Ready for take-off!

Last night Steve, Adagio, and I participated in the most entertaining field trip ever. Along with more than a dozen other older pups and their raisers, we gathered at Lindbergh’s Terminal 1, where we practiced going on a plane flight.

Service dogs need to be able to travel by air, and some CCI puppy-raisers take their charges to the skies as part of their formative training experiences. Not all airlines allow pups-in-training in the cabin, but many do, and in 2015 Southwest for the first time opened its cabins to CCI trainees. Still, Steve and I have always quailed at the thought of trying to get one of our puppies to board and behave impeccably in any airliner’s cramped quarters, even for a short excursion.

I did happily participate in a group practice session at the airport three years ago with Kyndall (our trainee at the time). Our group went through the security screening, strolled the terminals, visited the doggy “relief station,” and happily interacted with members of the traveling public. But we didn’t get near any actual planes.

Last night was different. After years of laying the groundwork, veteran puppy-raiser Marilyn Fullen managed to get permission for our group to board one of Southwest’s working 737s (furloughed in San Diego for the night). Here’s a glimpse into how the adventure unfolded.

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Armed with our special gate passes and caped companions, we lined up for the routine security inspection. 

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The humans had to take off their shoes, but the puppies got to keep their capes on.

Once through security, our group climbed the steps and found Gate 4, where we lined up just as if we were ready for boarding.

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Steve and Adagio got in the A line. (But so did everyone else.) 
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Adagio never hesitated…
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…although he didn’t look as joyful as our friend Inge. (But she always looks like that. She’s pure Golden.) 
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The wait at the cabin door was brief, as no one had any carry-ons (other than leashes). 
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Adagio’s sister, Apple, was the model canine traveler. Positioned perfectly under the seat in front of Cyndy, a middle-seat passenger might never notice her. 
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But Adagio, half again her size, simply wouldn’t fit. 
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This is about as good as we got.

Some of other puppy-raisers and one of the Southwest representatives assured us that, should we ever need to fly with a puppy, we could get access to bulkhead seats, where even dogs as big as Adagio do fine.

I think Adagio probably learned something about good comportment from the whole exercise. And Steve and I can better imagine how flying with a pup could work out well. We’re still not ready to try it any time soon. But it was fun to come close to experiencing it.

 

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Tucker’s funeral

DSC03744We had our first doggy funeral last week. It was for Tucker, whom we ushered into the Great Beyond a few days before Christmas. We had him cremated then after being euthanized and for almost six weeks kept the cardboard box filled with his ashes on Steve’s work bench in the garage. Last week we buried it up in Julian.

This was a novel experience for us. Over the years, Steve and I have had five pet dogs (in addition to the seven puppies we’ve raised for CCI; Tucker was both, a trainee turned permanent member of the family). All our pet dogs were big animals: a golden retriever and four labradors (one with a dash of Dalmatian). Their bodies seemed too unwieldy for us to consider digging holes in our back yard that would contain them securely over the years. We had nightmare visions of some successor canine digging up one of his or her predecessors. Instead we had our vet dispose of each beloved pet in turn. This didn’t bother us. They were dogs.

I don’t know if we’re getting old and mushy-headed or if it was just that Julian seemed such a perfect final stop for this particular dog. Since 2003, we’ve gathered in Julian every year with a close group of friends at the home of one the couples, and for 13 of those occasions Tucker accompanied us. Each has been a joyful interlude both for us humans, and for Tucker, who adored the woodsy deer-drenched smells of the surrounding hillsides. One year he ran off in the middle of the night into the forest, wild and free, with our then-current CCI puppy in tow. Somehow they found their way back to us. Wes and Jenny said they would welcome him to their property, for his final resting place, when the time came. So when we gathered in Julian this time, Steve picked out a spot, and Wes dug the hole.DSC03743Steve positioned the box, while Adagio looked on (apprehensively?)DSC03746Near the surface, Steve placed the little heart-shaped packet of wild flowers provided by the cremation company… DSC03754…and finally, a simple marker.DSC03755We didn’t pray or sing or anything like that, just admired the way the grave blended into its surroundings. DSC03757

It would be nice if the wildflowers would bloom. Even if they don’t, though, and even when the sign disappears, we’ll never walk those woods again without thinking of our old buddy.

