Graduation Day

IMG_6727 2.JPGMemo 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.

IMG_3898.JPGAfter 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…

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Adagio’s beautiful litter mate, Apple, also graduated. She will work with crime victims in Colorado.

IMG_6716.JPGEventually 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.) IMG_6731.jpeg

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. IMG_6732.jpeg

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:IMG_4234.JPG

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Emilio and Adagio — best buds already?

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Hallelujah!

It’s been such a long time coming, but this morning Steve and I got the call every puppy-raiser dreams of: informing us that our handsome boy, Adagio, has been “pre-matched” for service as a Skilled Companion.

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Becky Hein, the puppy program manager for CCI’s Southwest regional office, told me Adagio has been paired with a 14-year-old girl from Orange County. If the next week goes well, we should meet her and her family at a special brunch up in Oceanside on Valentine’s Day morning. No dogs will attend the brunch, but once it’s over, we’ll be reunited with Adagio for a magical hour. Steve and I haven’t seen him since August 9, the day we turned him over to the crew up in Oceanside to begin his Advanced Training.

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It’s always such a sad day for us. But Adagio seemed happy enough.

We’ve received several reports since then and were thrilled each time he passed another milestone. Now that he’s on the verge of graduating, it doesn’t seem real. Adagio was the 8th puppy we’ve raised for CCI, and only one of his predecessors (Brando) went on to a working career. (Adagio’s wonderful half-sister Beverly, whom we also raised, was released from the training program due to a medical problem.)

Other exciting news this morning was that Adagio’s littermate, Apple, also has been pre-matched and is tentatively slated to work with crime victims in Colorado.

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Our first sight of Adagio and Apple when they arrived at Lindbergh Field back in January of 2018.

It’s been a long road. The next 9 days promises to be eventful (and a little nerve-racking).

Thrilling dog news!

We’ve gotten some news we haven’t had in a long, long time: one of our dogs will be continuing on to Team Training!

That’s Adagio, of course, who began his Advanced Training on that hot day back in August. DSC07588

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Happy to meet you, Mr. Trainer, sir!

Team Training is the session during which people who have been selected to receive CCI dogs move into the dormitories on the Oceanside campus. During the first two days, these folks work with a variety of dogs. CCI always has a few more candidate dogs than clients, to try and assure that every match will be a perfect one. On Wednesday, February 5, the preliminary matches will be announced. All of us puppy-raisers have been told we’ll get a call that day informing us of our dogs’ status.

If Adagio is not matched with anyone, he will likely continue for an additional three months, then go through the entire Team Training process again with the next class of humans. We’re told that dogs in this situation get a higher priority for placement.

Much can still go wrong. On occasion, a dog can still be released just before or during Team Training, or during their third  “semester” of Advanced Training. Still, it’s been more than eight years since any of our pups has gotten this far (that was Brando). So we’re delighted Adagio has reached this milestone. And as an extra bonus, Adagio’s sister, Apple, will be starting Team Training with him. How cool it would be to have two litter mates graduating together!

 

Getting to know you (Dilly)

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.

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NOT a dog who would chew on shoes carelessly left within his strike zone, right?

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!

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He sleeps on hard surfaces….
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…soft ones…
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…and anything in between.

— 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.

Our new puppy! And his predecessor!

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!IMG_6034.jpeg

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Dilly’s dad

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.

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Our good friends, photographer/documentarians Bob Schneider, Howie Rosen, and Alberto Lau, were on hand to record Dilly’s arrival. 

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.)

 

Will we get Dobson? Daryl? Dilly? Driver? Dug? Delmar?

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.

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Here’s Bear

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).

or .jpgOn 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.

 

 

He’s gone

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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. IMG_5348.jpeg

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. DSC07574.jpeg

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.

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I can’t tell you he remembered her. But I can’t say he didn’t.

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.

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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.