NOTE: A lot more stuff has changed since I wrote this. I have continued to get healthier. And I have graduated from KPA and completed the two dog training apprenticeships I was doing. And now I am a professional dog trainer, training pet dogs, puppies, and service dogs in my region. My business is At Your Service Dog Training.
After 18 years of severe chronic illness and disability, I have regained freedom, independence, and health. I no longer have CFIDS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis). I no longer have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) and loads of allergies. I have recovered from chronic Lyme disease, babesiosis, and bartonellosis. Along the way I have also gained a lot of joy and a sense of empowerment. Life is great!
Because my rehabilitation was built around a behavioral neuroplasticity (brain retraining) program, I was enormously assisted in my recovery process by having trained three service dogs for myself over 16 years. Studying dog training meant studying learning theory, and learning how to teach and train in an ethical and effective way — not just dogs, but all animals, including myself.
My understanding of applied behaviorism and of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helped me to have compassion for myself. When I was struggling and unsure how to proceed, I’d just ask myself, “If my brain were a puppy, what would I do?” Then I could figure it out.
I kept “treating myself like a dog” — applying what I knew about behavior and training to myself. I also had the support and assistance of my (now former) service dog, as well as family, friends, and (now former) personal assistants. That made a big difference for me, too.
This all started in August 2013 when I borrowed* the DVDs and workbook for the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) from a MCS support group I was involved with. I had heard about DNRS and the Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme** for a few years — mostly from healthy people or people who had MCS who said that these programs could “cure” MCS. I had been irritated, offended, and confused when I heard this. I thought it sounded like a total crock. I borrowed the DNRS program mostly out of curiosity. I expected to review it for my blog and to indicate what I thought were its pros and cons — and thereby finally silence the people who were suggesting to me that I try it. I never considered it would be the start of a marvelous upheaval in my life.
I watched DNRS over the course of several days. I discovered it was based on science, on how the brain affects the other organs and systems of the body, and how the brain’s function and anatomy can be changed by neuroplastic therapy. I learned that we can use our conscious minds to alter the unconscious actions of our brains. I started to wonder if it was actually possible I might recover, which was not something I had considered remotely possible for well over a decade. It was thrilling and terrifying.
During those first days, I was, as I had been for many years…
- In bed virtually around the clock
- Using a powerchair to get around the house, except on the relatively rare occasions I was able to walk to my adjoining bathroom
- Almost never able to leave the house
- Nonverbal or dysphonic (speech impaired) much of the time
- Using oxygen and a carbon filter mask whenever I was around people (other than my assistants or fragrance-free friends and family) because of sensitivity to fumes
- On many, many medications and supplements
- In severe pain
- Living with insomnia, impaired cognition, migraines, hypersensitivity to many stimuli (sound, smells, touch), multiple food and inhalant allergies, and many other chronic symptoms
- Reliant on five personal care assistants for help with bathing, dressing, making meals, cleaning, errands, going to medical appointments, and sometimes things like transfers, eating, and going to the bathroom
There’s too much to tell to fit it in one post. I am working on a memoir — a big project! Meanwhile, here’s a month-by-month summary of some of the highlights of the last nine months. I’m using some before and after photos and videos to illustrate the metamorphosis I have gone through — pictures from the last few years before I started my recovery program, and then what has happened lately. Enjoy!
June 2009 — I was in bed all the time, so I kept everything I needed, day or night, in my bed (including Gadget, my second service dog).
[Picture description: Sharon asleep in bed with Gadget sleeping between her legs, his head on her thigh. On the bed is a lap desk, phone, headset, baby wipes, and computer keyboard. On an overbed table are water bottles, paper, pens, pills, and more.]
(Note: I did alt tag the pictures, but a while back I heard from someone that the alt tags were not coming through with their screen readers, so I have pasted descriptions under the pics, too. If the alt tags are working for everyone, though, I’ll remove the descriptions from the main text so people won’t have to read them twice. Let me know what works better for you!)
