Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lessons From Bravo....Damn is this hurt ever going to stop

Is this hurt ever going to stop?  Am I ever going to get over this?

Almost a month and my heart is still aching.   Still missing him.  Get over it KC....He was a dog KC....You are stronger than this KC...  I am not sure.

Went into Texas Road House the other night and had Never with me.  Was greeted with "Bravo....BRAVO.....I have missed ya boy.....Glad you are back!"  My heart jammed in my throat as I had to explain.  Went to a local fast food drive through....." Here is a lil ice cream cone for Bravo!"  Dropped a deposit off at the bank.....the teller drops a bone and says "For Bravo".  At the grocery store checking out....." That isn't Bravo!"  Went to see my primary care doctor....she walked in and looked at Never and exclaimed "OH NO....WHAT HAPPENED TO BRAVO?" She then had tears in her eyes as I explained what happened.  They know me as the lady with the dog....named Bravo.

It gets worse...have had several low blood glucoses lately. Some rather severe like 26, 34, and 32.  During one of them I was told I kept repeating, "It is okay Bravo, I am fixing it as Never was nudging me".  If I trip over a dog I mutter "Bravo,...MOVE". None of the dogs at the house know their name as I call Bravo incessantly.

I think I am losing my mind! I am no stranger to grief.  I have lost grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, sister, best friends, other dogs to death......but I still can not shake this and move on.  Bravo at my side was a natural as getting dressed in the morning. I knew this day was coming at some point but I sure as hell was not prepared for it. Try googling...death of a service dog....losing a service dog to death. There is very little out there. There are millions of self help books on when you lose a spouse, a parent, a child, even a dog.....but there is NOTHING out there on losing a service animal.  So far I haven't found much help in words of any kind.  Exactly what is a service animal....the ADA says "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."  Bravo met that description...he could smell my blood sugars and keep nasty highs and lows occurring my alerting me ahead of time.  He also could alert me to ketones preventing DKA.  That is cool, but in addition to that...he was with my every move, always and ever by my side.   Every place I went, he went.  Every job, every speaking engagement, every funeral, EVERY WHERE!  Like my wallet......I didn't leave home without him. 

How do you heal from this?  How do you get up each day, knowing your health and welfare is at stake because your ability to detect the highs and lows with such great reliability is gone.  I have 2 other dogs that are trained to do this....they are good...but they are not Bravo.  I do not have the same trust in them. They are trying their hearts out but it is not them IT IS ME. We all will keep trying....but right now IT JUST SUCKS! 

I hug them and cry into their fur.  They lick my face and try to crawl into my heart.  Both Never and Totem are trying their guts out to help, to bring joy, to bring laughter... I just can't see it right now.  

I don't know where to go, where to turn, what to do......so I do nothing except what I have to.  Running totally on instinct and patterned behavior of the last 11 and half years.  I will get through but I am sure I WILL NEVER EVER BE THE SAME!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lessons From Bravo.......More on Fear to Transformation

I wrote the other day about how fearful Bravo was and about how he would shut down and refuse to try as a young dog.  I told you how I used sit to regain his centeredness to try and place to gain mastery of his body, mind, and confidence.  He became a guru of both of those words. One day at the beach I ask him to try to place on a rope cable (about 3 in in diameter).  After many failures he succeeded in balancing himself on all 4 feet on that rope! I am not sure who was more astonished....him or me.  We had a party!  When we partied together we didn't care who was watching..because they and time didn't exist anymore.  It was just him and I!  He would leap over my head in one place and make this high pitched whine  or yodel.  I would grin! If it was in a location where he was off leash.  He would take off running, much like a baby puppy with the butt scooting boogie's.  Big ole grin of sheer joy and energy exuding with every leap and bound!  He would get about 10 to 15 yards from me and turn and run in a straight line right at me.  I would stand ready as he barreled at me at full speed.  At the last second I would step in towards him, stop my foot, and say "GOTCH!".  He in turn would athletically spin away and race off in other direction and the game would start over again.

The more we worked on the fear, the more he believed in me, the more he transformed to who truly was... A BIG ATHLETIC, GRACEFUL, WISE, AND JOYFUL SOUL.  As all that was happening were also turned on his alerting skills and I also was transforming.

With a diagnosis of T1 I truly thought my life was over. All of the things that I once found a lot of joy in I could no longer do because there was no predicatabilty of how that activity would affect my blood glucose.  Most of the time it was a adverse low blood glucose.  I am not talking a little low....I am talking under 40 and refuse to respond to glucagon kind of lows.  The kind of lows that got EMS called if people weren't worried about what I would do if I found out it was them that called.  AT that point drs weren't sure why my body was doing what it was doing and had no answers to help....but every one of them was sure "let's do this test, that test, let's hospitalize you.  In my humble opinion......I am okay with medicine.....but I am not okay with PRACTICING medicine.  You SURE as hell are not going to PRACTICE on me or my body.  Death does not frighten me, but practicing medicine sure as hell does!  Do no harm.....this won't hurt......I CALL BULL SHIT!  Let me do it to you first and let's see how bad it hurts.  How many times they would start to do something to me and would say "this won't hurt a bit" or "maybe a little sting"......probably best to not get me started.  Cause I always pissed someone off when I retorted, "and you know this how?" or "so you have had this done?"  The flip side of that was when I got a newbie that had to draw my blood......I am a awful stick.  My veins roll and are generally uncooperative! They would try one arm, then try the other arm, then always call for back up...at which point I would say to them.  " Oh no, you are going to keep trying till you get this down"  At which point they always replied "but I don't want to hurt you".  I would grin and say "YOU REMEMBER THAT....I don't want to hurt you.  Sometimes you have to hurt someone first, in order to help them....but don't you EVER lie to them".  The older wiser techs in the door way would smile and say, I sure wish everyone was like you.

