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A Moving Target

Hi Friends –

I finally herded Dad to the new office and asked him if we could write to you. We’ve been really busy but we needed to make a choice to take some time to share. He’s finally found or created some calm so we thought this would be a good time to write.

We’ve made big changes in our lives, we could sum it up in a few words and be done but that wouldn’t give you tell the whole story, and since the story relates to disability and perseverance we have to share.

I may pop in here if I feel like my perspective helps but as I write I’m getting more of a feel that Dad just needs to write most of this.

Let’s take a step back and give folks some perspective, especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire blog and really know us.

We started out living in Connecticut where we all came together as a family. Lauri and the girls met I through the internet, just like they found the Service Dog Project, and ultimately me! Around the time Lauri and I decided to get married the girls lost their biological I to Cancer. It was really traumatic for everyone, and yes we’re leaving out a lot of details here (told you it’d be quick). Lauri and I wanted to give the girls as much family as possible, and since I had become a little distant from his extended family and [redacting a lot] Lauri is from Oklahoma and all her family is there they decided to sell I’s place and go west (we like new adventures). They made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time. The town they chose was a bit rural since I and cities don’t mix well, and the schools are good, for the average kids. Quickly, after we learned we did not have average kids (of course not!).

The oldest has anxiety and depression, and fibromyalgia (and other diagnoses) at such a level that it is a recognized as a disability. Medication and therapy help, but accommodations such as an IEP are also in order. Lauri and I did their best to fight for her but the deck was stacked.

The youngest was fortunate to earn admission, along with a great financial aid package to a prep school outside St. Louis, Missouri. Having her at school would mean that if we stayed in Oklahoma she’d be over six hours away. We weren’t comfortable with that. Based on the changing needs of the family the decision was made to find a place that would offer a better environment for our oldest, and a shorter drive to our youngest.

This meant we had to find a way for all of us to be happy. Lauri and I really had a focus on the greater Kansas City area. We found out the hard way that not every area of the country has a real estate market that moves at the same rate. KC is moving quite fast right now, while OK is quite a bit slower. This means that we had our work cut out for us. We went back and forth between buying/selling property and renting. On both sides. We took as many days as we could to travel and search for the new home. Kansas City has a lot to offer in services, but for us, the housing was just not ideal. Having Casper and me in a raised ranch style home is possible but really uncomfortable. We even had a home under contract until the inspection process raised many concerns.

I had a tough time dealing with the process; turns out, I have a deep need to provide for the family that really borders on the unhealthy. [This came from a professional, folks] This is where we can get more personal because now we’re talking about me and I share [almost] everything we thought it might be helpful to some of you, and this is the main reason the blog has been silent for quite a while.

As we mentioned above, the family needed to make a change, but I honestly was not on board. From a financial perspective, this is stretching us to the limit, to put it simply. I’ve made my share of bad financial decisions, but I really feel like I’ve learned, and changed along the way. We own [read: we have a mortgage] our Oklahoma home and a couple years ago we made the decision that we were not going to try and sell again in such a soft market. Circumstances being what they are… having a child in danger of making catastrophic irrevocable decisions, and another that has an opportunity to attend a boarding school that, upon successful completion would all but guaranty a full scholarship to a university of her choice, likely followed by a career of choice, well that’s some extreme stuff from both perspectives. On top of that Lauri is getting her business off the ground, so I’m essentially responsible for financially supporting the family at this point. To add another level to the project we had to have the move from Oklahoma to Missouri completed, wherever we ended up, by the time school started in that town, and definitely by the time boarding school started.

Lauri did quite a bit of groundwork, and research to come up with the list of best school systems for our needs. As I mentioned we settled our focus on Kansas City, MO. and its suburbs, great! The problem is that ideally, we need to unload one mortgage before we get another. The next problem was the properties we found were all raised ranches and they are very difficult to navigate when mobility is an issue as it is for me. In the name of speed, we looked to rent the new home while we cleared out and listed in Oklahoma. We didn’t find anything that met our needs. I work from home and spend several weeks a year with a 24/7 on-call job. Lauri records in an isolation booth that requires a 7-foot ceiling and temperature control; finding that in a rental property was in fact impossible. During one of our trips, we looked at each other and asked, what now? I said “we go back toward the hotel and we talk to a Realtor”, that’s what we did. We found someone who was kind enough to deal with us, mostly me, and we started a new search. The early houses we saw had no possible way of working for us, as the requirements were refined we found many that look good on the internet but were not gems in person. Add to this that we lived three hours from KC and their market was moving so fast that houses were selling well over the asking price on the day they hit the market; it’s a good time to be selling there! Long story shorter, we had a house under contract before we could see it in person. We drove to see it on the day the inspections happened and found a laundry list of things that we’d prefer not to deal with, but not deal breakers, until we learned of a shifting foundation and a couple other big-ticket fixes. The Realtor then tells me, “Well, around here that’s common, you either have a bad foundation, or you will in the future.” Wow! I backed out of that contract and we started over. We looked at rents again while I fought the feelings that this was totally wrong for us. I ended up having a panic attack so severe that it bordered on a nervous breakdown, and Lauri thought I was going to have a heart attack. To make that better, it happened in the passenger seat of my own car! Needless to say we all then understood the seriousness of our decisions, and I ended up needing to meet with my physiologist to talk it out.  I could not move us to Kansas City!

