Monday, July 30, 2012


It’s been over a year since I started my current job.  Like any other job, there are ups and downs; good days and bad days; days when I’m ready to quit and pay my rent training the canines of the wealthy Westchesterites (Weschesterans? Westchesterers?) and days when I come home glowing from a major accomplishment.  I know, I know – most of you can’t fathom how somebody who works with 30 Golden Retrievers on a daily basis could possibly have a bad day.  Trust me, it’s not the dogs that cause the bad days (exceptions: diarrhea, vomiting, and behavioral issues do account for about 5% of all bad days).  Lately, though, I’ve been having a tough time finding pleasure in my day-to-day job.  The bad days have outweighed the good for whatever reason – usually because of office politics, bruised egos (my own or others’), and general frustrations.  I’ve been struggling and I realized today that I had lost sight of the bigger picture.  I realized that despite all of my frustrations, despite all of the drama and egos and stress and disenchantment that I have grown enormously as a person because of this job.  

Today I watched as the latest group of trainer trainees worked with the latest group of disabled clients.  I saw myself a year ago in their shoes.  I watched them trip over themselves to help these people, to grab the leash, command the dog, not realizing that these are the behaviors that foster dependence, not the independence that the clients crave so much.  We are providing service dogs, not service humans, so unless they want to go home and live with these clients, they better step back.  I watched them become frustrated as the clients “ruined” “their” dogs.  The dogs challenged these clients who can’t move their arms, legs, or speak clearly.  The dogs pulled, they refused the retrieve, they ignored the clients and I watched the trainers jump to the rescue to get the dog’s attention, give treats, give commands, prove that “their” dogs new the commands.  I used to do that.  I used to jump to the rescue but today I stood back and watched trusting that the process would work itself out, as I’ve seen happen repeatedly over the past year.

In the past year, I may have become a better dog trainer, though that’s not obvious.  I may have become a better teacher, a better volunteer manager, or a better office organizer (also not obvious).  The most obvious thing I’ve learned in the past year is patience.  It took 25 years, but, Mom, look!  I am actually patient.  I realized this as I watched one trainer after another give up in frustration working with a particular client with physical and vocal limitations.  This client cannot pet the dog, she cannot produce treats or toys, she cannot move her own wheelchair.  However, this client is mentally incredibly nimble and bright.  She knows all the commands, but it can take up to 3 minutes for her to produce them orally.  It is so tempting to just spit it out, just tell the dog what to do, try to put the words into her mouth in the hopes that saying them before her will make her say them faster.  Instead, I wait.  The door may close 3 times before we get the sequence of commands to get through it, but I’ve got time.  And here’s the kicker – I absolutely adore working with her and admire her as the woman that she is.  And tonight, as I was leaving for the evening, she said to me with a huge smile on her face “You are so good at your job, you’ve taught me so much, you actually listen to me, and I am lucky that you’re working with me.”  Ladies and gentleman, that is what I’ve learned this year and that is why, no matter what, I love my job career.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I never really thought about becoming a teacher.  I’m not nurturing, nor do I particularly like kids, nor do I particularly enjoy speaking in front of people, nor do I have any patience.  Like, none.  At all.  Over the past few weeks, as I’ve transitioned into taking over my own class, I’ve surprised myself by how much I am actually enjoying the challenge of motivating and educating my kids and their dogs.  On Tuesday, my students were playing their “my dog does everything already so I’m done” game.  I don’t blame them – it’s exhausting to train dogs for 2+ hours.  Lunchtime roles around and I have 8 boys and 10 sandwiches.  Everybody got 1, but they’re growing teenage boys, so they’re starving.  Whoever’s dog tugs open the heavy door and sits and holds it open long enough for you to walk through it, wins a sandwich.  You get 2 tries and then the next person goes.  We go through all 8 dogs and some came close, but inevitably dropped the door before the student could get through it.  They’re getting really competitive, coming up with new techniques, different ropes on the door, different positioning of themselves and their dogs.  They’re really thinking about it and getting so frustrated that their dog can’t do it.  Finally, on the second time through the group, Dior and his student won their sandwich.  They were proud of themselves, though everybody else was jealous, worked up, unhappy with their ¼ of a sandwich.  It was nice to see the kids enthusiastic, motivated, creative, and trying incredibly hard.  Nicer, though, was seeing the kids the following 2 days as they worked and problem solved how to get their dog to really know the commands involved. 

