A New Adventure in Raising a Service Dog


Growing quickly

We’ve embarked on a new adventure somewhat by happenstance.  For awhile I have been considering a service dog for Cisco.  I had seen the use of service dogs for special needs kids here and there and I really liked the idea of the companionship and assistance of a dog in our life especially the more I’ve read about it.  Cisco loves animals.  He loves to hang with our kitties, watch the guinea pigs and ride horses for hippotherapy.  He recently started working with a therapy dog while doing PT and it has been a good motivator.

The wait for a trained service dog is on the order of two years.  I wasn’t feeling we were quite ready but almost ready to start the application process given the wait time.  The program that we were considering was near by in Ohio and had no waitlist or age requirement, you just had to help raise fund for the organization before being assigned a dog for training.  They sounded like a committed organization doing amazing work to provide for special needs kids but I had some reservations.  The dogs are raised in a large kennel facility.  They do spend time away spending a semester with a college student socializing as a puppy and in basic training at a prison but the rest of there 18 months to two years of training seemed to be at this facility.  I was a bit uncertain about this and so was my Dad.  My Dad felt the best results would be from getting a puppy but I didn’t see how I could handle raising a puppy right now and the success rates of getting a fully trained service dog after raising a puppy reported via facilities and trainers is like 20% especially among dogs not bred for service work.  It is demanding work.

I was on the verge of going ahead and applying for a dog when, during a phone conversation, my dad casually mentions he knew of a litter of Great Pyrenees Anatolian Shepard mixes looking for a home.  He regailed me with the stories of the Great Pyrenees he had before I was born (that had my same name, incidentally) and how he thought a Great Pyrenees would be a great fit for us. I said he could go ahead and investigate the puppy situation.  Before I knew it Grampa and his partner were getting us a girl puppy to train to be Cisco’s mobility and multi-purpose service dog.  Grampa’s partner, LL, felt so committed and excited to help that she insisted on helping Grampa raise the puppy the first 6 months taking care of the puppy’s bills and taking her to Puppy Kinder so she would come to us potty trained, past needle sharp teeth and with a few commands behind her belt.  They made sure I was committed but how could I pass up this opportunity.  Admittedly, this is our experiment.  Great Pyrenees and Anatolian aren’t often used for service dog work but Great Pyrenees are a favorite among therapy dogs.

The new dog’s name is Nana.  This was suggested by LL because it is the dogs name in Peter Pan and we agreed to it as a family because Cisco liked it and could say it.  She is over 9 weeks old and has been living with Grampa and ML for two weeks.  We are assured she is brilliant, doing great in potty training, gets plenty of socialization and is making great progress with leash walking.  Her weak point at the moment seems to be mouthing people and pulling on clothes.  The handler of Cisco’s therapy dog suggested using Bitter Apple spray directly in her mouth when she does it as this cannot be tolorated in a service dog.  We are hoping that will work.  Service dogs must be committed to their charge, taking direction, not barking unless to alert to his charges urgent needs and staying calm and unobtrusive in public.

The plan is for Grampa and LL to so graciously drive half way across the nation to bring Nana to us this summer as long as Nana continues to prove she is a good service dog candidate and she tests negative for hip displasia at 6 months old whe we can check for it.

Wish us all the best on this adventure.  We are causiously excited.  Thank you Grampa and LL!

Nana & the Baby miniPig

Nana Playing with her MiniPig Cousin

Fall & the Holidays


imageThe fall was busy as usual.

Daily outings:

Monday – hippotherapy

Tuesday – speech therapy & Park Day

Wednesday – 4-H, Forest School and OT

Thursday – violin private class

Friday – Co-op

Saturday – group violin


Even with this busy schedule we managed to stay home until after lunch Monday – Thursday.  We tried a new scheduling and learning approach.  Cisco got one hour per day to do arts and crafts and reading time with Mommy (brother liked participating too). Big Brother then got an hour of my time so we could work on projects and reading together.

Big Brother tried his hand at having more freedom to control his learning.  He did Beast Academy for math, cursive practice, a Brave Writer beginner Writing class with mom, Sassafras Biology and geography.  He had a checklist he had to cover each week.  I also had bins for the main topics that he could choose activities from.  I got the idea from the Savvy Homeschool Moms Podcast.


