Friday, August 26, 2011

Just another day at the office

Yesterday, I went to work ready to train my dogs and have a normal work day.  Upon arriving, I was informed that I would be going to Greenwich, CT, where I would be "soliciting" the rich and famous to sponsor or donate for a huge, fancy benefit we are having in September (if you are rich or know anybody rich and/or famous and/or generous, click here: DENIM, HEELS, BOOTS, TAILS).  I ended up sitting in a 50 million dollar home on the water getting tipsy off $50 bottles of white wine while the maid served fancy sandwiches by the saltwater swimming pool.  The tour of the house included a Matisse, 6 Picassos, and a bathroom the size of my entire apartment. 

Warning: may not be suited for all audiences, particularly those with weak stomachs.

Today, at 8am, one of the volunteers was banging on the door of the cottage I live in.  The breeder dog she cares for was in the car, in labor, and she was unable to reach anybody else.  We brought mama into the office, knowing that labor usually lasts for hours and nothing would be happening anytime soon.  10 minutes later, after a lot of blood and a horrific scream, we had a boy.  40 minutes later, we were covered in placentas and afterbirth and we had a total of 4 puppies (2 girls, 2 boys).  3 hours later, many contractions, and a very miserable mama, we were still waiting for 5 more puppies.  We called the vet, who said we needed to get mama into the office so she could induce heavier contractions.  We loaded the 4 puppies, now almost 4 hours old, into a laundry basket and stuck them in the front seat of the car.  I loaded a contracting, laboring mama dog into the back of a station wagon.  I climbed in the back with her in case she delivered en route.  I rode, 45 minutes to the vet, hunched over, covered in birthing fluids with my hand on a dog's vagina in the trunk of a station wagon.  15 minutes later, the vet was drenched in sweat, forceps in hand, pulling a stuck stillborn puppy out of the birth canal.  The foot broke off in the process.  2 more living, squealing puppies followed within 30 minutes.  According to the x-ray we took weeks ago, there should be 1 more puppy.  We gave mama a shot of oxytocin to keep her pushing, since she was now exhausted and reluctant to continue.  We got another puppy.  We x-rayed again to make sure we got them all.  There was 1 more.  It wouldn't come out.  We discussed a c-section.  We gave more oxytocin.  10 hours after the banging on my door, puppy #10 came out.  We put a catheter in mom to get her fluids.  Suddenly, things were peaceful.  9 puppies (4 boys, 5 girls) were suckling happily.  I realized I was starving, that I hadn't eaten all day amid the chaos, that my back and butt and knees were killing me from hunching over on the floor for the past 10 hours, that I wreaked of placentas and afterbirth and blood and puppy and that I was covered in all of these nasty things.

I absolutely love my job.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sleep Training

While much of the office is out on vacation, I've been put in charge of running the kennel and keeping the dogs, boys, and volunteers alive and flowing smoothly.  Silly me, I was looking forward to a taking it easy post-train-the-trainer.  Evidently, last night, when I finally fell asleep after a fun dinner in the city with my friends, my roommate heard me talking and came in to see what I was saying.  In my sleep, I was, apparently, giving dog commands.  "Off! No! Down!".  If I don't watch out they're gonna put me in a padded room soon.

After a night full of training dream dogs, I show up at work this morning to do my 7am kennel management duties and find one of my dogs has pooped in her kennel and proceeded to cover every square inch of herself and her kennel in feces.  Thrilled to be out of the poop-cave, she bounded out of her kennel, jumping all over me, spreading poop on me, the floors, the walls, etc.  An hour and a half later, she was bathed, runs were bleached, kennel was cleaned, floors were mopped, 15 other dogs were busied and fed, and Lia was a very cranky human.  As a quick day-fixer, I got a VENTI latte (which I never do) and took Pauly on a super-fast exercise walk, which both of us desperately needed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Train-the-Trainer: Week 6

Tuesday night marked the ending of our Train-the-Trainer course and the graduation of our dog/client teams.  It was a wonderful and difficult final week of perfecting the dogs, preparing for graduation, and heightened emotions all around.  The graduation ceremony was absolutely delightful and was attended by over 40 guests.  Lu said many kind things about each of us students who completed train-the-trainer and I think we all felt honored by what she had to say.  Wonderful speeches were presented by Ben as well as one of our graduating clients, and a very entertaining video was created and presented by Adam chronicling our bootcamp experience.  And then, when the guests all left, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I have not felt this relaxed in 6 long weeks, but I would do it over in a heartbeat.  The train-the-trainer course was about more than just dog training.  It was about self-exploration and personal growth.  It was about teamwork and friendship.  It was about giving this gift, these dogs that we've loved and poured our sweat and tears into, to somebody whose life will be changed because of it.  This experience was unforgettable, the people were unforgettable, and I am so lucky that this is not the end of my time at ECAD and that I got to wake up this morning (at 7am for kennel management) and get right back to it.  Thank you ECAD, Lu, and my fellow trainers for these 6 unforgettable weeks.

