Graduation Fidos For Freedom 2009

My “speech” is below the pictures…

Chloe has had a "crush" on our photographer for a long time. This "shoot" was hard for her!
Chloe has had a "crush" on our photographer for a long time. This "shoot" was hard for her!
Smiling for the camera!
Smiling for the camera!
It's hard to wait under a table for 2 hours with other dogs when there is a long tablecloth!
It's hard to wait under a table for 2 hours with other dogs when there is a long tablecloth!
Lots of pictures for the 5 graduates...
Lots of pictures for the 5 graduates...
Getting ready for the "speech"
Getting ready for the "speech"
Denise gives a speech w/ Chloe in a down/stay. Puppy Raiser L, Trainer at R of Denise
Denise gives a speech w/ Chloe in a down/stay. Puppy Raiser L, Trainer at R of Denise
Listening to the therapy dogs being "caped"
Listening to the therapy dogs being "caped"
our graduate board... someone did a great job
our graduate board... someone did a great job

I’m so excited to be here this evening, graduating with Chloe from Fidos For Freedom’s training program. Chloe and I have been working together for almost two years now and it’s pretty exciting to finally be attending the Tux & Tails Banquet as a graduate!

Tonight is a night of thanks, and I wanted to take the time to include my own. First of all, I wanted to thank Chloe’s sponsor, Judy. The training of these special pups all begins with their sponsorship. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Chloe’s sponsor at a number of events, and I’m thankful there are people out there who agree to pay for the supplies, vet bills and other expenses while these special puppies are being trained. All this is made possible by the generous heart of a sponsor. Thank you Judy!

I wanted to thank Chloe’s Puppy Raiser, Linda Odom. Linda has raised numerous puppies for Fidos, and she raised my Chloe as well. Chloe still recognizes and adores Linda. In the beginning, everyone guessed that Chloe must be a beagle mix, but she continued to grow larger and larger. I have a picture of Linda holding Chloe when she was still a puppy, but not a lot smaller than she is now! Believe, me she had her hands FULL! Not just literally either, but figuratively as well! I have been told by training staff that Chloe was a very incorrigible puppy. Annette told me once that she put Chloe in a sit/stay and walked deliberately away for a long recall. When she turned to call Chloe, it seemed Chloe had disappeared! One quick look down was all it took to see the happy tail wag greeting from this puppy that had followed her quietly the whole way.

Pat Jarvis, my trainer and Chloe’s trainer, told me that they continued to see “glimpses of what might be” in Chloe. As she matured, and began to finally grow up, they were finally seeing the working dog in her that they’d hoped for. When I first began working with Chloe, she seemed to respond very well to me. Things weren’t perfect, but then I had worked with Nordic a great deal, so she was hard pressed to compare. The longer we worked together, the more attached we became. She was just as excited to see me at training sessions as I was to see her.

One Wednesday night in January of 2007, Pat put me with Chloe to work and then later called me back to the conference room. She told me that they were going to match Chloe tonight. I managed to squeak out, “With me?”  I almost tackled Pat I was so excited!

Chloe has traveled with me to conferences and speaking engagements, and represents Fidos so well. In our short time together, she has alerted me to a fire in our basement, and has alerted me to literally thousands of phone calls, timer alerts, and other sounds around me that I do not hear.  With help from Pat, Ann and Tracy, I was able to teach Chloe some additional skills to help me with my balance.  I teach part time, and Chloe loves to be in the classroom. I’m fairly certain some of my students drop papers and pencils on purpose so that Chloe will come and pick them up for them.

Before I had Chloe, I never went anywhere without someone in my family with me. Even going to stores was extremely intimidating, because I would often not hear if people needed to get by me. If I dropped something on the floor on a rainy day and my balance was bad, it was really difficult to pick it up without passing out. Now that Chloe is my partner, we go everywhere together. If I drop something… NO PROBLEM. Chloe picks it up with a happy tail wag and is always eager to assist. She alerts me to sounds like someone needing by, intercoms, buzzers and more.

To those who sponsored this little red-head puppy – I thank you.

