Into the red kennel

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This is how it started, a little over 16 months ago.

Once before, two puppies ago, we had a female go into heat right before she was scheduled to be turned in for Advanced Training. That was Dionne. The circumstances were a bit different from what we’ve experienced with Beverly. Dionne started bleeding almost three weeks before our scheduled separation, so we had some hope that her heat would end in time for us all to participate in the ceremonies. (It didn’t.) With Beverly just 10 days out from turning in, there was no such hope. Our goodbyes thus felt different.

After confirming Monday that Beverly was undeniably bleeding, I called CCI in the afternoon. Jules, the assistant puppy program director, sounded compassionate, but when I offered to keep Beverly at our home for a few extra days (since the campus is under construction and human/dog teams are already there, working together in preparation for the upcoming graduation), she gently pointed out that the rules are inflexible: all females in season must be in a kennel — either at CCI or some surrogate facility.

I acceded, promising that Steve and I would deliver Beverly at 11 the next morning (Tuesday). But then I was struck by fear: would she be all alone? (Normally no other dogs in heat are present in the kennels right before graduation, since CCI needs all the spaces for the dogs who will shortly be turned in.) The thought of Beverly in what would effectively be solitary confinement horrified me.

Jules said she would check. Less than two minutes later, the phone rang again. “There’s a delightful Golden here already who’s also in heat,” she announced. “She’ll have a great time!”

Feeling slightly better, Steve and I packed up Beverly, her cape, and a few other odds and ends and ushered her into the van for our last ride together. Normally she travels in the cloth kennel that we keep in the back of the vehicle, but this time I invited her to curl up next to me on the floor in front of the middle seat. She snuggled close, casting glances that almost looked concerned, as if she suspected something was going on. (Probably she was just startled by not being in her normal space.)

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Alberto, our documentarist friend who has filmed our puppy-raising activities for several years, accompanied us. Up at the Oceanside facility, Jules ushered us all into the interior lobby, where we chatted for several minutes. Again, Jules exuded empathy for the unwelcome early goodbyes. The puppy program director, Becky Hein, also joined us to express her condolences.

They both offered to dress Beverly up in a fancy “matriculation cape” so we could photograph her in the ceremonial garb, but somehow Steve and I felt too dispirited to mess with that. We did move outside for a photo in front of the facility’s sign.

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We returned inside, gave her final hugs, handed over the leash, and watched her exit toward the kennels, tail wagging vigorously. Like every other puppy we’ve ever returned to CCI, she did not once look back. (And we learned that yet another of her classmates, Helena, also went into heat at the last moment and might also be Beverly’s roommate.)

We drove home and began the disconcerting process of adjusting to life with one less dog. Our home dog, Tucker, will be 13 years old next month, and he sleeps so much it’s easy to forget his presence. As virtuous a puppy as Beverly was, Steve and I both developed an unconscious radar for tracking her presence; we do this automatically now, with all our CCI puppies. So it feels weird not to hear her following us through the house; not to see her curled up in the dog bed next to my desk.

Late yesterday afternoon, I got an email from Becky with some terrible news. Her message announced that Cath Phillips, the longtime North County CCI teacher and ultra-veteran puppy-raiser, has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. Apparently, she has very little time left. I don’t know Cath well, but I understand what a key role she has played in this community, and I was moved that earlier that morning Becky and Jules treated Steve and me with such compassionate attention while dealing with this very sad turn of events.

In contrast, Beverly is healthy and (I’m sure) happy. She was bred by CCI for a purpose: to   work at helping people. We’ll find out over the course of the next six months whether she can fulfill that destiny. Unlike some premature departures, her journey is nothing to feel sad about.

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Bad news

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Steve and I woke up in a hotel in Menlo Park Sunday morning to a dreadful noise — the sound of someone licking something. Beverly has never much of a been a licker, but I immediately guessed the sound came from her, cleaning up the start of a discharge from her private parts. She’d looked a big swollen to me the day before, and when we turned on the lights and inspected her, the swelling was more pronounced. A quick swipe with a tissue detected a smear of pale pink. It was subtle but clear to us: her heat at long last had begun.

