Time for correction

Karina on couch

Every once in a while, we all need to be corrected, right?

As well behaved as Karina has been, the trainers at Canine Companions told us early on that she was food-driven.

At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, aren’t we all? I know I am.”

It became a problem this week.

We’ve been trying to only put the food bowls down for the cats when they come looking for them, but one thing will lead to another, and Paige and I will become involved in another matter and forget they’re down.

For a while, we would find Karina staring intently at them, but one day, the bowl was clean.

When I say clean, I mean clean. No food. No hint of food — licked clean to the point you might think it just came from the dishwasher.

It has become the telltale sign that the cat food has been eaten by the dog.

After the first time it happened, I told myself it was something we need to be diligent about, but I know cat food isn’t good for the health of dogs.

I tried to carefully watch Karina and the bowls, and I did the Canine Companions correction technique when I saw her sniffing them.

I swear Karina knows she’s not supposed to do it, and she gives a very pitiful look when she’s caught, but she still continued to misbehave.

Karina got into the cat food again Tuesday while I was talking to an air-conditioner repairman, and Paige and I decided it was time to fix this problem for good.

We learned another valuable lesson at Canine Companions about just avoiding the problem altogether. Yes, we can correct the dog, but I know we weren’t setting her up for success by continuing to handle the matter by trying to pick up and put down cat bowls.

We put Karina in her kennel and met Paige’s parents and our niece, Hannah, for dinner at Red Robin before Hannah heads off to college.

I needed time to think about the best course of action and what better place to do that than Red Robin?

After the meal, Paige, J.P. and I went to Petco to survey our options.

Cat privacy den
The cats get a safe place to eat and keep Karina out of their bowls.

We looked at several gates that had doors for smaller pets, and we found a planter that can be used to double as a litter box. We thought for a few minutes that the cats go inside of it to eat instead of do their business.

Finally, we decided on what looks like an end table or cabinet with a cut out for the cats to get in and out of. It’s called a Pet Privacy Den, and we can open the door and put the food inside.

It wasn’t cheap, but I believe it’s going to solve the problem.

It was pretty easy to put together, but I don’t think Karina is happy about the plan. The cats seem to be OK with it.

Friday Fun: Karina assists in therapy

J.P. hugs Karina

Hi everyone, it’s Karina.

My facilitator, Jeff, told me he’s been getting many questions about how things are going as I’ve settled into life with the Cousins family.

I thought I would try to fill people in on how a Canine Companion goes about helping out a child with special needs like my recipient, J.P.

The day typically begins about 8 a.m. when I begin hearing things happening in the kitchen. I anxiously wait for someone to come let me out of my kennel in J.P.’s room where I spend the night.

It’s an exciting moment for me. I’m hungry and ready to get outside. I mean, really, what’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Once that business is taken care of, it’s time for breakfast. I have no problem taking the command for that and usually beat my facilitator to the “sit” command. I just want them to tell me, “OK,” which means I can chow down.

The schedule for each day is different. It depends on what appointments J.P. has and if Jeff has to work.

Karina with J.P.
Karina cuddles with J.P. in his bed

Sometimes I jump in J.P.’s bed and keep him company once he wakes up. Jeff and Paige have to get him changed and other stuff before he heads out to watch his morning cartoons.

I like to jump up on the couch with him sometimes while he takes his medicines and gets his formula running.

I enjoy getting my walk each day with Jeff. We usually go more than a mile, and on same days, we’ve walked 5K. That was kind of long, and I was ready for a nap after that.

Usually, after our walk, I get brushed, my ears get cleaned, and my eyes are wiped out. At least every other day, my teeth get brushed. (I’m not a big fan of that!) I also get my nails trimmed weekly.

Once a month, I get a bath. We just did that about a week ago, and I was very good while I got all sudsy in the tub.

I’m still getting to know J.P., and I’ve been used several times in occupational therapy. I’ve been brushed by J.P., and he’s helped with brushing my teeth, too. He’s also given me some kibble when I get up on the couch with him. Talk about incentive!

