Will that be Cash, Check or Charge

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Well – here we go again. At least here I go again – litter six. No, not Sabina (the dog behind the blog) she has been retired for a few years now. However there is always room for more when the dog is amazing – meet Maura. This is litter one for Maura and litter six for me. Sabina says six for her too, but this way (supervising granddog on duty) is much more fun.

So very much has happened since I last posted. As I made my last post Dave and were in the process of selling our home and overseeing the first few weeks of Sabina’s A  (and final) litter before they found their way to their puppy raisers. Shortly after we moved we had the privilege of handing over Cate’s leash to the most amazing partner. Then as many of you know Dave unexpectedly passed away. During the last few years I have continued to puppy raise with the support of our Canine Companions family and then received the best news ever, my second heart dog became a breeder.

In the time since I first started this blog there is a whole new “generation” of puppy raisers and as social media continues to grow much more connectivity. While I can’t promise this is the start of a whole new chapter of the Aspiring Service Dog Chronicles, I thought a couple new posts would be the perfect vehicle to address so many questions I have personally received lately about being a Breeder Caretaker (BC) for Canine Companions. Today’s edition: The Shopping Trip.

Once you make the plunge to be a BC there is a ton of things to gather. My guess for those of you parents of two-legged beings it is pretty much the same – you buy a ton of stuff (some of it good, some of it stupid), you decorate a nursery, set up a crib, buy some more stuff (but since you don’t have the kid yet you don’t really know what you need), and you collect advice. Brothers and sisters let me tell you – there is no shortage of advice. None. Truly – if advice could fuel cars I would never ever stop at the pumps again. That isn’t to say it is all bad, but well lets leave it at there isn’t a shortage. Here is a list of the things that I buy, that actually work and are needed. Many of these things last litter to litter:

  • Bag of wash cloths. You know that bag of 100 washcloths at Costco you have seen and wonder who on earth would buy that. Um me. I actually started with one and have just supplemented from litter to litter. Mainly we use them in the whelp to catch and dry off the new borns, but as they get more mobile and make more messes then we use them for clean up.
  • Back to Costco for (or Sam’s or whatever) case of baby wipes (lasts two litters hopefully), and a couple of cases of puppy pee pads (way cheaper here than at the pet store). Pretty much everything can be cleaned with a baby wet wipe. Greatest invention ever. We don’t really use the pee pads for potty training. I use them to catch the mess during the whelp (less messy than newspaper) and I line the whelp box, putting them under the mat so the bottom whelp box liner stays fresh and clean.
  • Cleaners – I like this natural spray cleaner from target and then standard clorox wipes. For the things that baby wipes don’t clean.
  • Extra (as in more than you would typically use) kitchen garbage bags, case of paper towels and laundry & dishwasher detergent. Once the puppies start using the potty box, my guess is that we have a full bag of garbage every other day. We are on week seven and have used over five rolls of paper towels. These puppies generate between one to three extra loads of laundry each DAY!
  • Three bottles of hand sanitizer (well buy I many as I have doors into my home, plus one for the puppy room.)
  • Small case of water bottles. I pour out a bit of the water and then freeze them. When the puppies get hot we put them in one of my fuzzy winter socks and they snuggle up next to them.
  • Which means I also, at Costco, pick up fuzzy winter socks just for the puppies from time to time or replace mine.
  • Bags of pine bedding pellets for the potty box. We use about three 40 pound bags a week once they weaning (week 4ish).
  • Tape – scotch tape, blue painters tape, and duct tape. I grew up in a house that fixed everything with either duct tape or JB Weld – I continue to hold on to that tradition. The blue tape is for sealing the linoleum to the wall, and I also tape the colored yarn used as collars to wall without removing the paint. I use the scotch tape seal the ends of the yarn and tape the for the weigh chart I almost always rip, and the duct tape is for everything else.
  • Premium wet food and other things to entice the mama dog for who the novelty of eating 15 cups of food a day has worn off and you need to spice things up a bit.
  • Canned pumpkin and or anti-diarrheal for mama. (hopefully not for the puppies, that has happened but knock on wood the Ts are doing great in that department)
  • Cornstarch! Okay I don’t buy this each time but I keep a little on hand in case I get crazy with the clippers and accidentally knick someone. I would rather use cornstarch than the traditional styptic powder. This idea wasn’t mine, but it works. It was some of that advice stuff I was talking about earlier.