To every person who had a part in helping Chloe the puppy, investigate new sights, sounds and smells – I thank you.

To every person who acted as a vacation home for this lovable, mischievous puppy – I thank you.

To my family who allowed me to take time for myself in order to train for Chloe – I thank you.  I have spent many miles on the road from Frederick.

To every trainer who had a part in teaching Chloe the skills she now uses so naturally – I thank you. Thank you for seeing past the frustrating little puppy to the lovely and intelligent working dog that Chloe is. Because of each of YOU, Chloe and I have this wonderful, unique relationship only found in the partnership of person and dog. THANK YOU.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Off Vest

Coffee break for Chloe... or rather tummy rub
Coffee break for Chloe... or rather tummy rub

One of my students snapped this picture of Chloe off vest while I was on the floor with her one afternoon.

Off Vest

Our work day on Thursday is a long one. Thankfully, I have a whole hour break between classes at 3 PM. When possible, I take Chloe’s vest off and take her for a quick walk. I chase her around the classroom with a squeaky toy, or “mess with her” a bit. It usually ends up with some Chloe lovin’, and we just chill for a bit before the next class starts.

Ever once in awhile I have a student meeting, or parent/teacher conference. When that happens, Chloe waits patiently by my side but I can tell she knows it’s past 3 PM. Have you ever heard a dog sigh? If I’m close enough, I can hear her heave a big sigh that is just a big exaggerated. It cracks me up actually!

Chloe’s “off vest” time at home means our nightly walk. It only takes about 20-25 minutes and I walk REALLY fast. My husband teases me that it’s practically a sprint. We can only go when it’s not rainy out, b/c I don’t walk when the weather is bad… I weave! (grin) During our walks, Chloe knows she is “off vest”. She sniffs around, walks in “heel” if she feels like it, switches to “place” if she wants. I make her sit in heel and wait when we come to a crossroad. Once we cross the street, I let her know she’s free to sniff around again. This is her time to just be a “dog”.

Off Duty

It’s important that we learn to take some time to be “off duty” each day. Likely, you play many different roles each and every day. You may be an employee, or adviser. Perhaps you are a chaueffer for those who don’t make the car payment in the home (grin). Some of us make the appointments, are the personal shopper, take care of the yard, and scoop the poop. Maybe you are the cook and accountant. You may be the housekeeper and laundress. It is very possible you are someone’s cheerleader. Thank goodness pom-poms are optional…

Even if it’s only for 30 minutes or so, don’t do anything “necessary“. Stop and investigate, sniff around a bit if you like. Literally take the time to smell the roses. If you’ve allergies like me, “smelling the roses” may mean sneezing like crazy later. But I find my own way to “rest and reflect”. It may be with a cup of green tea and a good book on proverbs or “famous quotes”. These brief forays away from “your job that defines you” is very important.

Women are the world’s worst about removing their vest. They think they have to be “Super Mom”, or “Super Woman”. They wear so many hats, these defining headpieces lean precariously off the tilt of their weighted down head. We do so many things, we end up not doing any one thing well. Take the time to unwind.

Breathe deeply.

Meditate and/or pray.

Write in a journal.

Burp if you want too.

(Sorry… I had to throw that in b/c Chloe gets such a rub down and vigorous massage when she’s off vest, she burps in contentment)

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Demo at AACC

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Chloe and I had a great time at AACC today doing a DEMO. I’ll write more about it when I find some time this weekend. Chloe and I comprised the “hearing team” (which is funny actually because I’m deaf… but that’s what they call it), and Joe and Ace (a black lab), Geoff and Theo (a Doberman mix) made up the service teams. We had 3 therapy teams present, all of whom go to Bethesda Naval Hospital as well. Judy and Dazzle (a Sheltie), Susan and Mackie (a standard poodle) and Debbie and Nicholas (a collie), always are popular as the students ARE allowed to pet them.

Wouldn’t you know a young man came through the Student Union where we were and spotted Mackie and recognized him? When he was on base at Bethesda Naval, Mackie came to visit him over a period of time. He had big tears in his eyes, but had a smile a mile wide! Mackie acted like he knew him too!

