Beverly’s life takes an unexpected turn

Beverly has been released from the CCI program for health reasons.

Typing those words, I still feel a shiver of shock. We never detected that her body was any less perfect than her behavior. Indeed, her first report from CCI last week started off with the exuberant declaration, “Beverly is in good health!”

The clue that something was amiss didn’t come until Friday morning, when the vet staff up at the Oceanside center tested Beverly’s blood in preparation for spaying her. (Getting spayed is routine for the girls in Advanced Training; only a handful are chosen to be breeders.) But the test showed two very non-routine values for creatinine and another blood component; this signaled serious kidney malfunction.

A decision was made to proceed with the surgery and inspect Beverly’s kidneys directly. It was then, the puppy program director explained in her phone call to me late Friday afternoon, that the vet could see that one of the kidneys was both small and malformed. The other one looked normal. But it couldn’t be functioning properly or else her blood values would be normal. Instead the staff estimated that Beverly’s one kidney may be operating only about 40% as well as it should. What is unclear is whether this will shorten her life by just a small amount or substantially.

Becky said the vet felt the best course would be for Beverly to start consuming a special dog food, lower in  protein and thus easy on the kidneys. Becky also sadly pointed out that this turn of events meant Beverly could not continue on to graduation. She asked if I thought Diana and John, our puppy-sitter friends, would still want to adopt Beverly (as they had intended to do, in case she was to be released). I said I didn’t know. Adopting a dog with a health problem requires a special commitment, one that I don’t think Steve and I could handle. I asked Becky if she would call John and Diana to fill them in. An hour or so later, she called me back with the news that they also didn’t feel they could take on this challenge.

This is where this story takes a happy turn. Becky had informed me that someone else did want to adopt Beverly — Stephanie Y, the young woman who’s been training her for the past few weeks. Becky said Beverly and Stephanie had developed a deep bond. “When I call her to tell her she can adopt Beverly, you’ll probably be able to hear the scream from there,” Becky said. She pointed out that in her new life as Stephanie’s release dog, Beverly will be able to come into work with the trainer every day. She’ll have a “sister,” Belle, whom Stephanie raised and adopted upon her release. She’ll be showered with exuberant attention and love. Becky says the Oceanside staff jokes that in their next lives, they all want to come back as one of Stephanie’s dogs.

Since then, I’ve exchanged several messages with Stephanie, and they’ve confirmed that Beverly is one lucky dog indeed. “I fell in love with her the second I saw her and I knew that she was such a special pup!!” Stephanie wrote me. “Belle and Beverly have met and enjoy cuddling and sleeping next to each other!! During these first few weeks, I want to make sure that both dogs are EXTREMELY happy in their new role as sisters and their well-being is my top priority!!”

She sent me these comforting photos and a video, and we plan to meet in person soon. I fell asleep myself Friday night filled with such conflicting emotions: sadness over Beverly’s troubled kidneys, grief that she won’t have the life we imagined for her, joy that she has found her forever angel. Because of the latter, I slept soundly.



Tucker’s last birthday?

Almost 13 years ago, we received our first CCI puppy, a shambling little guy whose goofy good nature was evident from the instant I first met him. Steve and I had made the decision to raise a CCI puppy for several reasons. The most potent was that I was sick of seeing our beloved pet dogs grow old and get so feeble we felt compelled to euthanize them. I knew it would be hard to give away a dog we’d raised for a life of service, but it seemed better than the alternative.

What I never expected is that Tucker would flunk out. Throughout his time with us, he seemed a wonder — far more attentive and well behaved than any other dog we’d ever had. Maybe 6 weeks after he’d gone to Advanced Training, when the puppy program director called to inform me Tuck was being “released,” I felt the blood drain from my face. It was like hearing that one of my children was being expelled from college. We knew that if a CCI puppy fails to graduate, the folks who raised it can adopt it at no charge, but we never expected to face that choice. Still, we didn’t hesitate to welcome Tucker back as a permanent member of our household.

Today is his 13th birthday, and it’s hard not to feel a little irony in our current life together. In the 18 months since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his side, he’s done well. But he’s also aged so much. He’s deaf now, and he sleeps so deeply it’s often hard to tell if he’s still breathing. Once again we’re living with a very elderly animal (“91 in people years!” Steve often reminds me), and wondering if we’ll have to make the dreaded call to the vet about him.

We’re not there yet. Yesterday Steve and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Riverside County tree farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and Tucker pushed his way into the garage, determined to accompany us on our outing. (He didn’t know the destination; he didn’t care.) He shared the car kennel with Ressa (the little seven-month-old CCI pup whom we’ve been sitting), and at the farm, he tried to smell everything.

113017 car ride
Sharing the car kennel requires a tight squeeze, but they tolerate it.

He still wags his tail at every puppy we welcome into the house, and he plays his silly game with them, emitting gruff, old-man “WOOFs!” that make them race around as if they’re scared of him. And he still loves to eat. This morning, in honor of the day, we served him turkey and other scraps from my post-Thanksgiving stock, mixed with a little leftover fettuccine. Tuck looked a bit startled by this change from Eukanuba (even after Steve removed the candle), but he gobbled it down.

113017 breakfast

We figure he could slip away in his sleep two days from now. Or he could live another two years (any more than that is pretty inconceivable). Whenever he does go, we’ll miss him terribly. Maybe we’ll vow to never again have another pet dog. Maybe we’ll even mean it this time.

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.)

Fun with the one who flunked out

Fun with the one who flunked out

I know we shouldn’t say that Tucker “flunked out” of CCI. Sometimes we do use more politically correct language. We say he was “released” from the program, or we call him a COC (Change of Career) dog. We don’t mean him any disrespect. He’s a wonderful guy, and we love him dearly.

But like all CCI dogs who don’t graduate but instead return to their puppy-raisers’ home to become members of the family, Tucker routinely gets left behind; he receives way less attention than the current young one in training. We feel bad about it, but that’s his lot in life. Usually.

This morning was a glorious exception. Steve was taking Dionne to a morning of grocery-shopping. I, in turn, wanted to check out the annual pottery show in Balboa Park (something I’d never done before). It occurred to me Tucker could accompany me, as the show was all outside, in Spanish Village. Afterward, I could take him to Nate’s Point, the city’s showcase leash-free area on the west side of Cabrillo Bridget.

He and I were in the park for about an hour an a half, and he was smiling and wagging his tail almost every minute of that time. At the pottery show, several people complimented him and reached out to pet him. (Usually it’s our pup du jour who receives such attention.) They commented on how good he was; how handsome. Of course, his behavior was impeccable.

After a while he and I strolled down the Prado and through the plaza and westward, over the bridge.  As we neared the dog park, he began to look around in excitement. (He could smell the other dogs but couldn’t yet see them.) I led him to the gate, he was all but trembling with happiness. Once inside he greeted some of his fellow canines, then galloped off to smell the myriad peeing spots.

He also ran up to almost every other human in the place — barking at a few to throw their balls for him, or just saying hello and receiving more pats on the head. He paid virtually no attention to me.

A rare moment when he circled back in my general direction.

When we got home, I told Steve that he hadn’t been that happy since the day he was released from Advanced Training. I had a lovely time too.