Tonja and Duke modeling at a photography event this year. Thanks to Sara Leven for creating this fun picture!!!

From a Grateful Heart


I had a phenomenal day this past weekend. Duke and I hiked a bunch doing a family photo shoot at a beautiful private hiking area. I broke a sweat, which is something that I never am able to do.  The family had a great experience, and they will have amazing images!

It went great, I carried my NEW Monopod and camera all on my own, Jasøn and Arden carried the rest of the gear, loaded and unloaded and moved us to several locations for the family who had hired us.

We got home crawled into bed and rested for an hour before heading to our art show. Where Duke and I were on our feet, chatting, talking and socializing, we even took a good walk that evening. Thanks Helen for hosting, it was grand!

I didn’t sit to rest once, like I have had to do before regularly.

The weather shifted last night and the glory ended with a lovely migraine. But I couldn’t be happier!

Things that have contributed to my being able to do more: Isagenix® nutrition which I have used for the past five years, (this is not a commercial, but this started me on and has kept me on the path of becoming well). Thank you Joyce!!

Going Gluten Free about 4 years ago, and trying to root out other potential food problems last year I also went completely dairy free, I have been lactose free for about 20 years and soda free for 15, I have also tried going nut free, alcohol free (I don’t drink that much anyway), chocolate free, these things didn’t give me any benefit so they are back in.

This January I was feeling so horrible lethargic etc, the past year wasn’t a good experiment, so I needed to make this next change even bigger. I went Grain Free, Starch Free, and Sugar Free. I had to get the inflammation under control and my insides were a painful mess. It is basically a ketogenic diet, one that is common for seizure sufferers.  When you take foods out of your diet you need to also increase your vitamins and minerals.

Cleansing has also been key for me.  Last year I did it rarely, I still did my shakes once a day, but didn’t cleanse much, which was a mistake.  Since January that has gone on my to do list.  Now 7 months later I am seeing the fruits of my efforts unfold.  It takes a lot to detox a body that doesn’t deal with food, stress, and environmental factors well.  Another reason not to give up.  Most people give up when they aren’t seeing the results that they want as fast as they want..  Sometimes it is the slow and steady who win.  You are the weakest, most vulnerable and desperate the closer you are to the top of the mountain, don’t stop!  The peak is glorious, and going down is a thrill!

Everything I eat now is either a non starchy vegetable, or a meat. Fruit is kept to a minimum as well which means it is rarely eaten, tonight I made homemade strawberry almond milk with coconut manna ice cream.

I was so worried about how I felt in January, and I knew I had to really suck it up and be committed to more change. No it isn’t fun. But yesterday was!

The latest thing that has been helping is DoTerra Essential Oils, if someone would have told me that they could numb my pain areas I wouldn’t have believed them.

Lidocane patches didn’t touch it, tens couldn’t relive it.. go figure! This is why I always listen to friends and family who have ideas. I do take strong medications, I still do. But the oils have been a nice addition to my arsenal. Thank you Anna!!

My friends have led me to get properly diagnosed by the doctors. Thanks to Roseanne, I learned about gluten. Ruth told me about Ehlers Danlos, Lisa told me about MTHFR which confirmed my having to be gluten free.. the list goes on.

My doctors are fabulous, they support me, they listen, and they don’t ever look at me like they don’t believe me or even when my diagnosis couldn’t be confirmed until years later, they still realized I was on the right track even though their tests couldn’t confirm anything.

Without YOUR help! Getting around on my feet would have never happened! It is because of your donations, your realizing that I needed help and was worth your time and your money that I am able to be doing these things. You made yesterday possible! Duke has been the greatest independence gift! He loves helping me!! I love his help! So THANK YOU each of you who made this possible.

I have learned that three of the people who helped me get Duke have passed away, in their passing it makes me feel even more committed to living. Their graciousness lifts me up daily.

Domesti-Pup’s folks what more can I say but AWE!  I am in AWE of what you each do!  You are all angels training amazing Service Dogs!  To the Inmate Jonny who was able to expertly train Duke in 6 months, you’ve done something incredible for my life!  To Rebecca and Merri for testing Duke and selecting him.  Merri and Michele for training the inmates who train the dogs and training me, and to Michelle for going down the path and creating Domesti-Pups!  There are more of you I know!  I was trying to list all of your names, I don’t want you to be left out, but to make Duke possible for me it took an army.  Not only did I get Duke, but Jason Duke and I got another family!

