2018  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Starr's Mill and Lake, Peachtree City, GA

 

   
 
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   LOVABLE LABS:  UPDATE ON OUR FUR KIDS + AN
  INTRODUCTION
TO WARRIOR CANINE CONNECTION

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7

 
"May we always have a young one full of promise to admit us to those places of wonderment   
only permissible while in the company of a Labrador."
 
~ Gene Hill from the epilogue of Richard's History of the Labrador
 
 

Dogs aren't our whole world but they do make Jim's and my world whole. (I'm paraphrasing a popular Roger Caras quote.)

If you've read some of the previous years' journals on this website, you probably already know that we are big fans of Labrador retrievers. I've shared my home and life with six of them so far. Jim has known all of them except Callie, my first Lab.


Labs #2 and 3: Tater (L) and Bubba ~2001

There are good reasons why Labs have been the most popular AKC breed in the United States for the past 26 years. They are intelligent, lovable, active, handsome, and relatively easy-care dogs that are suitable for people of all ages. Most of them, like ours, make excellent family pets.

Many can be trained to work in a variety of important jobs like sniffing out drugs and bombs, finding survivors buried in snow or rubble after a blizzard or hurricane, serving as guide, therapy, and service dogs, and more.

This entry is an update on our three companion Labs, who currently range in age from 17 months to more than 15 years old. It's hard to get a good picture of all of them at once, even though they often follow me around like I'm the Pied Piper. It's easier to capture the action with only two of them at once:


Holly (L) and Casey hunt for fish in the bottom of the pool. When the water is moving,
it looks like the "fish" are moving. <grin> Holly was six months old in this picture.  (2-22-18)


Cody (L) and Holly snooze on their beds in the kitchen.  (2-23-18)

This entry is also an introduction to Warrior Canine Connection, a great organization I've come to know in the last few months that uses military veterans, some with PTSD, to raise and train Labs and Golden retrievers to be service dogs for fellow servicemen and women who are disabled in some manner. It's warriors helping warriors.

The organization uses a model that helps veterans recover from the stress of combat. WCC estimates that each of its service dogs benefits the lives of at least 60 recovering warriors in the process, plus the veteran who receives the dog for the rest of its life after it is fully trained for its specific duties. 

I'll start with our own dogs first.

FAMILY OF FIVE

Our lives continue to revolve partly (mostly, some might say) around our fur kids.

Since late July, 2017, we've had the pleasure of sharing our home with three lovable Labrador retrievers, the first we've ever had more than two dogs at once. That's when we adopted our last little bundle of joy, Holly.

They occupy a lot of our time -- walking them, feeding them, training them, cleaning up dog hairs, throwing balls to be retrieved, cuddling, feeding, walking some more -- but they make us laugh and keep us younger.


Holly-pup's first full day with us (7-29-17)

Last October I wrote about the joys and challenges of having dogs in three distinct stages of life from exuberant young puppy to senior citizen with doggie dementia.

Not a lot has changed since I wrote that, except all three are a year older now and Holly's almost as big as Casey (those are the two yellow girls). Holly's still definitely a puppy, though.

Cody, the black male Lab who accompanied me on part of the Appalachian Trail in 2005 when he was two years old, is now 15 years and 8 months old. That's ancient in human years! The average lifespan of a Labrador retriever is 10-12 years. I've never had one live past 12 until Cody. He has far exceeded our expectations.


Cody then, just before his 2nd birthday in March, 2005, on a training run
with me near Dragons Tooth on a gnarly section of the AT in Virginia


Cody now:  still handsome at 100+ in human years! I took this picture of him two months ago at 15.
He's had a graying chin and calm demeanor since age 2, so people have always thought he was old.

With that much age also comes some medical issues, just as in most humans in their 90s and 100s.

Since turning 12, Cody has survived surgery on a superficial cancerous spot on his groin, a near-fatal bout of pancreatitis, and one episode of canine vestibular disease (an ear imbalance). We were warned that the vestibular disease might recur but, thankfully, it never has.

His arthritis has gotten progressively worse with time, just like mine has. Since his 14th birthday he's also developed a nerve disorder in his hind quarters, which makes walking more difficult, and canine cognitive dysfunction, the equivalent of human dementia. Both conditions require some  accommodations, like understanding that he needs to be close to me in the house to feel secure (very much a Velcro Dog now) and using a ramp to get him into the truck and camper (our house is stepless, which is good).


Cody on a hike at Line Creek Nature Area in Peachtree City, GA (8-22-18)

Despite these physical and mental limitations he still eats well (Labs are always hungry, it seems!), is a good weight, can walk half a mile or more with me on trails, isn't phased by the two younger dogs in the family, and has the same sweet disposition he's always had. Our vet is impressed with his longevity and stoicism.

