Life at the Speed of Mercer

True, it’s been quiet here at Adapting Creatively. But there is so much going on behind the scenes, there simply hasn’t been time to make much blog noise.

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!


Tonya said...

That is so incredibly awesome

Rose-Marie said...

Thanks so much Tonya! We are pretty excited around here about our daughter's response to her little "trainee."

BLOOM - Parenting Kids With Disabilities said...


So exciting!!!

How did you find Mercer? What is the process? We have thought about a service dog but because we're at work during the day, didn't think we would be able to give the training needed.

I love these pictures. Yea for A!

Rose-Marie said...

Louise, thanks for sharing our excitement.

Mercer came from a breeder/trainer in our region who had an accidental early litter from a future pairing from a long line of service/search & rescue shephers. She posted the litter's availability to a spec needs parent list, which trickled through the grapevine down to us.

Puppy raising and the future task training is a LOT of work and a huge time committment. For busy families, a program-trained service dog is probably a better route to go. Some will help you with fund raising or provide sponsors, since a dog ready for service can be upwards of $20K US.

I hope that helps with your questions. I have to say, the benefits of this dog, even before he has entered service, have gone beyond our dreams. I would love to see Ben enjoy the same perks and social status that such a dog could bring.

Rachel said...

What a good thing! We got a black Lab last year, and while we haven't specifically done service training, she's been a great asset to the whole family. D. absolutely loves her, and as with your duo-- the dog loves to hang out under his wheelchair. She (dog) knows that D is hers to take care of.

Rose-Marie said...

That is terrific, Rachel! Labs can be such wonderful dogs and it sounds like yours has a remarkable sensitivity for "her" boy. Is her tail an issue at all? Our daughter sits with her face right at "thwapping level" so we were leery about that.

Unknown said...

Oh, my gosh!! I just read this post.... am SO excited for you guys! This is fantastic, and although I know it's equaled extra work for you right now, you're already seeing such great things for A! Hope we can come meet him before long.:)

Rose-Marie said...

Thanks Patti! I hope you can meet him soon too.

The past few days Mercer feels like a LOT of extra work, as he was neutered Monday and so has had zero exercise since then while he heals. He has forgotten his manners and what a calm pup he is. This, too, shall pass. Right? Please?

Even the neurologist agrees that the dog's calming influence could well be assisting her progress. While we haven't seen as much of the great things she showed right away, she's still at a place where calm periods outweigh the jerking, and that is HUGE. Plus, it's really nice to hear a doctor credit something 'non-medical' as having benefit...I appreciate our neuro so much!

A said...

I remember when my daughter's beloved friend was 4 mos old and I, novice puppy trainer, thought---wow, look how good he is, he's already learned all the basic commands! Bwahahahahaha....
Still, Mercer will be worth all the work----you can tell he already is.
Good boy!

Rose-Marie said...

A, you are so right about those puppies fooling us with what they appear to have learned! Mercer "knows" his basic commands if--and only if--he sees the treat pouch. There is a long way to go before we get automatic responses.

And if the cat is anywhere nearby, forget it!

Thanks for the encouragement...we will all get there. :0)

Barbara @therextras said...

He is beautiful! What a wonderful addition to your lifestyle & family!