Wednesday, March 30, 2016


We’re visiting Iceland for a couple of weeks this summer—but Trooper isn’t going.

The Icelanders welcome service dogs, but they, like all animals, have to endure a 30-day quarantine at Keflavik airport before being allowed into the country. The Icelanders are very careful about visitors.

We’d planned (and largely paid for) the trip last fall before we knew Trooper was coming to live with us. Not that we wanted to cancel. We had an ace in the hole: my son Conan and his family, who live in nearby Chicago with their lolloping vizsla/Plott hound, Ginny.

Conan and his crew said they’d love to host Trooper whlle we were gone.

Would he miss me too much? We decided to experiment with an overnight stay. And so he spent last night at Conan’s house.

When Debby and I left, Annie said, he spent a short while sitting at the door and looking up for us. But then he fell into the joyous scrum of life with a young family—and thrived.

Of course he gave me an exceptionally big hello this morning when I picked him up. But we expected that.

He’ll be fine this summer. Family is much better than jail at PetSmart.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rat poison

Bullet dodged.

We just got a call from the vet that Trooper’s blood test this morning for anticoagulants had come back normal. No need for further action.


Early in March, Trooper had pooped neon green. That was weird. I looked up the phenomenon on the Internet and discovered that green poop can be caused by all sorts of things, including crayons and oddly colored dog treats—neither of which he’d had. Still, he is a notorious scavenger and we have had to watch him carefully both in the house and on our walks. 

We called the vet.

Around here, he said, only one thing causes green dog poop: rat poison.

What to do?

We could, the vet said, wait for symptoms to develop. Rat poison kills by stopping an animal’s blood from clotting, causing internal hemorrhaging. If blood began to drip from his nose, among other things, he definitely would be suffering from rodenticide poisoning.

Or we could be proactive and immediately start him on a three-week regimen of one Vitamin K1 pill a day. The K1 would counteract the anticoagulant properties of rat poison. Four days after stopping the K1, we’d need to bring him in for a blood test.

For twenty-one days we watched Trooper carefully. He showed no symptoms at all. None. Every day he went about his various businesses, including his tasks as a service dog, with both elan and aplomb. We took the train to Arizona and back, and he handled that well.

We have racked our brains trying to figure out how he could have gotten into rat poison. (We are not 100 per cent sure that was what caused the green poop, but it is the likeliest culprit.)

We had often walked him in an alley near our condo that is a popular promenade for neighborhood dogs. It is possible that a homeowner, plagued by mice and rats around his garage, salted a few chunks of poison inside his property and an animal, perhaps a possum or raccoon, dragged it out into the alley—and Trooper scarfed it when I wasn’t looking.

That’s the likeliest scenario I can think of.

In any case, we’re continuing to work on our efforts to train Trooper away from scavenging, and we’re scanning the ground well ahead of him on our walks.

And we’re also staying out of alleys.

Monday, March 21, 2016

To Arizona and back with Trooper

Service dog team at Albuquerque, N.M.
We’re just back from a week’s jaunt to Winslow, Arizona, and the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Parks. Trooper, for the most part, was a trouper.

He, Debby and I took Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, where “fresh air” stops are few and far between, but the conductors on this westbound run were willing to hold the train at some stations—La Plata, Missouri, in particular—while Trooper found a good place to transact his business. He can be picky, for he is a California-born, Oregon-raised dog, and prefers grass to Southwestern gravel and concrete.

At Albuquerque we saw a small patch of greenery off the bus station part of the depot and headed for it, only to be called back by station security guards.

"It's full of needles," one said. "Drug users shoot up there."

Albuquerque does have a terrible drug problem. From the train we saw one user cooking dope with matches at trackside and another nodding in the sun.

We did find a fairly clear patch of gravel with a few dry shrubs close to the station, and that was enough for Trooper.

We also discovered that in emergencies Trooper has a 12-hour capacity. Not that we’d often push him that far, but it’s good to know.

Troop on his blankie in the sleeping car.
He was uncharacteristically restless in the dining car, standing and trying to get into the aisle rather than lying quietly at my feet. That was probably because of the long hours he spent idle or asleep in our bedroom. He just had to work off pent-up terrier energy.

Otherwise he made the trip like a veteran.

The team in front of the rail platform gate at La Posada.
In Winslow, when we checked into La Posada, the grand old Fred Harvey railroad hotel, the clerk asked me to sign a pet policy agreement. Although the $50 pet deposit and $10 pet fee were waived—the ADA mandates no extra charge for service dogs—the clerk wanted me to initial the items about housetraining, leashing, never leaving the pet alone in the room, and so forth, and sign the document.

“This makes me uncomfortable,” I said. “He is a trained service dog, not a pet. I shouldn’t have to sign this.”

If we couldn’t get the room otherwise, I did plan to sign the agreement and take up the issue with the hotel manager the next day. It was after 10 p.m. when the train arrived, and we were weary.

“Okay,” said the clerk quickly. “We don’t want our guests to feel uncomfortable. You don’t need to sign this.”

Just like that we were in.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Room at La Posada.
The deaf part of a service dog team didn't need these.
Later on I deduced that the incident may have been La Posada’s way of distinguishing genuine service dog teams from fraudulent ones. No real service dog handler would sign such an agreement. People trying to pass off their pets as service animals very likely wouldn’t know the fine print of the ADA and would willingly sign. La Posada could then keep an eye on the pets' behavior.

