Let the Dogs Speak!

I first met Marianne McKiernan when she contacted me to do a story for the news organization she works for in Denver. She is a service dog puppy raiser as well as a reporter and her dog-in-training, Rocket, had a mad crush on Jingle. In addition to training dogs for Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne is an animal intuitive and she has offered her services a couple of times when our pets have been out of sorts.

In her new book, Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne tells the story of four dogs she’s raised and she does it…in the dogs’ voices…thus the title.  Their names are Hudson, Parker, Ross and Mars. I started to read the book, and then Seth hi-jacked it and I didn’t see it again for three weeks. He took it to school for his reading time there, and he read it every night before bed. He really enjoyed learning about each dog’s story and also the personality and idiosyncracies of the many dogs discussed in the book. For instance, one dog is phobic of butter. When his person takes a stick out of the fridge, he gets really scared. We all have our issues, right? One dog liked to use his bone as a skateboard. One dog’s hobbies included rolling in dead snake.

I enjoyed learning more about what goes into the process of raising a service dog. I had an idea, probably a better idea than most, but I didn’t really know the extent of it.  In addition to the extensive work puppy raisers like Marianne and her husband John put in, the dogs at Canine Companions go through a rigorous program with prison inmates as well (Jingle also did this in her program with 4 Paws for Ability). As one of the dogs in the book states, “It takes a village to raise a service dog!”

Let the Dogs Speak! would be a perfect book for anyone who is considering obtaining a service dog. It would be especially soothing and wonderful and exciting to read for anyone who is actively waiting on a service dog. It would also be great reading for anyone who is considering being a puppy raiser for a service dog program. But truly, anyone who loves dogs is sure to get a kick out of it. Every question you ever had about service dogs and their role in society is covered.

You just can’t imagine the dedication and commitment on the part of puppy raisers like Marianne. They take puppy after puppy, love them, work with them, and then let them go, time after time. It takes a special kind of person to make that kind of committment and sacrifice.

On behalf of our family and those like us, we thank you Marianne, and we’re so appreciative for your willingness to do the beautiful work you do.

We are glad you Let the Dogs Speak! and we are so blessed to call you friend.

Marianne is busy raising Jeb, puppy #9, almost 8 months old.  Rocket, #8, is at Advanced Training and he’s a hopeful for a May graduation. Even after all the hard work and love put in, not every dog makes it through the program. It is nerve wracking for Marianne right up until the day of graduation.

Jeb is continuing Marianne’s DogBlog at The Denver Channel.com.

She says she gets more out of CCI than she puts into it, and feels it is a pleasure and a privilege to raise these dogs.


Jingle’s tail has seen better days. The week before last at homeschool co-op, she was sitting on her mat, minding her own business, hoping some kid would drop a sandwich at lunch, when all hell broke loose.

Someone walked by, and she wagged her tail happily in response. When she did this, her tail swooped under a radiator, and came back out with a gluey gooey mousetrap, about the size of a car license plate, attached.

Jingle freaked and started spinning in a circle, trying to get away from it. I tried to get the trap off of her, but it was stuck tight. My fingers were getting covered in gooey glue. It was disgusting. So much for lunch.

Thankfully, Melinda had scissors with her (some homeschool moms are so prepared). I had to cut the trap off and in the process cut Jingle’s big fluffy tail, way down. Where she used to have a beautiful fan, she now has a nub.

She’s so embarrassed.

If you see her, be cool. Pretend not to notice.

And to any mice in the big old church building where co-op is held?

You’re welcome.

Treat Him Like a Rottweiler

We were having a problem with Jingle. She’d started to become aggressive with other dogs when we were out on walks. She used to love every dog in the neighborhood. Now she’s snarling at them, showing her teeth, the second they start to sniff. We deduced it had something to do with Yippee the Chihuahua. Was she protecting him? He’s full of bravado but he’s less than ten pounds. Does she think he’s in danger?

We started walking them separately, but Jingle continued snapping at other dogs she used to be thrilled to see.

I took her out in the back yard one morning to do her business, and as I watched her sniff around, I thought, “I wish I could get inside her head. I wish I knew what was upsetting her. I wish I could talk to some kind of dog whisperer.”

While were were out, while I was having this wishful thinking about Jingle, someone was commenting on my blog. Someone who had interviewed us back in July for a news station in Denver. Someone who is a pet intuitive, though I didn’t know she was a pet communicator ’til I came inside and clicked on her link!

