Karina assists in therapy

Karina with J.P.

Our skilled companion dog is being put to work.

As things slowly return to normal in the Cousins’ household, Karina is getting involved in speech therapy.

Our speech therapist, Amy Thomas, is creating a whole section of J.P.’s Dynavox to tell Karina’s story, and he’ll eventually use his device to give the dog some commands.

It was something that we discussed at our team training at Canine Companions for Independence before we ended up in the hospital.

Karina therapy
Karina assists J.P.’s therapists at the hospital.

Our trainers at Canine Companions said it’s more of a process than just something that Karina will understand off the bat.

J.P. will eventually issue the command on the Dynavox, and Paige or I as facilitators will echo the command, and if Karina doesn’t respond, we would issue a correction. J.P. will never issue corrections to the dog because he’s supposed to be the best buddy.

Meanwhile, Paige and I are preparing to wrap up our training at Canine Companions next week. It kind of feels like we’re going back to school. We have several quizzes to complete and a final exam.

We’re ready to start hitting the books again Thursday in hopes of having everything completed before we meet the trainer Monday.

We’re very excited about finishing this up and getting our public certification for Karina. She’s been a great dog in the meantime, and I sometimes feel like we’ve put her in a state of limbo by not being fully educated on how to handle her.

I certainly have worked to keep her up-to-date on all the commands I can remember because we’ll have to handle her properly in public to get our Assistance Dogs International certification, and that should happen Tuesday at Altamonte Mall. Wish us luck.

We’ll also see our occupational therapist later this week for the first time. She was very interested from the beginning to put Karina to work, and J.P. should begin doing some of Karina’s grooming tasks soon. The boy is going to take on some responsibility. That makes me proud.

Catching up

Karina's new bed

After working through the long holiday weekend, Tuesday was a day for catching up.

It was supposed to be the day I would have officially joined the Patient Safety and Quality Committee at Florida Hospital for Children, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute, so it was a free day for Paige, J.P. and I.

It was really the first time since team training at Canine Companions for Independence and the resulting hospitalizations that we actually went out as a family. We had lunch out and made a Target run.

I also got in a 5K run and caught up on bills.

Because we don’t have public access privileges, Karina had to stay home. We took a nice 30-minute walk during the afternoon, and she got her teeth brushed, ears cleaned, eyes wiped and a good brushing.

We crated her again Tuesday night as we celebrated the 50th birthday of our good friend, Don Hettenbach.

After our dinner, we went to Costco and got a nice bed for Karina to use in our family room. We also went to PetSmart for a crate for her since we’re still borrowing our current one from Canine Companions.

There is good news: We made the run To PetSmart because we’re now scheduled to complete our Team Training at Canine Companions next Monday and Tuesday. We’ll hopefully then be able to take Karina in public with us and go over the lectures and commands we missed during the second week of training.

J.P. is also set to resume his therapy appointments now that he’s no longer on antibiotics from the stomach bug. He should also get his new wheelchair this week.

It should be a busy week ahead — hopefully a lot of good things to come. Stay tuned for updates here throughout the week.

School makes big move

Conductive Education Center of Orlando

The staff at the Conductive Education Center of Orlando had some big plans for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. They moved into a new facility.

For many years, J.P. has spent time at CECO. It’s a wonderful place for children with motor disabilities that allows them to get all of their therapies with one-on-one help in a group setting.

CECO move
Movers bring equipment into the new Conductive Education Center of Orlando.

With a McKay scholarship, a child with an individualized education plan in public school can use their funds to go to CECO.

Conductive Education was developed in Hungary by Andras Peto. He believed the nervous system of people with disabilities still possessed the ability to make new neural connections, so while Conductive Education can’t eliminate a disability, it can integrate and coordinate various functions.

Conductive Education teaches children with special needs how to use and improve their skills to gain independence. Classes contain educational elements, as well as aspects of occupational, physical and speech therapy.

Each student has an assistant, and classes have only about six students and a conductor.

The new location of the school is 931 S. Semoran Blvd. Suite 220 in Winter Park. The phone number is 407-671-4687. You can also reach them online at cecfl.org.

To find other Conductive Education locations in North America, click here.

Dog days of summer arrive early

Karina in bed

The dog days of summer have arrived a bit early in Central Florida with temperatures climbing into the mid-90s just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Paige managed to get Karina in J.P.’s bed with him after he awoke, and he was thrilled to get so close to his skilled companion dog.

It was a very busy day at work, so I was glad to get home in time for some of the heat to dissipate and still get the chance to get in a 5K run before dinner.

I left Karina home because of the heat, and I’m glad I did. It was a tough, hot run made better only by a jump in the pool upon completion. She was quick to join me on the sun shelf.

It was a nice way to end the day and still get a taste of what many are enjoying as we unofficially welcome summer.

Karina and I later took a walk around the neighborhood and were recognized for the first time by some neighborhood children who said they saw us on TV. It gave me the chance to let them know how awesome Canine Companions for Independence was to us.

I’m trying to keep up with some of the commands we’re not yet using on a daily basis, because I don’t want the dog to forget what she has learned. It’s one of the five things we were told to incorporate into our daily routine during class. The others are toileting, grooming, feeding and exercise.