I joke that Cody is going to outlive us all, but we know his days are numbered. It's going to be a very sad time for us when he has to make one last trip to the vet.

Casey-in-the-middle is (gasp!) middle-aged already at age six. Labs are considered "senior" at seven. Wasn't she just a cute little puppy only yesterday????


Cody and Casey share a stick in the fall of 2012
when Casey was just a little squirt.

While she does still have a puppy brain sometimes, she has settled down enough at age six to look downright mature compared to Holly-pup!

In fact, Holly's puppy trainer, Robin Sockness, thinks Casey would make a good therapy dog because she's so sweet and lovable. I'm researching what that training entails. My first two Labs were certified therapy dogs back in the 1980s, so I do know some about the process.


Casey with Robin in June, 2018, during a doggie play session at a friend's farm;
in play groups Casey tends to gravitate more to people than other dogs.


Deep Run Casey Girl is a lovable sweetie pie.

Then there's Holly AKA "Holly-Holly" in a sing-song voice.

What were we thinking when we got another young, exuberant Lab puppy at our age?? (I jest in part; puppies are a ton of fun.)

Casey and Cody have been remarkably tolerant of the new kid as she's grown from a precocious, plump little eight-week-old fur ball to a lean and leggy, still-rambunctious 17-month-old.


Holly in April, 2018 at age 10 months in a rare stationary pose

Holly and Casey share enough genes that they resemble each other in many ways. Casey's sire is Holly's paternal grand-sire so I guess they're like aunt and niece in human-speak.

Holly has some of her very own endearing quirks, however, such as her continued emotional attachment to Snuggle Puppy II.

The next picture shows her with the original Snuggle Puppy, the one that she's resting her head on in the front of the crate. We got this special stuffed dog before her arrival so she'd have less stress after being separated from her litter. These therapeutic toys have a battery-operated "heart" inside that vibrates and makes a ticking sound to soothe puppies and older dogs. Snuggle Puppy also came with a heat pack but we never used that.

Every morning when we got up, the white topknot on Snuggle Puppy's head would be wet from her mouthing it like a pacifier or thumb:

Holly slept and played with that toy until she dismembered it when she was about a year old. I finally tossed it out after she swallowed little pieces of its ears and fiberfill.

Several weeks ago I got her a new, less expensive stuffed dog at PetsMart. After she chewed off the ears (again!), she started mouthing the top of its head like she used to do with Snuggle Puppy when she was younger. We have to supervise her when she plays with this or any other stuffed toy because she still likes to eviscerate them. That's not so awful, but swallowing the pieces is.

As with the original Snuggle Puppy, she gets totally focused while mouthing the top of this one's head. She wraps her front paws around it to hold it steady and rocks almost imperceptively back and forth.

In the next picture she's mouthing the top of the (earless) head of the newest stuffed dog, then looks up innocently when she hears the camera go off:


Still a baby at 16 months old  (October, 2018)


"Are you lookin' at me??" 
"Yes, I am, baby girl. You are just too cute when you do that!"

Sometimes she does it for ten minutes or more. It's almost like a baby sucking its thumb. It just melts our hearts because the vulnerable behavior is so different than when she's tormenting Casey or zinging around like a Wild Child.

All the dogs love to go anywhere with us -- even the vet -- whether via car, truck, bike, golf cart, RV, or on foot. Holly did great in our RV on our recent trip to Alabama for a race Jim participated in. Even though it was her first time overnight in the camper, you'd have thought she'd been traveling in it all her life. Cody and Casey were just as adaptable when they began RVing as puppies, too.


Holly (L) and Casey inside the Cameo screen door (Oct., 2018); they are good watchdogs.

We got Holly so Casey would have someone to play with on a regular basis. Cody's always been too old for Casey to play as much as she wanted; he was almost ten when we got Casey. Casey was not quite five when we got Holly last year. The timing was good for all of us.

Now age six, Casey still usually enjoys playing with Holly. They wrestle, play keep-away with toys, sticks, and balls, and chase each other around the yard and through their outdoor tunnel:

Aging Cody is very tolerant of the pup. He's never hurt her and she's learned to be very gentle with him. When either dog has had enough puppy antics, they let Holly know with their body language or a growl and she's uusually wise enough to back off.

SUE'S SEARCH FOR MEANINGFUL VOLUNTEER WORK

(Hang on. This does come back to the subject of dogs in a little while.)

I come from a long line of volunteers; it's in my DNA, but I've gone about it differently than most people I know. Why be normal??

Many folks do more volunteer work after retiring or raising a family than before, mostly because they have more time. Me? I have a long history of volunteer work during my teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s when I was busy studying in high school and college, then working full time and spending many hours running and racing every week, too. Looking back, it's to believe I had the time to do so much volunteering on top of everything else.