J.P.'s therapy assistant
Karina assists J.P. during physical therapy.

On Friday, I played a big role in physical therapy, and J.P. was able to give me a hug. He really liked that. I was put in several positions while J.P. was stretched and worked on rolling over.

I enjoy accompanying J.P. on trips out of the house. I can help J.P. get ready by picking up his shoes and even clean diapers and hold them while Jeff and Paige get him ready to go.

I’ve been to several restaurants and doctor appointments with J.P. recently. I’m trained to open doors when they have those buttons for people who are in wheelchairs. I’m given the command to “push,” and I hit the button with my nose.

I stay pretty busy, but some of my favorite moments are just being loved — like any other pet. That’s something I really enjoy with Paige. After J.P. is in bed, I sometimes jump right in the recliner with her and snuggle.

It’s all been fun, and I’m enjoying my life with my new family, and look forward to what’s ahead. Thanks for the support everyone!

Karina gets clean

Karina gets clean

It was a big week for J.P. and Karina as we passed the one-month mark after graduating from Canine Companions for Independence.

One month later meant Karina got her first bath, and we had to file our first report with CCI.

The report asked basic questions about how the team is doing, and how the team has progressed during the month away from the support of the CCI staff.

Karina has done well and integrated into our home routine with hardly any issues. We’re still working toward having her recognize J.P. as her recipient and not Paige and I.

The first bath went very smoothly. I was surprised when Karina went into the bathtub and sat down while I got her all sudsy and smelling sweet again.

She jumped out of the tub and instantly did her shake, which made a bit of a mess, but nothing that didn’t clean up fast.

After that, Karina went and laid in the sun to get dry. I think she thought it was her spa day.

In July, Karina will visit the veterinarian for her vaccinations and to get a refill on her flea and heartworm medication.

The week also brought an unexpected visit to the vet for Ariel, who has a knack for vomiting, but was even worse than normal.

About $175 later, we learned she wasn’t spending enough time in the litter box.

We do these things for our pets because their love for us is so unconditional.

While we may not want to be inconvenienced by a sick pet or a bath, we provide it to show we love them.

In Canine Companions, our trainers told us that when the pets know they’re cared for, they’re more likely to respect you as their pack leader.

I try my best to make sure Karina is groomed each day and gets a good walk. It gives us time to bond and makes me feel better, too.

Moving forward, I think it’s important to remember to have the same spirit of loving and caring with our children and spouses. It can make for a happier household for both people and pets.

Fatherly thoughts

J.P. goes horseback riding

When I was young and thought about what it would be like to be a father, I always dreamed of the chance to have conversations with my children that would guide them through their younger years and into adulthood.

J.P.'s Magical Night
J.P. goes court side at an Orlando Magic game.

I thought about teaching them to ride a bike, chatting with them before their first dates and helping them find their first part-time jobs.

I’m not naive enough to believe they would have always listened, but the interaction was always something I believe I would have treasured.

As anyone who knows my family or follows this blog knows, that is not what fatherhood has brought to me.

While J.P. can communicate in his own special way, there is no sharing of wisdom, bike rides or dates now or in his future.

But that doesn’t mean I feel any less like a father nor am I any less proud of what J.P. has accomplished.

As the parent of a child with special needs, I’ve simply come to appreciate the little things that are major accomplishments for my boy.

The fact that J.P. is 11 years old is huge. His performance on the Florida Alternate Assessment Test is incredible, and his ability to follow directions and write letters on paper have brought tears to my eyes.

Spending time at the hospital
Jeff and J.P. cuddle during a hospital stay in early 2014.

He’s much more aware of things going on around him then I would have ever believed, and his personality is precious.

Where I may have once thought I would be active as a parent on the sidelines at a game, I am instead active at a hospital with other parents who want to make a difference.

