Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Caption this #4


Here's a favorite from the archives. A photo op at a for-real and everything restaurant in our local burg.  Micron was his usual good sport self and struck a pose for the camera. Unfortunately, he blinked.

Or did he?  Perhaps he is indeed enjoying a delicious tube steak daydream.  If I had the ounce of talent it would take, I'd put a thought balloon over his head with a hot dog floating inside.

Any clever ideas for a caption ideas for this dreamy shot?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Working Dog face

At the tender age of five months, we slipped the working cape over Micron's noggin and snapped the clip under his belly. You're not a little puppy anymore, we tell him, it's time to start acting like a big dog now.
The Mighty Micron at five months

I capture this momentous occasion with a snapshot. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be a pup taking things serious. I'm a big dog now!  See that look of focus on his adorable button-nosed face?  Ah, but look again. That wide legged stance, alert posture. Those brown eyes are indeed focused, but alas not on either of his handlers. Now people, what one word comes to mind when you look at this?  Right. Ok, let's all say it together, shall we  . . .


Yep, the distraction factor, just one of the behaviors that makes Micron so charming.

As we were out and about to socialize this fluffy boy over the next year, we'd be asked, so, what do you think he'll be doing?  A good question that. Of the four types of assistance dogs that Canine Companions for Independence trains and provides, where did we feel Micron would fit? As volunteer puppy raisers, we don't socialize and train for any one specific purpose. We move forward with our eye on the horizon and try our best to get the pup ready for the Advanced Training program at CCI.  Once there the professional trainers work with the dogs for another six to nine months to determine how their skill sets and personalities best fit in the assistance dog world.

But sure, it's fun to fantasize about the destiny of the pup in your charge. Of course, it turned out that thinking that Micron would make it through more than three months of Advanced Training was my own personal fantasy. But long before being faced with stark reality, I'd squint my eyes and picture him as a Service Dog or Skilled Companion Dog. Oh, that would be glorious!  But truth be told, that vision was a little blurry. Holding onto that warm thought was like nailing jello to a wall.  It just didn't feel right. As a pup, Micron just never took anything seriously. Walking into a room, any room, it was like he would throw out his front paws and shout, That's right, people! The party starts . . . NOW!

Ok then, so what about a Hearing Dog? Well, kinda the same thing I guess. Hey! Hey! he'd nudge to alert his person, didja see it? There's a squirrel!  I'll be right back.   No, I suspected CCI's high value system wouldn't be able to overlook this behavior. There's a very specific personality that's required to be a Hearing Dog and tree rat retrieval isn't gonna be a required skill.

Even on matriculation day, Micron jokes
with Karsen about picking up chicks at college.
Which leaves the role of Facility Dog. Now, this one gave me a tinkling spark of hope. Micron loves people and basks in any attention he receives. It's hard to describe really, but it's kinda like he glows. No, not like emitting a light, but maybe more like an aura about him. People tell me they feel better being near him, by petting him. Now if I could just bottle this magical stuff he has, we could share it and make the world a better place.

When talking with folk about CCI dogs, it seems most have some understanding of the work of Service Dogs, Skilled Companion Dogs and Hearing Dogs. These are teams you come across in daily life in the public arena of the world. A Facility Dog, however, doesn't get out as much into the public eye.  Not that they're behind the scenes, mind you. These dogs earn their kibble.  From CCI's website, we learn . . .

Facility Dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting.

CCI Facility Dogs are trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire clients with special needs.

Facility Dogs are needed in educational settings, such as special education classrooms. And an amazing program that's really been taking off over the past few months are the Courthouse Dogs, who promote a feeling of calm and security in a visitation setting. My fellow dog lovin' friends, you can certainly see this, right? Imagine a child about to testify in a courtroom. A stressful situation for any of us, but for a kid with less life experience this can be downright terrifying. Now imagine being able to stroke a calm, friendly Labrador before you walk out there to take your place on the witness stand. No really, close your eyes and think about this. Can you feel the difference it makes? Absolutely incredible stuff, I think.

