Hero Dogs’ blogs are usually written from the dog’s voice because they have so many fun adventures and incredible talents to share with their fans. I am changing course just for this month because what Teddy has done this month brings to mind the true meaning of the name Hero Dogs. Many people assume that the name is a somewhat cute reference to the fact that we are giving the dogs to Heroes, people who have sacrificed so much for the good of our country. In truth, the name is about what the dogs in our program can do for wonderful veterans. I’ll let Teddy’s actions explain what I mean.
Teddy has always been a very affectionate, intuitive animal. I cannot count the number of times he has jumped in the lap of someone in a wheelchair, refrained from leaning on someone’s leg as he likes to do, or otherwise approached a person in an unusual way only to have that person say, “How did he know what I wanted?” There have been so many times when we are working with veterans or active military members that Teddy has visibly reduced the stress they carry at that moment. Service men and women rub his belly and canoodle with him just to let their worries disappear for those few moments. I once watched a Navy captain in full uniform get down on the floor and spoon with Teddy for about ten minutes. I am sure that man had serious concerns about logistics, losses and lives, and responsibilities to loved ones back home. For those ten minutes, however, he had a break.
That raises the question of what it means to have a service dog, not for ten minutes, but for the dog’s lifetime. What can having a dog do for a veteran? Research tells us that many veterans who have a service animal are able to reduce or eliminate medications they need for anxiety and depression. Research also tells us that dogs accomplish this, and all we have seen Teddy do for others, because their eyes see small muscular movements in our bodies and their noses smell the human odors of fears, joy, hope, etc. With this information, dogs can respond in just the right way to meet human needs. What does that really mean for a veteran? How does that really feel? Teddy’s story this month can answer those questions.
Recently, our eldest dog, Zora (seen in many pictures with Teddy) stopped eating her most favorite treat. As a lab mix who ate nearly everything, we were immediately concerned and took her to the vet. A few hours later, our worst fears were confirmed when we found out our beloved seven year old dog had a belly filled with cancer. My husband and I adopted her when we were first married and I am sure many of you understand exactly what I mean when I say that she was our first baby. Our whole family was devastated to learn she was dying. We spent the next week going for walks by her favorite creek, feeding her steak and bacon for dinner, and petting her as much as possible. Finally the day arrived when she did not want to live any longer and sorrow filled a home we had only ever known with her in it.
Teddy, who normally follows me around the house anyway, became attached to my side. He only left when he felt it was time to lean into my husband and shoulder some of the weight of his grief. Night was particularly difficult because I would wake, look to where I expected to see Zora, and realize all over again that she was gone. Although Teddy has his own bed, he slept by my side (on the floor – the dog cannot actually jump on our bed). Just as I would turn my head to look for Zora, Teddy’s head was up, right by my own. He kissed me, leaned into me, and stayed stock still in what I am sure was an uncomfortable position for as long as I need to hold his furry head and cry. Never once did I call for him or give a command to say, “Comfort me!” In fact, several times his head was on my bed before I even realized what I was looking for, before I even had the chance to feel sad again. I began to understand the true help that Hero Dogs provide to veterans.
Imagine what it must be like as a veteran, to wake up night after night and discover that it is a good friend who is no longer alive, one of your own limbs that won’t come back, or that your sense of calm and peace seems as if it will never return. Certainly it becomes difficult to turn to a friend, parent, or spouse over and over again for comfort. What if you would like to grieve but without having to talk? What if you would like comfort without having to ask for it? What if your sadness becomes overwhelming not in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the day, with people all around? One of the Hero Dogs can be there for you. They ease pain without words. They calm without command. They do it repeatedly because it makes them happy to help you. These dogs give help that human words cannot describe. They provide comfort that modern medicine cannot match. This is why we do not call them service dogs. This is why they are Hero Dogs.
Ahhhhh…… winter. I love winter because many of my allergies go away. You can see me here outside, in the snow, chewing a nut, feeling so happy. I love snow, I love cold, I just love this time of year. Unfortunately, this year my allergies did not go away completely during the cold like they did last year. People told me that my allergies would probably get worse. I didn’t know what they meant before. Now I know that it means I have to take my allergy medication every day of the year. No breaks. It doesn’t really bother me any more. I have gotten used to my medications and I didn’t like when we took a break this winter to see if my allergies were on vacation. I spent a few days chewing my paws and my ears started to feel yucky. I can take medication because it is a lot better than yucky ears. Also, as you can see from my Christmas picture, Santa Paws brought me treats that don’t contain anything that makes my paws itch. Nonallergenic treats – yippie!! I love that Santa Paws. He also brought me a new chew bone and a rope ball that I like to shake and throw around with my best friend Hammie.