My Domesti-Pups class mates, have inspired me taught me and accept me.  Which means the world.

Jason of course is always my hero, picking up all of the pieces, carrying and cleaning and just being fabulous at loving me.

Thank you to each of you for loving me believing in me and giving me the tools I need to become successful and live my best life.

I wanted to write this because, change is hard. I am not smarter or more powerful or stronger than anyone else. I am an average person who keeps her ears open and her heart open to receive the blessings being offered.

What does make me different is I love LIVING! Surviving has never been enough for me. Yes! I take risks. I push myself to do my very best, and I always try even when I fail. I pick myself up and get back at it.

I want you to know that if you never jump into the pool, fully commit, and hold yourself accountable that your life is not all that it could be. Whatever you do, give it your all, even when you have nothing left! I believe in you!

I’ll try to keep posting more updates.  I’ve gotten so much busier with my photography, for which I am truly grateful, it does mean that I don’t post as often but it doesn’t diminish the journey I have been on.  I realize that my life is quite the story.

Duke well, after yesterday, he’s been sleeping non stop.  Poor guy.  He really had a great time!  Tim even helped throw the ball for him when we ditched our art show for the dog park, and he walked clear to the other side where Duke decided to leave his pile and he cleaned it up.

I am so blessed.

For those of you who are going through challenges, my advise to you is to start telling your story, start becoming transparent, and start listening.  Because I listened to my friends, and I was willing to change my life is becoming extra ordinary.  I am differently abled and giving new meaning to disability.  Hiding what is going on for you creates a barrier, of course some families and friends will never get it. They just can’t see through their own pain.  But many people will want to stick by your side they are the best of the best!

I’d love to help you if you have questions, please contact me.  My friends helped me find my way. They shared things that may help me and always provide me with honesty and have my best interests at heart.

May your journey be courageous!

Tonja and Duke

Have you been to my photography site?  I just added a new post to my Blog Gallery!

I do have an Isagenix ordering website and a DoTerra one as well.  I love helping people too.  (yes I get a commission) Which is nice for me, but most importantly I get to help people be healthier, a fact that I truly appreciate from my friends who help me!  So just contact me.  I also think ketogenic eating is a golden opportunity.  The most important thing is to evaluate your situation and start moving in a direction that has potential.  Modern food is not designed for health I have found.  At least not my good health.

HuMaNs Of NeW YoRk PoSt TrAuMaTiC ViSiOn SyNdRoMe




So as I sit here and type with my latest migraine.  I cannot stop thinking about all of the other people who haven’t been as lucky as I have.

Here is why I say I am lucky.. blessed.. fortunate.. etc.

1. For years doctors could not properly diagnose me.
2. Friends referred me to check into diagnosis possibilities and I researched myself.
3. My husband has a steady job, with good insurance.
4. My husband loves me very much and has been willing to walk through hell holding my hand never letting go!
5. When I found the specialist, he is a top specialist in the world, and he is near to me.  Dr. Nedrow in Lincoln NE.
6. My specialist enjoys solving puzzles… and had to work hard to help me.
7. My other doctors are supportive of my care and progress, they listen and are also willing to learn.
8. I was accepted by a Service Dog Training Organization.. Domesti-Pups who trained Duke for me.
9. When I asked my friends for help raising money for Duke, my friends came through!
10.  I am a positive person, my mother raised me around Zig Zigler, and I had a successful career in Mary Kay which “brainwashed” me into believing the impossible was possible, and to never give up.

This is the post I saw on Facebook today.   Please locate my comment, I think it is around the 3000th one or so, and like it so it can be brought to his attention.

I commented on it.  I shared a bit of my story and the links to several websites including this one.  This man needs to get a proper diagnosis and follow up care.  It is a long road to recover from this, it takes regular supportive people around you.  Likely it will need to be a community of them.  Or one person who is over the top committed to insure that you are able to get the care that you need.  Both of these things are rare.

Then the third component is finding the right specialists, who won’t load you up on more pills to try to hide the problems, but finding specialists that can actually treat and correct the issues.  And the assistive technology that goes along with it.  For me that is my Service Dog Duke, his harness, a car that suits my needs and doesn’t cause further pain, and people willing to drive me around when I cannot.

It also takes swallowing every ounce of pride you have and asking for help.

