I get asked all the time about what organizations I would recommend, what trainers are good, who should I avoid, etc. The honest truth is I’m just a father of a family that decided a service dog would be a good fit for us. And through that process, we got lucky enough to find Canine Hope for Diabetics. Since then I have been able to meet many people involved in various levels of the DAD world, from trainers, breeders, self trainers, and heads of organizations. We first contacted Canine Hope over 3 years ago, and Major has been working successfully for us since August of 2011, 2 1/2 years, and truth be told, we couldn’t be happier with our decision. Here are some of the things we love about Canine Hope, and you should consider when choosing an organization for you:
They are local to us. This is a HUGE benefit to us. Much of this post will be related to things we do or like that circles around the fact that our organization is local to us. This may not be possible for everyone, but perhaps a trainer in your area, or a service like Zoomroom may be available to you after you get your dog. For a list of vetted trainers and organizations, please see diabeticalertdog.com.
With them being local, if we have an issue or a new scenario at home, we have someone we can call, and either go to them, or have them come to us. Just as an example, if Stella were to start playing tennis, I could call Crystal (the head of Canine Hope) and let her know that we now need to take our dog to a place where tennis balls are flying around. She would be able to come out to a practice and train us on how to make that work. We can get very individualized care that way, and as life changes, school, sports, activities, etc, we have access to someone to help us work through things. The same thing goes if we have a sudden behavioral issue, or some pointers on how to train a new behavior.
Along the lines of having an issue, a question, looking for some tips or ideas for training, I have phone numbers, email addresses, etc, and I am able to get hold of someone quickly when I need it. This is extremely reassuring. A service dog could be considered a very large purchase, much like a new car. But when you buy a new car, you may never go back to the dealer for follow ups, oil changes, etc. I don’t have contact with the real estate agent that sold me my house. But a dog is different. There needs to be after care. There needs to be open communication. It is important to follow up. It is just as important for the organization to keep in touch and make sure that the dog is working, the people are continuing with training, the dog is staying healthy, because it should be important that the dog is succesful and working, and if there is a problem, they can work to trouble shoot it.
We love that the organization runs a monthly group get together/training session that works as a public access training session and a get together for the families. These outings are as much about training the dogs as it is meeting new families, catching up with old friends, and swapping type 1 war stories, helpful hints, and picking brains for ideas. We have been to museums, aquariums, on trains, and walked through malls. All outings are designed so that the families and kids can have fun while at the same time learning to be better dog handlers. The trainers can also provide helpful tips, fix issues they see, and teach new behaviors. It winds up being fun for the whole family, and the dogs have no idea they are being trained 😉
They also host weekly rally/obedience training sessions. These have evolved since we have been with the group, but they are one of the highlights of our week for the family. We get to go work with our dogs, learning new behaviors, under supervision of the trainers, again looking for week spots, providing helpful hints, and sometimes we get homework as we learn a new behavior. Working through the rally course is an amazing way to bond with your dog, work on focus, and become a better dog handler. The whole family is encouraged to work the dogs, anybody in the house that may handle them should work the course. And again, it is a great time to meet and chat with the other families, and there is always a group that heads off to dinner afterwards, giving the dogs yet another opportunity for public access work. Here is a video of Raven and I, working “off leash” through the rally course yesterday. Raven is really good, and has great focus. I have fun working her through the course:
Now, with all of that out of the way, here is something that I really love, and that never crossed my mind when we first started down this path towards getting a dog. When Stella was first diagnosed, we came home, pulled down the blinds, locked the doors, and vowed to never leave our house again. The world became a scary place for us. Restaurants with no carb counts, family and friends that didn’t understand type 1, a school with no nurse on staff, a huge learning curve, everything just seemed so overwhelming, and we had no one in our circle that was diabetic, so we felt alone. When we contacted Canine Hope, Crystal arranged an in home meeting. She wanted to see our house, and we had some senior dogs, so there was probably some evaluating of them that took place. When she came out, she had Johanna, an adult type 1, living with this disease for 30 years, who also works and helps provide real time training for Canine Hope. Johanna was the first adult type 1 I ever met (that I knew about). I spent as much time talking to her about type 1 as I did with Crystal about the dogs. I had never seen a pump before, and we learned more in that single meeting with them than we did in the previous year of dealing with our Endo. We weren’t alone. And here was an adult living a successful life, not being held back by diabetes. For a dad that was scared, this was huge.
We were invited shortly after to start participating in the organized events, and we started to meet other families. It was through Canine Hope that Stella was first introduced to other kids her own age, and instead of being different, she was “the same”. I don’t think there is anyway I could ever possibly convey how much this group means to me. How much Canine Hope, Crystal, Johanna, all the trainers, puppy raisers and families have changed our lives. It’s why, 3 years later, we are still participating. These people aren’t an organization or a business or even friends to us. This is family. This is a group that takes personal investment in caring for, asking about, following along, reaching out, getting excited for, offering a shoulder to lean on, and sharing experiences with each other, their kids, and their dogs. Our kids get to play for hours with each other, and no one bats an eye at any diabetic related issue that comes up. These kids are developing life long friendships, I can see them all 20-30 years from now sitting together for coffee, just like old college room mates. They have a common ailment that brought them together, and they have a developed a bond that will keep them together. It is amazingly beautiful, and warms my heart. These kids are super excited to get in the car and go to rally. It has become a highlight to the week.
Just yesterday, a family had just started their 4 year old on a pump and was having some issues. Next thing you know, there are 4 of us showing her how to set it up, working through her meter readings to help battle lows and highs that came at particular times, and instilling some confidence and reassurance in them for making the decision. Stuff like this happens all the time.
Many of us are now meeting outside of Canine Hope events, letting the kids play, taking the dogs on hikes, grabbing coffee, doing fundraisers. Again, these people are some of the most important people in the world to us.
I haven’t even mentioned what Major and Raven mean to us. Those of you that follow along here or on our Facebook page already know about that.
So this all started in the hopes of us getting a dog to help our daughter. It wound up being us gaining a family that helps all of us. A common bond, a united front. When you look for your own organization, I can only hope that you get as lucky as we did. Crystal & Johanna, thank you for all that you have provided to us. You understand that the dogs are a great way to get us all together. But it is the family that keeps us coming back. (and the dogs are pretty cool too)