In order to calm some of that heated, competitive energy, we worked on teaching the dogs not to get too excited when people get on the floor with them.  Having them lay underneath their trainer is great practice for clients with narcolepsy who may need the dog to pick their head off the ground if they're face down and in danger of suffocation.  Though it resembles nap time, it really is work!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New charges

I'm dog sitting this week for my colleague's doggies. Pictures are worth a thousand words:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sophie's Training Update

Remember Sophie?  Here's her latest training update!
Work progress:
Pup is class ready, meaning she is ready to be matched with a student. This process could take some time, mean while she will continue to work at maintaining and improving her skills.

Areas for improvement:
Escalators are a challenge that she is working on, as well as confidence and concentration. She can be a little over sensitive.

Positives about the dog:
Wonderful obedience, gorgeous face, loves to give kisses and is great to work with.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hero Dog Awards

I'm lucky enough to know two of the wonderful dogs nominated for this year's Hero Dog Awards.  Winners get money to donate to the charity of their choice.  You can only vote once a day, so I'm alternating my votes between these two hero dogs:

I was Robbie's puppy raiser and had the pleasure of loving him from 6-weeks old until 13-months old.  He is now doing amazing things as a service dog for Joe Roberts.  Read their story and vote for Robbie here.

Rosie the Courthouse Dog is an 11-year old golden retriever.  Rosie's owner is the Executive Director at ECAD and Rosie is the mother of many of our ECAD service dogs.  In addition to being a breeder, Rosie worked as a therapy dog for her entire life.  After her retirement, she was brought back into the work force as New York's first courthouse dog, helping a young rape victim testify in court against her repeated rapist.  Rosie is credited with helping the girl win the case.  Read the story and vote for Rosie here.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Training Truman

For the past 3 weeks, I've been dog sitting for a 2-year old pit bull named Truman.  Truman's mommy travels a few weeks each month, so Truman and I will be getting to know each other very well.  Knowing this, I am trying to build a relationship with him that we both enjoy.  In other words, I don't want this dog to own me or run my life, something he's apt to do.  Despite being a Nervous Nelly, afraid of his own shadow, Truman seems to think he's leadership material.  Sorry dog, I am alpha.

Pills, Ointments, and Wipes
Truman has severe allergies.  He takes 3-5 pills a day, needs his ears and feet wiped down, and needs ointment put in his ears.  His mom left me a muzzle and said "you'll need this.  He bites when you try to do anything to him".  I truly believe that he has tried to bite her because he knows he can.  However, Mr. Truman knows better than to bite me.  I shove his pills down his throat and stick my fingers and his ointment in his ears twice a day.  He's not thrilled, but who would be with a crazy lady shoving 3 pills down your throat.  I pat myself on the back for this one.