What this man is living through is hell.  His head is like hell.  The people who don’t get it drive a person further down.  The manic emotions that come with the loss of your life and your abilities are very difficult to control.  The pain is intense.

This is about all I can write for now.  I am back to resting.

I hope someone can find this man and get him the information I have shared. I also hope that a community of people will stand up around him and help him get the help he needs.  It will take a long while but it will be worth it!

He is worthy of being helped!

Tonja and Duke

DiEt, OiL, & SeRViCe DoG DuKe

This image was taken at a photography event called After Dark. Photographer Sara Levin created this of Duke and I!

It isn’t every day that you notice changes.  They are small almost insignificant, last year I went completely dairy free to see if it would help.  It did not.  So I am still lactose free but eat undenatured isawhey and cheeses low in lactose.  I have more energy with these choices.

I have stopped eating everything with a grain, no rice, corn, and all things considered to have gluten in them of course as I have done the past years.  Adding in the extra grain groups has been a benefit.

Additionally I have stopped eating sugar, items with sugar, honey, molasses etc.  This also includes fruit, which does make me sad.. but I’d rather feel better than worse.

No potatoes, beans other than green, and any other starchy food.  They are all out.  Starch/carbs/sugar all turn to sugar, all lead to extra inflammation and that is what is keeping me in pain longer.  I don’t like this and I want the swelling in my neck and joints to be as minimal as possible.

I’ve been doing this nearly 5 months now and I am doing better.  Taking less medications and being able to be a bit more active in general.

I am still eating my Isagenix shakes, supplements, and vitamins.  When I stop doing these I get what ever bug is floating around, and in addition I have no energy, increased pain and less mobility.  I end up in bed and in trouble.  So these things especially the Isagenix Cleanse are staples and everyday things for  me and my life.  Yes of course I am a distributor for this.. I like getting things at the lowest prices.  Yes, I can help you do the same.  No I won’t drive you nuts about it.    You have to ask.  More about ME and what I deal with..

What else do I eat?  Meats and Veggies.  I am basically on a paleo ketogenic diet.  I do use alternative sweeteners.  I’ve subscribed to the theories about sweeteners that Maria Emmerich teaches on her blog and books.  I am very leary of these as well, and am careful to control my intake of them.  Most of her recipes are also good for me which is handy!

I eat coconut.  In fact one of my favorite things is called Paleo Wraps.  They work great and are delish!  I order them in the bulk package.  I also love to eat So Delicious!!  These are some of my favorite things!!  What I ate for supper tonight!!  Bacon Wrapped Onions!! OMG!!  2 DIE 4!!

Duke.. he eats a regular grain free diet as well.. he gets gas from grain.. so we just avoid it.

The latest changes have come from my friend Anna talking to me.  She thought I’d already heard about these things and was likely using them.  I hadn’t and wasn’t.  I was having extreme difficulties with allergies this year.  And that results in more pain for me, which of course I work to avoid.  I love my friends, so many of them have hooked me up with solutions and ideas that have helped my journey and helped me create a better life for myself.

So she started telling me about how the oils have helped her and her allergies.  She found relief through using them, and thought I might too, she also said that people have found relief for pain issues as well so since she doesn’t live near me, I just signed up and ordered a kit.  $250 later I got the Home Essentials Kit, and a couple of days, I had the oils in my hands.  I know about quality products, if I am going to use anything I am going to use the best I can find, I’ll use less of it and it will have the greatest chance of working.  I was thrilled to read about the way they process the oils and how concerned they are about quality.  Just like I’d listened to my friend Joyce about Isagenix, I just started with the kit Anna recommended for me.

Not trying to sell you on starting.. I decided once again to get the discount, I trusted my friend Anna, and really wanted to get started using these oils as soon as I could. So here is what I’ve used.

I haven’t used everything that came in my kit yet.

I have used with success:

Peppermint, Lemon, and Lavender in a shot glass with water, two drops each to help control my allergy issue.  It doesn’t solve the allergy problem, I’ll still get them again, it does help my body react differently to them, I am also still taking my prescribed allergy pills but they just weren’t doing enough.  Quite pleased with the results of this combination for myself.”

My other favorite combination is Frankincense combined with Oregano, I’ve been putting that all over my body every where it hurts.  They call this the Morphine Bomb.  I’d have to agree!  It really has helped with my pain levels.  6 drops of each mixed with coconut oil.  I guess you can swallow this combination as well, Anna recommended that you add it to a capsule and then swallow it as it is SPICY!!