I retired at 50 and haven't been nearly as active of a volunteer as I was when I was younger.

Why? The main reasons are moving around so much the last 19+ years, wanting more "me" time, and the undeniable fact that I simply don't have nearly as much energy now, closing in on 70, as I did when I was 35. Or even 55!


New composting toilet Jim and I helped build along the Appalachian Trail in VA in 2004

Some of my volunteer (and all the paid) work before I retired was related to my degrees in education and counseling/psychology, plus my desire to help others -- abused and neglected kids, women, and the elderly, and pet therapy with my first two Labs at a nursing home.

Other volunteer jobs were rewarding in a much less intense way -- Habitat for Humanity and trail work for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club are examples. And some were related to running or the Olympics -- e.g., working events every day during the 1996 summer games in Atlanta and helped carry the torch on Opening Night:


What an honor!! I still have the torch.

I also worked many of the events conducted by the very large Atlanta Track Club for twenty years and served on its Board of Directors for three years.

After retiring and living in Montana and Virginia, Jim and I continued doing volunteer work for the local running club, Roanoke AT Club, and at races around the country. Some of our best memories are volunteering for various jobs at the Bighorn Wild & Scenic Trail events in Wyoming, Leadville and Hardrock in Colorado, and Across the Years in Arizona.

 
Jim was captain of the Cunningham aid station at Hardrock in 2007. This is our group of new and
old friends who worked hard with us that year. Jim and I are under the red dots. (7-13-07)

I mentioned in the previous entry that Jim has found a couple of volunteer jobs with military organizations in our new area in metro Atlanta that are meaningful to him.

Volunteering here is still a work in progress for me. I've been busy enough with the dogs and "building our new nest" that I haven't actively pursued any volunteer positions yet except picking up the occasional litter along the cart paths in Peachtree City when I'm out walking.


Peach (cherry?) trees in bloom along the cart path in Peachtree City  (4-1-18)

My antennae have been out since moving here, however, and now I think I may have recently found two meaningful activities to get involved with when we return from our winter trip out West.

Becky, a friend whose three-year-old female Lab plays with Casey and Holly, has been my inspiration for both of these possible volunteer positions. Becky is currently training Libby, the beautiful black Lab in the next photo, for therapy dog certification. She has also been a remote "cam op" for Explore.org for several years. 

I'll go into more detail about both of these volunteer jobs below.


(L-R) Casey, Holly, and Libby wait for Kirk, Becky's husband, to throw a ball.
Becky, Kirk, and Libby were visiting our house on a play date in June.

TRAINING & CERTIFYING A THERAPY DOG

Libby-the-Lab is currently taking some training lessons from Robin, the dog trainer I mentioned earlier in this entry, to prepare her to take the required Georgia certification tests to become a therapy dog. Becky hopes to get her certified for work with kids and adults in school, library, and medical settings (hospitals, nursing homes) and other possible positions, like reducing stress with travelers at airports, college students during exams, or victims of disasters.

Becky recently observed a therapy dog helping children relax in a reading program at the Peachtree City library. Some kids can learn better with a quiet, attentive dog lying beside them. Becky is the most enthusiastic now about doing this type of volunteering with Libby.

Libby is about as excitable as Casey is when meeting people for the first time, however, so that's a hurdle both of us will have to overcome. Both dogs will often jump on people in greeting, friends and strangers alike. They both settle down pretty fast, so Robin has assured us that with proper training focusing on "polite greetings" there is hope that both girls can probably become therapy dogs.


What child wouldn't want to cozy up with sweet Casey while reading a good book??
This picture was taken in our RV two years ago.

My two previous Labs (Callie and Bubba) that were therapy dogs at a nursing home in metro Atlanta back in the '80s and '90s were certified by Happy Tails, an organization that is still in operation.

Becky is going to get certified by a different group called the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), which is based in Utah. A local woman named Melissa does the testing for ATD and also runs the READ program in schools and libraries that Becky is interested in.

Melissa founded CAREing Paws, which acts as a liaison between therapy dogs and the organizations like READ that want to use them. Becky says that makes scheduling visits a lot easier for the handlers and offers new opportunities she and Libby might enjoy.

I plan to observe one of the reading sessions with Becky after we get back from our winter RV trip and decide if that's something I want to pursue with Casey. Part of the certification involves testing in other settings, too, so I'll be able to see which are the best fit for both Casey and for me (a dog has to be as comfortable in a particular setting as its human handler is).

EXPLORE.ORG AND WARRIOR CANINE CONNECTION

I'm very grateful to Becky for introducing me to both Explore.org and the Warrior Canine Connection several months ago. I wasn't aware of either website or organization and now they are two of my favorites.