No lie...my fear of what T1D was doing to my life was huge.  Things like hunting that I had always taken for granted became a huge chore.  I had a severe low out hunting (used all the low treatment stuff I had with me) and had no clue where I had parked my truck.  Thank God Bravo was barking his fool head off in truck!  I had another severe low out pheasant hunting with friends.  Bravo went from being a pheasant hunting machine to standing in front of me and not letting me move.  HE WOULD NOT LET ME MOVE...poor Robert had to walk back to truck for more treatment!  I am a stubborn old bird and I hate asking for help....even when I need it.  Bravo learned quickly that if he told me and I didn't listen...he had to do more extreme stuff...he amped up his alert.  Sometimes he had to face his own fears in order to help....sometimes it was the other way around.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lessons From Bravo.....A Bunch of Firsts

The last 10 days have been filled with a bunch of firsts.  First time's without Bravo. Walking into work not hearing his patter of feet down the hall behind me or seeing him waiting for me to open the door for him to go behind counter.  Not hearing him stir when a client comes in that he is concerned about.  Not seeing him get excited when his favorite customers and clients come in. Seeing their face when I reply to their question about "where is Bravo".

Going to the endo for the first time ever WITHOUT Bravo.....seeing her face after she ask "where is Bravo".  Hearing a A1C of 8.2...the highest I have ever been since diagnosis...but also let me know how bad he was feeling the last 3 months.

Going his favorite "french fry" places.  Coming out of the shower and him not laying at door waiting.  Heading to bed and not seeing him stretch as his comes off the couch and tip toe to his bed in my room.

Driving down the road and not feeling his head resting on mine.  Hollering Bravo and him not responding when one of the other dogs o something that reminds me of him.  Looking over at the dog's swimming pool and not seeing him laying in the middle of it..claiming the water as if a throne. His big old chessie smile governing the land!

My heart has ached beyond words, beyond tears.  I grit my teeth and put one foot in front of the other...weary to the bone.   Can't sleep because I don't feel him next to me or hear his snoring. One foot in front of the other.

I try to talk and there is a big old knot in my throat...so I say nothing.  All around me life goes on.  Time didn't stop for anyone else...people want their needs filled NOW.  Dogs want their food NOW. Dogs want my attention NOW.   New puppies that have needs to be met and training to be done.  Momma dog that needs care and attention. New hope for families on this path.  Stories to hear of what the Tattle families are doing with their dogs....how they saved the day.....or need help fixing some problem. Life goes on....and on.

The hardest first..was driving home with that box filled with his ashes and his collar laying on top.   This song came on the radio and I had to pull over because I couldn't drive through the tears.


The 2nd hardest first was introducing the box of ashes to my other 2 dogs...Never and Totem.  I didn't take them with me the day Bravo left.  Never has been the neediest/sadiest thing.  Following me everywhere, sad sacking, at times barking in my face as if to say "MOM MOM MOM I am here.  LOOK AT ME!   I am here!" Sadly I go through the motions of acknowledgment but he knows I am not yet present with him in the moment.  So he lays beside me, ready and waiting for the exact moment I am!  Totem on the other hand is a whole other ball of wax.  Totem was PICKED for me by Bravo.  She was the only pup in the litter that he tried to engage.  Totem bless her heart has never had a bad day in her life.  You can't insult her, you can't steal her joy and she can be TROUBLE in every mischievous way you can think of and she might even teach you some new tricks.  I love both of them but the are polar opposite from each other and together BLESS THEIR HEARTS they still don't match Bravo.  I am alternating them as I enter a new stage in life. Both have strengths and weaknesses that make me choose which one would do better in the particular situation  I am dealing with.  Both are down right PUSHY, IN YOUR FACE, NO MANNERS when it comes to my blood glucose being off.  Totem has been flighty, spastic, unsettled, and anxious.  Wanting to work but then not engaging. Distracted to a fault.  I sat the box of ashes on the table and brought Never out.   Never sniffed and then came over and laid down next to me with his head on my thigh.  We sat there for quite awhile. Him being RIGHT WITH ME...attached at the hip.  I then sent him outside and went and got Totem out of her kennel.  Releasing Totem out of her kennel is kinda like shaking a giggle ball.   She does EVERYTHING with passion, flare, and gusto.  All of the sudden she HIT THE BRAKES and dropped her nose to the box containing his ashes.  She sniffed and sniffed and sniffed and glanced at me quizzically.  She went back to sniffing,  she then proceeded to lick the box.  Licking the box like she licked his face EVERY DAY she has been in my home! She then pawed at it and licked it some more.  The she did something that brought a new rash of tears. She laid down and wrapped her body around that box and looked at me and then MOANED loudly.  That got tears and I sat down as my knees were wobbly.  As I sat down she leapt from the table to my lap and began licking my tears.  I hugged her and then sent her outside to play with Never.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Lessons From Bravo........More on Fear

