Long day brings welcome news

J.P. improves

I think the past two weeks have caught up with me just as I headed back to work Sunday morning.

There was the preparation for our team training at Canine Companions for Independence even before that, but the studying and classes and then three trips to the hospital have left me spent.

I’m glad it’s now my weekend because I need some rest.

Paige and I were up early Sunday. We realized with me going back to work and her heading to the hospital to be with J.P. meant Karina would be crated at home for hours on end. We didn’t want to do that, so we took her to the hospital with us. She was very good.

J.P. is also doing much better, and I hope he’ll be getting discharged soon. He’s no longer vomiting, and his gastric bug seems to be subsiding. With all of that improving, his sodium levels are almost back to the normal range.

The chance to get everyone home together sounds absolutely wonderful. I might even get to run again.

I had the chance today to do a bit of blog housekeeping. The Gallery page now has the three videos from the series WESH-TV did at Canine Companions. I’ll also be adding more photos to that page in the days ahead.

WESH-TV also did a short piece Sunday on the graduation ceremony at SeaWorld. I’m hoping they post that video so I can embed it, too.

I’m looking forward to getting to see more of J.P. and Karina together as his condition improves, and I hope Paige and I can get things wrapped up with Canine Companions so we can take Karina in public with us.

It’s been a journey with a lot of ups and downs, welcome memories and others I would rather forget, but it was all made better by amazing people — both longtime friends and new acquaintances.

We saw again that there are people who will never let you down and others who showed that when the going got rough, they were ready to help in anyway possible.

I hope I can return the favor or pay it forward in the future as we all navigate life’s detours.

Celebrating canine commencement


There was plenty of laughter and tears at the graduation ceremony for Canine Companions for Independence at SeaWorld on Saturday.

Puppies were given awards, and 12 recipients received their dogs in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people.

It was an emotional ceremony as the puppy raisers who spent about 18 months with their dogs handed them over to Canine Companions for what will be their advanced training before becoming candidates for placement.

At the same time, the dogs that were paired during the May 2014 team training session made the match with their dogs official and received the dog from the person or people who raised it from the age of about eight weeks old.

I didn’t expect to be so moved by the ceremony, but the video segments of the interviews with the recipients and the tribute to our class brought tears to my eyes.

We worked together to make this experience happen and bonded with each other throughout the session. I didn’t know these people two weeks ago, and now I’m saddened by the fact that we’re all going our separate ways with our new four-legged family members.

We were driven by an amazing staff who watched us as we “fell for the fur” over and over again. They taught us that we’re not doing the dogs any favors by avoiding corrections — and that they’re actual happier when we’re tough “pack leaders.”

They practically broke their backs while holding a carpet dog as we learned proper leash management and the right way to praise and encourage the canines.

For me, I’ll never forget the fact that despite missing practically the entire second week of training, they understood that family came first, Karina was ours and not to worry about the training until J.P. was better.

Maybe that’s why it was such an emotional day for me — not so much because I got the dog that my family strived for almost a year to secure — but because the people who hardly knew us before training somehow made their way into our hearts and showed us love and grace during what was a very stressful time for my wife and I.

I wish we could have spent more time with these very special people who got that sparkle in their eyes as the bond grew between them and their dogs. I felt it as Karina began working hard to gain my approval as she carried out the commands I gave her — as well as the smiles J.P. gave her as she realized it’s OK to violate his personal space. The closer the better for him.

I only wish Paige and J.P. had been able to experience the laughter and tears of a very special ceremony with the newest group of pack leaders as we begin a new chapter in our lives thanks to the staff at Canine Companions for Independence.


Getting to know our puppy raiser

Valerie Habeeb

It was an exciting Friday as team training at Canine Companions for Independence drew to a close.

The day began with a grooming session for Karina in preparation for Saturday’s graduation at SeaWorld.

The 11 recipients and their families attended a luncheon with the people who raised the puppies that are about to become graduates.

Much more on the very special luncheon in a moment, but first the latest on J.P.’s ongoing hospital stay: I think the vomiting has lessened, but his blood work is showing high sodium levels.

One of J.P.’s many diagnoses is diabetes insipidus, which means he doesn’t retain the proper amount of water in his body. His doctors believe the high sodium level is likely caused by excessive vomiting.

The sodium level means he’ll be getting numerous blood draws, so another super IV line was placed Friday.

His neurosurgeons don’t believe there is a problem from their standpoint. They think the vomiting may be the result of the pressure change in his head.

