Dilly is our ninth CCI puppy, but only the second to decide the “Butterball” hibiscus blossoms that drop from our tree onto our patio are scrumptious. Several weeks ago he began pouncing upon them and snatching them up. Left to his own devices, he chews, savors, and swallows them. He doesn’t care if they are dried and brown…
or fresh and golden.
The tree is bursting with blossoms now, but it usually has some blooms all year. If you must decide one of the flowers in our backyard is a delicacy, the hibiscus is a good choice.
When we went through this with Kyndall 5 years ago, we initially felt alarmed. Certain plants can kill dogs, including a couple growing on our property such as oleander (permanently) and poinsettias (often during the Christmas season). No dog has ever shown any interest in them, however. When Kyndall’s hibiscus hankerings became evident, we turned to the Internet and (surprise!) found conflicting information. But a common assertion is that “hardy” hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) is indeed poisonous, while the “tropical” varieties do no harm. And happily our Butterball was a tropical variety, a rosa sinensis.
We made a half-hearted effort to stop Kyndall from eating them, but she managed to gulp down a fair number, and they never seemed to make her throw up. In contrast, Dilly’s digestive system has been more fragile, so we watch him like a hawk and almost never let him off the leash, even in the fenced back yard. When he gets something in his mouth, we pry it open and extract it.
The latest development is his learning that IF he can pounce upon one of the blooms on those rare occasions when he’s outside off-leash, he can dash away from us, and we will chase him!!! This makes for a game that is both hilarious (from a puppy perspective) and rewarding; it usually buys him enough time to gulp the forbidden flower.
I am concerned that my post yesterday might lead someone to spray their puppy with Lysol. I’ve heard from Puppy Program Director Becky Hein that CCI’s vets do not recommend this; Becky is concerned it may be harmful as an inhalant or if the dog licks it.
Actually, as I told Becky, the only time I ever gave Dilly a quick once-over with a Lysol-bearing rag was just before writing the post, because I was afraid if I didn’t allude to being concerned, someone would chastise me for that. The photo was intended to be comic, but this is yet another reminder that I should avoid trying to be a humor writer. It’s never been my forte!
Becky also points out that puppy-raisers should be cautious about having their dogs out in the sun for too long, even on cool days. She advises having shade as an option. (Again, we only allowed Dilly to be out in the sun in his kennel for about 20 minutes. Steve and I intend to be very cautious about anything other than limited sun exposure.)
Dilly and I want all CCI puppies to be safe and healthy. I apologize for leading anyone astray!
Today Dilly is six months old. You can see the dog he will become pretty clearly now, I think.So different from this little guy:
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…
But a single canine remains firmly lodged in upper jaw.
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.
The other night we introduced Dilly to good friends who just returned to San Diego after some extensive travels. They seemed impressed by Dilly’s ability to Sit and Speak and Shake and respond to other commands. When I mentioned we would be going to puppy class Monday night, one of them asked me in an email, “Is Dilly a star pupil?” she wrote. “Do you feel he is ahead of where other of your puppies have been at five months?”
I pondered that question throughout the class yesterday evening, and what came to me is: it’s too hard to compare. Only four puppies participated in our session last night. One of them, Frida, is about Dilly’s age. But she broke her leg in a freak accident several weeks ago. She’s healed now, but she missed some training when she was healing, so it’s not fair to measure her performance against Dilly’s (except to note that she seems way more obsessed with toys than he is.)
The other two classmates were little ones, Wish and Chessie, both of whom must be about two months younger than Dilly. He’s thus more accomplished than them. But I can’t conclude he’s smarter. He’s had two more months to work on everything.
Steve and I find from one week to another that our dogs are more or less obedient. They go through developmental phases that change with disconcerting speed. Just a day or so ago, Dilly suddenly seemed to realize that when he’s outside and we call, “Here!” he can choose NOT to streak to us (and get a treat). If he happens to have a fallen hibiscus blossom in his mouth, he can prance AWAY from us; run in the opposite direction! Try to make US run after HIM to try and pry it from his jaws! (This is such a fun game!)
How long he’ll keep this up before returning to his instantly recallable former self we have no way of knowing. Could be tomorrow. Could be in six months. When I go further to try to compare Dilly’s overall intelligence level to all the other CCI puppies we’ve raised… it makes my head spin.
What I can say is that he seems at least as smart as them. In last night’s session, he blew the Wait command on the first try, but then he did executed it nicely. If he’d ignored our orders to come Here! out in the yard, he responded to them with alacrity in class. Our instructor, Kay, has a wondrous collection of dazzling dog toys, and she used several last night to command the participants’ attention.
Before class, Steve and I realized this would be Dilly’s final session of “puppy kindergarten.” He’ll be six months old in just 9 more days, and then it will be time to switch to the Basic instructional group. We chatted on the way home about how that would be a nice change of pace.
But this morning I got an email from the local puppy program manager announcing that “in an abundance of caution,” CCI is suspending puppy-raising classes until concerns about the COVID-19 virus have died down. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we’ll have to work on our lessons on our own.
Now that Dilly is five months old, life is starting to get more interesting. Last night we ventured out on our first puppy-class field trip.
Our wonderful instructor, Kay, has made these excursions a regular feature. For this very first outing for the kinder-pup group, we met at the big Petco outlet in Clairemont Square. A few of Dilly’s class members were too young to go out in public, and at least one older girl was in heat, so there were only three students — all blondes. Dilly found the whole experience to be fascinating.
In one of the toy aisles, Kay tossed colorful distractions on the floor, then the pups had to walk past them without pouncing.
They had to go Down next to delicious smelling rawhide chews…
Then the trio and their handlers marched together down the center aisle.
It was a fun and effective introduction to one of the biggest things we’ll be working on for the next 14 months: learning to behave well in public.
This adventure was followed by another today, when Steve walked Dilly over to our neighborhood grooming salon equipped with tubs where owners can bathe their own pets. Sadly but perhaps understandably, Steve forgot to take any photos during the bathing process, but he reported that Dilly tolerated the experience well.
I think he smells cleaner, but most dramatically, he now looks at least three times curlier than he did pre-bath.
It feels like a omen: in the coming months I expect him to look more and more interesting, as he comports himself better and better.
In all the drama and excitement of Adagio’s graduation last week, it may seem as if we’ve been overlooking Dilly. That’s not true. We’re having a blast living with this guy. He’s not as devoted to napping as Adagio was (but who could be?). Yet Dilly still spends plenty of time snoozing, which makes him easy to live with. His digestive ailments have all but disappeared. We’re still feeding him the special (expensive) Royal Canin Dogfood for the Gastrointestinally Sensitive. However, we’ve begun combining it with the more plebeian Science Diet puppy chow, and that transition appears to be going well.
His coat is changing color and texture, from a milky down to a coarser, curly cinnamon and cream (although the top of his head and his ears still are soft as mink). He’s growing like crazy — gaining 10 pounds a month for each of the past two months. He weighed 40 pounds this morning! This has transformed his appearance, from this:
You can still tell he’s a puppy. But he’s no longer the traffic-stopping fluff ball of his early days. Soon he’ll just look like a lanky young golden retriever.
We’ll love him anyway. He’s attentive and eager to please and he often makes us laugh. We still have much to work on, chief among which is his behavior on the leash, when we’re out walking. Sometimes he’s in the perfect position:
But all too quickly, he edges out in front of us, not exactly pulling, but eager to lead the way. Happily we have what feels like an ocean of time in front of us. (He’s not scheduled to be turned in until May of 2021.)
Memo 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.
After 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…
Eventually 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.)
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.
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: