I 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“How can you stand to give up your dog? I could never do that!” Over the course of 14 years of raising puppies for CCI, that’s the question I’ve heard most. I respond in a number of ways: I talk about how you can only get into puppy-raising if you understand up front that it’s not your dog. “If you took care of a friend’s pet while they were on vacation, you’d be able to give it back, right?” I say. Raising potential service dogs is like that, just on a longer time scale. Sometimes I compare the turn-in process to childbirth — it’s agonizing when you’re in the throes of it but quickly over, freeing you to start all over with an incredibly cute baby creature. Or I talk about the huge payoff that comes when a dog succeeds and transforms the life of its recipient.
But there’s another reason, one that for me may be the most profound. The pain of giving away a puppy I’ve raised can’t compare to ending the life of a dog I’ve come to love over the course of many years.
This is what got Steve and me started raising CCI puppies. In 2004, we euthanized the best dog we ever had up to that point in our lives, a chocolate Labrador named Tootsie. Boisterous in her youth, Tootsie settled down to become a stalwart companion. She ran with us on the boardwalk. Around the house, she always followed us from room to room. She was a smiler, prone to great toothy grins in her middle years that told us more clearly than words how happy she was at the sight of us. Later, these mellowed into quick smiles she would flash whenever I glanced in her direction. In her 13th year, she aged a lot, grower deaf, losing her ability to see well. Her hips hurt, and when she could barely walk and cried because she couldn’t move through the house to be at the side of one of us, we called the vet and ended her life just short of her 14th birthday.
I felt awful about it; guilty thoughts assailed me. As soon as it was done, I felt like we had acted too soon. I’d heard about CCI, however, and shortly after Tootsie’s death we made the clear-eyed decision to raise puppies rather than ever again put a dear friend to death.
That’s how we wound up with Tucker, a doe-eyed, good-natured little fellow who stole my heart the moment he shambled into my sight early in 2005.Both Steve and I adored him. We thought he was the smartest, most attentive puppy we’d ever lived with. We wept when we turned him in for advanced training in May of 2006, certain he was destined for a stellar life in service and that we would rarely see him again. At the same time, we wanted with all our hearts for him to graduate. I still remember how the blood drained from my face two months later when I answered the call from our puppy-program director who broke the news he was being released: too much energy and too distractible to become a working dog.
I don’t remember that we agonized when we were asked if we wanted to adopt him. We loved him so much we couldn’t imagine not welcoming him to be our pet. Later, as subsequent puppies that we raised were also released, we grew more guarded and sensible. We had Tucker and wanted to raise more CCI puppies, and two big dogs was enough, so we found other good homes for others that didn’t make the cut.
We knew vaguely, of course, that Tucker would eventually grow old and we might once again face a terrible decision. But we had so many wonderful times together. We referred to him as the ultimate party animal; nothing gave him greater joy than going to social gatherings or meeting new people.
He never ran away from our home, but once out in Borrego Springs he disappeared, and we found him curled up in the living room of a complete stranger’s house down the street from where we were staying. Another time, in Julian one winter night, Steve took our CCI pup out to pee, and Tucker took off through the woods in the dark — with the puppy racing after him. (Miraculously, they both made it back after a few moments in which Steve and I experienced the starkest terror.) Each time we brought home a brand-new canine baby from CCI to raise, Tucker greeted him or her with a wagging tail and a happy face. Some of them jumped on him or pulled him around by his jowls or otherwise harassed him, but he never took offense. We speculated they helped to keep him young.)
No fountain of youth works forever. Several years ago, Tucker started slowing down on walks, and we reluctantly cut back on them. We stopped taking him up the hill with us, and a year or so after that, we realized he wasn’t even up to making the mile-long stroll to our neighborhood coffee house. Instead we confined his outings to a slow lap around the block a few times a week. In 2014 he developed a cancer in his side, but surgery seemed to get rid of it. We fed him medicine to promote canine joint health, then added daily pain medication. Whereas once he could hear me crack an egg from the other side of the house and come running in the hope I would share part of it with him, he became so deaf in the last year, we had to shake him awake. I began to pray he wouldn’t respond; that he might become my first dog to die in his sleep.
When Steve and I began to plan a long trip to India (for the fall of 2018), we gave a lot of thought to Tucker’s care. We found trusted friends to live in our house and take care of him. We discussed at length his prospects. Coming up on his 14th birthday, he might survive for another year or two, we knew. But what if things got grim while we were away? We told our friends if he stopped being able to walk outside to toilet or stopped eating, we didn’t want him to suffer. We left clear instructions at our vet’s office and departed, hoping things would work out.