And in the healthcare setting, our CCI Facility Dogs are trained to assist with medical rehabilitation.  They are there to motivate and encourage folk to pull through otherwise difficult tasks. How so? you ask. Ah, another good question. Well, let me share something pretty darn cool with y'all.

The ruggedly handsome Jarvis was teamed with Margie Benge of Triangle Therapy Services in February, 2012.  For those of you out there on Facebook, I invite you to check out Triangle Therapy Service's page, especially the photo album on Jarvis - First month at work. Margie's photos tell the story of the important job of a dog involved with occupational therapy with children. Talk about the Wow factor.

If you're not on Facebook, then what the heck are you doing with all your spare time anyway? Cleaning the house or something? No what I mean is, check out their website at Triangle Therapy Services to learn more about their pediatric occupational and speech therapy work.

After Micron's turn in to CCI's Advanced Training program, I held onto the Facility Dog dream for a while. Actually, for three whole months until The Phone Call.  But, I plead, he loves people!  He has an aura and everything! Can't he be a Facility Dog?  To which Gwen replies, Yeah, it was a nice try, Donna. But there's too much Microness there.   Too much Micron happening? Sure, I can see that.  Heck, I lived with it for eighteen months, so the news was not a shocker.

What? This is my Serious Look [snort]

What to do with this college dropout?  Well, that's where the pet therapy training comes in.

At a glance, there could be some connection seen between a CCI Facility Dog and a dog involved in a Pet Therapy program. In the world of assistance dogs, there's even some ambiguity with terms among different organizations just to keep us all a bit confused. Lessee if I can help with this without making things worse.

Both occupations require a calm, confident dog. A canine who is at their best around people. A good start, but let's summarize the nitty gritty of things to see what's really different here.

A Facility Dog's work is goal oriented.  The dog is highly trained dog to guide an individual - adult or child - with a specific task. Such as physical rehabilitation, in which the dog is assisting an individual in improving a motor skill or relearning how to use certain muscles after an injury. This type of work is termed as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), bringing the term therapy as another ingredient into the confusion soup. Some of CCI's Facility Dogs are indeed assigned to AAT work in healthcare. But you recall that other Facility Dogs may be working in a courtroom environment or elementary classroom.  All assignments, however, are goal oriented.

How 'bout this? My mouth is closed.
Serious enuf for ya now?
Now a dog involved in Pet Therapy is pretty much what the title says. A person and their pet dog who goes out to make the world a happier place. A noble goal to be sure, but not the goal oriented work of a Facility Dog. What this team does is more recreational.  Showing up to bring a smile to someone. Ask anyone who's had their day changed after a visit by a pet therapy team and you'll understand the value of the program. I'm telling you from experience, the training is tough. No doubt there. But it is a different focus on skill sets for you and your dog.  In our pet therapy course, we're reinforcing good behavior and basic obedience skills. We're not doing anything especially fancy here. With me and Mike, our thing is encouraging party boy to show some self-control. Like not trying to take the yellow tennis balls off the feet of the walker.  While someone is using it.

So in the past I was telling Micron to stop it already with the goofy looks and put on your working dog face, because darn it, you're wearing your cape and you've got to look serious, and well . . .

Today I can look into those sparkling brown eyes and smile back at his open mouthed doggie grin. I know now this is his working dog face.  His job is to bring happiness into a room. Any room.
raising a super dog
There it is. Micron's working dog face.
The one we know and love so well.

Wish us luck, won't you?  Four weeks down and six more to go in our pet therapy training. So far, so good, but we need plenty of positive thoughts sent our way.  This dog has a destiny, you know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Why we do this (Reason #1)

Inga IV and Joseph
(photo used with permission by Trib Total Media)
Joseph's mom says this expression on Inga's face is her this is my job and I have a purpose look. The lovely Inga takes her job very seriously, it seems.  As her puppy raisers, we're just bursting to full with pride. 

