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Jigsaw Goes To School
So I had to take a few days break to do a few things like laundry, paperwork, housecleaning, you know - the really basic stuff.  But it's time to get back at the blogging thing to show how things have been going.

On Tuesday (yesterday I guess that would be) Jigsaw came to school with us for the first time.  Since Owen spends such a large portion of his life in school, it was important that we try this very early in the process to be sure that we would all be able to cope in that environment.  Preschools are not known for their peace and quiet and even though Jigsaw had been exposed to malls and restaurants and every kind of store imaginable in her training, schools are not public places and therefore she had not been in one. 

So yesterday we loaded her into the car and headed off to school.  Elizabeth is fond of taking pictures of my backside :-) and you can see the toys I brought hanging out of my back pocket:


The toy (which looks just like Wubzy and therefore Owen LOVES) is to get Jigsaw's attention if she becomes too distracted by other things and I need a quick way to get her focus back on me.  But, as you can see, she's doing just fine.  I'll admit I was pretty nervous myself.

We spent a little while in the classroom, going through our normal routine:


Jigsaw hung out under the table being a warm and fuzzy presence while we did our work.  Next up was OT.  Jigsaw helped Ms. Angel to show Owen how to put things in a basket:



Owen generally doesn't much care for OT.  He has worked better for Ms. Angel than he has for any other OT in the past two years (we're still missing Vesna who he loved), but he would still really prefer if no one ever made him put anything "in" anything else.  And he tends to express his opinion rather clearly during these sessions.  Yesterday though he would try a bit of work and then reach out and pet Jigsaw and then go back to the work without ever really fussing. 

After school we headed home for some more work.  Leil and Elizabeth decided it was time for some heavy duty testing.  They had tennis balls, treats, toys of all kinds.  They had me walk Jigsaw through the room while throwing the balls, tempting her with treats and anything else they could think of.  To understand the full scope of this you have to understand that to Jigsaw tennis balls are the be all, end all of the Universe.  Even holding out treats didn't get her to turn her head.  So you have to get really creative to get her attention back on you.  Here is Jigsaw giving her absolutely full attention to Elizabeth who has a tennis ball in her hand:


In the end I simply had to take her out of the room to get her attention back on me, but hey - whatever works.  After that we were able to walk through the gauntlet without stopping.  Outside of the hyponitic influence of the tennis ball I think she was able to realize that it was a setup and got back to work in earnest.

But it's not all work.  You can't hang out with Owen without getting in some serious snuggle time:



Today we returned to the school for another day of fun.  First up was hearing therapy with Ms. Stacey:


I'm not sure what everyone is looking at there, but it seems to have everyone's attention!


After hearing therapy we went back to the classroom for a little while and then it was off to Art class!  Today they brought out the paint to make handprints and Jigsaw got in on the fun:



And here are Jigsaw's paw prints on the left and Owen's hand prints on the right:


They were mixing yellow and blue to make green. 

After art class we left and went to the Tokyo Express - a little Japanese restaurant for a little outing.  Jigsaw did wonderfully, of course, and so did Owen.  We have been working on getting Owen to have better manners in public spaces - loudly yelling "ya, ya, ya, ya" and banging on your tray is not exactly conducive to the digestion of the people around us.  I think all of my work in this area is finally paying off because he did fine today, other than throwing his cup a few times.  And Jigsaw just sat quietly under the table.  The people at the restaurant were really great, holding the door for us and Jigsaw, putting us in a booth with lots of room for Owen's chair and the dog, and just generally pleasant.  We'll be going back there again!

Oh, and Jigsaw is now here to stay.  She was supposed to head back home with Leil yesterday and return tomorrow.  We all talked about it yesterday and decided that it wouldn't be the best choice at this point. Owen and Jigsaw are really bonding well and a break at this point might make it harder to start again in a few days.  So it was decided that she can stay.  I felt bad that Leil didn't get her two nights with her girl, but I supported the idea that it isn't easy for Owen to start and stop a routine and it would be best to just keep them together since it is going so well.  So here they are right now:


Yup, More Jigsaw
If you're getting tired of Jigsaw pictures, this entry is not for you.  It's kinda what's happening here at the Higgins' household at the moment and so I've gotten out the camera again!

