Sunday, May 1, 2011

Deductive Reasoning

On Friday night, Belle and I were greeters for the Helping Paws spring graduation.  As I listened to each graduate talk about what their dog meant to them, heard their gratitude for their dog's foster home trainers, sponsors and the staff of Helping Paws, I marveled again that such good can come from so little.  At least as far as government funding is concerned.

The mission is simple, "Furthering the independence of individuals with physical disabilities through the use of service dogs".  Helping Paws provides these incredibly trained animals virtually free to their graduates. They are able to meet their mission because of a host of volunteers, guided by a small, but highly capable staff, that do everything from providing office assistance to fostering and training these magnificent creatures.  Beautiful dogs that will one day become the hands and feet and dearest friend of the people with whom they will be paired.

The cost of raising and training the dogs is met primarily through fundraising events, dog sponsorships (both individual and corporate) and a plethora of generous contributions by those that believe passionately in the mission of Helping Paws.  The only government assistance received, albeit indirectly, is the charitable deduction received by the donors.  On the other hand, with the help of their dogs, many of our graduates are able to work (or work more), thus reducing their reliance on services provided through government assistance.

Helping Paws is just one organization of many that quietly meet the needs of society's most challenged members.  These organizations achieve their missions on shoestring budgets with a ruthless efficiency that is incomparable in most government programs.  More importantly, they provide the human touch, the connection, the caring most needed by their clients but so often lost in the red tape of bureaucracy.  

Unfortunately, one indirect source of government funding is being threatened.  The tax deduction for charitable gifts is one of the items Congress is looking at to reduce spending.  Oh sure, most people will continue to give regardless of the deductibility of the gift, but there's no doubt that the gifts made in anticipation of reducing a tax bill will decline.  For some organizations, this drop in donations may mean the difference between life and death.  I hope Congress considers the added cost of providing services that were once met by organizations that were forced to close because of a short-term budget fix.

Our system of government is unparalleled in history, but it can't do everything.  In the world, the U.S. is unique in its philanthropic activities.   If government is really "we the people", it seems to me our current support of local charitable organizations is the best of what "we" really means.  A modern day recreation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes - many people sharing their time, their talents and funds on gifts that continue to give over and over again.

Isn't that miracle worth a tax deduction?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Burr In The Butt-Fluff

Early this morning I took the dogs and headed down to my favorite state park for a walk around Pike Island.  When I arrived, there was only one other car in the parking lot.  We headed off in to the fog and were about 1/2 way up one side of the island when Belle sat down and refused to get up.  Normally when she does this, it's usually just a burr in her butt-fluff.  I checked her over, found she was burr-less, but still she wouldn't budge.  Until I turned around and started heading back the other way.  Up she popped and happily moved forward - as long as it was opposite the direction we'd been going.  After trying to turn her and continue on our original path she immediately sat and refused to budge.  By now her behavior was starting to give me the creeps.  We turned around again, and again, she happily walked at heel.  Not far from where we were there is a cut-thru across the island.  I took her down that path and she was her usual self, doing her deer prance and dance every time we passed one of the many that make up the herd in the park.  When we got to the other side of the island, I took a right instead of the left that would take us back to the parking lot.  We got about a 1/4 of a mile before she sat.  No amount of coaxing would get her to move forward.  I turned us all around and headed back to the car.

I don't know why Belle sat like that, and refused to move forward.  For all I know, she was just hungry and knew that if we continued the way I wanted to go, breakfast would be delayed interminably.   But she was clearly trying to tell me something she felt I needed to know.   Despite my initial thought, "let's go, here", it also occurred to me she has other senses that are keener than mine.  With that in mind it seemed wisest to listen to her "sit" and go home. 

Belle's clear communication about where she would and wouldn't go got me thinking.   How often do we ignore the stubborn "sits" in our lives because we think we know more or know better which path is right for us?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Dog We Trust

Yesterday, my department was granted a visit by the CEO of our company.  His purpose in meeting with us was to discuss where he saw the future of our brand new department in the overall strategy of the company.  At one point in his presentation, as he was making a point about trust and what it means between an employee and employer, he talked about his daughter's service dog.  He mentioned how the dog knows at least 70 commands.  He then compared the service dog to a human worker.  His words were (paraphrased), "...human workers aren't like service dogs.  You don't have to constantly ply them with treats for repeating the same behaviors until they 'get it'". 

I disagree.  Ever tried to teach a dog to come when called if the dog, just once, has been punished for doing so?  All the treats in the world can't fully erase the memory of that penalty.  The dog will forever hesitate when called.

The dog may know the cue, the human may know how to complete the tasks included in their job description.  But to get either human or canine to offer behaviors, risk trying new skills, there must first be a fundamental trust that a solid swing will be valued as much as a hit.  Without that trust, there's few that will take a chance.   And that's a cost no company can afford.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wanna Make A Federal Case Of It?

Well, yes - Belle and I did!

Last week, Belle and I doggedly manned the Helping Paws table for the Federal Campaign at the Bishop Whipple Federal Building.  For three hours (we were a popular table) I answered questions, listened to dog stories (everyone has one), and Belle showed off her awesome skills.  The Federal Campaign is the employee fundraising campaign for federal employees.  Helping Paws was just one of many organizations that were invited to strut their stuff, hand out brochures and hopefully, convince those that stopped by our booths to put our federal campaign number on their list of organizations they want to support with their employee charitable deduction.

Belle was a terrific ambassador.  Her polite greetings were so well done, the woman at the booth next to us just had to take Belle's picture.  The picture above was taken while Belle greeted a K9 officer (thank-you, Paula!).  She even gave him a snuggle when I gave her permission to do so.