She loves her job and just adores Joseph.

Good dog, Inga.


The photo above is by the courtesy of Trib Total Media (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunday, Feb 26 2012). To read the entire related story, including photo gallery and video, go to:
Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The dog has a busier social calendar than I do

Alright everybody, says the Therapy Dog Handler while pointing at me, everything she just told you, I'm gonna tell you the exact opposite.

Yeah, she's talking about me, but no malice is intended. Indeed this gentle lady speaks the truth. I had just finished talking to a group of young people about assistance dogs and their incredible feats of derring-do.  This was way back when the mighty Micron was a young CCI pup in training and we still had fantasies of him graduating the program. And to be rather honest, until this particular day I had not given a Therapy Dog program much thought.

Micron started working on his relaxation techniques at an early age.
He's now reached proficiency.
So the contrary comment grabbed my attention. Opposite, she says?  Ok, I'm listening.

Now, our young audience had observed as Micron did a fine job of demonstrating the focus an assistance dog must have. How the dog must be dialed into their handler and follow all directions as asked. Distractions are tuned out, whether other dogs, people or even a morsel of food on the ground. The dog and handler share a bubble, so to speak.  Everything outside is just a buzzing noise.

Yeah alright, I'm exaggerating here. This is Micron, y'all.  Focus is not a word found in his canine dictionary. Especially as a young yeller feller, he had the attention span of a goldfish - about three seconds. But he did try really hard, bless his heart.

Focus, however, is the point we made to our attentive audience. The essence of a successful Assistance Dog team, I say. 

And here is exactly where things are different for a Therapy Dog.  It was an awakening to see the handler remove the leash from Leela, a tail waggin' black Labrador, to allow her to walk freely among the kids.  Leela calmly greeted each kid, sometimes spending more time with one than another. I learn that she is reading the kids, checking their moods and their responses to her attention. Over the next few minutes, Leela makes her choice from our audience of fifteen and settles down to lie at the feet of a boy. He slips from his chair to the floor to hug her. And there they remain there for the rest of the presentation. The boy smoothly petting the dog's back with her head resting on his lap. Why this particular boy and what was churning through his young noggin? Only he and Leela know for sure.

So here we have two types of working dogs doing God's work in very different ways. They have their own unique -and essential- gifts to offer in our world of human beans. 

Because these are dogs interacting in our world of people, there are indeed a few similarities. More than pets, any working dog is held to a higher standard. I'm not talking just about the wow factor of things. But instead the foundation that we start from. These pups must be tipping the scale on their obedience skills. And be way up there on that very basic qualification of any well-behaved, trustworthy dog.


A well socialized dog is a dog confident in a stressful situation. To be able to carry on in a environment where things just ain't right in a dog's eyes is not a natural state of mind of many of our canine friends.  Early socialization, while keeping an eye out for those puppy fear periods, is the making of a good companion you can enjoy in the public arena of life.

As a kid, our dogs were working canines of yet another ilk. Farm dogs who each had a purpose as protectors of the realm with such tasks as keeping the chicken coop weasel free. But outside dogs, the lot of them. So when all grown up with a house of my own, I manage to convince the Husband that marital bliss can only be fully achieved with a pet dog. Just like having kids, the first one is the practice one where you make all your mistakes. We didn't socialize Jack the Wonder Dog and spent the next thirteen years suffering the consequences. Not fear behavior from this lovable mutt, mind you. We're talking complete abandonment of self control. Picture a cub scout tanked on Mountain Dew and Reese Cups. And running around a campfire with a stick on fire. It was like that. All the time. We loved the fella and his heart of gold, but darn it, could not take him anywhere without abject embarrassment.

And again, like having more kids, you start paying attention to the things that do matter (like good manners) and less about the stuff that doesn't (just blowing the dirt off the pacifier instead of boiling the thing).  With our next dogs, we got them all out and about early in puppyhood. Obedience classes, visiting friend's houses, vacations in the RV, and meeting other friendly dogs. So by the time we got our first CCI pup and put the training cape on her, we were off and ready. Let's do this thing, we said.

