Adios, amiga

At one point, she struck a pose that looked a bit melancholy.
We don’t think she really was.

The house is very, very quiet. Although Dionne weighed less than 60 pounds, she always had a large personality. Now that she’s gone, she’s left behind a palpable void.

As I write this, she and her adoptive parents, Dave and Ann Seltzer, must be almost halfway to their home in Davis (east of San Francisco). They made the eight and a half hour drive from there yesterday, departing at 6 a.m. and joining us for an early supper. Also joining us were LeAnn, our longtime puppy mentor, and her good-natured husband Kevin. It was LeAnn who first introduced us to the Seltzers. She knew they’d recently lost their beloved Sailor, an almost 15-year-old CCI release dog, and they were ready for another canine companion.

Dave and Ann looked worried about us, sad and apologetic about taking this sassy beautiful charmer away from us. I reassured them that the one thing that makes it easier to raise a puppy and give it away is the thought of it going to a home where it will be showered with love. And it couldn’t be clearer that Dionne will be drenched in that. She may not be turning lights on and off for a double amputee or calming trauma victims. But she’ll have a mission in life — making Ann and Dave laugh, entertaining them, receiving their conscientious and devoted ministrations. She’ll get barrels more concentrated attention and exercise and adoration than she’d get in our house — where she would soon have to compete for attention not only with our busy lives but also with Tucker and, soon, a new 8-week-old puppy.

So Dave and Ann returned this morning to collect her for the drive north. We gave them all her medical records; the results of her Dognition personality testing; a third of a bag of Eukanuba Adult dogfood. I removed her faded, dirty collar, and they snapped on the jaunty red and white polka dot one they’d bought for her.

They promised to stop often on the road for potty breaks. They said they would be sensitive to her showing signs of separation anguish.

We’d bet money she won’t feel any. She was wagging her tail as she walked out our front door, still wagging when she climbed into the back of their station wagon.

There she goes…

As for me, though, if I had a tail, it would be drooping.

A new adventure for Dionne!

Since I picked up Dionne from CCI three and a half weeks ago, a lot has happened.

Our reunion was ecstatic. At first when Becca walked her out, Dionne didn’t notice me sitting on a sofa in the waiting area. Then she recognized me and almost burst out of her skin, exploding with happiness. She lunged to the end of her leash and climbed up into my lap, 58 pounds of wriggling Labradorean pleasure.

It was irresistible, contagious. Becca and I laughed, sharing Dionne’s unrestrained delight. I drove her home, and she repeated the performance at the sight of Tucker and Steve.

We slipped right back into our old routines, but a key subroutine — her almost ceaseless search for mischief — has been missing. She seems calmer. She’s much, much easier to live with. We leave the back doors open and she goes outside and, for the most part, nothing terrible happens. (I don’t think a hole or two is terrible, though Steve might disagree.)

But, as it turns out, her stay with us won’t be permanent. Ten days from now, she’ll depart for a new life in Davis, California. How we made that decision is complicated, but the short version is that we became aware that some stellar dog lovers who lost their beloved 15-year-old CCI release dog last spring were ready to take a new dog into their life. After some thought, we decided Dionne would be even happier with them than she would be with us, as we’re planning to start raising another pup in November. In Davis, Dionne will be the sole recipient of a lot of loving and devoted attention. We checked with Stu in Oceanside, and he gave his blessing to their adopting her. They should have all the papers filled out and the adoption fee paid by the time they drive down to get her next week.

She, of course, knows none of this. But we think she’d happy if she did know. CCI puppies are nothing if not resilient. Not to mention relaxed:

Our next CCI puppy is NOT going to get away with this.  (We’ve taken the pledge.)

The handwriting on the wall

The handwriting on the wall

When I received The Call from CCI (8 years ago?) telling us that Tucker had failed to made the cut, I remember feeling the blood drain from my face. I felt faint, overwhelmed with a wave of disappointment.

We’ve gotten more blasé over the years. Or maybe Steve is right: we’ve gotten more knowledgeable about what kind of dogs are fit for a life of service. Either way, we both felt confident that Dionne was too rambunctious, too irrepressible to make it. So yesterday, when The Call about her came, I was more than braced for it.

“She’s a good girl,” Stu began. “And she settled into the kennel environment pretty well. But she’s got a lot of energy.” He went on about how CCI doesn’t aim to break puppies’ spirit, but the service dogs do need to be under control. Dionne “needs to be busy,” he said, repeating that she was “not a bad dog at all. She just wants to be a dog.”

So tomorrow I’ll drive up to Oceanside to collect her and bring her back here. That will be fun, after our abrupt leaving-taking at the end of April. Fun for us and, I suspect, deliriously exciting and pleasurable for her to re-enter Civilian life. As a dog.

Dionne gets a second report card!

It arrived last Friday, and the comments of Dionne’s trainer, Kyle, might appear to be nothing worth getting excited about.  They were so similar to his comments in the first report card that for a minute I thought perhaps a mistake had been made and we’d been sent the wrong file.

But I compared them and found small differences between the two reports. The biggest one was that next to the Potential Breeder box, NO has now been checked, rather than YES.

