Ready for take-off!

Last night Steve, Adagio, and I participated in the most entertaining field trip ever. Along with more than a dozen other older pups and their raisers, we gathered at Lindbergh’s Terminal 1, where we practiced going on a plane flight.

Service dogs need to be able to travel by air, and some CCI puppy-raisers take their charges to the skies as part of their formative training experiences. Not all airlines allow pups-in-training in the cabin, but many do, and in 2015 Southwest for the first time opened its cabins to CCI trainees. Still, Steve and I have always quailed at the thought of trying to get one of our puppies to board and behave impeccably in any airliner’s cramped quarters, even for a short excursion.

I did happily participate in a group practice session at the airport three years ago with Kyndall (our trainee at the time). Our group went through the security screening, strolled the terminals, visited the doggy “relief station,” and happily interacted with members of the traveling public. But we didn’t get near any actual planes.

Last night was different. After years of laying the groundwork, veteran puppy-raiser Marilyn Fullen managed to get permission for our group to board one of Southwest’s working 737s (furloughed in San Diego for the night). Here’s a glimpse into how the adventure unfolded.

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Armed with our special gate passes and caped companions, we lined up for the routine security inspection. 

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The humans had to take off their shoes, but the puppies got to keep their capes on.

Once through security, our group climbed the steps and found Gate 4, where we lined up just as if we were ready for boarding.

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Steve and Adagio got in the A line. (But so did everyone else.) 
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Adagio never hesitated…
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…although he didn’t look as joyful as our friend Inge. (But she always looks like that. She’s pure Golden.) 
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The wait at the cabin door was brief, as no one had any carry-ons (other than leashes). 
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Adagio’s sister, Apple, was the model canine traveler. Positioned perfectly under the seat in front of Cyndy, a middle-seat passenger might never notice her. 
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But Adagio, half again her size, simply wouldn’t fit. 
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This is about as good as we got.

Some of other puppy-raisers and one of the Southwest representatives assured us that, should we ever need to fly with a puppy, we could get access to bulkhead seats, where even dogs as big as Adagio do fine.

I think Adagio probably learned something about good comportment from the whole exercise. And Steve and I can better imagine how flying with a pup could work out well. We’re still not ready to try it any time soon. But it was fun to come close to experiencing it.

 

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Would you call this puppy fatso?

If you think Dean Ornish is a stickler about weight, you should see our overseers at CCI. They don’t care how much we (the puppy raisers) weigh, but they take a dim view of any dog who packs on extra pounds. The logic behind this is understandable. Labradors, a mainstay of the program’s breeding stock, have a genetic disposition toward plumpness. Moreover it’s the destiny of many successful program graduates to be matched with handlers whose mobility is impaired, making it harder for them to get a lot of exercise. Keeping the animals at a healthy weight when they’re young sets them up for a healthier life in service, or so the thinking goes.

But what’s a healthy weight? That’s where things can get murky. Over the years, Steve and I at times have heard our vet declare our current pup’s weight to be ideal, only then to be told by the CCI staff that he or she should be leaner. I’ve learned a catchphrase from my fellow raisers: “CCI Skinny” and have come to equate it with a level of thinness that in a human might be considered borderline anorexic.

Still, we want to be good, conscientious puppy raisers, so we adhere closely to the feeding guidelines: one cup of Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Chow three times a day until the puppy is six months old, then a cup and a half of the puppy chow twice daily, switching to a cup and a half of twice-daily lower-calorie adult dog food after that. But we also use treats as a training adjunct (with CCI’s blessing), and once again, that’s where things can get a bit fuzzy. Some folks dole out pieces of puppy chow kibble as the treats. But this can leave you with no kibble left over at mealtime, if you train and treat enough, which feels downright cruel to Steve and me. So we use Charlie Bears or Costco beef jerky treat bits or other tasty morsels to encourage correct behavior. Recently, we’ve been enjoying great success at getting Adagio to ignore other dogs by having little slices of all-beef hotdogs close at hand.

Maybe because of our treat habits (or because of his avocado raiding), Adagio was looking a tad stocky to us a month or two ago, and we cut him back to only one and a third cup of kibble for each of his two meals. Still, we quailed when at a recent weight check at the vet’s, the numbers on the digital scale climbed to 72 pounds. (In contrast, his sister Apple, who looked identical to him a year ago, now weighs only 54 pounds — and she gets fed one and three-quarter cups for her breakfast and dinner!)

Sure enough, as we feared, when I reported Adagio’s most recent weight on his monthly puppy report, the program assistant shot an email back, expressing concern. “That seems pretty large for one of our dogs, even a male,” she wrote. “Would you mind sending me a couple of photos so we can evaluate his size and make any recommendations for reducing food, increasing exercise, etc, if need be?”

She attached the following photos as a guideline to what the CCI honchos are looking for:

With some trepidation, we tried to position Adagio in a similar pose, captured the following pictures, and sent them back.

