Monday, April 14, 2014

Another Trip to the Hospital Within 10 Days...

This morning at about 2:30 a.m., Bill heard Alec fall out of his bed.  It was another seizure.  Rafi didn't bark alert because we still have some reinforcement training to do, but his crate is pointed right at Alec's bed, and it was good for him to see it.  Rafi recognizes when the 4 Paws trainers appear to have seizures (they pretend to have a seizure and then prompt a bark), but that needs to translate over to Alec and that will take some time.  We have faith in Rafi!

It was another seizure similar to the one that happened in Ohio.  Our local hospital mentioned that this appears to be a "Focal" seizure.  He was sedated and had some testing done, and further testing will be done in Rochester this Wednesday.  Rafi rode in the ambulance and comforted all of us in the children's hospital.  He was "on duty" for over 6 hours and did a wonderful job.

Below is a photo of Alec on the  hospital bed, with his Rafi <3  We are so grateful for this special dog in our lives, at a time when it's very much needed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Photos from Graduation and Trip Home: 4/11 & 4/12

The photo above: Alina Joseph and family - Rafi's foster family :) 
They provided socialization when he was a puppy, as well as basic obedience!

Little sister Dayna accepting Alec's medal for certification as a service dog team

Our class logo, created by classmate Jennifer Kalis

Rafi sporting his official vest!

Rafi hopped in the driver's seat like he knew how to drive!

Rafi's new home in Alec's room - with a good view of Alec's bed :)

Traveling home from Ohio!

Alec & Rafi at 4 Paws

Sleepy Boys - our last night at the hotel

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Preparing for the Public Access Test

Today we brushed up on more obedience and behavior disruption techniques.  After our lunch break, we had the official "going home" talk.  Tomorrow each dog must take and pass a public access test that 4 Paws requires in order for us to take our service dogs home.  It will be at the mall where we have been visiting.  Rafi is a smart dog and the training has been great, so we're not worried :)

Below is a photo of 4 Paws trainer, Jennifer, and Rafi.  Jennifer did the most 1:1 training with Rafi and we are so impressed with her.

Alec has been very behavioral the past few days and we can't wait to get home and settle in.  We are very excited about graduation tomorrow!  We will be meeting Rafi's foster family tomorrow.  They fostered him as a puppy before his basic obedience training started at 4 Paws.  Tomorrow will also be our last day with the families we have gotten to know so well in this 2-week journey.  Bittersweet.
Also exciting is the e-mail I received today from Alec's teacher, giving the official green light for Rafi to be at Palmer Elementary as of April 28th!  Bill will be in the class, training the 1:1 aide (who is very excited to work with Rafi!).  We hope that this will be the start of more good things to come.
Here's one more great family photo from training:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

4 Paws Training: Days 9 & 10

We are on a steady training diet of classroom obedience, tracking at the park, and public indoor tracking.  All of us in the class, AND the dogs, are EXHAUSTED!  We are hanging in there for graduation, which is Friday, 4/11!  Today, Alec had a very behavioral/meltdown kind of day and we couldn't practice outdoor tracking at the park.  However, we did well in the morning with indoor tracking at Wal-Mart in their Health & Beauty department :)

We have come to the conclusion that the tethering feature (which allows us to connect Alec to his dog) is not going to be practical in many of the situations we hoped for, due to Alec's size/strength and determination to pull Rafi so much that it's counterproductive.  For things like a walk in the park, where everyone is pretty much going in the same direction, it should work just fine.  For public places like the mall, where Alec is overstimulated by the environment, it's not going to work.  These are times I wish I had done this service dog thing when he was 4 years old instead of 9.  Hindsight is definitely 20/20...

The great news?  Here's what Rafi CAN do, and it's worth a million bucks to our family: search and rescue (tracking by scent), behavior disruption, calming techniques, and (newly added) seizure alert.

Here are some photos from the past few days:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 8 @ 4 Paws Training

This morning we had more training at the 4 Paws center, followed by an outdoor track (Rafi again did an amazing job finding Alec in the rain!).

After tracking we had lunch at McDonald's, where Rafi did a great job avoiding french fries and keeping in his "down" command :)

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the mall.  We connected Alec and Rafi for tethering for the first time, and they both did pretty well!  Keeping Alec in one spot was not pleasant, but as long as we kept moving, things were pretty good :)

We even had time to get Alec's photo with Spiderman!

Off we go to dinner shortly - with Rafi, of course!  End to a pretty good day...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

No Shortage of News... Days 5 - 7, Training at 4 Paws

Wow.  There is a lot to catch up on.  The biggest news happened yesterday (Saturday) morning, a little after 5:00 am.  Bill and I have been sleeping with Alec between us at the hotel.  We both woke up to Alec shaking and jerking his body, drooling profusely, very labored breathing/choking sounds, and dilated pupils.  Yup...his first seizure.  In the back of our minds we were prepared for this possibility.  When males with autism start to get closer to puberty (which Alec has entered early puberty, also common with autism), they are prone to developing a seizure disorder if they haven't had them before.  That is what we may be looking at.  So, 911 was called and Alec was taken to the local children's hospital.  The paramedics and hospital staff were great.  Because this was his first seizure, and we are from out of town, the doctor decided to hold off on any testing, unless he has another seizure while we are still here in Ohio.

