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Thursday, August 22, 2013

From Puppy Mill to Medical Alert Dog

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
Eternally Happy Oliver
Looking back on the hiccups in the road, it's completely amazing to me that we are where we are. Oliver has recently come 'out of the closet' as a Medical Alert Dog. Mind you, this was never a goal I had for him. I had planned on doing therapy work with him, but somehow our blogging days took over and no time presented itself. Or maybe just no motivation. 

I suppose it's time to share his story now--the whole thing. Back in 2010 I offered the then current version to my friend Kyla at Up With Pups. You'll want to read the post at that link to understand the beginning of Oliver's life. It did not start well.

Fast forward to 2013 and Oliver is a happy, well-adjusted little guy. Having become quite connected to my hip, as is often said of companion dogs, Oliver began to develop some surprising behaviors when I became ill with complications of my Multiple Sclerosis during a bout with the flu over New Years.

Strangely, Oliver's odd antics included jumping onto my lap and placing his paws on my chest as he peered into my eyes. His eye contact unbroken, he would stare me down until I found myself asking out loud, "What the heck is wrong with you, little guy?" The only thing that seemed to appease him was action on my part. Generally I ended up taking a brief cat nap and Oliver finally seemed to chill out when he could snuggle up to my shoulder while we blew off an hour of blogging time to snooze. My symptoms were so bad during that influenza that I had no idea he may actually have been sharing news. Still, though, I found myself asking what was going on, while his odd behaviors continued well beyond the flu season.

Springtime came and I saw a few friends and acquaintances over a period of months,
Oliver's Serious Pose

sharing with each my quandary over Oliver's strange behaviors.  A few knowing individuals were helpful in beginning to shed some light on this pattern of strange activities. It was starting to look like Oliver had learned to notice and notify me of changes in my scent. I still wasn't convinced.

During my drive home from Washington, D.C. in May, Oliver alerted. By this I mean he insisted I take him seriously by noticing his efforts to get my attention. I pulled over at a rest stop to allow him to answer nature's call, assuming this was what the bark was for. No, he doesn't usually bark for a bathroom break--but rather whines--when it's time to visit the grass. But what else could it be? He was riding in a cozy bed, with a bowl of ice cubes for hydration and a snuggle toy. Generally this is all he needs as long as I am nearby. Yet he continued in his efforts to get my attention.

My mind drifted back to the conversations about the possibility of him alerting me to an oncoming issue with my chronic disease so I decided to trust his instincts and get a hotel for the night. The next exit had a pet-friendly La Quinta. We checked in and I began to get out my laptop to check in on blog doings. But no! Oliver was having none of it. He was on the bed insisting I join him. 

"Okay, little guy. I'm tired from driving. I'll take a nap with you," I appeased him. Within seconds after my head hit the pillow I became horribly dizzy and a migraine was descending upon me. Vision blurry, I took a Triptan for the migraine and we both crashed for a couple of hours as I endured the dizzy spell, a common problem with my MS. Catching it early saved our timely arrival home the next day. For me, driving with a migraine is not an option; dizziness is not a safe condition in which to command a vehicle. It's not only unsafe; it's potentially deadly. I finally accepted that Oliver may have realized that the change in my scent meant problems ahead. I knew that dogs can sense seizures and diabetic blood sugar shifts coming on, but these super duper nose talents still baffled me.

One day shortly thereafter, when I refused to acknowledge Oliver's invitation to a stare down, he finally barked again. A single, very dominant bark as if to indicate that he was insisting I listen to him. This is not a typical reaction in Oliver's repertoire. Maybe I should take him seriously; but what exactly is he asking me to do? I wondered. My mentors shared that he apparently realizes I need to get to safety. For him this appeared to mean down, which in the case of a severe dizzy spell--compliments of my MS--is most certainly the best place for me to be.
Enough Photos Already!

Another question I had to answer was would he be reliable. Within a few days I found my symptoms worsening and Oliver offering a number of helpful insights. He was clearly more aware of my issues than I was. With the help of a few friends and my neurologist, I finally took the next step. Having noted that Oliver's alerts were dead on, I had begun to trust his advice and take action early. Rarely did I know what was about to happen, but each time he alerted me, there was definitely a consequence ahead. A trust was forged and we began the process of looking into certifying Oliver to allow him to be with me wherever I go.

Long story short, Oliver is now a Medical Alert Dog. His CGC (Canine Good Citizen certification) title was a nice start, having given him the training and good behavior to be an acceptable public companion. Now I'm safe in Oliver's able paws, on the road and at home. I couldn't be more pleased that the mystery of Oliver's interesting behaviors has been solved, and I think for once I can read his mind clearly. He's bored with this photo shoot, but definitely happy to be of service. Could I be any more lucky?

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Olivia R said...

My mom was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy last July and it was interesting to,see how Olivia became acutely in tuned to her at times, though she is my Service Dog. I wish you both health along this journey...With its peaks and valley's MS can take many routes as you know.

From may look into having name removed or another vest. If he is to be tuned to you and name is visible, the constant distraction of calling out from "spectators" can be difficult. We were "Inteviewed" as I like to politely call it 3x in Costco by people asking "what's wrong with you?" They also ask her name, but I rarely give it out. They don't need to distract her more than they already attempt to do. If I so,give her name, its usually in the form of a request like " Olivia, sit" - Abby, her mom

Carma Poodale said...

I had just tweeted to congratulate Oliver because I seen you get out of the car with him and his v est. Ma contacted Pepperpom immediately and told her you did it, you got him certified.Since I am following you checked out your blog. This makes ma and I so very happy to hear that you have taken the steps to get him a cerified dog. Congratulations! Ma says it gives her a new found life knowing their is someone there to tell her when things are going to happen. I am happy for you. Welcome to the pack!

Schooner and Skipper said...

Congratulations Oliver!!! You are an AMAZING dog. Carrie you are so lucky to have Oliver are your Medical alert Dog. I was so amazed how Oliver took care of you when you were driving back to from Washington D.C. I am so glad you listened to Oliver. Oliver you are a very SMART glad you are taking care of your mom.

Bocci said...

Wow! Great post, Carrie! And kudos to Oliver! Hope you're having a great time at Barkworld!

Dawn said...

I didn't know that about Oliver. How wonderful!!! You sure are a little wonder, Oliver. :)

Unknown said...

High Paw Oliver! Welcome to the life of a working dog. I am so happy you are officially a service dog. The more small service dogs there are, the more people will realize we can work and do a good job. :) Keep your mom safe.

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