But first though, I want to share a few pictures taken by Elizabeth (one of the trainers working with us) yesterday.  She got some excellent pictures of Owen and Jigsaw together with one of his toys. This toy is covered with buttons, each of which does something different.  Owen loves the buzzers.  The cool thing is that you can ask Jigsaw to "bump" things by pointing at them.  So we had her bump the buttons while Owen was pushing them.  It was really cute:



And here is Owen playing with Jigsaw's vest:


And finally, I have a goofy expression on my face, but I absolutely LOVE the expression on Jigsaw's face - this is how she looks when she's very alert and just waiting for the next thing she can try:


So, now we're up to today - Jigsaw's second day with us.   Here are Owen and Jigsaw hanging out in the living room:


And Owen learning how to dump the food into the bowl.  Pouring is not an OT task that Owen has, so I'm hoping that this will help him learn - and if Owen helps to feed Jigsaw it will stregthen their bond.  Eventually Sammy will help get Owen to do this task, but tonight she was busy making us pancakes for a "breakfast dinner" so I helped Owen tonight.  She did take a quick break from her cooking to take this nice picture though:


Mostly Owen wanted to eat the food, but I'm hoping repetition will help him to understand what we're doing.  And Jigsaw is waiting patiently.  Normally you'd probably make her "sit" while she waits for the food, but the poor girl can't sit on our kitchen floor.  She tries awfully hard, but it's slippery and if it's more than a few seconds her back end just slides right out from under her.  So we go for a "down" instead.

After she ate her dinner she decided to help Sammy and I make our dinner by keeping the kitchen floor warm:


When the flash went off she looked up as if to say, "Yes, can I help you?".


While cute, this was not the most ergonomic setup so I threw down a towel to give her a "place" while we cooked so that she could stay nearby, but not block the fridge:


It's rather useful that you can just put down a towel or blanket or whatever and point to it and say "place" and she'll just settle down there.

And finally we got the kids into their PJ's and Owen said goodnight to Jigsaw: 



Jigsaw the House Guest
Well, today was the day.  We have finally progressed far enough in our training to let Jigsaw spend a few days here at the house!  A proposition large enough to make one both excited and nervous.  It really does feel like bringing home a baby in a lot of ways.  I went out and bought a bed, toys, food and made her place ready for her next to Owen's bed.  Thoughts of "it's going to be great" mix with "I'm responsible for this living being"!  Yup, very much like bringing home a new baby.

The kids (Jigsaw included) are in bed now and all is quiet.  We actually had a really fun night. 

Right after the trainers left, I made dinner.  Jigsaw hung out in the kitchen while I got it together.  During dinner Jigsaw hung out "under" the table:


She had a snooze while we ate and when we were finished we took a little trip outside for the necessaries.  After dinner I decided that I should show Sammy and Daddy the "help" command, because it might be incredibly useful if Owen should have a seizure while Jigsaw is with us.  The help command should work like this: you say "help", and then she should start barking and head off to find someone.  When that someone says "what" she should lead them back to you.  You can see where this would be incredibly helpful.  So Owen and I went up into Owen's room and Daddy and Sammy stayed downstairs in the living room.  As soon as I said "help" she barked and headed off.  She went into Sammy's room and didn't find anyone and saw me and looked for what to do.  I said help again and she barked and headed downstairs and found Daddy and brought him back to me. 

Then we chilled out for a while and I took this picture:


up in Owen's room.  After some chilling out she seemed like she wanted to play, so we showed Daddy the "find the duck game".  One of us would hide a stuffed duck somewhere upstairs (it's only three small rooms) and she would happily go off and find it.  I had her fetch some diapers (gave Owen an enema, ran out of diapers in my pile and she was happy to bring me more) and she got some good quality lovin' on.  Then she settled down for a while so that I could get Owen's meds ready and get him ready for bed. 

