When all seems lost…

A print of my golden SD, Hope that I am selling to fundraise for her successor.

Hopeprint 124

 

Quarterly, bloggers are invited to participate in the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This time the Carnival is being hosted by Cyndy at Gentle Wit with the chosen topic Achievement.

It is now the last day for submissions and I have been sitting on this topic for a month. To be honest, I am having a pretty rotten time. I’m sick. I’m depressed. I’m fed up. I have no desire to think about Achievement. But I will try.

 

It’s been a bit over a year since my dear, faithful Hope died of cancer. We were partnered for six years and with her assistance I achieved so much. I transitioned to independent living in my own apartment. I built skills and learned techniques to make my way in this world. We grew as a team. As I learned to metaphorically crawl, walk, and run she was right there with me. I was given the confidence to take risks because I knew I was never alone.

The last summer before her death was the absolute best. Together we ventured further into the world than ever before. My mindset transitioned from being ‘in treatment’ to ‘living life.’ I was excited to see success from my years of treatment as I began to take the bus and make small ventures into the world with only Hope to assist me. I planned outings just to ‘practice.’ People would ask when I reported back if I ‘had fun.’ Umm, NO. Fun would not be the word I would use. These trips made my head feel like it would explode. Accomplished…definitely!

As an artist I was thriving. I was enjoying my classes, the days at the art studio, and had a professional development plan in the works. I  courageously introduced myself to the world by submitting to shows, exhibiting in galleries, and even attending my own openings. My goal became to ‘Be the best ME I can be’… living a fulfilled life in spite of my challenges, and in spite of others judgements. Hope was a great example –she never had any problems just being HOPE!

Then wham… within two weeks my perfectly ordered existence was demolished. Honestly, I didn’t even know the extent at which she helped me until she was gone. It felt like I’d lost a limb and my connection to this world. My family, best friend, constant companion, and my independence all suddenly gone.

The past year has been a game of limbo. Dealing with the grief. Trying to find new ways to make it in this world without her assistance. Then came the applications, waiting, rejections, disappointments, fundraising, and everything else involved in finding a new partner. A year later all bets are on a puppy. Yes, he shows promise, but there are so many things that could go wrong; it’s frightening.

An origional Monoprint I created as a tribute to my golden retriever, Hope.

Hopeprint 125

This is one of the unfortunate realities of choosing a service dog lifestyle. At some point we all face the loss of our Partner. Unlike most medical devices, they can not be cloned perfectly duplicated in mind and spirit, nor would I ever want my girl to be. Sometimes I do wonder if it is worth it to stake so much on a mortal being with a relatively short life expectancy. The pain and setbacks when a partner dies is intense.

At the same time, I know Hope made me a better person and gave me a chance at a a much better life. With her, I knew ‘Achievement‘. Where I go from here is a great unknown, but at least I now know the potential my life holds.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.                 ~Anne Lamott

Life after ‘Hope’

It’s been nearly a year since the loss of Hope. Looking back the signs came on so suddenly–most of her summer was full of fun and adventure with my brother, sister, and niece visiting. More than anything Hope loved her people and each day brought people and adventure.

I suspect the mass growing in her stomach already caused discomfort, but she was such a stoic dog and there were no signs until she randomly started vomiting her meals in August. At first we thought it was another food intolerance because she did just fine on bland meals until switched back to kibble. My vet thought the same as all standard tests came back normal. In the end the endoscopy reported a cancerous mass blocking the stomach exit, trapping whole kibble whereas the blended diet was passing through.

It all happened so fast. Less than two weeks from diagnosis she was gone–a little over a month since the symptoms started. She kept her HOPE attitude until the end, and I was allowed time to say goodbye. She even de-stuffed an indestructible toy in her last days. My friend Kara came out to support me as I helped my best friend cross the Rainbow Bridge.