When I was a boy, my father spent his time as a coach for our high school’s cross country and track teams. I remember spending time with him watching as he took the athletes under his wing and taught them to work hard, not to give up and cross the finish line.

It took me longer than most to remember those things, but when he was here earlier this year. I finally saw the purpose in what he was doing back then as I took up jogging and participating in road races.

The things he taught these kids weren’t just about winning a race, but using that mentality throughout life in everything they planned to do.

J.P.'s first visit to beach
J.P. visits the beach for the first time.

My father-in-law is a lot different than my dad. He is a longtime broadcast engineer who worked at the same station where I now work. He worked long hours to keep the station on the air, and he took great pride in what he did. He always would strive to make sure the equipment at the station was top-notch.

I guess being a father isn’t about doing stereotypical things that you might find on a weeknight sitcom. It’s about doing anything and whatever it takes to know your child can be proud of you.

While J.P. will probably never look at me and say, “Thanks, Dad.” I know him well enough to see the appreciation in his eyes, and that’s something I can definitely feel good about on a daily basis.

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

Praying for healing

Kent Morton, Claire Metz

I’m not sure what to title this post, so I’m going to write it first and see what comes to mind.

I am very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people in my life. I hold them in high regard and thank them for the advice and support they’ve given me that has gotten me where I am today.

It pains me to see people who mean a great deal to me face life’s detours, and some of them are in need of prayer as I write this.

My mother-in-law, Shirley Royalty, has been a pillar for my family. I don’t know how we would have survived the numerous challenges we’ve faced without the help of her and my father-in-law, Marshall Royalty.

This week, Shirley was hospitalized for a procedure that required some recovery time as an inpatient. I know it has been hard for her. I can’t remember her ever having to be in the hospital.

As I was trying to come to grips with this happening to her, I was thinking back about how much she’s helped me since Paige and I began dating in the early 1990s.

Even before we were married, she treated me like family. I was included in Christmas, Thanksgiving, always welcome at the dinner table — which meant a lot because she’s an amazing cook.

On one occasion at a meal just after I married Paige, I remember Shirley saying to me, “You don’t have to take that from her.” Wow.

But that’s the way she has always been, and I’m so thankful for the role she has played in my life.

At the same time, a big role model for me is also in the hospital dealing with a much more serious situation.

Kent Morton, a longtime journalist in Central Florida, is battling a rare disease. It apparently involves the body’s immune system attacking the muscular system. He’s developed pneumonia on top of that.

Kent has meant a great deal to me since high school. He was the Daytona Beach bureau chief for WESH-TV and gave me the opportunity to intern at the station before they even used interns. I was the first, and I’ve remained with the station in some capacity now for 26 years.

Kent taught me a lot about being fair to everyone, listening to both sides of the story before making judgments, being accurate, getting the facts and double-checking them.

More times than not during my early days in the Daytona Beach newsroom, you would turn around and see Kent with a phone to each ear and probably another somewhere on hold. His shirt would be half untucked, but it didn’t matter. He was on the trail of a good news story, and he was going to fight to make sure it made air.

I still miss him in the newsroom to this day, and I hope and pray his doctors can get him well again.

I’m well-versed in sickness and disease. I always believed growing up that being in TV news was the dream career, but as I’ve grown and been through so much with J.P., you realize the people who work in our hospitals are doing something so much more important as they save lives each day.

Maggie Habeeb and Karina
Maggie Habeeb during training with Karina.

It can get you down at times, but then you see other younger people who take time out of their lives to do something special for someone in need.

Maggie Habeeb trained our canine companion, Karina, in North Carolina as part of her senior class project.

She posted some familiar images on Facebook of Karina as she was growing up. I can only imagine how much Maggie must miss having Karina around, but I’m so thankful for the sacrifice she made to get her ready for us to use with J.P.

In life’s difficult times, I think it’s important to remember there are people like Maggie out there taking time out to do something life-changing for others who they don’t even know.

There are also doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to help others who are suffering with sometimes mysterious illnesses they don’t understand.