I have been thinking a lot about Bravo and that early fear.    Why did that sit and down and stabilization of his eyes seem to work so well?  I believe there are MANY answers, but the one I want to focus on today is that the stabilization of his fear led to trust.  Bravo learned to trust me on all levels.  He learned that I would not put him in a situation where I would not protect him or get him hurt.   Bravo learned to place on things that dogs normally wouldn't try.  He could place on a 5 gallon bucket.  He could turn around always and ever ver carefully placing his feet so he could always WATCH me with his eyes.  He did the same on a wooden rail fence (a 3 inch round board).   These were not "tricks" they were acts of sheer trust on his part.  If I suspected something to have a element of danger to it I made sure I was very close by to catch or help him.  I also made very sure to reward and acknowledge all effort and try on his part.
This picture was taken during a public access.  Bravo at 9 was showing that he could still place on some very small things.

Another of him standing on the spillway of my sister's pool...a 4 in tiled ledge that had water spilling over. It looks like he was walking on water....hmmmmm.

While Bravo in his prime was 24in tall and weighed about 75 lbs he would allow me to pick him up and roll him over on his back while I was standing up. Once we got through the hard fear stuff he began to trust me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand.  Interestingly as his trust in me grew.....my trust in him grew!

Trust can not happen if we are not grounded.  Trust can not happen if we do not slow down to take time to be present in the exact moment that we are on. When a creature or person is spinning you can not still yourself enough for trust to take root.

Like most in this world my trust has been betrayed deeply throughout life.  To be honest that is why I love dogs.  Dogs don't betray, dogs don't lie, dogs don't talk back......at least in the ways we normally think of. I trust many people with my checkbook and with other practical matters....but my heart.......ABSOLUTELY NOT!  That sounds calloused and jaded and perhaps it is but I trust myself far ahead of others.  I keep my own counsel for the most part, sometimes stubbornly so.  I trust that still inner voice inside of me and know as long as I keep my intention clear and purposely for good...EVERYTHING ALWAYS works out okay.  It may not not what I envisioned but it is still okay.  I may get frustrated but by staying present in the moment, always trying to speak truth, and keeping my intentions clear with honor integrity, things always work out.  I know that others can not fix me, others can not make me better from whatever sickness ails me, whatever fixing that needs to happen has to come from within.  Others can help ease the situation BUT THE TRUE HEALING COMES FROM WITHIN.  Bravo had to be taught HOW TO TRUST IN THE MOMENT!  

As his trust grew that situations weren't going to eat, hurt or betray him....something else began to occur he found his belief!   HE BELIEVED IN ME and I in turn BELIEVED IN HIM!   We found each other and we had lessons for each other.  In the beginning my belief had to enough for him to move forward until his own belief could sustain him. 

While writing this I was searching for a general  meaning of the word belief and found this...."Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. Another way of defining belief sees it as a mental representation of an attitude positively oriented towards the likelihood of something being true.[1] In the context of Ancient Greek thought, two related concepts were identified with regards to the concept of belief: pistis and doxa. Simplified, we may say that pistis refers to "trust" and "confidence", while doxa refers to "opinion" and "acceptance". The English word "orthodoxy" derives from doxa. Jonathan Leicester suggests that belief has the purpose of guiding action rather than indicating truth.[2]
In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to personal attitudes associated with true or false ideas and concepts. However, "belief" does not require active introspection and circumspection. For example, we never ponder whether or not the sun will rise. We simply assume the sun will rise. Since "belief" is an important aspect of mundane life, according to Eric Schwitzgebel in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a related question asks: "how a physical organism can have beliefs?"[3]" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belief)  

I would add that I believe animals have some system of belief as well as humans...maybe another blog post down the road.  However in our case, once the belief and trust was in place, something even more astonishing happened.  Something called TRANSFORMATION!  We each became something we had not been before.   He became less afraid and I became more trusting.  No truer words have I ever uttered, I discovered that THE SECRET TO TRANSFORMATION lies in learning the ability to BELIEVE and TRUST!  Transformation does not happen over night.  It isn't something that occurs quickly.  It is a long and arduous process that takes commitment and dedication.  Dog's are more capable of it than we are because that don't try to put it into words.....they put it into action with their human's help.  Me on the other hand......it took another almost 11 years to get the drift.  Sometimes I wish I was half as intelligent and in-tune as dogs are!


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lessons From Bravo.... Eyes

The number one thing I heard from people was this....."THAT DOG NEVER TAKES HIS EYES OFF YOU!"  Nope he didn't.  He even slept where when he opened them he would see me.  Unless he was told otherwise he always stayed where he could see me! I used to joke that if I stopped to fast he would have a browner nose!

I am a eye person and always have been.  I believe that eyes are the window to the soul!  Every living breathing creature tells a story in their eyes! When taking photos I am always centering on the eyes!  So many times I have wished to hold on to a moment because of what was expressed in another's eyes. Words are just that but to me eyes and actions put meaning on the intent.

