Monday, January 19, 2015

All Quiet on the K Family Front

Just a quick update to let everyone know that Mr. Spock and Miss Kira Kitty are the best of friends. They frolic and play together and the other night mr. K found them curled up together sleeping..
Just as importantly, there has not been any scratching, digging of or body slamming our bedroom door since Spock was released from his bathroom prison. It's like he calms her down because last night both cats slept in our room and Kira just slept. She didn't bop anyone on the nose or nibble any fingers.
I'm not sure how we got so lucky to find her the "perfect" match, but we have.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

90 Miles An Hour

Not surprisingly, things seem to be moving at break neck speed around here; or 90 miles an hour.
Nala and I have completed our first full week of placement and our second week of classes. I can't believe that I'm moving into my third week already. I remember last semester moving fast as well, but this semester seems even more so.
Mr. K started his classes Monday and he's enjoying them so far. He's a super busy guy too with taking nine classes.
On top of our school schedules, our social life seems to be picking up as well. Thursday night we went out for drinks with some of Mr. K's classmates to a bar that is a refurbished warehouse. It's actually a brewery and patrons have the option of knitting while they are there. It's a neat place. I opted not to knit because Jess with pointy sticks is probably a bad idea.
Last night we had dinner with some other friends which was also just as enjoyable. We've also made plans with Mr. K's class partner to go out for breakfast once a week.
With that said, we both are treated to a three day weekend because it's Marten Luther King Day on Monday. I didn't realize, me being Canadian, that the celebrations were so extensive. My placement supervisor sent me a calendar of events and hopefully we'll be able to make it to some of the activities.
I've also been trying to work running into my schedule. So far, I've been pretty good about  running three times a week. This week I am going to try to up it to four, now that I've settled into a groove of classes, homework and placement.
Mr. Spock has made himself right at home. He and Kira have ben officially introduced now and so far they get along. Last night was the first night he was free and there wasn't any digging at our bedroom door. The two cats play with each other and I think they match each other well in their energy levels. I think Kira is still a bit skeptical and is making sure the new kitten knows she is the queen kitty, but it's been mostly through play. We haven't heard any hissing or growling; so that is a good sign.
 Otis thinks he's Spock's new BFF and runs around with the kitten as fast as he can. Roscoe sniffed Spock once and wandered away; probably thinking
"Oh good. Another one."
Nala was initially a little too interested. She thought about chasing him, but we put a stop to that and now she isn't even phased by him.
Hermione could care less as well, as long as he stays away from her food dish. I think she's excited about his arrival because we put out little cat nip mice and Hermione has made it her mission to death shake them all.
Cat nip mouse murder!
I've also continued her nose work training, building on her problem solving skills. She's done great seeking out kibble under sweaters, on chairs and hidden in boxes. If I have hidden kibble above her head, she will place her front paws on the object, like a chair, and then sit; waiting for me to get the kibble for her. If it's at ground level, she will work to get the kibble out of whatever I've hidden it in.
So, with school, my attempt at running, placement, socializing and our animals, I am certainly keeping busy. But, as we all know that is how I like it. I do have to say though, last night I slept for twelve hours.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Live Long and Prosper."