Loosing a pet is extremely painful for anyone. They love you when you feel unlovable, they listen when you feel ignored, they forgive your faults without grudge. To them you can do no wrong. With an assistance dog partnership, it is even more. Hope was my best friend, family, and constant companion. She was also my eyes, my ears, my sense of stability and safety.

With her I ‘learned to walk’ and enter the world as an artist, as an adult, as an individual. I relied on her to assist me in making my way in this world. When she was yanked from my side, it really felt like I lost an appendage. I knew she was trained to assist me, but I had absolutely no idea how much I relied on her until she was missing. We worked in tandem–a nonverbal give and take, ebb and flow. Much of our relationship was a subconscious mutual trust. I cared for her and she cared for me.

I know there will never be another Hope. My new partnership will be different. It will take time to develop our own language and get to the point where we can finish each others sentences. I liken it to loosing the leg I learned to walk on; then having to relearn walking with a prosthetic. I am not saying my next partnership will never be as ‘perfect’ as Hope. Anyone who knew Hope also knew she had her flaws challenges. They made her enduring and maddening at the same time. The next dog will have different strengths and different quirks. I don’t want another Hope. She was one of a kind.

This print run has meant so much to me because it is my memorial to Hope. It also allows Hope to push me forward in hopes of a better future. After her death my artistic process came to a standstill. I didn’t paint, I barely drew, and my printing press was covered with dust. It took this project to give me the push I needed to keep going. Its been a very therapeutic process as I remember her with fondness–the good times and difficult times. We went through so much together.

As the anniversary of her death looms, I find myself facing another wave of grief… I still miss my Hope soo much.

Quick Update

I’ve been exhausted and struggling to write here as we approach the one year anniversary of Hope’s passing. Instead of pushing to make that topic my next blog post here, I am just going to do a quick update. There is lots going on:

I believe I have reached my 10% mark for my fundraising goal! I am unsure at this moment what the exact total is, but I believe I have now passed $750. Thank you everyone for your continued support.

Maple Leaf Life featured Hope and me on their blog about the goings-on in Maple Leaf Neighborhood. Thank you Mike and Cloud City for continuing to get the word out.

Prints were sent out last Tuesday and the next batch will be sent out either this Tuesday or the following. Plus I think I figured out how to use the email updates. I hope so. If you ordered a print by Monday, Aug 8 but have not received one, please contact me. I want to make sure you get your print!

I am continuing to stretch into this era of social networking. I have a list of things to figure out to make this go further (facebook, twitter, some widgets I need to figure out how to install). These things do not come naturally to me so I am slow and it gives me massive headaches. If you are a networking natural, feel free to network for me to your hearts content. I will always appreciate that as I slowly catch up!

Finally, I did get up to Brigadoon last week to meet with Denise and meet a puppy prospect! That is another story in itself. Boy am I behind. I will include a photo here as a teaser…

I am exhausted and emotionally drained. I think I will be taking a break today and possibly tomorrow. Apologies to those who are awaiting an email. I fully intend to respond as soon as my brain begins to cooperate. Until then I will sew more cat blankets for the kitty rescue. The kitties don’t even care if they are cut crooked and have jagged seams!

Hope at Cloud City

Cloud City Coffee has kindly volunteered to exhibit my prints and help with my fundraising efforts. They are located in the in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood, just south of Northgate, at the corner of 88th and Roosevelt.

Hope was a ‘regular’ at Cloud City for many years. All my medical appointments are in the area, and she knew the route to and from my multiple weekly appointments without a slip. When Hope died, Cloud City lost that ray of sunshine. I know Hope would be pleased to have her face on their art wall, leaving her mark even after passing on.

The process of choosing your own print at Cloud City is simple. All the prints available are hanging on clothes pins (with a few in a basket). Just remove your chosen print from the wall and fill out a ‘commitment card’ located in the basket and place the card in the envelope pinned to the basket. At your convenience you can pay online– go to my website and make a donation for your chosen print. If you would rather pay by check, you can leave the check made out to ADAP with the commitment card in the envelope, or you can mail the check directly to Karl’s Kids.

