Two and half weeks ago, my daughter’s longtime dream of having her own service dog came rollicking into her life, tongue lolling, with oversized German Shepherd puppy ears and floppy feet and a little pink puppy belly. She named him “Mercer” (very fitting, as the Mercer family was instrumental in founding mearby Seattle) and he is already a blessing to her.
For being only four months old and having a LONG way to go in his training, Mercer’s basic personality is very calm and gentle. When he is exercising self-control, he is amazing. He is learning his manners quickly and is very, very well-behaved at the store.
He is far from perfect, though. He has fantasies of chasing the cat in the house, which meanie-mom and meanie-dad continuously interrupt. He is right in the heat of teething, with so much painful activity in his gums that everything—literally, everything—gets sampled as a potential soothing chew for that sore mouth.
Mercer’s favorite person is our daughter, A. He hangs out under her wheelchair or plays ever-so-gently with his toys in her lap. He helps deliver and collect her from the bus each day. A feeds him and gives him treats and helps reinforce his obedience training with her mid-tech voice output device (an ancient Cheap Talk 8 with levels...which she has to operate hand-over-hand).
The therapeutic effect on A from having her own dog has been nothing short of a miracle. She had been unable to coordinate her steps when walking, but her motivation to show him off to Grandma on Mother’s Day prompted her to walk with only assistance for balance for about 100 feet from the car into Grandma’s house! A had also pretty much given up on balancing when tailor sitting on the floor, as her severe myoclonus jolts her backwards. But if there is a possibility Mercer might come lay his head in her lap, she manages now to tailor sit for up to 30 minutes at a go. It has been about a year since we have seen this level of control. What a joy!
To top it off, Mercer was able to interrupt a myoclonic episode a few days ago with nose nudges and “kisses.” We praised him wildly for this wonderful feat and hope to shape it into a dependable service to our daughter.
It will be several years before Mercer is fully trained to do all the service tasks we’d like him to do to increase our daughter’s independence at home and in the community. At times it is hard to envision him performing these tasks, but it is critical that we start shaping these behaviors even now. It takes so much vision! Thank goodness we have wonderful service dog trainers working with our family to make this happen.
And, of course, it all takes time. Please understand if I'm a bit pre-occupied during these puppy days. They are a bit intense, but the pay off at the end promises to be enormous!