On the big screen

The organization for which Steve and I raise puppies — Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) — takes pride in the fact it was the first to train dogs to assist folks with physical disabilities. CCI started in 1975. But Guide Dogs for the Blind began decades before then, in 1942. We’ve known CCI puppy-raisers who previously raised “seeing-eye” dogs. Steve and I have always heard that training is even more demanding than what CCI dogs undergo. The dogs must learn not only to obey complex commands but also when to disobey an order to protect their human (for example, refusing to walk them into the path of an oncoming bus). Steve and I haven’t known much more than that about what’s involved in the training. However this week we learned a lot.

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Photograph by Robert Schneider

A new documentary film, Pick of the Litter, takes a close but wide-ranging look at the process. Tuesday afternoon Steve and I and Adagio saw the movie, along with several friends and other puppy-sitters and raisers. Adagio didn’t seem at all interested, even when the big screen was filled with squealing, yipping youngsters. But the rest of us were riveted.

The film opens with the whelping of a litter, then follows the progress of its three male and two female members. It’s suspenseful (some of the gang graduate as guides, but some don’t make the cut), and we were surprised by how familiar many aspects of the experience felt. Some commands are identical — “let’s go!” for one example. Another: the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies wear halters just like CCI requires.

Other parts — like traffic training — are very different. What shocked me most was that the GDB puppy-raisers apparently can flunk out along the way. They don’t appear to take their pups to twice-monthly classes (as we do), and we saw no signs of the vibrant puppy-raising community CCI seems to foster. Instead, they’re observed by a professional every three months, and the organization can (and does) summarily take puppies back. It made me much less interested in ever raising a seeing-eye dog, as enthralling as their work is.

Before seeing Pick of the Litter, I was a bit worried that our documentarian friends Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider might be discouraged from continuing with their project. For years, they’ve been filming Steve and me raising successive puppies, with the plan of creating a film about the puppy-raising experience. They attended this new film with us and didn’t seem bothered by its coming out first. Although they have shot countless hours of footage, they haven’t yet  wrapped up their work because they’ve been waiting for ONE of our trainees to graduate (something that hasn’t happened for eight years.)  Adagio may not have been enthralled by Pick of the Litter. But Steve and I are still hoping he’ll be the next star. IMG_3245.jpg

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Adagio does Dogfest

Dogfest is the big fundraiser for our local region of Canine Companions for Independence. Although we’ve participated many times in it and its earlier incarnations, for at least a few years it has been held in the fall at times when we happened to be traveling.

This year, happily, we were able to make it. It took place yesterday, and for the first time ever, Steve and I formed a team to participate in the walkathon. It’s not an athletic event, really just a 10-minute stroll around the perimeter of the grassy area where the event unfolds (at Liberty Station Park next to San Diego Bay). Adagio was very excited by the presence of so many dogs (including legions that are NOT in training for a life of service.)

After the walk, Steve tried to interest him in the athletic displays of the disk-catching dogs (one of the morning’s entertainments). Adagio had no interest. It was hot, and he looked bored. His idea of a true dog fest is one where all the pups get together and run wild. But that one takes place only in dreams.

 

Where the turf meets the woof

A whole pack of puppies and their accompanying humans descended upon the Del Mar racetrack yesterday (the last day of racing for this summer’s season). Happily, Adagio, Steve, and I and our videographer friends, Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, were able to join in. The afternoon proved to be a lot less boisterous than one might expect and not at all profitable (that was entirely predictable, given my incompetence at horse-wagering). Still, all the humans had fun.

I’m not so sure about Adagio. Compared to sleeping, which is how he spends most afternoons, there was certainly a lot more to smell and see. But because this was a semi-official CCI outing, all the pups had to be on their best behavior, sitting and walking on loose leashes and staying in Down positions, rather than romping and wrestling, as they would have all preferred. For the most part, their behavior was impeccable, and they got a lot of admiration from the racing fans. But from the doggy perspective, it wasn’t what you’d call fascinating.

His first sight of horses parading around the paddock area did appear to grab Adagio’s attention.

Later, the dogs had an opportunity for an even closer equine encounter. Because one of the veteran CCI puppy-raisers works at the track and arranged for the group experience, the second race saluted the CCI organization. We all got to line up in front of the grandstand and be photographed.