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To our great relief, she answered quickly, “He does look great in these photos! You got the right angles, looks like his tummy tucks up and he’s got the indented waistline. I guess we’re just getting some big boys nowadays! 😉”

We’re kind of dreading the advent of fig season this summer, when those succulent balls of sugary goodness drop from our tree like manna. We’ll have to rake them up morning and night and ramp up Adagio’s exercise, as best we can. Because come August 9, he’ll face the fat police in person.

 

 

 

Fruit fight

Given Adagio’s obedience and docility, I am surprised to report he has come up with a novel form of bad behavior — a sin none of his seven CCI puppy predecessors ever committed: stealing our avocados.IMG_4488

 

The tree from which Adagio is stealing is more than 40 years old; Steve and I planted it as a sapling. It grew into a great robust engine of guacamole glory. At times we ate its fruit throughout most of the year. But over the last decade, it hasn’t fared well. Recent crops have ranged from minimal to non-existent. Then about a year ago, Steve finally took action to try to revitalize it: removing salt from the soil, watering the tree more, and pruning it heavily. This work has paid off in a bountiful crop of avocados that are delicious (although very small).

They started dropping off the tree a month or two ago. That’s when Adagio discovered them. We got suspicious when we spotted him snorfling around in the compost around the trunk base, and when we caught him in the act of savoring one of the little emerald gems (skin and all) our worst fears were confirmed.

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Years ago, we grew accustomed to our puppies gorging on fallen figs. Steve and I can only consume a small fraction of what our massive old fig tree produces every summer; I don’t even like figs much. But I adore avocados, and they can cost $1 or more apiece from the store. So around our house, avocado thievery is a criminal offense.

We’re now policing against more of it by checking for newly fallen fruit under the tree every morning. Only 3 or 4 avocados drop, on the average day, so we can keep up with that. And Adagio hasn’t yet gone to the next level of criminality:  reaching up and pulling goodies off the tree (which he could easily do, given how tall he is and how low the fruit is hanging.)

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We’re hoping he’s too virtuous to even think of that.

 

 

Tucker’s funeral

DSC03744We had our first doggy funeral last week. It was for Tucker, whom we ushered into the Great Beyond a few days before Christmas. We had him cremated then after being euthanized and for almost six weeks kept the cardboard box filled with his ashes on Steve’s work bench in the garage. Last week we buried it up in Julian.

This was a novel experience for us. Over the years, Steve and I have had five pet dogs (in addition to the seven puppies we’ve raised for CCI; Tucker was both, a trainee turned permanent member of the family). All our pet dogs were big animals: a golden retriever and four labradors (one with a dash of Dalmatian). Their bodies seemed too unwieldy for us to consider digging holes in our back yard that would contain them securely over the years. We had nightmare visions of some successor canine digging up one of his or her predecessors. Instead we had our vet dispose of each beloved pet in turn. This didn’t bother us. They were dogs.

I don’t know if we’re getting old and mushy-headed or if it was just that Julian seemed such a perfect final stop for this particular dog. Since 2003, we’ve gathered in Julian every year with a close group of friends at the home of one the couples, and for 13 of those occasions Tucker accompanied us. Each has been a joyful interlude both for us humans, and for Tucker, who adored the woodsy deer-drenched smells of the surrounding hillsides. One year he ran off in the middle of the night into the forest, wild and free, with our then-current CCI puppy in tow. Somehow they found their way back to us. Wes and Jenny said they would welcome him to their property, for his final resting place, when the time came. So when we gathered in Julian this time, Steve picked out a spot, and Wes dug the hole.DSC03743Steve positioned the box, while Adagio looked on (apprehensively?)DSC03746Near the surface, Steve placed the little heart-shaped packet of wild flowers provided by the cremation company… DSC03754…and finally, a simple marker.DSC03755We didn’t pray or sing or anything like that, just admired the way the grave blended into its surroundings. DSC03757

It would be nice if the wildflowers would bloom. Even if they don’t, though, and even when the sign disappears, we’ll never walk those woods again without thinking of our old buddy.

Poochy smooches

Steve and I raised one puppy who was a glutton for affection from her earliest months. Darby loved being cuddled and petted as much as she loved chasing the ball and eating her kibble and swimming (she was our only CCI pup so far to be entranced by water). Far more commonly, however, our trainees have warmed to physical affection more gradually.

We’ve been seeing such a change in Adagio in recent months; he’s more apt to approach one of us when we’re seated on a chair or couch and seek out petting. And he’s enjoying such interactions with other humans in a more obvious way. IMG_4458

I saw more evidence of this on Wednesday, when Adagio and I volunteered at a CCI fundraising event inspired by Valentine’s Day. An employee at Intuit (the financial software giant with a big presence in San Diego) has organized a “Cupids and Canines” celebration for several years, but this was the first time a puppy and I participated. An area within the spiffy company cafeteria was cordoned off, and Adagio and I settled down within it with five other teams for three hours. Intuit employees who were willing to make a contribution to CCI could enter to receive some quality puppy-snuggling time.

IMG_4470It was a high-serotonin experience for both the dogs and the humans who got down with them. A few mosh-pits developed:

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But more folks seemed to prefer one-on-one cuddles (often experienced in serial fashion with the dogs). Adagio reveled in it.

