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.
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….
… and trooped up and down the aisles.
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.
Outside again, we practiced walking next to shopping carts, and Steve even introduced Adagio to the “Under” command.
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.
I struggle to pick the best phrase for that oh-so-important task of all new puppy-raisers. In my youth, we called it “house-breaking,” but that sounds retro, if not downright violent. “Potty-training” seems coy; “toileting instruction” too stuffy. Whatever you call it, we’re making progress at it with Adagio.
I think he pooped indoors maybe twice in his first days with us. (He arrived four weeks ago this coming Wednesday). But he never does now, and yesterday, for the very first time, neither one of us found any puddles in the house. That’s not to say we won’t see any more ever. We only have to let down our guard and fail to take him out immediately after he wakes up. Or too long since the last outing. He still doesn’t know how to alert us of a sudden urgent need to relieve himself. But we can all but see his little mind working; he’s beginning to understand that there are rules.
We felt particularly exultant this past weekend when we drove to Julian (in the local mountains) for an annual gathering in a cabin owned by some friends. They are generous about inviting our CCI trainees. Tucker came when he was less than one year old, and he has come every year since for the past dozen years. (He gave us our worst experience ever as puppy-raisers there in 2012). Julian is one of Tucker’s favorite places on the planet.
Our friends’ house is beautiful, but frighteningly, off-white carpet covers the floor of the main room where we congregate. To forestall it being sullied by Adagio, Steve and I brought a big blue tarp with us, along with a portable pen in which we confined him. We also took him outside frequently for toileting breaks.
It worked. He never even had any accidents on the tarp.
As another tactic, I bought him a new puppy bed. Every time we’ve had one of these before, our pups have ended up shredding them. But I have argued that everyone deserves a fresh chance; we shouldn’t assume that the sins of puppy predecessors will be repeated every single time.
Adagio certainly seems to like the bed. But mostly, he has enjoyed wrestling with it and dragging it around, like this:
If you have to suddenly acquire three additional large dogs, I’ll say this: it sure helps if they’re aspiring service workers. All the training — from their puppy raisers and the professional staff at the CCI southwestern regional center — makes them awfully easy to live with.
The three girls we were hosting (because of the threat to the center from our recent wildfires) could hardly have been better behaved. Friday night we even invited our nearby fellow puppy-raisers, Karla and Mark, and their neighbors to bring over the dogs they all were fostering (a total of four), plus Karla and Mark’s new charge, three-month-old Truckee. We thus had 7 adults humans at the dinner table, 7 adults dogs, and one very young puppy. It was a lot more civilized than one might imagine.
Yesterday we got word that the fire danger had diminished, and the dogs would be able to return to Oceanside Sunday morning. We were delighted to hear that the center director would be transporting 16 of the 60-plus evacuees back to Oceanside in one of the center’s big vans. So this morning shortly before 10, we drove Stonie, Tiny, and Maitai the few blocks over to Pam’s house, where they were loaded into stacked-up kennels. We were sad to say goodbye.
Back at home, however, we got another dog-related call that thrilled us. The CCI staff informed us that Dr. Shields, the vet who conditionally accepted Beverly into her home earlier in the week, has definitely decided to adopt her. Since the two of them met, it sounds like Beverly has undergone some of the most sophisticated medical scrutiny possible. She’s being treated for a potential kidney and bladder infection in the hopes that this may slow the progression of her renal disease. She also has been enrolled in a UC Davis research project and is being followed by a veterinary nephrologist who plans to monitor her kidney function closely.
Best of all, it sounds like Georgette and her family have fallen in love with Beverly. That’s the best news ever. As good as dodging a wildfire.
The wildfires that ravaged Northern California earlier this fall forced the evacuation of CCI’s national headquarters in Santa Rosa, but I don’t know if the Oceanside center has ever had to abandon its facility at any point. If not, it has now.
No one could say they couldn’t see it coming. By 11 am yesterday, the temperature in Pacific Beach was mercifully cool, but the wind was snapping and puffing with maddening ferocity. “If the LA fires don’t spread to here, it will be a miracle,” I said to Steve. By late afternoon it was clear divine intervention wasn’t on our agenda; fire had broken out in the north part of San Diego County. At 4:52 p.m. my cell phone rang. It was Karla Stuart, our neighbor from down the block, who with her husband Mark raised and turned in Keegan, while we were training Beverly. Karla explained that she had been up at CCI in Oceanside earlier yesterday afternoon, working on a fundraising effort. The smoky air grew more acrid, and at some point, she and others present had been urged to return home. Now she’d learned that the staff soon decided to evacuate all the animals. Now 63 dogs were at the home of the regional center’s president, Pam Becker. Could Steve and I foster any of them? Karla asked.