Our second CCI pup was, by gosh and golly, well socialized. Micron does remind us at times of Jack the Wonder Dog, both with handsome golden looks and silly antics. The comparison stops short about right there, though.  From the tender age of eight weeks, Micron was systematically introduced to the new and different. At two years old, we find ourselves hard pressed to find something that would cause Micron to do a spit-take. No longer permitted to wear a CCI training cape, our public visits happen less these days. But Micron is still welcome at the assisted living facility to visit a family member. So much so, we find ourselves in a sticky situation if we darken their doorway without his fuzzy company.  And where's Mike?, they all ask accusingly, is he sick or something?  Like he better be, because there's no other acceptable excuse to not bring his smiling face and wagging tail into their world.

A doggie social event.
Ruh roh, looks like a terrier crashed this Yellow Dog party.

Sure, I still make mistakes with our dogs, even the CCI pups in training. I'm merely a human bean, after all. We people seems to run more on emotions more than instinct, don't we?. But the one thing I'll never screw up on again with a dog is early socialization.  We learned a hard lesson with Jack the Wonder Dog. Who, just by the way, would answer to the name of Awwshitjack with a smiling face and wagging tail.

Sometimes new and different is well,
more different than others.
Oh, and for those paying close attention to my wisdom about having more than one kid, you are certainly aware that I'm speaking hypothetically.  My only son endured his childhood as my practice kid. Sorry about your lot in life, Kiddo, but take comfort in the knowledge that you are indeed my Favorite. Some of us have to fiercely compete for that honor with our siblings. Not that we still do, of course.

Uh huh. Yeah, right.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Interview with a cat

I was asked to do a story on the newly adopted Bodine for our company newsletter and so opted for an interview format to reveal the personality of this cat. Because you know, living in a house with two retrievers and a terrier is not for sissies. Particularly if you are of the feline persuasion, you pretty much need an overload of confidence for survival's sake.

And this cat's got what it takes. His confidence is trumped only by his very obnoxiousness. And oh, I am fully aware that the sweet cuddles and the purring head bumps are just a ploy in his plans to take over this household.  But darn it, he's just so good at it.

(Just a bit of back story before we get into this dialog. Bodine is a retiree from P&G Pet Care and spent some time in the office environment before we snagged him for our very own. If any interest in the the Companion Connections adoption program, contact me privately at I'll put you in touch with our animal welfare specialist.)
So, Angela, I tried to interview Bodine like you asked, but things kind of took a turn southward.  I just wanted to talk with him about how he liked life in the Sword House in the past two months since his adoption.  But in the end, all I had to show for the effort was just a bunch of cattitude.  Here’s the transcript of our conversation.
A disclaimer that no cats were harmed during this dialog exchange. But it was tempting.