Other than that, Dionne is still apparently displaying “a higher level of energy than normal, excitable greetings, distractibility, and rough play with other dogs in the play yards.”

Still.  What did excite Steve and me was that Dionne is our only CCI puppy, other than Brando, who ever got two report cards. Tucker and Yuli only got one before being released. Darby never even made it to the first report.

Brando, of course, was our sole star, going on to the glories of graduation and service. Could Dionne possibly follow in his footsteps? It seems unlikely (particularly in light of Kyle’s comments). But at least we can still dream…

Some news, at last!

Steve and I have been holding our breaths for what feels like weeks, waiting for the first Professional Training Report about Dionne to arrive. As noted in my last post, we celebrated when she made it past the point where Darby was released (before she even got her first Professional Training Report). We thought Dionne’s report was supposed to be e-mailed to us Wednesday. But Wednesday came and went.

It finally arrived this morning. Nothing in it surprised either one of us. Our first reaction was to try and parse out: just how bad is this report? Our conclusion: not that bad.

After the standard boilerplate paragraph about how the dogs have mostly been undergoing temperament and medical testing and being evaluated on how they were fitting in came the meaty part:

“Dionne has transitioned well into the kennel environment and is starting to adapt to the advanced training schedule,” we read. “At times she displays a higher energy level than normal, which can be counterproductive to training” (no!!!!! not Dionne, we thought, rolling our eyes), “but with consistent work we have seen some improvements.”

“She is easily distracted by her environment and other dogs and needs help refocusing on the handler.” That’s the Dionne we remember! As, to be fair, is the Dionne who “is relaxed during grooming sessions and does not require much help to get into a cradle position. She has shown some rough play behavior in the play yards with other dogs but can easily be called over to handler to break this behavior. Dionne has been progressing at known and new commands at a normal rate.”

They checked off “excitable greetings,” “rough play with other dogs,” and “distractibility,” among the bad behaviors she had exhibited. But they also checked the boxes for “interacts appropriately with people,” “walks nicely on leash,” and “willing.”

So I guess we keep holding our breath.  The next report — should we get one — should come in about a month.


This is what she looked like a year ago.
What’s she doing now?

Two small but encouraging developments:

The first was a letter from CCI last weekend. Steve’s reaction to the envelope was, “Uh-oh.” But it turned out to be a note from Becca, thanking us again for our work in raising Dionne and informing us that her trainer is Kyle (new to us). We would get more details about her progress in the first professional training progress report, Becca said. (I believe that’s due to be emailed around July 9.)

Hmmm, we thought. If they were going to release Dionne very, very soon, they probably wouldn’t have wasted that stamp on us.

Among our first four puppies, the earliest to be released was #4 — Darby. I had calculated how many days elapsed between her turn-in and The Call. Then I applied the same formula to Dionne, using the date she should have been turned in (May 16). By this formula, if we had received The Call about her yesterday, she would have survived in Advance Training for exactly the same amount of time as Darby.

But no call came yesterday! This means Dionne has at least beaten Darby’s record.

Stay tuned.

Turn-in day

Turn-in day
Turn-in days are always sad. This one was just sad in a different way.
CCI’s veterinary technician called me several times this week. On Tuesday, she reported that Dionne was still dripping blood, and under the microscope, her cells confirmed that she was still very much in heat. On Wednesday, Melissa saw little change, but she pointed that things could turn around overnight.
They didn’t. We spoke again at the end of the afternoon Thursday, and Melissa said the cellular evidence was still unambiguous. If Dionne participated in Friday’s turn-in ceremonies, the male dogs would “go nuts.”
Melissa and Becca, the puppy program coordinator, both stressed that Steve and I were welcome to participate using a stuffed stand-in. But we both felt that would make us feel even sadder (not to mention that the authorities have been urging people to stay off the freeways if possible, given the fires still burning around the county.)
Now we won’t get any official report until July. Worse still, unless Dionne graduates in November, we could wind up never seeing her again. That feels sadder than sad.



It’s always satisfying to get feedback about science experiments in which one participates. We’ve just gotten some from the folks at Dognition. That’s the company/website set up by the Duke University  anthropologist who specializes in canine behavior research. I’d read about him and his work in the New York times about a year ago and was very excited when we learned last July that CCI had formed a partnership with Dognition, so CCI puppy-raisers would be able to participate for free, instead of paying the normal $99 fee.

We signed up, and last July Steve and I administered all the science-based games to Dionne to assess her empathy, communication skills, cunning, memory, and reasoning.We quickly got her assessment: of the 9 profiles types, she fell into the category of Charmer, the Dognition site informed us — gifted with “exceptional social skills.” She literally scored off the chart for memory, and her performance in the “Empathy” section also was extraordinary. “If most dogs are bonded to their owners, Dionne absolutely adores you,” the report informed us.