After the long fall of CFC events, meeting veterans and working with lots of adults, January brings a fun change for me. This is the time of year I get to work a lot with kids. I LOVE KIDS!!! Several of my events have been at local preschools. Shannon and I demonstrate some ways that Hero Dogs can help injured and disabled veterans. We’ve been doing this for a while and, well, you know sometimes routines can get boring. So, I decided to add a comedy act to the show. Shannon always ends the demonstration with an example of how we Hero Dogs can help people get up when they fall down. Shannon falls down and I immediately go to help her. After I lick her to make sure she is still conscious, I’ve added a new element. I lay down next to Shannon and roll around on my back, tummy up, like a I need a good belly rub. You should hear the kids laugh and laugh and laugh! They think I am quite the crack up. Shannon laughs, too, and she asks me, “Do you want to be a service dog or a circus dog?” and then the kids laugh even more. After we’ve had our moment, I do help Shannon up using an excellent example of the “brace” command and we go about the rest of our performance. Sometimes you just need to liven things up a little bit.
I also meet with girl scout troops, high school students, and really anyone who wants to do something to help Hero Dogs and is still too young to be an adult volunteer. I do work with several adults I know to show off my skills, give love, and hang out while these fantastic young people give their time and energy to Hero Dogs. There are no pictures because the Hero Dog humans say they don’t like to put pictures of kids on the internet if we don’t have permission from their parents. So, just imagine me snuggling with young people, getting so very many pets, and licking them as much as I possibly can. It is great to have young people around Hero Dogs and I hope they know that all they do really helps our training so we can go help veterans. I say thank you with a happy, wagging tail.
Well, as most everyone knows, I have become the Hero Dogs Ambassador. I still have lots of Hero Dogs jobs. For example, I helped Luke when he first came to meet with Ike. Luke learned how to work with a service dog while he was with me so that when he started working with Ike, everything would be just fantastic from the beginning. Ike and Luke are such a good team and I am proud to be a part of helping them. I also have lots of outings to meet with veterans who might want a service dog, to groups of people who want to know what Hero Dogs can do to help veterans, and to fund raising events so that people can see what their money buys when they donate to Hero Dogs. I performs lots of important tasks during these outings. I turn on lights, put things away, retrieve things people ask for, open doors, bring wheelchairs, remind people to do something when I hear a timer, go get another human when one human needs help, and I give SO MUCH LOVE. But let’s be honest here, the big story for me recently hasn’t been out and about. It has been at home.
I have some allergies that prevent me from having my own veteran like Ike has Luke. So, Jim and Shannon who raised me took me back home so I could keep training and work with lots of veterans at Hero Dogs and during my outings. But, things were different when I came home. First of all, Jim and Shannon so missed having two dogs that when I left they went out and got a new puppy named Hammie. He was in my last blog. Let me tell you, he and Zora and I are best friends. We run and run and run. We play tug and steal-the-ball and wrestle. Shannon is also training Hammie (he’s a puppy and still doesn’t know everything that will make him a well-behaved dog), and so we often have training sessions together. I get to practice things I already know while Hammie learns them and Hammie is learning a few hard tricks from me. Shannon says it makes life easier to have two dogs who can hit the lights or open the fridge if her hands are full. Zora seems to feel that there is no need to do all of this training stuff; she is confident she will be fed even she sleeps on her couch all day. Zora doesn’t know what she is missing. I actually like training. It is a fun game for me.
Let me tell you about the second change in my house, though. These people, they got a new puppy and a short time later they came home with a new human! His name is Nate. I like him. He smells pretty good. I especially like to lay where he lays – on his blanket, in his play crib, next to his bouncy seat. As you can see in my pictures, I even keep his place warm for him when he has to leave for a while. Nate seems to like having me around. He’ll reach out his hands and feet to touch my fur. All the dogs give him licks from time to time and he seems pretty happy with that, too.
