Good news and bad news about turning 8 months old

What’s the different between the two dogs above? The one on the left is 8-month-old Dilly (as of yesterday). On the right you see the 7-month-old version. Not much difference. Older Dilly looks a bit more sleepy but he tends to get like that by mid-afternoon. He may be a pound or two heavier and a smidge taller. But that could just be a trick of the camera angle.

For Dilly, the BAD news about this landmark was it marked the beginning of his life without lunch. CCI puppy-raisers actually are supposed to eliminate their dog’s mid-day cup when the pup reaches the 6-month mark (adding a half-cup to the breakfast and dinner fare) but two months ago we were still fretting about Dilly’s delicate digestive system. Smaller meals — for a while — might be easier on him, we told ourselves.

This strategy seemed to work. He had no trace of diarrhea. In fact, he got to where  he was occasionally defecating only once a day, typically massive but firm deposits on his morning walk. Then about a week ago, we were awakened around 2 in the morning by the much-dreaded, high-pitched, pitiful sound of puppy distress. I took him out, and two hours later, Steve had to repeat the long trek with Dilly out into the darkened yard.

We have a theory as to what may have provoked this. The weather is finally warm enough so we can dine out on our patio, and a night or two before the digestive disaster struck, we got so caught up in talking that we failed to notice what Dilly was doing. Only when he had consumed the better part of the pot of kale nearby us did the carnage catch my eye.

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Ummmmmm. Would you believe me if I told you a gopher did it?

Can bunches of baby kale, seasoned with some kale roots and fresh compost, cause doggy diarrhea? Who knows. Thankfully, a few days back on the Diarrhea Diet (a melange of plain rice, cottage cheese, and Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Puppy Chow) straightened things out.

To be honest, this particular puppy has so completely stolen our hearts, we’re finding it more tempting than ever to coddle him. But we want to be good dog-raising citizens. So yesterday we served him a cup and a half of breakfast (that was the easy part!) and nothing at lunchtime. He looked a bit sad and hungry, but he tends to look like that whenever one of us is eating and he isn’t. We trust in a few more days, he will forget his lunches ever existed.

Compensating for this sad transition, he got to play with another puppy, only his second social date in a couple of months. Yesterday, the playmate was Emmett, a feisty four-month-old purebred Labrador male being raised by Mary Milton, who lives not far from us. Emmett still has a bunch of sharp little baby teeth, which he used to chew on Dilly. But Dilly chewed back. They climbed on top of each other; raced at top speed around our pool (miraculously avoiding falling in.)

I think the look on Dilly’s face says all you need to know about what a great present this was:IMG_7097 2IMG_7096 2

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The 7-Month mark

Dilly is 7 months old today. If I needed any reminder that the thrilling transformations are behind us, the two photos below would do it for me.  I took the one on the left exactly one month ago, the one on the right just now. Coincidentally California’s governor ordered our lockdown on March 19, and while it may feel like a thousand days have passed since then, during which our lives have changed in profound ways, the time doesn’t appear to have made much of a mark on Dilly.

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Another thing that hasn’t happened to him is the loss of his daily lunch. Normally, CCI puppy-raisers are supposed to eliminate the mid-day meal when their charges reach their six-month birthday (at the same time increasing breakfast and dinner by half a cup each). But Steve and I have never raised any pup with as delicate a digestive system as Dilly’s. Encouragingly, it’s been several weeks since he’s had any bouts of diarrhea. We’ve worked him up to where he’s now eating about one cup a day of regular Eukanuba puppy chow (the CCI standard) and two cups of the more expensive Science Diet. We plan to continue slowly, carefully increasing the former and decreasing the latter, but until we complete that process, Steve worries that shifting to two bigger meals might shatter our fragile peace.

I should also add that no prior puppy of ours has ever reacted to his meals as exuberantly as Dilly does. He reminds us of Snoopy doing the suppertime dance; Dilly literally leaps into the air with joy.

Eventually, we’ll have to harden our hearts and limit the ecstasy to twice a day. But we’re not there yet. (Here’s a glimpse of today’s lunchtime performance.)IMG_7022

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This was shot just a second before his back legs left the ground.

 

 

 

Six months old!