Whew! I’m tired!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Simple Woman #7

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For Today…

~Outside my window~

Dark charcoal grey clouds, drizzly rain, mist in the distance… tree blossoms lay scattered all over the ground resembling a dusting of snow.
~I am thinking~

I am thinking about supper. Kyersten works tonight and Chris just got home. I think this weather calls for baked macaroni and cheese. Simple, filling, “warm your heart” kind of soul food.
~From the learning rooms~

As I mentioned Chris just got home. So he worked an 8 hour + day. No school. Good thing he understands “catch up” on days he doesn’t work. Like tomorrow…
~I am thankful for~

A warm house and green tea. The latter warms the “inside of me”.
~From the kitchen~

It’s clean. I haven’t stepped in there to start supper yet, obviously. At least Kyersten filled the dish washer before leaving for work. She’s a gem!
~I am wearing~

My bathrobe! (I’m headed to the shower as soon as I post this). I’ve been doing heavy cleaning all day and need a hot shower before even attempting supper.
~I am reading~

Finished “The Shack”. I recommend it. Now I’m reading, “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. It has too many swear words (I’m almost finished and I’ve counted 51… yes, I count. I have to know whether or not to recommend it to teens!) My husband said I should read it, and it’s a good “man vs. nature” book about a tragedy at Mt. Everest in 1996. Perhaps I’d swear if I were freezing to death? Hmm… I’d rather hope I’d be praying.
~I am hoping~

I am hoping for the sun on Wednesday. I have a DEMO with Chloe and do NOT want to be walking like I’m drunk.
~I am creating~

Nada, nothing, zilch, nothing… (wails and flails arms about…)
~I am hearing~

Kiki is purring up a storm. My desk gets warmed up by my computer. She loves it.
~Around the house~

I need to finish washing the throw rugs. (Why do we call them throw rugs? I’ve never thrown one. I put them carefully in place and fuss at the dogs when they dislodge one while whizzing through the room).
~One of my favorite things~

I love the smell of freshly mowed grass. Did that Saturday and am still thinking of it! It’s the “first mow of the season”. Wish a person could bottle that stuff. (sniff, sniff, “Why yes… do you like it? It’s called GRASS).
~A few plans for the rest of the week~

Gotta get Kyersten to the doctor for a referral, and I have an eye appointment tomorrow. I warned them in advance I’m bringing my service dog. They are a “new” optometrist so I’m nervous.
~Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you~

Kiki is a very laid back, sweetheart of a cat.

kiki

Rainy Day Frustrations

Chloe doesn't like it when it rains either, for it means "no walk"!
Chloe doesn't like it when it rains either, for it means "no walk"!

Today it is pouring rain. The “farmer’s daughter” in me would never complain about the fact we are receiving rain, but I do have to admit to not being to excited to see it first thing in the morning. A quick look at the forecast reminds me to get my cane. It’s going to be this way for a few days!

Having Meniere’s is challenging at times. I was “vertical” for all of 27 minutes this morning before I fell the first time. Now, honestly you’d think by now I’d see rain… grab the cane… and “play safe” all day. But I can be stubborn when I’ve a lot to do, and tend to leave my cane “somewhere”. Chloe will retrieve it for me without any qualms, unless she has to go through a doorway. It can be hard for a medium-size assistance dog at 62 pounds, to drag a cane that is several feet long!

I think that the Meniere’s disease “gets on my last nerve” more than the hearing loss even. I’ve had a hearing loss for almost 18 years now. The Meniere’s is a “new” diagnosis of less than five years. I suppose one day, I will be as ease with it as I am with being deaf.

