We’ve received our puppy raiser ID cards for Dionne from CCI. They’ve got no legal status. Unlike working assistance dogs, the trainees need not be allowed to enter public establishments. We’re supposed to use our “tact, education, and diplomacy” to gain access to such places. It’s all a matter of goodwill. Over the years, I think I’ve pulled out my ID card once or twice. Still the cards carry some symbolic value; I see them as the green light from CCI to take off into the wide world. One’s puppy is now fully immunized and hopefully civilized enough to avoid disgracing itself — or its caretakers — in public places.

So I’ll soon be reporting on how Dionne did on forays into our grocery stores, warehouse goods purveyors, libraries, movie theaters, and beyond. I have mixed feelings about the start of this new phase. When Steve and I first began raising service dogs, I couldn’t wait for it. I thought that taking my puppy on such adventures would be the coolest thing in the world.

What I’ve learned is that there are moments when it is. I’ll never forget the trip to Vegas on which Brando came along. In the casinos, heads turned, people everywhere exclaimed over him, charmed to see such a sweet young creature in such a jaded setting. Even in more mundane places, puppies draw attention. It’s very common to be stopped and asked about them and the program. I’ve found that I usually enjoy talking to folks about it. It enhances my sense of belonging to a friendly community.

But sometimes the questions are unwanted interruptions of a tedious chore that I just want to complete. More than that, I’ve learned that it’s more work to do anything — shop for groceries, watch a movie, go out to dinner — with a puppy in tow.

More often than not, we take our pup along anyway, because it’s our job as puppy-raisers to expose our charges to as many new experiences as possible. The goal is to get them to the point where it’s not much more work to have them along; when they behave like paragons. Until you get to that point, you just have to hold your breath and cross your fingers that they won’t do something bizarre — like taking a dump in the middle of the cereal aisle, or inching their way under a movie seat to stick their noses in someone’s crotch.

Stay tuned…

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