Remember yesterday I was talking about SIT MEANS BUTT ON GROUND AND EYES ON MINE?  Part of my thoughts about this got started because of Bravo and his fear and me working towards stabilizing him.  I noticed something...when a dog /human is spinning full force in their emotions the eyes are all over.  When a dog or human is mad they are narrowed and seriously intense with a glint that in your heart you just know. However when they are settled and present in the moment with you there is a softness, a attentiveness, a gentle focus.  I learned to know Bravo his emotions, his presence through his eyes and subtle other body language.  I could show pictures of every one of his emotions because over the years I saw them all and captured them.   From "I want that bird", to "Let me Show you how" , Alerting Eyes, Pissed Off Eyes ( It is true that a chessie is one dog that will not bite without warning you first.....but read their eyes) and the list goes on.  Eye work, attention, and awareness is something I worked on every day of his life.  If my dogs WANT something they have to learn to ask for it nicely with their EYES ON MY FACE AND THEIR BUTTS ON THE GROUND.  You want breakfast...eyes,  you want a treat....eyes, you want me to play.....eyes, after house trained... you want to go outside...eyes.   Eyes for EVERYTHING the dog wants.

Bravo and I learned to communicate through eyes first, then I began picking up on the other ways he communicated

The above is a poem I wrote while he was alerting on a friend and I happened to catch it on camera.  Look at his eyes....look at his expression.  Eyes tell it all.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lessons From Bravo....Fear

No one ever believes me when I say this....Bravo was the most fear based dog I have ever seen!  His motto in a deep Sam Eliot type voice........"UMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM  I don't know if that's a good idea or not!"  "Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm  I don't think I can do that!"  "Ummmmmmmmmmm, I don't trust you that much to believe that you won't let me get hurt or eaten by that scary thing (whatever it is)."

Robert in one of our deep conversations put it this way "Fear of trying is always a fatal error".  We had to teach Bravo that it was ok to be afraid but not ok to stall out and not try!  He had to learn to choose calmly...to do something rather than reacting was the best solution.  Reactions such as running away physically, running away emotionally, growling, biting, getting mad are not going to be tolerated in any way shape or form!  All of the traditional methods that I knew of didn't work.   More exposure, more new situations, treats, tugs, making it fun, etc DIDN'T WORK. Making him didn't work.  This was not a FEAR STAGE this was a FEAR BASED PERSONALITY.  This dog at his core was VERY afraid.   Putting him into my friend Karen's home at this point was a disaster waiting to happen...so we kept delaying it.

Bravo had been up to Robert's and when I went to pick him up Robert handed me a one page letter on thoughts of Bravo.  I wish I still had it because it was a rare flash in writing of Robert's amazing mind!  The general jest was that we some how needed to stabilize Bravo in his own mind and that the responsibility of that stabilization had to come from INSIDE of Bravo not from us as a outside force.
"UMMMMMMMMM   WHAT? A DOG CAN BE FULLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN STATE OF MIND?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?"  We discussed some methods of how to help him understand this...nothing really concrete  just brain storms.  We discussed Sit, Down, and Place.  To me at that time Sit meant put butt on ground and keep it there.   Down meant put body on ground and keep it there. Place meant get on that thing (bed, bucket, table, chair, etc) and you can do what you want but you must STAY on that thing.  Have you ever tried to get a dog to sit or down when they are freaked out about something????  Holy crap watching him was like watching a cat on a hot tin roof yet there was nothing physically creating it except his own mind and his own fear.

I need to interject at this point I KNOW MANY PEOPLE LIKE THIS TO!   Many are on meds, self medicated with drugs, alcohol, etc, in counseling for years to over come this.....some never do! I think my background in life and in social work came out.  I began exploring methods of how people settle themselves.  While Bravo enjoyed stealing an occasional plug of tobacco from someone's mouth and a occasionally spilled alcoholic drink, he was never going to be allowed to turn to heavy drugs so how was I ever going to be able to help teach him?  Basically in a short sentence DOGGIE YOGA!   STOP  CENTER YOURSELF AND BE VERY INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR ACTIONS NO MATTER THE SITUATION.  Think before you act.  Have a plan!  There is more but trying to keep this short! I have a feeling this particular thread is going to be revisited many times as I write because it is so central to him, his training, and his effect on me.

However the short answer is Sit was changed to mean PUT YOUR BUTT ON GROUND AND YOUR EYES MEET MY EYES.  Down was changed to PUT BODY ON GROUND AND YOUR EYES SHOULD MEET MY EYES.  Place was changed to YOU GET ON THAT THING AND YOU STAY IN POSITION TO ALWAYS SEE ME AND MY EYES!  Eyes and body language were CENTRAL.  Eyes had to be CALM and body RELAXED every time before he was released to try again.  I have a fair amount of patience and tolerance especially with dogs but I was tested a million times for more over the years on this subject.  Bravo like most dogs loved to move.  He was athletic, he was graceful so move that body he did!  If he couldn't move his body, his mind would race...you could see it in his eyes...darting here and there..then his eyes might glaze over as if daydreaming about other things.  However I had to WAIT till he was PRESENT IN THE MOMENT with before proceeding.  When teaching him some agility pieces, his first reaction was always OH NO THAT THING MIGHT EAT ME, I MIGHT GET HURT, I MIGHT..........the first words out of my mouth in ANY situation became SIT!  Get your butt on the ground and your eyes on mine!  I would stand patiently and wait till he was with me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It always went like this....I CANT I CANT I WONT YOU CANT MAKE ME NO NO NO NOT HAPPENING (spinning hard and fast like a tornado devoting everything in it's path) to OH WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS YOUR ARE SO MEAN I AM NOT DOING THAT COME ON GIVE ME A BREAK (still spinning but no longer a F5 more like a F2) to Ok fine I am sitting here but YOU WILL NEVER HAVE MY MIND.  OMG THE BAHAMAS SOUND NICE ABOUT NOW. A SANDY BEACH, WARM WATER, OH HOW I LOVE WATER( still spinning but more like clouds that are agitated and building) to DEEP BREATH eye begin to settle a little.  CRAP THIS IS BORING WAIT WHAT WERE WE DOING? (No spin starting to engage with me) When the drama of fear was over and he could engage with me and we could move to learning!  But it was a process not a epiphany!  Many people thought I was nuts!  I didn't care...because by then he had started alerting to BG's and I was going to solve this....I needed him as much as he needed me.   We were going to become a team no matter the distance!