Please pray that Kent and Shirley will be healed quickly, and thank God for the many people who make sacrifices every day to help those in need.

Enjoying the everyday

Karina's collar and tag

After more than a month of chaos, even doing household chores seems relaxing.

It’s really nice to be settling into our new normal in the Cousins’ household.

Over the past few days, there’s been an effort to get things cleaned up inside and outside on the pool deck as the hot weather makes the water seem so inviting.

Karina is enjoying the pool deck, too, especially our sun shelf.

On Friday, we embarked on our first adventure with her in public.

Paige, J.P., Karina and I enjoyed brunch at Keke’s before we headed to PetSmart to get a dog collar and identification tag.

We also stopped at Fresh Market for some groceries since the cupboard and refrigerator have been getting pretty bare.

I guess we all need to remember there’s joy in life’s everyday chores and duties. They tell us that the drama and crises have taken a break.

It’s a time of renewal, recharge and relaxation. These moments may seem boring to many until they’re gone because another unexpected surprise has reared its head.

I’ve used the time to try to get back to exercising. Karina and I are walking more than a mile a day, and I’m running three to four times a week. Karina ran with me for a bit of a sprint Thursday. She makes me proud.

We also found a new toy for Karina at PetSmart. It’s similar to one of J.P.’s favorite toys that we believe he’ll be able to hold and drop for the dog.

It’s another way we can work toward having Karina realize she’s J.P.’s dog, and Paige and I are only her facilitators. We may also start having J.P. give Karina bits of kibble when she’s with him.

There’s still a lot to do, but these few days have sure been nice reveling in the normalcy of life.

Next week brings a surgical procedure for Paige’s mom, so things could get more chaotic again. Please keep us in your prayers.


Training completed

Karina with J.P. and Paige

We did it.

On Monday and Tuesday, Paige, J.P., Karina and I returned to Canine Companions for Independence to complete the training that was put on hold while J.P. was hospitalized for a shunt revision and a gastrointestinal bug.

We returned to CCI on Monday and met with a trainer for a bit of a refresher course, and we went through two lectures and learned a few more commands, including behind, here, tug and push.

They were all commands that we could put to use in our daily living, and Karina performed them well. Tug and push can be used with drawers, refrigerator doors and even regular doors if they have a strap attached to them.

The family
Paige, J.P., Karina and I at Paige’s parents’ house in DeLand.

Before returning to CCI on Monday, Paige and I completed our final exam and several quizzes that we had missed during the second week. The final exam was extensive and took several hours to finish. We passed it with flying colors.

The only other major hurdle to completing training was crossed on Tuesday, when Paige and I met a trainer at Altamonte Mall for our Assistance Dogs International public certification test.

Because Paige and I are both considered facilitators, each of us had to complete half the test. The trainer looked at how we loaded and unloaded Karina from the van, how she acted in public, whether she would try to get food from the floor, how she reacted if her leash was dropped and what happened if the trainer was holding her leash and Paige, J.P. and I were out of sight. She did great throughout the test and we passed.

We also went back to CCI after the test for our certification card and to sign our new contract. We watched a few other lectures and learned two more commands, light and switch. That is how Karina can turn on and off lights in the home.

I’m so glad we’ve completed our training. The last few weeks have seemed like a whirlwind — as if we’ve been pulled in many directions all at once.

J.P. is looking better now. He has his new wheelchair. We’re done with canine training. Karina is settling into our home, and It finally seems like things are settling down.

Freddy visits
Paige, J.P. and I with Uncle Freddy

On top of all of those things going on at once, we had an opportunity to see some of Paige’s relatives from Kentucky over the past few days. They visited to see our niece, Hannah, graduate from high school in Keystone Heights. Congratulations, Hannah!

I haven’t seen Uncle Freddy and Paige’s cousin, Alan, in several years. We had a great time relaxing and spending time with them. Karina also got to meet Brinkley, who is Paige’s parents’ golden retriever. They got along well.