Then there are the things you buy once unless you have to replace them, because you left something out that you shouldn’t have and an inquisitive 7 week old chews it. Canine Companions permits BCs to pretty much personalize how they keep their litters and what things we use for their time with us. Most of the things listed below I would say are extras and totally up to the BC:

  • Whelp box. Canine Companions gives BCs kiddie pools to whelp in and they are great. I have used one before. However they aren’t my favorite and so, planning to be a BC for many years to come, I splurged and bought a pretty amazing box. Maura was happy and that meant I was too!
  • Something for a potty box. This is sort of a free for all too – some BCs potty train on washable pads so they buy those, others make a frame out of 2x4s and fill with pellets or shavings. I have to tell you I have no idea how puppies get poop in the places that they do and so a few litters ago I was looking for something with sides and stumbled upon a returned walk in tub surround at Home Depot. I haggled a bit with the manager who didn’t quite believe me when I told him why I wanted it but I use a tub surround. A $375 surround for $50 people. I walked out of there with that on my flat cart like I had just been named prom queen.
  • Fleece mats. I like these because they have a rubber backing so they don’t move around. I have five of them and would have 10 if I had room.
  • This is totally frivolous but the puppies have their own vacuum. This isn’t needed but since I use pine pellets for potty training it tracks around and makes a mess, so I vacuum – a lot. I have been advised that I worry about this too much, but I do. For some reason the thought of vacuuming up poop and then using that vacuum in other place of my house freaked me out a little. Now I am not talking about a Dyson. The last one I had was my personal vacuum that had seen better days so I used it for an excuse to buy the Dyson. Well that one died and the one I have now was freebee from a neighbor. I will say that all “my” pups have gone to PRs loving the vacuum – the Sabina C litter in particular.
  • A small space heater. Canine Companions provides us heat lamps if we like, a small space heater is just a personal preference.
  • A flashlight by every door you might take your mama dog out to go to the yard – of course batteries for said flashlight.
  • A baby scale. Canine Companions also provides us with a scale but I seem to have big puppies and like the bigger scale.
  • Baby-cam. Because in the middle of the night after I already haven’t slept I need to see if there is something truly wrong or if someone is just faking it for attention. Gasp – yes they do fake it and if that is the case we let them cry it out. Also it is fun to show off the video to people at work. But the most fun is to freak out your waitress because she only hears part of your conversation at the table and thinks you left your toddler home alone and unattended supervised only by the dog.
  • Garbage can, can to hold the pellets, laundry basket for the gross laundry, and a couple more  or a shelf or something to store the clean stuff.
  • Baby toys. Sabina says you can not have enough toys and that you should buy something new EVERY time you go out.
  • Heating pad and laundry basic for “storing”  =) the baby puppies when you need to move them around during the whelp or cleaning their area. This is a limited time situation, they out grow that plan pretty darn quick.
  • Weird stuff – this is stuff I mainly find at garage sales and thrift stores (well my friend and fellow puppy raiser Barb finds it) like grates to walk on, sit and spins, pot lids, and apparently a whisk. This litter is in love with this huge metal whisk that she found.
  • Large wall clock that also tells the room temp and has the date. Trust me when you start a whelp anytime time after bed time a large clock with large numbers is a necessity!
  • We have hardwood floors so to protect them we use several things. First I put down a layer of that black cloth that people put down in their garden to stop weeds to allow the wood room to breath, next comes a thick layer of painters plastic, and finally on top of that a piece of linoleum that goes up over the base board. This idea too came from that advice stuff. I need to remind myself it isn’t all bad.
  • If you are so inclined to attempt some sort of puppy photo shoot then you will probably want props.
  • There is other miscellaneous stuff that I am sure I am forgetting, but these are the big ticket items.