Of course while you are at Cloud City I suggest treating yourself to a drink. I get a single grande mocha with whip. I am addicted to their whip cream. They say it has a secret ingredient. Their baked good, soups, and sandwiches are all amazing and definitely worth a taste.

For my knitting friends, NorthEnd Knitters meet every Saturday at Cloud City. One of my goals once I have my new dog is to be able to spend Saturdays at my favorite shop participating in one of my favorite hobbies with a group of fiber enthusiasts.

If you know of any other venues willing to help in my fundraising efforts by allowing exhibition space, please contact me. I am appreciative of all networking during this process, so send me a note if you have any ideas on how I can reach a larger audience.

Many thanks to everyone helping in this journey to find me a new canine partner.

Cloud City Coffee in Maple Leaf
8801 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

Hatch with Hope

Two summers ago I had the opportunity to visit the traveling Hatch Exhibit at the Experience Music Project. Hatch is the world’s oldest working letterpress shop. They designed and printed for major music icons, political campaigns, and advertisement posters since 1879 –well before the creation of digital images. They are still in business today. Check out this amazing video to learn more!

As a printmaker, this was a dream come true! It was the working, breathing history of my art. The woodblocks, the inks, the posters, the ‘happy accidents’. Nothing was ever thrown away and the same machines and blocks are still used today. My favorite were the ‘happy accidents’–the paper used to test and register the run before starting. To conserve paper the same sheets were used over and over and over again. Over time they turned themselves into their own piece of work, unique in every way.

Without Hope, there is no way I could ever have managed to see this exhibit. First of all, it was ‘First Thursday’–the only day the EMP is free to the public. It was noisy, overwhelming, and crowded. I am not such a rock music fan, but there was no escape from the loud, pounding music. The crowds were so thick it felt like a mosh pit. The Hatch Exhibit itself was quiet and basically empty, but getting there was a nightmare.

There was one simple, yet useful, task of Hope’s that saved me. The simple words ‘Follow [name].’ On that day it was my brother in law, ‘Follow Adam’. As we weaved through the crowds Hope’s nose was stuck like glue to the back of Adam’s leg. When someone rammed between us and Adam, Hope was right back locating his leg even if it took navigating around people to do so. Both my sister and brother got lost multiple times, but I did not. I had Hope. I had safety. I did not have to worry about searching the crowds, finding my group, attending to my surroundings. I shut my mind down and trusted my dog…otherwise it really would have been too much. I wouldn’t have been able to make it.

That day, because of Hope, I found inspiration, history and success.

I look forward to the time when I can take these adventures once again. I am confident the new dog in the future will lend me the assistance to do this and so much more!

Online Store is Open!

For those interested in purchasing their own custom print of “Hope Springs Eternal,” my Online Store is open with a selection of prints for you to choose from!! To choose a custom print, simply go to the on-line store, click to “Hope Print Line” and select your favorite from the variety of hand printed, no-two-are-alike prints.

If you wish to give above the suggested print amount, I have added a Donations selection so you can do so at the same time. Unfortunately, the software I am using for donations doesn’t allow individuals to choose a variable donation amount, so currently donation values may be made in any quantity of $5, $25 or $100.  Thank you again for any amount you choose to donate, your support means more to me than you could ever imagine.  Again, a tax-deductible receipt will be given for any donation over the cost of the print.

Though the shopping-cart software is wonderful, there are still a few glitches to iron out. For one, I am not given an email address on order. Since I would like to keep people informed on the shipping process and timeline, please send me an email via my Contact page, noting your name and email address, and I will be sure to send you updates on your order.