Interview with Bodine the Cat

Donna:   Bodine, come here a minute. I want to talk with you.
Bodine:  What now? Oh, hey, that was Jager. I wasn’t even near the dining room table.
So, when are you going to do something
about that terrier of yours?
D:   No, I just wanted . . . wait, what? The dining room table?  Where I had all the income tax paperwork sorted out?  Aw, man . . .
B:   I’m tellin’ ya, Chick-a-roni. You need to do something about that terrier. He’s out of control.
D:   Right. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk with you about.  Listen, I was asked to interview . . .
B:   Oh, I get it. You just saw the footprints on the kitchen counter, huh?  Well, I have to do that at night after you’ve gone to bed. But it’s your fault, you know.
D:   And how is litter box feet on my kitchen counter anywhere at all my fault, Bodine?  I prepare food up there. And I don’t want your poo-tainted paws tromping across my otherwise clean counters. Is that too much to ask of you, Your Grace?
B:   Hey, don’t even pretend that we don’t know the value of my litter snickers around here. Might as well put a neon Esther Price Candy sign over my litter box. If I didn’t produce such noshable treasures, then why would the dogs go through such great lengths to partake in the delicacy of the things?
D:   Now Bodine, that’s just nasty. And I think my cleanliness value system rates a little higher than the dogs’.
B:   That’s not what I heard.
D:   Bodine!
B:   Well, I only hang out in the kitchen at night because of your silly overreaction the first time you saw me up on those [cough] “clean” counters of yours. Heh, you should have seen your face. And that sound you made. Not really a shriek, more like a siren with sinus issues, I think. That was precious [wipes tears from his eyes].  The best part was when the neighbors knocked on the door to see if you were ok.
D:   Now you’re exaggerating. They didn’t come over.
B:   Well, they should have. It’s probably because they don’t like you.
D:   Bodine!  Now you’re just being mean. Where’s that sweet little cat I adopted from the PHNC? I kinda miss that guy.  Remember the day I discovered we were meant to be your forever home? That one day Yaxley and I were working at the PHNC - you had walked right up to Yax while he was lying down and dropped onto his front paws. Then you rolled over onto your back and started to purr. Melted my heart, you did.
B:   You liked that, didn’t you?  One of my best moves. I call it the “dopey dog down” maneuver. It really works with the chicks. Right, Chick-a-roni?
D:   You know, I wish you wouldn’t call me that.  It’s disrespectful. After all, I take care of you and feed you and everything.
B:   Ok, sure. Whatever.
D:   Thank you.
B:   Kibble Wench.
D:   [sigh] Bodine, I know you want to exude this tough guy persona, but I’ve seen your soft side.  You’re just a cuddle bunny sometimes. Albeit, a cuddle bunny with spikes. This “kneading dough” thing you do with your claws.  What’s that about, anyway?
B:   Just love needles, Chick-a-roni.  I’m stitching my affection into you, so to speak.
D:   Right, just like a tattoo. Think you might try loving me just a little more gently?
B:   Sure thing. I’ll get right on that. Hey, are we done here? It’s about time for me to run around the house like my tail is on fire and watch you yell at the dogs.  What’s that you’re always saying to them?
He is . . .  the most interesting cat in the world.

D:   “Leave it.”
B:   Ha ha, that’s it. So Jager doesn’t understand English, is that right?  He’s always in so much trouble with you. 
D:   Just of recent, it seems. Dang, not only has my train of thought derailed here, but I think the caboose has caught on fire as well. Bodine, my love, let me just ask you one question before I give up on this interview idea.
B:   No prob, Chickie. Shoot.
D:   Ok, lemme grab my list here.  Yeah so, [ahem] Question Number One.   Bodine, we welcomed you into our humble household two months ago.  How are you liking your forever home so far?
B:   Wait! Are you serious? I’m supposed to be staying here? Forever, you say?
D:   Well, yeah. That was the general idea. What did you think?
B:   I don’t know. That this was a witness protection program or something. I mean, after I ate that chick’s Egg McMuffin off her desk at the PHNC, that we were just waiting out a cooling off period.  Ha ha, because, boy, was she p. . .
D:   Bodine?
B:   Yeah?
D:   That chick was me. That was my breakfast.
B:   oh.
D:   No matter. I’ve long since forgiven you. Especially since you’ve brought so much into our home these last two months.
B:   So much . . . love?
D:   Actually I was thinking “drama.” But sure, “love” works, too. And Bodine?
B:   Yeah?
D:   Thanks for being you. I love you just the way you are, kiddo. 
B:   Aww . . . [looks down] Ditto, Chickie

Tell me the truth . . . do these patches make my butt look big?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Unbirthday to Jager

We don't know Jager's birthday, having adopted him as an adult dog.  He spent some time on the streets as an unwanted pup, then moved around foster homes with a rescue group. He didn't make it to his forever home until two years old. Until then, survival was a big deal, not celebrating a birthday. 

But now he's part of our family and such a special dog deserves a special day, I think.  March 12 is Happy Adoption Day for Jager.  This week marks six years since he's become a part of our lives.