I also tried the Arthritis Recipe, I don’t have all of the oils recommended for that one, but I did make it with the one’s I do have, and I did find some relief also.

Color me AMAZED!!!

My physical therapist had used oil on my feet when she worked on me, I thought all of the benefits were from the massage work that she did not the oil.. now I wonder.  I have sent her a note to find out what she used on my feet.. I may want to try that also..  I had heard of oils, she just never really shared much about the benefits, other than she really liked what they did, I was also in lots of pain when she worked on me so it is likely I totally forgot about her trying oils on me.  Oops.

Glad that she did though.  How do you choose what would work best for you?  You ask!  Ask me if I don’t know I’ll find out for you!  That is what I did.  Don’t think I think you need this, these are just things that are changing my life, so I am doing what my friends did for me and I am sharing with you.  You get to decide.

Find out more about my photography at

The image I shared here was taken at After Dark which is an educational event for photographers.  Sara Levin was kind to create some shots of Duke and I together while she tested out some different lenses.

Duke has been doing an amazing job for me!  We keep getting better and better at working together and today Jason gave him a bath and we went for a run with Hazel on my scooter to dry them off.  =D

I hope you find this to be helpful, feel free to leave your comments and thoughts.

I am sharing my journey so that you can hopefully benefit.  If you’d like to go on my journey with me with Isagenix or doTerra let me know.  I’ve been using Isagenix for about five years now and I believe it saved my life.

Tonja and Duke

ThE WoRdS DiSsApPeAr… TBI and me.

Tonja and Service Dog Duke! By Julia Kuzamenko

 Shell Shocked & Speechless…

Being a person who didn’t get diagnosed with my TBI right away, I knew something had changed. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what was different, but I didn’t see the same and I didn’t think the same. So I started to adapt what I knew of people with learning difficulties and began applying these learning tips to my life. I couldn’t concentrate well initially. That has gotten so much better. Playing solitaire on my phone when I couldn’t sleep was a way to get my brain to process numbers and colors in the right directions. I also had to match shapes. It was very slow and difficult for me in the beginning. I still to this day, play, I am not fast or great at the game. I do it as a way to keep my brain thinking. With the photography, I had the basics down, I knew a bit about design, and I needed to keep learning. Technical learning has always been more difficult for me, so coordinating the language of shutter speeds and apertures and what those things do, and coordinating them with the buttons on the camera is a good exercise. When I get tired, these synapses fire more slowly and it becomes harder for me to make the connections. Jason helps me so much with this. I’ll often hand him my camera, and point and can’t really even speak the correct words. The more tired I get the less good speech I have. 

Above is what was on my Facebook post after reading this blog post LOST & FOUND What Brain Injury Survivors Want You To Know.  This post gave me a good way to share how my Traumatic Brain Injury affects my life.  Everyone is different, so this is my experience.

I do get tired quite fast.  If I have my adrenaline kicked in or I’ve taken a medication that acts for me like an adrenaline I last longer.  I take this mediation in order to drive, it keeps my blood pressure up high enough which also is a big deal.  Can’t drive if you are dizzy.  Not that I drive much.  You may have heard of The Spoon Theory.  I live a distance away from most things I need to do so I must balance my day and efforts against what I have on my plate for the week before and the week after, not only the day.

Being an independent and self motivated person, I am driven to improve.  Having these set backs after the accidents it gave me the persistence to persevere.  I didn’t have a therapy plan for my cognitive deficits.  I was still as smart as I was before, I’d just lost some of the ability to function in an orderly, quick, and reliable fashion.  Oddly enough the first brain injury test I got sent to was an IQ test of sorts with a psychiatrist that thought I was just over medicated.   I’d really like to have a talk with that lady now.  I couldn’t even walk around on my own, I had to be held.  Oi.  This speaks volumes about the medical “professionals” that I discovered.  I used to have a great awe of these medical professionals.  I had no concept of how narrow minded and jaded they are.  Or have been taught to be, that being said, they allowed this to happen to themselves, and they should have made changes to assure that their education was able to help people not just shuffle people.

