A pack of hairy fire evacuees

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Our houseguests: Tyne (aka Tiny), Mai-tai, and Stonie

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.

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We’ve learned to keep a towel at hand outside and all the doors closed. “We living in the submarine again,” Steve said morosely.

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.

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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.

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When else does Steve command this kind of adoring attention?
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Relief

Walking out of the CCI center last night, Steve felt that a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. I shared the sensation. It’s hard to imagine that any Hollywood screenwriter could dream up a more promising ending for a movie about a valiant aspiring service dog whose career had suddenly been derailed by kidney disease.

We had arrived at the center shortly after 4:30 pm, and Beverly’s trainer, Stephanie, soon appeared with Beverly at the end of a bright blue leash. It took our girl a moment to recognize us; then she wagged her tail vigorously. She looked svelte and perky, despite her recent spay surgery. While we waited for Beverly’s new adoptive mother to arrive, Steve and I chatted with the ardent young woman who had wanted to make Beverly a member of her own family. Stephanie was bright and warm-hearted in person as she had appeared in her Facebook messages to me. Her heart was breaking at the imminent prospect of saying goodbye to Beverly, but she also seemed comforted by the vision of how perfect life with Dr. Georgette Shields might be.

We learned that the veterinarian had recently provided foster care for a female selected to be a CCI breeder who was waiting to be sent up to northern California. Impressed by that dog’s impeccable behavior, Dr. Shields had expressed an interest in adopting a release dog. When she heard about Beverly’s availability, the news of her malfunctioning kidneys apparently didn’t sour her interest. Soon a tall, slender woman wearing medical scrubs strode in, accompanied by a little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel — the other member of Beverly’s new pack-to-be.

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She has a lot of nicknames, but her main name seemed to be Ewok. 

Beverly seemed intensely interested, and Ewok (just 11 months old) flopped down and showed Beverly her belly (as if any display of subservience was necessary!)

Stephanie, overwhelmed by emotion, soon fled, but Steve and I chatted with Beverly’s mom-to-be. We learned that she works at the highly respected Veterinary Speciality Hospital, at their North County branch.

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Her picture from the hospital’s website.

 

(Later, on the drive home, we googled her and learned that she’s a specialist in radiology). She told us she planned to do a scan of Beverly’s kidneys the very next day.

More than any medical expertise that she can share with Beverly, her evident kindness and good humor impressed us. We were aware that she had agreed to meet us, a break with CCI’s normal protocol (in which folks who adopt release dogs normally do not meet with the puppy-raisers.)

We found it very comforting, though, and when the time came to say goodbye, neither Steve nor I wept. As for Beverly, she looked as serene as always. We expect that her new family will come to love that as much as we have.

 

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Beverly’s second happy ending

120417 sleeping BeverlyNo 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.”

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Beverly wearing a beautiful bow from Stephanie

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’s life takes an unexpected turn

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.

 

 

Tucker’s last birthday?

Almost 13 years ago, we received our first CCI puppy, a shambling little guy whose goofy good nature was evident from the instant I first met him. Steve and I had made the decision to raise a CCI puppy for several reasons. The most potent was that I was sick of seeing our beloved pet dogs grow old and get so feeble we felt compelled to euthanize them. I knew it would be hard to give away a dog we’d raised for a life of service, but it seemed better than the alternative.

What I never expected is that Tucker would flunk out. Throughout his time with us, he seemed a wonder — far more attentive and well behaved than any other dog we’d ever had. Maybe 6 weeks after he’d gone to Advanced Training, when the puppy program director called to inform me Tuck was being “released,” I felt the blood drain from my face. It was like hearing that one of my children was being expelled from college. We knew that if a CCI puppy fails to graduate, the folks who raised it can adopt it at no charge, but we never expected to face that choice. Still, we didn’t hesitate to welcome Tucker back as a permanent member of our household.

Today is his 13th birthday, and it’s hard not to feel a little irony in our current life together. In the 18 months since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his side, he’s done well. But he’s also aged so much. He’s deaf now, and he sleeps so deeply it’s often hard to tell if he’s still breathing. Once again we’re living with a very elderly animal (“91 in people years!” Steve often reminds me), and wondering if we’ll have to make the dreaded call to the vet about him.

