When Beverly was adopted recently by her family, Steve and I urged them to call us any time they needed a dog sitter. We were delighted to be asked to host Beverly over the New Year’s weekend, when they had a short trip planned up to Northern California.
She thus arrived last Friday morning, and she stayed until last night. We were charmed by how instantly she settled back into the routines of our house.
She was eager to go for morning walks and to snuggle with Steve while I ran into my favorite coffee shop to grab a cup. Her recent training by Stephanie up at CCI was evident, as she followed commands more perfectly than ever.
On Saturday afternoon, while Steve and I went on a long walk on the beach, she got to play at the home of Truckee, the new pup being raised by our friends and neighbors the Stuarts.
At our place, she took obvious pleasure in sunbathing, both outdoors and in.
And she usually grabbed more than her share of Tucker’s beds.
We were tickled to see that she still did pirouettes every time we were serving up the dog chow. Yet, for as content as she appeared to be here, last night, when her new family arrived to collect her, she danced with excitement, nuzzled up to them, and trotted off to their car, tail wagging. She didn’t look back.
We’re missing her this morning, but we’re also savoring our last week of relative calm before the arrival of Beverly’s half-brother, Adagio. That adventure begins one week from today.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
No 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.”
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 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.
As promised, CCI sent out the first report today on the puppies who were turned in 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.
Early in our CCI puppy-raising career, Steve and I learned about the curious custom sometimes practiced when a female dog goes into heat right before her turn-in and thus cannot participate in the matriculation ceremonies. When all the other 40 or 50 puppy raising teams line up and walk their trainee to the front of the auditorium, to be recognized by the assembly, those who don’t have a dog because their girl has been banished to Sex Jail often will join in the procession carrying a stuffed animal.
We thought that was pretty silly. When Dionne went into heat right before her turn-in in May of 2014, we just skipped all the festivities and felt sad. When Beverly went into heat two weeks ago, we felt awful. One silver lining was that we thought it would free us to go see a close friend from the East Coast who was planning to be in LA that day.
Then our friend learned she wouldn’t be free. With nothing keeping me from attending the ceremonies, I realized I wanted to go, to salute and support our cohort of puppy-raisers who’ve been on the same journey over the past year and a half. Attending classes with them, parading and venturing out on field trips, sharing puppy socials, trading problems and funny stories all creates a bond. In several cases that association extends back through multiple dogs over now a dozen years.
Steve agreed to join me, and it struck me: if we were going, we might as well go all the way. I informed Becky Hein, the puppy program director, that we would like to join in the procession with a stuffed dog.
Yesterday we hit bad traffic driving to Oceanside and arrived at the QLN Conference Center only minutes before noon, when the program was scheduled to start. Still, Becky spotted me and gave me the minor paperwork I needed. She also led me to a box containing several plush animals.
I chose one almost as big as a real retriever puppy. Early in the program, Steve flipped it over into the cradling position. He pretended to brush its teeth, file its toenails, and clean its ears, as he has done for real with so many of our puppies. (He shoulders virtually all the grooming chores.) It made me giggle. This was helpful. It’s all too easy to cry from the emotion that drenches these convocations.
After a while we joined the line-up, hugging our friends and whispering as we inched up to the stage. A couple of folks commented on our puppy’s perfect behavior. When we finally made it to the front, I heard scattered laughs in the audience; Becky explained that the real Beverly was already in the kennels.
Attending the CCI Graduation events takes a big bite out of a day. Driving up and back and finding a parking place takes almost two hours, and the program lasts for close to 90 minutes. We could have built in more time for socializing. But I was glad we spent the time we did. We didn’t foresee it when we first got involved with CCI, but not just the dogs but also their human caretakers have become an important source of happiness in our life.
When we got home I found an email from the assistant puppy program manager with good news: we’ll get our first report on how Beverly is doing in the professional training program on November 29. When that arrives, I’ll share it in another blog post.
Once before, two puppies ago, we had a female go into heat right before she was scheduled to be turned in for Advanced Training. That was Dionne. The circumstances were a bit different from what we’ve experienced with Beverly. Dionne started bleeding almost three weeks before our scheduled separation, so we had some hope that her heat would end in time for us all to participate in the ceremonies. (It didn’t.) With Beverly just 10 days out from turning in, there was no such hope. Our goodbyes thus felt different.
After confirming Monday that Beverly was undeniably bleeding, I called CCI in the afternoon. Jules, the assistant puppy program director, sounded compassionate, but when I offered to keep Beverly at our home for a few extra days (since the campus is under construction and human/dog teams are already there, working together in preparation for the upcoming graduation), she gently pointed out that the rules are inflexible: all females in season must be in a kennel — either at CCI or some surrogate facility.
I acceded, promising that Steve and I would deliver Beverly at 11 the next morning (Tuesday). But then I was struck by fear: would she be all alone? (Normally no other dogs in heat are present in the kennels right before graduation, since CCI needs all the spaces for the dogs who will shortly be turned in.) The thought of Beverly in what would effectively be solitary confinement horrified me.
Jules said she would check. Less than two minutes later, the phone rang again. “There’s a delightful Golden here already who’s also in heat,” she announced. “She’ll have a great time!”
Feeling slightly better, Steve and I packed up Beverly, her cape, and a few other odds and ends and ushered her into the van for our last ride together. Normally she travels in the cloth kennel that we keep in the back of the vehicle, but this time I invited her to curl up next to me on the floor in front of the middle seat. She snuggled close, casting glances that almost looked concerned, as if she suspected something was going on. (Probably she was just startled by not being in her normal space.)
Alberto, our documentarist friend who has filmed our puppy-raising activities for several years, accompanied us. Up at the Oceanside facility, Jules ushered us all into the interior lobby, where we chatted for several minutes. Again, Jules exuded empathy for the unwelcome early goodbyes. The puppy program director, Becky Hein, also joined us to express her condolences.