Just this morning I was reminded of a story about this.  I started taking some agility lessons from someone who has now become a close friend as well as a mentor to me.  Her name is Edie.  I told her at the beginning "You are not going to probably like or be impressed by this dog for a bit, but when he finally puts it together..you will be amazed!"  We would go to class and Bravo would pull his fear stuff and I would say SIT and wait him out.  To be honest more than once it would seem I irritated Edie by doing this. I was lectured more than once about using the word sit for this.  Teach eyes, teach watch me, teach, teach teach.....nope I am gonna keep it simple and straight....he knew that sit meant put his butt on ground, his eyes on mine, and that when he was released he had better try or we were going to be doing it all again.  We continued on and eventually entered him in some Novice agility classes.  I will be the first to tell you IT WAS PAINFUL to watch, PAINFUL to be a part of.  It would have been easier to watch paint dry.   Edie always videoed these events for me and it was always entertaining to hear the commentary...."Come On B you know this.....Come On B What are you doing....KC do this....KC do that. At about his fifth show or so I set him at the start line I walked to the second obstacle which was the dog walk and I released him.  He blew off that start line like he had sat on a 220 current, throwing dirt every which way!  He cleared 5 obstacles before I got to the end of the dog walk (none in the correct order but he did it with confidence and try...he failed to wait for me).  On the video you hear Edie saying...."Holy Shit...there is the dog KC told me about"!


PS: Thanks to all my mentors who helped me see this!  You know who you are!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lessons From Bravo....The Very Beginning

The very beginning ......wow.  Chessie's quite bluntly are not for a inexperienced handler.  They can be a handful of almost every bad trait in a dog and then add to that they do things like SMILE....yes SMILE (Show every tooth in their head when they are happy). Imagine a 75lb dog running straight at you with this smile on face and you have never met this dog before.  I bet the majority of you are puckering at the very thought that you are about to get bitten!  For folks that have been around them we LOVE that endearing trait!
This is from Wikipedia on Chessie's.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesapeake_Bay_Retriever
This is the link to the American Chesapeake Club.  http://www.amchessieclub.org

Having been in the retriever world for quite some time and having seen first hand some of the many quirks of the breed....I wanted to see if I was a good enough trainer yet to take on a Chesapeake.   I had a friend who had numerous Chessie's and not one of them were nice to anyone other than their owner. The Chessie she had at the time had left scar marks on every one of my labs...in fact all involved stitches but in spite of that I felt drawn to the breed. In the retriever world there are 2 old sayings that kind of bring the point home....."You tell a Labrador Retriever, You ask a Golden Retriever,  and you negotiate with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever"  or in more simple terms..."Labradors are generally like a good soldier, yes sir...no sir...how high sir,  Golden's can be good soldiers but they would much rather be treated as a general, while Chesapeake's are more like the guys in the war department.  Always thinking about counter attacks and what ifs! Truly I believe that a Chesapeake thinks 3 dimensional.  I have also heard a Labrador being compared to a quarter horse, A Field Golden being compared to a Warm Blood Horse, and a Chesapeake being compared to a mule!  These are overall generalizations not about specific dogs but you get the picture!

One day I was at a Field Trial Picnic (mock test) and I over heard one of the guys saying " I have 2 litters of Chessie pups on the ground, and everyone wants me to come down on the price.....I will give them away before I do that".  Well I saddled up close to him and I said "Are you serious?"  He replies, "Sure.....but why do you want one?"  I replied,"well I want to see if I have gotten smart enough to train one!"  "Well come on up and pick one out", he replied.

So the next weekend I drove up to Idaho to see these puppies.  I don't remember for certain but it seems like there was 4 left to choose from.  I played with all four.  Doing some foundation stuff, temperament stuff, etc and ending up choosing the darkest brown in the litter.  For those of you who have never bought a puppy from a true kennel environment, and for those of you who have never smelled their fur or felt the oil in their coat.....let's just say the lil guy was a bit odorous.  In fact when we got in the car as the smell filled up I damn near gagged!  Thank God I had friends that lived 3 miles down the road.  Even though it was late winter in Idaho I drove with windows down and with him as close to the outside window as I could!   I rushed him into my friends house by the nap of his neck and he got 2 baths with dawn dish soap, a dowsing of water and apple cider vinegar before he ever  got truly held by me.  What a way to start a relationship!  I remember telling him....Look Dude...you and me are gonna get along fine as long as you remember 2 things........YOU CAN NEVER EVER GROWL AT A HUMAN BEING AND MEAN IT! YOU CAN NEVER EVER WALK TO OR BACK FROM A DOWNED BIRD!  He looked at me!  I also told him to get no ideas about staying permanently with me as he would go to Karen's as soon as he had manner's enough to be respectful to all.  Again he just looked at me!  We even stopped by Karen's on our way home so she could meet her future guy!

