Service Dog to Get Back to Real Life

$5,265 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 62 people in 5 months
The History
In April 2018 I suffered a setback in my chronic illnesses which forced me to go on leave. Since then I have been unable to work, and even basic tasks such as laundry, food shopping, or getting to my doctor appointments have been like climbing Mt Everest each and every time.

The Service Dog
I have been working hard with my doctors to get better so I can return to work and life. In addition to medicine and treatments, they have recommended that I get a service dog. This dog would be trained in tasks to alleviate my symptoms, as well as greatly increase my mobility by giving me a way to go out in the world without constantly worrying about what might happen if something goes wrong and I'm without aid.

For those unfamiliar, service dogs are animals which are specifically trained in tasks to help those with disabilities. The training is a key requirement, and what separates service animals from pets or emotional support animals.

While it is possible for someone to train a service animal themselves, due to the high requirements for the trained tasks it is considered better to work with experienced service animal trainers.

The Process
I have been approved for a service dog with Doggie Does Good. This was a long process involving a 10 page application, phone interviews, and recommendation letters from a friend and my doctors vouching for my medical need, the benefit a service dog would give me, and my ability to give the dog a proper home.

In addition to medical needs, the application and interviews discuss what type of dog would be best suited in terms of personality and breed. As part of that I have stressed that the dog must get along with my two cats (pictured) and that I prefer it be a rescue.


The Current Status
I have made a down payment on the dog, a suitable candidate has been picked and is being trained. Barring any difficulties, the hope is to get me the dog at the end of March 2019. At which point the rest of the payment will be due.

The Cost
There are many factors which go into the cost of the dog. Here is the breakdown based on the estimate that was sent to me.  Of note, this only reflects the set costs for the dog and not the ones which may vary depending on things such as time of year and length of training. As such, it does not include the cost of transporting the dog to me, all of the costs in the week of transition as the dog and I are trained together, or the cost of dog food during training, all of which I am also paying for.  I left them out because I am trying to be transparent about the numbers, and didn't want to add in costs which may turn out to be less.  

Also of note: I do have the financial ability to care for the dog. This isn't a matter of "if you don't have the money to get the dog you don't have the money to have a dog." The help here is purely for the high hurdle of training cost in getting a service dog.

Training Costs:
Service Dog Training: $10,000
Down Payment: $5,000 (paid prior to fundraiser)
Subtotal Remaining: $5,000

Other Set Costs:
Doggie Purchase: $3,000
Flea Control (6 x $30): $180
Heartworm Prevention (6 x $25): $150
Vet Fees: $150
Daily Trainer Fee (7 x $250): $1,750
Subtotal: $5,230

The Fundraiser
I have currently set the cost at $5,000 because that is the amount of the training after the down payment. Any money above and beyond that will go directly to the additional costs of the dog, as seen in the Other Set Costs breakdown.  (ETA 12/9/18 - clarification on cost breakdown and the fundraiser.)

The Gratitude
It is by no means necessary to donate. Love and support through this difficult time is invaluable. But for those that do, thank you thank you thank you. You're helping take huge pressure off of my medical costs, and I can't thank you enough for it.
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Victory Lap: Nola Day 7

I know I said I was going to slow the updates now that I've graduated, but I thought some of you would appreciate hearing about my first full day with Nola without the trainer nearby.

I found myself crashing today, in what I suspect is the aftermath of all the work and stress of the past week. Nola was a very good girl and kept me company even as I slept for hours.

Once I was able to get up I took her for a walk. We passed by a school just as it was letting out, so Nola got to be tested with little kids passing by. Some were from the complex where I live and knew about Nola from their mom. So when they passed they didn't touch and instead shouted "We love Nola!" once they were further down the street.

Next were two little girls with their mom. The girls were very interested in Nola. As I answered their questions the girls tried to give commands to Nola and give her a treat. Nola was AWESOME and didn't do anything except what I told her to. She got tons of praise for that and a treat from her mama once the girls had moved on.

After that I ran some errands. Again this would be unthinkable before Nola, where going out at all was difficult, and at best would be attempts to go to the grocery store piggybacked on a doctor's appointment.