The other thing we’ve been juggling are holiday weekend plans. We’re so fortunate to have great friends that help keep us going after the craziness of the past few weeks. Several of them have invited us to barbecues, but with work and still trying to get things back on track after the hospital, I’m not sure what we’re ready for yet.

I’m thinking we might just slip over to our neighbors after work tomorrow, who were awesome about watching our house and getting our mail during team training. We really appreciate all they do for us even when we’re home.

While we spend Memorial Day reflecting on those who have protected our nation during troubling times, it’s also good to think about those who keep us going and watch out for us during the personal battles that can arise at a moment’s notice.

Friday Fun: Start your engines

Patient with car

It’s the beginning of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and from the looks of Interstate 4, many people are already heading out of town.

For me, it will be three days of work after taking off so much time for Canine Companions for Independence team training and our recent stay at Florida Hospital for Children.

We’re making progress with J.P., so it’s probably best to just lie low and try to get caught up on all the things we missed over the past two weeks. I’m hoping to at least get a couple of runs in and maybe a lunch or dinner out.

With everything settling down, it’s time for Friday Fun. There are a couple of things I saw this week that were rather cute.

Remote-control car giveaway: Patients at Florida Hospital for Children got an unexpected gift this week thanks to the folks at CenturyLink. Thirty-five cars were donated to the kids by CenturyLink employees and executives as part of a team-building exercise. The cars were put together during the exercise.

“Our hope is that by donating the remote-control cars to the hospital, we can bring smiles to children’s faces and promote healing through positive interactions,” CenturyLink Vice President and General Manager Erik Genrich said.

“It’s very important to keep the minds of our patients distracted with fun activities while going through the healing process,” Florida Hospital for Children Administrator Marla Silliman said. “We value our partners like CenturyLink who give back as a way to help our patients return to good health.”

Memorial Day Canine Companion
A Canine Companion is ready for Memorial Day.

Memorial Day pups: Canine Companions for Independence shared this photo Thursday as a reminder of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The “Today” show also featured a segment Friday on how veterans are using service dogs to gain independence after the emotional and physical scars of battle. Click here to read the story.

I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend and remembers the true meaning of the holiday.


Shaking off the cobwebs

Snoozing dog

I was thankful J.P. got a good night’s sleep.

It was nice to wake up feeling refreshed Thursday, and I’ve noticed that since J.P. has been home from the hospital, Karina doesn’t whine in her crate before I’m ready to wake up.

However, I still feel like it’s better to get Karina up and toileted before she begins whining and we begin the whole “Don’t, quiet,” correction routine.

I took the opportunity to shake off the cobwebs and get back to running after the early chores were completed and ended up getting 5K in by about 9 a.m.

I would like to think this could be the beginning of a great thing, but we’ll see how I feel when I’m going to bed at 1:30 a.m.

I guess I’m now in the mode of finding the new normal. I was able to get Karina walked before lunch and even took a dip in the pool before getting in the shower.

Paige and I got to eat breakfast and lunch together, and I had snuggle time with J.P. in the recliner while I got caught up on the series finale of “Revolution.” I’ll miss that show.

Karina needed her daily brushing, and I got her teeth brushed and the rest of the grooming tasks done, too.

It was hard leaving home and coming back to work. I’m still concerned about J.P. and hope he’s finally on the mend. Leaving Paige with the multitude of things to get done for J.P., and now Karina, is going to be challenging.

I think a lot of us who work away from home and have children with special needs feel guilty when the health challenges multiply with the little ones.

I try to remind myself that what we do keeps the health insurance going and brings home the paycheck. I sometimes believe the health insurance is as important or even more important than the money.

It’s now time to get my mind in work mode and trust that my amazing wife can keep things running at home as we find our way to that new normal.

Diaper trouble prompts change in plans

Karina in hospitl bed

Believe it or not, J.P. was back at the hospital Wednesday after going 20 hours without a wet diaper.

I’ve learned from my many hospital stays that you can tell nurses about many issues with a child, but nothing seems to be taken as seriously as when they learn they’re not peeing.

R2D2 Visit
R2D2 visits the hospital.


So Paige and I made the call this morning and were told to bring him in.

Luckily, the diaper situation improved while we were there and all of the tests done found no issues.

We ran into R2D2 while we were at the hospital, so I guess you could say the force was with us.

I’m really ready to move on from this whole two weeks of medical problems. It’s tiring, stressful and time-consuming.

I went to bed last night thinking it’s time to wrap up the quizzes and final exam for Canine Companions for Independence so we can take our Assistance Dogs International test for public access and then we’re back at the hospital.

I’ll be back at work Thursday, so we’re looking at another week before we can get there to get that completed.

I did get some time this morning to get Karina’s daily grooming tasks completed. We were told at Canine Companions to brush them, check their paws, clean their eyes and ears, and brush their teeth.

After we got back from the hospital, Paige and I had dinner, and Karina and I went on a walk that was probably as much for me as it was for her.

I took my first selfie of Karina and I, and as I was snapping the picture she promptly licked my face. It made for quite an image.

