Charlotte and SDIT Dakota

Oh, what a joyous session once again as Laurie had the honor to train beautiful Charlotte and her SDIT, “Dakota”!!

Laurie writes:

As you might remember, 17 year-old Charlotte suffers from seizures, migraines, and severe Ankylosing Spondilitis (arthritis in back), which she has had since the age of 11. Charlotte has extremely limited mobility in her spine due to AS. Their neurologist is still trying to find a suitable medicine to help control her seizures, increasingly limited eyesight, and severe balance issues.

Charlotte’s twin sister, equally beautiful and brilliant, developed some arthritis a little later in age, and know suffers from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardic Syndrome (POTS). It’s definitely genetic. But Charlotte’s sister’s condition is not as extremely debilitating as Charlotte’s – and it’s so beautiful to watch how much she cares about her sister. She’s a little “jealous” of SDIT “Dakota”, because she wants a Service Dog, too! But she understands that Charlotte’s needs are imminent.

I just spoke with Charlotte’s mother, and poor Charlotte is currently at Methodist Children’s Hospital where they had to try FIVE times to bend her back properly for spinal taps! Can you imagine the pain? They ended up deciding to try it again later using fluoroscopy to try and get the needed fluid. She is scheduled for a two-hour MRI of her spine tomorrow, where she has to lie perfectly still to see if they see any lesions that might indicate MS. They tried doing the MRI today, but after 30 minutes, Charlotte could not stand the pain. So, tomorrow, when they have a special anesthetist on hand, they will sedate her so she can make it through the MRI. I am asking for prayers for dear Charlotte and her mother, who is taking such amazing care of her dear daughter (their father died in an accident a few years ago). PLEASE PRAY PRAY PRAY!!!

Anyway, Thursday, we had a very long session at Walmart, because the family will be travelling to Charlotte’s mother, Amy’s birthplace in England for a few weeks. I wanted to do a quite intensive session. SDIT Dakota will also be boarding at Petsmart, with the play days and all that fun stuff – but Amy was very keen and wrote a letter to Petsmart Boarding that I had permission to come and take Dakota out for training sessions regularly so that Dakota does not regress in her training. The socialization with other dogs will be wonderful for Dakota. She is almost 8 months, but she is improving so rapidly it’s unbelievable!!

I met them in a motorized cart, because I know that at times, that will be much easier for Charlotte to use instead of her walker in stores. We practiced with me scooting along aside Charlotte and Dakota at various paces, and Dakota quickly got used to having the cart beside her. Then, of course, I had Charlotte get into the motorized cart, showed her how to tie Dakota onto the handlebars so that Dakota had enough room to properly heel and sit if needed, but not enough where she could go in front of the cart. They did superbly!!! Charlotte was such a trooper!! I made her use the horn on the cart, go backward and have her trust that Dakota would find her proper footing, and soon, they were maneuvering in and out of small and large places, around “obstacle courses”, backing up, etc.

Dakota already knows “sit”, “down”, “sit/stay”, “down/stay”, “come”, “watch me”, “controlled load and unload”, is doing automatic “covers” for Charlotte, and has adjusted to her gait very well with the walker. We did several meet and greets with male and female adults, as well as children. Because Dakota is just a happy puppy still, she has trouble maintaining a “sit” position when meeting people, because she gets so excited. But when the do go to pet her, after asking permission, Dakota just gives them kisses and lets them pet all over her.

In one of these pictures, at the very end of the session, a Vietnamese mother and 4 year-old boy asked to pet Dakota. It was SO beautiful to watch. The little boy, who speaks only Vietnamese, was able to pronounce “Dakota”, and he petted her until she actually went into a down submissive position and it was just glorious to see.

One thing I wanted to practice with Dakota was what happens when Charlotte is walking without her walker at home. She has to use furniture, the walls, countertops, etc., to steady her as she tries to get to her destination. So, what I did is I took Dakota, made sure her plastic prong and leash were held tight enough and close enough to my legs so that she was always touching my legs. I chose an area in the grocery section of Walmart and practiced walking like Charlotte walks – with an extremely unsteady gait, using displays, the refrigerator section, and anything I could “bump” into (like I was drunk), making sure that Dakota was ALWAYS touching my legs – no matter how much I stumbled or if she had to switch sides to keep pressed against me. She did this perfectly. My goal – and their homework for the next session – is to have Charlotte practice walking without the walker at home but using Dakota as a brace against her legs to help steady her.

One other technique I thought about was when we practiced the sit/stay. Now, Dakota can do this perfectly when you put her in a sit/stay and walk away facing her or even if you turn your back to her and repeat “stay”. She does this at home beautifully. However, what I wanted to do was to have Dakota get into a “sit/stay”, walk away with my hand up for a long distance, and then, I flip my hand over and lower it and go BACK to Dakota while she stays in the sit/stay.

The reason I did this (I do it with every client, but there was a special need for this for Charlotte in my mind) is because when Charlotte walks up the stairs and puts Dakota in a sit/stay while she uses the railing for bracing, Dakota stays. However, when Charlotte comes back DOWN the stairs, backward, Dakota breaks her sit/stay – and I want Dakota to be able to maintain the sit/stay when Charlotte is coming toward Dakota so that if she ever has a seizure on the stairs, or needs Dakota to be there for extra support, Dakota will remain whether Charlotte is going away from Dakota or coming to Dakota. It’s a complicated process, and we will train at home with all of this next time, but I believe it will be essential for Charlotte’s safety as Dakota becomes her mobility dog.

We did have some fun – Dakota does NOT like hula hoops, so of course, I made her come as close to it as she could by pairing it with a treat literally on the top of the hoop. We also did this with a large red bouncing ball that scared Dakota. We put the treat on the ball as we advanced it slowly toward her, and by the end of this desensitization, Dakota loved the ball and they ended up buying it!!

Well, I know this has been a long write up, but it was a long, important session. I hope to hear some definitive results about the MRI tomorrow, and when they leave for England, the only concern they will have is if Charlotte has a seizure – but these airplanes are equipped to give Charlotte room to have the seizure which her mother and sister will control – and then Charlotte falls asleep.

Again, please ask for prayers.