I made an appointment for the following week.

Before I could keep it, the very next day, a neighbor was over and her sister happened to be in town, and the sister used to be a dog trainer. She gave me a lot of insight into what was going on.

She believed the problem behind Jingle was Yippee. And the problem behind Yippee, was me.

While out on walks, Yippee barks and lunges and it’s really quite ridiculous, since he’s afraid of his own shadow. I don’t take it seriously and don’t correct him, because I can control his leash with one finger, and just yank him back. The thing is, Jingle does take him seriously, and if he’s misbehaving, and he isn’t being corrected, then in her mind, he’s the boss. He’s the alpha. And even if she really wants to listen to me, she can’t, because in a pack, you listen to the Alpha. So Yippee has all this fear, and barks and lunges at the other dogs, and Jingle follows suit. And now she’s actually taken on the fear and the behavior. Our neighbor’s sister said we need to treat Yippee the same as we would if he were a Rottweiler.

Who, me?

Next, it was time to talk to Marianne, the pet intuitive. If you don’t believe in things like intuition or psychic abilities feel free to run along. I’ve personally had experiences which lead me to believe there is a lot more going on in the Universe than what we understand with our five senses, so I am open to it.

This is how it works. You send her pics of the pets and she communicates with them and asks them questions and also tells them things we want them to know. Whether it would turn out to be legit or not, it was not too expensive, so we thought it would be worth it to try.

She said Jingle is exasperated with Yippee, appalled by his bad manners and needs regular breaks from him. I can’t imagine why?

She said Jingle is overwhelmed and confused with the Yippee situation and also with her role as a service dog as Riley becomes more and more independent. We have not been taking her out in public as much because Riley has not needed her as much and she doesn’t understand why she’s being left behind.

Yippee: She said Yippee truly believes in his heart, he and Seth are brothers.

Like a cocky (yet inwardly insecure) frat boy, he is happily running the show, and could benefit from some time in training, learning manners, tricks, agility, etc. to challenge him and allow him to use his brilliant mind for good and not evil.


Sam is our gray cat, and as you can see he has an eating disorder. He eats anything and everything. He ate my curtains. He eats the rubber pad underneath the treadmill. He eats paper bags. He eats plants. He eats cardboard boxes. He eats shoe laces. He chews stuffed animals. We got him and our calico at a shelter as kittens and believe he was probably weaned too soon.

Sam also wants to go out. He tries to slip out the front door all the time. We made the decision to have Sam and his sister Tanya strictly “indoor” a fear based decision, after our beloved cat Crystal was mangled in our back yard. Then we had them de-clawed because they were destroying all the woodwork in the house. In hindsight, I would risk it and let them be outside, and not de-claw. So now, the dilemma, let Sam out? Without his front claws? It would help his restlessness (and his girth). Some of our neighbors’ cats are outdoor and de-clawed. They tell me cats use their back claws for fighting and the front ones don’t matter so much.

So I asked the intuitive this: Is it worth it to Sam, to take the risk and have the freedom? She answered for him, “Yes.”  (I had only sent a face shot to her, so she hadn’t even seen his impressive derriere).


Tanya is our chronically pissed off cat. She’s the one who chased the stray kitten under Seth’s box spring and would not let it out. She terrorized the poor thing. She struts around the house, flicking her tail like she’s just so irritated. She is LOUD. Demanding. Strikingly beautiful. Marianne said Tanya feels like the leftover pet. The one we pay attention to last. She had Riley all to herself before Jingle and now she’s an afterthought. She said she doesn’t like having to sleep downstairs in the basement at night (we make her because she wakes up at the crack of dawn meowing and we were losing too many hours of sleep). Since talking with Marianne, we’ve been trying to give her more attention and it seems to be helping. We typically had to chase her around the house to get her in the basement and the past few nights she’s been walking downstairs voluntarily.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Lots to think about.

Overwhelmed? Me too. When you clump it all together like that, it’s a lot. But in the course of a day, two happy dogs keep two happy kids company. Two cats lounge lazily in sunbeams. It isn’t as bad as it seems. Yippee is taking direction, being forced to sit and mind, rather than bark at passersby. Jingle is getting breaks, and eating separatly from the “Rottweiler.” We still have a lot of work to do, and we’ll never get it all done. Everyone’s needs won’t always be met. Human needs will always come first, but we’ll do our best to make the critters happy.