This part in particular is why I wanted to share this update with all of you. The walk, the stores: NONE of that would've happened before Nola. Not any one individually, and certainly not all three at once. My ability to do that is entirely thanks to you who donated, shared, and in any way supported this campaign. You have made a significant quality of life change for me, and I can't thank you enough.

Finally, I know everyone wants to know how things are going with the cats. Cara has gotten much braver, and is slowly getting closer to Nola either via slow walks past or by perching on the radiator or the cat tower and observing from up high. I took advantage of once such moment to put Nola through her paces in a down stay, knowing that having Cara just a few dog lengths away was a huge temptation for Nola. Nola kept her down stay like a champ!

Luna, for her part, is almost entirely back to her usual routine of hanging out and snuggling with me regardless of how close Nola is. She curled up on my chest while I was eating dinner, even though Nola was directly below us under my chair. When Luna eventually got off of me she went to her nearby food bowl and had dinner of her own, even though Nola was all of a foot and a half away and could see her. Clearly Luna is comfortable enough to be pulling these huge power moves in front of a doggie.

Both cats are also their happy, normal selves when not having their moments of caution around Nola. For example, Cara will instantly calm and lean into pets and give my hand kisses if I give her any attention, even if Nola is nearby.

Of amusing note, Nola has started playing with some of the cat toys (only the largest, sturdiest toys that Cara and Luna don't care for, and while I'm watching her closely). I'm sure this is because they are different enough from dog toys to be interesting to Nola, but I like to imagine she thinks playing with cat toys will show her sisters that she can play with them too.

Anyway, thank you again.
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Victory Lap: Nola Day 6

Guess who graduated? Me!

As I've said before, Nola's had her training on lock for a while now. I, on the other hand, needed to learn how to work with her. As of today I have passed the test to be Nola's new mommy!

It was a busy day for Nola. We began with a trip to a local diner so I could have practice with learning how to handle Nola in restaurants. I was glad I asked for this to be included in the training sessions because there were so many things I never would have thought of (such as being mindful of what might be on the floor for her to eat).

Other than those initial learning moments on my part it was a good session. We then took Nola to the mall to test her with crowded elevators, stairs, and all the distracting sights, sounds, and smells. Nola handled the mall like a champ, and even managed to obey random commands I threw at her just to test her focus.

We then went home and did the graduation. Even though Nola actually graduated on March 23, she still got the cap and a snazzy new bandana for her pictures. I've included one that I was able to take which I know isn't the greatest. Nola's trainer promised to send me her photos of the moment so I'll post those when I have them. (Sadly it was raining so we couldn't take pictures out in the courtyard.)

After saying our goodbyes to Nola's trainer we were on our own. Nola and I rested up for a bit, then after dinner took a short walk with Nola's grandpa (my dad). Nola got to show off how well behaved and smart she was. Her grandpa admitted to bias but said he was very impressed.

The walk then turned into a short visit at my parents' place. This was Nola's first time there so the sights and smells were very exciting for her but she soon settled down and napped while my folks and I talked all about her.

I keep saying it because it's true: before Nola a day like this would've been impossible for me. I might have been able to do lunch at the diner OR a short visit with my parents, but no more than that, and not without stretching my health to its limits.

Even though it is early days yet, the impact Nola has had on my quality of life has been immense. I'm not ashamed to say I cried at her graduation of out the gratitude I feel for what she represents and, likewise for all of you who helped bring her to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

But I know we're all here to find out about the cats. As I've been typing this Luna and Cara have slowly walked through the living room with their eyes on Nola. Nola has been very good and patient about staying still so as not to scare them. Cara even came over to me by the couch (out of Nola's sight) to get pets, which is a huge step for her.

Actually, we have news hot off the presses! As I've been typing this Cara climbed to the top of the cat tower (her favorite perch behind the couch) and is now observing Nola calmly from up there. Nola, on the floor in front of the couch, is being the BEST GIRL EVER by being quiet and calm on the floor. This is huge progress for the both of them and believe me they've both been getting TONS of praise.