All of Bravo's litter mates had military themed names and I was ask to do the same.  So I searched for the perfect name...Fetch Express Bravo Zula.   Bravo Zula simply means WELL DONE!

Once home it became clear what a sense of humor Bravo had.  His favorite game involved tennis balls.  It always started with one tennis ball.  He would bat it, swat it, chase it, retrieve it and then lay down to chew on it.  At that point he would spy a 2nd ball, while holding the first one in his mouth he would start the bat, swat, chase game again.  As he got bigger he got all the way up to 4 balls but when he tried for 5 all would roll out and the game would start again!

My friends Amy and Robert who are out of the box thinkers and trainers, had many many long talks about training a chessie!  We all had heard the old age advise that in order to train a Chessie "You need a trash lid and a 2 by 4."  None of us were inspired by that.  One of of our ideas was that a chessie's sense of loyalty to it's family is awe inspiring but can turn very very protective.  Chessie's are often what is called "resource guarders"!  If they believe it to be their's....NO OTHER CREATURE (often humans as well) CAN HAVE IT.  I don't remember how we got started on the idea but we came up with a weird plan to see if we could get Bravo to see the WHOLE WORLD as his, rather than just a person or a family.  The plan was simple, we bounced him back and forth in between our homes.  As soon as I saw him settling him and really wanting to "claim" me, I shipped him to Robert and Amy's.  They continued on foundation work. We worked him intensely on body handling, obedience, socialization, and field work!

Also about the time I got him I was having a lot of health issues...all auto immune.  One of the things they told me I was T2 diabetic! But do this and do that and it will all go away.  That story is for another blog post though. So his being bounced back and forth between homes was also needed because of health issues.

By the time he was 1 he was already working as a therapy dog as a back up to my older Labrador named Cheveyo .


Monday, July 24, 2017

Lessons From Bravo........New Puppies

Bravo over the course of his life supervised many puppy delivery's.  From standard normal delivery's to the rush to the vet at 3 AM delivery's.  Alway's following me from room to room, alway's laying on the couch and peeking into the room, always waiting on the moment he could sneak in to the whelping room...either to look for food or to sniff the puppies.  Always at the first yelp of a new born puppy he would cock his head and look at me.  To me it always seemed as if he was identifying their voice and smell.

Yesterday 7 new puppies arrived into this world. All so far happy and healthy although number 7 took her sweet time arriving.   By canine labor standard it was a long day.......10 hours of labor.  First birth was at 1 pm and the last at 11 pm.

Over the last 2 years, my sister passed away, my mom passed away, and 2 good friends passed away and now Bravo. Every single time this has happened we were either expecting new puppies soon or had new puppies on ground.  Considering I generally only have 3 litters a year...what the heck?  Does that mean new birth equals death? Or does that mean death equals new birth? Is it chance? Is it me? I have to do math all day every day with T1 diabetes...so I don't want to think about it to hard...but given that is a little over 800 days to play with ....anyhow you can see where I am heading.

Dead serious, every time I have been expecting a new litter over the last 2 years a MAJOR  life event has taken place. Major....knock me to the ground, stomp on my heart kinda major.  Every stinking time I keep asking myself  "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING?  If this many things are going so wrong every time.....why don't you just quit?  Maybe it isn't meant to be.  Maybe this is a message saying stop.  There are others that can do this DAD thing.  It would be easier you know...not having to deal with the million questions about diabetic alert dogs and dog training while your heart is being ripped out of your chest. KC sometimes you are NUTS...obsessed over this dog thing.  Who in their right mind would want to work so darn hard to learn to communicate with a dog?  Who in their right mind would want to spend this many hours trying to help dogs communicate back?"

Then the other side....yesterday while helping deliver a pup my BG dropped to 62.  Normally there would have been a wise old face staring HARD at me to make the point that there was a problem.  Not yesterday.  Yesterday, I somehow ignored the howls from the other room and stayed focused on the issue at hand.  Yesterday it was a random check that caught that 62 it wasn't Bravo and it wasn't the CGM it said 112.  Yesterday I again understood how important these dogs and others like them truly are.

Message from Bravo....these diabetic alert dogs are important.  You can't beat a dog's nose! We are so unworthy of their loyal devotion and love and yet they keep on giving it to us.  They walk with us through EVERY EVENT in our life...protecting us from not just bad BG's but also life's hardships.  Just a dog???????  I don't think so...more like angels!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bravo's Obituary....by Berta Owens

Fetch Express Bravo Zula
Dec 2, 2005 – July 19, 2017
My heart is broken. The Owens family lost a family member today. No he wasn't a two-legged family member, but he was the best 4-legged family member we could ask for.  My Sister in law KC Owens received this dog as a gift when he was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy from Sunshine Kennels in McCammon, ID.   She wasn't going to keep him. She had a family ready for him, but changed her mind after he started alerting to blood glucose numbers and kept him. Her life changed from that moment on. 

