Today Mila and I went to North Central Canine Companions for Independence in Delaware, Ohio for our personal Interview/ Training Day. This is the fifth step of eight in the process to have the possibility for a companion dog.
Since Doug is Ukraine, it was just Mila and I that went. We have been talking a good bit about this day and what it would look like. We talked a lot about the fact that we would see dogs and be able to interact with dogs, but that didn't mean that we would be bringing a dog home today. On our ride up, in typical Mila fashion, she re-hashed all the things we have been talking about this week. From the backseat I heard "We're going to see dogs today. I can pet them....yep. We're not bringing a dog home today. I have to do good work. I need to listen. The dog can open the door for me....but he can't fix me dinner." (We've had many comical conversations about what a companion dog can and can't do....like take her potty and put her clothes on!)
How blessed we are that of the five regional centers, one of them is an hour drive away. The North Central regional Center provides highly trained assistance dogs to adults and children with disabilities in 14 states including Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Some people who attended today had to drive much father than we did, just for an opportunity to have a companion dog.
There were six families in the afternoon training today. Of the applicants in those six families, many of the children were similar in age to Mila. Two of the applicants were mobile, and four used wheelchairs. Two kiddos propelled their wheelchairs themselves, and two did not. Mila was nor the highest or lowest functioning kiddo there.
It was interesting to watch Mila observe other children coming in. She commented on a little girl who was very much her age and size who had a manual wheelchair that she propelled herself. The little girl wore a brace similar to what Mila wears, and Mila commented "That little girl has a brace just like me, and a chair like me." Witnessing Mila observing others in their chairs was interesting. She moved her chair back and forth today more than I have noticed her doing lately. In her everyday world, she is the only one in a wheelchair. Seeing the wheels turn in her head that "hey, there are other kids like me", gave her a little bit of motivation.
During our afternoon, we toured the facility, listened to how they train the dogs, given a demonstration of some basic tasks a dog could do, and then we had a chance to work with a couple of dogs in training. Before interacting with the dogs, we had to do a trial run with a "pretend dog". Since Mila is under 18, her dog would be a skilled companion. This means that if Mila is out and about with the dog, a facilitator (one of her parents) would also need to be out with her. Both the recipient (Mila) and the facilitator (a parent) has a leash attached to the dog. When Mila gives a command, the facilitator echos that command. So, in the trial run with "towel dog", Mila gave her commands very quietly with her head down. She tends to be very reserved and quiet in new environments and those that have many people in them.
When it was time to be paired with a dog to try the commands, my little one perked up! Our first dog's name was Pluto (as Mila said "like on Mickey Mouse!"). When the trainer asked us to give a command, Mila would use an assertive voice and say "Pluto, let's go!" When she gave a command to sit, she was sure to praise the dog for doing a good job and following the command. I was beaming with pride (and possibly at moments fighting back tears) to see my little girl shine. She was in her element. She had something that was her's, that she could control. She did AWESOME! She held the leash with her dominant AND less dominant hand (which is uncommon for her to hold anything for a long period of time in her less dominant hand).
Lastly, we had to complete a personal interview with one of the staff members. Mila got upset that we wouldn't see the dogs again, so Gwen told her that once she was done answering questions, she could go back to the kennel again! While completing our interview, Gwen allowed Mila to interact with a puppy that Gwen "fosters". He even laid on her lap for a short time!
Once we were done with our interview, we went back to the kennels again. Gwen got a dog out and gave the command "Visit", which the dog put his head up in Mila's lap and allowed Mila to talk to him and pet him. (She even told the dog as she put her head down to his, that he smelled like toast!)
As soon as Hannah, Nathan, and Eli got in the car at the babysitters, she was excited to tell them all about her day!
We'll know more by the end of the month if we have been accepted and put on a waiting list for training. Seeing my little girl beam and feel a sense of pride, a sense of "I can do this...I am in control", made this Mama proud!!