They both offered to dress Beverly up in a fancy “matriculation cape” so we could photograph her in the ceremonial garb, but somehow Steve and I felt too dispirited to mess with that. We did move outside for a photo in front of the facility’s sign.
We returned inside, gave her final hugs, handed over the leash, and watched her exit toward the kennels, tail wagging vigorously. Like every other puppy we’ve ever returned to CCI, she did not once look back. (And we learned that yet another of her classmates, Helena, also went into heat at the last moment and might also be Beverly’s roommate.)
We drove home and began the disconcerting process of adjusting to life with one less dog. Our home dog, Tucker, will be 13 years old next month, and he sleeps so much it’s easy to forget his presence. As virtuous a puppy as Beverly was, Steve and I both developed an unconscious radar for tracking her presence; we do this automatically now, with all our CCI puppies. So it feels weird not to hear her following us through the house; not to see her curled up in the dog bed next to my desk.
Late yesterday afternoon, I got an email from Becky with some terrible news. Her message announced that Cath Phillips, the longtime North County CCI teacher and ultra-veteran puppy-raiser, has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. Apparently, she has very little time left. I don’t know Cath well, but I understand what a key role she has played in this community, and I was moved that earlier that morning Becky and Jules treated Steve and me with such compassionate attention while dealing with this very sad turn of events.
In contrast, Beverly is healthy and (I’m sure) happy. She was bred by CCI for a purpose: to work at helping people. We’ll find out over the course of the next six months whether she can fulfill that destiny. Unlike some premature departures, her journey is nothing to feel sad about.
Steve and I woke up in a hotel in Menlo Park Sunday morning to a dreadful noise — the sound of someone licking something. Beverly has never much of a been a licker, but I immediately guessed the sound came from her, cleaning up the start of a discharge from her private parts. She’d looked a big swollen to me the day before, and when we turned on the lights and inspected her, the swelling was more pronounced. A quick swipe with a tissue detected a smear of pale pink. It was subtle but clear to us: her heat at long last had begun.
Even though we’d been braced for it, we reeled at the news. As I wrote about in my last post, she’d been due to begin Advanced Training on Friday, November 3. The start of her heat would force us to take her up to the kennels in Oceanside, which in turn would rob us of our final 10 days with her. Those days are special.
Glumly, we packed up for the long drive back to San Diego, reminding ourselves to be thankful the heat hadn’t started four days earlier. At least we’d been able to enjoy this last lovely road trip together.
The motivation for it was Steve’s reunion with his Bay Area high school class 50 years after their graduation. Thursday Steve, Beverly, and I had driven part of the way, to Paso Robles, where we toured an olive ranch…
…tasted wine, visited friends, and spent the night. The next day we drove north through Carmel, where we kept Beverly on leash even though other dogs were romping free.
At the reunion parties Friday and Saturday nights, Beverly won countless hearts and prompted all manner of folks to talk to Steve and me about their dogs. Beverly enjoyed the petting and was good about posing in photos.
Steve and I also drove into San Francisco Saturday and walked with Beverly for an hour or two.
We also learned together that San Francisco is a city of 1000 street grates. Street grates are one of the things that make Beverly nervous. So we seized upon the excellent training opportunity. Lured with many treats, Beverly notably improved.
Throughout the trip, she was an ideal companion, never intruding, always relieving herself on command, never whining about the long hours in her kennel on the road.
She was joyful to be released from it at the end of the day on Sunday, rushing back into the place that she has come to know as home.
But it’s her home no more. I made the call to CCI Monday, and the rest of Beverly’s adventure with us played out the next day. I’ll briefly report on that tomorrow.
Sixteen days remain until we turn in Beverly. I’ve been quailing for the past two weeks, ever since our vet declared that Beverly probably had a “silent heat” last spring and would almost certainly bleed normally when her next heat started — likely 9 to 10 months after the first one. I don’t remember exactly when it was that Beverly looked somewhat swollen to us. Was it January? February? Either way, it seems likely she should go into heat again very soon.
So what? people have asked me. Here’s the thing: whenever she does go into heat, we’re obligated to take her to the kennels up in Oceanside. With a normal cycle, that’s not the end of the world. Your girl spends three weeks in Girl Camp (aka Sex Jail), then you pick her up, and puppy-raising life goes on.
At this point in our time with Beverly, however, the start of a heat would mean something very different. If she were to start today, she would not be able to participate in the Turn-in activities. (Girls in season are too distracting to all the doggy participants.) Steve and I have never been big on ceremonies, but I’ve come to believe the ones associated with Turn-in play a helpful role. It’s painful to say goodbye to a puppy you’ve raised, and doing it in the company of others who have gone through the same experience helps to ease the pain. A bit.
You brace yourself for Turn-in, but if your girl suddenly goes into heat two weeks before it, you have to load her in the car, drive her up to CCI, hand over the leash… and never see her again (except maybe briefly at Graduation, if she makes it). The end comes before you (the puppy-raiser) are ready.
In our case, there’s an extra wrinkle. Steve and I and Beverly are scheduled to depart early tomorrow for our last big adventure together. We’re driving to Northern California so Steve can take part in a reunion of his high-school class. We expect to return Sunday.
We won’t cancel the trip just because Beverly could possibly go into heat in the next four days. That possibility has been hanging over our heads for months and months. At the moment, she doesn’t look particularly swollen to me.
We had one other CCI puppy go into heat when we were on the road with her. We were in Arizona at the time. We couldn’t just leave Steve’s business conference abruptly then, so we got our girl to the kennels a few days later. I guess if the same thing happens to Beverly, we’ll muddle through in similar fashion.