If you haven't been on the Explore.org site, GO! This organization operates live remote cameras in all sorts of natural settings where you can sit in a comfy chair with your favorite electronic device (I prefer my large-screen laptop computer) and watch everything from dancing Northern Lights to animals like grizzly bears, whales, African wildlife, bald eagles, and much, much more. There are also highlight videos and nature/science documentaries of all types.

I could spend all day perusing that website!


This is just a few of the live-cam sites you can click on at Explore.org.

As it is, I do have a life aside from screens of all types so I don't spend as much time on Explore as I'd really like to.

The one Explore live-cam site to which I've allowed myself to become somewhat addicted is Warrior Canine Connection (WCC). The volunteer work with Explore that I might be interested in is operating any of the five cameras used at WCC.

I don't know if I could specify that I'd only want to operate those cameras or if I'd be required to be available for any assignment they might need me for. Becky has been a cam op with Explore for several years, operating up to six remote cameras at a time (usually fewer, fortunately), mostly for the various therapy and guide dog sites.

I'm also interested in doing whatever I can do from Georgia to help Warrior Canine Connection, which is based in Maryland and has branches in Colorado and California.

WCC works with several similar organizations around the country to breed, raise, and train Labrador and Golden retrievers as service dogs for military veterans who need their assistance for varying reasons. They utilize other veterans, especially those with PTSD, in the training process.


Photo from Warrior Canine Connection's website home page

Through training the dogs for veterans with disabilities, warriors with post-deployment challenges heal themselves. There is a lot of information on the WCC website that describes their mission and how they accomplish it. You don't have to be in the military or a veteran to volunteer -- or donate.

I've been somewhat obsessed with WCC and its admirable mission since Becky told me about it during the summer. Watching the young litters of puppies from whelping to eight or nine weeks of age, when they go to Puppy Parents for two years of further training, is pretty addictive! They are adorable and, just like my own pups, grow up too fast.

Here are some pictures I snagged from Explore's live cameras on the WCC site showing puppies from recent litters who are young enough to still be nursing, older ones playing in their sensory-enriched environment indoors and out, and typical "piles of puppies" when they sleep (the piles begin soon after birth):


WCC Ann's six Labrador retriever puppies were only a couple days old in this picture.


Two of Ann's Labs play kissy-face on the elephant slide on the
outdoor deck when they're about six weeks old.


One of WCC Dawn's seven Golden retriever pups plays with dangling objects in the play room.
The pups are introduced to a wide variety of materials, textures, and sounds before they leave WCC.


Puppy whisperers? WCC staff and volunteers are present 24/7 to care for the pups 
and their mothers. Additional visits with puppy petters like these occur once or 

twice a day. Pups are socialized to at least 100 different people by 8 weeks of age.

There are five cameras on the WCC site to show what's going on in the whelping room, nursery, and play room indoors, as well as the outdoor puppy pen (on a deck) and corral (in a grassy field). If none of the pups or adult dogs are live in one of those spots, highlights from previous action are played. The picture you click on will indicate if the action is live or highlights.

Can you see why I flip between two or three live cams to watch these adorable puppies as often as I have time??

Not only are they fun and relaxing to watch, I've also learned a lot about the early development of my own Lab puppies before I adopted them at six or eight weeks of age. I'm impressed by all the early training these purpose-bred litters get in their first two months -- not only behavioral, but also all the sensory objects, people, and other animals they are exposed to in order to familiarize them with things they may encounter in their Puppy Parent homes and their eventual permanent homes as service dogs for disabled veterans.


All seven of Dawn's Goldens in a cuddle puddle


Seven of WCC Elaine's nine Labs form another puppy pile while sleeping in a soft bed that isn't designed
for so many dogs! There are a couple other beds in the enclosure but they prefer to huddle together.

In addition to the WCC website, the organization is also on Facebook and other forms of social media. WCC recently received the highest rating from the independent charity evaluator called Charity Navigator for its "strong financial health and commitment to accountability, transparency, and to our nation's Veterans." That made me feel even better about the organization.

I wish WCC was closer to Atlanta so I could volunteer on-site or we could be a puppy raiser. I'm trying to figure out how I can support the mission and work of this organization from Georgia in addition to donating $$$, putting them in my will, and participating in the online discussion group.

Volunteering to operate the cameras like Becky has done may be one way to contribute to the continuing success of WCC if I could take breaks while traveling for several weeks or months at a time. Becky operates several remote cameras, which requires a good internet connection and room for multiple screens at her work space. That's not a problem for me at home, but it would be impossible while roaming around the country in an RV.

I'll continue researching both of these volunteer options -- therapy work with Casey near home, and what I can do to assist Warrior Canine Connection from several states away -- while we're gone this winter, and possibly start working toward one or both when we get back in February.

Next entry:  updated photos from Peachtree City's scenic landscape

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup

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2018 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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