Then there is a ton of stuff that Canine Companions gives you:

  • To keep track of who is who you start out with yarn collars, t-shirt paint to dab on their very cute puppy bums until they graduate to big boy and girl collars.
  • Various meds for the mama and babies for deworming and other things used you may need during the whelp.
  • Although I use my own they provide heat lamps, crates, whelp pool and xpens. I think you need LOTS of xpens. Since the puppies are whelped then hang out in their own bedroom it is important that they have different areas of the house to hear and learn new things. I have xpens in the whelp room, I use them to set up an outside play area in the good weather, and then set one up in my living room for play time.
  • Water and food bowls.
  • Supplies incase any puppies need to be bottle fed.
  • Food – mama and puppy food.
  • Whelp manual – basically the BC bible.
  • Other small stuff like a thermometer, suction bulb, scissors, soft brush and nail clippers.
  • I am sure I am missing somethings, but they pack it all into a crate for you to take home and you can use the same crate to bring them back very cute puppies. Even though most of it comes in the crate between that stuff, the food, xpens, a puppy pool and your breeder – as they say bring the big car.

 

There are other things of course – like when I bought this house I wanted a three bedroom just so I had a place for the puppies and their stuff. I did, like almost every puppy raiser I know, take transporting litters into account when I bought my last car. We Canine Companions are the craziest of crazy volunteers I know. They are also some of the finest people I have ever met. We are a special kind of crazy and I am okay with that.

 

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Sabina – My Covergirl

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Before we go any further if you have tuned in here expecting cute puppy pictures you are about to be disappointed. There are no pictures, nothing to see here. You see apparently the only cover that Sabina is fit to be on the cover of is National Geographic. That’s right you heard me right, National Geographic. Oh how I loved that magazine. I used to pour over every issue with amazement and wonder. One day I thought – I will be a photographer and if I am lucky enough I will take a cover shot. Then I learned that for every one photo that makes it in to NatGeo (as it is now affectionately called) the photographer takes something crazy like 1500 other shots. No big deal you say – let us remember that when I was having these daydreams we were still in the magical days of Kodachrome not DSLR. But I digress.

When we became breeder caretakers I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a house full of puppies, to have great photo ops, and did I mention have wonderful puppies. Oh I knew it would be a messy, sometime smelly, often sleep deprived time. I planned on days filled with worrying about the little puppy, making sure everyone is gaining weight, peeing, pooping, blah blah blah. What I didn’t know is how interested and more specifically how much everyone would want to talk about Sabina’s boobs. That’s right people my pregnant and now nursing dog has big boobs. Maybe it is because there are so many of them or that they truly are so big, or that – wait for it – you can actually hear them slap together when she runs – I don’t know. All I know is that I am ready to stop talking about her boobs and start talking about almost any other thing on the planet.

When Sabina was pregnant with her first litter and about a week away from delivering I was out walking her downtown on a break at work. We were out on the street busy with people when this woman I had never seen before stopped me to ask about her. In her best outdoor voice she says “well I just HAD to stop you, I could completely tell your dog is pregnant. Do you know how I know?” At this point I am thinking – uh because she big as a house and waddling around like a penguin? No it couldn’t be that simple and she then says “She has National Geographic boobies! Saw those boobies from across the street and then I knew!”  Yep, she crossed the street to use that line on a complete stranger. I have this vision that she was a party once and someone used the “National Geographic boobies” line and ever since she has been waiting for a chance to use it. I was that chance. Lucky me. Now I am rarely rendered speechless but truly the entire street got silent and everyone looked at me and my dog with the National Geographic boobies. I just walked back to work, did I mention I was  speechless?

Since then, with every pregnancy, there is a ton of conversation all the time about Sabina and her boobs. Seriously it is like she is the only dog on the planet to give birth or at least have these ginormous ta-tas. Here is the deal I am a firm believer in having frank honest conversations, I believe kids should be taught the correct terms for our bodies not ta-tas or boobies. However, when it comes to Sabina I really don’t want to talk about her boobies – National Geographic or otherwise. I don’t know why, maybe because she is like my kid. Trust me I know ALOT about her ta-tas. I am the one who checks them everyday to make sure they are healthy and that mastitis hasn’t set in, and when it does I am the one who packs them with warm compresses and massages them.