After I started doing brain retraining, I had a LOT of rehab work to do on my whole body. One of the things I started doing was yoga — to improve strength and balance. In the beginning, this meant doing “child pose” in bed for a few seconds. It was very painful for me, so I couldn’t do it longer.
Then, I started working on “tree pose.” Tree pose is normally done standing on one foot. You put the sole of one foot against the calf or thigh of the other, and raise your arms into the air above your head. But I started tree pose with . . .
Standing. On both feet.
I worked on being balanced and strong enough to stand still. (I have since learned that this is actually a yoga pose — standing still and tall on both feet is called mountain pose or tadasana.) But that didn’t matter. My yoga practice was doing child pose in bed and standing on the floor.
I actually owned two yoga mats because I had used them for training Barnum “go to mat.” I had wanted a mat that wouldn’t slide around on the floor and that would be long and narrow to help him learn to keep his whole body on the mat. (Here’s a one-and-a-half minute “go to mat” clicker training session I videoed three years ago.) It never occurred to me I would use the yoga mat for . . . yoga! When I got it out to work on standing, Barnum would run to it and lie down on it, but I taught him pretty quickly that his NEW job when the yoga mat came out was to stand next to it and help me balance. Here are some pictures of us working on tree pose at the end of August 2013.
I practiced every day standing on both feet, and then eventually on one foot and then slowly raising an arm, steadying myself with Barnum on the other side. I wore my treat pouch so I could reinforce Barnum for this new behavior of bracing me next to the mat instead of lying on the mat.
I tried to be patient with myself and shape myself toward my eventual goal bit-by-bit (as I would if I were a dog).
I practiced on both sides and was eventually able to let go of the dog. Look, Ma, no hands!
[Picture descriptions: #1 — Sharon in pink pants rolled up above the knee, a navy blue treat pouch around her waist, and a khaki green T-shirt on a blue yoga mat in her living room. Barnum stands next to her. She has her right leg bent, the right foot against her left calf. Her left hand rests on Barnum’s shoulders, and her right hand is lifted a few inches off her thigh.. #2 — Similar picture to the previous, but Sharon’right arm is raised higher, halfway between waist and shoulder height. #3 — Similar to previous pictures, but with Sharon standing on her right leg, and Barnum on her right side, and both arms are up and out to the side. Sharon has a big smile on her face.]
Below is a picture from May 2011. I remember this day not because it was unusual or different but because it was a completely normal, typical day that I decided to document and share on my blog. Normally on a lousy day I would NOT have taken a picture of myself feeling and looking like hell, in pain and sick. On a day like this I usually would not have gotten out of bed, but I did this day, with tremendous effort, to have my PICC line dressing changed by the visiting nurse. I had my eyes shut most of the time due to migraine and light sensitivity. I decided to document it because I was frustrated with people who knew me from the online world not understanding the severity of my situation. I was using my mask and oxygen because of scents I smelled on the nurse’s clothing (which she tried very hard not to bring, but which was impossible because my nose was bionic!).
On a day like this, it was all I could manage to get out of bed, with the help of PCAs and pain killers.
[Picture descriptions: Sharon slumped in powerchair, mask on her face, one arm hanging down and the other resting on the table while the nurse works on it.]
As I started walking more around the house, I also wanted to be active outdoors with Barnum. I went to the pond, a favorite spot for both of us. I had been to the pond since I’d been sick, including with Barnum when he was a puppy, but it’s not something I was able to do that often because, even in my powerchair, it was exhausting for me to go out.
Baby Barnum and I did have fun at the pond when he was a wee lad — April 2010.
Barnum loved to leap over this little stream, which must have seemed big to him as a puppy. Of course, looking back, I couldn’t get over that part of the stream then, myself!
[Pictures descriptions: #1: Sharon, bundled up in a turtleneck and wool hat, reclines in a very big powerchair watching little baby puppy Barnum sniffing at some brown grass under some pine trees. #2: Barnum, about the size of a cat, in the air with ears flying, leaps over a very small stream. Sharon is in the background, watching and smiling.]
