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.

Thrilling dog news!

We’ve gotten some news we haven’t had in a long, long time: one of our dogs will be continuing on to Team Training!

That’s Adagio, of course, who began his Advanced Training on that hot day back in August. DSC07588

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Happy to meet you, Mr. Trainer, sir!

Team Training is the session during which people who have been selected to receive CCI dogs move into the dormitories on the Oceanside campus. During the first two days, these folks work with a variety of dogs. CCI always has a few more candidate dogs than clients, to try and assure that every match will be a perfect one. On Wednesday, February 5, the preliminary matches will be announced. All of us puppy-raisers have been told we’ll get a call that day informing us of our dogs’ status.

If Adagio is not matched with anyone, he will likely continue for an additional three months, then go through the entire Team Training process again with the next class of humans. We’re told that dogs in this situation get a higher priority for placement.

Much can still go wrong. On occasion, a dog can still be released just before or during Team Training, or during their third  “semester” of Advanced Training. Still, it’s been more than eight years since any of our pups has gotten this far (that was Brando). So we’re delighted Adagio has reached this milestone. And as an extra bonus, Adagio’s sister, Apple, will be starting Team Training with him. How cool it would be to have two litter mates graduating together!

 

Dilly’s first vacation

Over the years, Steve and I have accepted caretaking help from more CCI-trained puppy sitters than I can count. Still, we’ve never asked it for any substantial period with as young a pup as Dilly. We never wanted to impose the first few trying months on others. But circumstances conspired to draw us outside the country (primarily on a philanthropic mission in Africa) for about two and a half weeks. (I’ve been writing about those adventures in my travel blog). We were greatly relieved when three sets of helpers offered to host Dilly while we were gone. 

On Thursday January 3, I delivered him to the house of Mary Milton, an experienced puppy-raiser who’s in between dogs at the moment. She sent several photos and reports that made it clear Dilly was having a great time.

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Mary also hosted another pup along with Dilly for one or two days. 
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The two of them clearly had a blast.
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And it tired him out!

(I tried repeatedly to publish this post while we were on the road, but I was consistently foiled by bad to non-existent internet connections and other technical problems.)

After staying with Mary, Dilly moved on to another valiant sitter, Pat Masters, who unfortunately had to deal with yet another round of Dilly diarrhea. But with the addition of more probiotics to his diet, this eventually cleared up.

For the final week he moved to one of the top floors of a downtown high-rise, where he was cared for by former puppy-raiser Allison Kelly and her release dog Isse. We picked him up from there Tuesday morning and were thrilled to hear that he was still in excellent health and unfazed by the sound of trains, cruise-ship horn blasts, and the many other urban distractions in San Diego’s core.

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Isse and Dilly

We were sorry to miss some of the special days when he’s so small and irresistible. But we’ve been that much happier to reunite with him and continue on our journey together.

What price beauty?

IMG_6163.jpegDilly continues to stop onlookers in their tracks. He and I made a quick visit to the vet’s today, where I’d expect pretty much everyone to be inured to nice-looking dogs. But at least a half dozen of the eager young women who work there knelt down to coo over and stroke him. One meekly asked permission if she could take his picture. (I imagine it’s now briskly collecting Likes in cyberspace.)

In front of our local coffeeshop earlier this morning, a young couple pushing a baby stroller halted and stared. “Could I… pet him?” the mom asked. “Oh my god, he is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed. Glancing at her own baby, an angelic tot about a year old, she added. “I think he’s pretty cute.” (He was.) “But this guy is cuter.” Stroking Dilly’s head, she emitted a soft moan.

We’re not movie stars ourselves, Steve and I, so this kind of response to physical beauty comes as a bit of a jolt. But we’re also learning about the price of such comeliness. The key element of Dilly’s striking good looks is his ethereal golden baby fur. It transforms his skinny little body into a ball of glowing softness. It even grows in luxuriant abundance between his foot pads, and this is a problem, I learned recently.

Dilly and I were attending one of the regular puppy socials hosted by another puppy-raiser, when a veteran raiser of golden retrievers scooped up Dilly and cradled him like a baby. Nodding at his feet, she declared, “You’ve got to trim that.”

I hadn’t noticed the wildly hairy profusion before. “Why?” I stammered.

Uncut, that foot hair would rob him of traction, several people concurred. He’d slide around on slick surfaces. Much discussion followed about the best way to attend to this grooming chore. Some favored electric clippers; others scissors.

Back at home, Steve did some research and reported that the electric dog-grooming tools online looked just like his beard trimmer. “I suppose if you use that, it might make my beard smell doggy,” he reflected. “But you’re the only one who gets close enough to me to notice, and it wouldn’t bother you.”

I worried, though, that the buzzy electric tool might scare Dilly, so I attacked the inter-pad thatch with a long fine pair of scissors. IMG_6166.jpeg

Dilly seemed a tad nervous, but he tolerated the pawdicure well enough. The end result looked like this:IMG_6340.jpeg

So that’s one more chore we must add to our Dilly Maintenance check list. Daily coat-brushing also is beginning to seem more urgent, as his baby coat begins the lifelong process of shedding. 

This is what his brush looked like today after just one minute of use. (Soon we’ll get brushfuls and brushfuls out daily.)IMG_6348.JPG IMG_6350.JPG

Parasite-free!

IMG_6324.jpegThere’s good news and bad news about Dilly’s gut. We took a fecal sample to his vet’s yesterday, and they analyzed it. Apparently some indicators were ambiguous, so they sent it off to a lab for independent analysis. The verdict: neither assessment showed any sign of lingering giardia!

The bad news is that we had the analysis done because after more than a week of his sleeping all night without awakening us, Dilly Wednesday night was whimpering at 11:30 pm, 12:30 pm, 3:30 am, and 5:15.  Because he sounded distressed, we took him outside each time, and a good thing: each time he had terrible diarrhea.

This persisted throughout Thursday, though I think he only got us up twice that night. By Friday we were convinced he was reinfected with the giardia (which we’ve heard often happens). Sleep-deprived and cranky, Steve and I squabbled over what else we could do to rid our yard of this plague. Steve snapped that we had to be more vigilant about preventing him from picking up any leaves or flowers or twigs or mulch pieces from the ground (an activity with which Dilly is obsessed). I argued we should try spraying the patio with a bleach solution — and then make him toilet exclusively on the patio. The bickering got ugly.

Then this morning the vet’s office called. The results made me feel jubilant — although there remains the question of what has upset Dilly’s inner workings. “Some of these purebreds can have kind of delicate digestions,” the vet tech said. “My goldens were like that.” She urged us to concentrate on calming down his system, so we have now begun a regime in which he will be fed a two-to-one ratio of plain rice and cottage cheese in small servings five times a day. We’ve been instructed to keep him on that until his stools have firmed up and stayed that way for 5-7 days, then over the next 5-7 days to gradually reintroduce the puppy kibble.

Once upon a time this program might have made me quail. Now it just feels great to have a blueprint for returning to normalcy (if a bothersome one).

As for Dilly, he looks and acts like a normal puppy — hungry, mischievous, active certain times of the day, but also taking lots of naps. All those night-time outings can exhaust a fellow, he says.

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