Now CCI has sent out some of Dognition’s broader initial findings about CCI pups who’ve been tested (almost 300 of them so far). Apparently, they’ve identified significantly more “Socialites” and “Protodogs” among the ranks of the CCI participants. “This is no surprise,” the report said, “because Socialites and Protodogs from a young age tend to be more bonded and use more collaborative strategies when solving problems…we are also starting to see differences within the 5 cognitive dimensions. Specifically in the Memory dimension, Canine Companions’ dogs are significantly more…reliant on their memory than most other dogs. It seems that dogs from Canine Companions naturally have an amazing memory, giving them the ability to remember many different commands and situations to help their owner.”

I’m a little confused by what it means that Dionne was a Charmer, rather than a Socialite or Protodog. Will it make her do better or worse in her Advanced Training? But we’re generally in the dark about Dionne at the moment, since she’s still in the kennels because of being in heat.

I did hear from the puppy program manager that the vet tech will begin testing Dionne to see if she can come home for a brief spell before the ceremony this Friday.

Watch this space for news!

Post-partum depression

Post-partum depression

After I delivered Dionne to the CCI’s campus in Oceanside this morning, I drove to the home of my friend Leslie, in nearby Carlsbad. Leslie commented at one point that, while sudden and a bit premature, Dionne’s departure from our lives wasn’t caused by a tragic event, say, her getting hit and killed by a car. I agreed and remembered what I tell every stranger who exclaims that they could never raise a puppy/service dog because they could never bear to give it up. “Yeah, it’s hard,” I acknowledge. “You have to keep in mind that it’s not your dog; that you just get to live with this really cool animal for a while. Kind of like taking care of a friend’s dog while they’re on vacation.” (An 18-month-long vacation.)

Still. This feels worse than normal. Dionne and I walked in CCI’s front door a little after 11. I handed the receptionist all my paperwork (hastily completed in the last two days), then she took the leash and they walked away. (Typically, Dionne never once glanced back.)

She was so distracted by the sounds and smells of the other dogs, she wouldn’t even look at the camera.
My last glimpse of her. Note that the tail is wagging.

Home again, only staid, sleepy, 9-year-old Tucker was there to greet me. (Steve’s away on business for two days.) So many routines were instantly upended. I opened the doors to the patio — and left them open (the way we used to live before we began raising CCI puppies.) I got out the nice new rug we bought last month and laid it on our bedroom floor (where we’d been afraid to install it, lest Dionne be tempted to chew on it.) I put my gardening shoes on the floor of Steve’s office, by the door (instead of out of reach on top of a filing cabinet.)

All afternoon I’ve been aware of all the things we’ve become accustomed to tracking constantly, almost unconsciously, things to which I suddenly need pay no more attention: where Dionne is, when she last defecated (and whether either of us had yet cleaned up her and Tucker’s droppings), whether she required a break for exercise; a toy to play with. All trivial and mundane, like the chatter of a talk radio show playing softly in another room. Then someone turns it off, and the silence can be jarring.

All these changes occur every time you turn in a puppy. The surprise, to me, is how the pomp and ceremony of the Turn-In proceedings blunts them. It helps to hear the stories of the folks who are receiving graduate dogs. It helps to experience the sadness of giving up the puppy that you raised in the presence of a cohort of other sad puppy-raisers.

Maybe one other thing that makes this experience worse is that we’re not planning to get another puppy until November. Various commitments make us think we’ll be too distracted between now and then to undertake the responsibility again immediately. Steve was fretting last night. “What if we get out of the rhythm? Maybe we won’t be able to go back to it.”

That I’m not too worried about.



I have’t been able to bring myself to blog during the past couple of weeks. I had a topic: I was going to write about filling in all the paperwork associated with turning in a CCI puppy. I took a picture of the pile.

But then I couldn’t seem to bring myself to sit down and start. It’s tedious work. And filling in those papers is a brutal reminder that one is about to have to give up the puppy that one has been nurturing for the past 18 months.

At the same time I was procrastinating, I continued to worry about the thing that has concerned me since last September. When Dionne finally went into her first heat back then, CCI’s vet tech casually mentioned that most bitches go into heat again six months later. Usually pretty precisely.

I realized this would mean Dionne stood a good chance of starting her next cycle around the time she was scheduled to be turned in. I’ve talked to other puppy raisers over the years to whom this had happened, and they all looked pretty disgruntled. You have to take your girl immediately up to Oceanside to be put in Fertility Control confinement, and you miss all the pomp and emotionally satisfying completion provided by the turn-in ceremony.

Yesterday my fears came true. I noticed she seemed to be licking herself a lot, so I swabbed her with a kleenex, and sure enough, a tell-tale red stain appeared. I called CCI and they confirmed that I would have to bring her in as soon as possible.

This is a bit more complicated than usual, as Steve, Dionne, and I are in Phoenix at the moment, attending a professional conference. We brought Darby to it two years ago, and we enjoyed the adulation she inspired. Dionne’s presence has provoked a similar response. In fact, the organizers even had a badge ready for her, when we checked in.

Her badge says, “Puppy Wolfe”

Dionne, of course, is oblivious both to her stardom and to what’s looming on Monday. That’s when I’ll drive her up to Oceanside and hand her over. Then we’ll cross our fingers and hope she gets all this reproductive nonsense over quickly. There’s some hope she could do that, and we could attend the ceremony together. But it’s a slim one.