Social situations are difficult, I enjoy seeing and speaking with many people.  I now can’t make eye contact across the room very easily and negotiate a conversation from there.  I no longer can see the whole crowd, I just see a few in it.  I am sure my eyes see the whole group, I just can’t pick out distinctions as well as I could before.  I’ll remember people for sure, but not people who didn’t register in my brain.  This seems weird to say.  I come across to people oddly I am very sure.  I really try to make a point to connect with the people that I do speak to.  Which means a bunch of other people could easily be ignored unintentionally.  But it happens.  I can’t listen to multiple conversations, in fact when more than one conversation is going on I have a very difficult time listening to even one of them and comprehending what is said.  This is very hard for me to do.  Even in smaller environments, lots of things going on is hard.  It is also difficult for me to speak with someone sitting next to me, much easier to speak with someone straight across from me.  I can’t read their lips while I listen and turning my head creates extra pain which is also distracting.

Jason can tell often before I can that it is time for me to be done.  When I am done I am done.  There is no middle ground.  Sure I can muddle through for a bit longer.  As soon as I stop something I am sleeping.  I take these naps often in the car, after I’ve been active running errands, photographing, or hanging out.  I just get so exhausted.  I’ve been known to curl up on the couch, find a spot in the corner on the floor, and life and activities go on around me.  I just need to rest.  Sometimes in an hour I can function again, sometimes it is days…

Walking.. yeah, this gets worse the more tired I am.  That is a huge thing that Duke helps me with.  Before Duke I had Jason when Luka wasn’t able to help any longer.  But that meant Jason had to leave the table at restaurants when I needed to use the restroom Jason would need to wait outside for me.  I’d hug the walls once I got into the bathroom and grab what ever I could hang onto to navigate.  Jason would get to deal with the stairs of women entering and leaving the bathrooms he stood outside “lurking”.  And other things like this.  Duke is really great, I get to have my independence, and Jason can enjoy his meal and time with me with out also being an assertive device.

I am so very fortunate to have many people in my life that are willing to accept me as I am now.  Most who’ve known be before, and others who are newer in my life.  They don’t care that I don’t operate like everyone else, and they give me the time and space I need.  They also aren’t hugely demanding of my time which I also appreciate.  I often feel like the needy person, which isn’t a great feeling, but over time I have learned that needing others is also a compliment to them and allows them to participate and receive fulfillment.  Duke is a great reward for those who hang out with me.  The people who do are the one’s that get to have his attention or play with him.  It isn’t much but it is something special only a few people are allowed to do.  Duke loves it of course, he gets someone to play with that he doesn’t need to hold upright.  =D

I have had some embarrassing moments for sure.  I don’t remember faces and names like I used to.  Facebook for me is key in this area, as well as LinkedIn and Google+ admittedly I am on Facebook the most but the others are taking up more of my time as I connect with others.  My memory just isn’t what it was, some days I can remember all 22 people that I am photographing their names and their family status.  Other days, I do good to point and say green sweater tilt like this..  it really varies.  I have to be kind to myself first of all.  I can’t beat myself up for not being able to think better on one day rather than another.  The more pain I am having and the more physical energy I must exert prior to interacting with others plays a part.  So does the weather, whether I’ve had enough time to eat and drink, what my days have been like up to this day and other strange anomalies.  In the words of a young friend, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”  she must have been taught this by her parents.  I take these words to heart.

I’ve also forgotten appointments, it is something that I work really hard not to do but it happens.  I know it happens to everyone, however I am more susceptible than most, it is something I am constantly working on.  The last time I forgot an appointment I had in advance set up for a friend to come get me.  She did, she was a bit early thank goodness.  I was in my robe and groggy.  I had totally forgotten, I was super glad she was there to drive.  I pulled myself together and made a the day work.  Other times I have completely missed.  But it is rare these days.  I really try hard to keep a mental map of my days and what is happen

I have found that I have certain ways of doing things, I make patterns for myself. I like to have consistency, and try to develop systems.  I need more of them, the busier I get the more systems I need.  This goes for Jason too.  He is a part of my systems.  I like for him to put things back in the same places.  He has a hard time because sometimes unknown to him I change the places that these things belong.  I like to operate in advance, have things done before they are due and give myself reasonable deadlines to finish things.  For me that may mean that I finish editing a portrait session three weeks after I have shot it.  For other’s not affected but a brain injury that may seem like an extreme amount of time.  Does it always take me this long?  No.  Does it sometimes, Yes.  I want to give those who work with me a realistic expectation and I don’t want them to be disappointed.  So I set realistic expectations with what I can do.  It is something I wish more people would do.

