Beverly’s second happy ending

120417 sleeping BeverlyNo sooner did I write my blog post yesterday, reporting on the drama that had enveloped Beverly, than I received a message from Stephanie, the CCI trainer who fell head over heels in love with Beverly and had offered to adopt her. Stephanie sounded both broken-hearted and devastated. She’d been talking to a couple of vets and another puppy-raiser who was living with a dog with kidney disease. As much as it obviously hurt, Stephanie had concluded that the expenses associated with caring for a dog in such circumstances — dog food that costs $115 for a 25-pound bag, frequent blood tests and vet visits — were probably beyond her means. “I really was hoping it would work, but I also promised Beverly that I would make her well-being my top priority,” she wrote me.

I called her, and we cried together a little over the sadness of the situation. I don’t know Stephanie, but the hugeness of her heart is obvious. She said another good solution might be available. She knew a vet who had fostered dogs for CCI and had indicated some interest in adopting a release dog. Stephanie had spoken to this woman, and she was very interested, but she needed to discuss it with her boyfriend, who was traveling. Still, Stephanie thought we should hear back soon, and both of us agreed that living with a loving veterinarian might be the best thing for Beverly.

We got the good new just an hour or so ago. As frosting on the cake, this veterinarian apparently practices with another one who is a kidney specialist. “So I truly believe Beverly couldn’t be in a better place!!” Stephanie messaged me. “They would like to take her and make sure she gets along in their family (which I don’t see there being a problem with that because Beverly is PERFECT!) I will be keeping Beverly with me until we find a date that works for them to pick her up.”

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Beverly wearing a beautiful bow from Stephanie

We’re eager to see if we might all meet, whenever the transfer takes place. If so, I will certainly report on it.

Years ago, I started blogging about puppy-raising because I wanted to try to capture and share some of this complex and engrossing activity. What a mixture it is. At times, months pass without much of anything happening. The dog has settled into our household, learned all the commands. Maybe we go on a field trip now and then. Then a patch like this comes along, where events are developing faster than I can keep up with them. That’s life, I know. I’m not complaining. Just marveling.

Beverly’s life takes an unexpected turn

Beverly has been released from the CCI program for health reasons.

Typing those words, I still feel a shiver of shock. We never detected that her body was any less perfect than her behavior. Indeed, her first report from CCI last week started off with the exuberant declaration, “Beverly is in good health!”

The clue that something was amiss didn’t come until Friday morning, when the vet staff up at the Oceanside center tested Beverly’s blood in preparation for spaying her. (Getting spayed is routine for the girls in Advanced Training; only a handful are chosen to be breeders.) But the test showed two very non-routine values for creatinine and another blood component; this signaled serious kidney malfunction.

A decision was made to proceed with the surgery and inspect Beverly’s kidneys directly. It was then, the puppy program director explained in her phone call to me late Friday afternoon, that the vet could see that one of the kidneys was both small and malformed. The other one looked normal. But it couldn’t be functioning properly or else her blood values would be normal. Instead the staff estimated that Beverly’s one kidney may be operating only about 40% as well as it should. What is unclear is whether this will shorten her life by just a small amount or substantially.

Becky said the vet felt the best course would be for Beverly to start consuming a special dog food, lower in  protein and thus easy on the kidneys. Becky also sadly pointed out that this turn of events meant Beverly could not continue on to graduation. She asked if I thought Diana and John, our puppy-sitter friends, would still want to adopt Beverly (as they had intended to do, in case she was to be released). I said I didn’t know. Adopting a dog with a health problem requires a special commitment, one that I don’t think Steve and I could handle. I asked Becky if she would call John and Diana to fill them in. An hour or so later, she called me back with the news that they also didn’t feel they could take on this challenge.

This is where this story takes a happy turn. Becky had informed me that someone else did want to adopt Beverly — Stephanie Y, the young woman who’s been training her for the past few weeks. Becky said Beverly and Stephanie had developed a deep bond. “When I call her to tell her she can adopt Beverly, you’ll probably be able to hear the scream from there,” Becky said. She pointed out that in her new life as Stephanie’s release dog, Beverly will be able to come into work with the trainer every day. She’ll have a “sister,” Belle, whom Stephanie raised and adopted upon her release. She’ll be showered with exuberant attention and love. Becky says the Oceanside staff jokes that in their next lives, they all want to come back as one of Stephanie’s dogs.

Since then, I’ve exchanged several messages with Stephanie, and they’ve confirmed that Beverly is one lucky dog indeed. “I fell in love with her the second I saw her and I knew that she was such a special pup!!” Stephanie wrote me. “Belle and Beverly have met and enjoy cuddling and sleeping next to each other!! During these first few weeks, I want to make sure that both dogs are EXTREMELY happy in their new role as sisters and their well-being is my top priority!!”

