Square Zero (plus)

It’s been what, two years now since I wrote here? I tried a few times, but a blog documenting my SDiT when we’d just flunked out seemed pointless, painful, and overall a poor idea. I tried a few times and left.

Where did I leave things? Well, I left them at what I called square negative one. I’m pleased to announce that I moved a while ago to square zero, the preparation for a future service dog. Storm is pretty stable now. She still has IBD, flares up sometimes more, sometimes less. She gets an occasional UTI. She’s on hydrolyzed protein food because when we went on it temporarily to do a diet trial (oh, the result is she appears to be allergic to at least chicken), it was the healthiest she’d been for the longest time, and my vet is happy with her on it. She loves her predigested kibble (my nickname for it) and will drool over a bowl as she waits patiently to be told “release” and spring from her sit to happy eating, tail wiggling so hard the whole time that I almost expect the sitting dog to start slowly levitating from the current it creates, drool flying through the air.

Storm is a happy soul. I almost gave her up at one point when her misery reached its peak. We had so much constant construction that I had to carry Storm down the steps and she was still too afraid to pee, she was snapping at her beloved cat, and the only time she seemed happy was on a visit to my parents in their suburb. She loves the suburbs. I started sobbing because of how tired I was, how miserable she was, how hard everything had been for so many months of trying everything…and I said I thought it was time to stop torturing her and find her somewhere quieter where she could be happy again.

And then, in a supremely selfish decision, I couldn’t do it. I knew it wasn’t fair to her that I couldn’t drive and there was nowhere I could afford to live that was quiet enough for her but close enough to transit and a pharmacy and groceries for me; the cost would have been astronomical if I could’ve found something, and there wasn’t anything to find. I looked for months and months and months, hating the thought of losing my neighborhood, my favorite spots, my petcare clients, all my non-digital work in fact, but hating how much we were hurting each other by living our current life even more. She loved me and was so overwhelmed by the world she was physically ill. I adored her and was trying not to cry most days as I forced her outside, as I had to leave my dog behind and take a walk alone because she was so petrified of the city, as I tried not to let myself be tense while keeping a constant and very close watch on the dog and cat because the poor dog’s stress made her snap every now and then, and the cat had terrible reflexes and a worse instinct for self-preservation and only knew the dog was her best friend and had been deemed Safe At All Times. And I was aching.

And then I kept her. We tried another medication. My parents started coming every single weekend and giving me a ride to a dog-friendly set of nature trails where Storm flourished on her breaks from the life of a city dog for a few hours. I thought I was tired before, but I made a schedule. We did sit-down repetitions of “pushups” for her physical exercise when she was too scared for outside even around the house (often) and for toys inside (tragically, also often at that low point– and Storm loves her toys!) and to start building her play drive back from its all-time low of fear, every single meal became game time. Look up DIY enrichment ideas if you’re a geek about this like me; saving toilet paper and paper towel cardboard rolls has been a lifesaver and gotten my dog’s brain a great workout, gotten her engaged, helped her confidence, and so much more. Never underestimate the immense value of a toilet paper roll, my friends.

It wasn’t magic. I didn’t say one day that it was all okay and we’d won. We never outright won, but we managed not to lose. Storm’s meds are helping us work through things together in a way that had become impossible. I’ve accepted that there are days when she’ll just refuse to turn a certain direction that was fine every other day and night, and I’ll find a new way to go that makes her happy because I don’t know what she’s uncomfortable with, but we’ll find another option. The exception remains when she makes her stand in the middle of a street, and she is unceremoniously scooped up (all 55 pounds of her) and hauled across the street. We wear reflective gear when we might be out by dusk or later now, more than we used to, for such instances. She loves her crate again and is always in there when I’m out of the house and overnight when I’m asleep because I know now that if she’s off that day, she could snap at the cat, and it could be fatal. It’s not a huge change, as she would abandon me plenty of nights for her cuddly crate when the door was open, but it took some work. We now do a sit and wait before being told yes, go on in, and that seems to have helped build (weird as this sounds) her crate drive at any time of day. She gets kibble in there randomly and likes to rearrange her blanket/mat to suit her on a given day, making happy groans of contentment as she stretches out.

