Elsa Bear is away at a week of training camp and I've spent the last few days trying to cram in all the things I can't do when she is here! In truth, it's not her fault I fall so far behind, it's the pain. And all the Doctor stuff. I've had Xrays, CT Scans, MRIs... and a lot of appointments. Each one leads to another specialist and another test... and another panic attack. I had planned to write about these things here on the blog, but I'm finding that... I can't. Not yet. Talking about the stuff that triggers my PTSD... triggers my PTSD. Makes sense I guess, since the trauma is ongoing. OK, let me breathe a minute here...

Today I'm in a lot of pain, but I'm feeling more like myself, so let's chat!

With the dog at training camp, I can follow my own needs and interests. And I can leave the room without anyone whining. When she's home, I plan the day around her meals and naps - ie: what room do I need to be in when she's distracted or asleep? And then I have to plan to stay there, until she wakes up. If I realize I need to run down to the studio to get my checkbook, she will sense the vibrations or the shift in carbon dioxide in the air - who knows how it works - but she'll be instantly up and whining "Mom? Mom? Where did you go!!!!!!"

And, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have a really difficult time doing the new training to build her skills. For example: it seems simple to walk with her, on a leash, talking in a high voice, and placing a treat on the ground in front of her every two steps, right? Repetition, consistency, and making myself sexier than a squirrel... should be no problem. But for me, it's pure pain. As the song says: "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Knees and toes." Or more accurately: "Neck, shoulders, knees and spine. Knees and spine."

I have been pushing myself really hard to do a lot of things "for Elsa Bear" and it's uncomfortable, mentally and physically. But I get so many benefits as well. Because the yART Sale was successful, I signed us up for Level 2 training (1 hour, once a week) and signed her up for a week of board and train (camp). She is still a puppy and some training just takes time (leash walking and ignoring distractions for example). But camp helps move her closer to the "good manners" she needs to access the places other dogs cannot - like the library, schools, and the hospital. Ideally, she'll do a week of "camp" every 6 weeks or so, and yes, it is expensive. She has to pass the Canine Good Citizen test before she can start her specific service dog training. So she needs particular skills, like patience, focus, control - in order to be allowed in to the places we need to train - and I need to have patience, focus, control - in order to train her to help me have patience, focus, control... do you see the dilemma here? It's a paradox of sorts - a person who needs a service dog, training their own service dog?

My Ultimate Plan - is for Elsa Bear to be the best service dog for me. She'll go to the hospital with me and help me stay calm. She'll hang out in the studio, and help me stay calm - and I'll draw comics about mental health and surviving medical procedures - all with a touch of humor. And we'll write and draw picture books. When we've mastered the making-it-through-each-day-with-a bit-of-grace skills, I'd like us to get certified for Therapy dog work as well. As long as I've known about dogs who visit patients in hospitals - I've wanted to be able to do that. I believe that being visited by an adorable, friendly dog (and it's cartoonist owner) would make any hospital stay a little less horrible. I want to bring that little ray of hope into the room.

Once Elsa Bear has her CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certificate, she can start helping out at the Library Storytime, and visiting the elderly residents at Pine Rock Manor.

For clarification...

A Service Dog is a highly trained dog that provides very particular services - to it's handler. For example: alerting a blind or deaf person to danger, fetching medication, tethering (keeping an autistic child from wandering off alone), monitoring heart issues and seizures, stopping a panic attack, etc. These dogs are covered by the ADA and allowed anywhere their handler can go. It's a very difficult job and not all dogs can handle it.

An Emotional Support Animal is an animal that brings comfort to its owner. There is no certification or required training and they do not have ADA access.

A Therapy Dog has passed the CGC test and done therapy dog training - usually for a particular place, such as schools, nursing homes, police, fire dept., therapists, most hospitals have their own programs. Therapy Dogs are trained to help OTHER people. They do not have ADA access.

Want to help Elsa Bear get her training? Click the button beneath her picture. :-)