Wednesday DEMO at AACC

Wednesday, Chloe and I will be with Fidos For Freedom to give a DEMO at my daughter’s community college. Chloe loves doing DEMOS. I’m hoping we will have some “sun peeking through” by Wednesday. AACC is a beautiful campus and is very accessible for those with disabilities. I’m looking forward to it!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Simple Woman #6

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For Today…

~Outside my window~

The trees are in bloom, the daffodils are still beautiful, and I see Robins everywhere. It must really be spring in spite of the chilly 58 degrees.
~I am thinking~

That I am very glad I didn’t start another class. My first graduate level class ends today, and I took several weeks break before I start on my 2nd. So many “end of year” things to do including my son’s Spring Formal, Chloe and my graduation from Fidos For Freedom, and then CCA‘s graduation. I need the break…
~From the learning rooms~

I just finished lesson plans so Chris will be so glad to “get back to work” after spring break (rolls eyes). He worked 8 hours today, and 8 hours tomorrow… he’s become very organized about juggling work schedule and school schedule. (3 cheers for Chris).
~I am thankful for~

My husband’s good job(s). I continue to hear about families struggling in this economy, and am so thankful he’s in a stable work environment in education. When you look around and begin praying for other’s needs, it makes you awfully thankful to be paying your bills every month.

I’m also thankful our taxes are done. (Whew) Hubby should be “e-filing” tonight.
~From the kitchen~

I’m fixing lemon chicken and salmon tonight with rice. The men in my family won’t touch salmon. I guess Kyersten and I will “live longer” as even telling them how good baked fish is for you won’t convince the guys to eat it. More for Kyersten and I!
~I am wearing~

Olive-colored sweatsuit. I’m very casual today – grin. Tomorrow I have a lot of errands to run and pictures to take for graduation (at Fidos) and Chloe’s new certification tags. So I have to actually wear MAKE-UP tomorrow! (gasp)
~I am reading~

Almost done with the Shack. There have been some things I don’t completely agree with, but all in all the book makes you think. It’s fiction. When I hear people complain about it I want to remind them of that. I don’t think its irreverent like some folks do. It’s a book… it’s made me think… that’s “all good” in my opinion.
~I am hoping~

I am hoping to take a walk tonight. It’s so nice out, but I may need a jacket still.
~I am creating~

I created my last research paper yesterday. That’s right… spent most of Easter writing a 10 page paper. Sigh. At least I’m done! So now I’m creating… a list of household projects. I can’t wait to get started as soon as Chieftain is done. (My part-time teaching job is out for the summer beginning May 7th).
~I am hearing~

Tinnitus (today it’s a lovely high pitch flute-like sound), and Pegasus (Kyersten’s 2 year old show dog) chewing on a bone. I can hear Mandie (our insane cat), pawing on the pantry door. She’ll do that for hours with his mindless look on her face. Poor nutty thang.

I can hear a lawnmower in the distance. I think it’s the neighbor across the street. That reminds me… I need to get ours out and see if it will start.
~Around the house~

I need to dust. Good grief I could write the Declaration of Independence preamble on the shelves in my office. Yup. It’s that bad. Where is my swiffer?
~One of my favorite things~

One of my all time favorite things is to go to my HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) meeting once a month. Our chapter meeting was on Saturday and we had a MED-EL patient coordinator come to speak to us. It’s so nice to sit in a room full of people where everyone has a connection to hearing loss.
~A few plans for the rest of the week~

I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow; need to get a bunch of referrals like our insurance requires for various specialists through the summer. One of them is my 4 year mapping of my cochlear implant at Johns Hopkins! I can’t believe it’s been 4 years!

Also need to go to Home Depot and buy some “weed ‘n feed”, grass seed, chicken wire fencing and posts.
~Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you~

This is Chloe and I in church on Easter. Hubby took the picture. Yeah, I know I’m in a pantsuit on Easter Sunday. It was freezing!

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Long Distance Relationships

We have to physically be together if she's going to be a "help"
We have to physically be together if she's going to be a "help"

The Need for Proximity

An assistance dog is not a “help”, if they aren’t actually WITH their partner. Chloe alerts me to sounds I don’t hear, and provides balance support as well as I have Meniere’s. When Chloe is with me, I don’t feel as “deaf” or as “helpless” when I drop things. She makes me feel more “normal” in providing things I cannot do for myself.