I have someone new to introduce you to.
Can you guess by the title of the post where I'm going with this?
No. I did not kidnap the Star Trek character and no, I did not randomly find a Spock circulating the universe, ready to join my family.
I did, however, find someone who used to be named King and who is now named Spock to join my family.
*I can hear your judgmental reading through the computer. Stop it*!
He's not a dog. We definitely don't have room for that, or the time with us both being in our masters programs.
Spock, the kitty formerly known as King, officially moved in Monday evening.
He is about seven months old and is a Oriental Short-Hair mix; or so we have been told. He is mostly white with a little black part on his head that looks like, you guessed it, a bowl cut; just like Spock's. His ears are huge which initially made me think of naming him Spock and today our vet pointed out that he has missing hair on his forehead too. Unlike the character Spock though, our Spock has some black bits on his haunches.
Since Mr. K and I lost Rufio, our Siberian Forest cat, to kidney disease we have been thinking about getting a new friend for Kira. At first, we were content to be a four dog, two human and one cat household, but as time progressed we began to realize that Kira was really needing companionship..
I won't say we tried everything because there are probably things out there that we never thought about, but we did try a lot of things to help Kira. We got her more toys; interactive toys; fed her before we went to bed to distract her; let her come and go from the bedroom. All but the last thing were a bust. And, if we let her have free roam of our bedroom she was happy, but we couldn't sleep. She is just too active at night. If we locked her out she made every attempt to break into the bedroom; again, no sleeping.
So, around the beginning of December I started looking more seriously into finding her a friend. We had picked Kira in particular due to her curious and friendly nature. We had wanted her to be a companion for Rufio which worked. Since she's not a solitary cat, expecting her to be one, just wasn't working.
I often perused Pet Finder or classified ads. We applied for one kitten because she was a a Forest cat of some sort, but she was a part of a bonded pair. That wasn't going to work.
Last Wednesday I happened to be looking at Pet Finder again and saw our little guy. Mr. K said we should go see him and we did. We were both shocked at how over crowded the facility was. Cats were in their own kennels, but in the same room as dogs and dogs were in hallways. It's just the nature of the facility. We both left knowing we couldn't leave him there. When the worker placed him in my arms he barely moved, but suddenly his little motor started and my heart melted.
They kept King/Spock for  a few more days because he needed to be neutered, but when he went in for his surgery, it was discovered that he had an upper respiratory infection. Or, what we think may be more closer to the truth is that he already had one, they didn't know how bad it was and the vet told them how much worse it was. So, no neutering for him just yet.
When we brought him home Monday night he was sneezing constantly and you could hear his chest rattling. He had a bit of a temperature. Because of his infection, he's been sequestered in our bathroom to keep Kira catching from the infection.
I finally got him in to see our vet today and they gave him a heavy dose of antibiotics he's supposed to take for a week. They ran other tests to make sure he was feline leukemia negative which he is; thankfully. So, now we have to wait for him to stop sneezing and the medicine to take hold before he can meet Kira and the rest of the fur kids.
The vet suggested that we keep him in there for another week. We'll try to hold out, but the poor guy does not want to be in there. The vet said that if we can keep him in there a few days after the sneezing stops then Kira should be okay. We really don't want to have to treat her too.
But, until then, our Spock will have to live in the bathroom and be satisfied with his toys, food/water and his litter box as well as our periodic visits. He's pretty flaked out right now from all of the vaccinations he got today. We're still keeping a close eye on him to make sure he doesn't have any sort of reaction.
Here's to hoping that Spock will become a fully integrated family member soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nose Work and Problem Solving