Today Dilly is six months old. You can see the dog he will become pretty clearly now, I think.IMG_6875.jpegSo different from this little guy:

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His 2-month-old self

Normally this is one of the darker days in a CCI puppy’s life: the point at feedings are supposed to switch from three times a day to a paltry two.  (The pups get the same amount of food overall, but believe me, they LOVE having something doled out at lunch time.)

But Steve and I hypothesize that smaller meals may be easier for Dilly to digest than larger ones. He had so much trouble when he was very little, the last thing we want is to trigger a setback. We have worked our way to the point where he’s now eating two and three-quarters cups of expensive Science Diet and only one-quarter cup of the super- expensive Royal Canin gastrointestinally soothing puppy chow.

We plan to continue that mixture for another day or so, then to go to all Science Diet. We then will switch him ever so gradually to the reasonably priced Eukanuba, CCI’s dog food of choice.

For ridiculously emotional reasons, Steve and I have decided to continue feeding him three times a day until his very last baby tooth falls out. Over the past weeks, all the other razor-sharp molars and incisors and canines have given way to the more rounded adult dog teeth. I’ve found a handful on the floor…

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Here’s my collection

But a single canine remains firmly lodged in upper jaw.

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There it is, lurking behind the adult tooth. 

Until it goes, we plan to continue to feed Dilly at 6:30 am, noon, and 5 pm. And although most of America may be grieving about the toll of the coronavirus, Dilly is benefitting from that too (getting way more walks than usual.)

So all in all, it’s a pretty fine 6-month birthday for this (not so little) guy.IMG_6872.jpeg

 

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).

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!

 

A breakthrough?

Steve says I shouldn’t write this; that it’s too soon to say anything, lest we anger the Puppy-raising Gods. But I can’t help it: last night Dilly went through the whole night without awakening us!

Granted, it was not a super long night. We turned out the lights a few minutes after 10 pm. Sometime early in the morning, I woke up and couldn’t resist peeking at the clock. It was 4 am — far longer than this puppy had ever slept before. And still he didn’t stir. I miraculously went back to sleep and woke again around 5:10. Dilly slept on.

Steve was stirring next to me, and I could tell he was also awake. I had a fairly strong urge to pee, and I suspected Steve did too. But neither of us adult humans spoke or moved, lest we wake the baby canine and make him aware of his own full bladder. After 10 or 15 minutes, I couldn’t stand it and crept to the bathroom. Steve followed after I was finished. STILL Dilly slept on.

Only about 5:40 did he begin to whimper, at which point Steve, wide awake, sprung to take him out. “He peed a gallon,” he reported upon their return. “But NO poop.” Then he put Dilly back in his kennel (which is inches away from my side of the bed), and — another miracle! — silence returned for another 10 minutes or so.

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He’s a limber little fellow.

Now, in mid-afternoon, Dilly has produced three normal stools so far. This is enough to make me think we have beaten the diarrhea devils, through the combination of feeding him six times a day (but only a quarter cup of kibble each time), giving him supplementary Pro-Pectin and powdered pumpkin, and adding a tablespoon of low-fat cottage cheese to each feeding. Our vet’s assistant suggested the latter. We talked to her when we were dropping off a stool sample yesterday morning. The test cost $45 and came back normal. I have often found when we get desperate enough about some puppy digestive problem to pay for a stool analysis, it invariably comes back normal and the problem almost immediately disappears. So my second hypothesis is that paying the vet something somehow appeases the Puppy-raising Gods; they then cut you some slack.

Yet a third possibility was raised by Dilly’s mom’s breeder-caretaker, who told me his half-sister Zari had an allergic reaction to the anti-flea medication she was given. (Dilly developed his problem almost immediately after taking the same pill.)

I don’t know, nor do I care, which explanation is right. I just hope his gut stays happy. Even if he does wake up a few more times in the middle of the night, he’s given me hope we may all be sleeping better soon.

 

Our new puppy! And his predecessor!

What a red-letter day this is! We picked up our new puppy at the airport this morning. And on the drive back to our house, we received the latest report on how Adagio is going.