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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Where the turf meets the woof

A whole pack of puppies and their accompanying humans descended upon the Del Mar racetrack yesterday (the last day of racing for this summer’s season). Happily, Adagio, Steve, and I and our videographer friends, Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, were able to join in. The afternoon proved to be a lot less boisterous than one might expect and not at all profitable (that was entirely predictable, given my incompetence at horse-wagering). Still, all the humans had fun.

I’m not so sure about Adagio. Compared to sleeping, which is how he spends most afternoons, there was certainly a lot more to smell and see. But because this was a semi-official CCI outing, all the pups had to be on their best behavior, sitting and walking on loose leashes and staying in Down positions, rather than romping and wrestling, as they would have all preferred. For the most part, their behavior was impeccable, and they got a lot of admiration from the racing fans. But from the doggy perspective, it wasn’t what you’d call fascinating.

His first sight of horses parading around the paddock area did appear to grab Adagio’s attention.

Later, the dogs had an opportunity for an even closer equine encounter. Because one of the veteran CCI puppy-raisers works at the track and arranged for the group experience, the second race saluted the CCI organization. We all got to line up in front of the grandstand and be photographed.

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Photograph by Robert Schneider

And the puppies were allowed to approach some of the track horses for a nose-to-nose encounter.

Adagio thought the cute little blonde was MUCH more intriguing than the large brown weird-smelling dogs on the far side of the fence.

At only one moment did he do something unexpected. Shortly before the second race, he barked loudly — twice. I took it as a sign that my hunch about the #2 horse should be followed. Ignoring the 60-1 odds, I put $5 on Chocolate Goddess to win.

And now I have a tip for you: never take the advice of a dog when betting on the ponies.

 

Adagio meets a baby and goes on his first road trip

Sometimes I don’t blog as often as I want because not much is happening. Adagio is growing and learning things, but the changes are barely noticeable. Sometimes, however, we hit a patch where too much is going on, and time for writing is scarce.

We’ve been in one of the latter patches for the past two weeks. First we were happy to welcome my nephew John from Chicago, who arrived for a four-day visit with his wife Lydia and their 15-month-old daughter, Emery. Emery has met several dogs in the course of her short life, but at first she seemed a bit intimidated by our two hulking canines. She’s a happy, determined little toddler, but the emphasis is on little — she’s less than 18 pounds. Together, Tuck and Adagio weigh more than 8 times as much.

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Uh… could someone please make them sit or something?

They thought she was fascinating, and in their excitement sent her plopping down onto her diapered bottom a few times. But they never made her cry, and Adagio and Emery soon shifted into viewing each other with calm curiosity.

IMG_3105.jpgIt was hard to tell for sure what either side was thinking…IMG_3106.jpg…although Adagio clearly decided she smelled intriguing.DSC00389.jpg

Tucker has long adored little kids, so although he’s more than 95 in dog years, he looked happy every minute he was in Emery’s presence…DSC00385.jpg…and she was soon responding with hugs.DSC00392.jpgBy the end of the four days, Adagio also seemed content to let Emery treat him like a king-sized stuffed animal.IMG_3113.jpgIMG_3125.jpg

Our entire pack was sad to see them go. But Steve and I had to scramble to ready the house for termite fumigation (a huge disruption that we had not undergone for 20+ years.) We timed the tenting with a trip to San Jose for a convention, to which we planned to drive. 20180816_174103_1534469543044.jpgTucker is too ancient to accompany us on such an adventure; he stayed with friends. But we wanted to road-test Adagio, who reached his 9-month birthday during Emery’s visit.

We planned to drive up the coast on Highway 1, something else we had not done for decades. Steve and I had tried to take that route last October, when we drove up to Steve’s high school reunion in the Bay Area. Beverly (Adagio’s half-sister, and our last CCI puppy) came along with us on that trip. But a huge landslide had closed Highway 1, forcing us to use another road.

IMG_3141.jpgThe news that Highway 1 had at last reopened at the end of July delighted us. This time we traveled north on it. Steve and I loved both the drive and the convention, but Adagio clearly found it vastly inferior to hanging out with Emery. He experienced a few brief interludes of ecstasy, like the walk we took on the deserted beach in San Simeon. We slipped off his halter and let him briefly experience the beach, unfettered, for the first time in his life. It drove him wild with excitement and he zoomed around at top speed over the sand for about two minutes, then returned to us, docile and content.DSC00462.jpg

He also got to walk along a foggy clifftop…IMG_3155.jpg…and check out Nepenthe, a legendary Big Sur restaurant and bar that Steve had visited as a child.