In general I am doing pretty well. My medication makes me feel sleepy and when I have my allergy shots I feel REALLY yucky for a few days. Shannon and Jim are careful not to ask me to do too much when I need to rest. They let me lounge on the baby blanket or sleep on the air conditioning vent until I feel better. The kids come by and pet me and say, “Oh, poor Tedder Fredders.” I muster the energy to wag my tail just so they’ll pet me some more. Then, I feel better and I have work to do so that I am always prepared to be a good ambassador for Hero Dogs. I have a lot of love to give and there are a lot of veterans out there who can use a little of it to make their lives better.
Help sponsor Teddy!
Wow… time sure does fly. I am fast approaching my second birthday in May! I have been at the Hero Dogs training facility since last October working on my advanced skills. My retrieving has improved quite a bit; I can open and close several types of doors; I am very good at retrieving an object to or from a counter, basket, or other person; I am the BEST dog at holding still while bracing a person to help them sit or stand; I can operate a light switch with my nose and a door button with my paw; I can find and alert a person, and I am learning to alert to a timer.
Unfortunately, I have also been having some problems with what the humans call “allergies.” All I know is that my paws and eyes and ears itch so much I want to just chew them right off! I had to take a LOT of shots (I was very brave) (well, the snacks helped), and the itching didn’t bother me much this winter. But then a couple of weeks ago the trees… ah… ahh… ahhhh… CHOOO… the trees started dropping things and now my eyes are all red again and I keep shaking my head to make my ears stop itching. How am I supposed to think about retrieving and stuff when… wait… can I just rub my ears on the rug for a second… what was I saying? Well, sometimes I take some more medicine and it really helps with the itching but then I get sooooo sleepy. Too sleepy for myself.
Anyway, I got some disappointing news this week. I will have to keep taking the shots FOREVER and even then I will still probably have allergies sometimes and have to take the sleepy medicine. So Jennifer told me that I can’t be a partner with a veteran because it’s not fair for them to have to take care of me when I’m supposed to be taking care of them. I was not too happy to hear that ’cause I’ve been working really hard!
But then I got some better news. I am still going to be a Hero Dog! I am going to be the official Hero Dogs Ambassador. I will have many important jobs at Hero Dogs – attending events, giving demonstrations, teaching the new puppies some manners, going on home visits for volunteer puppy raiser/sitter approvals, doing needs assessment interviews with veteran applicants to the program, and assisting in the client training as the “practice dog” when the veterans come for pre-training before they are matched with their own dog. I guess I am actually going to be BUSIER than I was before! But if I don’t feel good, it won’t matter too much if I have to stay home sometimes.
Most of the time I am going stay with my puppy raisers, Shannon and Jim, the kids, ZORA, and Hammie. Who is Hammie, you ask? Can you believe Shannon and Jim went out and got a PUPPY when I left???? Seriously??? I will show him a thing or two, let me tell you. I’m not the puppy anymore. Sometimes I’ll stay at the kennel too when we are busy with events, when a new veteran comes for training, or when new dogs come into the kennel and need a buddy to learn the ropes and the routines.
Anyway, I just want to thank you all for your support in helping me on this journey. I know it is disappointing to find out that I won’t be a service dog for a veteran, but I will actually get to help many, many veterans over the next few years. I will have a busier and more fulfilling life than a dog could hope for, more than enough love, and still be a vital part of our mission of aiding our nation’s injured veterans. I promise to keep my journal updated from time to time to let you know what’s going on at Hero Dogs and what I’ve been up to!
P.S. I can’t believe I almost forgot to ask you for a HUGE favor…because of my health issues, my puppy sponsorship fund is just about depleted. Of course Hero Dogs, Inc. did not expect to keep me forever (I did overhear the humans talking about me in terms of the budget at Sunday’s Board Meeting). Like I don’t have enough on my plate, now they want me to conduct my own fundraiser. Not for Hero Dogs in general, for me Hero Dogs Theodore Roosevelt “Teddy” specifically!
Here’s what I need…I eat twice a day and I enjoy a special treat now and then. Both of these items are what they call “Teddy” specific. Not sure what that means but I do like the sound of it. I take several kinds of medicine, plus weekly allergy shots, and i have special stuff for my ears. Oh and I do appreciate an occasional new toy now and then. Help sponsor Teddy!
Will you please help me by donating to the Hero Dogs “Teddy” fund? Thank you for your support! Please stop by and say hi to me at the next Hero Dogs event so I can thank you in person.
