Public service

The mission of this blog is to share the experience of raising a puppy to become a service dog. There’s a lot to that enterprise, and by far the most interesting parts are those that involve teaching and living with the puppies. There’s also some PR involved, however.

Part of that transpires when you’re out in public with your trainee, working on teaching him or her to behave while grocery shopping or sitting in a movie theater or under the table at a restaurant or wherever. But occasionally, CCI sends out email requests for us to serve as emissaries for the organization at various events.

When it doesn’t involve too long a drive, I enjoy helping out when I can. Recently, Beverly and I responded to two such activities, both close to our neighborhood.

The first was a tiny Lion’s Club chapter that had requested a presentation about CCI for their monthly meeting. It was held in the back room of a waffle restaurant in Clairemont. Steve and I both accompanied Beverly to that one — an easy assignment: talking to eight seniors about the Canine Companions for Independence organization and the work it does. Several folks in the group already seemed to know a lot about the program. We spent about a half hour chatting with them, and they seemed pleased to have us.

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Beverly put on a little show and tell — Sitting, going Down, walking nicely on her leash. But mostly she snoozed.

The next day, Beverly and I showed up at a meeting room in Pacific Beach where we joined three other CCI trainees — including Beverly’s buddy Keegan. It turned out that this event, a monthly meeting of a group called Fortune Builders, was an opportunity to publicize CCI’s big fundraising activity of the year, Dogfest (which will take place later this month.)

The volunteer who is chairing this year’s event was there, along with her latest puppy, only four months old. But she didn’t make the pitch for donations. Another puppy-raiser who’s a longtime member of the Fortune Builders group took the microphone to do that.

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This meant all that the rest of us had to do was stand around and let the meeting-goers see our dogs and pet them if they wanted to. Beverly excels at this.

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Keegan got petted first by this particular dog-lover, but Beverly received plenty of attention too.

Beverly takes to the podium

“Tell us,” one lady in the audience requested, “what a typical day is like for Beverly.”

“Wow. It varies so much,” I responded. “Some days are terribly boring. She might go for a short walk or two, but she basically spends most of the day sleeping next to me or Steve, while we’re working at our desks. Other days she might spend the morning grocery shopping or — most thrilling — at a puppy social. Or she might be giving a presentation like this one.”

Truth be told, Beverly and I don’t do much public speaking. But last week I got a call from the volunteer coordinator for CCI’s Southwest region, asking if we could appear before a class of seniors at the Joan Kroc center in eastern San Diego to talk about what’s involved in raising a service dog. Since we had nothing special scheduled for that time slot (10 a.m. this morning), I was happy to accept.

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I’d guess some 50 or 60 folks filled the seats in the center’s “Rolando Room,” which made it feel like our effort to get there was worth it. Moreover, the audience seemed to hang on my words, and after I talked for a half hour or so, many asked perceptive questions. Beverly, I’m happy to report, was on her best behavior. She went Down at my command, and although she occasionally got bored and stood up, she immediately resumed her position when I redirected her. She gazed up at me adoringly, appearing to hang on my every word.

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The folks in the audience asked about everything from how the dogs are named to what happens to those who don’t make it to what I thought about folks who try to pass off their pets as being service dogs (even those who’ve had no training.) I enjoyed trying to answer them all, including the follow-up question posed by that lady who asked about Beverly’s typical routine. What she really wanted to know, she clarified, was whether we trained our puppies for a certain period of time every day. I told her that Steve’s been making an effort to go out in the late afternoons for a short training session. But more often than not, the training was interwoven into the fabric of each day — Stays, Downs, Waits, and other commands issued as the context dictated. And occasionally, opportunities to try and be good in front of an audience.