First the newbie: His name is…. Dilly!IMG_6034.jpeg

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Dilly’s dad

Though the DNA analysis may not yet be complete, it couldn’t be more obvious that this guy is all golden retriever, the son of Bear. We also got the report of the physical exam Dilly was given yesterday (up at CCI hq in Santa Rosa). The vet found him to be “slightly thin but otherwise healthy.” He doesn’t look thin, but all that hair is deceptive. He weighed only 10 pounds, 11 ounces, which places him among our lightest canine recipients. (Several have weighed as much as 15-16 pounds.) His slenderness may have something to do with his appetite. He didn’t finish even a half-cup of dog food at lunch time. But I figure it also may be that he’s burning up so much energy wagging his tail. He does this almost constantly.

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Our good friends, photographer/documentarians Bob Schneider, Howie Rosen, and Alberto Lau, were on hand to record Dilly’s arrival. 

From the moment he arrived, Dilly appeared to be a whirlwind of activity, racing from one side of our patio to the other while exploring it. Only a few minutes ago did he finally crash (which is why I have these precious moments to put together this report.) Even though he’s barely been in the house for two hours, it’s pretty clear we’ll be living with a pretty different sort of fellow from his sleepy, affable predecessor, Mr. Adagio.

And speaking of Adagio, we were surprised as we were driving back from the airport to receive another professional training report for him. We got the first one at the end of September, and a second one came in October, when Steve and I were traveling in New Zealand. Like the second report, I would categorize this one as a pretty solid B. His instructor reports that he’s barking less and showing less prey drive, but still occasionally does some barking and mounting. It sounds like he’s doing pretty well learning the advanced behaviors, like working around a wheelchair.

At least he’s now made it to the second semester of training — lasting significantly longer than any of our previous dogs except for Brando (who graduated and went on to a happy career). We have no clue as to whether Adagio will make it all the way. But we’re proud of him for getting as far as he has.

And we particularly miss him now!  He could give a certainly little ball of fur some lessons in napping. (Dilly slept for barely 20 minutes and is now up and exploring again.)

 

Adagio’s first report card!

IMG_5406I miss Adagio. Steve misses him. We miss having any dog in the house. Maybe if we’d gotten another CCI puppy immediately after turning in Adagio, or if Tucker were still with us, we wouldn’t miss Adagio as much. But living the dogless life for the past 7 weeks has kept him pretty high up in my consciousness and made me look forward to his first report card with particular eagerness. Now we’ve finally received it, and it feels pleasurable to have even this distant contact with him.

It wasn’t perfect. It was lovely to see all the good behaviors checked (“allows/accepts physical handling/grooming,” “attentive to handler,” “calm,” “interacts appropriately with dogs,” etc.) But he got also check marks next to four bad behaviors (anxiety, barking, prey drive, resistance). The note from his instructor, Grace, explained a bit more. “Adagio has adapted nicely to the professional training environment. Initially, he would show some hesitancy going over grates or jumping on surfaces, even refusing to do so at times. We have made some progress in this area, and are still working on building his confidence on new surfaces. Adagio will bark at his handler when he wants attention. On leash, he is very responsive and generally very willing. He is progressing with all new and known commands. He has shown to be distracted by the cat occasionally, but we are working through this. Thanks for all your hard working in raising this sweet boy!”

In the final section of the report, evaluating overall performance, he got all “Moderates.” Overall, it feels like a solid B to me.

Reaching this particular milestone finally prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for ages: look up how long each of our previous pups lasted in Advanced Training before being released. Here’s what I calculated:

Tucker — 65 days, released after receiving one report card

Yuli — 69 days, also after one report card

Brando — never released. He GRADUATED!

Darby — 40 days. She didn’t even make it to her first report card.

Dionne — 89 days. Our most challenging and difficult pup, we look back and can hardly believe she made it through TWO report cards before her ejection.

Kyndall — 46 days. In contrast, this sweet thing also got the boot before even reaching her first report.

Beverly — 28 days. They must have been doing report cards super fast during her stay. She got one report, but then was released for health reasons.

Today marks Adagio’s 49th day in Advanced Training. Will he get to his next report, scheduled for about a month from now? Stay tuned

He’s gone

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All the back doors in our house are open at the moment. It’s a warm summer day, and it’s nice to let in the breeze, but the doors being open is a reminder there’s no puppy requiring confinement.

There was no need to jump out of bed this morning to take someone out to relieve himself; no one to feed, which also should have been nice but instead felt kind of sad. In so many ways, our house, our Saturday routines, feel duller and more lifeless. With Tucker gone to his canine reward (last December) and Adagio turned in to CCI yesterday, our house is dogless for the first time in almost 30 years. 