Now that the transition week is drawing to a close, these updates will get more infrequent again. I will keep you posted on significant milestones in the coming weeks as my continuing way of saying thanks for your help, but you won't have to worry about quite so much spam. If you'd like the minor updates feel free to follow me on Facebook or Instagram. My username in both places is my name, originally enough. =)
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Victory Lap: Nola Day 5

Today was Nola's best! Day! EVER! At least if you ask Nola, though her mama can assure you it was a good day too.

Nola stayed overnight for the first time. There was a little adjustment when she went into her crate. Some of this might have been due to her missing me (I needed to take a shower and give the kitties one on one time), most was probably due to how Cara was on top of a dresser nearby and the two of them could see each other but not interact. (Cara wasn't so sure about that "not interact" part but she's never encountered crates before so she doesn't understand there's a force field around them.)

Cara was pretty calm, though, and was happy to observe from on high, as she often does.

The next morning was me figuring out what the morning routine would be when you have to juggle feeding cats, dogs, and yourself. Everybody got what they needed, but I'm going to need a few tries before I can do it on autopilot.

Practice today involved a field trip to the local Museum and Nature Center. There Nola was tested on her skills and tasks while being around kids, animals, and even in a museum. Nola did VERY well, even when we tested her by going into a gift shop (snacks in reach of doggie noses!) and a small building with animal displays which included a cockatiel that kept trying to whistle at her. Nola's trainer said Nola had never been exposed to birds which tried to talk to her before, and Nola's ability to quickly go back on task even with that distraction there was very impressive. In fact, Nola's trainer gave her high marks for her performance today. (I'm told I did pretty good too ;) )

The more I take Nola out, the more I get to see people's reactions to her. The most common ones are neck and neck with "I wish I could pet her but I know I can't" and "She is SO PRETTY oh my goodness!"

At the Nature Center, though, her trainer and I amused ourselves by keeping track of the different things adults and kids called her. There was one man who referred to Nola as a police dog, and a kid who said "Look, a cow!"

We had a laugh about Nola's promotion to police work and her mistaken mammal identity. But then when we went to the area with the farm animals we discovered the hilarious sight of nearly EVERY SINGLE animal coming over to look at Nola when she was there. Then, if Nola moved, they moved along with her.

This started at the llama and alpaca display (pictured, with all of them staring at Nola), then continued with chickens and even cows. We could only guess that since we were frequently looking at herd animals that they were picking up on the fact that Nola is a German Shepherd and instinctively waited for her to tell them where to go.

(Me being me, I used this power for good and tried to bring the animals closer to where kids were standing so that they could get a closer look even if they didn't notice the doggie magic going on behind them to make it happen.)

Nola's trainer and I joked that the kid who thought Nola was a cow had been providing foreshadowing of Nola's stance as their adopted leader. Nola's trainer then said that all of the animals had clearly come up with their own name for Nola, and she was their Khaleesi.

(That's a Game of Thrones reference, for anyone who might not get it.)

We took a picture of Nola in a big chair they had for such things to mark the occasion. Nola thought we were a little weird for wanting her up there, but she was a good sport.

But! That is not why Nola would call this the best day. The real reason, as you might guess, involves the cats. Today Cara got brave enough to come into the living room closer to Nola than she's ever been (not in touching distance, but closer) and she felt comfortable enough to bathe herself while Nola was watching.

Luna, however, was comfortable enough that she moved past any hesitation she'd had about going past Nola to climb on me for pets, purrs, and sleep. Which meant that on MULTIPLE occasions today Luna was close enough to Nola that they could've booped noses. Nola was a VERY good girl and stayed still to not frighten Luna (which I instructed Nola to, she would've been happy to play with Luna immediately).

Because Nola was SO good and SO patient that meant that at one moment when Luna was on my lap facing me, Nola got to SNIFF LUNA'S TAIL.

BEST! NOLA DAY! EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I told Nola just imagine what Cara and Luna will let her do if she keeps being patient. It is so hard for Nola when she only wants to show her new kitty sisters how much she loves them, but she is trying her best.

We took things at my pace during the day, even stopping a few times so I could regroup or recover as needed. Even so I found myself a little overcome when I got home. A trip like that, even to a place only a short drive away, or even JUST to the quiet of the small museum inside, would have been unthinkable for me. I never even would've attempted it, let alone managed a couple of hours of it. Once again having Nola by my side made all the difference.