Teddy really appreciates the Hero Dogs volunteers who brush him, play with him and fix his meals. All the special treatment helps him feel better after the hard work of pulling things, alerting to sounds, and finding people and objects. This is tough work for a young dog. In spite of the challenges, Teddy knows that he must train really hard for the special work ahead of him. Teddy has attended many events as a Hero Dogs ambassador and always been perfectly behaved.
Teddy left his puppy raising family and moved in with Libby at the Hero Dogs facility for more advanced training. In addition to perfecting the skills he learned as a puppy, he is working on grasping and pulling, targeting, greetings, and on “leave it”. He continues to be a very affectionate dog who loves other dogs and people.
This has been one busy summer! I went on outings just about every day. Now that I am full grown and pretty reliable, Shannon and the family can take me with them every where they go. We went to stores, restaurants, meetings, parks, and anywhere those people needed to take me. I have become very good at many things while we are on our outings. I know how to pass through doors correctly, push buttons (Though I am best with my paw; my nose is not too accurate yet.), put items up on the conveyour belt, navigate around shopping carts, and put things in baskets. I still love children very much, but I have even learned to just walk by them when I am working. Shannon often rewards me – and maybe them – after I have done some work by letting me “say hello” to them before we leave.
At home, I have training every night, too. We work on things like going to my “place” no matter where in the house I start, doing fancy “heel” work, turning on lights, pulling things across the room to Shannon, opening doors, and finding specific items like the “phone.” I am amazingly good at getting things Shannon asks for around the house. I do low lights pretty well, and I am still working on lights that are high up on a wall. I also LOVE to pull a rope to move things. What I do not like is heeling and “side”. I do not like to heel in specific places too much. If I am standing near Shannon and looking at her, that should be good enough, right? Well, apparently not. I have to be standing in a certain way at a certain distance, etc. etc. These humans sure are picky about what they are looking for when they say “Heel”!
Of course, my life is not all work. Zora and I spent lots of time this summer running around the yard. She taught me about squirrels. Apparently you chase them and then bark at them when they go up a tree. I do not bark. That makes no sense to me. I do understand about the chase part, though. What fun! I even caught a baby squirrel one time, but I did not hurt it and Shannon made me stay while she let it run away. I stayed so well that she gave me some duck treats… my absolute favorite. Then it was back to running around with Zora.
Inside, the family lets me participate in all of their fun. On Jim’s birthday, I stood right next to him with Zora while he opened presents. We sniffed each one to be sure it was safe and not food. When Shannon asked us if we wanted presents, too, we looked at each other with a thought of, “Is that a silly question or what? We always wants presents that are chew toys!” In my capacity as house dog, I play many roles. You can see here that I make an excellent dawg for a young cowpoke.
One week, I played the part of “role model” to a dog named Sherman that the family fostered before he found his forever home. You can tell what a good job of “role model” I played for Sherman. He jumped up on the couch to sleep and I followed him right up there. I cannot read, so in the puppy raiser manual where it says “Do not allow your Hero Dog on the couch,” well, I can’t read that. Instead, I decided to be near my friend to make him feel safe. Shannon made me get off after this picture.
Sigh. Speaking of sighing, man was July hot! One thing I do in the house on hot days is sleep. On this particular hot day, I came in to get a drink from my bowl and I was so tired that I feel asleep with my head still on it.
You try having all this fur when it is over one hundred degrees! This position at least let me rest and drink easily. When I am feeling a little peppier, I will play hide and seek, too. The kids have so much fun calling out, “Where’s Teddy?” and then finding me with giggles. This little tent is just the perfect sized place for me to hide!
Now that summer is winding down, I am getting ready to move on for my big boy training. We’ll keep you posted!
This month, Shannon started taking me on longer outings. Before, I was so young that long outings would tire me out too much. I just wanted to fall asleep, which could lead to me forgetting to behave. No more! I am ten months old and I can work for hours at a time. Well, sort of. I am still a little bit of a puppy. With spring in the air, I do like my play time outside. I run with my best friend Zora, play fetch with Shannon and play soccer with the kids. I even have my own doggy soccer ball. I play sweep. I am pretty good at keeping the ball from getting too close to the net. It helps to have four feet to use plus a mouth to pick up the ball if it starts to get away. That rule about not using your hands doesn’t really bother me at all.
