Stepping out

Now that Dilly is five months old, life is starting to get more interesting. Last night we ventured out on our first puppy-class field trip.

Our wonderful instructor, Kay, has made these excursions a regular feature. For this very first outing for the kinder-pup group, we met at the big Petco outlet in Clairemont Square. A few of Dilly’s class members were too young to go out in public, and at least one older girl was in heat, so there were only three students — all blondes. Dilly found the whole experience to be fascinating.

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At Steve’s command, he Waited nicely at the door.

In one of the toy aisles, Kay tossed colorful distractions on the floor, then the pups had to walk past them without pouncing.

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Dilly thought that plush avocado looked mighty irresistible.

They had to go Down next to delicious smelling rawhide chews…

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All completely forbidden to CCI trainees.

Then the trio and their handlers marched together down the center aisle.

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There’s actually no distraction greater than another puppy.

It was a fun and effective introduction to one of the biggest things we’ll be working on for the next 14 months: learning to behave well in public.

This adventure was followed by another today, when Steve walked Dilly over to our neighborhood grooming salon equipped with tubs where owners can bathe their own pets. Sadly but perhaps understandably, Steve forgot to take any photos during the bathing process, but he reported that Dilly tolerated the experience well.

I think he smells cleaner, but most dramatically, he now looks at least three times curlier than he did pre-bath.

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We theorize that perhaps the oil in his coat had been controlling these wild twists, like hair mousse.

It feels like a omen: in the coming months I expect him to look more and more interesting, as he comports himself better and better.

Five months old!

IMG_6749.jpegIn all the drama and excitement of Adagio’s graduation last week, it may seem as if we’ve been overlooking Dilly. That’s not true. We’re having a blast living with this guy. He’s not as devoted to napping as Adagio was (but who could be?). Yet Dilly still spends plenty of time snoozing, which makes him easy to live with. IMG_6728.jpegHis digestive ailments have all but disappeared. We’re still feeding him the special (expensive) Royal Canin Dogfood for the Gastrointestinally Sensitive. However, we’ve begun combining it with the more plebeian Science Diet puppy chow, and that transition appears to be going well.

His coat is changing color and texture, from a milky down to a coarser, curly cinnamon and cream (although the top of his head and his ears still are soft as mink). He’s growing like crazy — gaining 10 pounds a month for each of the past two months. He weighed 40 pounds this morning! This has transformed his appearance, from this:

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Three months old

To this:

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Five months old

You can still tell he’s a puppy. But he’s no longer the traffic-stopping fluff ball of his early days. Soon he’ll just look like a lanky young golden retriever.

We’ll love him anyway. He’s attentive and eager to please and he often makes us laugh. We still have much to work on, chief among which is his behavior on the leash, when we’re out walking. Sometimes he’s in the perfect position:

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Like this

But all too quickly, he edges out in front of us, not exactly pulling, but eager to lead the way. Happily we have what feels like an ocean of time in front of us. (He’s not scheduled to be turned in until May of 2021.)

Graduation Day

IMG_6727 2.JPGMemo to self: the next time one of our CCI puppies graduates, wear waterproof mascara.

I actually considered doing that yesterday morning, as I was putting on my make-up in preparation for the special day ahead of us. I don’t like the waterproof stuff; at the end of the day it’s so hard to remove. And I reflected, “I usually don’t cry that much,” thinking of all the days on which we’ve turned in puppies. “Usually only at the very end when we’re saying goodbye.” Foolishly, I applied regular mascara, that kind that runs and smears when tears fill your eyes.

I’d forgotten how different graduations are from turn-ins — not surprising, considering that the last time one of our dogs actually graduated was 8 and a half years ago (Brando in August of 2011). The whole structure of the day is different. Puppy-raisers turning in dogs don’t arrive until mid- to late morning, and the main event comes at noon, when the ceremony begins. Shortly after it starts, everyone watches the slide show of adorably cute photos of the puppies who are matriculating. Then all the puppy-raisers parade onstage with their charges to receive ceremonial rosettes and be applauded. It’s heartwarming, but it never makes me cry.

If you’ve raised a puppy that is graduating, in contrast, the day begins at 9 a.m., when you assemble in a big work room in which long tables have been set up. You get your first sight of your dog’s new family (see the framed photo, above.) The head of the training program gives a little prep talk (e.g. be positive when you reminisce about your experiences in raising the dog; don’t be too nosy about the recipient’s disability). Then shortly after 9:30, the recipients file in.

Steve and I greeted the family for whom Adagio will serve as a Skilled Companion, then we all sat down. Dina, the mom, blinked rapidly then apologized for feeling emotional. But I was blinking too, startled by the wave of strong feeling that swept over me. Suddenly I recalled that I had felt exactly the same way when Brando graduated. It takes so many steps, big and small, to bring you together with the family across the table. And here you are, sharing this canine that you love. Turning in your puppy to begin its Advanced Training is like sending your kid off to college, but to me graduation feels like going to his or her wedding.