We got periodic reports about how happy he was with his caretakers. (We’d been confident he would enjoy the exposure to new people far more than he would miss us, and this seemed to be the case.) By November, however, our friends started sending ominous reports. Tucker was struggling more to get to his feet and having increasing trouble with stairs. Several times he defecated in the house; once in his bed. We began to realize the end could be near, and it felt awful being halfway around the world from him.
As it turned out, he survived until our return in mid-December. He was happy to see us. He still enjoyed eating. But he had deteriorated in our absence. One week before Christmas, we realized he could barely struggle to his feet half the time. The other half, he failed and could only bark hoarsely, frustrated. Faced with taking him on a 1200-mile road trip to Reno, where we’d made plans many months before to spend Christmas with our son and his family, it seemed hard to imagine Tucker could survive the many trips in and out of our van. We consulted with our vet, and she agreed that given the circumstances, it might be best to put him to sleep.
I loathe that euphemism. With our (two) other pets at whose deaths I was present, it seemed like a baldfaced lie. But it felt closer to the truth for Tucker. He always liked going to the vet’s, and December 20 was no different. Steve and the vet and her assistant were all crying, while I outright sobbed, but Tucker didn’t seem bothered by any of our carryings-on. On the table, he gobbled down treat after treat, then slowly lowered his big head as the sedative took effect. When the vet injected the drug to slow his heart, he closed his eyes. His breathing grew more shallow, then it stopped.
Had Tucker in fact gone to sleep one night and not awakened, I would have felt a great sense of peace. He had a wonderful life with us and seemed to enjoy every minute. But he didn’t just die and wouldn’t have chosen to, if we could have asked him his wishes. We’ve tried to console ourselves with the thought that we saved him from reaching the pain of experiencing a life that was unlivable. But I still feel terrible about what we did.
The vet’s office arranged for the cremation of Tucker’s body, and for the first time ever, Steve and I opted to collect the ashes. We plan to bury him on our friends’ property in Julian, where he was so happy; where he once ran through the snowy woods in the night like a wild dog.
And we have once again taken the pledge. If Adagio or any puppies in our (near) future aren’t cut out for a life of service, we’ll find them the best homes we can, but not with us. We won’t take one back at least until our own sight and hearing have dimmed and our memories have grown foggy of just how hard it is to decide that your old friend’s life should come to an end.
Adagio looks like a black Labrador Retriever, but he’s actually one-sixteenth Golden Retriever. Because he is not a purebred, he had to have his testicles removed today.
That seems unfair, doesn’t it? Not to mention smacking of eugenics (except that so-called “science” was designed to improve humans, not dogs.) Females chosen for CCI’s breeding program can be a mix, so the girls are almost never spayed before they go in for their Advance Training (in the course of which, the decisions are made about who will be chosen to be a breeder). The situation is different for the males. I’m not sure why, but CCI has developed a policy dictating that only purebred labs or Goldens can sire CCI puppies. Next week Steve and I plan to attend a lecture about the breeding program, so maybe we’ll understand it all better after that.
What we have understood for months, however, is that we would have to get Adagio neutered when he reached his 8-month birthday. That milestone came last Thursday. We had called his vet the week before and were told the doctor didn’t recommend castration until dogs reach their one-year birthdays. So we called CCI to ask more directly about this timing. The puppy program assistant manager told us yes; the organization has come to believe the males’ personalities develop best if the boys lose their little reproductive organs at eight months, rather than later.
So it was that this morning at 7:30, Steve took Adagio in. Our pup walked into the office perky, wagging his tail. Steve retrieved him around 5 pm, and the sight of him as he stumbled across the patio upon their return broke my heart. His eyes were bloodshot and drooping. He was moving slowly, looking dazed. Worst of all, for a week or so, he will have to wear the dreaded cone to prevent him from licking the surgical site and pulling out his sutures.
We are hoping he will perk up tomorrow. He should be able to begin eating normally then. I will be very happy to have this behind us.
Puppy-raising involves many milestones, but few surpass the four-month mark. Adagio reached it yesterday, and today he got his final puppy shots. He should henceforth be protected against rabies, parvo, and other ills that can take down dogs. He can begin venturing into stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places where merely ordinary dogs cannot venture.