Not a service dog in training, nor a therapy dog, Jager fills yet another role. 

We're stuck in traffic, nobody is going anywhere. I see in the rear view mirror that Jager is at the back window and wagging his tail furiously.  In the SUV next to us, two children are waving at him.  So I roll down the window and Jager sticks his noggin out with a open mouth doggie grin.  The kids are leaning out, yelling Hi Doggie! I make eye contact with the dad who is smiling as well. Here we are stuck in traffic and everyone is having a happy moment.

That's what Jager does. He is a bright spot in the day.

Another fine example of who rescued who?  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Micron Effect

Oh man, says a co-worker, I just finished an ugly phone conversation. Our Human Resources manager has come in late to our budget meeting in progress. Because of privacy laws and just plain moral fortitude, she really can't share any more and is left with that nasty feeling that comes with internalizing stress. 

Yeah, I think, I'm familiar with that heavy, queasy in the mid-section, kind of sensation. You too? When you have that visceral need to unload some of this, well, crap that life has stuffed into you. Oh, ugh, was that more literal than figurative? Sorry about that. But you know, right? You just can't share the burden that's eating you. Or because of a sense of martyrdom cleverly disguised as pride, you won't.

We get so busy in our own worries, focused on the things that are circling about our heads like a cloud of gnats. As human beans we miss a lot of cues from our friends and family. Those subtle markings that define stress in other folk. Unless someone tells us that the Suck Scale is tagging a high point that day, we may not see the extra quiet mood.  The person who's not engaging in the conversation. The usual spring in the step is missing.  And if we do ask, are you ok?, we might get the succinct reply, yeah, I'm fine.
So as if a budget meeting isn't enough giddy fun on a Monday morning,  my friend and co-worker walks into the room with a bit of fresh-from-the-phone emotional baggage.  A few minutes in, I do the obligatory peek under the table to make sure the mighty Micron has not broken his Down-Stay. In Micron's world (picture everyone as a muppet who talks in sing-song) an implied down-stay is solid so long as his belly doesn't leave the carpet. This reasoning, of course, allows a stealthy army crawl to a new destination.

And crawled he has, the big goober.  Right over to lay his head on my friend's feet.  He passes by three pairs of stylin' shoes to reach the person who needs his Micron-ness the most. And by her own admission, she's not even a dog person.


What does Micron know that we don't? Without verbal cues, he seeks out a person who needs comfort. Is it an emotional aura, a particular scent we have when stressed?  A kind of sixth sense unique to dogs?

Sure, this story is anecdotal and could stand on its own as a happy Micron tale. But the dog has done this thing again and again. He seeks out the soul in the room that craves a calming influence. Since he was a cotton ball pup, he's been the office go-to dog for reducing blood pressure.  Folk stop by my cube just to spend a Micron moment before continuing on with their workday.  Ah, a magical belly rub. Talk about a win-win.

That's it, young people. Just relax now.
We do know that the fluffy, friendly -and highly distractable- mighty Micron is not made of service dog stuff.  Just not gonna be his destiny.  I've always said though, there's just too much dog happening here for just our humble family.  I need to share this dog's gifts. I must.

So here we go, I've signed the yellow goofball up for therapy dog classes. We've decided on Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association as our organization of choice. A volunteer run group of passionate folk who take this therapy stuff very serious. In many ways, I'm reminded of CCI in their very high standards.

See? Just looking at him makes you feel like a nap, doesn't it.
Micron has an advantage as a past CCI puppy in all the socialization skills he's got under his dog collar. No worries there.  What does have me concerned with the goober, however, is that incessant lust for life. So over these next ten weeks of training, we're focusing on introducing him to the concept of self-control. Oh yeah, sez Micron, that again.

Oh, and that weird obsessive thing he has for stuffed toys. The retriever in him requires something soft and fluffy in his maw.  Small stuffed animals are this super dog's kryptonite.  Chihuahuas in cute sweaters included (sorry about that one time, Ruby). We're working on this too. Stuffed toys are not bad, per se and all. But you can't be snatching the things from little kid's hands, then stand there and wag your tail at them.  Not becoming of a therapy dog, you know.