Thankfully, this too shall pass as this is her last litter. We have just over a month before the puppies turn in and get ready to start their journey as puppies-in-program for Canine Companions. Then there will be a month or so of “are her boobs going to shrink back up”, or “wow her boobs have really shrunk back up”. Then Sabina, people will stop seeing just your jugs and go back to just seeing you – the strong willed, super smart women you are. Oh and stop talking to me about them. That is when we will all be happy.

We Join This Program Already in Progress…

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I believe I have said this before, but time flies when you mark it by puppy milestones. I am always shocked by how much growing these pups cram into the eight very short weeks we have them before they go out to puppy raisers. We are now in the middle of week two, but start at the very beginning. You know it’s a very fine place to start.

I have to give the disclaimer while I am amazed at how the grow and change, the first few weeks are my least favorite. I feel the same way about two-legged kids – keep the infants, give me a toddler any day! Right now the pups are very much like infants they are driven only to sleep and eat. They have NO problem doing that – trust me.

During the first few weeks they live in the whelp box with Sabina. We are lucky that she is a very attentive mom. She take great pride in keeping the pups clean and tidy. She is super cautious moving around the pups, she moves around them tentatively reluctant to move unless given a command and encouragement to do it. I love that about her. Some mama dogs loose their desire to eat in and around whelp time. Not a problem here – Sabina is always eating as much as we allow her to.

Our time is spent making sure the temperature in the room is comfortable, that bedding is clean, and doing quick health checks when we weigh the puppies. The puppies are weighed twice a day at this point. Steady weight gain is a good sign that the pups are doing well. Sabina is notorious for getting mastitis so we closely monitor her closely. Mastitis is a serious condition that requires veterinary intervention. The Canine Companions vet, Dr. Daniels, is absolutely amazing and always helps us navigate this portion to make sure that we keep Sabina healthy and comfortable.

Right now we are in the middle of week two – and there is decidedly more activity. The pups are really starting to navigate around the whelp box. Each litter seems to have their own preferred temperature – this litter likes it between 72 and 74 degrees. This is a welcome discovery for Mama Bean as she is always hot anyway. In addition to the room temperature the pups sleep in piles – or not – to keep themselves comfortable.

At this point we are pretty much just hanging out watching them – trust me it is mesmerizing. Oh and doing laundry. These little pups generate 2-3 loads of laundry a day. I am not kidding. Between washing bedding and all of the little hand towels we use to keep after little messes and quick clean ups of mama. Week two brings lots of changes: eyes begin to open between the 12th and 15th day; starting around the 6th day their hearing will be fully functioning by day 17. The pups do have some sense of smell at birth, but their sniffers won’t be fully up and running until day 21. The best part is that in addition to all of the physical changes going on, we are starting to see glimmers of their personalities as well. Certainly signs that the best is yet to come. 

 

And it ends… the same as it began.

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Three years ago tonight I was zipping up I-80 (or for you SoCal readers – the 80) to attend my first whelp of a Canine Companions breeder. I had seen and helped with quite a few whelps before but it had been a while and with Sabina recently selected as a breeder I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a refresher. The very gracious Nash family allowed me to crash their whelp of breeder Keara, and by the glow of their family Christmas tree we welcomed to the world the litter known as the Yuletide Y’s.

So here I sit three years later by the glow of my own Christmas tree as Dave, Sabina and I watch over her fifth and final litter. Just now over a week old, it is amazing to see how much they have changed in few short days. It is bittersweet to know that this will be the last litter we are turning in for quite some time. But mostly it is humbling when I remember that there is someone out there already waiting for one of these pups to grow up and be their partner.

Sabina with puppies

Here they are!