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Adagio found the kids much more interesting than the drinks menu.

At the convention, he mostly had to curl up and be quiet on the convention hall floor and in panel-discussion rooms and under restaurant tables, for hours on end. IMG_3169.jpg

IMG_3173.jpgHe didn’t love that, but he did it remarkably well. We returned home feeling optimistic about his future. He returned home overjoyed to see his buddy Tucker again.IMG_3006.jpg

 

 

 

A happy 4th with our 8th

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Adagio has his doubts about the wisdom of dogs wearing hats.

Steve and I have lost count of how many times we’ve marched in the Coronado Fourth of July Parade with CCI puppies. Did we first do it with Tucker, our first pup, 13 years ago? It feels like we’ve participated forever. Nonetheless we signed up to do it again yesterday,  with Adagio (our 8th trainee), and we were happy we did.

We parked our van a good mile and a half away from where the CCI contingent was assembling. Adagio seemed excited to be out and about, and certainly the day was beautiful, the streets of Coronado as festive as always. (Folks there are nothing if not ardently patriotic.)

We met up with the group a little before 10, when the parade officially starts. But our group was #56 in the line-up, which meant we didn’t stand up and begin to move until well after 10:30. This wait is pretty boring for puppies, since they’re not allowed to socialize much with each other, but at least we waited in a shady spot. And Adagio got some hugs he seemed to enjoy. DSC09996.jpgMarching at last, I felt the burst of adrenaline I always get from the experience.

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Adagio’s littermate, Apple, on the right, turned out. As always, he seemed happy to see her.

The most exciting moment comes when we turn onto Orange Avenue, where thick crowds invariably line both sides of the street.

DSC00006.jpgWe only ran through our traditional drill routine a few times, which was all for the best. (Adagio is still weak on the Down Stay). Mostly we strolled, and the humans waved to the throng, and sometimes we took our dogs over to the curb to be petted. Adagio seemed to like this at first…

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…but after block after block of marching, he was noticeably flagging.

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Kids? No thanks. I’ve had enough for today. 

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Toward the end, all the puppies looked tired. This was something of an illusion, as this year’s parading was followed, as it has been for many years, by a rollicking party at the home of a CCI supporter (and former puppy raiser) who lives almost at the end of the parade route. He welcomes the dogs to swim, and many of the pups adore this. Adagio doesn’t; he’s not a swimmer. Yet he was thrilled by the opportunity to play.

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He got damp by contact with the other pups, if not with the pool. 

Back at home, later in the afternoon, we hosted a small party for friends. It was way more boring, Adagio thought, whenever he was conscious. Mostly,  he was asleep.

A pack of puppies walk into a mall…

Some would say that taking your puppy to the mall is more fun than just taking yourself. If you ask me, even more fun than taking one puppy is going with a pack of CCI trainees. That’s what we did last night; it was effectively a puppy-class field trip, led by our effervescent instructor Kay. Adagio was a little young to go. But Kay two weeks ago had  said it would be okay. (He’s only two and a half weeks short of his 6-month birthday.)

We assembled near the Target in San Diego’s Mission Valley Mall — a mini-mob of puppy raisers handling 20 or so dogs who ranged from stolid almost-2-year-olds who will shortly begin their professional training to barely-more-than-babies like Adagio.

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Part of the fun sprang from the reactions from passersby. We startled some, but brought smiles to many faces.

After doing some simple drills outside, we split into two groups, consisting of younger and older dogs. Then we in the younger pack marched into the Target….

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… and trooped up and down the aisles.

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Adagio was very attentive, though we had a bad moment, when I noted a look in his eye that often signals an imminent need for him to relieve himself. I literally ran for the exit and we made it out just in time to avoid disgrace. I cleaned up the deposit then was able to rejoin the gang on the store’s second level. CCI dogs never take escalators, but Target has commodious elevators, and riding in them provided a chance to practice good behavior in tight quarters.

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Outside again, we practiced walking next to shopping carts, and Steve even introduced Adagio to the “Under” command.

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He did it nicely.

Around 8 pm, some of the puppy-raisers headed for Starbucks, but we’d had enough and went home. We’ll be happy to go again, though. It’s a nice change of pace.