Counterbalancing the sad phone call Monday about Kyndall’s release from CCI service was the one I just got a few minutes ago from the veterinarian who operated on Tucker last Friday. She announced that his pathology report was back — and the growth that she removed appeared to be a type of soft-tissue sarcoma known as a spindle cell tumor, a cancer that probably originated from a nerve sheath. The excellent news was that the pathologist thought the surgery had removed all of it, and furthermore it appeared to be Grade 1 — a low-grade cancer that was very unlikely to metastasize. So Tucker stands a good chance of moving into his 12th year — and beyond!
Steve and I originally were drawn to puppy-raising after having to have one of our favorite dogs ever (Tootsie) euthanized. Wanting to avoid ever going through that heart-wrenching experience again, we signed up as CCI puppy-raisers — and got Tucker. But when HE was released (for being too distractible), we couldn’t resist welcoming him back into our home as a family member.
Now that he’s almost 12, we know that a dark day eventually will be coming. But it’s wonderful to learn this surgery bought him some more good time.
On the new-puppy front, Beverly continues to be an astonishingly devoted sleeper (except at night, when she still needs one brief toileting excursion).
And on the recent release-dog front, Kyndall is recuperating up in Oceanside from being spayed. We should learn more on Friday about her next move.
This morning, for the fifth time in our CCI puppy-raising career, I got a phone call that plunged me into depression. This time it came from Becky Hein, the current Southwest region CCI puppy program manager, informing me that sweet angelic Kyndall was being released. “The trainers have decided it would be best for her not to be a working dog,” she said gently. “But she’s such a lovely girl!”
Ha. We KNOW she’s a lovely girl. But this time Steve and I believed she had an excellent chance of graduating. For us, Kyndall always was attentive. She learned quickly. She was ready for activity when the opportunity arose — but happy to rack out and nap at other times, an affectionate and mellow companion. Yet even before receiving her first report card, here she was being judged unfit for a life of service. Becky explained that the trainers found her to be “overly aware of her environment,” focusing unduly on distractions such as other dogs, bunnies, and interesting smells. Food and verbal encouragement had not improved her, the trainers judged. So that was that.
One of the things Steve and I find most discouraging about this development is that we were able to be so wrong — so unable to see these failings in advance. It shakes our confidence in our ability to improve. Steve commented, morosely, that he felt ready to give up.
Of course, there’s no giving up right now. We’re less than 2 weeks into Life with 11-week-old Beverly. She’s at her peak of puppy cuteness — so small she still can creep under the sofa (and think that it’s SO COOL to be there):
…so small she’s still nervous about descending long flights of stairs:
She’s so young it’s almost impossible to imagine what kind of full-grown dog she’ll become. By the time she gets there, I suppose Hope may triumph over Experience, yet again, in our hearts.
Thoughts of Kyndall have popped into my head with surprising frequency in the three days since we bade goodbye to her. Owning any dog is a responsibility, and taking care of a puppy on the path to a life of service is at least as big a one. We’ve gotten so used to it over the years that it doesn’t feel like a huge burden. But every time one of our CCI dogs suddenly disappears, it takes a while to adjust — to turn off our all-but-automatic caretaking instincts.
Now the Big Silence unfolds. We’re not allowed to visit any dog who’s begun Advanced Training. CCI claims that it appears to unsettle them. In a few weeks, we’ll get a formal Graduation Photo. But our friend Bob Schneider, who taught photography on the college level, sent the following one, which he took while the formal photos were being taken. It’s hard to imagine another image could be better.
We’ve been promised our first detailed report on how Kyndall is faring on June 29. The arrival of that document is always exciting. In the meantime, my feelings of sadness have evaporated. I am confident Kyndall’s having fun. All sorts of good things are ahead for her.
Saying goodbye to Kyndall yesterday was about as bad as we anticipated, for us, at least. And Kyndall didn’t look like she was having a whole lot of fun either. We left the house shortly after 9:30 a.m. and drove to the conference center in Oceanside where the graduation ceremonies are held. The first thing you do there with your matriculating puppy is to turn in his or her training gear and dress them in their ceremonial finery. Lots of photos get taken.
We had to gather for instructions in what to do during the ceremony, though Steve and I already knew, being as how it was the very same thing we’ve done for all of the previous turn-in ceremonies in which we’ve participated. Then there was time to socialize. This was fun, as we’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the 11-plus years we’ve been involved with CCI. One unexpected pleasure was the chance to meet the woman who raised Kyndall’s sister, Kawika (aka “Kiki”) in Albuquerque, NM. But sadly, we couldn’t meet Kawika herself because she went into heat immediately after arriving in Oceanside on Wednesday. (Barbara, her puppy-raiser, carried a stuffed puppy during the presentation of the 34 pups turning in.)