By now I know my limitations pretty well. I’ll often ask for help or accept it if offered.  Some things I need to do myself or I know I can do myself.  I’ve planned my spoons.  If I get help it means I’ll have another spoon for something else.  =D  I like to use my spoons for engaging with others or doing something that can spread joy, and spending good time with Jason.

I do get stuck in thought processes, I ask Jason things over and over, if I get an idea stuck in my head I could repeat the same thing for years.  He finds it frustrating.  I don’t really notice I am doing it. I probably do it with others, except that they aren’t around me enough to realize.  Holding the camera I shared that I get stuck occasionally.  Jason will help with fixing and adjusting things on set.  Our nephew does too when he is out with us, and our clients often help also.  I tend to get everyone involved in the process.

I know very well that this brain injury sets me apart, however it has also given me the gift of slowing down and relishing the things I am able to do, and appreciate the people who do choose to be around me.  I will do as much as I can for myself to continue to improve and to not decline.  It is a consistent war of my spirit, body, and mind. Some days for sure it would be nice to just let it all go, I get tired.  But I have an overwhelming passion for creating, sharing, and spending time with others, and this desire is what drives me to continue to persist.

I also  like to do something meaningful, that is where the photography comes into play.  I am in my mid 40’s and life isn’t going to stand still.  I missed so much, I want to be involved and apart of living.  As my cousin pointed out aging brings some of these things on as well, and I feel like I am battling this from two different directions.  Trying to gain ground, with out loosing it in other areas.  I know it is going to continue.

Depression is a big part of peoples lives who go through this reconciling who you are now with who you were is hard.  I didn’t know who I was even for a long time, I just couldn’t get my bearings, I tried to reenter my past life.  It wasn’t a good fit, I couldn’t perform like that any more.  I had created huge shoes to fill before my accidents, I did a lot for so many people, and they weren’t equipped to be present to help me.  It wasn’t how I had taught them to deal with me.  I found that through giving that business life up that it freed me to find myself.  Get grounded, and then see what I could do.  I no longer am what I do, I have discovered myself again through this process and I have discovered something else I can do.  It is exhilarating.

I struggle, it isn’t as if I don’t.  Paperwork, and finances are not my strong area, that would be the area I could use the most assistance, but have trouble trusting people to help me with this. As the help I need would need to be consistent in order for it to be of benefit to me. I also realize that I am asking a lot of someone, and it isn’t all that fair.  So I am still negotiating areas in my life.  This is just one example.

I shut down sometimes, it may be for a few hours, it is usually a day sometimes a few.  Sometimes it is a mental break, other times it is a physical break.  I can only push my body so far I have learned.  Sometimes I am down for a week.  I just finished sleeping for pretty much a week due to our booth at the expo.  So again it comes down to spoons.  And needing to plan.

Other people, who have gone through similar situations may be going through the same things.  Some may be also going through different things.  Sure I went through anger and all of those emotions.  Read older blog posts.  But today, this is where I am at.  Making things happen in my life with the support of those around me!

I identify a lot with those who’ve been effected by a brain injury or have PTSD, strokes, epilepsy, tumors, and illness.  You are not alone, and you can make it to a better place in your life.  There are now lots more therapies available, and outlets that can give you something to work for.

I am truly blessed.

Tonja & Duke

DUKE My bLeSsiNg!

It’s been hard to write about Duke.  It felt a bit like being disloyal to my hero Luka who’d saved me from my hell.  Luka’s transitioned to being our love at home, he is 14 now and having a few health issues but overall doing quite well.  It has been hard for all of us to leave him at home when we go out and take Duke.  But we are making it.  Duke and Luka are becoming friends.  Jason is taking a bigger role in Luka’s life, he still will always be my big boy but he enjoys more attention from Jason.  Hazel loves him of course and it is hilarious to watch him scoot under our big Great Dane girl.  Duke is our smallest at 80 lbs.  Luka is over a hundred, and Hazel is nearly 200 lbs.

DUKE!  He’s been a trouper.  Man does he love to work.  He loves to show off and impress.  He’s always striving to be the best and if there is a competition man he is going to be the first one to meet the expectations!  I learned this right away during our two weeks of training.  He’s a show off.  =D  Which is perfect for me since I seem to be a little flamboyant myself.

He’s a black lab, who’s been given to the Domesti-Pups program he was in need of a new home and he had the right stuff!  Although in his initial interview, one of the trainers couldn’t flip him over and the other got flipped over by him..  which must have been an automatic entry to the program.. ha ha!