This is a slideshow of pictures chronicling the 6-week experience, including the final 2 with our clients.  I would also like to share Ben's speech, which he presented at graduation on behalf of all of us trainers, because I feel it truly encompasses what this course has been like for us.
"The first ECADs graduation I attended was back in November of 2009.  The young Phil  Bauer had just been paired with Reese.  Ace had just come in for Aries.  A Children’s Village graduate named Rashawn Plant came and spoke and said that ECADS had turned his life around.  “Lu and Barbara  may not give you what you want,” he said, “but they’ll give you what you need.”  When Lu took the podium after that she cried.  

      The tears were sweet, I thought, a sort of  Hallmark,  Disney,  affect    I attended a lot of boot camp graduations after that, and noticed that people often wept .  There was one  ceremony—also held in this building—at which every single speaker broke down.  One seven –year-old  autistic -syndrome boy was at his mother’s feet, when she began to sob. “Everybody’s  supposed  to cry,”  he said, as if it were one of those adult rules, he had no patience with.

      Still,  ECADS seemed too good to be true.   Outside of the crying, it looked as if everybody was having a good time.  Doing well while doing good.   And what I wanted to know, was why doesn’t everybody train his dog?

      When I signed up for the train-the-trainers program that began July 5th—a date I won’t soon forget—Lu told me it would be  difficult.   Boy, was it only July fifth?  Seems a long time ago.  Maybe 15 years.  Lu told me I’d be frustrated.  She said that  afterwards, “your dogs won’t recognize you.  Your wife will wonder what happened.”

        I ‘m not  going to break down  this minute, but I did some crying, and it wasn’t for affect.  I imagine you clients all know just what I’m  talking about here, as do all the other trainers.   

        There’s a reason everybody doesn’t train his dog.  Dog training is hard.  Even dog handling is hard.  It’s frustrating.  It’s humiliating.  And all the time  you’re struggling, you’ve got to be smiling too.  And I don’t mean smiling like a jack o lantern.  You have to actually radiate genuine good will.  When can you have negative emotions, one of our quizzes asks.  The answer: NEVER!

        Outside of the trillion tricks about dogs  that Lu and her staff have picked up, the main problem is something the text book  labels affective domain.   Guts is what they call it in the world . Guts, or character or spine.  You get to find out just how little of it you have.  Nor do you make this discovery alone.  Golden retrievers aren’t the only creatures around here who get corrections.  This old dog was corrected many times.  Corrected by Lu and Phil, and often sometimes by students just passing by.   And the corrections aren’t the hardest part of it.  The hardest part of the course  was  constantly failing to live up to Lu’s  impossible expectations.

       When the class first started, Tara told me to watch Lu closely.  

     “Because she’s a great trainer?” I asked.

      Tara nodded.  “Because she can motivate a butterfly.”

      “Nice phrase,”  I  thought.  Fact is, though, that I haven’t been feeling much like a butterfly.   You know those big fat, brown moths? 

      That’s what I’ve felt like.    I’ve felt like one of those moths that  flies into a candle and miraculously he survives.  Then the foolish moth turns around and flies back into the fire.

        Not that I regret it.   If a new class was starting tomorrow, I’d sign right up.  I’ve learned a lot more than I’ve suffered.   Not just about dog training, but about myself.  I’m a changed  man. 

I never felt entirely alone, but then I never felt that I was entirely a member of the pack either.  I went home at night.  I have a beloved wife, you see, two grown sons and dogs as well.  And they were just 25 minutes away.  My wife and one of my sons are in the audience.  Those of you who think I invented them in order to have an excuse to escape from time to time, might take a look.

