This is the tough time, when we’re adjusting not just to life with a dog once more, but more challenging: trying to sense what kind of dog this little guy will be.
In the past, I have referred to these days and weeks (and occasionally months) as Puppy Hell. It’s when we CCI puppy raisers earn the big bucks they pay us (ha ha.) Getting up in the middle of the night in response to screams that are likely to signal an urgent need to toilet. Cleaning up puppy diarrhea. Turning the house into a series of barricaded control zones. Being on guard every single minute the pup is not sleeping, to identify what kind of trouble he or she might be instigating.
With Dilly, we’ve been at this for only two days, so it’s far, far too early to draw any reliable conclusions about his character. But we’ve made a number of observations.
— He continues to wag his tail more than any other dog we’ve ever had, and he’s doing it at a much younger age. He wags his tail when he’s eating. When he’s walking across a room. He wags it wildly when he catches sight of one of us and runs to be petted.
— Despite appearing to be somewhat hyperactive when we got him (Wednesday, Nov 20), he’s been napping a lot. And as we learned with Adagio, a sleepy puppy is a wonderful puppy!
— He’s no chow hound, at least not yet. He seems delighted when we present him with a half-cup of kibble morning, noon, and around 5:30 pm. He dives into it but he hasn’t yet eaten the whole allotment. That’s probably just because he’s still so small. Our fingers are crossed that he will develop more of an appetite, since pups who love food treats are easily rewarded.
— On the other hand, he seems to love being praised. That can work as well as food.
— We’ve taken him for a few short walks near our house, and he follows along with us better than any other puppy ever has at this age. He seems to pay close attention to us. We love that.
Of course, house training him and getting him to sleep through the night are not just works in progress, they are work that has barely begun. Still, we feel we’re off to an excellent start.
What a red-letter day this is! We picked up our new puppy at the airport this morning. And on the drive back to our house, we received the latest report on how Adagio is going.
First the newbie: His name is…. Dilly!
Though the DNA analysis may not yet be complete, it couldn’t be more obvious that this guy is all golden retriever, the son of Bear. We also got the report of the physical exam Dilly was given yesterday (up at CCI hq in Santa Rosa). The vet found him to be “slightly thin but otherwise healthy.” He doesn’t look thin, but all that hair is deceptive. He weighed only 10 pounds, 11 ounces, which places him among our lightest canine recipients. (Several have weighed as much as 15-16 pounds.) His slenderness may have something to do with his appetite. He didn’t finish even a half-cup of dog food at lunch time. But I figure it also may be that he’s burning up so much energy wagging his tail. He does this almost constantly.
From the moment he arrived, Dilly appeared to be a whirlwind of activity, racing from one side of our patio to the other while exploring it. Only a few minutes ago did he finally crash (which is why I have these precious moments to put together this report.) Even though he’s barely been in the house for two hours, it’s pretty clear we’ll be living with a pretty different sort of fellow from his sleepy, affable predecessor, Mr. Adagio.
And speaking of Adagio, we were surprised as we were driving back from the airport to receive another professional training report for him. We got the first one at the end of September, and a second one came in October, when Steve and I were traveling in New Zealand. Like the second report, I would categorize this one as a pretty solid B. His instructor reports that he’s barking less and showing less prey drive, but still occasionally does some barking and mounting. It sounds like he’s doing pretty well learning the advanced behaviors, like working around a wheelchair.
At least he’s now made it to the second semester of training — lasting significantly longer than any of our previous dogs except for Brando (who graduated and went on to a happy career). We have no clue as to whether Adagio will make it all the way. But we’re proud of him for getting as far as he has.
And we particularly miss him now! He could give a certainly little ball of fur some lessons in napping. (Dilly slept for barely 20 minutes and is now up and exploring again.)
We have received thrilling puppy news! Our next CCI puppy will be a little yellow male, born 9/19/19. He and his litter mates are still up in Northern California with their mom, a purebred Golden Retriever beauty named Mary (the fifth). We should pick our little guy up from the airport Wednesday, November 20. At the moment, we still don’t know his name, but I’m expecting to learn that soon.
I’ve been happily following the Facebook page maintained by Mary’s caretaker, who yesterday announced the names for this “D” litter’s members — those I’ve listed above (plus “Dom,” who already has been allocated to another puppy raiser, according to the grapevine.)
We also don’t know if our pup will be all Golden, like his mom. Most of the puppies in the Facebook photos look unmistakably fluffy, but Mary was bred with two purebred males, one a Golden (movie-star-handsome Bear) and one a full-blooded yellow Labrador Retriever named Kramer.
The first dog Steve and I acquired when we got married was a full-blooded Golden, but we’ve never raised one of those for CCI. We had one purebred Lab (Tucker), and all the rest were crosses. Full Goldens have a reputation for being somewhat nuttier and more energetic than their more work-oriented Labradorian cousins. They’re also a lot more hairy. Nonetheless, both of us think it would be fun to have a Golden CCI puppy-raising experience (at least one).
On the other hand, should it turn out that our pup was sired by Kramer (a question that will be eventually be settled via genetic testing), we’d be happy about that too. Kramer’s brother, Keegan, was raised by our friends and neighbors and turned out to be a superstar who has graduated and gone on to a stellar career.