I said sure. We have no puppy at the moment, and we own several kennels. Moreover, Pam lives less than a mile from our house. By 5:20, I was pulling out of our garage.
At the address Karla gave me, I thought for a moment that I must have gotten it wrong. When I parked and got out of the van, the night was quiet. “Where’s all the barking?” I asked a woman who emerged from the house. “They’re our dogs,” she said, smiling. I knew that “we” meant the CCI crew.
Inside the kitchen I found several of the folks who work up in Oceanside, including Stephanie Yocum, Beverly’s former trainer, with whom we had our emotional meeting Tuesday. Stephanie was pouring over lists of dogs. When she learned Steve and I were willing to take three, she assigned us three of the females from her current “string” — Beverly’s former training buddies. I didn’t know two of them, Stonie (a tawny, amber-eyed girl whose wrinkly brow often makes her look worried) and Tyne (a tall thin Golden mix whose nickname –Tiny — does not fit her.) I’ve known the third member of the trio, Mai-tai, ever since she was a tiny ball of black fur. She was raised by the Jedi masters of our local CCI community, Janice and Dan Flynn (veterans of more than 20 CCI puppies, the vast majority of whom have graduated.)
We loaded Stonie and Tiny into my car kennel, and I had Mai-tai ride on the floor of the passenger seat, next to me. Back at our house, all three of the dogs raced around the back yard in the dark. Tucker looked befuddled. But not unhappy.
Since then it’s been a little wild. Minutes after our arrival, I heard something smash against our glass sliding door. I saw nothing at first, then realized it was Mai-tai. I slid the door open to admit her, and too late realized she was dripping wet. (Of course she then raced all over the house, watering the surface of everywhere she went.) We weren’t sure if she fell in the pool by accident, or decided to go for a dip, but this morning, she has gone for a swim at least twice.
All the beasts, including Tucker, slept in Steve’s office last night. We have kennels for each of the girls. I’m amazed by how quickly their personality differences have become obvious. All three have been raptly interested, when Steve dished up their dinner and breakfast.
But Stonie acts like she’s dying of starvation. Any hint of a tiny morsel of food draws her laser-like attention. She and Mai-tai both walk nicely on their leashes, unlike Tiny, who tends to forge ahead. Tiny also keeps jumping up on my couch, and barking at the other girls. But she has a sweetly ingratiating cuddliness. Mai-tai periodically bursts with energy. But she complies with every command we give her.
One of the CCI staffers called this morning to check up on them and say that the center is still under evacuation. When the fire will be extinguished is anyone’s guess; I heard that it was “0%” contained as of 6 am this morning. But everyone at our house is fine for now. Having the whole gang here has reinforced our conviction that four large dogs is two too many to live with, full-time. But as a part-time adventure, it’s fine.
No 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.”
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 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.
I’m not 100% sure why people parade. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s partly a form of entertainment — to watch marching bands and floats and various animals troop by, or to be among the troopers. It also gives people a chance to display their civic involvements: their schools and scout troops and community service clubs… and in our case, the fruits of our volunteer work with Canine Companions for Independence. Whatever the reason, parading with our puppies has been a pretty regular fixture in our lives since we got involved with CCI.
With most of our dogs, we’ve made it to the Coronado Independence Day parade. Kyndall (our 6th pup) missed it because she was in heat, and last year Beverly was too little to participate. But we’ve paraded down Orange Avenue with all our other CCI trainees, and we’ve always been happy we made the effort. The event every year draws huge, enthusiastic crowds.
At almost 15 months old, Beverly still has not yet gone into heat, and Steve and I were nervous she might do so and miss this year’s festivities. But that didn’t happen, so this morning we lined up with almost a dozen other CCI pups and their handlers. (Sadly, for the first time in memory, we could not include Tucker. At 12 and a half, he can still walk, but not for long distances.) Because we only had one dog, Steve wanted to march with Beverly, and I was content the cede the leash to him.
I marched next to them, and it was just as big a rush as ever when, shortly after 10 am, we turned onto the main street and took in the sight of the crowds.
Steve was very good about regularly walking Beverly over the curb to greet some of the spectators. Kids love the puppies.
And Beverly was great with them. Several times she snuggled up and tried to lay down next to various groups of them.
It’s a long route, well over a mile, and it took us almost an hour to complete it. Beverly held up well, appearing calm in the face of pile after pile of horse poop, and unbothered by the obnoxious honking of the Model Ts chugging along behind us.
As always, the group adjourned to a dog-centric post-parade party in the home of a former CCI puppy raiser with a great (dog-proofed) house very close to the Hotel del Coronado. To our amazement, Beverly mustered enough energy to do a lot of romping, albeit no swimming. She was one of the very few who had no interest in the canine pool party.
She seemed to enjoy the social experience greatly. I guess both humans and dogs still prize that.