So back to the big luncheon at Canine Companions: I met Karina’s puppy raiser, Valerie Habeeb, and Katrina went bonkers when she realized Valerie was there. It was a very special moment that illustrated the bond between the dogs and their first masters.

The luncheon was very emotional at times and showed the impact these two weeks had on all of us. I thanked the staff and the other recipients for their support and understanding while we dealt with J.P.’s surgery and recovery.

Our class gave a gift to the trainers in the form of a carpet dog. It’s what we used during training so we weren’t constantly correcting real dogs for no reason. It was complete with eyes and a tassel for a tail.

The Knights of Columbus also presented a check to Canine Companions for $6,000. Very nice.

After the luncheon, Valerie came to the hospital to meet J.P., and we brought Karina with us. We learned more about Karina as a puppy and how much she enjoys people and attention.

It was a very special time, and we vowed to keep in touch and possibly meet again later this year.

Karina also got to see her new home for the first time and had a staring contest with the cats. Luckily, there was no fur flying.

I’m wiped out from this day. Much more tomorrow from graduation.

Disappointment abounds

J.P. sick

I’m disappointed. I’m really disappointed.

I’m sad.

I’m worried.

I’m envious.

I’m tired.

I’m wondering how what I had hoped would be a bucket-list experience was decimated before my very eyes.

At the same time, I’m thankful to the entire staff at Canine Companions for Independence for their complete understanding of the situation Paige and I have been dealing with this week since J.P.’s shunt malfunction, as well as the doctors and nurses at Florida Hospital for Children for working hard to get my son better in time to make it back in time for the graduation at SeaWorld on Saturday.

It now looks like it will take a miracle to make that happen.

We were discharged from the hospital Wednesday afternoon and returned to Canine Companions in time for a take-out pizza dinner with our friends, Don and Michele Hettenbach.

It was shortly after they left when J.P. vomited again, and I began to see my hopes of getting the experience of Canine Companions going down the drain. He continued to vomit overnight, and we promptly returned to the emergency room in the morning after talking with the neurosurgeon’s office.

J.P. was readmitted for observation, and we’re still trying to determine his plan of care as of Thursday evening. X-rays and a CT scan of his shunt look good. One possibility is a stomach virus, but we just don’t know at this point.

His spirits seem good, and he continues to receive his normal feeds. However, continued vomiting led to the need for oxygen, so we’ll have to wean him from that before discharge.

The big thing that happened at Canine Companions was the test for public certification and interviews for a video presentation that will be shown at the graduation ceremony. I was able to get back for that on my family’s behalf.

But the dreams I had of going through this training with the 10 other amazing recipients and their families is gone. We enjoyed spending time with them, learning about their lives and how they’ve coped with the challenges they’ve faced.

We laughed together at some pretty funny jokes, enjoyed meals together, made friends with each other and the staff that trained the dogs we’ll be spending many years with.

For my family, we found the perfect match in the baby of this season’s class of dogs, Karina.

I feel bad that I haven’t been able to devote the time needed to complete the training process before graduation. Instead of spending time with her pals, Karina stayed at the kennel while we were at the hospital. She was amazing Wednesday when she came to visit J.P. and assisted him in therapy.

It’s been two weeks that have brought a roller coaster of emotions, and we’re now back in the hospital wondering when we’ll be able to get J.P. better and begin our lives with a very special pup.

I’m lucky that at these low times in life there is reassurance. I was so happy to learn Valerie and Maggie Habeeb, the mother and daughter team that raised Karina, found this blog and took the time to send a message to me.

“(I) am so excited about meeting your whole family this weekend! Unfortunately, Maggie won’t be able to make it. She is so very disappointed but will be involved in real-time over the phone video as much as possible. We have been praying for a wonderful match for our girl, and it looks like our prayers have been answered! We don’t have to tell you how special Karina is but it is comforting for us Puppy Mommas to see the love we lavished on our puppies continue. I am looking forward to hearing about how Karina (is) making a difference in J.P.’s life. CCI does an unbelievable job.
I can also assure you that Karina will be a source of comfort and support for you guys, as well (Jeff and Paige). She has been there for me many times. I admire your strength and optimism and hope you take advantage of those ‘Karina Hugs,’ too. We will see you guys and Karina (Friday) to celebrate a new beginning.”

Here’s hoping to better days ahead.

Karina visits J.P. before discharge

Karina visits hospital

J.P. tolerated his feeds well and was able to be discharged Wednesday afternoon.

It was a really interesting day because Karina was able to spend the day with J.P. in his hospital room.

I was very happy with the way she behaved in

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

the hospital, and the staff enjoyed being able to meet the dog they had heard so much about.