I contacted his child psychiatrist by e-mail, thinking that it would be Monday or Tuesday before he could get back to us, but the information was too much to leave on a voicemail.  This is the doctor I like to refer to as "Dr. Awesome" because he responded within a few hours with a game plan for moving forward once we got home!  We've been on a waiting list for a hospital out of our area to do an EEG for seizure activity, but haven't received an appointment yet.  However - now that we have Rafi, we can have this test done at our local children's hospital that Dr. Awesome is affiliated with.  We were waiting on the facility (Strong Hospital in Rochester) that has a better track record for this test on autism spectrum children, but are confident we can get a good result with Rafi's help at Upstate :)

So, the good news is that we are surrounded by parents getting their dogs at 4 Paws whose children have seizure alert dogs.  These parents have been so helpful and supportive to us.  Also, we are not too late in training Rafi in barking to alert for a seizure!  Our biggest concern is that it will happen at home during the night and we won't hear it.  We got the instructions for training in today's class :)  Also found out that prior to Rafi being chosen as Alec's dog, he had some seizure alert training.  Besides the fact that this amazing dog is an excellent tracker for search and rescue, and very strong for tethering, we couldn't have asked for a more perfect match for Alec.  4 Paws delivered, and then some!  These trainers are simply amazing.

Some cute things -- his main trainer Jennifer has a few nicknames for him, and we have adopted one of them because he responds so well to it.  She called him "Fiquers" (from his original name Rafiq).  Pronounced: fee-kers.  It's too cute, so Bill and I have been using it :)  We have also learned that he chases his own tail.  For real - all you have to do is show him his tail and wiggle it!  Adorable...

Here are some photos from the past few days:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Day #4 - Tracking Practice

Last night before Alec fell asleep, he had snuggle time and pet Rafi :)

Another great photo from Day #3

Rafi hanging out in the passenger seat, waiting for tracking practice!

Treats from Alec in the van!
Day #4 was AMAZING!  I wish we had photos from tracking in the park, but it was raining heavily and we do this, rain or shine...  At 9:30 on Thursday morning, we all met at a local park.  Each child and dog waited in their car until it was their turn to track, but many parents watched many of the children's dogs do their tracking.  It was amazing to watch.  Up until yesterday, the dogs were trained to track on of the 4 Paws staff, Rob.  Now we have to re-program the dogs to track their child.  As soon as Rafi's tracking harness was put on, he got very excited.  As Alec and Bill (Daddy) walked away, Rafi was allowed to watch the first couple seconds of them leaving and was barking loudly!  As they went and hid behind a large tree, I took Rafi aside so he couldn't see where they were going.  Then, the magic happened...  A retractable leash is used to allow the dog lots of room to track by scent.  What they are following is the child's skin cells that are shed naturally just by moving.  It didn't take long... Alec and Daddy were found!  It was a beautiful sight.
We also learned that tracking and tethering dogs don't wear vests like other service dogs.  They instead wear a harness that is better for these activities.  Today (Day #5) we are going to the mall in the afternoon to practice basic obedience in public.  Once we get the dog's card that goes into the harness, they are OK to go pretty much anywhere as a service dog.  However, we still need to pass the certification test on Friday 4/11 to be able to take Rafi home.  We believe he is the perfect match for Alec and our family.  We love our Rafi! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Day 3: Photos only... I'm too tired to post commentary! :)

Our magic moment!  Alec was not afraid to give treats! 
He was also able to attend part of today's class!  Happy tears...

This is Rafi hanging out with his pal "007" - aka Dubs!

A few minutes of bonding time before Alec fell asleep...

Rafi staying put in a down command on his new Mutt Mat :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Day 2 of Training!

Rafi in his "down" command

Still in "down"

Training is hard work!!!

Today I (Christina/Mom) attended Day 2 of training by myself.  It turns out that Alec was extremely upset that Rafi wasn't staying at our hotel yet!  So, when Daddy picked me up at 4:00, I brought Alec in to 4 Paws to say hello to Rafi and give him some treats!  Alec was so happy to see him and vice-versa :)  Looks like although Alec may not be able to attend a lot of the training, we are getting some great ideas on how to get the pair to bond, especially when we bring Rafi back to our hotel tomorrow (Wednesday) night.  Happy and hopeful!

Dayna had a playdate with another 4 Paws sibling, Juliette, and was successfully distracted playing with her new friend!  Another win!  Thank you Kalis family for adopting her for the day!

Tomorrow, we will all start out at training and if Bill needs to take Alec back to the hotel, he can do that.  Once Rafi is back at the hotel, I can catch Bill up with all the training I have learned.  Bill has lots of experience with dogs since he used to work at a Vet Hospital, and even though we've had dogs in our family, I need lots of practice as a handler and being "respected" by Rafi as we transfer handlers from 4 Paws staff to the Stearns family :)

What have we learned on Day 2?  We continued practicing the following commands: Sit, Down, and Free.  We then practiced keeping the dogs in the down position while their favorite treats were dropped on the floor around them, and tennis balls were bounced as well :)  I am so proud of Rafi for keeping his down command the whole time!  Toward the end, we learned the command Heel to have the dogs walk in position they need to hold in public as they are working.

What else?  These dogs know many "tricks" so that they can interact socially with their children.  We learned Shake/Gimme Five/High Five.  Rafi is skilled in all :)  There are more tricks but we ran out of