizer and without mentioning the incident to Trooper, I considered what had happened. On our walk just half an hour earlier, he had taken a quick squirt against a tree. Too quick. I should have walked him a few more minutes so he could empty his tank. I’m still learning his toidey habits.

Then, twice, he growled when people suddenly swept into the condo lobby. (I could feel the vibrations of his growl through the taut leash.) That, I think, was a startle reflex. I’m going to ask trainer Laura what to do, but maybe if Trooper and I spend some time in the lobby while I greet passersby in a happy and pleasant voice, he’ll get used to such sudden comings and goings.

Today we’re going to visit the vet and a couple of supermarkets, and have lunch at Curt’s Cafe across the street.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trooper's first day

Laura and Trooper arrive in Evanston.
Taking it hour by hour . . . 

9 a.m. My new hearing dog arrives at the condo with trainers Laura and Jessica from Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon. They had flown in the day before from Medford and Denver, and Laura reported that Trooper was a bit nervous on the first leg but slept at her feet all during the second. Troop greets me cautiously but is still friendly. In relative terms he is very small and I am very big, and right away I learn that I should avoid looming over him like a menacing mountain.

He looks like a shaggy black miniature schnauzer with a chocolate mustache and beard. The hair in his ears bespeak poodle, Laura says. “Schnoodle” seems to be a good name for his mixture.

We get to know each other.
9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. We all sit at the dining table reviewing paperwork, including his medical records and my rights as an assistance dog owner. (“Assistance dog” rather than the ADA-preferred “service dog” is the standard term at Dogs for the Deaf, as it is at many other such enterprises, although the phrases are interchangeable.) 

We review the further equipage we’ll need to get for him, including a small crate for long auto trips. Trooper is crate trained, Laura says. Dogs feel secure in dens. Sounds reasonable to me.

Our first walk.
11 a.m. to noon. Trooper and I go for our first walk, Laura supervising. “A watched dog never pees,” I say, but eventually Trooper complies. He is only 1 1/2 years old, and he pulls at the leash—a task we’ll have to work on when we start obedience training in January.

12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. We take a lunch break. Laura and Jessica leave for a while, leaving Trooper with his new family. Troop objects, but only a little, whining at the door for a minute or two.

2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Laura and Jessica return, and we start “sound work.”  Some of it is a little complicated and I am the one who has to be trained. Trooper is trained to jump up and lead the client to the source of the sound—the phone, the doorbell, various timers including that for the dryer. I suggest we leave that last for the future. Debby demurs. She wants me to do my share of the laundry. I give in. I give in too easily.

Trooper works the sounds perfectly for Laura, but not for me. He does not yet understand that I’m now the main man, and that his skills have to be transferred to me and strengthened over the coming months. I am beginning to understand what Dogs for the Deaf has given me: a little black bundle of huge potential that I need to coax out into the light. I need to take over Laura’s tasks as trainer as well as client.

4 p.m. We call it a day, and Laura and Jessica go back to their hotel. Debby and I relax in the den while Trooper snuffles at the door for Laura. I manage to distract him by lying on the floor and giving him belly rubs. He likes that and comes to me whenever I lie down on the rug.

Already we have mastered "sit," "down" and "stay," followed by a treat, at least in the condo.

Trooper and I go out for a whiz but his little tank isn’t full enough.

5 p.m. Troop gets his supper, a third of a cup of kibble.

5:30 p.m. Out we go again. This time Troop cooperates, decorating a fire hydrant.

6 p.m. Debby and I have supper. Again Troop waits for Laura on the mat by the door.

6:30 p.m. Out again. Trooper is a good pooper.

6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. We flake out by the TV, Trooper alternating between us and the doormat. “Do you think Trooper would like Animal Planet?” Debby asks. I have no idea. More belly rubs. 

9:30 p.m. Last walk of the day for a quick whiz.

10 p.m. Bedtime. We shut the door to our bedroom and Trooper willingly takes up residence in the dog bed at my side. He sleeps all night without a break. He is exhausted. So are we.