While we look forward to our next adventure in puppy-raising, we’re still in suspense over the last one. Today marks the 70th day since we turned in Adagio for his Advanced Training. He’s now made it longer than all but two of his predecessors — Brando, who graduated, and Dionne, our most difficult puppy of all (who was sent home on the 89th day). Adagio still has a long road in front of him. But if he makes it to next Wednesday, I believe we should be receiving a second report card.
I’ll try to share that and our new puppy’s name, though I’ll be doing it from the other side of the world. Steve and I depart tomorrow for New Zealand, an adventure on which I’ll be reporting in my travel blog.
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.
Saturday I went to the San Diego County Fair — thanks to Adagio, or rather Canine Companions for Independence. For the first time in some years, CCI got a booth and put out a call for volunteers to sit in it and explain the mission of the organization. I hadn’t been to the fair myself in ages, and Adagio is game for any outing, so I signed us up for the afternoon shift.
Two other dogs and their handlers shared the duty with us: Mulberry (who’s almost exactly the same age as Adagio) and Helena, a graduate now working as a facility dog at the VA Hospital. Adagio found both those girls to be quite beautiful (more interesting, truth be told, than any of the humans). Situated in the beer tent, our booth drew a ton a foot traffic, and dozens of humans stopped by. They asked about the organization; wanted to snuggle with the dogs.
It’s not a tough assignment, and Adagio’s tail kept wagging throughout. Still, he looked pretty tired by the end of our shift, and I was flagging too, so we never strolled around to look at all the other sights. The only souvenir we returned with was this pin.
And now Adagio is poised to go off on another adventure: staying with two different sets of puppy-sitters while Steve and I set off tomorrow on an adventure in Latin America. When we reunite in July, we’ll have just three more weeks together before Adagio moves on to his advanced training. The very thought makes me want to cuddle him at least as much as any of his admirers at the fair.
The high point of cuteness of my week came Tuesday morning, when Adagio and I participated in a fundraiser for Canine Companions for Independence (the organization that owns him). This event, a fun run, was organized by La Petite École, a French-language immersion school located off Aero Drive that adopts a different local beneficiary for its community philanthropy each year. Adagio and I were among the seven puppy-raisers and their charges who showed up to cheer on the kids. The Moment of Maximum Cuteness came when we mingled with the preschoolers. They gently patted the dogs, who seemed barely shorter than them, marveling at the softness of their ears and fur. Adagio seemed to enjoy this attention greatly.
Then we moved to a large field, where the older kids did laps and took breaks in which they delighted in our dogs’ ability to Speak and Shake and do other “tricks” (their terminology.) We learned that close to $6,000 had been raised, with some hope that a bit more money might trickle in over the next few days.
Going to such events, when possible, isn’t mandatory, but it can be fun. And it’s a pretty good training experience. After a few hours, when we gathered for a group photo, neither the other dogs nor the kids were distracting Adagio. He was quite content to flop down in the sun and rest.
I’ve gone so long without blogging about Adagio that a friend asked me the other day if he’s okay. He’s fine! I’m the one who’s remiss. After writing about Steve’s and my adventures in puppy-raising for almost 10 years, I may be running out of steam. Or maybe I’m just in the doldrums of our final few months with Adagio. Unlike when we’re struggling to civilize a baby dog, learning something new about his or her personality every day, life with a fellow like Adagio (now 18 months old) is calm. Not much news develops. But I don’t want to drop altogether the narrative thread of Adagio’s journey, so here’s a brief update.
We will turn him in to the staff at CCI to begin his advanced training on August 9, exactly 11 weeks from yesterday. What makes me quail even more is that we will only live with him for 7 more weeks! Next month Steve and I depart on a four-week trip to South America, and once again Adagio will go to trusted puppy-sitters while we’re on the road.
The prospect of saying goodbye to him already feels heartbreaking. Both of us think he’s the easiest CCI puppy we’ve ever lived with. His half-sister Beverly (our last dog before him) came close, but she was more vulnerable to digestive disruption (and ultimately we got the terrible news about her malfunctioning kidneys).
Adagio always seems content to curl up and sleep whenever we haven’t suited him up for some activity. He has almost no bad habits; never digs or hurts our plants or tries to steal food or sniffs out other mischief. He learns quickly and wants to please.
As far as we can see, he has one bad quality, and we’re worried it may torpedo his chances to graduate. Although birds, cats, even the rare squirrels don’t much interest him, the sight of other dogs invariably redirects all his brain cells. If he thinks he might get to play with one, he literally moans with pleasure and excitement. Sometimes he yips or emits a happy woof!
This may be cute in a pet, but a service dog must concentrate on his human. Steve and I have been so concerned about this failing we even arranged for a counseling session last week with Becky Hein, head of the local puppy program. Over Skype, we described to her how easily Adagio appears to lose his mind when he spots a potential playmate (namely any other dog) while out for a walk. She offered a number of suggestions (put more distance between him and them; give him sharper corrections), and we’re doing our best to work on them.
We’re already thinking about what we will do with him if he fails to graduate. But that’s a complex decision, and we hope that gloomy call doesn’t come. Better to focus on enjoying the dwindling days we have left together.