Now, in September 2013, I was still using my powerchair to get from the van to the pond, but I finally had the opportunity to swim. I have loved swimming my whole life, and when I was less sick, I had trained my previous service dog, Gadget, to pull me around in the water.
But I had had a PICC line for all of Barnum’s life, and you cannot swim in a pond with a PICC line, so I’d never been in the water with him before. I had my PICC line removed in March, after four-and-a-half years of intravenous antibiotics.
I had also been much too sick to swim in the pond for many years. But now I was so excited to try to do it. This is Barnum and me in September 2013 on a trip to the pond.
I have a lot of pictures of me with my arms raised like that. When I couldn’t talk, I signed a lot, and this is the end of the sign for “Free!” Even though I can talk ALL THE TIME now, I used this pose a lot because it felt strong and celebratory for me. To me, it says, “I’m FREEEEEEE!”
Barnum liked to wade in and have a drink, but he was not so into the swimming at this stage.
Sooooo HAPPY to be in the water!
[Picture descriptions: #1: Sharon in a maroon tankini standing in knee-high brownish water with many tall trees, mostly pine trees, on the other side of the pond. She has her hands up in the air, extended above her head, in fists. #2: Sharon standing in the water looking down at Barnum, who is up to his chest in the water, drinking. He’s wearing an orange and black visibility vest. #3: Sharon’s head and shoulders emerge from the water, the rest of her is submerged. Her hair is wet, and she has a really big smile.]
Once I started standing and walking, my feet started hurting quite a bit. Walking led to me developing plantar fasciitis and then also bunions, and tendinitis in my ankles. But, all of that has been getting better with stretches and physical therapy and time and orthotics for fallen arches.
But, I had not been in a shoe store in almost twenty years. Because of my MCS, I wasn’t able to go in one. The only shoes I had were from online stores that sold organic hemp shoes or canvas high-tops that could go through the washer. None of my shoes had any arch support. I had only worn slippers and socks, except for very occasional doctors appointments, for about a decade.
I was so excited and happy when I went to a shoe store with Betsy and my parents after I started to get better! It was one of the happiest moments of my life! I kept saying to Betsy, “I’m in a shoe store! I’m in a shoe store!” My dad took this picture. (I have blurred out the face of the shoe salesman because I didn’t get his permission to post his picture on the internet!)
I’m IN A SHOE STORE!
[Picture description: Sharon sits on a bench in a shoe store next to Betsy. There are racks of sneakers and other shoes around them. A man with his face blurred out is adjusting a shoe on his knee in front of Sharon.]
There were very few shoes in the store that fit me because my feet, which have always been big and wide, had apparently gotten even wider in the past 18 years. But there was one sneaker and one sturdy sandal that fit me and had good arch support and comfortable soles, so I got those. I was still using a powerchair most of the time at this point, including to get in and out of the shoe store. It was such a relief to my burning soles to put on the new sneakers that I wanted to wear them out of the store. The salesman said to me, “Now you’re ready to run a marathon!”
He was kidding, but I thought, “Maybe. You never know!”
I’m incredibly fortunate that just a few minutes from my home, there is a horse-assisted therapy program. Su, who runs it, works with people on the autism spectrum. I met with her to discuss how she could work with me to improve my balance, coordination, strength, proprioception, and other issues. I have always loved all animals, but after I got sick, over the years I became allergic to almost anything with fur. One of the reason all my service dogs have been Bouviers is that they are hypoallergenic — don’t shed and have hair instead of fur.
Working with animals has always brought me joy and helped me function my best. In this video working with Gadget in 2008, at that time it was rare for me to be able to be out of bed so much and to have my voice working as well as it did in most of the video, but working with Gadget tended to bring out the best in me. Link to video for email subscribers.
[Transcript of this video is here. Open captioned version of the video is here.]
I thought that now that my immune system was normalizing again, I would be able to work with the horses and that being around such a large animal would be steadying for me. It was a wonderful experience!