It worked great for awhile.  He had a great time.  Then a few appointments and distractions left him unmotivated and turned into arguments and decreased ability to finish.  It is one of the difficulties we have time and time again.  If I’m not fully engaged and continually motivating, he looses interest.  Then we took thanksgiving to new years off to focus on holiday crafting and holiday time off.

Big Brother is now trying “Homeschooling Boys Library Based Curriculum Journal.” The jury is still out on this one.  Big Brother says he liked picking his own topics and books for this but we had trouble with motivation.  I’m hoping it goes better this coming week.

The holidays were spent at home.  Thanksgiving was hosted at our house with our two single guy friends joining us.  It was nice enough outside to enjoy sitting on the patio table while the turkey cooked in the smoker all day.  Christmas Eve was at home and Christmas Day we were with our dear friends we’ve spent Christmas with each Christmas for years.  We made crochet wash clothes, pictures, photo books and necklaces for gifts.  The boys enjoyed getting lots of gifts including a sturdy Melissa and Doug shopping cart for Cisco he used constantly for several days and Duplo, and Dr. Who LEGO and a Robotic Arm enjoyed by Big Brother.image image image imageimage



Cisco’s First Steps


Cisco took his first true steps this Monday! He was working with his new PT (first real session as we did an evaluation before Christmas). He stood about 5 seconds at the end of his last winter hippotherapy session in mid-December and I have got him to stand a few seconds here or there but not by his choice. In our first session with Children’s Therapy Center his therapist had him standing 5-6 seconds several times and then had him walking with help down the hall. Then it was time to go back to his room and on the way in she had him walk toward her and he made it 8 steps with her scooting back then he fell on her. It was amazing. We have waited so long for this day. He will be 4 in February. This woman is amazing so we quickly contacted her after thinking more sessions during this important milestone would really help. We will see her two times per week this month and maybe next. During our second session this week he did 5-6 steps several times then 10 steps although he will only do 3-4 at home with lots of work and tricks from us. Unfortunately, we can’t keep up this pace for long. PT is our only therapy right now (we also do OT, speech and hippotherapy throughout the year) and insurance will only help cover 75 sessions per year of all therapies regardless of diagnoses. I hope to be posting pictures or video of his walking soon.

In other news, we have had a busy fall. During home-preschool we focused on learning colors through stories and art projects along with therapy practice. Cisco had weekly speech therapy that we discontinued because while his verbal skills are improving we felt our therapist was lacking new ideas, we did OT which we are taking a break from, and we did hippotherapy that is off for the winter. The NP at our Physical Medicine doctors office empowered us to take big breaks. She says that the present research is supporting intensive therapy with long breaks to helps families not become burnt out and better outcomes. I had been feeling this way but felt guilty when I felt we needed a break from one therapy or another.

For the winter we plan to focus on numbers and fine motor skills from wooden puzzles to Montessori type scoop and pincher activities in addition to walking/standing practice.



Cisco’s Progression (age 2-3)


With Cisco’s mobility challenges our focus is all about therapy and basic skills.

I’ve provided regular progression updates for Cisco. My last was in December. Cisco continues to use Sure Step orthotics (the same pair he got in December) and his DMO suit (he outgrew the first one in 3 months, we are now on his second suit but hoping to find a more adjustable and affordable option if he needs to get a third support suit when he outgrows this one). In February, he turned 3 and graduated from the counties early intervention program. We really miss his PT but have continued to have therapy successes privately.

In the spring, he started hippotherapy. It has been the best therapy of anything we’ve done. He is so motivated by the horse. He loves the horses and gets excited when he knows we are going to see them. When we started in March, he could take no independent steps, after we stopped in June he could take 2-3 steps independently when pushed to do so. A few weeks ago, he did a one week hippotherapy intensive since hippotherapy is on break for the summer. It was great. That is the week Cisco started drinking from a cup while holding the cup himself and started crawling up stairs. We were sitting on the bottom of the steps waiting for his turn to ride the horse. I was talking and suddenly i realize he is crawling up the stairs to the platform he uses to get on the horse. The next day, the last day of hippotherapy, he did the same thing. It was wonderful. He’s now back to weekly sessions for the fall.