There is nothing enjoyable about walking with Truman.  First you put on the prong collar.  Next you hook up the leash.  Next you stuff your pockets with treats.  Next you get dragged down the block.  I DO NOT get dragged by dogs.  So, I dig in my heels and get him back into position.  "Truman, heel, yes" treat.  Take a step.  "No, Truman, heel, yes" treat.  Perhaps he stays in position long enough that I manage to take 5 steps.  Then I've lost him.  Or, much worse, he's turned into a psycho dog and decided to latch onto his nylon leash, locking his jaw, and sometimes taking a nibble out of your arm.  Now you've got a crazed, super strong animal dangling from a leash.  Excuse my language, but "shit!".  Now what?  I dove deep down into my affective domain (training term for gut) and let him have my biggest "NO! drop it!" along with a hard knee to the stomach.  This managed to get us home, where I promptly emailed his mother, fingers shaking on the keys, and said "you didn't tell me about his nylon leash obsession!".  Oops.  Ok, a challenge.  Truman wore his nylon leash for a full week.  In the house, in the yard, etc.  Sometimes I was on the other end (which caused him to become super attached to me).  Other times it was dragging behind him.  Either way, I figured, let's flood him with this damn leash.  Shove it down his throat along with all his pills.  We tried a walk again.  This time I was smart.  2 leashes: one nylon, one chain.  He tries to latch on to the nylon and I just drop it and pick up the chain leash.  At least I won't lose the dog!  Walk in circles in the driveway.  "Truman, heel".  He grabs the nylon leash, I drop it.  He doesn't think this is fun and loses interest immediately.  Treat.  We have been doing this for 3 days.  He's still trying to latch onto the nylon, but if I drop it right away he thinks I don't know how to "play" and loses interest.  Score.   All the while attempting to teach "heel" and "watch me" and "leave it". 

Growling in bed
This one is simple to describe and damn near impossible to fix (for me).  I get into bed.  Truman has 2 toys in bed.  He plays alone for 30-45 minutes.  I drift off to sleep.  30 seconds later, Truman is standing over my head growling at me.  Repeat.
Things I've tried: removing the toys, ignoring the growling, petting him, letting him out, growling back, biting him, correcting him, kicking him off the bed, locking him out of the room.
Suggestions wanted.  I'm tired. 

Ok, folks, I know this was a long post, but I figured all my fellow dog-folks would enjoy taking on some of these challenges.  I'm willing to try any suggestions you want to throw out there.  Note, Truman is not food driven.  Not even a little.  The dog turns down bacon!  His pain tolerance, like most pits, is astronomical.  A correction that would send a golden/lab flying doesn't even make him blink.  In fact, I'm pretty sure he feeds off it.  All this being said, he's truly a sweetheart and a very handsome boy and I am quite fond of him.  I would just like to be able to live with him!

Ready, set, brainstorm!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Green Chimneys Video

This is a great video describing one of the sites that I work at (see Danes and Donkeys), Green Chimneys, where I help to teach service dog training.  It's an absolutely amazing school and this video is worth watching.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

ECAD 2012 Graduation Video

It is with great pride (and exhaustion) that I present this lovely video about the clients and dogs that I've worked with for the past 15 days.  I wish them every success in their futures together.  Adam made this video which was shown at the graduation ceremony last night.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ahhh, life

Dear Life,
I lost you there for a few months. Seems you got buried and pushed down by all that work. Thanks to dog-sitting for Mr. Truman, I have had 2 blissful days getting reacquainted with you. Work is so much more fun when you don't live there and life is so much more fun when you don't work there!
Love, Lia

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My New House

I had a hell of a week (see I just need a moment...).  On Saturday, I started casually seeking a new home.  By casually, I mean I looked at 4 properties, fell in love with the first one I saw, completed the application (no easy feat), went back today to see it again (bringing Pauly to convince them that "no pets" does not mean "no Paulys", and signed a lease.  Beginning March 1, I am officially the proud renter of a house.  My new house is about 15-minutes from work, it has 3 bedrooms, a remodeled kitchen, a living room with a wood fireplace, a 1-car garage, a full basement with washer/dryer, and a fenced yard.  AND, the rent is comparable to 2-bedroom apartments.  AND, my landlord pays for heat and hot water.  Can you feel the excitement in my typing?  I'M SO EXCITED!!!

The front of my new house
The side of my new house.  Detached garage to the right

Kitchen with all the work stuff in it

Hallway out of kitchen.  Living room on left, bathroom on right, two bedrooms ahead, one bedroom to left

Living room, fireplace, built-in

Moving clockwise in living room

Front door into entry into living room

Living room

Bedroom 1

Bedroom 1

Bedroom 1 closet

Bedroom 2 (my office)

Closet in office

Office leads to bedroom 3

Bedroom 3 (taking suggestions on uses of this room, my least favorite)

Large closet in bedroom 3

Lots of room in bedroom 3

Ugly floor in bedroom 3 = reason I dislike this room

Patio & Yard (play set will be removed)



Yard with entry to walk-out basement

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I just need a moment...