In the beginning I was not yet stable enough, and I weighed too much, to ride the session horses. But I could groom them, lead them, talk to them, and other things. Su was pretty amazed when, after we first met to discuss my work, the next week I stood most of the time instead of sitting in my chair. And pretty soon after that, I was walking from the car to the barn! She didn’t recognize me the first time I walked in! (There have been so many people who have known me for years but didn’t recognize me when they saw me standing and outside of my house that I have gotten used to it.) Here’s me with Patience (who lives up to her name!).
I’m walking around with a horse!
[Picture description: Sharon walks tall on the dirt, knee raised up high, holding a lead for an auburn horse who follows her. Small green plants along a fence are in the background.]
By the end of the month, I was able to start riding Patience for very short periods, bareback (because the saddle adds a lot of weight that would have made me too heavy for her).
I’M ON A HORSE!
[Description: Sharon, wearing a purple sweatshirt, blue jeans, and new sneakers with purple laces, wears a black riding helmet sitting on Patience, a very pretty auburn horse. Sharon is leaning forward but smiling, and is bracing herself with her hands on the horse’s shoulders. Su is walking next to Patience, leading her and holding her lead, in knee-high boots and a baseball cap. She is talking encouragingly to Sharon. There are trees and bushes and a fence in the background.]
I originally got my driver’s license when I was a teenager. But after I got CFIDS and MCS, due to cognitive impairment, I started to have accidents occasionally. I sometimes had trouble making quick decisions. (I think this was a processing speed issue.) So I limited my driving to short distances. If I wasn’t functioning well or if it was a longer drive, I had someone else drive me.
After I got Lyme in 2007, I was at first too sick, exhausted, and in pain to drive. Later, when I became unable to move my limbs, especially my legs, much of the time, driving was not an option! So, my license expired, and I wasn’t able to renew it. Here’s a captioned video I made in January 2013 that shows where I was before I started DNRS. This was when I was at the end of Lyme treatment, killing the last of the tick-borne parasites in my system. [Link to transcript of video.]
I found out that in order to get a driver’s license again, I’d need to take the written learner’s permit test, then take and pass the road test. I began to work very hard on this new goal! I got really serious about improving my cognitive function, processing speed, hand-eye coordination, and other skills. I played jacks, memorized poetry, and played Lumosity computer games every day.
I studied and studied all the (new) rules of the road, regulations, penalties for teen driving infractions (even though I’d left teenagerhood behind several decades ago, I took the same test as 16-year-olds!). Near the end of of October, I took and passed the learner’s permit test with 100 percent!
In November, I decided to sell my old cargo van, and give away my powerchair and wheelchair lift.
I took this picture to post the van and equipment on Craigslist.
[Description: Back of a dark green cargo van with rear doors open. A black lift with a metal arm and black webbing holds a powerchair with a gray captain’s seat and a cherry-apple red base, in the air.]
I’d bought this cargo van in 2002 because it would fit a lift and powerchair, and it was so stripped down inside — with no carpet, upholstery, headliner, or backseat — that it was one of the few vehicles I could tolerate with MCS. But, it was in constant need of repair and got terrible mileage, so I was excited to get rid of it! It was a big leap of faith — scary, exciting, happy, sad — to say goodbye to my van.
What a wonderful month December was! What a difference a year can make!
The previous winter, I was still in bed full-time. I’d found a Youtube of a log burning in a fireplace. Here’s a picture of me in 2012 in bed (of course), eating my dinner from my lap desk (which is how I ate all my meals), “warming my hands” in front of the “fire” on my computer screen.
Thank goodness for my sense of humor! (And the internet!)
[Description: Sharon in bed with a red wool cap and blue hoodie, red quilts, pillows, and sheets. She is sitting, propped up by pillows, in front of her overbed table with a large computer screen on it. A picture of a fire is on the screen, and she is smiling and holding her hands in front of it as if she is warming them. A meal on a lap desk is on her lap. There are things all over the bed, such as a computer keyboard, water bottle, pill box, baby wipes, paper, pens.]
This December was quite different! I got to celebrate Hanukkah with real candles for the first time in 19 years! We also were able to start using our pellet stove, instead of relying on electric heat, which is very expensive and inefficient (thus, the house was freezing most of the year), and I got my driver’s license!