        Not that these sumptuous dorms tempted me.  But I do regret not having connected more deeply with the rest of my pack.   I’m sorry I didn’t  get to know Adam better.   He’s tough as nails, and smart and courteous too. And as for Lia, I don’t  know that anyone would have made it without Lia.    Lia’s not happy until she’s got her own job done, and part of somebody else’s too.  Hana?    Hana was  all about kindness.   Hana injected  the humanity into the group.  Hana, an actress,  acted out the feelings  that all the trainers were having.    As for J.P.—well J.P.  has a touch of Lu’s disease. The guy can’t  figure out the meaning of the word “impossible.”

        Not that the trainers matter all that much.  It’s not about the dogs either.   Although I do still  have a yearning for Garrison.  But then I  know where Garrison is going and I approve.  He’s going to Elena.   God bless them both. And this program, as Lu has always said is about the clients, before its about anyone else.  Ultimately it’s about Elena and Greg, about Heather,  Elizabeth and  Aileen.      

       It’s about  people who can now be more  independent from this day forward, more themselves. 
       They were brave to come here, and they too must have felt more like moths than butterflies .   Moths, or butterflies, they all got off the ground.  They  all were moving toward independence, out of darkness and into  light  Can’t do any better than that in this world."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Train-the-Trainer: Week 5

Week 5 of Train-the-Trainer has presented some interesting challenges and learning experiences.  The clients arrived on Monday and my fellow students-turned-trainers and I have switched gears into "teaching" mode.  We have been responsible for running the day-to-day activities with the 5 clients, writing and presenting lectures, giving and grading quizzes, and putting out fires left and right.  Having only learned this information over the past month, it is a challenge to convey confidence and authority to the clients and to gain their trust.  One of the most important lessons that we learned this week was that being too nice isn't going to get ourselves or our clients anywhere.  As Lu says, whatever you give them on the first day, they will accept.  This means that if we had been demanding and challenging and tough the first day, we could have been demanding and challenging and tough from that point forward.  Unfortunately, none of us (and I will take a lot of the blame since I was in charge the first day) were tough enough on Day 1.  We couldn't get harsher from there, so we essentially set the bar too low and had nowhere to go.  Our bad.

All of us have been working our butts off this week.  There have been days when we started at 7am and ended at 10pm.  I think it's paying off, though, and I'd rather work a 15-hour day at ECAD than an 8 hour day anywhere else.  Today was the first day when we really saw that the clients and their dogs were bonding, and that people seemed to be having success utilizing their dog for its intended purpose.  I cannot tell you how many tears I've seen over the past week as we've pushed people to their limits.  It feels like as soon as I get one situation under control, another one is starting right back up.  From what I've heard, this is always true in team training.  We don't call it bootcamp for nothing.  I owe you pictures... stay tuned.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Train-the-Trainer: Week 4

I have been putting off this blog post because I'm struggling with how it could possibly have only been 4 weeks since we began this whole thing.  It feels simultaneously like it's been 4 years and 4 days.  As we transition into the arrival of our clients, I find myself thinking about all that has happened in the past 4 weeks.  I have learned so much from Lu about dog training, people training, and the intricacies of running an organization like ECAD.  I have gained amazing, life-long friends in my classmates and in the staff members at ECAD.  I have worked with three very different dogs who have each taught me so much and helped me expand my skills as a dog trainer.  For anybody who knows the ECAD dogs, going from Joplin to Crisco to Cocoa is covering a lot of ground in 4 short weeks.

Tonight our dogs will spend their last night in the kennel, no longer sleeping in our bedrooms to help sever the bond we've worked so hard to form.  From this point forward, we are no longer allowed to even look at "our" dogs, as they must re-attach themselves to their lifelong partners.  At 9:30 tomorrow morning, we will meet our 5 clients, officially changing out of our student hats and putting on our teacher hats.  My fellow train-the-trainer students and I are responsible for the operations of this boot camp.  We have written our lectures, made our quizzes, and are eager to impart the wisdom we have acquired on the people whose lives will be changed because of the amazing dogs we're giving them.  It is with excitement and apprehension that we begin the next and final weeks of this experience.
With that, I hope you'll enjoy some of my favorite photos from the past week:
Hana gives Tom Cat some lovin'

Ben and Honey working on "light"


My Cocoa-Bean

Don't tell Pauly, but mommy let Reese into her bed

Sprinkles does an "Up, Stay" Photo credit: JP

Garrison and Sprinkles Photo Credit: JP

Cocoa and Garrison holding each other's heads up asleep in the back of the car