Excitingly enough, I did get my first online purchase! It went smoothly and I noted purchaser’s mailing address seemed to be about 4 blocks from my house. Being that her home was so close to mine, I decided to hand deliver her print, while testing out my phone GPS for the very first time. In getting a phone with GPS capabilities, my hope was that it would give me the freedom to walk alone safely, allowing me to gain some of the independence I had with Hope back again. My past “track record” for independent walks has not been very successful.

My Aide and I ventured out, following the directions indicated on the GPS. The route zigzaged back and forth, hitting every single major hill in the neighborhood. Then it stopped!  It had enough, and wasn’t going to go anymore. We were definitely much farther than four blocks from my apartment, but seemingly nowhere near where near the final destination we were trying to reach!

My Aide then tried her Android’s GPS and it led us further down the windy roads. Suddenly I actually recognized a picket fence and tree–one of the landmarks my walking partner Cherrie and I have been working on so I can get to her house! I knew where we were and my GPS didn’t!  The GPS led us down the next road to Cherrie’s house and we took the right at the horse sculptures (another landmark) and I spotted the red door on Cherrie’s house! Of course we weren’t in search of Cherrie’s house, and the GPS led us on…right into a dead end. Apparently even the newest GPS on the market can’t navigate in my neighborhood.

Because of my landmark practice, the trip was not completely futile. I said ‘hi’ to Adda my canine walking buddy and left the print with her so her mother could deliver it to the un-plotted house. Adda was terribly disappointed to learn she was being left in her kennel and not going on a fun outing with me.

Amazingly, due to my landmarks I was able to find my way back home without my broken GPS. While it is great that I was able to recognize landmarks, which is still an incredibly difficult thing for me due to my sensory processing difficulties, I was disappointed GPS was not a bigger help on this trip.

In the past, with Hope as my guide, I could wander to my hearts content and she could always somehow find our way back home. She was much better than a GPS. With this beautiful sunshine I’ve been wanting to go out for long, glorious walks, but find myself simply staring out my window missing her…

Why fundraising… I thought all service dogs were free?

People ask why I have to fund-raise for my service dog. Many believe all Assistance Dogs are provided free of charge. It is true most guide dog programs do not charge for guide dogs, nor does Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)–the longest established service dog program. However, most other programs require clients to actively contribute to the cost of their partner’s training and care.

Did you know it costs over $30,000 to train and place an Assistance Dog? That is a minimum of 300 hours of training; and two years of food, medical and kennel care. This cost is offset by volunteers and donors, but smaller emerging programs just don’t have the same donor/grant base as the guide programs or CCI. For example, Dean Koontz actively promotes and donates book royalties to CCI. Obviously that affects their funding pool.

So why not CCI? CCI is a great program. They do a lot for the service dog community as a whole. Unfortunately, they do not train for neurological disabilities. They specialize in wheelchair assist and they are excellent at it! It makes sense. All the dogs are trained with the same general tasks, bred for the same purpose and evaluated on the same criteria (of course personalities and strengths are matched). It allows them to serve a greater population, but also puts limitations on special needs/multiple disabilities/more complex tasks.

The founder of CCI, Bonnie Bergin, knew many others could benefit from a service dog. CCI couldn’t take all applicants and people like me actually benefit from smaller, more intimate programs. Bergin founded the University of Canine Studies specifically to teach others to train service dogs and start their own programs.

That is how my program, Brigadoon Service Dogs, started six years ago. As a small program, they aim to work closely with their clients from the time an application is submitted. They provide a custom match and personalized tasks along with individualized team training. Because of this, there is a good chance I will actively work and bond with my prospective match from the beginning!

Brigadoon would love to provide Assistance Dogs free of charge, but at this time that is not possible. My goal is to fund-raise $7500 contributing to the cost. If all 200 prints are sold at $25, I meet $5000 of that goal. A similar original print usually costs twice that amount, but I feel HOPE should be affordable to all. I hope those who can contribute more will do so. My online store offers both prints and an option to contribute beyond the suggested donation. Remember to check with your employer to see if they will match your charitable donations!

