Tucker’s last birthday?

Almost 13 years ago, we received our first CCI puppy, a shambling little guy whose goofy good nature was evident from the instant I first met him. Steve and I had made the decision to raise a CCI puppy for several reasons. The most potent was that I was sick of seeing our beloved pet dogs grow old and get so feeble we felt compelled to euthanize them. I knew it would be hard to give away a dog we’d raised for a life of service, but it seemed better than the alternative.

What I never expected is that Tucker would flunk out. Throughout his time with us, he seemed a wonder — far more attentive and well behaved than any other dog we’d ever had. Maybe 6 weeks after he’d gone to Advanced Training, when the puppy program director called to inform me Tuck was being “released,” I felt the blood drain from my face. It was like hearing that one of my children was being expelled from college. We knew that if a CCI puppy fails to graduate, the folks who raised it can adopt it at no charge, but we never expected to face that choice. Still, we didn’t hesitate to welcome Tucker back as a permanent member of our household.

Today is his 13th birthday, and it’s hard not to feel a little irony in our current life together. In the 18 months since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his side, he’s done well. But he’s also aged so much. He’s deaf now, and he sleeps so deeply it’s often hard to tell if he’s still breathing. Once again we’re living with a very elderly animal (“91 in people years!” Steve often reminds me), and wondering if we’ll have to make the dreaded call to the vet about him.

We’re not there yet. Yesterday Steve and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Riverside County tree farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and Tucker pushed his way into the garage, determined to accompany us on our outing. (He didn’t know the destination; he didn’t care.) He shared the car kennel with Ressa (the little seven-month-old CCI pup whom we’ve been sitting), and at the farm, he tried to smell everything.

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Sharing the car kennel requires a tight squeeze, but they tolerate it.

He still wags his tail at every puppy we welcome into the house, and he plays his silly game with them, emitting gruff, old-man “WOOFs!” that make them race around as if they’re scared of him. And he still loves to eat. This morning, in honor of the day, we served him turkey and other scraps from my post-Thanksgiving stock, mixed with a little leftover fettuccine. Tuck looked a bit startled by this change from Eukanuba (even after Steve removed the candle), but he gobbled it down.

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We figure he could slip away in his sleep two days from now. Or he could live another two years (any more than that is pretty inconceivable). Whenever he does go, we’ll miss him terribly. Maybe we’ll vow to never again have another pet dog. Maybe we’ll even mean it this time.

Report card day!

As promised, CCI sent out the first report today on the puppies who were turned in112917 Beverly's report card earlier in the month. We felt so relieved to get one regarding Beverly. Two of our previous six puppies (Darby and Kyndall) were released from Advanced Training before they even made it to this first landmark!

What the trainer had to say about our girl made us feel even better. All the “good” behaviors were checked (“allows/accepts physical handling/grooming,” “allows/accepts cradling,” “attentive to handler,” “calm,” “interacts appropriately with dogs,” “interacts appropriately with people,” “seeks direction,””walks nicely on leash,” “willing”) and only one of the “bad” behaviors was (“surface sensitivity”).  A note stated that “Beverly has settled in to the kennel environment since turning in for Professional Training. She interacts appropriately with other dogs in the play yard and checks in with her handler frequently. Beverly is calm and accepting of all aspects of the grooming process.” She “has some some surface sensitive to the stairs in the grooming room and grates around campus” — something Steve and I were keenly aware of and worried about. But the note continues, “We are working on this and have already seen some improvement. In training, Beverly is a willing worker and responds well to motivation and correction.”

All in all, it’s the best first report we’ve ever gotten for one of our puppies, including Brando (the only one who so far has gone on to graduate.) So we’ve feeling hopeful.

Not long after getting the email with Beverly’s report, we heard from the puppy raisers of Keegan (Beverly’s CCI doggy friend who lives not far from us and was in all the same classes with her) that Keegan also got an excellent report. Furthermore, the two of them have the same instructor. So that means at least they see each other regularly.

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This is Beverly’s actual report. The ones above are Jeannette’s from the days of yore.

Wonderful news

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We’re lucky dogs! One of these babies will soon be arriving for an extended stay with us. 

The phone rang. It was the CCI Southwest Region puppy program director, Becky Hein. My brain didn’t even have time to reel at the thought that she might be calling to tell us that Beverly wasn’t going to make it, when she announced, “I’m not calling about Beverly.” Instead she had electrifying news: two of the eight puppies born on November 12 to Phyllis (Beverly’s mother) will be sent down to the Southwest Region. We have been approved to receive one of them.

Becky offered a bit more info. One of those coming down will be a male, and one will be female. She didn’t know, however, what colors they will be or their names (other than that they will begin with the letter “A”).

Our fellow puppy-raiser, Cyndy Carlton, will be receiving whichever one of the two we do not get. Cyndy earlier had told us we could choose. So after some discussion, Steve and I have decided we’d like the boy. We’ve raised only two males so far (Tucker and Brando), versus five CCI females (and four non-CCI girls). Both Tucker and Brando were blondes, so if it turns out that the new baby is the color of ebony, that would be a special treat.

We should find out more soon. We’ve already been told they will arrive in San Diego on January 10. (It’s on my calendar, in capital letters.)