At the beginning of 2015 I committed to working with Hermione on her nose work skills; if for no other reason, but to interact with her and give her an outlet for her energy. Every morning for quite some time now, Hermione and I play "find it" with her breakfast. It's been a really good addition to our routine. It's been a game that can take anywhere from five minutes to half an hour, depending on what kind of time I have to dedicate that morning. If I want a shorter game, I hide greater amounts of kibble each time I have her search, but if I want it to be more challenging and go on for longer I hide just one or two kibbles at a time..
This isn't the first time I've tried to be disciplined enough to work on nose work with her, but the first time I tried, I failed miserably. I think I tried to take too big of steps too quickly and ran out of ideas too soon. I also didn't understand what skills I was trying to work on with her, but this time around I have done more research. One important skill is obviously the sniffing part, but problem solving and the drive to "hunt" or search is also equally as important. This was something I figured out on my own after hours and hours of reading articles by various trainers and watching videos. A lot of what I read just told you what to do and that information wasn't very thorough either. By watching and reading as much as I did, I was able to put the pieces together and figure out these skills. I'm sure there are more, but I think three to start with is quite enough.
Knowing this, I have different goals for Hermione than before. It's not just about her sniffing things out in a box and then adding more boxes and letting her sniff. I thought that was it. I just wanted her to learn how to sniff and as soon as she figured out how to sniff things out in one box I'd add more to increase the difficulty for her and make it more interesting/challenging for her. I think she still enjoyed the training before, but now she's even more enthusiastic.
So, what am I doing differently to achieve our three, what I like to think of as, foundation goals?
Well, I started with the sniffing. Maybe this wasn't the right place to start, but I started here because I didn't realize at the time that there were other skills we needed to work on. I had noticed that if Hermione could see the treats or kibbles she would just use her eyes. A trainer recently told me that this apparently doesn't matter and that the important part is to encourage the hunting drive which I took to heart, but I still wanted Hermione to sniff. Putting things in boxes wasn't cutting it. She could hear it or see the box and automatically ran to the box, usually skipping the trail of kibble I had laid out for her to "follow" to the box. Then, I saw a random video where that person was using a towel. It got me to thinking that I should try a towel.
I got a small hand towel and initially hid quite a few kibbles in one place under the towel. This new idea seemed to work great. Not only did Hermione start sniffing, but because the search area was so tiny I knew when she hit the hidden kibbles and I could click to mark her behavior. As the days went on, I made the hide and seek game under the towel more challenging. I'd hide less kibbles; I'd put one kibble under each corner of the towel so she would have to keep searching; I'd fold the towel in half so it was harder to smell. Hermione loved it. She'd circle around her fan tail waving, her little sniffer working over time. I could actually hear her sniffing which she had never done before. She was learning to sniff and I think it was turning on her hunting drive as well.
Once we had been using the towel for a while and she seemed to understand that she should search an area and not just check one spot, I thought I'd try building on her problem solving skills. Again, we started off slowly. I started placing a kibble on top of the towel and one under a distance aways to get her used to the idea that what she was searching for wasn't going to be where she assumed it to be. I was also worried that she would only search with that particular towel, so I got a second one that was a different size and material. At first I placed kibble under the original towel and with every search moved them closer to the new towel which was laid out on the floor as well. Eventually, I was hiding kibble only under the new towel and then both. She needed a little encouragement at first, but she soon realized that she was supposed to search both areas.
For more problem solving I placed some kibble in her bowl and covered it with the towel so that she would have to figure out how to get to the food. I added new hiding places too like a small cardboard box, a few food storage containers and even my slippers. The key was for me to remember where I had put the kibble and praise her whenever she searched and found the hidden treasures. Today I saw some great improvement in her problem solving skills that she did all on her own.
As usual we started off with our towel search area. I placed just two or three kibbles under the towel to warm her up. I've noticed that she searches for longer now and so sometimes while she is searching I'll drop a kibble or two when her back is to me  into the towel or under it. That way, she is rewarded for her continued searching. She seemed a bit fidgety this morning. She was breaking her sit stay which has been improving with this new exercise as well. She wouldn't wait for me to hide her kibble and I'd have to put her back in a sit and try again. She was just too excited. A definite thought didn't exactly cross my mind, but I remember half thinking that she may be ready to try something a bit harder. I wasn't sure what, so at first I just would put out one random kibble for her to find nowhere near the towel. Well, I say nowhere near, but the area really isn't that big yet. I don't think she's ready for a five foot radius or anything. As I randomly placed kibble I noticed an over turned dust pan. Kira must have knocked it down. Not sure if Hermione would get it, I put a little pile of kibble just at the edge of the dust pan. When I told her to "find" she searched her towel first, but quickly moved away; her nose working. She found the kibble and was so excited. I brought her back to sit and decided to up the stakes again.
This time I put a pile of kibble underneath the over turned dust pan. I also placed some kibble in the same spot as before to help her be successful. She searched her towel again, sniffed around me and then moved away. She found the first pile of kibble too quickly for me to say anything and the next thing I knew, she was in army crawl position, front paws and head thrust under the dust pan digging out her prize.
We had a party. Honestly though, I think the find is enough of a reward for her. She loves it. In fact, if I love on her too long and don't hide things fast enough she starts yelling at me.
I did it again without her hint pile and she searched and searched. She eventually followed her nose back to the dust pan and was on her belly head and paws thrust under the pan again. At this point, there weren't very many kibble left so I decided to do something a bit easier to make sure we finished on a successful note.
I had her sit and hid a few kibble in and around the towel. She began searching and as she searched I would sneak kibble into her search area to keep her searching. The funny thing is she showed me up when she followed her nose to my closed fist at my side and whacked me with her paw.
She had nose worked her way to my hand full of kibble. That wasn't my plan, but I guess she's no dummy.
Wondering if it was a fluke or if she had seen me grabbing the kibble, I tried again. This time I hid a few kibble in the towel and purposefully held on to the rest of the food in my closed fist. She searched her kibble out on and under the towel and sniffed a circle around me. Just as before she sniffed her way to my fist and hit my hand.
I think my dog is smarter than me, or maybe she's just smarter than I give her credit for. It's so exciting to see her work and see her figure things out. I have to be careful that I don't move too quickly in my excitement. For example, even though today was so successful, tomorrow I shouldn't expect her to search  the whole living room for one kibble hidden under a couch cushion. Tomorrow we'll probably just work with the towel and maybe the dust pan, but we won't do anything new until she shows me she's ready. I think I'm beginning to understand her needs and in that way I will be a better trainer for her. In the long run, she will be more successful and hopefully continue to love the "find it" game.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Hit the Ground Running