Is she still reactive? Yes, but we’re making so much progress. Things got much, much worse before they got better. The spiral continued as it had been going and try as I might, things were hard. We did the work, we still do the work, and DS/CC are my favorite abbreviations in the world when we pass a dozen dogs without a woof or a hyperfocused stare, forget a frantic jumping explosion of reactivity. Even at the worst, though, she never stopped enjoying the company of the family dogs, two small and geriatric toy poodles. Even when the not so bright but yappy one would bark his head off, she was relaxed (to my shock) and didn’t even join in. Both grew quite fond of her and liked the big, warm, soft thing that let them sit against or on her and cuddled around them. Both poodles are gone now. They died in March and August and are very missed, but both had full, happy lives.

The poodles bring me to the news that turned things from square negative one to square zero (dare I say square zero point five, or even square almost-one?): I’m getting a service dog. Yes, I know this isn’t a shock, but what I mean is that I know where I’m getting one and have an idea of when. It’s a few years off, and he (probably he, since I want a larger dog) will be an ethically, carefully, purposefully bred standard poodle from a breeder specializing in producing the right temperaments for service dogs, both for her small program and allowing owner-trainers a puppy. I’ll be going halfway between and getting an adolescent she’s done a strong foundation on and who has passed a good deal of developmental milestones that could cause issues for me. He’ll be a year or so most likely when he becomes mine, and then I’ll finish the training through both the program and private work with the wonderful trainer I found back when I was washing Storm. She’s been a huge support and helped me feel confident in my choice of program.

When is he coming? Probably around 2023. He’ll likely be from a litter expected to happen in early 2022, unless I get very lucky with genetics in an earlier litter. I’ve been approved and on the waitlist for a number of months for the next dog who fits my needs and isn’t already slotted for someone else ahead of me. He’s going to be amazing, and Storm will be okay. She has been doing so beautifully; things got worse, yes, but they got better after that. She’s now not much more reactive than many dogs we pass whose owners would be quite upset at the term, but I know that’s no excuse. I manage our environment so she can be safe and happy and she’s growing in confidence still. More importantly, I’ll be able to handle the situation with help from my wonderful family and guidance from the professionals I’ve been so lucky to find and am excited to work with and learn from. When I have doubts, I remind myself that this dog will allow me to care for Storm and Tikvah better because he’ll be helping me save energy and time and strain and making my life easier, leaving me more time to enjoy the three lovely creatures in my home (as he’ll be a wonderful friend and companion to take on adventures where he’ll just go be a dog, too, of course).

Where does that leave this blog? Well, it was never for anyone else. I’m not entirely sure anyone read most of the posts, frankly, and that’s okay. This was for me. It’ll continue to be for me. I’ll come back to it, and it’ll keep the name: my service dog won’t be Storm, but she helped me start this, and she has very important new jobs as Resident Cat Groomer, Sofa Cushion Inspector, Toy Destroyer, Supreme Moo Cow, and Chief Snuggler Of All. She and the cat are back to their old selves and better; they are a circus and a fairy tale and a comic strip and pure sunshine all rolled into one, plus a lot of shedding. They spoon, cuddle, use each other as pillows (yep, both directions of who’s the pillow — you should have seen the reaction when I tried to “help” the cat, who was having none of it from me), and even are starting to understand more about each other’s attempts to play and play back appropriately, which is an absolute delight. They groom each other beautifully, too; the cat does a stellar job on the dog’s ear wax and shows amazing determination in trying to wash a head nearly as big as her entire body, and the cat is kept clean and shiny and has all the itches taken care off by the dog, and pushes her head into the tongue for more.

One day, we’ll be adding my service dog. I have days when it’s all I can think about because something has been particularly difficult and it’s one of the tasks he’ll be trained for. There are days when I feel like maybe I don’t need one enough to take a service dog when the demand is so much higher than the supply, until I remember that the point is to be able to return to a more normal life, a job where I make minimum wage or more (don’t get me started on work, but I do not make minimum wage and I do work insane hours). I can’t wait to brush him, as I miss brushing a poodle. My late family pet Jazzy loved being brushed, having been familiarized with it from her early days with her breeder, and I loved brushing her even more. On her very last day, I spent an hour brushing out every hair on her frail little body as she melted into me, getting massaged where she was sore and having the tangles teased out. She had CCD (canine cognitive dysfunction, often called doggie dementia) and her little body stopped working on a more fundamental level by the end of that night, but our precious morning of grooming was beautiful and she hadn’t settled anywhere that long in days, so I know it made her happy.

Maybe I’ll write about Jazzy next, or maybe this will be where I spll out the excitement when my puppy is born, or maybe, or maybe….

But I’m glad this is here, for me if no one else. Operation Superstorm had to make an emergency detour, but we all made it. And I’m so glad we did.

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