She sent me these comforting photos and a video, and we plan to meet in person soon. I fell asleep myself Friday night filled with such conflicting emotions: sadness over Beverly’s troubled kidneys, grief that she won’t have the life we imagined for her, joy that she has found her forever angel. Because of the latter, I slept soundly.

 

 

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.

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.

 

Bye-bye Bev (briefly)

In my role as a puppy-raiser, I think it’s easy to slip into denial. I want Beverly to succeed (as so few of her predecessors have), and I’m impressed by all the ways in which she seems promising — her low-key charm, her failure to get into all the trouble that so many of her predecessors have gotten into. She’s an elimination machine — give her the command and she poops and pees almost without fail. Except for the figs, she hasn’t seemed driven to chew and swallow every stray item in the yard, with the resultant vomiting and diarrhea that such behavior invariably brings.

So when she threw up her breakfast two days ago, I brushed it off (in denial). It was a fluke, I told myself. Some minor hiccup of her normal digestive perfection. And indeed, she showed no sign of wanting to throw up her lunch or dinner that same day.

But this morning, at 5 a.m., I was jolted awake by the very loud, roiling sounds of a dog in the process of regurgitating something large. An elephant? “Which dog is that?” I demanded tersely of Steve, still deeply asleep next to me.

“Mrgff,” he replied.

I crawled to the end of the bed and squinted into the gloom. Tucker was curled up in his bed, looking vaguely mortified by what he was hearing. The gross-out sounds were emanating from Beverly’s kennel.

Down at kennel level, I shone in my flashlight. Beverly batted her eyelashes at me, giving me a “Who, me??” look. I saw no elephants, nor any piles of doggy vomit. There was a small slick of mucus near the front of the kennel, however, with a small brown object in it. Later, I retrieved it and determined it to be part of the palm frond that Beverly had pounced upon the night before, out on the patio. Had the tiny fragment of it provoked that disgusting noise?

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I added the penny to show the scale. (She didn’t eat that.)

Once again, we threw caution to the winds and fed her breakfast. And we’ve heard nary a burp since then.

So that’s good news and bad. The bad is that Beverly isn’t perfect. But the good is that she’s really not very bad.

Good and bad, she’s about to embark on a huge adventure. Steve and I had the opportunity to go on an extraordinarily long and complex trip to Asia. If all goes well over the next several weeks, we’ll visit the 4th and 7th tallest buildings in the world (in Taipei and Kuala Lumpur, respectively), and stand at the foot of the tallest mountain (Everest in Tibet). We can do those and other things only because of the extraordinary generosity of the CCI puppy-raisers and puppy-sitters who are willing to take Beverly in our absence. She’ll spend time in the care of at least four such homes.

I’ll transport her to the first this evening, along with assorted gear and paper work.

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It’s quite a load.

 

After I got up with Beverly this morning , I sat on one of the steps in Steve’s office. Beverly came up and rubbed herself against me. She’s never been an affection-greedy pup, but this morning, she seemed to need some reassurance. She wagged her tail slowly and buried her  face under my arm. If I’m honest, I have to say I probably won’t miss her while we’re traveling; there will be too many fascinating sights and experiences to distract us. But I’ll be very, very happy to reunite with Beverly when I return home. Even if she’s not perfect.092916-affection

She’s gone

Saying goodbye to Kyndall yesterday was about as bad as we anticipated, for us, at least. And Kyndall didn’t look like she was having a whole lot of fun either. We left the house shortly after 9:30 a.m. and drove to the conference center in Oceanside where the graduation ceremonies are held. The first thing you do there with your matriculating puppy is to turn in his or her training gear and dress them in their ceremonial finery. Lots of photos get taken.

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We had to gather for instructions in what to do during the ceremony, though Steve and I already knew, being as how it was the very same thing we’ve done for all of the previous turn-in ceremonies in which we’ve participated. Then there was time to socialize. This was fun, as we’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the 11-plus years we’ve been involved with CCI. One unexpected pleasure was the chance to meet the woman who raised Kyndall’s sister, Kawika (aka “Kiki”) in Albuquerque, NM. But sadly, we couldn’t meet Kawika herself because she went into heat immediately after arriving in Oceanside on Wednesday. (Barbara, her puppy-raiser, carried a stuffed puppy during the presentation of the 34 pups turning in.)

Another big highlight was meeting the girl who will be Kyndall’s kennel-mate to start, Pendra, raised by a veteran Oceanside puppy-raiser. Dusty told us that Pendra was the calmest pup she’s ever raised — happy to wrestle and play for 15 or 20 minutes, and then to settle down for a snooze. That’s exactly how we would describe Kyndall, so it gave me high hopes that the two will get along just fine.