Literally and figuratively.
My treadmill arrived and Mr. K and I put it together in less than half an hour. I've been running between 3 and 4 times a week so far and I intend to increase that once I'm acclimatized to exercising, attending classes and going to placement. I usually have a tendency to jump in full force, but then have to take a break because I've burnt myself out. So, I am trying very hard to be a little more balanced.

2015 is off to a fast and strong start. I can't believe that we're already a week and a half in. I'm not entirely sure where the time has gone.
First, I'd like to wish my furry princess a very happy third birthday. Her Royal Highness, Princess Hermione Sophia turned three on January seventh. Again, where has the time gone? It was a low key day, but we did play our new "find it" breakfast game for an extended period of time and all of the dogs got to chew on some yummy bones.
This week also marked the beginning of my placement. Monday was a work from home day. I read tons of articles, watched videos and generally acquainted myself with my agency. I also had to enroll in and start an online course that teaches service providers about the ADA. I'm glad we started that way because I felt like I eased in a bit and was really ready and excited for my first full day at the agency.
Tuesday was that day. My yellow beast and I headed out at about 8:30. We took a cab because the weather was supposed to be terrible. We arrived on time and from the moment we walked through the door, we didn't stop.
We first met with my supervisor and she gave me a brief welcome. She then walked us around the entire building, stopping to introduce me to every staff member. Some people were not in their offices, so I didn't meet everyone that works there yet, but I have a feeling it won't be long before I've met all staff members.
I have to say the people are fantastic. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. And, in a genuine sense. The CEO of the company even stopped in to meet me as well and told my supervisor to schedule him and I   a meeting  some time soon.   A lot of the staff who have their MSWs are interested in how the USC virtual academic center works. I had told my supervisor during my initial interview that I wanted to be better at giving presentations. So, as we wandered about and people expressed an interest in the ins and outs of the program, she came to the conclusion that we will have a working lunch where I will present the intricacies of the virtual academic center; not to mention the accessibility and inaccessibility of the thing.
After my tour I met with another staff member who runs a women's with disabilities support group. The group is peer led, but she acts as a facilitator. I've been assigned to shadow her every Tuesday. We did go over to the little community building that is located right outside of the office building and I was introduced to the women's group. (I told you I hit the ground running).
After the group it was lunch, a very quick lunch, and it was off to talk with the volunteer coordinator. Somewhere in there I was signed up to take part in a two day workshop on Motivational Interviewing. It is a technique we learned last semester, but the more practice I get, the better. She explained her job(s) and told me about presentations she would like me to accompany her on. After her it was time to talk to the guy who is in charge of the data base and quality assurance. He is also their unofficial Tech dude. Not only did he explain his job(s) to me, but he also got my company email address and such set up. By the time we were finished chatting, it was almost home time.
My supervisor came back to get me and walked me down to the little space that will be my office. I think she may be playing tour guide for a few more days because the building is laid out in such a way that there is absolutely no geometric pattern to it at all. It's a really old building which really cool, but it's like they smushed two or three half buildings together to create one building. Thankfully I've got my beastie because, as always, she was a super star. She never ceases to impress me, but we got what I consider to be one of the highest compliments a working team can get.
When we came back from our women's group, the other staff member was walking in front of us. She is low vision, but doesn't use a cane or a guide dog. We were going to head to lunch, but needed to go upstairs to the staff break room.
"Do you think she will find the stairs?" She asked me as we passed through a doorway into a wide open room.
"Probably." I said. I wasn't entirely sure where the stairs were because of how open the room was and because I had only been in there once before. I kind of lifted my hand and waved it in what I thought was the general direction of the stairs and told my little worker bee to "find the stairs." She took off like a shot, stopping confidently with her front paws planted on the bottom step. Good girl! The staff member was impressed.
"I don't like dogs," she said "but you are changing my mind."
This final demonstration of beastie's skills had come on the heels of her showing me chairs, doors, bathrooms and more chairs and stairs; all in places where she had never been.
Of course we made little mistakes: like I told her to turn left too early and she did, so we ended up not getting to our office. However, those are the navigator's mistakes. One office was even so small that when I said "find the chair" she curved herself in such a way that she was touching both as if to say "which one? This is confusing!"
We both slept well Tuesday night. It wasn't really all that physically demanding, but mentally I think we were both exhausted. We were supposed to have a half day at placement today, but everyone is snowed in. So, I'll work from home again. I'm sure though that Miss Yellow would prefer to go to work.
We're back at placement Monday, weather providing, and we already have a full schedule. We'll be starting our day with a phone conference about transportation accessibility and then who knows what else. Sky's the limit with this placement I think.
PS: As you have probably noticed I haven't said my working beast's name and it's because my computer keeps auto-correcting it to something else. So, until I figure out how to shut that function off, she will be referred to in a myriad of ways.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Reflections: 2014