While Karina was in J.P.’s hospital room, he had occupational and physical therapy, and the therapists said it was among the best they’ve had with him.

It made me feel good about our decision to get a skilled companion dog for J.P.

Back at Canine Companions, the class was scheduled to go on a field trip to PetSmart and take the written final exam. It’s something else we’ll need to make up in the days ahead.

I was told early this morning that WESH-TV was going to send a photographer to get video of the class field trip, and the second part of the special report on Canine Companions will air at 5 p.m.

A watch party was held at Canine Companions for Monday’s piece, and everyone said they really enjoyed it.

The schedule for Thursday includes the test to be certified to take the dogs into public, as well as interviews for the video presentation that happens at the graduation ceremony. The dogs may also be getting groomed.

Paige and I really appreciate the prayers from everyone and the support from both the students and staff at Canine Companions — especially allowing us to bring Katrina to visit J.P. at the hospital. I think it gave her a good idea about what our daily life is like, and she got an A-plus for her performance today in my book.

Hopefully, we can put this whole hospitalization behind us now and begin concentrating on our graduation ceremony and the final few days to make Karina an official member of the Cousins’ family and member of Team J.P.

J.P. wakes up with smile

J.P.'s card and gift

J.P. was awake and smiling Tuesday afternoon after surgery to repair his shunt earlier in the day.

He had reason to smile after his fellow students at Canine Companions for Independence got together and purchased him a big stuffed dog and card to let him know they’re thinking about him during his hospital stay.

J.P. slept for much of the afternoon after he awoke with pain in the recovery unit. He was given quite a few pain medications before he got comfortable and dozed off.

Mat time
Karina spends time with J.P. during training.

His doctors are planning to begin feeds this evening, and that will be key to his discharge. Please pray there are no further issues with his feeds tonight. Everything else is looking good.

Things also remain on track to have a visit from Karina on Wednesday. I know that will make him happy. He keeps smiling at his new stuffed dog.

Paige and I really appreciate the support of everyone and the special gift from our friends at Canine Companions.

Getting back on track

J.P. in recovery

J.P. went to surgery Tuesday morning to repair his shunt, and everyone is hoping that will settle his stomach and allow him to get back to dog training in time for graduation Saturday.

Dr. Eric Trumble performed the surgery and said it was the same issue we were dealing with a year ago when J.P.’s catheter from his shunt was clogged by brain matter. The catheter has again been replaced, and J.P. should be feeling better soon.

The recovery process now begins, and I’m so glad J.P. has been able to stay off oxygen since he arrived at the hospital Saturday. His doctors hope to restart his feeds this afternoon. If he can keep his food down, discharge could be just a day or two away if there are no complications.

Meanwhile, team training continues at Canine Companions for Independence. The class was scheduled to take another field trip and eat lunch out with the dogs.

There was only one lecture on Monday about advanced learning theory which can allow us to tweak the way dogs respond to commands they have learned and even learn new commands after things settle down at home. The trainers will go over all of that with us when we get back.

More time is being spent this week with one-on-one instruction between the teams and the trainers. They want to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team and make sure everyone is successful in their pairings. The recipients were told Monday that all the matches were solid, so no dogs will be switched out before graduation.

I’m hoping the detours we’ve faced since team training began are over. Meeting the puppy raiser of J.P.’s skilled companion dog, Karina, would be very special, as well as seeing him able to attend the graduation ceremony at SeaWorld. I’ve learned over the years that it’s really out of my hands at this point. We’ll just wait and see — and hope for the best.

Thanks for your prayers and well wishes. They mean a lot to us.


I’m a lucky dog

Karina with J.P. and Paige
Lowe's with Karina
Jeff, J.P. and Karina on a field trip to Lowe’s.

Hello. My name is Karina, and I’ve been matched with J.P. as his soon-to-be skilled companion dog.

I’m 2 years old, and I’m part golden retriever and part Labrador retriever. I’m the smallest of all the dogs in my class, and one of the trainers said I’m like a big cocker spaniel.

I first met J.P. and his parents a week ago on the first day of team training at Canine Companions for Independence.

I’ve been working since I was about 8 weeks old to prepare for this very exciting time, and have spent the last six months perfecting about 40 commands to help J.P. in his daily life.

Ten other dogs have also been working with their recipients. Some of them will be working with just one person, but I’m glad to have a whole family to go home with on Saturday.

I’ve missed J.P. since he left, and I’m hoping he gets better fast so we can resume our training together. He’s such a sweet little boy, and I’m going to do my best to make his life easier.