Tomorrow, at my request, we're going to take Nola to a local diner so that I can have practice with eating in public spaces with Nola. Depending on how that goes, Nola and I may be on track to graduate!

Thanks again to everyone for their support.
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Victory Lap: Nola Day 4

The day started poorly, as I had a migraine. To be honest these frequent attacks were expected given the strain the training was putting on me in terms of sleep schedule, stress, and so on. I asked for a later start time and luckily the headache faded by the time it came around.

Once again we did practice for the first half of the day. We took Nola out into the courtyard of the building to test her on various commands and tasks while there were plenty of squirrels, birds, and other things to distract her. Pictured is Nola being very good and holding a down stay by the flag pole. She did very well. Her mama, on the other hand, messed up one of the commands to give her so, unlike Nola, I didn't earn a treat ;)

After lunch was a field trip to the grocery store. I had a small shopping list including a prescription to pick up so Nola and I got to practice being in sync while I pushed a grocery cart, waiting in line at the pharmacy, and getting out of the way when others passed by. No one hassled us about the dog (Nola had her service vest on). There was one child who was running around the store, and one gentleman who made kissy noises at Nola, but ultimately these just proved to be excellent tests of Nola's ability to stay focused. She got tons of praise and treats for staying on task.

(She also got tons of praise from people who couldn't help but point out what a lovely looking dog she is. Naturally I agree.)

We ended the trip by taking Nola by the meat department for another test of her ability to stay focused, then practicing going up and down a public staircase and elevator.

I'll admit the trip was emotional for me as going to the grocery store once a week (usually paired with a doctor's appointment) is both one of the few things I'm able to do right now but also one of the hardest. Even with all the effort of learning how to work with Nola I could feel the comfort that came from having her there. I know there's still so much more work to be done but that tiny bit of grace meant so much to me. Thank you, again and again, to those of you who helped make this possible.

But! I know the real news everyone is interested in is the cats. We had such progress today! Nola stayed with me for lunch as a test run for staying overnight (normally she goes with the trainer, who takes lunch elsewhere). While Nola was here, Cara got brave enough to come out and inspect her! She didn't get close enough for a nose boop (much to Nola's sadness) but she did come into the living room for a bit and then settled down in the hall doorway (pictured) to watch Nola rather comfortably. Nola was SUPER patient and Cara got tons of love and praise.

Luna remains the same as yesterday with being more or less unbothered by the new kid. Though she had graduated to trying to figure out how to make her way to my lap without getting too close to Nola in the process. Nola has to stick near me during these early days so Luna will have to find a way to manage it, but rest assured both Luna and Cara get tons of pets and love whenever I have even a tiny moment to spare.

In the meanwhile, Luna shows that she cares in other ways, such as claiming Nola's bed in the living room as her own before Nola even laid eyes on it (pictured). Cara also did her part by inspecting the tags on the bed, for as we all know we would be in grave danger from tags if Cara did not protect us from them.

The successful lunch and me feeling healthy enough to try means that tonight is Nola's first night here in the apartment. We've had a couple of moments of Nola trying to get closer to Cara before Cara was ready but Nola was quick to take correction and has otherwise been very patient in spite of her agony at not being able to play with her sisters.

(Note: I realized that "take correction" sounds ominous if you don't have the context. That's just the term used to mean addressing Nola's behavior when she misbehaves. So think things like me saying a sharp "No!" and giving her a situation-appropriate command while keeping a firm hold on the leash, that's all.)

To give you an idea both of Nola's intelligence and her yearning for sisterly love, Nola now has a fairly good idea where Luna, at least, likes to hang out in the living room. Every so often Nola will look wistfully towards those spots even if Luna is not around. Upon finding the spots empty, Nola will then give questioning looks towards me and her trainer, as though wondering why her awesome big kitty sister isn't where she's supposed to be. We keep trying to explain to Nola that we can't make Luna magically appear but Nola's not buying it yet.

Tomorrow's schedule is the usual practice, then a field trip to a place with animals to see how well Nola stays on task with all those distractions. As you may imagine, this will come in handy for when Nola joins me for the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival. =)
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$5,265 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 62 people in 5 months
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