When I went to bring all of Owen's stuff upstairs I heard a little voice inside my head, which sounded remarkably like Leil's, saying "why are you going to make two trips up when Jigsaw can help you?".  Leil and I had worked with a bucket last week at the farm, and again with one of our buckets here on Tuesday.  We hadn't tried this exact thing, but since we had worked with this exact bucket I decided to listen to the voice.  I put owen's meds into the bucket and told her to "get it".  And she happily carried it right up the stairs.  Daddy got a picture of us:


And here she is proudly holding her bucket for me:


Oh, and since we had pictures of Leil up the other day, I thought it was time to have one of Elizabeth (these are the two trainers from St. Francis that have been training us, just in case you haven't been reading).   So here are Owen and Elizabeth playing the piano this afternoon:


It was a good evening and we're looking forward to the days to come!


Jigsaw at Home
OK, so I don't have any pictures from today.  Leil took some and hopefully when she gets a chance she'll be kind enough to share them with me so that I can share them with you.

Today Jigsaw came out to our house for the first time to see the home that she will be living in.  We mostly went through all the same exercises that we had before, but it's different every time you're in a new place.  She also got to meet Chris for the first time today. We knew that he'd love her, after all she has four legs and fur and that's pretty much the only qualification you need to meet in his book.  She seemed to make herself right at home, was happy to eat and drink here and had no trouble snoozing right there with us all.  Owen was happy to have his hands licked again, and again laid down next to her.  Owen missed most of the training today because he was exhausted and we had to put him out for a nap.  (Owen's meds really keep him awake, so it's an extra Clonidine at lunch to make him nap every few weeks when he just gets overtired because overtired = more seizures). We all went on a long walk so that Jigsaw could survey the whole of her new domain.

Jigsaw also got to meet Bob (our mostly Malamute mutt) for the first time.  He tried to go all Alpha Male on her, which earned him being tied up for a while.  We've had other smaller female dogs come to stay with us for a few days in the past and he always settled down after the initial newness wore off - we are hopeful that he will again.  If not, he's going to have to get used to being tied up while Jigsaw is out to play.  Bob is going to need a refresher in his training too to remember his better manners.

The meeting with Cloud (the cat) went better - they acknowledged each other's existence and then went their separate ways without incident.

Sammy got to sit down and brush Jigsaw's hair today - which I think they both enjoyed very much.

We worked a lot today on just getting Jigsaw used to the house, and on the logistics of handling her and Owen at the same time. We had a few rocky moments here and there, but by the end of the day I think both of us were feeling more confident.  I get nervous when others are watching what I'm doing - I'm just a perfectionist that hates to get anything even slightly wrong.  But Leil and Elizabeth are kind and patient.

The current plan is for Jigsaw to come to our house again on Thursday afternoon and then if all goes well she can stay here from Thursday afternoon to the next Tuesday when our next training session is scheduled.  Then she'll go home with Leil again for a couple of nights for us to have a break and to see if we are missing her terribly when she's gone or breathing a sigh of relief that she's gone (not likely, but always possible).  You see at this stage we still have the option to say "Whoa, this is way more than I thought it was going to be and we can't handle it".  In which case they would find another partner for Jigsaw.  The trainers can also still say that they really don't think it is working out and take her back as well.  These are rare cases, but everyone wants to be sure that the partnership is a positive thing for both the family and the dog.

If we do realize that we are missing her terribly and she is missing us during that break and if all is going well with the training by next Thursday, then she will move in with us.  We still have a lot of training after that.  We have to work together in school which we are hopeful will begin next week.  We have to pass our Level III test which says that we have mastered working together in the home. Once we have passed the Level III then we start working out in public places like malls and restaurants until we can pass our Level IV test so that she can go with us everywhere.  Then we'll begin a 6 month probation period where we have passed all of our tests and she's really ours, but there is still the option of her being pulled out if things aren't working out. After that we will finally say that we have graduated and she will be ours completely.

So, that's where we are now.  I know that I already miss her, even though today was a lot of hard work. 