Bravo was more than an ordinary dog, he had heart and his impact was felt around the world.  Bravo visited/trained families with his mom in 42 states, Canada and also in the UK.

He was a true retriever and obtained a Senior Hunter title in AKC Hunt Tests and jammed a Qualifying at AKC Field Trial.  He was in the top 10 in Dock Diving; both in SV and distance with Splash Dogs with a personal best of 23'6" and 6'10".  He quite literally could jump over her head!  He also received his AKC CDX in obedience and novice titles in Agility and his RE in AKC Rally. He also held titles in both UKC events and ASCA events. In addition to that he became a registered Delta Therapy Dog where he volunteered at Aspen Ridge Rehab hospital, pulling wheel chairs, taking patients for walks, etc. He also volunteered as well at the University of Utah Hospital. He was nominated 3 times for AKC and ACE Award for Canine Excellence in 2010 through 2012 and was awarded Honorable Mention the last time in 2013. In 2011 he won the K9 Hero of the year Award at the Soldier Hollow Sheep Dog Classic in Utah. Bravo also starred in a Cabela’s commercial and also made the cover of Cabela's Lab Calendar in 2012. (They thought he was a Lab :-)) He also had a part in the short-lived ABC series Blood and Oil staring Don Johnson. 

But the most important accomplishment for Bravo was alerting to Brenda/KC when her blood sugar would drop low or rise too high. She is a type 1 diabetic with hypoglycemic unawareness. He saved her life countless times. He helped her to live a more normal life. However that wasn’t enough for him, he also saved many other peoples lives as well by either diagnosing diabetes or alerting them to their problems.  He also mentored 100’s of other dogs and families that come through KC’s home teaching and guiding them on either how to be better alerts or better handlers.

We all loved him, and will miss him horribly. RIP Bravo!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lessons From Bravo Part 3 Starting To Awaken

Driving home I had a huge urge to just RUN.  For me that means DRIVE LIKE HELL....to where no place in particular...but move.  At that point I was thinking mountains...didnt care where just MOUNTAINS.  The faster the better.  I came home and threw my crap in a bag and decided it was also time that Skeeter ( a rescue chessie I had fostered for a few weeks) out of my house.  I got ahold of the ACC coordinator and she was going to have her husband meet me half way between Boise and Salt Lake. My original plan was to break north and hit Craters of the moon/Sundance area.

As usual my plans are subject to change at a moments notice..especially if my "spidey senses" flair.  My nephew, Nathan and my friend Eric jokingly refer to me as the Big Boob Lady in The Simpson's Movie ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjfHnCjy3Pc).  I fly by those spidey senses ALOT.I threw my bag, Bravo, Totem, Bruin, Ava, and Skeeter in the truck and headed north.  Kristi took the others with her.  

My phone was going NUTS.....Facebook lit up, private messages, and calls started to roll in.  All I could reply was Thank You No Words....Can't Talk. I meant no harm. I wasn't trying to reject anyones friendship or good intentions.  I literally COULDN'T TALK.  I had NO WORDS.  

We got to about the Idaho/UT border and again that Voice in my head went off.  "Go To Eric's and GO TO THE RIVER. "  Dear Lord do I not have enough to worry about without going crazy as well?   Hearing voices, can't talk, no words.  I will be honest here.  Had Ava and Bruin and Skeeter not been in that truck I am not sure what I would have done.  For me...unlike most people death does not frighten me.  Not in a huge hurry to get there but IMHO....there are a hell of a lot worse things than dying most of them involve people and the medical field.  Death only hurts those of us still living...it relieves those suffering. I am not here to argue afterlife...just my humble thoughts.

Ava, poor thing was exhausted and had fallen asleep.  I presented her with the options.  She said she wanted to see Idaho and go to Eric's.  Well out of the mouth of babes!  If you can call I 84 seeing Idaho......insert eye roll!  We dropped Skeeter off in Twin Falls and he was off on his journey to a new home.  Ava and I continued on west. When we got there I got the hug and the words I needed to hear and off to the river we went.  As we turned onto the dirt road I swear I heard from the backseat Bravo squealing in anticipation of water, birds, training...didn't matter it was gonna be a good time.  We dumped the pack and let them swim and swim and swim and swim.  Bravo LOVED the river.........the river was always a good time!

The next day while driving back I saw a little sign that said "Malad Gorge"  near Gooding, ID.  I have drove that road many times and I don't think I have once saw that sign. But since Ava was with I figured lets check it out.  I will say it is one hell of a big crack that if you are scared of heights or have vertigo I wouldn't walk out on that lil bridge.

See the Big Bridge .....the lil one is right below it!

THE BRIDGE......Notice Her holding on!

At the very last spot inside the Gorge there is a spot where you walk out about 200 yards and get a picture of the massive valley that the Gorge dumps into.  While we were walking out I observed a creature ahead of us sort of sauntering along.  Ava was to busy worrying about snakes to see what I saw.  I wasn't sure exactly what it was...but I thought it was a gopher...but it sure wasnt in a hurry.  In fact he walked along rather slowly in front of us.  I kept trying to get a picture but it would duck out of way.

