One of the best aspects to my experience at the Wildrose DAD conference last month was the chance to meet and talk with many DAD teams and trainers. One of the people I met there was Anna Oblasser-Mirtl. Anna founded the Animal Training Center in Austria where she trains many different kinds of animals and trainers of animals. A few years ago Anna started training and placing DADs with diabetic clients in her home country.
While at the conference Anna and I talked about what she did as I was curious about all the trainers and their ways of training their dogs. She told me that she had recently placed a fully trained DAD with a client who returned the dog after only a week due to the clients unexpected medical issues. She commented on how hard it was to see a placement not stick. Later on, when I decided that Mya was not going to suit my needs, I reached out to Anna to see if this dog was still unplaced and at her center. Several weeks and dozens of emails later I’m happy to report that, if all goes according to plan, this dog, Luka, will be emigrating to the US and joining my three-ring family circus.
Luka is a 1.5-2 year old black Labrador cross that was rescued by an animal protection organization in Croatia. Anna has assessed about one thousand rescue dogs over the past year and Luka is one of only two that met her high standards. His unique character, intelligence, and temperament brought him to Anna’s attention and she deemed him a good candidate for DAD training.
Luka is considered an adult dog and has considerably more training than Mya, especially in public access. Public access training is a long process that involves exposing the dog to many different kinds of real-world situations including stores, restaurants, and various modes of public transportation. He is well prepared to accompany me in my busy life.
In the last week of June, Cathy, my wife, and I will travel to Austria where we will stay for 10 days. We will have a free day before all the training starts to get our bearings and recover from jet lag and will have our evenings together to explore. Cathy will not need to attend all the training so she will have some days to explore the nearby classical European city, Graz, which is the second largest city in Austria. During our time in Austria we will take part in a two day “chicken camp” – an exciting and unique experience that I’ll describe in a future blog post. We’ll spend five days with Anna’s partner at the center, Barbara, learning how to handle Luka and maintain his training. We’ve had less than a dozen nights away from our children over as many years so this respite at a Bed and Breakfast in a foreign country is a welcome chance to prepare ourselves for the change in life that Luka will undoubtedly bring.
When training is complete Luka will accompany us on our flight back to the US. Service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers on flights at no cost and he will lie at our feet. Luka has never traveled on an airplane before and the 9 hour flight is a long time for him to go without a chance to relieve himself but we are hopeful it will go smoothly. Either way it will be quite an adventure!
Once back in the states, Anna has made it clear that she is available to help Luka and I work though any issues we have via video conferencing, working with a dog trainer she knows and trusts who lives about 2.5 hours away or her coming to the USA to work out whatever kinks we might have. As this unfolds I also want to state that both Anna and I have mutually agreed that either she or I can call things off if Luka doesn’t seem like a good fit while we are in Austria. We have each spent a lot of time vetting each other to avoid that possibility but we have to go into this open to the chance, however unlikely, that it might not work out. And if for any reason we came to that conclusion once Luka is in the USA, Luka would then go back to Anna, not to another dog owner here or a shelter.
Needless to say our family is very excited about this sudden change of events. We have a long list of details that need to get sorted out before our epic journey overseas but we feel invigorated and thrilled to be starting off on this great adventure. Stay tuned!