Here we go. A new adventure with the A litter, and with any luck a continuing journey as we have asked to raise our next puppy from this litter. It’s fun (for us at least) to have a grand pup around the house. After this, I promised Dave, he can raise a black lab. I must have been a very good girl this year to get such an awesome Christmas present. Seven happy healthy beautiful baby beans – can’t think of anything else that I would want for Christmas.

Uh – You Can Go Now…. Seriously.

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Every fall I hear the stories from my mom friends whose children can’t seem to get away from them fast enough on the first day of school. Of course there is the occasional child who is petrified, but for the most part (because I only make friends with awesome parents) they have raised independent little aspiring adults. The drop off occurs and the little gives some sort of exasperated (most likely including an eye roll) Mooooo-oooo-mmmm, you can go now I am fine. And the voice inside their head is screaming DON”T KISS ME IN FRONT OF MY FRIENDS.

Yeah that is pretty much like what it is like every time that I drop Sabina off at the Canine Companions kennel (aka: the spa, sex camp, ladies lounge), when duty calls. Today she announced she was in heat and I rushed her off to Santa Rosa to be bred for the fifth and final time. First I have to almost restrain her from bursting out of the vehicle, then there is the pretty prance. Yes you heard me right there is a pretty prance. I promise that someday I will video it and post it. It is a canter (like a horse) that she reserves solely for strolling while on campus. So after we prance our way to the kennel and hop on the scale she is already staring down the hall looking for her personal kennel escort. She is done with me, I have ceased to exist. I can go now… seriously… my chauferring services were adequate and now I am dismissed.

For those not in the know a personal kennel escort is one of the most awesome kennel staffers on campus. There is always a lot of talk about the exceptional dogs that come from Canine Companions – but the magic behind all of the dogs are the people of Canine Companions. The graduates, volunteers, staff, and donors make the magic happen. Sabina likes to think that she has staff, and I have to say the pups are treated like absolute royalty – so much so that I think they might feed Sabina’s ego a titch too much. I am sure that she would disagree. The simple truth is that I have NO reservations at all leaving my girl there, because I know just how much she loves all the staff and it is obvious how much they love their charges.

So without much fanfare, just like that she is checked in, and I am left standing there holding an empty leash watching her pretty prance her way into the breeder kennels. Thank you tireless kennel and veterinary staff. I would say to snuggle her for me, but I know that has already happened.

I Knew It Was Only A Matter Of Time

Now that I am 81 posts into this blog (pathetic compared to some of my awesome blogging friends) you have realized one of two things 1) I really am funny or 2) I am blogger who just thinks I am really funny. I am prefer to go with option one. To that end I spend quite a bit of time picking the titles of posts, again because I think I am funny. Guess again.

Yesterday I read one of my favorite blogs Help On Four Legs and I totally cracked up. The title of her post was Take Your Dog Everywhere. That really surprised me and I had to take a second to pause because Alex is a service dog user and I know she would never advocate for a non disabled person to take their pooch to the movies. So I did what I thought a rational person would do and READ her post. Wow – just as I suspected, okay hoped, it was totally not what the title implied. The title was quite funny considering who the author is. Then I read the the article that inspired her post, which was also totally funny, and completely cracked up. It was so funny in fact that I linked her blog to a post I made on Facebook. My status post merely said…

Join the Crowd Learn How To Take Your Dog Everywhere!

 

Let’s get back to the funny part. Look at that title its funny. Maybe it is not funny as a stand alone statement, but it is very funny coming from me. There is no way in hell that I support people taking their pet dogs out into the world to any place that pet dogs aren’t typically allowed. Actually check that, there are some people who shouldn’t take their pet dogs anywhere, permitted or otherwise, but alas I am not in charge of the world.

I am sure that I have already posted about this at some point (or hope I did, in my meager 81 posts) that I just find it morally wrong to do this sort of crap. I leave the perpetrators to deal with karma; unless of course they draw me into a conversation about it or ask me where they can get one of those jackets for their dog. I mean if you open the door I am just compelled, much to Dave’s dismay, to walk right through it. I am not alone in the crusade to stop this practice either.