I do not utilize Chloe’s skills every single time we go out into public. I may be with my family, and they are always eager to help if needed. Chloe can alert me to a sound, but she cannot tell me what it is unless she can look at or “touch” what made the sound. So sometimes it is NICE to be able to tell Chloe heard something, but ask a family member what it is she is hearing. If I left Chloe at home on the assumption “I may not need her”, I risk several things:

1) What if I do split up from my group and am alone? I cannot hear environmental sounds well, and I may drop things.

2) What is Chloe to think? Is she a working dog whose job is to be by my side, or is she a pet? If she isn’t allowed to alert even when I am with people who hear well, I risk “turning off” that alert. She has to be allowed to work, and she can’t do that home in her crate.

3) I risk weakening the bond a working dog MUST have with their human partner. Chloe has to know that she can count on me to keep her safe, in order to have this over-riding sense of responsibility and love that she feels to alert me to things I cannot hear, or pick up things I drop. She has to practice her skills.

I cannot have a “long-distance” relationship with Chloe if I want a working dog that actually performs skills I can utilize and maintain my independence. For this relationship, proximity is key. She has to be with me even on trips that appear she isn’t actually doing anything for me. A working dog “works”… regardless of whether or not their partner has “other assistance” to lean on when they are in public.

Long-distance Relationships

I know a young couple who have entered into a relationship, and they don’t actually live in the same town. Some people may think that long-distance relationships can never work. I have a different opinion, and I suppose it has much to do with the day in which we live.

Technology not only allows people to touch base daily, but to do so through various means. Phone calls have never been easier, and texts can be sent even if only to say “thinkin’ about ya!” Visual technologies that include web cams, SKYPE and other programs, allow people to literally SEE each other every day.

Certainly “proximity” is important. However, if a couple strives to find opportunities to be together as much as possible, long-distance relationships can work for pre-determined amounts of time. The key is the commitment.

Is God Long-Distance?

I suppose if one had to argue the importance of proximity to a meaningful relationship, you might assume that having a close relationship with God is impossible. I meet people from time to time who believe that God is in Heaven, and “how can HE even know what is going on with me, let alone care?”

However, God is not “stuck” in Heaven. God is not in one place and one place only; nor, can anyone hide from Him because He is everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23-24). Psalm 139 beautifully reminds us that God is “everywhere”. “I can never escape from Your Spirit! I can never get away from Your presence! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there.”

As a matter of fact, God is as close as the believer. When I send out an SOS or, simply wish to discuss something with my heavenly Father, I do not feel like I’m racking up long-distance minutes. When I invited Him to be my own personal Lord, He promised to actually come and dwell IN me. (1 Corinthians 3:16).

My faith is important to me. In order to keep my “bond” with God strong, I can’t “leave Him at home when I go out into public. I may not even need Him, in any true measurable way as we see it when I go out each time. But if I pretend like He’s not there with me, I’ve left Him at home.

Don’t Crate God

There are two primary reasons I choose to “bring God with me” in a manner that I acknowledge His presence. First of all, because my faith IS important to me, how will others know what makes me “tick” if my TICKER isn’t with me? If I leave God at home when I go out, how will others ever see Him living in me? It helps me to literally acknowledge His presence. I leave the house and know I’m not alone. There isn’t “just a hound dog” by my side. Acknowledging that reminds me to be a “God mirror”. When others look at me, my desire is that they also see the God whom I love.

Secondly, by not “leaving God at home”, it reminds me that I can talk to Him all day, and at any time. I certainly take advantage of opportunities to really bow my head in a quiet place, and close my eyes to pray. But truthfully, most of my prayers are when my eyes are wide open, and I’m just out “living life”. I suppose Chloe would think I’ve lost my marbles as I often even pray out loud. She is accustomed to my talking to her, so if I happen to be talking to God instead she doesn’t mind the conversation.

I’ve heard some people complain that they can’t “touch” God. He isn’t “that kind” of relationship. Perhaps those most affected by this thinking are those whose “love language” is physical touch. My rebuttal is that if you have not felt God’s “touch”, something is wrong with your relationship. You must have left Him at home in a crate, or your “web cam” to God (His word) is dusty and rarely used. God does “touch” me each and every day, but it’s because I choose to take Him with me.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal