Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Always By Her Side: Joan and SSD Jagger

Guest post by Joan T.

Joan and SSD Jagger are a new service dog team. They completed Team Training in June 2012, and since then, they have been bonding and getting used to working together. Jagger is a successor dog for Joan, and while he has been fully trained to assist her, there is a lot of specialty training he still needs that only Joan can teach him. “When I lost Ryan [her first service dog], it was like losing a ‘post graduate student.’ Now, I’ve got a 4th grader to teach.”

Here’s what she has to say about her first month with Jagger.

We came home from Team Training on Flag Day, which I thought was great because I wanted to wave a flag to everyone that we had passed our test and were finally a team. The drive home was tiring for me and maybe for Jagger, too. He fell asleep, and I didn’t hear a sound from him for the entire three and a half hour drive home.

The first night, he was a little confused and very curious – there were so many new smells and sounds, and the air was different, and oh my, there was a cat! Roly missed having a dog around the house.

It had been a year since I had a dog around the house, and I don’t think I realized the full extent of how much I missed it. One month after having Jagger with me, my back no longer hurts uncontrollably after I do laundry. Jagger picks it up and hands it to me to pin on the line. Soon, he’ll learn to drag the full basket outside and then back inside for me so I don’t have to carry it. He has already learned to “trash it” – throw out all of the pieces of paper and such that I throw at the trashcan and miss.

Currently, we’re working on having him locate things and learn certain things alone. He’s also learning specific names or labels for items. He does make the time fly by, but he’s very patient when I don’t get up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. to give him breakfast, or when I don’t stop at the computer at 4 p.m. for his dinner. He likes to be by my side. Hearing the gentle snoring and the thump thump thump of his tail while he’s sleeping is just a delicious feeling, knowing that you’re not alone. The last few nights since we’ve been home from our camping trip, I’ve noticed that he likes to curl up next to my back in bed, which is very helpful for me. It’s great back support!

Jagger is also great at yardwork – he chews the grass and ate all the wild strawberries. I have five blueberry bushes, and at first, he nibbled on some of the branches with berries, but a quick “leave it” has taken care of that so far. I keep an eye on him, but he stays with me. While I’m picking, I often lose my balance, and he’s right there to stand next to my legs and prop me up. He also gets the fun of clearing the grounds of blueberries that have dropped to the ground.

The silky feel of a sleek coat is soothing, especially to a spinner and knitter like me. Jagger has found my yarn to be very interesting and has learned that it is not a ball to play with. 

Because of the heat, I’ve had to cut back on my walking, but we still have playtime, which is something I had forgotten how to enjoy. I throw the ball for him, or have him jump through the hula hoop or chase bubbles around. We’re both working on times to “get silly” by dancing, whistling, or jumping about and singing or banging on a drum, or playing a harmonica. Jagger can’t do the drum or harmonica yet, but this play time is relief time and a stress outlet for both of us. In the same way, we’re both learning when it’s time to get to work and be businesslike, even if his working harness is not on at the time.

I have begun to move out of my “comfort perimeter,” and did so in a big way by going camping in early July at R.B. Winter State Park in Union County. It was hot, but we managed to stay cool. Jagger easily walked with me around the campsite on leash, following my pace, which varies. I had one very low sugar incident while camping and was not able to put my glucagon shot within Jagger’s reach. I had to keep it in the cooler because of the excessive heat. However, he bumped me gently a couple times when my blood sugar was beginning to drop. Since it was starting to rain, I thought he was just telling me he wanted to go into the tent. I think he recognized my sudden sweat and shaking, though. I unhooked his lead, and he went to the car door. I opened it and got my shot. He walked to the tent with me, where we went inside for some privacy, and he sat beside me while I tested my sugar and administered the needed medication. My sugar was incredibly low.

Afterward, he sat by me and kept watching me, giving me his paw to let me know he was still there. When I started to feel better, Jagger stood up in front of me and gave me a big kiss. When I tested my sugar again, it was slowly coming back up. This is not the first time he has been with me when I’ve had to administer glucagon. I’m usually very upset after I have to do this, and having him with me makes me feel infinitely better. As he braced to help me up, I stood. He watched me, stood beside me, and slowly walked with me outside the tent so I could continue dinner. Crisis passed, he became interested in a little chipmunk, and I was able to laugh.

Yes, there are times when both of our frustration levels are high. He’ll sneak something out of the trash or take off with something he shouldn’t, and I suspect when I sneak down to get the paper once in a while without him, he gets frustrated. I can hear him pacing up on the deck. There are a few times, however, when he has wanted to be next to me and will jump the invisible fence to get to me. We have a lot more to learn about each other’s habits. He does enjoy getting a bath – as long as there are treats involved – and I feel very proud when we receive compliments about what a beautiful dog he is or “Look at what he just did for her!”

Since my first service dog, I have found that people have become much better educated about service dogs, their abilities, and why they are allowed to be where they are. Parents are instructing children, “That’s a special dog. He’s helping her, so you can’t touch him.” I usually thank the parent for telling their children that, and if we’re in a situation that I feel okay with Jagger, then I’ll explain to them that they’re right that you shouldn’t just pet a dog – even one without a vest – but sometimes if you ask the owner, they might let you. At that point, I will encourage them to ask me to be allowed to pet Jagger. I get a big kick out of how many times they’ll bend down and say, “Is it okay if I pet you?” Then I educate them a little further, saying “Oh, he can’t tell you. But if you ask me, you’ll get an answer.” They usually give me sheepish grins, and then they ask to pet my dog. My response is one I came up with a long time ago. With a certain voice timbre, I say, “Why yes, you may – and thank you for asking.” Jagger has learned that when he hears that, it’s like a click. He will say hello and then turn his attention right back to me, which is the goal. I then explain to people that he does that because he wanted to say hello to them but he must keep his attention on me. That’s his job.

So far, we’ve been shopping together to find the right kind of dog food, and camping together. We will be going camping at least two more times this summer, then again in the fall for a seven day trip at Lake Erie. I hope to take a bus trip to see the Baltimore Orioles in September, and we’ve been approached by the Lions Club and the Order of the Eastern Star to attend one of their meetings and give a presentation.

Jagger has made friends with a little Jack Russell named Katie that we try and see once a week so he can just be a dog. We attend church, and when the hour is up, you’ll hear a dog sneeze or suddenly he’ll jump up from under the pew. It does seem to cue the minister that the sermon is getting long…

Once the heat breaks, we’ll be attending a knitting club in town once a week. I let him sniff the trees and get the “dog beat” news. We also go walking around the town tennis court looking for abandoned tennis balls. Around December, we’ll be going to Harrisburg for our six-month recertification, and we’ll be heading back to Harrisburg in May for graduation. I’m also hoping the weather cooperates so Jagger and I can go to PawsAbilities in March. Next year, in between camping next spring and summer, I’m hoping to fly down to Arkansas to visit my son. I’m also hoping to go to Michigan and Ohio. Jagger and I have a lot of plans. We dream big!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Many of Jagger's half-siblings (sire CCI Paxton III) at Canine Companions for Independence are at Team Training hoping to become Service Dogs soon. This story give all of us an insight to how much these dogs are treasured. Congratulations Joan and Jagger!

  2. I loved reading the story and I am so glad that you both are bonding so well. Good luck in all your excapades.


  3. You are a remarkable woman with a remarkable service dog! I am impressed with how much Jagger can do for you. I always enjoy seeing you both. Great story Joan!

    -Kathy Siegrist
    Wellsboro Senior Center