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.
And the puppies were allowed to approach some of the track horses for a nose-to-nose encounter.
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.
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.
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.
It was hard to tell for sure what either side was thinking……although Adagio clearly decided she smelled intriguing.
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……and she was soon responding with hugs.By the end of the four days, Adagio also seemed content to let Emery treat him like a king-sized stuffed animal.
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. Tucker 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.
The 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.
He also got to walk along a foggy clifftop……and check out Nepenthe, a legendary Big Sur restaurant and bar that Steve had visited as a child.
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.
He 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.
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. Marching at last, I felt the burst of adrenaline I always get from the experience.
The most exciting moment comes when we turn onto Orange Avenue, where thick crowds invariably line both sides of the street.
We 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…
…but after block after block of marching, he was noticeably flagging.
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.
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.
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.