He went through his training in 6 months.  I don’t know if that is a record, but it was fast.  He is a smarty pants.  Which is super fun, and also means I need to stay on my toes with him.  I am currently starting to walk on the tread mill for my physical therapy, and Duke is learning to walk on it with me.  He is curious about it and I think he is having fun with it.

This week we finally got almost all of our thank you cards and our holiday cards out.. Yes.  It is February.. we are a little behind.  Jason helped me do this and I couldn’t be more grateful, it is something that is physically difficult for me to do!  I haven’t wanted to release the images that my friend and photographer Julia took of us.  She did such a great job and since we were sending out cards with these pictures on them spoiling the surprise by posting them online first just doesn’t seem right.  She’s been such a great friend, I wanted her images to go to those who’ve supported our efforts first.  So a HUGE THANK YOU to our friends and family and even strangers we’ll never meet!  You’ve made my life better!  Thank you for your care and donations!

Tonja and Service Dog Duke! By Julia Kuzamenko

Thanks to my beautiful friend Julia for doing such a great job! We love what you’ve done for us!!

We’ve been on a trip to St. Louis already.  That went really great!  We have just had a booth together at the Domesti-Pups I LOVE My Dog Expo!!  Which was a total experience!  Duke was a bit excitable at first.  We don’t get out in situations often with this much distraction.  I get all distracted and then he’s distracted.. we make quite the pair.  I had my scooter there so that helped.  Once Duke was used to the whole event we could walk together around the Expo.  I wrote more about our experience at our photography booth on our Images by Jason and Tonja Blog, check it out!

During a bath experience I discovered that he has an allergy to some shampoo.. and he also seems to be allergic to wool, which is the cushion on his original harness.  Luckily Domesti-Pups had a spare old harness that didn’t have any wool on it and we are able to use that until we can get one of their new ones.  You wouldn’t think things were this difficult, but it is, imagine putting on itchy pants.  Or ill fitting shoes.  His harness needs to suit him perfectly, if it doesn’t it isn’t a good thing for anyone.

He has been helping me walk of course.  My balance problems are so much better after working with Dr. James Nedrow.  Thankfully!  However when I get tired, distracted, or overwhelmed, my brain just stops functioning fast.  This is something that is dangerous for my balance and my speech.  Thankfully people can understand what I mean, Duke did learn some sign language in his classes, so I am also working to reinforce that as well.

He’s been picking things up off of the floor for me.  One of the best things is picking up laundry and handing that to me.  Which is so so nice!  He also helps me get out of the bathtub by providing stability and support.  Now if he could dry my hair…  =D

He is also rather protective, which is nice.  I won’t go into the details, but if he thinks you aren’t a good person, I’ll know about it.  Which gives my PTSD issues some safe feelings.

Working to create a bond with a new service dog sometimes happens fast and sometimes it is slower.  For Duke, he’s had to work a little bit. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him but already having Luka in my life, getting a successor dog is different.  Luka still being alive also makes a difference I imagine.  It was hard in the beginning for me to not compare.  Luka and I had figured things out on our own, we didn’t have the benefit of a training camp and how we did things together won’t likely work with any other dog.

Duke is smaller than Luka so the harness is a big help since I can’t reach him without bending over without it.  Duke and I had to learn to walk together, this summer when we were partnered, I wasn’t as steady on my feet I’d been ill for a while again and so I didn’t have the strength built up.  But we worked together with my scooter and that worked out, and when we came home my physical therapists helped me and we started figuring out how we could walk together.

We got to show all of that off this weekend at the Domesti-Pups Expo.  I was in the scooter some, but when I could be I was up and walking about with Duke.  Everyone noticed how good of a team we’d become.  I’ve even carved out some time and space that is just Dukes in the house.  I think it is also making it nicer.  I do feel guilty leaving Luka and Hazel out of this space but it is good for Duke and everyone is adjusting.  Including Jason and I.

Don’t think that having a service dog makes everything easier.  It doesn’t.  They are lots of work themselves.  You have another personality to keep happy.  But for me the benefits he brings to me far outweigh the extra work.

The next thing I want to figure out for him is a fenced in back yard.  Duke is a 3 year old and has some energy to burn!  He also loves to play fetch!  I’ll talk more about these things later.  I just know it is time that I started sharing how great this transition has been.  Not that it has been easy, but many things worth while take time.


Tonja and Duke