Another workweek begins today, so life is definitely getting back to normal. After a nice run this morning, I’ve been working on getting the pool deck set up for summer and some time to chill and read. Let’s hope we can stay on the straight and narrow and avoid detours for a while.

A lesson in every day

I worked with Christina Manna at WESH before she got her big break and headed to work at NBC’s “Today” in New York. She’s navigated many detours to get where she is, and she has some great advice for all of us in our journey. Enjoy this post from her blog, The Way I C It.

Friday Fun: He’s an inspiration

Craig James

I ran across this story while working this week, and I was amazed.

Craig James, 13, of New Orleans, was born with cerebral palsy, but he hasn’t let that get him down.

James also has an amazing talent for singing.

He’s been doing it all his life, and his mother said it all began when Craig would attend services with his grandmother.

Of course, as a boy with cerebral palsy, life hasn’t always been easy for him. He’s apparently dealt with spasticity and muscular tone because the report on WDSU-TV said Craig is recovering from surgery on his ankles. I’m wondering it was an Achille’s tendon lengthening like J.P. endured.

Also like J.P., Craig had some amazing people who have helped him through his tough times at a children’s hospital in New Orleans.

I think the difference between children’s hospitals and regular hospitals is the desire of the staff to be positive and inspirational to their patients — in hopes that they can maximize their potential for the rest of their lives.

They did it for Craig, and he was even able to tryout for “America’s Got Talent,” says he loves sports and wants to learn to dance.

Craig seems like an amazing teenager that’s not letting a diagnosis get him down. It’s something we can all use to inspire us this weekend.

J.P.’s new wheels

J.P.'s new wheelchair

I was recently waiting for my 2010 Honda Civic to be serviced when I was approached by a sales manager and told that the dealership was very interested in obtaining cars like mine.

The sales manager said the news 2014 Honda Civics had many additional upgrades, keyless entry, blind-spot cameras and other cool stuff, and with a trade-in like mine, I could have the new car for next to nothing.

Of course, I took the opportunity to check it out and was interested, so I told the sales manager to write up his best deal, and I would look at it.

When he did, it was, of course, way more than I had any intention of paying right now (about $10,000), but I’m still really happy with my car, so it was no big deal.

Fitting the new wheelchair
J.P. gets fitted into his new wheelchair.

I believe J.P. today felt a lot like I felt while I was sitting in the brand new Civic and enjoying the new-car smell, cool accessories, etc., but he actually got to keep his new wheels.

J.P. has spent about nine months not really fitting into his wheelchair, and it had become very difficult for him to stay in it for extended periods of time.

For a while, we actually thought the wheelchair was making him nauseous, but I now wonder if that was actually a shunt issue. That remains to be seen.

Custom Mobility delivered his new wheelchair Thursday morning, and they spent some time making sure he was sitting in it perfectly. It’s pretty advanced, and I almost felt like I needed an owner’s manual to remember all the instructions I was given.

He was very happy sitting in it and smiled a lot as he got used to the new tilt-in-space and reclining features. It also has knee blocks and a special cushion that should help him stay seated and not have a seat belt so tightly around his waist.

It’s a big deal for him. He always get’s excited when we get the wheelchair out because he knows he’s going somewhere. I truly believe one of his favorite things to do is to go for a ride in the van and get out of the house.

It’s also another sign that he’s growing up and seems, in many ways, to be thriving.

As the Custom Mobility representative told us today, “This wheelchair is bigger than the last one, and the next one will be bigger than it.”

We are so lucky that despite the medical roadblocks recently, J.P. has graduated to the bigger chair as he grows into a young man. May he put many miles on his new wheelchair in the years to come.

Cynthia Weirr

Create A Better Version Of Yourself


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Cynthia Weirr

Create A Better Version Of Yourself


Because we’re all recovering from something.

Trading Barbs With Barb

Irreverent Musings With A Message

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