We’re not there yet. Yesterday Steve and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Riverside County tree farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and Tucker pushed his way into the garage, determined to accompany us on our outing. (He didn’t know the destination; he didn’t care.) He shared the car kennel with Ressa (the little seven-month-old CCI pup whom we’ve been sitting), and at the farm, he tried to smell everything.

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Sharing the car kennel requires a tight squeeze, but they tolerate it.

He still wags his tail at every puppy we welcome into the house, and he plays his silly game with them, emitting gruff, old-man “WOOFs!” that make them race around as if they’re scared of him. And he still loves to eat. This morning, in honor of the day, we served him turkey and other scraps from my post-Thanksgiving stock, mixed with a little leftover fettuccine. Tuck looked a bit startled by this change from Eukanuba (even after Steve removed the candle), but he gobbled it down.

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We figure he could slip away in his sleep two days from now. Or he could live another two years (any more than that is pretty inconceivable). Whenever he does go, we’ll miss him terribly. Maybe we’ll vow to never again have another pet dog. Maybe we’ll even mean it this time.

Report card day!

As promised, CCI sent out the first report today on the puppies who were turned in112917 Beverly's report card earlier in the month. We felt so relieved to get one regarding Beverly. Two of our previous six puppies (Darby and Kyndall) were released from Advanced Training before they even made it to this first landmark!

What the trainer had to say about our girl made us feel even better. All the “good” behaviors were checked (“allows/accepts physical handling/grooming,” “allows/accepts cradling,” “attentive to handler,” “calm,” “interacts appropriately with dogs,” “interacts appropriately with people,” “seeks direction,””walks nicely on leash,” “willing”) and only one of the “bad” behaviors was (“surface sensitivity”).  A note stated that “Beverly has settled in to the kennel environment since turning in for Professional Training. She interacts appropriately with other dogs in the play yard and checks in with her handler frequently. Beverly is calm and accepting of all aspects of the grooming process.” She “has some some surface sensitive to the stairs in the grooming room and grates around campus” — something Steve and I were keenly aware of and worried about. But the note continues, “We are working on this and have already seen some improvement. In training, Beverly is a willing worker and responds well to motivation and correction.”

All in all, it’s the best first report we’ve ever gotten for one of our puppies, including Brando (the only one who so far has gone on to graduate.) So we’ve feeling hopeful.

Not long after getting the email with Beverly’s report, we heard from the puppy raisers of Keegan (Beverly’s CCI doggy friend who lives not far from us and was in all the same classes with her) that Keegan also got an excellent report. Furthermore, the two of them have the same instructor. So that means at least they see each other regularly.

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This is Beverly’s actual report. The ones above are Jeannette’s from the days of yore.

Wonderful news

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We’re lucky dogs! One of these babies will soon be arriving for an extended stay with us. 

The phone rang. It was the CCI Southwest Region puppy program director, Becky Hein. My brain didn’t even have time to reel at the thought that she might be calling to tell us that Beverly wasn’t going to make it, when she announced, “I’m not calling about Beverly.” Instead she had electrifying news: two of the eight puppies born on November 12 to Phyllis (Beverly’s mother) will be sent down to the Southwest Region. We have been approved to receive one of them.

Becky offered a bit more info. One of those coming down will be a male, and one will be female. She didn’t know, however, what colors they will be or their names (other than that they will begin with the letter “A”).

Our fellow puppy-raiser, Cyndy Carlton, will be receiving whichever one of the two we do not get. Cyndy earlier had told us we could choose. So after some discussion, Steve and I have decided we’d like the boy. We’ve raised only two males so far (Tucker and Brando), versus five CCI females (and four non-CCI girls). Both Tucker and Brando were blondes, so if it turns out that the new baby is the color of ebony, that would be a special treat.

We should find out more soon. We’ve already been told they will arrive in San Diego on January 10. (It’s on my calendar, in capital letters.)