In the hour and a quarter that followed, we learned much that made me feel good about Adagio’s destiny. He is the second CCI dog chosen to serve this family. (Amazingly, Dina and Tony participated in that training session 8 and a half years ago with Brando. They instantly remembered Aimee and Yuriy, the couple to whom Brando was awarded.) Their first dog, Emilio, is still alive and well, but aging enough that it seemed time for him to stop working (though he will live out his life with them).

They live in Orange County and seemed happy at the prospect of staying in touch with us in the coming months and years. Julianna, who’s now 14, is non-verbal and she’s inclined to rock a lot, often forcefully, but Dina reported that Adagio seemed undisturbed by her movements. In the training dorm, he fell asleep next to her and soon was snoring loudly, while Julianna seemed comforted by his presence.

IMG_3898.JPGAfter a while, one recipient after another stood and took a microphone to talk about what their dog was going to mean in their lives. Several were men in wheelchairs who’d lost their ability to walk. Three were able-bodied women who would be taking their dogs to work (one to comfort crime victims, for example; another to cheer psychiatric patients). The rest were families with children struggling with terrible challenges, like Julianna’s. Generically, their stories are familiar; they’re the folks to whom CCI has always given its dogs. But hearing the actual voices of real individuals, seeing their obvious fortitude and gratitude and optimism packs a emotional punch. The details make a difference, like Dina’s description of how the canine companion transforms her family’s routine outings to a mall. People stare at Julianna’s unusual appearance; her convulsive movements. But when a proud, handsome dog accompanies them, it deflects and transforms that cruel attention.

After the brunch, all the puppy raisers moved to another large room to reunite with the dogs we had raised. When the trainers let Adagio out of his kennel, I almost wondered if they’d made a mistake; directed us to the wrong animal. He looked so much bigger than I remembered. But his frantic tail-wagging made it clear that he at least recognized Steve and me.

We spent some sweet time petting him and taking photos…

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Adagio’s beautiful litter mate, Apple, also graduated. She will work with crime victims in Colorado.

IMG_6716.JPGEventually we loaded him into the van to drive to the Vista complex where the ceremonies unfold. Several more things happened that startled me and touched my heart.  The little box of beautiful cookies made by Janice Flynn (who with her husband Dan are the most epic dog folks I know, having raised more than 20 CCI puppies, most of whom have graduated.) IMG_6731.jpeg

The beautiful engraved frame which we will fill with a photo of the handsome Mr. A — a completely unexpected gift from a whole crew of regular puppy raisers I have come to cherish. IMG_6732.jpeg

Adagio got to sit with Steve and me throughout the program. A dark moment came well into the ceremonies, when I realized we were on the brink of handing over the leash to his new family, this time for good. I whispered for him to come to me, then I bent over and petted and petted him. He wagged his tail and looked into my eyes.

Then it seemed it was over in a flash. Except it’s not. This morning I received some photos from Dina. They all make me happy:IMG_4234.JPG

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Emilio and Adagio — best buds already?

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Hallelujah!

It’s been such a long time coming, but this morning Steve and I got the call every puppy-raiser dreams of: informing us that our handsome boy, Adagio, has been “pre-matched” for service as a Skilled Companion.

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Becky Hein, the puppy program manager for CCI’s Southwest regional office, told me Adagio has been paired with a 14-year-old girl from Orange County. If the next week goes well, we should meet her and her family at a special brunch up in Oceanside on Valentine’s Day morning. No dogs will attend the brunch, but once it’s over, we’ll be reunited with Adagio for a magical hour. Steve and I haven’t seen him since August 9, the day we turned him over to the crew up in Oceanside to begin his Advanced Training.

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It’s always such a sad day for us. But Adagio seemed happy enough.

We’ve received several reports since then and were thrilled each time he passed another milestone. Now that he’s on the verge of graduating, it doesn’t seem real. Adagio was the 8th puppy we’ve raised for CCI, and only one of his predecessors (Brando) went on to a working career. (Adagio’s wonderful half-sister Beverly, whom we also raised, was released from the training program due to a medical problem.)

Other exciting news this morning was that Adagio’s littermate, Apple, also has been pre-matched and is tentatively slated to work with crime victims in Colorado.

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Our first sight of Adagio and Apple when they arrived at Lindbergh Field back in January of 2018.

It’s been a long road. The next 9 days promises to be eventful (and a little nerve-racking).

A more perfect puppy

The next step in Dilly’s becoming an even more perfect puppy will be when all his baby teeth fall out. IMG_6655.jpeg

He’s already a pretty awesome fellow, especially considering that he’s just four and a half months old. But he still loves to chew on us, the way he used to chew on his littermates. Some pups do this more than others. Adagio barely did it at all. Dilly falls more toward  the more munchy end of the spectrum. It’s clear he finds gnawing on us to be deeply satisfying.

He’s not trying to hurt us; it’s just a puppy thing. Still, those baby teeth are like razors. Even accidental encounters between them and human skin can be pretty gruesome.

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Like what happened to my hand two days before Christmas. 

Happily, Dilly’s big-dog teeth are beginning to push those dangerous baby knives out. IMG_6652.jpeg

I know the day will eventually come when he’ll stop chomping on us altogether. But in the meantime, I’m saluting the arrival of every single new big-dog tooth.