Another big highlight was meeting the girl who will be Kyndall’s kennel-mate to start, Pendra, raised by a veteran Oceanside puppy-raiser. Dusty told us that Pendra was the calmest pup she’s ever raised — happy to wrestle and play for 15 or 20 minutes, and then to settle down for a snooze. That’s exactly how we would describe Kyndall, so it gave me high hopes that the two will get along just fine.
The ceremony itself began at noon and lasted for a full 90 minutes. As always, it was an emotional roller coaster. There was a video introducing the folks who will be receiving dogs. Of this graduating class, three would be working as “facility dogs”(including two who will be helping to calm crime victims). Two were being awarded to help out women in wheelchairs, and two were chosen to be “skilled companions,” part of a whole team assisting the disabled person. There were speeches and a slide show of images of the puppies turning in and other words and sights to touch the heart.
After the ceremony, we headed out to the van and tried to feed Kyndall an early dinner, but she wouldn’t look at it. Then we drove to the CCI facility for the saddest moment of all. Unlike any previous occasion, on this day we were accompanied by our two videographer friends, Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, who are working on a documentary about puppy raising. Bob captured what it looked like right at the end. Note that Kyndall did what has always impressed me (and made me feel a little better). She trotted off wagging her tail, and she didn’t look back.
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.
In our final days with Kyndall, our social schedule is accelerating. Early yesterday afternoon took us to a volunteering activity I couldn’t resist: an annual event hosted by the nurses at Scripps Memorial Hospital to thank the support staff there. Throughout the day, aides and orderlies and other such folk are invited to stop into a large hall on their breaks or after work to get massages, aromatherapy, and other soothing services. Apparently last year someone had the idea of adding in a station where dog-loving workers could get a puppy fix. The dogs were such a hit that CCI was the first organization asked to participate again this year.
Kyndall and I signed up for the 2 to 4 p.m. shift, which we shared with 7-month-old Raider (a dead ringer for Tucker when he was that age), 8-month-old Daisy, 1-year-old Nairobi, and their respective puppy raisers.
Throughout the shift, we had a slow but steady stream of visitors who seemed eager to plop down on the carpet and get themselves covered with yellow fur. Kyndall’s attitude toward them all seemed to be: “If this is the life of a working dog, bring it ON!”
After our shift, we returned home, then headed out with both Kyndall and Kora a few hours later for Kyndall’s very last puppy class (before Advanced Training.) It was a shockingly large group — 17 dogs (including the Flynns’ adorable 11-week-old Mai-Tai, in attendance because the Flynns still have Merry, their goofy golden retriever who will also be turning in with Kyndall Friday.) We all walked our dogs around the parking lot (in the dark) and practiced recalling them at some distance. Once inside again, we did Laps and Ups and Unders. Kyndall seemed distracted. But I think she was probably just tired out from all that “service” work in the afternoon.
We’re settling into our temporary routine as a three-dog household. I’ve discovered that if I take all three dogs out first thing in the morning off-leash, Kora and Kyndall race out wildly to our lower yard, but then they can be verbally bullied into leaving each other alone while they attend to their first toileting duties of the day. They seem to notice when the other is engaged in relieving herself and to conscientiously refrain from tackling her at that instant. I think that’s cool — in part because it means Steve and I both don’t have to get out of bed super-early in order to accompany them.
We also have had some fun with them. Although we walk the dogs in the neighborhood, we hike with them all too rarely. Tuesday morning was an exception. We seized an opportunity to go for an 8-mile hike in Los Penasquitos Canyon, one of San Diego’s loveliest preserves. Eleven-year-old Tucker is no longer up to lengthy outings, but we took Kora and Kyndall, and both were little angels. Dogs are allowed in the canyon, so they didn’t have to wear their capes, but the rules dictate they be on leash at all times. That was fine with us. This is rattlesnake season, and although we didn’t see any serpents, we heard from a cyclist who saw several. Both girls walked nicely at our sides.
One of the special features of Penasquitos Canyon is the small waterfall about halfway through it, which is at its best when the rainy season is ending (i.e. right now.)
We found it looking lovely, but neither Kora nor Kyndall are swimmers, and they seemed a bit alarmed by it.
Both finally waded into tentatively, at our urging.
and then Kyndall grossed us out by flinging herself down and trying to rub off her halter. This is an everyday behavior at our home but a messy move in a creekbed.
The rest of the hike took us through some lovely shady areas (which sun-averse Kyndall in particular appreciated) and gave us the opportunity to cross a rather wobbly footbridge.
We were home again less than four hours after we set out. A minor but satisfying adventure for humans and beasts.