Karina walk
A selfie during my walk with Karina.

But maybe it was just Karina realizing she needed to cheer me up after a tough day. I guess it’s just one more reason these creatures are considered man’s best friend.


Sleeping soundly again

J.P. sleeping

After another night of vomiting and more calls to the hospital after being discharged Monday, J.P. is finally looking better.

The big goal after getting home Monday was to get J.P. in the bathtub. He still had post-surgery hair and was unable to have it washed for a week.

It was just after the bath when J.P. began vomiting, and it continued until just before midnight.

We made a call to J.P.’s doctors and were about ready to return to the ER when things calmed down, and he managed to sleep through the night.

Paige told me Tuesday morning that she wasn’t sure she could have gone back to the hospital after finally unpacking, and I wasn’t far off. I had about reached my vomit limit.

We’re both really glad he was able to get a good night’s sleep, and I think it was exactly what he desperately needed.

Tuesday was pretty uneventful from a J.P. standpoint. However, his gastroenterologist did call in some anti-nausea medicine just in case it was needed.

We tried to get things situated before I head back to work Wednesday, and I was able to get some chores taken care of. We even got to the grocery and cooked dinner. That was kind of therapeutic.

I’m now sitting on the couch. J.P. is snoozing in Paige’s lap, and Karina is asleep on one side of me, and Belle is asleep on the other.

I think I’ll join them. Goodnight all.

Equal time for cats

Ariel and Belle

We’re tired of all this talk about the new dog.

While Jeff, Paige and J.P. were out learning all about Karina, we were stuck at the vet wondering when we would get to come home. It seemed like forever.

When we got back home after the horrendous car ride, there she was. She’s huge and intimidating. We couldn’t take our eyes off her, she kept blocking our way to the litter box, and I think she wants our food.

Listen. We get it. We’re not always the first to jump into J.P.’s lap and be all lovey-dovey, but we’re cats, and we’re 19 years old.

We were here when J.P. was born. We comforted our mom and dad when they learned things weren’t going well with the pregnancy. We were there when dad lost his mother, and mom lost her grandfather and grandmothers.

We’ve been through the move from the apartment to the home in Lake Mary where J.P. first lived, and moved with them again when J.P.’s therapy equipment made the first home seem smaller and smaller.

We remember when the church group came over and turned a guest room into a nursery because J.P. was doing so much better than expected and would come home for the first time.

It was amazing. Who thought a baby who wasn’t expected to survive childbirth would grow into an 11-year-old boy?

We want all of you people out there who keep logging on to find out what the dog did yesterday, today and tomorrow to know we’re here, too, and we’ve been here a long time.

While Karina is over there helping J.P. do this and that, we’re comforting the two people who keep J.P. going. We climb in their lap when we see the stress getting to them. We stay with them until they fall asleep at night and try to make sure they get the rest they need to do it all again in the morning.

Our names are Ariel and Belle. We’re getting used to the dog, too, and we’ll be here keeping things going by helping in the background.

We only ask that Karina stay out of our food bowls and give us a clear path to the litter box.

J.P. is home

Chillin' on the couch

J.P. was discharged from Florida Hospital for Children on Monday after spending four days there with a gastrointestinal bug.

It was the second hospitalization within a week. He was first admitted May 10 which led to surgery to repair his shunt.

It all happened at the same time J.P., Paige and I were in team training to receive a skilled companion dog from Canine Companions for Independence. The dog, Karina, graduated with us at SeaWorld on Saturday and spent much of the past four days at the hospital.

J.P. arrived home early Monday afternoon, and Karina and J.P. were quickly together on our couch watching TV together. It was one of the key things we were hoping would happen, and J.P. really enjoyed having his dog so close.

Our two 19-year-old cats are adjusting, and while no fur has flown in the house, the cats have hissed at the dog a bit, but I think things are going as well as can be expected. Nineteen-year-old cats seem to be set in their ways.

So what’s next? I want to take Karina on a short jog with me. We were told at team training that the dogs need exercise daily, and I would like to get her up to being able to run a 5K with me. I also want to see how she likes the pool.

J.P will also be resuming his therapy appointments pretty quickly, and our occupational therapist was planning to incorporate Karina into her

Karina visits the vet
Karina makes her first visit to the veterinarian.


Canine Companions also wants Karina to begin recognizing that she is J.P.’s dog. One way that will be accomplished is by having them spend time together — like they were doing on the couch this afternoon. Karina will also sleep in J.P.’s room, and he’ll start playing a role in her grooming and feedings. That should also help them bond.

Earlier on Monday, Karina made her first visit to Tuscawilla Oaks Animal Hospital to see Dr. Janis Fullenwider. Fullenwider said Karina is in good health, and we got her started on a flea and heartworm preventative. She’ll be due for vaccinations in July.

It’s so nice to have the whole family finally home together. It’s been a crazy two weeks that I never believed would end up the way it did, but if the goal was to get J.P. an amazing dog that could be his best friend, I believe that has been accomplished, and it certainly seems like she’ll be bringing a lot of joy and smiles to the entire family.



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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