If you haven’t heard, Corey Hudson, the CEO of Canine Companions, has recently declared war on the sale of equipment, vests, ID cards and the like sold to non service dog users. There are a tumble of terms out there – fake service dog, counterfeit canine, etc. which is not in anyway intended to target dogs who are providing assistance to people as outlined by the ADA. It is; however, specifically intended to target people who take their pet dog, well-behaved or otherwise, slap a service dog vest on it and take it to the Piggly-Wiggly. Yes people do that.

The other thing people do… is apparently not find me funny. (I know right?) I received a couple Facebook PMs from people who couldn’t believe I would advocate and encourage people to take their dogs everywhere. They thought that I knew better. Shame shame on me. Well I can’t tell you how ridiculous that whole thing is and how obvious it is that they didn’t read the post, and missed  just how funny the title was. Very deep sigh. Although I guess I always knew it would just be a matter of time before I made someone mad. Honestly everyone around here is pretty surprised it didn’t happen sooner – or maybe that it doesn’t happen more often.

Apparently it is time for me to take my popsicle sticks and go home.

(See I told you that I am funny – those of you who read the article are laughing your butt off right now, because I just made popsicle sticks funny.)

Renewed

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I have been told that the first time is always the best, the first thrill, first love, first “fill in the blank” is the best. That the euphoria and excitement that comes with the first can never be recreated. I am not sure about all of that. I have had a couple firsts that were most certainly so terrible that I made sure there wasn’t a second. What I do know is that we all get tired. Maybe not “climb into bed and not get up for a month” tired but things we do in and out can certainly begin to feel and appear lackluster after a while. They most certainly lose the rush or glamour that came with the first. Sometimes the tarnish becomes so embedded that the work to polish it off is greater than the cost of just tossing it out and starting over.

I am the all time Queen of I am going to do “fill in the blank”. There is much pomp and circumstance in my proclamation of doing “fill in the blank” and of course gathering the stuff that I am going to need to do “fill in the blank.”  Don’t get me wrong I don’t have to have new or shiny, I am happy to go to your garage sale and buy the stuff you needed for whatever craft or hobby you have now discarded. Still despite all that it eventually falls by the wayside.

After much introspection I have come to realize that it isn’t really doing “fill in the blank” that is attractive, it is the challenge of learning something new, that I love. Take golf for example. I don’t do it. Why? Because you never master golf, you can’t really learn it completely. That and you’re supposed to be quiet and I don’t do that quiet thing well (I don’t fish for that very same reason.) When you have an hour or two and are willing to buy Dave a beer, ask him about all the things that I have jumped into whole heartedly and then once I reach some level of competence move on to the next thing.

Now this isn’t meant to insinuate that I am some super talented master of all of the things I have tried (Not by a long shot.) I am more of a jack of all hobby/crafty trades and master of none. At most you could say that I have mastered the art of being curious and you know what curiosity did to that poor cat. Alas, there have been some constants throughout my life and as of late I have decided that I can find learning adventures in advancing those efforts. Namely photography, writing, scrapbooking, and now you can add being a volunteer for Canine Companions. That certainly has proven to have staying power. In fact I have told them I will stay as long as they will have me.

Yes my friends we are reaching the golden five-year mark in a few short months that Dave and I have been part of this wonderful organization. I am not going to say that it is all fun and sunshine – in fact there is nothing sunshiny about going to puppy class in the rain, having your pup-in-training poop in the middle of the mall, or needing to rush your pup to the emergency vet. However when it is sunshiny it is enough to sustain you, through and well beyond, the occasional heartache that comes in this dog focused life.

Last month I had the privilege  of attending Canine Companion’s Team 2013 Volunteer Conference in Santa Rosa. Team 2013 truly deserves a post all to its self and despite it being out-of-order chronologically I will save that for another day (look there a departure from my regular blogging style – an adventure awaits!). The conference left me excited in a whole new way about Canine Companions – as much as if not more than the first conference I attended. Instead I will tell you about Friday September 20th. It was another first, and it will stick with me for quite a long time.