Anyway, now that I am bigger, I can go on full length shopping trips, run a whole morning of errands and go to meetings with Shannon. We go to a meeting about once a week. Our meetings require us to drive for a while. Then, we have to maneuver very carefully together through some heavy traffic. I have to keep a close eye on Shannon and follow her directions to stay safe. I am pretty good at this, except every once in a while when we pass by a city light post. Do you know how much I learn by smelling a city light post? I can tell you about every dog in the neighborhood! I can usually remember to ignore these things, but sometimes Shannon still has to remind me to focus by putting a yummy treat under my nose. I smell that and forget all about that city light post!
Once we get to the building, we have to carefully navigate automatic doors, an elevator, and narrow hallways. We have to do things a certain way so that we do not end up on opposite sides of the door or tripping over each other. When we get in the meeting room, there is a lot to do while helping Shannon get settled. I have to wait while she pours some coffee and chats with people (but I have to remain in my stay – no sniffing), carry some things to the table, help her balance while she gets in her seat, and then neatly tuck myself under the table. During the meeting, Shannon drops things all the time and I have to pick them up for her. Sometimes a pen rolls down the table and I have to do “paws up” to get up there and retrieve it for her. I love to work like this. It makes me so happy to have jobs to do. I will say, though, you shouldn’t hand Shannon something and expect her to keep a hold of it. Otherwise, she’ll just drop it and then tell you to “take it” or “bring it.” I like this kind of work. You might feel differently.
Thank goodness it is still cold outside. I do like cold weather, snow, and most especially ice. In fact, Shannon and Jim have discovered that I think ice is a great treat. If I do a hard trick well or if I come at top speed when called, I often get rewarded with a piece of ice. I love it!
As you might guess since I live with children, I really like to meet children when we are on outings. Shannon or Jim have me sit on my bum and so long as I am seated, children can come say hello. My problem, however, is that when I see a child, I can sometimes forget to heel and I start leaning toward the child. Here’s the thing: kids smell like Cheerios and Goldfish and my personal favorite, Teddy Grahams. They come up to me and want kisses. I oblige and I get to lick off all the snack dust. Everyone is happy.
Shannon decided to give me a good lesson in not leaning toward snack-smelly children. Here’s another thing: I REALLY like bacon and cheese. I love these things even more than snack dust. So, Shannon took me on a trip to Annapolis. It just happened that families with young children converged on the State Capitol this month to advocate for some of their favorite programs. Shannon brought me with her to this meeting and she also brought bacon and cheese. I heeled. I mean, I really heeled. While Shannon had that bacon or cheese in her hand, I kept my eyes and body focused on her like glue. Kids with cups full of snacks passed by and I did not turn my head. We practiced going back and forth and around crowds and I was the most well-heeled dog you’ve ever seen! Shannon did stop periodically and let children come and pet me because they kept asking to pet the doggy. Pretty good deal, right? I heeled and earned that bacon and cheese. I also got to visit with tons of kids and lick snack dust. There are no pictures of me behaving so well in the State Senate building because Shannon was so busy helping me heel and making sure no one pulled my tail that she forgot to take pictures. Handler error!
Ah, January. How I love the snow! I love to run in it, jump over it, and eat the ice that forms in the evening after a sunny day melted some of that wonderful snow. Playing outside with the family is fantastic. The do make me work, though, which is okay because I like having jobs. The kids ride their sleds down the hill and then I grab the string and bring the sled back up the hill. Shannon seem thinks this is particularly wonderful as it saves her many trips down the hill! I like playing in the snow with sleds, so long as I am not on them. One time, however, I tried to bring up a disc sled by the edge of the sled. I ended up sitting on the sled while biting the side and much to my surprise I SLID DOWN THE HILL. It was an interesting sensation, yet I did not try that trick a second time. I also got to go to church for the first time this month. I did such a good job. I sat through the entire service and remained calm. Many children came up to visit me, and I held my stay position while getting some lovely pets. How nice! Then it was time for communion. Let me tell you how good I am at heeling! Shannon held my leash and had me heel the whole way up to the front of the church. I looked at her the entire time and was close by her side. Here is what is truly amazing – I did this even with a major distraction. Shannon didn’t know this until after church when Jim told her, but there was a little old lady behind Jim in line. Every time I sat because Shannon stopped in line, this sweet woman reached around Jim and scratched my back while I sat there. I did enjoy the scritches, yet not once did I turn to look at the person giving them. I kept entirely focused on Shannon because I know that she is training me to be a wellbehaved working dog.