We are standing and looking out..watching all sorts of birds landing on the  ledges.  I kept peeking over to find Mr Gopher.  All of the sudden I hear the Screech of a Hawk right over my head.  I do mean right over my head maybe 30 feet up.  It screeched a few times as it flew on by...I turned to follow him in the sky and see 2 more hawks very close by and another just over a bit.  One of the hawks was just learning to fly while a older one was supervising.  I teared up and said to Ava "I know why I had to come to the River"  In some Native circles the gopher represents searching.  And the hawk is a messenger...a spirit messenger.  I said to Ava...."IT IS OK....BRAVO IS LEARNING TO FLY!"


Bravo I am not yet in that form but I promise you buddy....I WILL CHOOSE TO ALWAYS FLY!

My heart still aches...I still have few words. I still would rather be alone because my fuse is short but now I KNOW he flies beside me!


The call was made to the vet about 8 and I was scheduled to come in around 10.  His chest had swelled even more and his breathing was even more funny.  He laid on the floor at my feet STARING at me with a look of half here and a look half there.  His voice was silent. Just that deep soul piercing look he could give.  His eyes dimmer than usual with a web of what I believe to be pain.   I said it is ok buddy I got you this time!

My mentor and friend Edie texted and said she would meet us there but something inside of me said go to her place.  So we stopped by a place he has been hundreds of times.  I opened the van door and he struggle to his feet and to get out of door.  I gently picked him up and sat him on ground. Edie walked up to him and he stood a sec then slightly nudged her pocket...he knew there was cheese in there!  She tore off a piece and gave it to him.  He spit it out!  I could see her sink as she recognized the message he gave.  She then tore it into small long strings and he ate a few.  We couldn't stay long but I ask if she wanted Paisley(a Mal) to see him one more time.  Bravo took Paisley for her first swim and together they modeled many photographs!   When she came back out with Paisley, Paisley kind of burst into his face.  Not a mean back away burst but a higher pitch with a different sound and meaning.  At first Edie said knock it off to her but Bravo just turned and dropped his head with out moving any other body part.  They then sniffed and Paisley's energy changed and calmed.  I DO NOT KNOW WHAT PASSED BETWEEN THOSE TWO...but I am sure that something was shared that was not meant for human ears.  I couldn't not watch it though and forever I will be searching for what just happened.

We got back in the car to head to the vet.  My friend Ava (who is 12 going on 50) is struggling with BG issues due to emotions I am sure as mine were not much better) reached over and touched my arm.  I about lost it and turned around but I looked in back seat.  Bravo was laying half on and half off of one of the seats with his head on the other seat but he raised his left paw and waved it about 6 inches off the floor to indicate a high on her.   He then looked at me and I drove on swallowing every bit of emotion that rose in me.  In my heart I knew if I let it out he would dig deep and fight harder to protect and serve me.  This time it wasn't about me it was about him.

My friend Kristi met us there.  She hugged us all.  Her and Ava were ahead of me and Bravo.  That might have been the longest slowest walk of my entire life.  I remember seeing our reflection in the door glass.  It wasn't pretty.  Again I swallowed hard burying deep my breaking heart and gritted my teeth.  Immediately we were ushered to a room where the dreaded soft blanket laid on the floor.  I sat down on floor and he laid between my legs as he has a million times before with his head resting on my thigh.  I stroked his big fat leathery ears and gritted my teeth..willing my emotions to not give away my breaking heart.  Kristi and Ava on the other hand were struggling and he knew but only once did he try to rise to go to them to comfort them.  He pawed at Ava again about her BG which caused a few more fresh tears.   The vet came in and took in a deep breath.  With tears in her eyes she exclaimed "OH WOW....he has failed dramatically since Monday".  She gave him a sedative to relax him even more.  I watched helpless as he relaxed no longer able to fight to breath. It became very clear how much willpower the old boy had and how much he had been over riding his own body.  We sat there and my hands added all the love my heart felt.  All the energy to relax and be free to go.  The vet came back in with the dreaded pink shot. Her face dripping with tears, her hands shaking in a way I have never seen. She shaved a spot on his leg and started to insert the needle and she looked up at me and said  "I hope you know you and dogs like him are the reason I became a vet". "Thank you for letting me be a part of his life" (there is a back story that I am sure you will hear later as I write the lessons of Bravo). I could only grit my teeth and nod my head.  I squeezed my eyes shut, ready to explode inside. Holding his front paw and ear tighter. I heard and felt one deep breathe from him and he was gone.  I bid him love and light on to his next journey...the knot in my throat bigger with every passing moment.  My grief nearly exploding in me.  I ask Kristi and Ava and the vet to leave me be and go out.  I sat there for what seemed to be a life time.......wanting so bad to crawl on the next train out of this world. Again weirdness alert.......I HEARD A BOOMING SOUL SHOCKING VOICE in my head that said these words " GOOD JOB MY LOYAL AND FAITHFUL SERVANT........GOOD JOB!

For a few moments I was at total peace with everything..but like any human I took back my grief and held on.  I wandered into the back of the vets offices to look for Dr Michelle.  She was in her office crying while trying to do some paperwork. Again I thanked her walking with me and again the tears flowed freely from her.  She hugged me and uttered some words I do not remember. I know I replied, " It is what it is."

I started out the door and the receptionist/office manager said "KC wait.....can I please give and receive a hug?"