His weight at the vets was just over 30 pounds, which means he’s almost 200% larger than he was when we got him two months ago.
Even more remarkable than his size is the change in his behavior. Our first few puppy classes were a nightmare of barking, whining, squirming, and general chaos. But in class last night, he made me proud. He trotted along nicely for our exercises outdoors on the leash. He waited at doorways. He came when, seated in a chair across the room, I called him.
He’s still not perfect; he still occasionally pees on the floor indoors and still is overly entranced by the taste of twigs and stones.
The breeder-caretaker of our newest (8th!) CCI puppy, Adagio, took this wonderful photo of him and his littermates, I assume shortly before delivering the gang to Santa Rosa for the final steps before their dispersal. It makes me feel even more compassion for the pups, as each of them heads out on the road to a life of service. No matter how well their adventures turn out (and Steve and I are starting, as usual, with the highest hopes), it still seems sad to split up such concentrated cuteness.
But disperse they must. At 5 am this morning, Adagio and his sister Apple (4th from left above) were fed their breakfast and ushered into the little kennel in which they would fly south. In the past, most of Steve’s and my new pups have been picked up at the San Diego airport by a volunteer, driven to the Southwest Regional headquarters in Oceanside, bathed, and cuddled until we arrived to collect them. This time, however, we followed the lead of Cyndy Carlton, who’ll be raising Apple (her dozenth CCI pup, and the granddaughter of Emerald, whom Cyndy also raised). Many times Cyndy had collected her puppy directly from the airport. So a little after 10:30, Steve and I met her at the air freight center just south of Lindbergh’s Terminal 1. Also joining us were our videographer friends, Bob and Alberto. (They hope one day to make a documentary about puppy-raising.)
As we waited, we chatted about how many CCI puppies are flown from northern California to cities all over the country — somewhere between 700 and 1000, we guessed. It made me feel a little nervous to imagine something going awry — having Apple and Adagio wind up in Minnesota, say, as a result of some ghastly mix-up. Happily, their kennel was unloaded from a transport van shortly after 11. I could just make out little black tails in it, wagging.
Cyndy signed the paperwork, and we transferred the kennel outside, opened the door, and peeked inside with bated breath.
One of the little ones popped up and stepped right over the threshold. A quick check of the undercarriage revealed this to be — Adagio! Apple was trembling, but she seemed to settle down, once she was in Cyndy’s arms.
I think meeting a new puppy is a wonderful thing.
After giving the little ones a chance to relieve themselves, we drove to the home of another super-experienced puppy-raiser, Jan Ford. She runs a home daycare center, and her human youngsters were thrilled to meet the new babies.
We had planned to bathe Adagio and Apple, but they seemed pretty clean, and the day was chilly. Instead we let them race around, playing with the children and tussling with each other. In almost every picture I’d seen of Adagio up with his litter, he was flaked out, looking comatose. But this brief session erased any fears I’d had that his sleepiness was permanent.
After a while, we drove him home, eager to see how 13-year-old Tucker would react to yet another youngster intruding on his dotage. It went as I expected. Tuck’s tail beat fast, expressing hospitality, if mixed with just a hint of nervousness. (“Will this twerp try to nurse from me?”) It’s way to early to know if they’ll turn out to be bros. But Adagio’s behavior was impeccable.
He gobbled down his lunch, did a little bit of exploring the back yard (on a leash, under our close scrutiny), then settled down for a long nap. The evening is just beginning. The first one with a new puppy is often a rough one. For us too, the adventure begins again.
We may not have our new puppy yet, but it sure feels like he’s on his way. And we now know his name and color: Adagio and black! Steve and I have raised every other gender/color combo for CCI — yellow girls and boys and black females, but this will be our first black male. I’m sure we’ll love him (though Steve predicts that Mr. Tucker will be less than overjoyed by the advent of a little boy dog.)
We’ve received and have signed the contract with CCI (in which we promise we will not only raise Adagio until November 1, 2019 — but will give him back then). Yesterday a package full of goodies arrived — halters and two sizes of capes, flea and worming medicine, a pristine new Kong and tug-of-war toy, and more.
Normally, we would fill out the forms and get the goodies when we picked up the puppy. But on January 10, we will instead go directly to the airport to collect him there. That should be interesting!
In the meantime, our fellow puppy-raiser Cyndy Carlton, who will be raising Adagio’s sister, Apple, has told us she plans to journey up to central California to visit the breeder-caretaker next week. She’s promised to bring back photos, which I look forward to sharing.