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Photograph by Robert Schneider

And the puppies were allowed to approach some of the track horses for a nose-to-nose encounter.

Adagio thought the cute little blonde was MUCH more intriguing than the large brown weird-smelling dogs on the far side of the fence.

At only one moment did he do something unexpected. Shortly before the second race, he barked loudly — twice. I took it as a sign that my hunch about the #2 horse should be followed. Ignoring the 60-1 odds, I put $5 on Chocolate Goddess to win.

And now I have a tip for you: never take the advice of a dog when betting on the ponies.

 

An educational field trip

Our puppy-class teacher, Kay, is a fan of field trips. We went on another one to Mission Bay Park on our last class day (August 20), and I was impressed again by how many learning opportunities arise simply by moving into a novel setting.

Out in the evening light, surrounded by new sights and smells, the puppies have to work extra hard to control themselves. But they responded well.DSC00735.jpg

The stairs of this play structure looked a lot like the open-tread variety that until recently struck fear in Adagio’s heart. But he mounted them without hesitation.

DSC00740 2Going down the slide was scarier, but he managed to do that too.

DSC00741He walked across a wobbly bridge…DSC00745…did an Up on a turtle. (We don’t have those in our regular classroom.)DSC00753 2.jpg…and an Under under a concrete bench.DSC00760 2.jpg

Thick green grass is particularly alluring to puppies, but none of the class members flung themselves onto their backs in a fit of wriggly ecstasy. They Downed and Stayed obediently.DSC00766 2.jpg

A couple of picnickers were eating something that looked and smelled interesting. But no one lunged to help themselves to a taste.

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The dogs walked calmly, then Kay directed us to a little dock where more strange sights and smells surrounded the crew.

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Dark had descended by the time we broke up. Everyone looked a little tired but content.DSC00796

We should have class again this coming Monday, but because it’s Labor Day, it will be postponed until the following week. However, Adagio and Steve and I have signed up for an extracurricular activity that promises to be at least as educational as our field trip by the bay. We’re going to the Del Mar Racetrack with a giant group of puppies and puppy-raisers. Should be another winning excursion.

Safari dog

Back in June, I wrote about what appeared to be a new hobby of Adagio — diving into Steve’s recycling bin and fishing out papers to tear into pieces. We had barked “No!” at him several times, but mere reprimands didn’t appear to be deterring him. I resolved to start squirting him with a spray bottle whenever we caught him in the act. But, no sooner did I make this vow in my blog than he…. stopped doing it!

IMG_3130.jpgI breathed a happy sigh of relief. Then the day after our recent houseguests departed, I walked into the room where they’d been staying. I found the debris shown in the photo. For a second, I didn’t recognize it. Then I realized it was pieces of the charming lion Steve and I had brought back from East Africa 5 years ago. He was made of recycled flip-flops, cleverly transformed into blocks of colorful rubber and sculpted into beastly forms. I loved that lion and his zebra companion. But Adagio evidently had wandered into the room (probably looking for his little friend Emery), spotted the rubber animals, and savaged them.

 

IMG_3132.jpgWe had only the one lion and one zebra, so there will be no catching Adagio on any future hunts for African prey. I am sad about the loss of these, but I’m trying to think of it as a reminder of what Steve repeats too often: young puppies can destroy new things at any time. We cannot let down our guard.

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But they looked SO MUCH like puppy chew toys!

Adagio meets a baby and goes on his first road trip

Sometimes I don’t blog as often as I want because not much is happening. Adagio is growing and learning things, but the changes are barely noticeable. Sometimes, however, we hit a patch where too much is going on, and time for writing is scarce.

We’ve been in one of the latter patches for the past two weeks. First we were happy to welcome my nephew John from Chicago, who arrived for a four-day visit with his wife Lydia and their 15-month-old daughter, Emery. Emery has met several dogs in the course of her short life, but at first she seemed a bit intimidated by our two hulking canines. She’s a happy, determined little toddler, but the emphasis is on little — she’s less than 18 pounds. Together, Tuck and Adagio weigh more than 8 times as much.

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Uh… could someone please make them sit or something?