Next, we decided to take a couple days and check out Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I’ve never been there and thought we’d have some fun in a touristy area as well as look at the possibility that we could live there. [There will be a post just on this trip a bit later.] It ended up not being viable as its ALL HILLS! Casper and I had to work really hard there! The local realtor we met there was great, but we had to call and cancel our viewings with him. Back on the ole inter-webs Lauri found a home that was new construction in Republic Missouri with a perfect price. We made a slight change to our route home to see the house. It ended up being perfect, and it’s where I’m writing this from. We’re still unboxing, still getting settled, but it’s where we’ll be for the extended future. It puts us hours from our youngest, who is on her way to school as I write this. Our oldest is enrolled in school again and so far, is having a great experience. Lauri and I have a spare bedroom that we’re sharing as an office/recording space. We have fiber internet access (a big deal to me), and a community pool with a shockingly low HOA. I am working on releasing my “money issues” and have full confidence that we are where we need to be. I can’t wait to explore my new home state.

This will be so good that I know I’ll find Casper’s voice in our new adventures to come. That’s really where he shines anyway, when we make new discoveries and share new adventures. His voice will return! That is when you’ll know that I’ve firmly dealt with my issues, when the voice of a goofy puppy returns to his people!

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Doggone it!

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been really sad, and I feel like I need to ask permission to be, in this case. See, I’m not sad for me, or even my family. I’m sad because some of the first handlers that took time with me are facing or have recently faced the retirement of their pups. I remember sitting with them and talking about life and how life changes forever when you bond with your dog. I thought I knew what that was like because I’ve had pets my entire life. Pets are wonderful, and I bond with animals in unique ways, but they were right; it’s different, a Service Dog/Handler bond is unique squared.

As I’m examining how I feel, now it’s not sad, or that is to say, it is not just sad. It’s more complicated than that. There is a whole host of emotions that really don’t need to be listed in order to convey them. We all know that the only thing that is constant is change itself, so whatever change means to you, I guess it’s that.

I’m happy too. Many handlers have made the decision to be handlers for life and that means that they will experience the roller coaster of emotions that comes with working with multiple partners. Some will be fabulous failures, while others will be exemplary and earn their graduation patches. How fantastic!

I’m not sure I’ve ever posted this, but I’ve made a different decision. I know that I don’t feel that I can continue to be handler once Casper decides he’s put on his vest for the final time. I love my dog more than most can imagine, more than I ever imagined. I know what kind of commitment it is, what kind of commitment it needs to be in order to train a successor. I just don’t have it in me. I don’t see that as a weakness, and I honestly don’t give a rip if someone else does. It’s about the relationship and commitment between a good handler and an honest to goodness service dog. I’m of the opinion that if you can’t give all of yourself to the process it’s not fair to expect that effort from your partner. I suppose that view goes well beyond dog and handler for me, it extends to every aspect of my life.

So I’m sad about the closing of chapters because I’ve read that book. I’m excited for them because I know there are other books in series, and only time will tell how the new stories will unfold. I’m also conflicted because I feel like there is a piece of me that wants to honor what Casper has given me by allowing him to help me train his legacy before he retires, and it feels selfish of me to make the decision I’ve made. But, I feel like I’d dishonor him more if I failed in some way to put the appropriate energy into what would be my next partner; and I know that I love him too much to dishonor him and myself in that way.

Now, before you ask, Yes Casper is happy, healthy and shows no sign of slowing down in any way. He loves to work and wags the entire way. But, we both have greys in our muzzles now. We both know how the chapter ends; I find myself now being ever watchful. I keep flipping ahead making sure we have at least a few more chapters before the hero has to make exit.