That’s my brand-new license to operate a motor vehicle, people!
A very gay (and toasty) Hanukkah!
Happy holidays to me!
[Picture descriptions: #1: Sharon, wearing a tan wool hat, white turtleneck, and purple hoodie, smiling hugely, holds up a piece of paper with her picture on it. She’s in a cluttered living room.Happy holidays to me! #2: A menorah, with all the candles lit, arranged in rainbow colors. It sits on a lit pellet stove, with a fire going behind the glass. #3: Sharon leans sideways over the menorah, with a big smile. It lights the right side of her face from below.)
Oh, one thing I haven’t mentioned yet (well, there are a million things), is that I had two unexpected bonuses of recovery that I hadn’t anticipated when I first started. One was that I had a sharp decrease in my compulsive eating. I have had disordered eating and body dysmorphia for most of my life, and in the last few years had increasingly eaten compulsively. When I started doing DNRS, that decreased sharply.
The other benefit is that I have recovered from PTSD. I developed PTSD at the end of December 2008, when I was unable to evacuate from my home during a week-long power outage after a severe ice storm. Because I was too ill to leave bed and unable to tolerate other environments due to MCS, I was stranded without heat, power, water, or phone, and I was terrified. January of 2009 had been a horrible month for me — still recovering from fresh trauma, the loss of an important friendship, and the death of one of my best friends, I developed a fear of the dark and various other PTSD symptoms — which I healed during my recovery.
Here’s a video I made about training Barnum to help with agitation, which was a sort of anxious, explosive rage that I used to experience due to tick-borne disease. It was not helped by having PTSD! (The reason I’m barely moving nor speaking in this video is partly because it’s better for training to have a quiet voice and body and partly that I wasn’t really capable of speaking or moving at that time.)
Title: Clicker Training a Psychiatric Service Skill: Soothing Agitation.
Opening screen: White letters on black background, text: Sharon & Barnum Train a Psychiatric Service Skill
Text: Shaping head press into thigh to dissipate handler agitation.
Sharon lies in bed. Barnum lies next to her. She clicks an i-Click when Barnum puts his head on her thigh and gives him a treat from a plastic bag on her side for each click.
Text: I start with Barnum chin-targeting my hand.
Text: Once he’s offering chin-on-thigh, I keep up my rate of reinforcement.
Sharon holds her hand next to her thigh and clicks Barnum for putting his chin on her hand. Then she holds her hand on her thigh, clicking chin target there, then she moves her hand away and waits to see what Barnum will do. He puts his chin on her thigh, and she clicks and treats that. They repeat that a few times.
Text: Then I start selecting for longer or heavier contact.
Text: At our next session, I start selecting for cheek/shoulder rolls.
Sharon is wearing different clothing, but lying in the same place on her bed. She clicks and treats Barnum for putting his chin on her thigh. She holds off on some clicks and he experiments with moving his cheek closer to her center line, which earns him clicks.
Text: Starring Barnum as SDiT & Sharon as Trainer/Handler
See more videos at our blog: http://aftergadget.wordpress.com]
This year I reclaimed the month of January! I went for a driver’s evaluation at a rehab facility. Yes, I already had my new license and new (used) car, however my primary care doctor wanted me to undergo an evaluation to make sure I was really safe on the roads.
The highlight of the evaluation was a test called “Trail-Making Test, Part B.” There are a bunch of letters and numbers on a page, and you start with the number one and and with the letter A, making a line from 1 to A to 2 to B to 3, etc. The occupational therapist who was evaluating me said she would time it. It took me 39.7 seconds to complete it. I had no idea whether that was a good time or not until the OT said, “That’s the fastest I’ve ever had anyone do it.”
Here’s a picture I took of the test after I completed it (because I was excited, and because I’ve been documenting the hell out of this journey).
Actually, it turns out this is a Rorschach test. It’s a dog, right?
[Description: A piece of paper with numbers one through 12 and letters A through L, with a pencil line connecting them all in a row. It looks kind of like a maze.]