To all who stopped by that day and signed our dance card, thank-you! 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pack-age Deal

Yesterday was move-in day for my college student. With our arms laden with stuff, and Belle at my side we waited patiently for the very slow elevator in her high rise apartment complex to arrive. Belle, dressed in her pack, put on an awesome display of her best skills based on my voice cues alone as we navigated the crowds of students, parents and gear. As always, her amazing performance captivated those around us.

In situations like this one, Belle and I have a lot of informal opportunities for educating the public on her purpose and her role as a demonstration dog for Helping Paws. Yesterday, we also had a chance to address an issue that is a growing concern for accredited assistance dog training programs; the proclivity of vendors and customers that believe that the presence of the pack and a "registration card" is all that is required for a dog to be granted public access. Googling *service dog vests* results in over 188,000 links - most of which are to vendors that sell the packs.

This is what the first of these vendors had to say about assistance dog public access requirements:

Getting Started is Easy:

We simply require that a Service Dog is registered. Our company requires that you supply:

  • A doctor's request that this individual has a medical need for a “Service Dog”.
  • A Veterinarian's signed statement that your service dog is not considered to be vicious or in any way a threat to the general public.
  • Proof of the shots and vaccinations, etc. that are required to keep the dog in good health.
Simply click on the link below, follow the prompts, and submit the completed forms to us with your payment of $49.95 + 1.50 S/H. Your custom created ID Card Package will be sent out within three (3) business days.

Why is this a problem? The answer lies in what is NOT required in the list above. The training required for a dog to meet the exceptionally high standards essential for dogs working in public places.

A fully trained assistance dog trained through an accredited training program has spent up to three years of increasingly complex training and passed a series of public access tests before they are matched with a partner. They are taught a level of attention skills that are critical to tuning out the sights, smells, and sounds that would distract a family pet or even a dog that had completed basic obedience classes. In addition to phenomenal attention skills, the dogs are taught a wide variety of skills that meet their human partner's every day needs, but also just as important, skills that keep their human partner, themselves, and the general public safe. Once placed with their partners, the dog and their partner are required to retake the public access tests at pre-determined intervals to ensure both dog and partner continue to meet the highest standard of public partnership.

The general public has enough trouble understanding what the access laws allow. Our graduates are challenged too often when they work with their dogs in the ordinary course of their everyday lives. And so, with my arms laden with boxes, having waited a painful amount of time for that elevator, I spent several more minutes explaining to the student who remarked to her friend upon disembarking from the elevator, "oh sweet, a service dog. My boyfriend just bought a pack on line for his puppy and now he can take the puppy with him everywhere" why that statement not only wasn't true, but how harmful that perception could be to those who require these invaluable dogs and have waited and worked hard to meet and complete the highest standards of accredited assistance dog programs.

With any luck, our conversation will be the one lesson she and her friend will retain and pass on to their friends and fellow students. And they didn't even have to hit up their parents to pay for it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Di-Di Dance

There's a reason why puppies are so adorable. Our foster homes are discovering that reason as they struggle with the lack of sleep, the mess, and the expense of pups with intestinal issues.

For some reason, there's always a stage with just about every pup where food just starts to go right through them. Whether it has to do with the fact that dogs in general (and retrievers in particular) have rather indiscriminate tastes and will eat almost anything they can swallow, just part of the maturation of their immune systems or something else entirely is hard to say. It just is. And "it" is a mess.

I wish I could do more to help other than meager words (CAUTION: This advice is not meant to counter anything your vet tells you to do), but for what it's worth...

  • Make buckets of white rice - store it in single serving portions in the freezer;
  • Keep cans of pumpkin (not pie pumpkin - just pumpkin) in your cupboard and mix with the rice. My vet recommended this as a natural form of fiber. I can't promise it will work for what ails all dogs, but it works well with my dogs. Better yet, it's cheap and it can't hurt them;
  • The solution to pollution is dilution. Buy the best hose sprayer you can find and flush each poo puddle immediately;
  • Buy a bag of barn lime at Fleet Farm and treat your yard. It won't hurt your pets, it's a great natural fertilizer, and it will actually kill giardia - a bug that often causes doggie di-di, but is also hard to culture from stool samples.
  • Keep your dog as far as possible from lakes, ponds, golf courses or other goose poop collection sites (see above about indiscriminate tastes). Goose poop is laden with giardia.
  • Finally, find ways to laugh at it. It won't stop the flow, but it does help to cope. Check out this link to see what helped me get through it with my second dog.
Gotta run.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Log of Dog Blogs

For those of you that love puppy fixes, there are some awesome blogs recently begun by foster homes from the newest litter to begin their training for Helping Paws.

Pawl's Paws - About Dempsey, the bruiser of the bunch (size wise that is). Check out the video of this little one already "getting dressed" in his pack!

(Dempsey's photo used by permission)

Four Paws To Serve - The story of a service dog named Izzo. This little one is already melting hearts in her new hometown. (Izzo's photo used by permission)

Boston's Marathon - About Boston and her new life with an
experienced foster home.

(Boston's photo used by permission)

In addition to the great pictures, videos and stories in these blogs is the fact that each foster home has a unique perspective; Dempsey is fostered by a first time foster home, Izzo's foster parents are a first time foster home but are also the parents of one of our Helping Paws graduate pairs, and finally, Boston is the third dog trained and fostered for Helping Paws by one of our most dedicated volunteers and a board member to boot.

Each blog is wonderful. I know from experience how encouraging the on-line community can be in supporting our foster homes in their quest. Your comments and fellowship will mean the world to them as they tell their stories over the next few years.