I am in a horrible mood and feeling very negative towards my life right now.  Venting can be cathartic, right? 
  1. There is a burning smell in my house, like burning rubber, and I cannot figure out where it's coming from.
  2. I thought I was going to get to the gym today for the first time in a month.  Work beckoned.  This is why I have gained 15 pounds in the past year and feel repulsive.
  3. I have to work 4 weekends in a row.  1 down, 3 to go.  This means 5 weeks without a day off.  Not one day. Enjoy your 3-day weekends.
  4. My work weeks average 60 hours.  I earn just a smidgen above the poverty level for a family of 1.
  5. Since my house is not actually my house, I have been told that I will be getting roommates and that the 2 rooms cells I have used as storage must be vacated.  I have also been informed that people have been coming in when I'm not home.  Oh, and, btw, it's too messy so please clean everything (in your spare time).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Dahl

One of my favorite things to make on Sunday nights is a big pot of Dahl.  Dahl is a lentil stew made as a side dish in India.  It's basically just lentils (which are an excellent source of protein) and spices.  It's usually a side dish in India as a way of getting protein into a vegetarian diet.  However, I find it so filling and satisfying that I make it a dinner staple throughout the week.


¾ lb dry red lentils
20 oz Chicken Broth (you'll need more)
1 chopped garlic clove
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tbsp hot paprika
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp crushed red pepper
Salt to taste

Fried onions
Toasted almonds

1.       Soak lentils in cold water for 1 hour
2.       Drain and place in heavy saucepan with enough chicken broth to cover
3.       Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally
4.       Heat oil in heavy frying pan
5.       Sautee onion and garlic until golden
6.       Add bay leaf and spices and stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes
7.       Add onion mixture to lentils and stir
8.       Add water or broth if liquid has been observed
9.       Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour over low heat, adding liquid as needed

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Puppy Party

The puppies are here, the puppies are here!  Remember Christmas Eve when Shilo delivered 12 beautiful little lab/dane pups?  Well, it's time to debut 6 of them!
Meet my unnamed weekend guests (many more pics/videos to come throughout the weekend):

Movie Night

The current phase of my internship includes shadowing Miss Rachel, one of the ECAD teachers at another residential facility for at-risk youth.  There are many things I love about this phase of my internship, but the one I love the most is watching Rachel's unbelievable skill with the dogs and the students.  Rachel's gift as a trainer lies in her impeccable timing, her unbelievably high expectations, and her knack for knowing when to let a behavior slide and when to correct it.  Today, I captured the video below, in which Rachel brings her canine students from their outside run into her classroom.  While you can't see this in the video, the dogs are "loose" on an open field, filled with geese (and their poo), people, squirrels, and numerous other temptations.  However, these 8-11 month old dogs are attentive and respectful to their teacher (so much so, that she's stopped needing leashes altogether).  I aspire to be the trainer (and teacher) that Rachel is.

I may not ever achieve Rachel's mastery of training, managing 8 dogs simultaneously, but I think my one and only Mr. Pauly Wog is pretty impressive in his own right.  Here's a video I sloppily put together of Pauly's greatest hits.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Our weekend visitor is Miss Sevilla.  She is one of ECAD's Spanish Girls (Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Valencia).  She's a 9-month old black lab/golden retriever cross and she's a little devil (but in a fun way).  Her house manners are awesome, but she's filled with energy and can be totally bonkers.  Her real crazies come out when she gets a hold of Pauly's pink squeaky ball (pink is a manly color for the manliest of mature Paulywogs).  A brief reminder for me that puppies are fun, but puppies are definitely work (literally, they are best left at work)!  We took a walk around the Tarrytown Reservoir today with the two pups and Pauly rocked his adventure pack, bringing great pleasure to passing children.