In the spring, Cisco also took a special needs My Gym class. He really enjoyed it and all the equipment was great for him to climb and explore. We expect to take another class in the winter after hippotherapy is over (there will be a fall session and then we take off the winter) but plan to take a regular class with younger kids as they were willing to let us do that. The special needs class was filled with much larger kids on the spectrum with no mobility challenges. The parents were constantly worried there rambunctious child would hurt Cisco. It wasn’t a good fit.

Cisco is cruising. He is using chairs or anything that will slide on our hardwood floors to push to get around. He can climb on the couch and is just learning how to climb off. He now crawls very well. He’s been experimenting with putting his bottom in the air on hands and feet. He can use his walker to get through mulch and grass now and over small steps. He can get his walker to go any direction he wants to go. He can go a few steps with his strider glider bike without support. We plan to continue PT after the fall hippotherapy session is over.

Cisco now has an Accent 1000 Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) Device (basically a tablet with a built in large speaker and picture based communication software). He seems to be catching on but has trouble getting his pointer finger to the right spot and maintaining a pointer finger. I think his vision presents a challenge too. We took a break from speech therapy for the summer but I feel after a break we can work with the speech therapist to make good progress. I have found that he has increased his speech and words quite a bit this summer. He uses two word phrases both verbally and with his Accent 1000.

Verbal Words: mama, papi (dad), door, car, go, that, caca (poop), meow (cat), roar (dog and other animals), der (water), mapa (mommy and papi), dad (his brother), bull, bye-bye, no, and he also attempts many words when we say them as well as has said several words only once or twice then not again.

Signs: water, door, light, fan, potty, done, more, wash, sleep, no.

About Me by Big Brother Part 2 of 2


About Me by Big Brother Part 1 of 2


This past winter we heard a Savvy Homeschool Mom Episode where the kids did a Q&A interview about themselves.  This inspiredBig Brother to do his own version.  Here is his interview in two parts.



Big Brothers Progression (age 8-9)


LANGUAGE ARTS – Brave Writer’s “A Quiver of Arrows” – We read/listened to and did copywork, spelling and grammar using these books:

Sarah, Plain and Tall
The Trumpet of the Swan
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Secret of the Andes
The Wheel on the School
Cricket in Times Square

CURSIVE – “Handwriting Without Tears.” Made it through about 1/3 of the book and will continue this coming year.

HISTORY – “History Odyssey Modern Times.” Finished about 1/2 the curriculum then started just listening to the corresponding SOTW chapters late sping. We plan to finish all SOTW chapters by the end of the summer.

SCIENCE – “Sassafras Science Adventures: Anatomy.” This curriculum was designed to be used over a single semester. We finished all but the last two chapters of activities and finished the book this summer.

MATH – “Math on the Level” continues and remains a good resource but we took a break from it in the spring in favor of Khan Academy. Big Brother really enjoyed the format and rewards.

ART – Big Brother did this at co-op and we spend December working on making candles for the grandparents plus other arts and crafts related to anatomy and modern times.

PE – Tae Kwon Do – Big Brother is now a Green Strip belt

MUSIC – Private violin with group classes. The end of the year concert was amazing. The teacher rented the Masonic Temple Theater for the Concert. Big Brother graduated Suzuki Book 2 and played with the other three graduates then that evening the teachers did a wonderful concert. The two main teachers played in a quartet, the fiddle teacher played a fiddle set and then the Dueling Fiddlers played (Russel is one of the teachers in our studio) with the kids accompanying the song “Gael” (known from “Last of the Mohicans”).

2014-15 “Report Card”


The Boy with Many Belts

So, did we do all we planned this past year? No, of course not. Do you ever remember finishing the textbook you were given growing up?

We had fun at home learning about our bodies, learning about the modern world, doing math with khan academy, reading great books, watching documentaries, watching good movies, playing music, BBQ with dad, building LEGOs, skying with friends while playing minecraft, helping in the garden, playing board games, learning how to do laundry and mowing the lawn.

We had some great experiences away from home including 4-H hikes, a visit to Williamsburg, a trip to Texas, a trip to New England, camping, going to the hippotherapy “Ranch”, spending time together, spending time with friends, speech therapy, weekly Co-op, enjoying our water park membership, visiting the new Children’s Science Center, attending Theater in the Woods, Organizing/Attending the Homeschool Conference, and playing/collecting pokemon.