A loaner puppy

112117 Ressa

Steve and I have now been puppy-less for 28 days; we had to give up Beverly October 24. We’re unlikely to receive her successor for another 3-7 weeks. This interval feels strange. On the one hand, we don’t have to reserve a small part of each of our brains to constantly track the puppy’s whereabouts, a luxury we’re enjoying. Every time we go to the grocery store or the movies or on any other outing, we don’t have to decide whether to take the puppy along. There’s none to take. We’ve been lavishing much more attention on Tucker (who will turn 13 next week.) He seems to appreciate it, although we believe he also misses having a young canine housemate. We miss it too, and so we were happy to volunteer to puppy-sit Ressa.

Ressa is being brought up by a veteran puppy-raiser named Donna, who had to travel to Florida for the birth of a grandchild. Our puppy-raising colleague, Cyndy Carlton, took care of Ressa for about a week, then she dropped her off at our house yesterday. She’ll stay with us until November 30. Yesterday happened to be Ressa’s seven-month birthday. It didn’t take us long to realize: she’s a little gem.

She’s at least as calm as Beverly; spent most of the afternoon napping. In the late afternoon, we walked with her to the house of our closest fellow CCI puppy-raisers — Mark and Karla. They just turned in their first CCI puppy, Keegan, and almost immediately got a successor, a little black male named Truckee. Sleepy Ressa perked up at the sight of the little guy, chased him around Mark and Karla’s house, and appeared to terrify him.

112117 Truckee terror

But he’s just a baby, only 9 weeks old. He seems in a world apart from big(ish), well-behaved Ressa. We’ll be returning to that more demanding world soon. For now, however, we’re very much enjoying our little loaner.

112117 Ressa kisses


The next one?

For some months, Steve and I have mulling over what to do after Beverly went on to her Advanced Training. We love raising puppies for CCI, and we want to continue doing it, but we have a couple of big trips coming up in 2018. We considered trying to find a co-raising partner or partners, but longtime puppy-raiser Cyndy Carlton (who also hosts bi-monthly puppy socials) reassured us we will find puppy-sitters to help out when we are gone next year. So we recently filled out and resubmitted a Repeat Puppy-Raiser Application Form, and last week we got word that we have been approved and are on the waiting list.

Our application this time was further complicated by the news (which we heard from Cyndy) that Beverly’s mother, Phyllis, was being bred (in September) for the fifth and final time. We understand that Phyllis has produced many wonderful puppies, and our experience with Beverly was so awesome, we would love to repeat it. So in our application, we specifically requested one of Phyllis’s puppies, should any of them be sent to the San Diego area.

Last night, I got word that on Sunday — right on her due date — Phyllis whelped 8 beautiful babies.  Six are females, two are male. Three are yellow. Five are black. It is an “A” litter, so everyone in it will get a name starting with that letter.

111417 Phyllis and the final gang
After five litters, Phyllis looks like she’s had enough!

The big question is: will any of them be sent to this region? The local puppy program director says she should know with 3-4 weeks. If one or more do come here, and we’re chosen to be the local recipients, it should arrive around January 8-10.

If we don’t get tapped to receive one of the new “A” babies, we hope to get some other puppy even earlier.

Either way, the new year promises to begin with a bang!

Stuffing it

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Early in our CCI puppy-raising career, Steve and I learned about the curious custom sometimes practiced when a female dog goes into heat right before her turn-in and thus cannot participate in the matriculation ceremonies. When all the other 40 or 50 puppy raising teams line up and walk their trainee to the front of the auditorium, to be recognized by the assembly, those who don’t have a dog because their girl has been banished to Sex Jail often will join in the procession carrying a stuffed animal.

We thought that was pretty silly. When Dionne went into heat right before her turn-in in May of 2014, we just skipped all the festivities and felt sad. When Beverly went into heat two weeks ago, we felt awful. One silver lining was that we thought it would free us to go see a close friend from the East Coast who was planning to be in LA that day.

Then our friend learned she wouldn’t be free. With nothing keeping me from attending the ceremonies, I realized I wanted to go, to salute and support our cohort of puppy-raisers who’ve been on the same journey over the past year and a half. Attending classes with them, parading and venturing out on field trips, sharing puppy socials, trading problems and funny stories all creates a bond. In several cases that association extends back through multiple dogs over now a dozen years.

Steve agreed to join me, and it struck me: if we were going, we might as well go all the way. I informed Becky Hein, the puppy program director, that we would like to join in the procession with a stuffed dog.

Yesterday we hit bad traffic driving to Oceanside and arrived at the QLN Conference Center only minutes before noon, when the program was scheduled to start. Still, Becky spotted me and gave me the minor paperwork I needed. She also led me to a box containing several plush animals.

I chose one almost as big as a real retriever puppy. Early in the program, Steve flipped it over into the cradling position. He pretended to brush its teeth, file its toenails, and clean its ears, as he has done for real with so many of our puppies. (He shoulders virtually all the grooming chores.) It made me giggle. This was helpful. It’s all too easy to cry from the emotion that drenches these convocations.

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After a while we joined the line-up, hugging our friends and whispering as we inched up to the stage. A couple of folks commented on our puppy’s perfect behavior. When we finally made it to the front, I heard scattered laughs in the audience; Becky explained that the real Beverly was already in the kennels.

Attending the CCI Graduation events takes a big bite out of a day. Driving up and back and finding a parking place takes almost two hours, and the program lasts for close to 90 minutes. We could have built in more time for socializing. But I was glad we spent the time we did. We didn’t foresee it when we first got involved with CCI, but not just the dogs but also their human caretakers have become an important source of happiness in our life.

When we got home I found an email from the assistant puppy program manager with good news: we’ll get our first report on how Beverly is doing in the professional training program on November 29. When that arrives, I’ll share it in another blog post.