I think part of the reason I’ve been remiss in writing any posts for this blog for the past several weeks is that anything I wrote would have touched upon Adagio’s looming departure. I often tell people the way I cope with having to give up the puppies we raise is by putting that eventuality out of my mind until the very last minute. For some reason, however, it was harder to do with Adagio. Steve and I both started feeling sad several weeks ago. That’s a little strange; Adagio hardly had the most personality of all the dogs we’ve lived with. For so long, maybe the most distinctive thing about him was how easy he was to live with — happy to curl up and sleep for hours if nothing much was happening, and just as happy to greet the arrival of new people (or better still, dogs!) or go for a walk or some other adventure.

We think he’d make a great facility dog — one of those animals whose full-time job is interacting with hospital patients or crime victims or other folks in need of comfort. A certain number of CCI dogs graduate to this kind of service. On the other hand, up to the day before turn-in, he was still overreacting to the sight of other dogs out on the street, barking with excitement at one or two. That’s the kind of thing that gets a fellow kicked out. We hope that living with so many other dogs up at the Oceanside campus might make him more blasé about canine company. (He matriculated yesterday along with 35 other fellow students, and they join several dozen other dogs whose training began at least three months ago.)

But we really have no clue how he’ll react to the sudden dramatic change in his life. I was startled yesterday to note his behavior during the 90-minute ceremony  that preceded his turn-in. It includes everything from a coo-inspiring puppy-photo slide show to the awarding of graduating dogs to the folks who are receiving them. Normally, Adagio would be all too happy to lay down and snooze through this kind of program, but instead he seemed edgy throughout it– putting his head in one of our laps or climbing up on them (which he never seemed particularly eager to do in normal life). It looked, more than anything, like he was feeling insecure, which again is strange because he could have had no idea of what was coming. Steve thinks he somehow intuited something big was up. IMG_5348.jpeg

I wondered if maybe the change in costume unnerved him. For their big day, puppies trade their routine yellow training vests for heavier, more formal blue capes. I wouldn’t have thought this change mattered much to any dog. But it freaked out Apple, Adagio’s littermate. She refused to move when her dress cape was on, according to her puppy-raiser, Cyndy. Maybe Adagio thought it was creepy too.

In every other way, the morning seemed to bring only happy moments. Adagio got to meet the dog who will be his roommate in the coming weeks: a dashing Golden Retriever named Morrison. DSC07574.jpeg

Adagio also was reunited with Jan Thornburg, the breeder-caretaker of Phyllis (Adagio and Apple’s mother). She’s from the Sacramento area but came down to visit friends and attend the matriculation/graduation festivities.

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I can’t tell you he remembered her. But I can’t say he didn’t.

Once the ceremonies were over, we followed the same dreary drill we’d undergone seven times before: driving to the CCI campus on Rancho del Oro in Oceanside, checking in, then taking a few teary minutes to pet and hug Adagio and tell him to do his best. Dolefully we walked over to the doors leading to the kennel area and introduced him to one of the trainers to be led away.

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As has happened with every one of his predecessors, Adagio pranced off, tail wagging. He never once even glanced back. It’s easy for us to imagine he’s having a better time with Morrison and his huge pack of new buddies than he would, at home with us.

We’re unlikely to hear anything else about how he’s faring until September 25, the day when the dogs’ first “report cards,” will be issued. That’s comforting, as is the reminder we got yesterday of the CCI dogs’ mission. Most of the folks paired with the graduating dogs are dealing with soul-wracking challenges, and they all express such joy and gratitude to have the dogs enter their lives.

This time such consolations are especially important for Steve and me. Almost always before, we’ve immediately gotten a new puppy to raise — a huge distraction from the sorrow of turning in a dog. But the waiting list to receive a puppy recently has grown to unprecedented lengths. We’ve heard rumors that the CCI litters for some mysterious reason have gotten smaller in recent months. Certainly the recent opening of a sixth regional CCI facility (in Texas) means more competition among the centers for any pups that are produced. 

Back in March, I applied for our next puppy, and we were approved without a hitch. But at the moment we’re still 36th on the list of folks who are waiting for pups. We’ve been told we’re likely to receive our next trainee toward the end of November. Until then, this blog is apt to be very quiet. So is my house, which makes me feel more than a little bereft.