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By the end of our stint, I was worried his tail might be exhausted, from wagging so much.

We heard that close to $4000 had been contributed during that day’s event, and another group would repeat the exercise on Valentine’s Day itself. It seemed like a particularly appropriate activity for the holiday of love.

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Bad news

IMG_4448I’ve enjoyed Adagio ever since we got him (a little over a year ago), but in recent weeks my affection for him has been building. Maybe part of it is losing Tucker. But Adagio also has reached a stage where he’s almost pure pleasure to live with. He wakes up in the morning bursting with happiness; happy to go for a walk or (if he’s very lucky) run around the nearby field for a short spell. Then he settles down, mostly snoozing throughout the day but ready to venture out if an opportunity arises. He does almost nothing wrong. We have a few things to work on to prepare him for a life of service — getting him to better ignore other dogs on the street; extending the time when he reliably stays down on command. But we’ve been relishing the thought of having until November 1 to work on these things.

That’s the date we were told he would have to be turned in for advanced training. (CCI includes this information in the paperwork, when they deliver each baby dog to its puppy-raiser.) By November 1, Adagio will be less than two weeks from his second birthday — a little older than most of the other CCI pups we’ve raised. I was aware that sometimes this “turn-in” date gets pushed forward, but I shoved that possibility from my mind. Then last week I received an email from the puppy program administrators at our local CCI training center. Adagio’s new turn-in date would be August 9, it announced. “Thank you so much for your flexibility! Rest assured that in the past dogs have turned in at a younger age. If your turn in was moved sooner, this change of a few months is not significant in relation to their potential success!”

At a couple of gatherings with other puppy-raisers, I soon learned that Adagio was not the only puppy who’s been moved up. His sister, Apple, has too, along with two other dogs close to Adagio’s age. Most of their puppy-raisers seemed more blasé about the news than us; they’d been half-expecting it. But Steve and I felt crushed to have three months less of life with Adagio. We love him!

As if to remind me that he hasn’t yet reached absolute perfection, Steve found this on Adagio’s bed yesterday afternoon:

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Those are the mangled fragments of a set of earphones. Happily, Adagio found them in Steve’s garbage can. They’d stopped working, and Steve had discarded them. So no real harm was done. Still, the difference between stealing earphones from the trash or stealing something like that from a desk is close enough to remind us we’re not done with the task of civilizing him. We just have three months less to do it.

 

Have you seen this puppy?

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 9.02.23 amI’ve long said that the very worst moment in Steve’s and my puppy-raising careers came the night Tucker ran off into the woods in the middle of one winter night up in Julian — with our CCI trainee at the time (Darby) in tow. Now we have a contender for second worst experience.

The incident in question happened Saturday afternoon, after Steve and Adagio had returned from a long grocery-shopping expedition. Because Steve had items to stow in our street-facing “bike garage,” he parked in front of our house, instead of in the big garage out back. He brought in Adagio and most of the groceries. I petted Adagio and walked into another room to do something else. It was several long minutes later when Steve asked, “Where’s Adagio.” I called him using my piercing “Here!” command, to which he usually comes running.

But he didn’t come. We looked out in the yard. No Adagio. We checked my office, then the garages. Increasingly incredulous, we went through every room in the house, even the closets — twice. But he was clearly missing from ALL the premises.

Feeling panicky, I raced out the front door and across the street to scan the elementary school playground/field where Adagio enviously stares at the dogs running free there. But I could see no large black dog romping among them. Our neighbor across the street, noticing my distress, asked what was wrong and offered to drive around looking for our missing pooch.

I wanted to check the alley behind our house first, but found no sign of him there. Two more neighbors volunteered to start a search. By this point I was nearly incoherent with not just fear but also disbelief. Adagio has NEVER bolted out the front door (which we figured Steve must have inadvertently left open for a minute or two.) On a leash, he waits patiently until we give him a command to venture out. I ran out the door again and then went down onto the field. I crossed it and scanned the streets on the other side (our regular path to the coffee shop). Again: nothing. With tears in my eyes, I raced back to the house and prepared to jump in our car and start driving, when my cell phone rang.

It was Jodie next door. “Have you lost your black lab?” she asked. In what seemed like two seconds later, I was at her door. Adagio wagged his tail in greeting.

We learned that Jodie’s mother had walked outside and seen a big black labrador on her lawn. She went to get Jodie, a renowned dog lover, and Adagio trotted inside, at her heels. Jodie, as it turned out, was in the shower, but when she emerged she immediately posted a notice on our neighborhood website (Next Door Birdrock) about her unexpected visitor. Then she thought to call us. Vast relief swept over Steve and me. (Adagio looked like he would have been happy to hang out longer with the family’s gorgeous blonde miniature dachshunds.)

I am left to conclude that we must NEVER fail to close the front door ever again. You never know when someone will get it into their head to stroll out and go sniff the grass on the other side of the bushes. (If he does, however, it’s wonderful to have such helpful neighbors. In the end, besides Jodie’s on-line notice, no less than four neighbors had volunteered to help use scour the surrounding streets, looking for Adagio.)