So what is the difference between a Skilled Service Dog and a Therapy Dog involved in animal assisted therapy? A lot, actually. Maybe even more than most people realize. Just as a Guide Dog is a whole nuther animal than a Service Dog, so to speak.  Ah, but fodder for another post. Stay tuned, we'll cover this as well.

I wish this was a chihuahua in a sweater, sez Mcron
How's Micron gonna do with this Therapy Dog training, you ask? Not sure yet. It's even possible he may not pass the final exam, that's how tough the testing is. Just proof of the high standards of mvPTa, in my experienced opinion.  We're told if we don't pass the Therapy Team exam, it doesn't mean we can't do this thing. Instead it's merely an indicator that we're not quite ready yet. And we can train and try again.

I do believe that Micron brings happiness and a sense of peace to the world at large. No, not believe. I've seen the Micron phenomena with my own hazel eyes. The dog has a gift.

Now only if I didn't have to finger sweep that little cat toy out of his maw at last week's training class. [sigh]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mall hair

"Do you want butter topping on your popcorn?"

This my 1978 version of "you want fries with that?"  I'm hard at work behind the concession counter at the Salem Mall Cinemas.  My first real job and I'm totally jazzed up about it.  Gettin' paid by a corporate printed check and everything. We gotcher first run movies that I can see as many times as I want! For free! Mmm, surrounded by the aromas of cola syrup and warm popcorn. Rows upon rows of colorful candy boxes aglow under the fluorescent lights in the glass display case. Minimum wage in 1978? A cool $2.65 an hour. You don't get this kind of payola babysitting the neighbor's kid, I gotta tell ya.

This heady buzz actually lasted nearly an hour before I was able to check off this concession job as a solid 8 on the Suck Scale.

A mere few minutes after donning the stylish brown 70's era polyester uniform, some power hungry jerky usher hands me a rag mop dripping gray water. With an aura of all the authority a part-time usher can manage, he tells me the newest employee gets to clean up after the clogged john in the ladies room. Seeing me blanch at the prospect, I was saved by the smell by a compassionate co-worker who calls his bluff and sends him on his merry usher way. But my relief was short-lived as during concession training, I discover that there are no cash registers. No calculators and not even a scratch pad allowed. All concession sales are to be added in the noggin, the total snack dollar investment shared with the hapless popcorn eating public, then accurate change made. Augh, math! My high school nemesis.

We did not cover this in the interview process.

Which by the way, was not much more than, are you a cute 16-year old female, what's your social security number and can you start on Friday? Not a single warning about doing math in your head. The mop is starting to look more approachable.

Things just go south from there. The popcorn, as I soon discover, is delivered already popped in huge yellow plastic bags. That's right, pre-popped from some prior date in time and tossed from a panel truck by a guy with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. And that yummy butter topping is a coronary-to-be packaged in a hefty day-glo orange brick of shortening. We'd thunk the lard loaf in a warmer for about an hour until it melted into an aromatic imposter of slick buttery goodness. So you want a Diet Pepsi with your butter-topped popcorn? Chick, I wanted to say, going diet cola ain't gonna save ya from that bad decision. 

I'll tell you another thing. Luke didn't have abs like that.
But 1978 is coming of age time for my teenage geek selfness.  The cinema is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Star Wars. This is is Episode IV - a New Hope, people. Where it all begins and I could watch it pretty much anytime I wasn't working concession. Oh yes, do envy me y'all. Over the summer months of 1978 I do believe I clocked in about a thousand and two viewings.  I'm kind of a a fan of the Star Wars franchise, you might say.  The question to ponder, what did geeks talk about  before 1978?

So, with all the authority a concession girl can manage, I will tell you this.  Greedo did not shoot first.

