Well, we’ve terminated our experiment in letting Beverly sleep with Tucker. Despite the promising start, Beverly started taking a more aggressive approach to waking me up when she felt ready for her breakfast, i.e. coming up and plopping her paws on the bed, next to my sleeping face.
I didn’t appreciate that, so we starting putting her leash on her and clipping it to the little hook on the wall next to Tucker’s dog bed. That confined Beverly. But one morning we woke up and found poor old Tuck sleeping mostly on the hard wood floor, while Beverly sprawled in the middle of his cozy pillow. He looked morose, and we felt bad for him. His old bones and joints need some soft support.
So Beverly is spending her nights in the kennel again, which she doesn’t seem to mind. Actually, at the moment, we’re hosting one of our former CCI puppies, Darby. (She was released from Advanced Training and became the beloved pet of some friends.) Darby and Beverly like each other and play pretty well during the day, but at night, we’re putting the girls in separate kennels in Steve’s office, along with Tucker, who has another dog bed there. (Three big dogs up in our bedroom is too many, we think.)
It won’t last long. Darby’s family will pick her up on Tuesday, whereupon Beverly and Tucker will rejoin us upstairs. And Beverly will still have Tucker to nap on during the day.
Every 3 months, CCI holds a formal ceremony during which fully trained puppies who have successfully completed their Advanced Training graduate to their lives in service. The other crucial part of each graduation program is the presentation of the puppies who are about to begin their Advanced Training. This is what we’ll do with Kyndall tomorrow: turn her in to matriculate on the CCI campus.
We’ve gone through this 4 times before, with the first 4 CCI puppies we raised. (The fifth, Dionne, went into heat and thus could not participate in the formal ceremony.) But for some reason, we never before took advantage of something the southwestern regional headquarters staff offers before each graduation: a tour of the kennels for puppy-raisers who are turning in their pups. This time Steve and I signed up for that experience, accompanied by Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, our two documentary filmmaking friends who are working on a movie about puppy-raising.
We also took along Kyndall and Kora, figuring it would be good for both girls to visit the campus, since both will be spending a lot of time there. (Kora, however, being 6 months younger, won’t turn in until November.) We gathered at the front door of the Oceanside facility, where we found a handful of other matriculating puppies and the folks who had raised them. Only two were local; the rest hailed from Utah, New Mexico, Colorado.
Leading the tour was Becky Hein, the recently promoted director of the puppy program. Becky has worked at the headquarters for more than a dozen years, including long service as a trainer. In addition to all her years of experience, she has a warmth and obvious dedication to the program and the dogs that made her a compelling guide to the compound.
There’s a lot to see. We passed through the training rooms and the well-appointed grooming area.
It was a little startling to hear the cacophony of barking on the grounds. We work hard to discourage our dogs from doing any “alert barking.” But Becky shrugged off the noise, dismissing it as an idiosyncrasy of kennel life.
Most interesting to me was the chance to see the actual enclosures where the dogs spend their nights and part of their days. While not exactly cozy, they’re spotless and reasonably spacious, with heated concrete floors and an inner and outer chamber. Almost every puppy has a roommate, and according to Becky, they spend a lot of time playing with each other.
The question I’ve heard more than any other from non-puppy-raisers is, “How can you stand to give the dogs up?” I have several answers to that question. I point out that one can’t begin to think about puppy-raising unless one accepts that one will be taking care of someone else’s dog. I point out the obvious fact that there would be no service dogs without puppy-raisers, and if you believe that service dogs dramatically improve many people’s lives (as I’ve come to believe), you can draw inspiration and comfort from that. I also think the more you do it, the easier it gets.
But maybe the truest answer, for me, is that I don’t think much about the Turn-in Days until they’re imminent. Then I start to feel sad. The day itself feels like an ordeal to me, miserable. And then it passes.
Because Kyndall is turning in tomorrow, I’m feeling pretty crummy tonight. But I have to say: today, seeing the busy, well-structured, clean, and purposeful place where she’ll be living did make me feel a bit better.
It’s easy to say, “Let sleeping puppies lie,” but the question is: where? When they’re little fur balls, there’s no question. They sleep in the baby kennels that we borrow from CCI. Being confined helps with the house-breaking process, as most dogs have an innate aversion to soiling their dens.
The day comes when the pup is too small to fit in the little kennel, so in our house, we then return the small box to CCI and move our medium-size crate up to our bedroom. That’s where Kyndall’s been sleeping for months. But lately she’s been looking cramped.
We thus decided to give her a chance to sleep outside the box. We never got to that stage with our last puppy, Dionne, who was so mischievous she would invariably find a way to get in trouble at 2 a.m. in the dark. Every night.
But Kyndall’s generally so well-behaved we decided to give her a chance. We removed the medium-sized kennel from our bedroom, replacing it with her little sleeping mat. Steve snapped a rope on her collar and attached it to a grommet in the wall. She didn’t bother us that night — but silently chewed on the rope, almost gnawing through it by morning.
Rather than give up, I suggested we try letting her sleep untethered. We’ve done this for two nights in a row, and nothing bad has happened! She hasn’t tried to sneak into bed with us. She hasn’t nosed my head or annoyed Tucker (who sleeps on a big cushion a few feet away). She hasn’t decided that the nearby loveseat would be even more comfortable than the sleeping mat.
We can hardly believe it, but we’ll continue to see how it works out over time.
I’ve come to realize that puppy-raisers have to be able to stomach locking up joyful little fur balls that are bursting with life. Maybe there are puppies so sleepy they just lie at your feet and snooze all day. But we’ve never had one of those. We’ve had lively, inquisitive puppies who, unconfined and unrestrained, will learn all manner of bad habits.
Over time, we’ve refined our confinement strategies. We have kennels of various sizes, and several puppies ago, we acquired an “X” (for “exercise”) pen. Since it’s just a fencing system, with no bottom, I didn’t set it up for years in my wall-to-wall-carpeted office. But with our last puppy (Dionne), I began experimenting with ways of protecting the carpet from any accidental deposits of puppy body waste.
I tried heavy-duty vinyl…
But within a few hours, Dionne managed to puncture and rip it.
Next we got hold of some linoleum-type flooring material…
…but that too quickly fell victim to her teeth and claws.
So last summer we replaced the carpet (it was time) with ceramic faux-wood tiles. The experts at Home Depot insisted that’s toughest flooring available for homes. It’s been working splendidly.
As fate would have it, Kyndall has never had an accident within it. She’s inches away from my desk, and she can play with toys or nap. Of course, she also enjoys playing outside of it. We allow that too, and we’ll gradually do more, as she gets more and more adept staying out of trouble.