Even though we’d been braced for it, we reeled at the news. As I wrote about in my last post, she’d been due to begin Advanced Training on Friday, November 3. The start of her heat would force us to take her up to the kennels in Oceanside, which in turn would rob us of our final 10 days with her. Those days are special.

Glumly, we packed up for the long drive back to San Diego, reminding ourselves to be thankful the heat hadn’t started four days earlier. At least we’d been able to enjoy this last lovely road trip together.

The motivation for it was Steve’s reunion with his Bay Area high school class 50 years after their graduation. Thursday Steve, Beverly, and I had driven part of the way, to Paso Robles, where we toured an olive ranch…

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…tasted wine, visited friends, and spent the night. The next day we drove north through Carmel, where we kept Beverly on leash even though other dogs were romping free.

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She was ready to have sex on the beach. But that would not have been okay with us (or CCI).

At the reunion parties Friday and Saturday nights, Beverly won countless hearts and prompted all manner of folks to talk to Steve and me about their dogs. Beverly enjoyed the petting and was good about posing in photos.

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Steve and I also drove into San Francisco Saturday and walked with Beverly for an hour or two.

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She got to see cable cars…

 

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Chinese dragons…
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…and to savor countless intriguing smells.

We also learned together that San Francisco is a city of 1000 street grates. Street grates are one of the things that make Beverly nervous. So we seized upon the excellent training opportunity. Lured with many treats, Beverly notably improved.

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She still looked suspicious. But at least she was willing to walk on them. 

Throughout the trip, she was an ideal companion, never intruding, always relieving herself on command, never whining about the long hours in her kennel on the road.

She was joyful to be released from it at the end of the day on Sunday, rushing back into the place that she has come to know as home.

But it’s her home no more. I made the call to CCI Monday, and the rest of Beverly’s adventure with us played out the next day. I’ll briefly report on that tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What now?

101817 J&BSixteen days remain until we turn in Beverly. I’ve been quailing for the past two weeks, ever since our vet declared that Beverly probably had a “silent heat” last spring and would almost certainly bleed normally when her next heat started — likely 9 to 10 months after the first one. I don’t remember exactly when it was that Beverly looked somewhat swollen to us. Was it January? February? Either way, it seems likely she should go into heat again very soon.

So what? people have asked me. Here’s the thing: whenever she does go into heat, we’re obligated to take her to the kennels up in Oceanside. With a normal cycle, that’s not the end of the world. Your girl spends three weeks in Girl Camp (aka Sex Jail), then you pick her up, and puppy-raising life goes on.

At this point in our time with Beverly, however, the start of a heat would mean something very different. If she were to start today, she would not be able to participate in the Turn-in activities. (Girls in season are too distracting to all the doggy participants.) Steve and I have never been big on ceremonies, but I’ve come to believe the ones associated with Turn-in play a helpful role. It’s painful to say goodbye to a puppy you’ve raised, and doing it in the company of others who have gone through the same experience helps to ease the pain. A bit.

You brace yourself for Turn-in, but if your girl suddenly goes into heat two weeks before it, you have to load her in the car, drive her up to CCI, hand over the leash… and never see her again (except maybe briefly at Graduation, if she makes it). The end comes before you (the puppy-raiser) are ready.

In our case, there’s an extra wrinkle. Steve and I and Beverly are scheduled to depart early tomorrow for our last big adventure together. We’re driving to Northern California so Steve can take part in a reunion of his high-school class. We expect to return Sunday.

We won’t cancel the trip just because Beverly could possibly go into heat in the next four days. That possibility has been hanging over our heads for months and months. At the moment, she doesn’t look particularly swollen to me.

We had one other CCI puppy go into heat when we were on the road with her. We were in Arizona at the time. We couldn’t just leave Steve’s business conference abruptly then, so we got our girl to the kennels a few days later. I guess if the same thing happens to Beverly, we’ll muddle through in similar fashion.

But we’re sure hoping it doesn’t come to that.

 

Scaredy-dog

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Meh. THAT is not scary.

After CCI puppies are turned in for their Advanced Training (as Beverly will be four weeks from today), one of the first things that happens to them is that they undergo a series of exams, both physical and psychological. Over the years, we’ve heard about what’s involved in the temperament testing. A volunteer dons a cape and mask and approaches each puppy in a vaguely menacing fashion. Apparently this scares some of the dogs, and they bolt to get away. That’s a bad thing.