Big Brother’s Homeschool Status

Super Hero Peg People

Making Super Hero Peg People

I just realized I never really gave an idea of what “school” looked like for Big Brother this year. As usual, we have had ebbs and flows. A major challenge to getting Big Brother’s schooling done beyond having a little brother was Mom’s choice to take on Chairing our States Inclusive Homeschool Conference. It was a busy summer selecting a keynote and featured speaker, a busy holiday season preparing the conference schedule and starting registration and then increased dedication to the conference until it occurred in late March to the point of it being a full time job and having to put homeschooling virtually on hold. It was a very rewarding experience and I feel so good that I did my part to make sure this amazing gem of a Homeschool Conference continues in my state for all homeschooling families. We had around 900 attendees. All that said, I’ve had to pass the baton because it was just too distracting from my first job of caring for and schooling my boys especially as a special needs mom.

Big Brothers Subjects (age 8-9):

LANGUAGE ARTS – Brave Writer’s “A Quiver of Arrows” – Wonderful gentle Language Arts program that I would say is rather Charlotte Masony. It has exposed us to some great literature that we’ve listened to via books on tape and covered handwriting, grammar and spelling. This is Big Brother’s subject he finds most challenging yet he has been very happy with this gentle approach. I hope to get at least two more books in before next “school year.” Each book is covered over four weeks.

CURSIVE – “Handwriting Without Tears.” Big Brother wanted to learn cursive and he really enjoys this program. I wish I would have used it for printing. Great systematic and gentle program. I have also found that cursive comes easier to my son then print and I really do feel cursive is important to learn. It is used more frequently in other countries and lots of adults still use it (my writing in cursive is the reason Big Brother wanted to learn to be able to read what I write). It is also good for fine motor practice. It actually bothers me that cursive is not taught in many schools now.

HISTORY – “History Odyssey Modern Times.” Big Brother wanted to continue “Story of the World” which can be done with the History Odyssey level 1 Curriculums and I wanted to switch things up. I was getting bored with the “Story of the World” Activity Guides and liked the idea of a curriculum that is written to the child to start transitioning to him taking more ownership of his work. He loved the idea of being completely in charge of getting his work done but the reality was that it was too much for him to do it completely. I helped a lot but it has helped him go in that direction. He really has enjoyed this curriculum. His only complaint when we were reassessing over the holidays was that it required too much writing so we reduced the writing in the new year. I hope to finish a few more sections but don’t expect to complete the curriculum before summer. When summer starts we will just listen to the “Story of the World” chapters we have left like we did last year. I find that works well. Gets the closure I like but casually.

At our Homeschool Co-op, Big Brother attended a winter class on the Alaskan Dog Sled Race, Iditerod. History in the making.

A highlight in History experiences was the Homeschool Medieval day we attended in the Fall that included historical interpreters, print making and storytelling by Big Brother’s favorite storyteller, Jim Weiss (his audio stories are a major supplement to our history lessons).

SCIENCE – “Sassafras Science Adventures: Anatomy.” Big Brother really likes the Sassafras Science Adventures. We read the first one on Zoology this past summer and then adopted the full curriculum for the school year for Anatomy. He has enjoyed the added curriculum with activities (he loves to do projects and activities) and continues to learn about the twins adventures. The coolest project has been the life sized tracing of his body we have on the wall that he has added parts to as we cover new parts. I do feel like the story has gotten too drawn out going at the pace of doing the curriculum as well as the breaks we’ve had to take as I worked on the conference. I’m considering reading the next book on Botany this summer and then doing the curriculum in the fall after we read the whole book. We are still working on Anatomy.

In addition to our at home science, Big Brother has done science at co-op each semester. It is one of his favorite subjects. In the fall, I taught a Vex IQ Robotics class Big Brother attended. Then, this winter and spring, I started an elementary chemistry series using “REAL Science Odyssey: Chemistry Level 1” that Big Brother has been attending. In the fall, he attended a Scientific Method Class. In the winter, he also attended a LEGO class (LEGO’s and Pokemon are his favorite past time).

MATH – “Math on the Level” continues and remains a good choice. We have gone a little more casual with the five a days and have incorporated a game/activity day once a week. Things were getting a bit tedious so adding an official math fun day has been a great addition to maintain enthusiasm in my math loving boy.