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The ceremony itself began at noon and lasted for a full 90 minutes. As always, it was an emotional roller coaster. There was a video introducing the folks who will be receiving dogs. Of this graduating class, three would be working as “facility dogs”(including two who will be helping to calm crime victims). Two were being awarded to help out women in wheelchairs, and two were chosen to be “skilled companions,” part of a whole team assisting the disabled person. There were speeches and a slide show of images of the puppies turning in and other words and sights to touch the heart.

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Impressive line-ups of well-behaved dogs.
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Last moments of cuddling…

After the ceremony, we headed out to the van and tried to feed Kyndall an early dinner, but she wouldn’t look at it. Then we drove to the CCI facility for the saddest moment of all. Unlike any previous occasion, on this day we were accompanied by our two videographer friends, Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, who are working on a documentary about puppy raising. Bob captured what it looked like right at the end. Note that Kyndall did what has always impressed me (and made me feel a little better). She trotted off wagging her tail, and she didn’t look back.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/166657430″>Kindall enters advanced training – HD 720p</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user25079241″>Jeannette De Wyze</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

A peek into Kyndall’s new home

Every 3 months, CCI holds a formal ceremony during which fully trained puppies who have successfully completed their Advanced Training graduate to their lives in service. The other crucial part of each graduation program is the presentation of the puppies who are about to begin their Advanced Training. This is what we’ll do with Kyndall tomorrow: turn her in to matriculate on the CCI campus.

We’ve gone through this 4 times before, with the first 4 CCI puppies we raised. (The fifth, Dionne, went into heat and thus could not participate in the formal ceremony.) But for some reason, we never before took advantage of something the southwestern regional headquarters staff offers before each graduation: a tour of the kennels for puppy-raisers who are turning in their pups. This time Steve and I signed up for that experience, accompanied by Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, our two documentary filmmaking friends who are working on a movie about puppy-raising.

We also took along Kyndall and Kora, figuring it would be good for both girls to visit the campus, since both will be spending a lot of time there. (Kora, however, being 6 months younger, won’t turn in until November.) We gathered at the front door of the Oceanside facility, where we found a handful of other matriculating puppies and the folks who had raised them. Only two were local; the rest hailed from Utah, New Mexico, Colorado.

Leading the tour was Becky Hein, the recently promoted director of the puppy program. Becky has worked at the headquarters for more than a dozen years, including long service as a trainer. In addition to all her years of experience, she has a warmth and obvious dedication to the program and the dogs that made her a compelling guide to the compound.

There’s a lot to see. We passed through the training rooms and the well-appointed grooming area.

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They even have special “drying chambers,” where newly bathed pups get blown-dried with warm air.

It was a little startling to hear the cacophony of barking on the grounds. We work hard to discourage our dogs from doing any “alert barking.” But Becky shrugged off the noise, dismissing it as an idiosyncrasy of kennel life.

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Most interesting to me was the chance to see the actual enclosures where the dogs spend their nights and part of their days. While not exactly cozy, they’re spotless and reasonably spacious, with heated concrete floors and an inner and outer chamber. Almost every puppy has a roommate, and according to Becky, they spend a lot of time playing with each other.

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The question I’ve heard more than any other from non-puppy-raisers is, “How can you stand to give the dogs up?” I have several answers to that question. I point out that one can’t begin to think about puppy-raising unless one accepts that one will be taking care of someone else’s dog. I point out the obvious fact that there would be no service dogs without puppy-raisers, and if you believe that service dogs dramatically improve many people’s lives (as I’ve come to believe), you can draw inspiration and comfort from that. I also think the more you do it, the easier it gets.

But maybe the truest answer, for me, is that I don’t think much about the Turn-in Days until they’re imminent. Then I start to feel sad. The day itself feels like an ordeal to me, miserable. And then it passes.

Because Kyndall is turning in tomorrow, I’m feeling pretty crummy tonight. But I have to say: today, seeing the busy, well-structured, clean, and purposeful place where she’ll be living did make me feel a bit better.

Epidemic victim

Worried that Kyndall might have a particularly urgent need for toileting this morning, I hustled her at 6:25 a.m. downstairs and out to the backyard without closing the bedroom or hallway doors, as I normally do. Indeed, she peed approximately one gallon under the fig tree (though that was the only action.) Back in the house, the instant I unclipped her leash, she tore through the first floor, rocketed up the stairs back into the bedroom, and launched herself up onto the bed (where she is NEVER permitted, and where Steve had been dozing.) He angrily ordered her off, and she raced downstairs again and into the front room, doing a lap or two around the table at approximately 100 miles per hour. Clearly, this was not an ill dog. This was an energized dog.

It occurs to me that maybe she was energized because she ate a normal cup and a half of dogfood last night. All through the preparation of my family’s dinner, Kyndall had watched me like a hawk, following my every move. “She’s hungry,” I felt confident. She’d eaten a half cup or so of cottage cheese in the morning, but by the end of the afternoon it seemed clear the caloric deficit had finally caught up to her. When I presented her with the dogfood, she eyed it gloomily. But after a moment, she consumed every morsel.

