Sunday, September 8, 2013

A DIY (Do it yourself) DAD story...

  Meet Karen Holmes

I have been involved with my DAD for approx. 1.5 yrs now, and began my journey when I came across a blog about a DAD named Major, who helps a little girl named Stella and her family.

I do not belong to any DAD organization. Unfortunately, Canada does not have, or legally recognize these types of service dogs. They will however, notice dogs trained by certain professional service dog trainers from the U.S.A. and give them full service dog rights legally with proper documentation from said trainers.  

I was at the point in my disease where my blood sugars were so unpredictable no matter what I did or how I did it. It got to the point where I couldn't even go grocery shopping by myself, go hiking,drive, work, pretty much my whole life as I knew it came to a complete halt. Depression set in, I rarely left my home, didn't socialize with anyone, gained weight, and at times wished I wouldn't wake up in the morning.

I spent 2 years researching the disease, learning everything I could about it, I wanted to live, just not like I was. So I switched my focus on researching DAD's. What they do, how they do it, who trains them, cost involved, care involved etc. To my disappointment, there was no such thing here in Canada. I talked to every service dog training facility and was told they just don't do that kind of training here.

Being the determined person that I am... I thought to myself, I have trained my own dogs before, My father was on the K9 section of the Calgary city police for 9 of the 25 years he served, I learned a lot about scent training from him... How hard could it be???

So my first quest was to find the right dog.
I am and have always been a German Shepherd lover. But after researching service dogs, I realized that not everyone likes dogs. Lots of people are scared of them. If I am going to have this dog go with me everywhere I need a dog that is not going to be so intimidating to others. (Which is one of the many reasons most service dogs are Labs). 
There just so happened to be a reputable Lab breeder in the small town where I lived at the time, so I called her up and had a chat with her. I told her what I planned to do, and the type of temperament I was looking for. She was familiar and knowledgeable with my thoughts, needs and requests and informed me that she will be having a litter in the near future that would likely be suitable for what I was looking for. 
Once the puppies were born, I visited them every week. The breeder and I watched to see which one would be my dog. Out of 11 puppies we narrowed it down to a male black lab who I was going to name JD. ( short for Johnny Depp) Hey don't judge me! Anyway, I was getting all excited, counting down to when I could bring JD home with me. I bought a Kennel, and some soft blankets, puppy training pads, puppy food, lots of chew toys.... this dog was going to be set!
While I was waiting for my puppy, My parents adopted a dog named Asha from the SPCA. She was to be a companion for their very energetic GSD (German Shepherd Dog) Hannah. Asha was technically my Mom's dog so my Dad didn't want to train her because then she would be more bonded to him than my Mom. I lived elsewhere so I would bring her to my place on weekends and did some basic training with her for my Mom. 
Asha was an eager learner and a joy in my life. The more time I spent with her, the more I fell in love with her. But she was not my dog. I was ok with it because I could visit her any time.  
Then another dog was offered to me by family friends. It was a purebred German Shepherd. He was a puppy named Caliber who needed to be re-homed due to unforseen circumstances. Man was I ever tempted! But I had already made up my mind on a Lab named JD. So I reluctantly declined. I called my Dad and told him about this GSD puppy and he drove all the way to Saskatchewan to get him.
Now my parents had 3 dogs! 
It was getting to be too much for them to handle so they decided to re home Asha to another family friend. They were going to wait until Thanksgiving to make them the offer.
In my head I was ok with the decision. I knew she would be safe and well looked after but I would not get to see her anymore and my heart hurt. I cried for 3 days straight.
Then I got a call from the breeder. She wanted to get together with me and have a talk about the puppy. 
When I got there, all the puppies were playing together, and JD was running around with his litter-mates having fun and doing puppy stuff only they looked like they were on high octane! Very cute!
The breeder told me that I was welcome to take JD if I wanted to but to be honest, she felt that this litter was too high energy for what I was looking for. She didn't want to see me with a dog that may not work out because she knew how crappy my life was, and how important a service dog would be to give me some quality of life. 

I was disappointed, I had begun the countdown for bringing JD home, but I knew that moment that the universe was re arranging things for the better.
I called my parents and Asha moved in with me the very next day.
I was still in the basic training stage with her, but after about a month living together, I noticed that she was alerting me in her own way when I was getting into danger zone blood sugars. It took me a few days to catch on to what she was doing, but it was quite clear once I clued in. 
Once I finished her basic training I began to do scent training with her, only it was more structured, and at levels that were still manageable to me. She picked up on it easily and eagerly.
Training her for this was a breeze. This was definitely her calling! 

I read books, articles and pretty much anything I could get my hands on to learn about training a DAD. I found techniques that worked for us. Experimented, made some mistakes, learned from them and moved on. 

Because she was not formally trained by a service dog facility, if I took her places I would need to get permission before hand. Every where I went, I would call ahead and talk with management, explain my situation, and what I was doing. The community was very supportive and so Asha had lots of public access training. She was somewhat of a celebrity in that small town, Quesnel BC.
I bought her vests, and made sure she looked like a pro service dog. Her manners were perfect, all the hard work I put into training her paid off. She was happy to be able to go with me everywhere, and took her job very seriously, occasionally even showing off to people who weren't quite convinced of her talents. 
She will be 2 years old this November. Because of her, I have been in school taking courses, moved to a bigger city, and am able to go for walks. (Even did a 5k marathon in May for TEAM DIABETES)! I go grocery shopping, I now have a new career teaching First Aid, and am also a clinical Hypnotherapist specializing in pain management and sleep disorders! She is always by my side watching over me so that I can pay more attention to living life, learning new things and starting my new life.

Not only does she help me with my life, having her with me creates many opportunities to educate people about service dogs. People here, only think that seeing eye dogs are the only type of service dogs, they are now learning otherwise! As a first aid instructor, one of the topics I teach about is diabetes. Being a diabetic, I am able to debunk the myths and misinformation about the disease, and everyone loves hearing about Asha and watching her in action as I teach the class.
Even people who are afraid of dogs are amazed by her and want to get to know her. No she is not the Lab I decided on, She is a floppy eared mutt with super powers. She is a shepherd cross, but her cuteness is not intimidating at all, she has the kindest heart. She loves people, especially children, and when her vest is on, she is all business! She is the perfect service dog ambassador, and she will likely set the standard for DAD's here in Canada.  

Editor's note: "Asha" means HOPE! (which I learned from Karen, after training with a dog also named "Asha"...)

                      CLICK HERE! Follow Karen and Asha on Facebook! Click HERE!_______________

Videos Below of Asha in Action!

Watch Asha alert to a High Blood sugar and retrieve the blood sugar kit for Karen Here:

Watch Asha find and retrieve "sugar" (glucose tablets placed around home).