Good or bad, that job only lasted the summer. I moved onto another genre of mall employment at Spencer Gifts, the split personality of mall retail. The red shag carpeted purveyor of adult-themed accessories awkwardly in the same line of sight as the innocent plush toys for kids. Oh, but stories for another day. Like how we dealt with the fella back in the blacklight area interacting with the Farrah poster [shudder].  Ah, memories.

So anyway, my intent is to convince you that I have some experience in the world that is shopping malls. Been around that block, so to speak. I've gone from wage slave to shopper of family material goods.  As a mother, I've marched that solitary walk of ten paces behind a young teenager (don't walk with me, Mom) just to observe with an odd mix of horror and pride that my young son is turning the heads of teenage girls. But as I've aged grown, malls have changed as well.  We now see stores marketing to the youth of today of pretty princesses, custom-made teddy bears and t-shirt shops suggesting anarchy is truly the way of the future.

Yax processes this new place in his noggin.
And because a shopping mall is just one more place that people enjoy, a service dog should be comfortable in the environment as well. As a CCI puppy raiser, I understand that the pup in my care must have a been there-done that attitude with the all around sensory experience that that is mall shopping.  So our local puppy raising group arranged a training session at the nearby Tuttle Mall. 

We meet in the food court, dogs and puppy raisers, for a quick intro. We count fourteen pups, some as young as six months. But we're geared up and ready, training capes and gentle leaders on.  Let's do this thing.

Yaxley, I say, Let's go.

And off we go, riding in the glass elevators and walking through various and sundry shops. We practice Ups, Unders and appropriate greetings with shoppers. Fourteen dogs march through the indoor kiddie playground to experience the spongy cork flooring under the paws and the distraction of kidlets playing. We emerge from the playground with several kids in tow. Not a problem, let's put the pups in a Down and allow some quality time to encourage calm greetings with their young fan base.

Little boys smell like french fries
Build-a-Bear has potential doggie distractions with a gazillion stuffed toys watching you with their black button eyes and that freaky machine that has bear gut stuffing tossed about. Yaxley did a fine job keeping focus, while I was distracted by the discovery of tiny Build-a-Bear underwear briefs. Teddy bears wear tidy whities now? With flys?  My, times have changed.

Recovering from the tidy whitie trauma.
A handler swap is always helpful in pup training. Same commands, a different voice giving it.  We're reminded of the pickle test.  Does the dog react to the command word or the situation?

Think about this . . . I open the car door and say "Yaxley, Car." He jumps in every time.

How about if I open the car door and say "Yaxley, Pickle" and he jumps in, well, what does that mean?  That he's reacting to the situation, not the command word. Time to mix things up then. We'd try training using a different car. Or give a series of other behaviors while the car door is open, before giving the Car command.

Same philosophy for changing handlers. How does the dog react to a Sit or Down given by someone not so familiar?

Yax working with another puppy raiser and doing a stellar job (middle of shot).

And yet another handler.  Good dog. Yax.  Do me proud, yellow one.
The dog toy store could be a powerful mind bender for a young and playful pup. Think of the analogy of a kid in a candy shop. But our working dogs managed it all with finesse. And here's Yaxley being all professional and looking pretty darn comfortable.

[yawn] I gotta Jager squeak toy at home.
Back in the food court, we're done. Training mission accomplished. Time for a celebratory dog biscuit and good ear ruffle for all.

Well done, yeller feller.

Blog Roll Update

Y'all know by now how much I enjoy dogs, photography and the general feel good activities of combining these two things.  With the leash in one hand and the Canon in the other, I do try to capture my admittedly amateur's view of this puppy raising business.

This is but a small part of the goodness that is Canine Companions for Independence. For your viewing pleasure, I'd like to share with you the blog of professional photographer, Douglas Bawden.  He is generously volunteering his time and talent to CCI to help in raising awareness of our amazing organization.

Do take a moment to check out his stuff, photographically speaking, at Douglas Bawden Photography.  We've got him in the blog roll on the right to make it easier to watch for updates.
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