My fair puppy

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Saturday I went to the San Diego County Fair — thanks to Adagio, or rather Canine Companions for Independence. For the first time in some years, CCI got a booth and put out a call for volunteers to sit in it and explain the mission of the organization. I hadn’t been to the fair myself in ages, and Adagio is game for any outing, so I signed us up for the afternoon shift.

Two other dogs and their handlers shared the duty with us: Mulberry (who’s almost exactly the same age as Adagio) and Helena, a graduate now working as a facility dog at the VA Hospital. Adagio found both those girls to be quite beautiful (more interesting, truth be told, than any of the humans). Situated in the beer tent, our booth drew a ton a foot traffic, and dozens of humans stopped by. They asked about the organization; wanted to snuggle with the dogs. IMG_4852.jpeg

It’s not a tough assignment, and Adagio’s tail kept wagging throughout. Still, he looked pretty tired by the end of our shift, and I was flagging too, so we never strolled around to look at all the other sights. The only souvenir we returned with was this pin.

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It’s not really pinned to his fur. I would never do that to him.

And now Adagio is poised to go off on another adventure: staying with two different sets of puppy-sitters while Steve and I set off tomorrow on an adventure in Latin America. When we reunite in July, we’ll have just three more weeks together before Adagio moves on to his advanced training. The very thought makes me want to cuddle him at least as much as any of his admirers at the fair.

 

 

Fun run

The high point of cuteness of my week came Tuesday morning, when Adagio and I participated in a fundraiser for Canine Companions for Independence (the organization that owns him). This event, a fun run, was organized by La Petite École, a French-language immersion school located off Aero Drive that adopts a different local beneficiary for its community philanthropy each year. Adagio and I were among the seven puppy-raisers and their charges who showed up to cheer on the kids. The Moment of Maximum Cuteness came when we mingled with the preschoolers. They gently patted the dogs, who seemed barely shorter than them, marveling at the softness of their ears and fur. Adagio seemed to enjoy this attention greatly. IMG_4782.jpeg

Then we moved to a large field, where the older kids did laps and took breaks in which they delighted in our dogs’ ability to Speak and Shake and do other “tricks” (their terminology.) We learned that close to $6,000 had been raised, with some hope that a bit more money might trickle in over the next few days.

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Watching all that running was exhausting. 

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Going to such events, when possible, isn’t mandatory, but it can be fun. And it’s a pretty good training experience. After a few hours, when we gathered for a group photo, neither the other dogs nor the kids were distracting Adagio. He was quite content to flop down in the sun and rest.

The final stretch

IMG_4766I’ve gone so long without blogging about Adagio that a friend asked me the other day if he’s okay. He’s fine! I’m the one who’s remiss. After writing about Steve’s and my adventures in puppy-raising for almost 10 years, I may be running out of steam. Or maybe I’m just in the doldrums of our final few months with Adagio. Unlike when we’re struggling to civilize a baby dog, learning something new about his or her personality every day, life with a fellow like Adagio (now 18 months old) is calm. Not much news develops. But I don’t want to drop altogether the narrative thread of Adagio’s journey, so here’s a brief update.

We will turn him in to the staff at CCI to begin his advanced training on August 9, exactly 11 weeks from yesterday. What makes me quail even more is that we will only live with him for 7 more weeks! Next month Steve and I depart on a four-week trip to South America, and once again Adagio will go to trusted puppy-sitters while we’re on the road.

The prospect of saying goodbye to him already feels heartbreaking. Both of us think he’s the easiest CCI puppy we’ve ever lived with. His half-sister Beverly (our last dog before him) came close, but she was more vulnerable to digestive disruption (and ultimately we got the terrible news about her malfunctioning kidneys).

Adagio always seems content to curl up and sleep whenever we haven’t suited him up for some activity. He has almost no bad habits; never digs or hurts our plants or tries to steal food or sniffs out other mischief. He learns quickly and wants to please.

As far as we can see, he has one bad quality, and we’re worried it may torpedo his chances to graduate. Although birds, cats, even the rare squirrels don’t much interest him, the sight of other dogs invariably redirects all his brain cells. If he thinks he might get to play with one, he literally moans with pleasure and excitement. Sometimes he yips or emits a happy woof!

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Never does Adagio experience more joy than at times like this. 

This may be cute in a pet, but a service dog must concentrate on his human. Steve and I have been so concerned about this failing we even arranged for a counseling session last week with Becky Hein, head of the local puppy program. Over Skype, we described to her how easily Adagio appears to lose his mind when he spots a potential playmate (namely any other dog) while out for a walk. She offered a number of suggestions (put more distance between him and them; give him sharper corrections), and we’re doing our best to work on them.

We’re already thinking about what we will do with him if he fails to graduate. But that’s a  complex decision, and we hope that gloomy call doesn’t come. Better to focus on enjoying the dwindling days we have left together.

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.

 

 

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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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.)