It was a lot of fun practicing my commands with his parents, Jeff and Paige. They’re working hard to become awesome facilitators. We’ve been practicing sitting, getting objects, walking and even went on a field trip together to Lowe’s on Saturday on a scavenger hunt. I got to ride together with J.P. in his van.

Karina visits with J.P.
Karina visits with J.P. during team training.

I was sad when I saw J.P. was getting sick, and I was sent back to the kennels. It made me feel better when Jeff came to see Monday morning and we got to take a walk together.

I’m hearing that I may get to see J.P. in the hospital later this week. I’m really excited about that.

Hopefully, he won’t be there much longer because we have to walk together in the graduation ceremony Saturday at SeaWorld.

Being a Canine Companion dog is an incredible honor for me, and I’m looking forward to spending many years as a member of the Cousins’ skilled companion team.

Preparing for surgery

Batman and Catwoman visit J.P.
J.P. Surgery
J.P. recovers after shunt surgery in May 2013.

It’s always nice to have two superheroes pulling for you on the day before surgery.

J.P. got to meet Batman and Catwoman on Monday afternoon at Florida Hospital for Children.

It is looking more like J.P. won’ be returning to his Canine Companions training for at least a few more days.

Dr. Eric Trumble is J.P.’s neurosurgeon, and he has scheduled an exploratory shunt revision for Tuesday morning. He believes there could be an intermittent problem with it, so he’ll remove it and check all the parts before placing it back in his head if everything is OK. J.P.’s surgeon, Dr. Mark Chaet, will assist.

Those who have followed J.P.’s journey may recall there was a clog in his shunt in 2013 that also prompted a hospital stay. Trumble will be checking for that, too.

I have been in contact with Canine Companions, and they have assured me that the

Clogged shunt
Tubing from J.P.’s shunt revision in 2013.

match with our dog is solid. We won’t lose the dog and can resume training when J.P. is able.

J.P. will undergo a CT scan of his abdomen today, and he had a super IV line placed for IV nutrition. He will hopefully be able to restart normal feeds tomorrow after surgery.

I am really hoping that we’ll be able to have  J.P. back to Canine Companions in time to meet his puppy raiser on Friday and make it for graduation at SeaWorld on Saturday. Please pray that all goes well with surgery and his recovery.

J.P.’s doctor said the dog needs to come to the hospital to visit J.P., and Canine Companions is trying to make that happen. I really appreciate how understanding the staff has been with this unexpected hospitalization.

I’ll post more tomorrow after surgery is completed and we have some idea about whether it resolves the vomiting problem.

I’ve also been told the first part of the series on team training at Canine Companions will air at 5 p.m. on WESH-TV. I’ll post the video here after it is posted on WESH.com.



Dealing with unforseen problems, part 2

J.P. hospitalized

The old saying, “One step forward, two steps back,” is so true in the lives of J.P., Paige and I.

We have become so excited about the prospect of bringing home our skilled companion dog over the past week, but what happened Saturday night has put a wrench in those plans.

It all began Thursday night when J.P. vomited after we brought the dog back to our room for the first time.

As a parent of a special-needs child, I can tell you a single vomit is more of a warning sign than anything. It happened again Friday, and we believed it was more of a positional issue — not a medical problem.

But after class on Saturday night, J.P. began vomiting every few minutes, and we knew it was time to put our canine quest on hold and head to the hospital.

Luckily, we were able to find a Canine Companions staff member who took our dog to the kennel, and we took J.P. to Florida Hospital for Children’s emergency department.

J.P. was promptly admitted, and tests on Sunday determined his shunt is OK, and his lungs are clear. His temperature is also normal, and his bowels are moving. Those are all good signs, but J.P. began vomiting again Sunday evening, and we’ll talk to the neurosurgeon on Monday to determine the best course of action.

Once again, my family is left to navigate life’s detours. We were on the fast track to getting something very special and working hard to be the best facilitators possible for our dog, and now we’re stuck sitting on pit row, trying to find our way back to the track.

I told our story to a Florida Hospital chaplain Sunday morning. She reminded me that God’s ways are not always our ways, and that God allowed this hospitalization to happen for a reason. She encouraged me to find hope in his promise to hold us closest at our most desperate moments. We prayed for a quick recovery and no complications.

I don’t know how this will resolve at this moment. We’ve been in contact with Canine Companions for Independence, and staff have vowed to work with us through this complication.

J.P. looks a lot better than yesterday, and Paige and I hope nothing else develops that could slow him down on the road to recovery.

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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