We love our animals.

Pray for us.


Living in Technicolor: An autistic’s thoughts on raising a child with autism By Lydia Wayman

Living in Technicolor: An autistic's thoughts on raising a child with autism

Many of you know Lydia, of the blog Autistic Speaks. Lydia is a young woman with autism and she has a new book out, full of wonderful information for parents of kids on the spectrum. It isn’t a how-to, but more of a “this is what goes on inside me, and maybe it will help you relate better to your own child if you understand.” But it isn’t just for parents. Anyone wanting to better understand people with autism would enjoy this very engaging book.

Lydia is in the process of fund raising for a service dog of her very own (his name is Blue and he’s a looker). The proceeds from Living in Technicolor will go toward bringing Blue home to her.

To purchase Lydia’s book in paperback or e-book form, click here.

Jingle is soooo famous

A puppy in Denver has a mad crush on Jingle. Read about it here.

Talking about the service dog,

tongue rollover at Hopeful Parents today.

I won’t lie, I’m hoping everyone over there at HP will get a service dog for their child(ren). I’ve been sending Carrie e-mail pics of dogs for close to a year now, trying to convince her to get over her dislike of dogs, and aquire one for her son Rojo. I’m manipulative that way. I’m learning to accept this about myself. Heck, if I had my way, I’d ask all of you to send Carrie pictures of cute dogs:

carrie wilson link @ comcast.net

Yes indeedy. Self-acceptance is the key. After all, no one is perfect.

P.S. Can you roll your tongue like Jingle? Some people can’t. It’s genetic. I myself have been blessed with tongue rolling ability. It’s one of my gifts.

Man at the Market

I took Jingle to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning. After tactfully extricating myself from a conversation with my Mennonite friend who was adament animals have no souls, I walked around with purpose, gathering my wares.






“Good girl, Jingle! Good girl.”

After finishing shopping I took the opportunity to walk Jingle around the whole market, getting her acclimated without Riley in preparation for the next outing with Riley. One woman stopped me to ask about her. Then another stopped, then a man, who kind of hung back, listening to the conversation.  He seemed a bit odd. Perhaps homeless? Perhaps mentally ill? I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“She’s a service dog for my daughter. We just brought her home two days ago.”

“Is your daughter blind?” a woman asked.

“She has autism.”

The man stepped forward and touched me on the forearm.  

“I just had to touch you. Bless your heart,” he said, beaming kindness. 

He was holding me in reverence because my child has autism.

Most of us who have kids on the spectrum have been looked at with scorn. With judgement. With pity. With blame. With, “Whew, thank God I dodged that bullet.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever received reverence before.  

My first thoughts about this man were, “Perhaps homeless? Perhaps mentally ill?” I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Perhaps angel? Perhaps teacher?

Perhaps a reminder to hold reverence, for everyone.

Cute Dog Pictures

PIMG0025Some pictures from 4 Paws today. These puppies are in a kennel, right in the same room we do our training. They are so stinking cute I can’t stand it!  They play wild, wild, wild, and then they all plop down at once and fall asleep. Love the tongue on the blondie.  



sleepy pups

 Huh? Huh? What?


This here is Monty. He’s in our class. Isn’t he beautiful? He’s being trained as a seizure alert dog, and he’s a little depressed. It isn’t that he doesn’t like his new family, but apparently German Shepherds are very loyal dogs. He misses his peeps. Jeremy the trainer says it will take him a little while to adjust.


This is Clarabel. She’s also a seizure alert dog. The little white triangle on her matt is a piece of doggy birthday cake in her honor. Her new mom shared it with the group. All the other dogs gulped it down, but Clarabel is watching her girlish figure. She couldn’t possibly partake.


And here is our Jingle. Jingle did some amazing work today. Read all about it on the service dog page.


Off We Go!

ready to go!After almost a year of waiting we leave tomorrow to meet  Riley’s service dog. The bags are packed. The groceries are bought, the cat/house sitter arrives in the morning(poor cats, they’ve never met a dog in their lives)!

I honestly have very little idea what to expect at 4 Paws. I do know the dog sees its family as a pack. I like the concept.

Pack O’Neil, reporting for duty.

I’ll be blogging about the experience on the service dog page (up and to the right). Thank you to everyone who has supported us on the way to Jingle.   

Much love,

Pack O’Neil