Owen and Jigsaw Together

Today was Owen's first day of training with Jigsaw.  When people think of why were are getting a service dog I'm sure the first thoughts are that she can help retrieve things when my hands are full with Owen, carry things upstairs to cut my trips up the stairs by half, help with doors, and help to let me know if Owen is having a seizure.  These are certainly a big part of the reason, but just as large a portion of what Jigsaw will help Owen with is right here in these two pictures:



Owen would take away his hand, clap and sign more and then reach right back out to Jigsaw.  Jigsaw was happy to lick his hand and nuzzle him.  While Owen will snuggle anyone who is willing to pick him up, he isn't the most interactive child.  He really ignores the other kids in his class and doesn't try to get their attention.  He will seek out me, his Daddy, his sister or a few other adults.  There is only one other child that he will actively crawl to and that's Mya.  I think that Owen knows that he is different than the other kids in his class, and somehow he knows that Mya is the same as him and feels more comfortable with her.  So even though he is in a classroom full of kids all day, he is also somewhat alone. To see Owen reaching out to Jigsaw today, signing for more and not just noticing her but actively trying to engage her just about brought tears to my eyes.

Yesterday we were working at the St. Francis facility, which is located on a big farm.  Today we were working in their training room at Tanglewood mall.  Service dogs need a lot of training in how to work and have good manners in public places since they are meant to go everywhere with their partners.  A mall is an excellent place to get this training.  And partners need this training too because it can be considerably more difficult to keep the dog's attention where there are a lot of distractions. 

So, first we headed out into the mall for a stroll:


(Don't you just love the shamrock socks?)


We also did a good bit of work on negotiating the logistics of getting through the door into a bathroom and then getting the three of us into a stall and then all back out into the hall again, but Elizabeth was kind enough not to take pictures during those proceedings!  :-)

Eventually we got brave enough to actually head outside.  This made me nervous as it is fairly busy on the road around the mall during the day and that leaves a lot more opportunities for distractions and the possibility that if Jigsaw got away from me that she could get hurt a lot more than she could inside.  But Jigsaw knew what she was doing and she's a very smart girl - we had no problems at all!

So here we are at the door, heading out into the big, wide world:


And finding some grass for Jigsaw to do her thing in:


And most seriously cool was her hitting the button to open the door:


After working quite hard we let Jigsaw stretch out on the floor to rest.  I had put Owen down some distance away from her to play with some toys.  He decided all on his own that what he wanted was to play with toys (yes Lisa, that's the phone that you gave Owen three years ago!) and to have Jigsaw too.  So he crawled himself over and here is Jigsaw fast asleep and Owen happily playing:


Many thanks to Elizabeth for taking so many wonderful pictures while we worked today, and once again to Leil and Elizabeth for their patience, kindness and great advice as Jigsaw and I figured things out. 

I can't wait to see what further adventures Jigsaw and Owen will have together!

First Day of Dog Training
After much anticipation, today was our first day of training with Jigsaw.  Today I went alone, we'll add Owen into the mix tomorrow. It was a full day of work in a place where Owen really wouldn't be able to get down and crawl so it would have been too much for him to sit in the stroller for the whole day.  And it was easier to start with the basics without adding in a stroller and 4 year old to work with. 

And yes, there are more pictures at the end of the verbage. 

I think it went quite well.  Jigsaw really knows her stuff and just loves to work so that makes it easier on me. Leil is Jigsaw's trainer, and she is an incredibly patient person as I try to remember the right command words over and over again.  Our pet dog Bob went through some training when he was a puppy and I still tend to fall back on the command words that I remember from his training when I get flustered.  "Heel" is a command that most people know, but it is not specific enough for a service dog - they know "Left" and "Right" so that they can go to the side that is most helpful to their partner.  I used "OK" to release her from a "Sit" or "Wait" a few times instead of "Release" like I should have. 

Today we did: 
Let's Go
Come (Come from wherever and sit centered in front of me at attention)
Here (Come to our general area, or tells them to bring what they are carrying to you)
Settle (Tells them they can relax in a specific place)
Place (Tells the the place that you want them to be in, in today's case a blanket on the floor)
Get It (You point to an object, or give them an object to carry in their mouth)
Park (Do your business now please)
Load (Get into your crate/car)
Unload (Get out of your crate/car)
No (oops, you got that one wrong, please correct it)
Yes (An affirmative that they did the right thing)
Hold (Hold an object in their mouth and don't let go)
Give (Give the object in your mouth to me)
Drop It (Drop the object in your mouth on the floor)
Leave It (Yes, I know you'd really like that smelly thing on the floor but it's time to work now)
Back (Take a few steps straight back)
Quiet (Please don't whine)

We had to do the recall from a distance (letting them sit and wait at a distance from you and then having her "come" to the proper spot) several times before she ended up right in front of me where she belonged, but we both got there in the end.  We also did a "meet and greet" exercise with a puppy that is just about to start his training.  This requires you to keep your dog under control even with the distraction of an untrained dog in the area.  We also did some of the other commands with the puppy playing in the room.  It is considerably harder to keep her attention when there is another dog to play with and it took a few tries to do some of the things but again we were much improved by the end.  I think Jigsaw and I will need some more practice in this area. 