So the other day, we figured we would give Beverly some early exposure to this kind of creepy apparition, to prepare her for the ordeal. We had our son, Elliot, put on a cape and scary clown mask and suddenly emerge from the door opening onto our pool deck. Steve had Beverly on a leash outside, and we were delighted to see she didn’t flinch. Instead she wagged her tail a little and started to move toward Elliot. He pushed the button on an umbrella, and it popped open. We’ve had at least one (non-CCI) dog who was terrified of this. But again, it didn’t bother Beverly.

What does scare her are stairs that you can see through. As I’ve reported before, we’ve been working on getting her up these at the building where we attend puppy class. She’s still uneasy, but we can now usually coax her up one set there.

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This photograph was taken at our class last week. But when we tried to make her climb up another set of open stairs in the same complex — one where the lighting made the absence of a back to the stairs more obvious — she reacted with stark terror. She wouldn’t even look at them, let along try to ascend.

Will this one character flaw doom her chances as a service dog? That scares Steve and me.

Beverly’s last visit to Dr. Scoggin

I was complaining recently in this blog about all the paperwork that accompanies our last weeks with each CCI puppy. I got all my forms for Beverly in the mail last week but still needed to do one final task: take Beverly one last time to our veterinarian.

CCI requires this, I suppose so that it has a formal record of the state of each pup’s health as it returns to the organization. Along with giving the exam, the vet has to fill out a simple-minded form. It all seems to me like a classic exercise in bureaucratic hoop-jumping. But this morning I took Beverly in.

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She didn’t mind. She always thinks Dr. Scoggin’s office smells interesting, and Dr. Scoggin is gentle and kind. The vet complimented me on the the cleanliness and healthy state of Beverly’s eardrums,  described her skin on the form as “normal,” and judged her current weight (67.4 pounds!) to be a “good working weight.”

Most interesting to me was the doctor’s opinion that Beverly probably had a “silent heat” last spring when her vulva appeared to be a bit swollen, but we saw no blood. Dr. Scoggin said this is not all that uncommon; she might see it in one in 20 dogs (particularly big breeds). She said the next time Beverly goes into heat, she should bleed normally.

Now Steve and I are crossing our fingers that Beverly can put this off for just 30 more days. Otherwise she’ll have to go into the CCI kennels early and will almost certainly miss the big ceremonies on November 3. That would be very sad.

Public service

The mission of this blog is to share the experience of raising a puppy to become a service dog. There’s a lot to that enterprise, and by far the most interesting parts are those that involve teaching and living with the puppies. There’s also some PR involved, however.

Part of that transpires when you’re out in public with your trainee, working on teaching him or her to behave while grocery shopping or sitting in a movie theater or under the table at a restaurant or wherever. But occasionally, CCI sends out email requests for us to serve as emissaries for the organization at various events.

When it doesn’t involve too long a drive, I enjoy helping out when I can. Recently, Beverly and I responded to two such activities, both close to our neighborhood.

The first was a tiny Lion’s Club chapter that had requested a presentation about CCI for their monthly meeting. It was held in the back room of a waffle restaurant in Clairemont. Steve and I both accompanied Beverly to that one — an easy assignment: talking to eight seniors about the Canine Companions for Independence organization and the work it does. Several folks in the group already seemed to know a lot about the program. We spent about a half hour chatting with them, and they seemed pleased to have us.

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Beverly put on a little show and tell — Sitting, going Down, walking nicely on her leash. But mostly she snoozed.

The next day, Beverly and I showed up at a meeting room in Pacific Beach where we joined three other CCI trainees — including Beverly’s buddy Keegan. It turned out that this event, a monthly meeting of a group called Fortune Builders, was an opportunity to publicize CCI’s big fundraising activity of the year, Dogfest (which will take place later this month.)

The volunteer who is chairing this year’s event was there, along with her latest puppy, only four months old. But she didn’t make the pitch for donations. Another puppy-raiser who’s a longtime member of the Fortune Builders group took the microphone to do that.

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This meant all that the rest of us had to do was stand around and let the meeting-goers see our dogs and pet them if they wanted to. Beverly excels at this.

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Keegan got petted first by this particular dog-lover, but Beverly received plenty of attention too.