After that crazed display of energy this morning, I presented her with more dogfood, but this morning, she wasn’t having any of it.

041116 food strike
Seriously? Surely you can do better…

I then fixed up a mixture of white rice and cottage cheese and presented that to her. She appeared to find it yummy…

041116 tasty

…and licked the bowl clean.

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Very tasty! But bacon and eggs might be even more delicious!

As soon as the CCI offices opened, I called Becky Hein, the puppy program manager. Scarcely had I begun to tell her about Kyndall’s behavior when she blurted out, “This is an epidemic!” Becky explained that she had recently heard similar stories from at least 3 or 4 other puppy-raisers. She was intrigued that all the hunger-strikers were females.  Maybe their hormones were having some impact on their appetites.

I felt relieved to hear that Kyndall wasn’t the only suddenly picky eater. “I have to say I’ve never seen a dog waste away from not eating,” Becky reassured me further. Like one of my blog readers, she suggested that we try moistening Kyndall’s food with hot water or chicken broth. But she also seemed to be urging a course of Tough Love: removing the uneaten kibbles after 10 minutes and reoffering them later. Or cutting down on the amount offered at breakfast. Becky seemed pretty confident that Kyndall would eventually get back into a kibble-eating groove. Sounds good to me.

 

 

Dogfood Strike?

Kyndall seems very perky this morning. Steve commented that maybe she was happy she finally had gotten us to feed her something better than Eukanuba Large-Breed Dogfood. “She’s probably thinking, ‘It’s taken me a year and a half to train them, but thank God they’ve finally come around,'”he theorized.

It’s true that she refused to even glance at the cup of dogfood I put in her bowl. So I fed her all the plain yogurt I had left (only a half cup or so), and she lapped that up eagerly.

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I also gave her the remains of the strawberry yogurt cup I bought for my breakfast. She seemed to appreciate every molecule of it. 

I plan to go out soon and buy some cottage cheese for her (I can’t cook her plain rice until we get home tomorrow.) But clearly, I need to consult with the puppy experts at CCI in Oceanside about how to deal with this new wrinkle. Is it illness? Or culinary fastidiousness? I’ve heard from the folks who are raising Kyndall’s sister, Kimono, who report that “Kimono eats far more leisurely than any Lab we’ve ever known. It’s like she chews each individual kibble several times, instead of just inhaling the whole bowl as our Lab is want to do. At the same time, I can leave her in the car with a ziploc full of dog food in easy reach, which I could never do with the labs.”

Steve insists Kyndall just wants to be fed something more befitting a true Princess. Like live rabbits.

040916 rabbits
The place we’re staying is overrun with them. Kyndall finds them RIVETING!

 

 

Something else to worry about

040816 resting

Is Kyndall sick? That’s what’s worrying me at the moment. Clearly something has been irritating her stomach. This apparently started last weekend, when she stayed with two sets of puppy-sitters while Steve and I went up to Palm Springs to attend the American Documentary Film Festival there. (Kyndall behaves very well in movie theaters, generally, but subjecting her to hour after cinematic hour seemed too cruel.) Diana and John reported that she had not wanted to eat the second evening she stayed with them. And Susan and Frank saw more of that behavior the next morning. (Susan texted us that Kyndall would nibble at her food morsels, IF Susan hand-fed her.)

Steve and I immediately assumed she probably ate something in Diana’s garden that disagreed with her. We texted back Susan, advising that they not feed her that night but give her plenty of water. And this seemed to work. Susan wrote back that Kyndall was behaving (and eating) normally for the rest of the weekend.

All seemed to be okay early this week at our house too. But then Thursday morning she once again refused to eat her breakfast. Instead she retched a couple of times and brought up some white foamy liquid. This was right before Steve, Kyndall, and I were scheduled to drive to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend a conference. Once again, Kyndall wasn’t moping around or acting ill. She was defecating normally (a big relief, indicating that at least she probably didn’t have anything stuck in her gut — a common disaster in the retriever tribe.)

After we arrived in Scottsdale yesterday afternoon, I fed her some plain yogurt and one cup of dog food for dinner. She ate this all, if tentatively. She slowly, pensively ate a cup and a half plus more yogurt this morning. She seems bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to spring up and play whenever I give her the chance. Still, I find it so unnerving when one of our dogs doesn’t want to eat. Kyndall’s never been a puppy who had to be held back before pouncing on her dog bowl and gobbling down the contents. She consumes most meals at a more or less leisurely pace. But she’s 50% Labrador, and that breed generally worships food (and anything even remotely close to it). So I’m hoping this worry will soon fade away.