First, let me wish you and your families a very Happy New year! Hoping that 2015 brings you all you hope and dream.
The past year was an interesting one for me, as most of them are. I'm not sure I know how to go through life without creating some kind of chaos in my wake; whether positive or negative. :)
There were some really amazing experiences and a few really sad ones. My family lost my cousin in early 2014 just weeks before his 27th birthday to a massive heart attack. It was completely unexpected and tragic. I think that was the saddest event of 2014. There were so many good things as well, but I did not want to look back on the year without honoring his memory...
2014 was the year that I skied in my first cross country nationals. It will probably be the only time since nordic skiing where we are now isn't really going to happen, but it was still an amazing and exciting experience. I had the privilege of experiencing the Leader Dog puppy prison program. I learned a lot from that program. Unrelated to that, I made some new and wonderful friendships and got to nurture some older ones since I got to live close to my best friend for a year. Aside from some happy moments I had some very exciting and certainly life changing ones as well.
I was accepted into two masters of social work programs and although I would have loved to move back to where I had completed my under Grad degree, I chose to go through the University of Southern California's online program which has proven to be incredibly challenging as well as exciting and fulfilling.
Mr. K and I moved again and he was accepted into his masters program which he will start in just over two weeks. I am so happy and excited for him.
We lost our beautiful Siberian Forest cat Rufio to renal disease, but before that, Kira our little rescue kitty joined our family. So, our furry family also saw some changes in 2014.
In moving to our new location, we started and continue to create new friendships. We both like the city we are living in as it is very accessible and forward thinking.
2015 is already off to a running start with my classes starting back up again in just two days. I have already begun to work on class work. It really wasn't a very long break, but I think I'm ready to get back at it. I also will be starting my field placement on Tuesday and I am completely and utterly excited and terrified. I asked for and got a treadmill for Christmas and yesterday saw my first day of training for a half marathon. I don't have a guide yet and have no idea where I will find one, but I'm hoping that if I put it out there into the universe, I will find someone. :)
I'm not sure what 2015 has in store for us, but I hope that it is as much of an adventure as 2014.