My First Mother’s Day Without Mom

This is the first Mother’s Day since Mom passed away. One month ago today, actually. Ironically, today was going to be our first Mother’s Day together in over a decade.

Since I adopted my sweet baby girl, Grace, Mom had wanted to meet her. For over three years, I sent pictures of Grace to Mom, showed Mom videos of Grace, and I told her what a comfort Grace had been to me since the day I brought her home from the shelter. Nearly every time we talked, Mom would say she wanted nothing more in life than to meet her grand-dog. It sounds dramatic, but trust me, Mom had a flair for it.

Grace even signed cards to Mom

With me living 1,200 miles away and Mom no longer traveling, it was almost impossible for Mom to meet Grace. Almost.

This year I planned to drive from North Carolina to Illinois and rendezvous with Mom at my sister’s place in May (sister was going to pick up Mom a few days prior and bring her to Illinois). After a few days in Illinois, I would drive Mom home to Wisconsin, all with Grace at our side. Finally, Grace and I would make the trek from Wisconsin back to North Carolina on our own…all Thelma and Louise, but without the cliff.

Mom was beside herself about meeting Grace. She talked about finally meeting the grand-dog every time we spoke. Then she would say she didn’t think she would live that long, and I would say in a teasing yet gentle way, “Mom, surely you can hold on until Mother’s Day to meet Grace!” And Mom would chuckle and say “Okay, I’ll wait until May.”

But Mom couldn’t wait until May. She passed away on April 14, which makes this first Mother’s Day without Mom that much more sad. The thing she talked about for over three years, I missed by a month. Things happen the way they happen, and I’m not blaming myself, but it hurts my heart. I would have loved to have done that for Mom. I would have loved to have seen her face light up and her heart swell when she met my sweet, lovable, snuggly Grace.

In the week leading up to today, my friend Karen asked what I was doing this weekend, and invited me to visit with her and her Mom who lives in an assisted living facility. Karen is gaga over Grace, and her Mom loves dogs as well, so of course Grace was invited.

I think Grace is gaga for Karen as well!

A couple of years ago I took Grace to a therapy dog class in hopes that we could visit nursing homes and such spreading Grace-style cheer. It’s something I feel Grace would do well, and something I would enjoy. Maybe because I surprised my parents late in life and they were older than the typical Mom and Dad–it’s hard to say–but I definitely have a soft spot for the older folks.

The problem was, Grace and I didn’t do well in the class. Grace was easily distracted and began to lose her manners as the weeks went by, so I pulled her from the program.

Fast forward to our invitation this weekend, where Grace was the life of the party at the senior living facility. I was so proud of my girl and Mom would have been, too. We spent time with Karen’s Mom in her private quarters, where Grace gently took treats, snuggled, and gave kisses. Karen’s Mom was delighted.

 

Being the perfect pup for Miss Dolly

We joined other residents and their families for a Mother’s Day Tea in one of the common areas. The place was packed like a Friday night happy hour and with the noise level to match. In all the chaos, Grace didn’t miss a beat. She sat when I asked her to, she let people awe over her and pet her, she had her picture made with several folks, ignored another pooch who walked through the room, and sat nicely while a little fellow of about three timidly pet her and ran off squealing.

Giving the facility director some puppy love

The staff gushed over her, sat with her, loved on her. This is exactly how I imagined she would behave in this environment. Grace was made for making people smile, for bringing them comfort, and it brought me as much joy as it did the residents.

Grace loved everyone she met

To bring this back to Mom, and the ache in my heart that she is gone, that I did not get to be with her today and watch her face light up at the sight of my smiling dog–my first Mother’s Day without Mom was made less painful knowing that a few other Moms enjoyed the company of a sweet, little red shelter dog who loves as big as the world.

I am blown away by the people in my life who made sure I was not grieving alone this weekend. Whether you reached out to me in person, or simply held me in your thoughts, thank you.

To Mom: I miss you more than words can say, but I take comfort in believing that you’re smiling. Smiling because your grand-dog and I did some good in the world today. Happy Mother’s Day in heaven, Mom.

Cheers,
Kelly

Therapy Dog Drop-Outs (for now)

Remember when I said being a therapy dog team would be Grace’s decision? Well, we are not a therapy dog team and it was, indeed, Grace’s decision. To be completely honest, I think we would have passed the exam, but I pulled her from the class about half way through the course.

I want to be very clear that Teamworks Dog Training is great, and I recommend them to anyone looking for training for their pooch. The instructor of this class, Christie, is awesome as well. When Grace and I are ready to try again, we will go back to Teamworks.

Here’s the story.

Distraction

Grace is typically calm around people, but very excitable around dogs. She can get absolutely distracted around dogs. She did okay in class as long as she was sitting on her mat. When we tried to demonstrate a couple of the basic commands like heel and leave it, all she wanted to do was bound toward the other dogs. She acted as though she had never been on a leash. As for “leave it,” I think she thought I was saying “eat it” because she tried with all her might to get at that treat.

Collar vs. Harness

Another obstacle was that she had to be leashed at her collar—harnesses are not allowed on therapy dogs. Did you know that? I did not. The leash-to-collar thing was new to us and proved to be problematic. From the get-go, Grace has worn an Easy Walk harness because it’s what I used with Phoebe and it’s what I automatically purchased when I adopted Grace. I didn’t realize Grace was a puller until I started walking her with a Martingale collar in class and she was walking me. Loose-leash anything went out the window.

Jumping and Barking

A very bad habit that cropped up was jumping on people. If your dog is a jumper, that’s your business and I don’t want to offend anyone, but a dog jumping on me is one of my pet peeves. Grace didn’t jump much in class, only out in public (of course), but the behavior coincided with her attending the class. She also started barking at other dogs while being walked. Again, new behavior outside of class but coinciding with the class.

Commotion

The only thing different in Grace’s life since this less-than-mannerly behavior began was the class. As I said, Grace is usually quite calm. However, my home is calm. It’s just the two of us and I pretty much coo at her in a soft voice while we snuggle on the sofa every evening. Seriously, finding a sunny spot to lay in is a big activity at our place (and you can see I scouted ahead of her and put the blanket down).

Dog lying in sunny spot
Grace found a sunny spot to rest

In class, however, there was a lot of loud talking, sometimes shouting, people rushing toward the dogs–good simulations of the things one might encounter at an actual therapy dog session. So I have a couple of thoughts about that.

  1. Perhaps too much stimulation for Grace? Or at least too drastic a change from our daily life?
  2. All the commotion in class may have looked to Grace like an invitation to play (i.e. jump on people)? We play fetch at home, but I don’t shout and wave my arms around, it’s a very civilized fetch.
  3. And the most plausible of all—her handler (yours truly) maybe isn’t that great of a handler when it comes to therapy dog work. Good luck trying to train me!

I can’t get in Grace’s head; I can only make an educated guess based on the information I have. The bottom line is, my job as her Mum is to protect her. Something was obviously causing her to act out, and the only thing different in her life was the class, so I stopped. It’s been a couple of weeks since we became doggie drop-outs, and the jumping on people is getting a wee bit better. We are back to the Easy Walk harness and loose-leash walking has somewhat returned as well. She still barks at other dogs, so I may have to try a corrective action (can of rocks to shake loudly when she barks).

It breaks my heart, because until now all of her training has been done solely by positive reinforcement. I don’t know how else to stop the barking at other dogs than with a correction. You know the first time I shake that can I’m going to cry. And then probably apologize and give her a big hug. That’s probably not going to help, is it?

Have you had to retrain your dog at some point? Have you dealt with barking at other dogs? What training method did you use?

Cheers!
Kelly