I asked her what it was used to evaluate, and she said processing time. She said it should take two minutes or less and that studies have found a high correlation between car accidents and taking three minutes or more to complete this test. A long time doing trail-making tends to be predictive of accidents.
It was good to know my processing time has improved because the example she gave of the kind of accidents their patients have when they are processing too slowly — misjudging how fast a car is coming, and pulling out into on-coming traffic — was exactly how I got into my worst accident, several years ago. So, I am glad my processing speed is where it should be now!
I celebrated my six-month anniversary of beginning DNRS at a retreat center, meditating six to eight times a day, in silence, with a hundred other people. PARTY, dude! Well, no, but I gained some valuable insights, most of which boiled down to: Be kind to myself and try to forgive my body. No pictures or videos of the retreat.
However, one really cool thing I did that month that I do have pictures of was taking Barnum for a walk around the pond, which was frozen. So, we got to walk ON the ice! I hadn’t been on a frozen pond or lake probably since I was a teen. It was really beautiful. See if you can figure out which picture is from February of this year, and which one is from February of 2011, okay? Ready, set, go!
Is this infusing, I mean confusing, anyone?
Happy fluffy dog! Happy fluffy human!
[Picture descriptions: #1: Sharon lies in bed. Lighting is dim. Her eyes are shut, and her hands rest on her belly. There is an infusion pump on her leg, and a dressing and PICC line can be seen on her left biceps. #2: A great expanse of snow-covered ice covers the lower half of the picture, and a sky that is just starting to pinken for sunset covers most of the top, above a line of evergreens. In the middle, Sharon — in a black snowsuit — and Barnum in an orange vest — are running together on the ice.]
As part of my ongoing quest to become A PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINER now that I can be out and about among people and dogs, I went to Clicker Expo in Norfolk, Virginia at the end of March! Yeehaw! I learned a lot!
Here is one of my favorite pictures.
It’s subtle, but if you really squint, you can probably figure out what conference I’m at.
[Description: Sharon stands in a hotel lobby, with couches behind and on either side of her, and above her, projected onto the wall, it says, “ClickerExpo” and has the Karen Pryor clicker logo. Sharon has her arms extended up into the air, hands out, like she is showcasing the bat signal.]
It’s hard to top a trip to Virginia to learn from some of the best animal trainers in the world, isn’t it?
Yet, I did! I went to Florida to visit my parents! They moved there ten years ago, and I had never seen where they live. Betsy and I went and had Passover with them. We went to the beach, played pool, played table tennis, and did lots of amazing bird watching. I flew on a plane! I bicycled to a bald eagle nest! I swam in the ocean (repeatedly)!
That’s me standing in front of some black-bellied whistling ducks, but you knew that, right?
That’s me with my parents at a restaurant because I can eat anything and go anywhere now!
My favorite place to be in the world: the ocean.
[Picture descriptions: Sharon stands in white tank top next to a boardwalk railing. Behind her is an expanse of green grass, lush trees, and a cluster of orange-billed dark brown ducks that are too far away to be able to identify. #2: Sharon’s mom, Doris, on the left, smiling and talking so her mouth is a little open, her father, Manny, in the middle with a big smile, and Sharon on the right in a purple shirt, also smiling. They have their arms around each other and are sitting in a restaurant booth with people in the background. #3: Sharon stands mid-thigh deep in the middle of moving, frothy ocean. All that is visible is the water and a strip of cloudy sky, with Sharon in a black swimsuit in the middle of it.]
My New Career Trajectory
This post is part of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, which I founded and have been the organizer of since 2010. Because I’ve been so busy with my rehabilitation and recovery work for the last nine months, I really lost track of a lot of my online work, including managing the Carnival. Cyndy Otty of Gentle Wit, who is hosting this month’s carnival (please go check out her call for entries!) has been terrific about picking up the slack.
I couldn’t believe it when Cyndy announced that the theme for this month’s carnival was “Freedom”! Freedom has been my focus and buzzword since August! Freedom has been my goal and my joy these past nine months! Freedom, for me, means I am no longer a service dog partner. Ain’t life weird? (And wonderful?!)