We played games of throwing and fetching which she just loves to do.  We also went over a lot of paperwork, talked a lot about service dogs in general and discussed the testing that will come eventually.  She showed how she could open a refrigerator door, get out a bag from inside and close the door back up.  She picked up objects off the floor and put them in a clothesbasket.  She then tugged the clothesbasket across the room. We practiced going through doors and the logistics of person/dog/leash all getting through the door without getting tangled and Jigsaw waiting to be the last out the door so that she can't bolt.

And both Jigsaw and Leil were kind enough to let me take their pictures and even kinder to say that I could post them here. 


Leil and Jigsaw demonstrating to me the position she should end up in from a "Come" command:


And demonstrating the "Right" command:


And showing me how patient she could be in a "Sit" and "Wait" while I took her picture:


It was a long day for all of us, but it was a lot of fun.  We will do a half-day with Owen with me tomorrow and then come back to it next week when we'll hopefully get to start working in our home to start customizing her (and my) training to the things we'll need around the house.
So Much To Tell
I hardly know where to begin - so much has been happening lately and all those things seem like they should be first in this entry.  So I'll go with tradition and do the medical stuff first and work our way through therapists and meeting another hydro family to finally sharing a picture of the wonderful dog that Owen will begin his training with this week.

Owen's progress since his VNS surgery has been nothing short of remarkable. Before the surgery, and before we started removing meds in the fall, our norm was a major seizure about every 7-9 days.  These had gotten increasingly violent - the last seizure before his surgery, while on Keppra, had almost 20 minutes of full body convulsions including both arms, legs, his head and even his eyes.  His oxygen dropped dramatically.  All of his seizures ended with an 8-10 hour postictal period where he was so deeply subconcious that he could not be awakened no matter what you did to him.

We are now averaging 14-18 days between seizures, so that's a 50% reduction.  They are also nowhere near as severe.  We have not had any convulsions since his surgery.  Even if his oxygen has dropped, we are dropping into the low 90's, not the low 70's or less and the breathing problems are not lasting anywhere near as long.  And better yet is the recovery time.  Instead of 8-10 hours of deep subconciousness - which would mess up his sleep schedule for a week - he only sleeps a normal sleep for one to two hours.  He can be roused if you try, still responds to stimuli and woke up after only 45 minutes after his last seizure because we were on a bumpy road.  Once awake he's right back to baseline crawling around and eating.  Previously it had sometimes taken a week to get back to normal because he would be shaky and uncoordinated. 

Now that the seizures have slowed way down he is back to making intellectual progress again.  He has regained all of his words and signs and has picked up a few new ones.  He now says "dog" and "all done" and signs "thank you".   You can now hand him a granola bar and he will take a bite off and put the rest down instead of cramming the whole thing in his mouth.  He has learned how to climb the inclined ladder into his sister's mini loft bed.  He will now hold a bag of fig newtons with one hand to stabilize it, and then reach in to get food out.  Previously he would just keep pushing the bag with one hand and it would keep moving further and further away from him.  He can pull objects out of the "what's inside" box because he seems to actually know that there is something in there. He just seems to be able to figure things out that have baffled him in the past.

But wait, there's more!

And finally on the VNS, there are the smiles.  Owen had started to have some serious behavior problems before his surgery.  He would swing wildly between rage and manic happiness and as time went on the rage was lasting longer and longer.  He would spend entire days (and nights!) whining and crying.  He couldn't sleep.  This is why he missed almost two months of school.  There are almost no pictures of Owen during that time where there is anything like a smile on his face.  Here are my pictures of Owen from the last two and a half months since his VNS:

small-2011-02-11-0019.JPG   small-2011-02-25-0005.JPG  small-2011-03-08-0007.JPG


That's right - I've got a smiling boy again!!  And that would have made it worth the surgery all on its own.