They thought she was fascinating, and in their excitement sent her plopping down onto her diapered bottom a few times. But they never made her cry, and Adagio and Emery soon shifted into viewing each other with calm curiosity.

IMG_3105.jpgIt was hard to tell for sure what either side was thinking…IMG_3106.jpg…although Adagio clearly decided she smelled intriguing.DSC00389.jpg

Tucker has long adored little kids, so although he’s more than 95 in dog years, he looked happy every minute he was in Emery’s presence…DSC00385.jpg…and she was soon responding with hugs.DSC00392.jpgBy the end of the four days, Adagio also seemed content to let Emery treat him like a king-sized stuffed animal.IMG_3113.jpgIMG_3125.jpg

Our entire pack was sad to see them go. But Steve and I had to scramble to ready the house for termite fumigation (a huge disruption that we had not undergone for 20+ years.) We timed the tenting with a trip to San Jose for a convention, to which we planned to drive. 20180816_174103_1534469543044.jpgTucker is too ancient to accompany us on such an adventure; he stayed with friends. But we wanted to road-test Adagio, who reached his 9-month birthday during Emery’s visit.

We planned to drive up the coast on Highway 1, something else we had not done for decades. Steve and I had tried to take that route last October, when we drove up to Steve’s high school reunion in the Bay Area. Beverly (Adagio’s half-sister, and our last CCI puppy) came along with us on that trip. But a huge landslide had closed Highway 1, forcing us to use another road.

IMG_3141.jpgThe news that Highway 1 had at last reopened at the end of July delighted us. This time we traveled north on it. Steve and I loved both the drive and the convention, but Adagio clearly found it vastly inferior to hanging out with Emery. He experienced a few brief interludes of ecstasy, like the walk we took on the deserted beach in San Simeon. We slipped off his halter and let him briefly experience the beach, unfettered, for the first time in his life. It drove him wild with excitement and he zoomed around at top speed over the sand for about two minutes, then returned to us, docile and content.DSC00462.jpg

He also got to walk along a foggy clifftop…IMG_3155.jpg…and check out Nepenthe, a legendary Big Sur restaurant and bar that Steve had visited as a child.

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Adagio found the kids much more interesting than the drinks menu.

At the convention, he mostly had to curl up and be quiet on the convention hall floor and in panel-discussion rooms and under restaurant tables, for hours on end. IMG_3169.jpg

IMG_3173.jpgHe didn’t love that, but he did it remarkably well. We returned home feeling optimistic about his future. He returned home overjoyed to see his buddy Tucker again.IMG_3006.jpg

 

 

 

Missing class

DSC00218 2.jpgAdagio’s incision from his recent surgery has fully, beautifully healed, but his digestive system was disrupted last weekend,  so we decided to skip the puppy “social” held out in Santee last Saturday, just in case his gut problems were contagious. Happily, he’s back to normal after being dosed with Pro-Pectalin, the pills recommended by CCI that are a mixture of doggy probiotics and clay (kaolin). They stopped him up nicely.

But I feel sorry about all the confinement he’s had to endure recently. There was no puppy class scheduled for this past Monday night, and to my astonishment, I missed it! Although many of the classes have been tedious, over the years, they’ve gotten markedly more fun and interesting since Kay Moore became our regular instructor. Kay likes to shake things up. For our class 10 days ago, although the day had been sweltering, she goaded us all into going for a little outing.

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That’s Kay, second from the left.

We usually work outside in the parking lot for at least a part of every class. But on this occasion, we strolled for a few blocks through the residential neighborhood adjoining the building where the class meets (on Aero Drive, across from Montgomery Field).

We were able to practice several CCI commands along the way. There were interesting things to go Up on, for example:

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A utility box (Adagio was a little nervous, but he did it.)
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An unfinished property wall

At an intersection, we had the dogs Sit on the bumpy surface of the wheelchair access ramp.

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Odd, Adagio thought. But not intolerable.

Back in the parking lot, we practiced having all the dogs respond to “Here” commands from handlers other than their regular people. It was all entertaining, and the time sped by.

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Kay brought Levi, the adorable young Golden she’s currently raising. He was pretty distracting — to all the humans at least!