In any case, Trooper was welcome in the Turquoise Room, the hotel’s famous gourmet restaurant, and the maitre d’ was more than willing to lead us to a table well out of the way.

Service dog team at the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park.
At the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert 60 miles east, Trooper nimbly trod the rocky trails, but began panting heavily under the hot sun overhead, for his long, nearly coal-black fur soaks up heat. We had to find shady spots for him to rest, and he vacuumed up an entire bowl of water when we returned to our rental car.

Later, in Winslow, I had to stop at the local emergency room to have a doctor look at an infected bump on my nose, and Trooper lay quietly and professionally at my feet during the examination.

Trooper and Debby in our sleeper compartment returning to Chicago.
On the return trip to Chicago, I decided to take my meals in the bedroom with Trooper rather than subject him to the dank caves under the diner tables. Also, picking up and carrying a 17-pound dog between the cars of a train bucketing and rocking at 79 miles an hour can be very wearying.

The conductors on the eastbound run weren’t as accommodating as those on the westbound, but we managed nicely all the same.

All in all, it was a good trip.

And I doubt that many service dogs for the deaf can claim to have watered a petrified tree.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why I welcome political robocalls

They help train Trooper to let me know the phone's ringing by jumping up on me and leading me to it.

As soon as the CaptionCall (a captioned telephone for the deaf) tells me it's a recording, I pick up the receiver and put it down immediately.

Then Trooper gets his treat. And nobody gets my vote.

Did his civic duty

Trooper yesterday at the City of Evanston Civic Center

Monday, March 7, 2016

Trooper's roots

All I knew about the origins of Trooper, my shaggy little black service schnoodle, was that he came from an animal shelter in Bakersfield, California. Last week I wrote to Paula Lysinger, who travels around the West looking for suitable candidates for training at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon, and asked her what she knew about him as well as why she chose him.

Her response:

“He was a stray that arrived at the City of Bakersfield Animal Care and Control on May 22, 2015, at approximately one year of age. I adopted him on May 29.

“He was a friendly, outgoing little guy who greeted me at the kennel gate with wags and a ‘pick ME’ attitude. I met him in a small fenced yard where I tested him for suitability for the program. 

“The testing included handling (feet, ears, mouth, pet gently, scratch, pick up, put down), reaction to a loud noise and a sudden movement (it's okay to be startled but the dog needs to recover quickly), food motivation (takes treats), toy motivation (plays with toys), a prey drive test in which I swing a floppy toy attached to a long line in front of the dog (okay to be interested, but not overly so) and a food guarding test in which I take away a tasty treat (no growling!). 

“Prior to this, I watched a staff member take him from the kennel and walk him past the other dogs to the yard. He was eager to get out and ignored the other dogs he passed.

“I thought he might be suitable (and I was right!) and adopted him. He had no health problems and was in good shape when I got him.”

Sounds like Trooper, all right. Ten months later, he may be showing a higher prey drive than he did at first—whenever he spots a squirrel on our walks, he quickly alerts and jerks the leash a bit, but when told to stand down (“Let him alone!” I say) he does not pull, and when we walk past the squirrel’s tree he quickly returns to heeling properly.

When we get up to our cabin in the woods on Lake Superior in May, it will be interesting to watch how Trooper treats the many chipmunks on the property. We are having a 25 foot by 35 foot mesh fence erected in the yard for a dog run, and some of the chippies are bound to stray inside.

I like the cute little 'munks and hope Trooper does not nail any, but if he should score a red squirrel or two—they are terribly destructive pests—I will not mourn.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


No dog behaves perfectly, even a highly trained service animal.

Trooper’s greatest failing is his tendency, like a bottom-feeding pond loach, to vacuum up everything loose and possibly but not necessarily edible.

When we’re in restaurants I have to watch him while he eyes tidbits that drop from the tables next to ours. At home we have to make sure nothing’s on the floor except his doggie toys.

The other day he got hold of a pencil that had fallen from my desk and ate it—almost all of it except the metal ferrule and eraser. I gathered lots of cedar shreds and broken graphite scattered about the floor, but clearly not enough to make a whole pencil.

We called the vet.

Don’t worry, he said. Trooper’s likely to be OK. Mix some cooked rice into his food, watch his poo for a couple of days, and call if there’s any bleeding.

Yesterday morning there were a few scraps of wood in his otherwise normal poo—boy, that was quick, barely 16 hours from guggle to zatch.

When we returned home Troop was even livelier than usual, tearing about the living room in high gear for half a dozen circuits.

Same thing today. Bullet apparently ducked.

How to break him of the habit?

Start with hiding a treat in your fist, say the experts, and while the dog noses your hand, refuse to open your palm while saying “Leave it! Leave it!” When he stops bumping your fist, give him the treat amid a shower of praise.

Trooper is wise to the trick. He ignores my fist and patiently waits till I open my hand.

On our walks I have been watching carefully  as he trots along, nose to the ground, ready to bark “Leave it!” and lift his head with the leash when he approaches a juicy target.

Now I’m going to try another training strategy: whenever he gets ready to hoover up a morsel, speaking to him and offering a treat. The idea is to get him to concentrate on me rather than the ground as a source of goodies.

It’s going to be a long process. Trained service animal he may be, but Trooper is a dog, and dogs have a long evolutionary history of going for the main chance. It’s how they’ve survived all these millennia.