Every 3 months, CCI holds a formal ceremony during which fully trained puppies who have successfully completed their Advanced Training graduate to their lives in service. The other crucial part of each graduation program is the presentation of the puppies who are about to begin their Advanced Training. This is what we’ll do with Kyndall tomorrow: turn her in to matriculate on the CCI campus.
We’ve gone through this 4 times before, with the first 4 CCI puppies we raised. (The fifth, Dionne, went into heat and thus could not participate in the formal ceremony.) But for some reason, we never before took advantage of something the southwestern regional headquarters staff offers before each graduation: a tour of the kennels for puppy-raisers who are turning in their pups. This time Steve and I signed up for that experience, accompanied by Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, our two documentary filmmaking friends who are working on a movie about puppy-raising.
We also took along Kyndall and Kora, figuring it would be good for both girls to visit the campus, since both will be spending a lot of time there. (Kora, however, being 6 months younger, won’t turn in until November.) We gathered at the front door of the Oceanside facility, where we found a handful of other matriculating puppies and the folks who had raised them. Only two were local; the rest hailed from Utah, New Mexico, Colorado.
Leading the tour was Becky Hein, the recently promoted director of the puppy program. Becky has worked at the headquarters for more than a dozen years, including long service as a trainer. In addition to all her years of experience, she has a warmth and obvious dedication to the program and the dogs that made her a compelling guide to the compound.
There’s a lot to see. We passed through the training rooms and the well-appointed grooming area.
It was a little startling to hear the cacophony of barking on the grounds. We work hard to discourage our dogs from doing any “alert barking.” But Becky shrugged off the noise, dismissing it as an idiosyncrasy of kennel life.
Most interesting to me was the chance to see the actual enclosures where the dogs spend their nights and part of their days. While not exactly cozy, they’re spotless and reasonably spacious, with heated concrete floors and an inner and outer chamber. Almost every puppy has a roommate, and according to Becky, they spend a lot of time playing with each other.
The question I’ve heard more than any other from non-puppy-raisers is, “How can you stand to give the dogs up?” I have several answers to that question. I point out that one can’t begin to think about puppy-raising unless one accepts that one will be taking care of someone else’s dog. I point out the obvious fact that there would be no service dogs without puppy-raisers, and if you believe that service dogs dramatically improve many people’s lives (as I’ve come to believe), you can draw inspiration and comfort from that. I also think the more you do it, the easier it gets.
But maybe the truest answer, for me, is that I don’t think much about the Turn-in Days until they’re imminent. Then I start to feel sad. The day itself feels like an ordeal to me, miserable. And then it passes.
Because Kyndall is turning in tomorrow, I’m feeling pretty crummy tonight. But I have to say: today, seeing the busy, well-structured, clean, and purposeful place where she’ll be living did make me feel a bit better.