His improved frame of mind has also made therapy somewhat more useful.  So here is Owen and the people that he works with at school.  I still have a few more to catch on camera, and I need to get a better picture of Ms. Amy but I didn't want to leave her out.  As an added bonus, we have even more smiles!

Ms. Ryan - Preschool Teacher

Ms. Julie - Music Therapy

Ms. Stacey - Hearing Therapy


Ms. Angel - Occupational Therapy


Ms. Amy - The Other Preschool Aide

And Ms. Pat - Special Educator, Advocate and the one that make Owen crack up!


And now we are up to last week's appointments down in North Carolina. They increased the current on his VNS, and he did a stellar job during his audiology appointment.  Here is another big leap since his VNS. We have been trying for two years to get Owen to indicate in some reproducible fashion that he has heard a sound.  This skill is to be used for testing his hearing with his cochlear implant. We generally have to give him a toy, let him focus on it and then see if the sounds in the sound booth cause a change in expression or him to look up from his toy.  Not the most reliable method of testing.  Ms. Stacey now has him pointing to his ear quite often in practice testing during therapy and he did it THREE TIMES during his testing with the audiologist.  This isn't enough for a full test, but it is three times more than he has ever done before and we are hopeful that he will continue to improve.  He never seemed to "get" what we were asking for in the past and now he seems to understand it at last.

We also had the wonderful fun of meeting another hydro family while we were down this time.  We were actually supposed to meet a few new families and meet up with a few old friends too, but due to an incredible set of circumstances we only actually got to snuggle one new baby - and I did get to chat with Claire's Mom (and her Dad too on the phone, so we didn't forget you Brad!).  The other families were greatly missed and I hope that we will be able to see them soon. So may I introduce Owen's newest friend, Marlena:



She is adorable and it was great to meet her family too.  Marlena was in for her second cord blood infusion and we peeked in just before they got started.  Owen must have liked her because I found her hospital bracelet in his stroller about an hour later - he wanted something to remember her by!

And now for the dog.  I didn't have a picture of Jigsaw to put up with the story in my last post, but his trainer was kind enough to send me one today.  Here is Jigsaw posing beautifully on the Blue Ridge Parkway:


How could you not love that face?  We will begin our training on Wednesday with this beauty and I can't wait!  I'm sure there will be many blog entries to come about our training.

Finally I'll close with an awesome picture that Daddy got of me and the kids at the St. Patrick's Day festival this past week:



This is a long bit of verbage, but it's a really good story.  So go get your coffee and come back and settle in...

Last September I wrote about the fact that we had applied for a service dog for Owen in this entry.  I explained the process in detail there, but a quick overview is that we applied last June and Owen was approved as a candidate in July.  Once you are a candidate you attend classes every three months while you wait for an appropriate dog to pass its tests so that they are ready to be paired.  Once a dog is ready to be paired they interview several people with the dog whom they feel might make good partners. When the interviews are done they choose the best fit.  Last week we finally got the call (well email) that we had been hoping for: could we please come and meet with a dog that they thought would be a good match with Owen.  And even better - it was a dog that we had met and really liked in a training class last year.

So last Thursday we went for our interview.  I really had no idea what to expect as it was our first.  The dog's name is Jigsaw and she is a beautiful black lab/golden retriever mix (I think) with long curly black fur.  She is on the smaller end, which is good for a small boy.  As I said, we had met her before and just fell in love with her.  There were a lot of wonderful dogs that we met in classes or at other functions at St. Francis, but after meeting Jigsaw at the last class I turned to my Mom on the way home and said "I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I really would like her."  I don't know why she stood out so much from the other dogs, but she was very friendly and at the same time very gentle with Owen.  He loved her soft silky fur.  So we were hopeful when we went into the interview that it would go well.

The first part of the interview is sitting down with the head of the program who goes over a description of how the interview process works - mostly letting you know that they will interview several people with the dog and if you aren't chosen they can't discuss why because of the privacy of the other candidates.  Then the dog's trainer sits down with you and goes over the dog's strengths and weaknesses and discusses your particular needs to see if there is anything that you absolutely need that the dog isn't suited for.  It seemed from the discussion that Jigsaw is a very sensitive dog, which would be good for being able to sense when something is wrong - like a seizure. And she is very hard working and eager to please. Her weakness was that in the past she has startled and was difficult to calm at two very loud sounds.  But the situations that they described were ones in which I'm not sure I wouldn't have been startled so it didn't seem like a show stopper. 