ART – Big Brother’s Homeschool Co-op’s “Famous Artists” Class covered art for the fall along with crafting gifts over the holidays (hand dipped beeswax candles) and art related activities for History. We will be starting the spring semester next week and Big Brother plans to do a clay molding class taught by one of his friends teen brothers.

PE – Tae Kwon Do with dad continues. They attend twice a week. This spring semester will also include a PE class at our Co-op.

MUSIC – Private violin instruction continues. Big Brother switched back to Suzuki Violin classes that include group classes. A more affordable suzuki studio then his original studio and a little more laid back while still focusing on quality playing and ear training. A great balance and Big Brother is doing some fun stuff including group fiddle and improv. He happily played Brahms’ Waltz at the Conference Talent Show with his dad accompanying on guitar.

The past two weeks Big Brother has been completing the CAT test for Grade 3. It went well and he actually looks forward to it. Next week between enjoying spring time weather and planting, I hope to get back on track to get some school work done. While in someways I feel like we have catching up to do, I also look at Big Brother and realize that he has come such a long way and is doing well.


My Hydrogen Atom

Gross Motor Update

New SMOs & Shoes

New SMOs & Shoes

Cisco got his DMO suit a couple weeks ago to help with his posture (he gets very slouchy when sitting up and his lower back is starting to curve) and to facilitate independent walking. What amazed me was about 20 minutes after we put it on him and I put him on my back in our new Toddler Action Baby Carrier, he felt considerably straighter and lighter. No dead weight that has been killing my back. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Now, for some reason, my back hurts worse when he is wearing his suit. I do notice his back considerably straighter when sitting even at the end of the day when we take it off. He also looks so much taller and straighter with it on when standing or walking. He feels less floppy when I hold him. It is definitely helping even if getting it on is not his favorite. Luckily diaper changes aren’t as hard as I feared.

Cisco also got a pair of SMO orthotics the same day to help provide support for his ankle in hopes of facilitating walking. It improved his stride immediately. He bends his knees when walking with them on but not when off.

He did have to get new shoes to fit the orthotics. I decided to see what the local shoe stores had before ordering special made shoes particularly because I heard they were heavy. I started at Stride Rite reading online that people had luck with them and they have double wide. Unfortunately even with his skinny foot, they didn’t work. He only wears a 5 and there was really just one style in multiple colors. It was a real pain to get on/off and the velcro barely reached across even with double wide. I then went to Payless (not my favorite place) and was pleasantly surprised to find perfect fitting shoes in 5W with a sole that came out and a front bill that was completely detached on the side for easy in and out. They were cute brown shoes with Elmo (once again, not a fan of character shoes but worth it). My only complaint is the lack of breathability. His feet are sweaty when I take his shoes off. I will have to find some sort of breathable sandal for summer.

Prior to the new orthotics and DMO support suit, he has been making progress with gross motor skills. He got a new walker from the county to try , a Little Kaye walker. We had ordered and returned a Snug Seat Crocodile walker after receiving it to find it was bigger then the old Ottoback Busybee he had been using that I thought was big. I am very frustrated with modern manufacturers of pediatric walkers. They promote long use but to make this long use work means that it has to be sized for the larger child (about the size of my 9 year old boy) to use safely and just adjust the handle bars down for the 2 year old to use. I got it for the attendant bar they told me was no longer manufactured upon arrival and the seat that could be flipped down but no one told me the seat wasn’t adjustable and way too tall for my 2 year old.

Back to the Kaye, I am so happy with it. It is an oldie but goody. A design that I’m told has been around for years but they have 5 sizes compared to the 2 for other leading manufacturers, making it much more suitably sized for my 2 year old. It is also very light weight. It has straight wheels that i thought would be a problem by Cisco just picks the walker up a bit and manipulates it in the direction he wants. He loves it. He has one on order right now we hope to get before Christmas that has an adjustable fold down seat, an attendant bar so I can safely guide him or can push the walker if he needs carried. Also, much cheaper then the Snug Seat. He has a little friend the same size that tried it who loved it too and she asked her mom if she could have one (they are in the market for a walker). He recently walked the mall for 20 minutes using it. With the added stability of his orthotics and DMO he his creating a nice stride using his walker for just that little bit of security and balance he needs.

Next on the list: treadmill therapy if I can find an inexpensive treadmill.