I waited to write this post until I felt comfortable “going public” about my transformation of the last several months. One of the things I wanted to accomplish before going public was not to have to rely on personal care assistants anymore, which I have done. I laid off all five of them slowly, over a period of months. I’m very grateful to each of them and glad that they seem to be doing well without me.
The other thing I wanted to have in place was to be on Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. I’ve been working with a career counselor to help me on the road to becoming a professional dog trainer. In February I started assisting a great trainer who teaches dog training classes for the local shelter, and tomorrow I begin an internship with another local trainer and behaviorist. I hope to attend the Karen Pryor Academy before the end of the year.
I don’t know what I’ll end up doing, exactly. My dream is to help disabled people train their own assistance dogs, since the assistance dog world has been my home and owner-training my passion for the last sixteen years. I’m also interested in how dogs (or other animals) could work as therapy animals for people doing neuroplastic recovery. But it may take some time before I can work professionally in the service dog or therapy dog field. I might do more “standard” dog training first, to get myself more well-rounded.
I am also doing neuroplasticity coaching. I can talk more about that another time, but I have tried to make my site a good resource for people who want to learn more about neuroplasticity. I have a page about neuroplasticity, a page about my recovery, a recommended books list, a neuroplasticity FAQ (frequently asked questions), and a page about my coaching.
Barnum’s Job Description Changes; Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Moves to New Home
My position in the assistance dog world has changed because I am no longer a service dog partner/handler. I no longer need a service dog! This, and laying off my PCAs, have been the only sad things about my recovery. My plan is for Barnum to become my sport and demo dog as I need to get more different kinds of dog training and handling experience. He has had a lot of health problems this year, though, so in a way it’s good that he’s getting “time off” right now.
Because of my not keeping up with the Carnival, a few weeks ago, Cyndy and Brooke of Ruled by Paws generously offered to take over the running of ADBC! They didn’t even know that Barnum was no longer a service dog. I took them up on it because I am incredibly busy now, and I want the Carnival to continue with the kind of care, competence, and consistency I know they will bring. And also, while I encourage people who are not assistance dog partners to participate in ADBC, and I hope to continue to post as a member of the service dog community (having trained three SDs), I do think the Carnival should be run by people who are assistance dog handlers. That is not me anymore.
So, please stay tuned for this and future Assistance Dog Blog Carnivals. (If Cyndy and Brooke post a link to the new home of ADBC, I’ll update this post with the link.) And please make sure to check out the next carnival — in July — which will be hosted by Laura vanArendonk Baugh of CIA, who is raising a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind. (And who is Karen Pryor Academy faculty, so I met her in person at ClickerExpo!) She seems to be getting a real crash course in how the general public responds to assistance dogs and future guide dogs!
Life is going swimmingly!
To end this post, one of the videos that makes me the happiest yet: me swimming in the YMCA pool. I started swimming in the YMCA (very chlorinated) pool two months after I started my recovery program! Swimming has been great for me because I love it and because it’s a way to get exercise without putting strain on my feet. At first I could only swim about 400 yards, but now I do about 1800 yards (36 laps — or a little over a mile) twice a week.
Every few months I video myself so I can see if I am doing things that can be improved, especially things that can cause injury. The video below is my most recent. I am not training for any races or anything, just enjoying life in and out of the water! Those who know what I went through with MCS, CFIDS, and Lyme know what a miracle this two-minute-one-hundred-yard video is!
Sharon and Barnum the Demo Dog-in-Training
*I’ve heard from several people who have asked me how they can borrow the DNRS program. I don’t know. I’d been a member of the group I borrowed it from for a few years, and my understanding is it is part of their lending library for members. I am not comfortable asking them to lend it to people they don’t know.
If you have the money to buy the program, or a way to get the money, I strongly encourage you to buy it. If you don’t, try asking around to people online or in your illness communities. I know of people who have accessed copies this way.
**I have no experience of the Gupta program, so I can’t say whether I would have found it as useful as I found DNRS. But I know some people have had good results with it.