The next thing they do is to bring in the dog herself.  In the beginning they just sat Jigsaw down with Owen to see how they reacted to each other.  He reached out to pet her a few times and she calmly checked him out. And then they actually asked Mommy to work with her.  Looking somewhat like a deer in headlights I'm sure, I took the leash without knowing exactly what to expect.  I shouldn't have worried, Jigsaw made it so easy on me.  You start out with a game where you hold treats out to either side and get the dog to keep her attention fixed on you instead of the treats.  The dogs know this game and it is to introduce you as someone to pay attention to, rather than a background person that they are taught to ignore.  Right from the start Jigsaw just gazed deeply into my eyes and ignored the treats. 

After the introduction, we moved onto the basics like sit, down, and having her walk with me and then with Owen in his stroller.  She was just flawless.  I can't get either of my kids to respond to commands like that!  Then we moved on to more difficult things.  The dogs are taught to play a game just for fun - they are shown a toy and then told to wait while you hide it somewhere out of their sight.  Then you come back and tell them to find it and off they go to root around until they get it and bring it back to you.  Then the trainer put objects out on the floor and I could tell Jigsaw to "get it" and then point at an object and she'd bring it right back to me.  Honestly, it was like a game to both of us and it was just plain fun.

The real moment of seeing just how seriously these dogs take their jobs came next though.  They said that they were all going to leave the room and that I should have Jigsaw sit and play with Owen.  Once her attention was on Owen and she was relaxed and not waiting for a command I should tell her "Jigsaw, Help".  So they all left and Jigsaw came over to play with Owen, and then I gave the command.  She shot off like a rocket down the hall barking loudly until she found the trainer who was waiting down the hall.  She brought the trainer right back to me and Owen.  I mean, Wow. 

The final great moment was after the interview was more or less done and we were just chatting for a minute at the end.  Jigsaw had been sat down next to Owen's stroller and she started to nuzzle him.  He thought this was great and actually signed "more" for her to do it again. Owen isn't always the most interactive and to see him actually communicating with the dog was great. 

Then we left and began the wait to hear if Owen would be chosen, or if someone else would be paired with Jigsaw.  You try to put it out of your mind.  You don't really chit chat about it much and just get busy with other things.  You try not to have visions of having another pair of hands so that if you drop something you don't have to put Owen back down, get the thing and then lift him back up.  Of having help with doors, of knowing that if he has a seizure at school and I'm by myself with him in the therapy room that someone could go and get help.  That someone would be sleeping with him at night that could tell us if something is wrong.

And then yesterday I put Owen into his stroller at school to head out to the playground and I checked my phone, and there was a text from Daddy - St. Francis had called and said that Owen had indeed been chosen.  So I bounced out onto the playground to share the good news. 

We don't just bring Jigsaw home tomorrow of course.  Jigsaw has spent the last few years in training, learning all of the skills she'll need to be a service dog.  Now it's our turn to do our training to learn how to work with her.  This part of the training we'll do together, learning what each of us needs and how to help each other out.  We will having formal training at the training center.  We will have tests to pass.  There will be just weekends at home with us after we've had some training.  Then longer periods at home with us.  The last step is to be allowed to work in public places.  Even after all the training and tests there is a probationary period to make sure things are really working out.  And even after Owen and Jigsaw graduate then there will be recertifications later on.  I'm sure that there will be days when this seems like a lot of work, when having yet another living thing to take care of will be a hassle - but I'm also sure that the help that Jigsaw can give, both by working and by being a soft, furry, loving presence will be worth it. 

I posted a whole bunch of videos of Owen, and his sister Sammy, doing amazing things over on the Family Blog a few days ago.  Normally I repost all of that sort of thing here, but this is already a really long entry so I will just point you over there to check it out. I will do an entry soon about all the incredible progress that Owen has been making lately, but for today we just wanted to share the great news. 

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