I am thankful Karl’s Kids, Inc. volunteered to help facilitate my fundraising through their ADAP project. Their technical support allows me to blog with training wheels! Further, donors can rest assured their donations will be kept safe, designated specifically to my needed service dog. At times the inevitable happens and no match is found. Because charitable donations are not refundable, any donation directly to that program stay with the program even if I must find a different route. It’s rare, but it happens.  By using Karl’s Kids and ADAP to facilitate my fundraising project, I am able to ensure that even if Brigadoon Service Dogs is unable to find a suitable service dog match for me, funds donated towards my service dog will still in the end go towards that cause and not stay with an organization who is not able to service my need.

This journey sounds daunting, but I am optimistic… it is, after all, driven by HOPE.

But You Don’t Look Disabled!

People tend to wonder exactly why I need a service dog. That is a valid question. I am not in a wheelchair. I am not blind, nor am I deaf. So how can a dog exactly help me? The legal definition of a service dog is:

any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

I have a neurological disability that includes sensory processing disorder. Basically my brain is lacking filters so it is always in overdrive with all those white noises, sights, smells, textures the typical person never even notices. My brain doesn’t make the correct connections or responses between my body, ears, eyes, and so-forth. This also triggers seizures which is a safety concern in itself.

The best description of my life I’ve found is to imagine yourself in a foreign world with a different sense of gravity (my vestibular system is screwed up), a foreign language, flooded with foreign sights and sounds and smells. You are expected to figure out how to make your way without a guide, map, or other information. I live in that constant disorientation.

For me a service dog is a tour guide in this foreign world.

  • He will be trained in guide tasks (like a guide dog for the blind) to assist with my navigation and visual-spacial processing issues. This will include obstacle avoidance, stopping at corners, finding doors/cars, memorizing standard routes, finding people and on command trailing a designated individual so I don’t get lost.
  • He will be trained in hearing tasks like fire alarm response (and leading me to the door) and alerting to timers/buzzers because I really struggle with noticing and responding over all the noise already flooding me. He will lead me to those alarms.
  • He will be trained in seizure/emergency response. I have a lifeline button that he will be trained to push when I am at home or retrieve the phone. Hope alerted to my seizures, but that is innate and never guaranteed.
  • He will also be trained in signaling behavior. Because this world is so overwhelming I will freeze up, melt down, go into overload. The dog can be trained to notice those small body signs that things are becoming ‘too much’ before I completely melt. Just a simple nudge will help me re-orient and cue into myself and the world. Miss Hope picked up these small signs amazingly sooner than myself or anyone with me does. Having her decreased my meltdowns and increases ability to function especially in comparison to where I am now.

So that’s mostly it! Basically having a service dog means safety and independence.

When I lost Hope, this is what I lost. Now I am trying to find it again!

 

Hope Springs Eternal

Featured

In 2003 HOPE entered my life…

…in the form of a vivacious, loving, and faithful golden retriever.

Hope was trained to assist with my neurological disability. She became my partner, helper, best friend, and constant companion. Working fluidly as a team; she led–I followed. I asked–she responded. She became an extension of me, an intricate part of my ability to function.

With Hope by my side doors began to open. I discovered my life passion–art. With her assistance I was able to attend classes, engage in the arts community, successfully show my work, and discover my true style. Hope of a bigger, better life grew in me.

In 2010, cancer took my Hope and left me searching for a new partner to help me on this journey. In remembrance of HOPE this linocut is hand-carved in her image and individually printed in my own unique style–no two prints are identical! 100% of the proceeds will go directly to my service dog fund so that…

HOPE can truly Spring Eternal!

Jessica Thompson, 2011
200 limited edition prints
4.5×6″ on 8×11″ high quality printmaking paper

Suggested Donation: $25 (S&H $3)
(Anything over $25 is tax deductible)

Visit my Online Store to order your own unique print!