What it’s all about

What it’s all about

Eight years ago, Yuriy Zmysly, a young Marine who had bravely served in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned home unscathed, went in for surgery at a North Carolina military hospital to remove an inflamed appendix. Mistakes were made, he suffered a brain injury, and he went into a coma from which his loved ones feared he might never wake up. But awake he did, and since then he’s been wrapped in the love of his fiancee (soon wife) Aimee and other devoted family members.

Steve and I met Yuriy and Aimee two and a half years ago, when our puppy Brando (whose baby face graces the top of this blog) was awarded to them to serve as their skilled companion. (So far, he’s our only Graduate.)

Brando with Aimee and Yuriy in the home last September (photo by Bob Schneider)

As a puppy-raiser, there’s no question I hear more often than, “How can you stand to give them up?” I have various answers. One that I don’t often express but could (and maybe should) is: I’ve seen what a wonderful life they can have in service. To our extreme good fortune, Aimee is a gifted writer, photographer, and videographer who amply chronicles the life of her family (principally on Facebook). I often glimpse Brando in her posts, and every time I do it makes me happy.

This year, as she’s done in the past, Aimee has created a video celebrating the fact that Yuriy is alive.  Not just alive, but thriving — working hard to gain strength and abilities.

To me, the greatest thing about CCI and the work of its dogs is the way it creates bridges between people: the folks raising the puppies, the folks awarded the graduate dogs, the people who meet them on their daily journeys through life. Raising Brando made it possible for us to get to know Aimee and Yuriy — and Adelina. What a gift.

Dionne meets Max

Dionne meets Max

I’m allergic to cats. Prolonged contact with them makes my eyes water and starts me sneezing. That’s probably why we haven’t picked up one or two over the years. But the fact that we can’t have one means our CCI puppies have no preparation for Close Encounters of the Kitty Kind.

We’ve never been told that any of the dogs we raised were released because of going berserk in the presence of a feline, but we worry it could happen. The Oceanside campus reportedly is home to a surly cat named Bob who delights in tormenting the puppy trainees. We suppose that one day Bob will move on to the Land of Unlimited Catnip, but as far as we know, he’s still alive and snarling. So this time, raising Dionne, we’ve decided to be proactive about preparing her for any run-ins with him.

Our good friend Christy has two cats. One’s so shy she only emerges for Christy. But the other is a sturdy hunter who’s unfazed by canines. The other day we took Dionne over for an introduction to Max.

We found him relaxing next to an armchair. He didn’t bat at eye, as Steve led Dionne, on-leash to a few feet away from him, and it took a minute or so for her to realize that the gray smelly object in front of her was AN ANIMAL!!! 
An ALIEN ANIMAL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Still, she kept it together reasonably well, even when Steve reached out to pet Max. We could tell she wanted to tackle him.  For fun!!!!  But we decided not to push things by letting her off the leash.
She really wanted to play….

With Christy’s encouragement, we plan to return for additional desensitization sessions. We’re confident that dogs raised in cat-free environments can acquire feline friends. Our one great success story, Brando, who now lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wonderful family, is living proof of this:

Brando with one of the Zmysly family cats.  (Photo courtesy of Aimee Pierog-Zmysly.)