I think this enterprise will be successful.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Three days to go

Trooper still hasn't got here, and already I'm thinking of my new service dog the way a parent puffs up with pride about a small child who displays a glimmer of potential.

Yesterday I emailed Laura, his trainer at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon, and asked for some background on the 1 1/2-year-old schnauzer-poodle mix. Where was he from? What were the highlights of his training? When did he start at Dogs for the Deaf?

"Trooper came to us from a shelter in Bakersfield, California," Laura said. "I am not aware of any history and parentage but I will ask the person that procured him from the shelter if they have any more information.  He started training in July, 2015, and proceeded through the training very quickly, only taking four months to complete. That is phenomenal for a dog with no known prior training."

Norrmally it takes up to six months of training for a canine recruit to achieve certification as a fully fledged service animal.

Trooper is a phenom? I'm busting my buttons. I can't wait for Monday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Five days to go

Today we paid a visit to the local PetSmart with a list of supplies from our Dogs for the Deaf trainer to acquire for my service dog Trooper, who arrives next Monday.

We came home with:

One medium plush dog bed.

Two stainless steel food and water bowls. (Not plastic, the trainer said.)

A six-pound bag of Purina Pro Plan small-breed chicken-and-rice dog food.

Three small bags of moist training treats.

Poo bags for the holidays?
Several rolls of plastic poo bags and a dispenser. (Plain grey. We decided against the festive decorated bags. Who comes up with such ideas?)

Two plush squeaky toys, one a moose and the other a teddy bear.

A small rubber Kong.

Three special tennis-like balls for small dogs.

A spray bottle of pee neutralizer just in case.

A collar ID tag we customized at a tag machine in the store.

It wasn't on the required list, but we also came away with an auto bucket seat protector. Early December can be very muddy.

At the hardware store we bought two plastic leftover dishes with lids and added a couple we already had. (Those will be used for the training treats.)

All told, the bill came to just over $225. We still have a meet-and-greet vet appointment to pay for, and that should bring the total to about $300, as Dogs for the Deaf said it would.

In the past we have lived with dogs and are quite familiar with their costs, so none of this was a surprise and we are not in the least complaining. The presumably rich lady who owns the Yorkie we saw being fluff-dried in the salon probably spent ten times that on her little darling.

All the same, it's nice that genuine service dogs are considered medical equipment for tax purposes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Six days to go

Six days to go to get ready for Trooper.

My new service dog arrives next Monday, and yesterday a thick packet from Dogs for the Deaf came in the mail: a letter, a placement guide, a booklet of training instructions, and a questionnaire that amounts to a take-home test.

That extensive paperwork immediately upended my admittedly vague expectations.

Quite unlike a toaster oven that just needs to be plugged in, Trooper will not perform flawlessly right off the bat. He has been trained to “work sounds”—the phone, the doorbell, the smoke alarm, etc.—with the person who trained him. Transferring that training to a new handler—me—will take the better part of a week, with some fits and starts.

On Sunday night Laura, his trainer, and Jessica, a new certified trainer coming along to see how placements are made, will arrive by air with the pup from Central Point, Oregon. Starting Monday morning we will go over the fine points of what I can only describe as an operating manual, like that for a locomotive. For the next five days we will practice Trooper’s tasks inside and outside, including visits to restaurants, shops and supermarkets. We will pay a call to his new veterinarian for a meet-and-greet.

In this bonding endeavor, I am the one being trained. It’s going to be like boot camp, only without a drill sergeant to rip me a new one every time I screw up.

Next month Trooper and I will start obedience school. Of course that’s part of my training. I have to be taught how to keep the dog’s skills sharp, and if we are both lucky, we will learn some new ones. A skilled service animal needs a skilled service human.

It'll take the better part of a year, the manual says, before Trooper and I can be considered fully trained.

Tomorrow I’ll be dropping a small fortune at PetSmart for Trooper’s necessities—food, treats, a bed, dishes, toys, pee neutralizer just in case, poop bags, and the like.

This isn’t going to be cheap. But it’s clearly going to be an adventure. I hope I'm up to it.