I was in Santa Rosa and on campus to attend the Canine Companions National Board meeting. While the girls were on the play yard there was a tour group out and about on the grounds. This is not uncommon sight by any means, any member of the public can come on tour day and see the digs, learn more about the mission and organization. (There are five regional centers across the United States – check one out!) This was no ordinary tour – these were people who were in the process of becoming a graduate team. Another first – I had not meet so many graduate candidates at one time, and most certainly not crashed their campus tour.

Dave and I looked on while National Board Member and Graduate Nancy shared her Canine Companions story with the prospective graduates. I am moved every time I hear her speak. To be honest sometimes she breaks my heart. Nancy is a vibrant, exciting, intellectual woman who uses both a wheelchair and crutches. You should see the look on people’s faces when she “rolls” out of a meeting and then is able to stand and transfer to a car. It probably shouldn’t, but it truly cracks me up every time I see people see it.

Anyway something I have heard her say countless times is how she is treated when she is in her wheelchair. I should say how poorly she is sometimes by people when she is in her chair. She will tell you that her service dog opens not only doors literally, she opens doors to people, to communication, to the “normal” world. I know that some people act poorly that way because no one has taught them better, but some people have never tried to learn better either. To them I say – you have just cheated yourself out of the opportunity to meet a pretty spectacular lady.

As we started to depart for the Board Meeting Nancy invited me to talk a little about puppy raising and being a breeder caretaker. Of course Sabina obliged the group by “letting” them pet her (she would have been demanded being pet, had it been her choice.) Soon it became apparent that we had held the group for too long and they had to get on to their individual interviews, another step in the journey to graduate team training.

Many of you know that one of the things I can’t stand in this life is pity. There was nothing pitiful about this group. They were on campus not to be pitied or to receive a dog out of pity. They were there working with what they had and working for independence for themselves or their loved one – whatever that looks like for them. I am guessing for this group a highly trained service dog fit  into their picture of independence. What a great honor to be able to contribute in a small way to someone’s picture of independence.

I have no idea if I might see those people at a future graduation receiving their very own service dog or not. I hope I will. For me they were a visual, real live, reminder of why volunteers do what we do for Canine Companions. My paws are crossed for you Cate-Monster, work hard my snuggle girl. Someone is already out there right now working their way to you.

You Can Never Go Home Again

I remember hearing that you can never go home again when I was quite little and not understanding it because, well we were always going home. Later I realized – duh – you can GO home (as many times as your parents will let you) but home isn’t just isn’t quite the same home you remember. There are a hundred similar examples – cartoons were on longer on Saturday’s when I was kid than they are now, fireworks were brighter and better at 10 years old versus 40, and when I was 12 summer felt like it was more like 3 years, not the three weeks it feels like now.

There has been a little extra spring in my step this week because we get to puppy sit our second puppy raised for Canine Companions – Lucinda and her CCI Skilled Companion friend Wuest. Several people have said “you must be excited that your girl is coming home.” Mmm – well yes and no. You see she isn’t my girl anymore, she isn’t coming home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have said a zillion times on this blog and in person that these dogs have a way of finding themselves in exactly the place. A wise friend once told me it is sort of like being a dentist – some people are meant to be dentists and some people aren’t. Canine Companion pups are just like that – some graduate, some don’t. In Lucinda’s case she didn’t. Instead she went to live with a dog that did, three awesome kids, and a mom and dad who love them all. Every time I see them together I know she is living the good life.

Don’t get me wrong we love her and she is a great dog. It is beyond nice to have her here for a visit. (She is the best bed snuggler ever.) Dave and I crack up seeing her doing her puppy zoomies in the figure eight pattern in the back yard, checking out the cat tree for any stray kitty kibble, and playing with the Bean like they never were apart. However as we get close to the end of our visits I know she is anxious to get back to her family – specifically her kids.

When Lucinda first went for a test run with her now fur-ever family, it wasn’t a unanimous vote to keep her. Eventually Lucinda one over the one little hold out – who is now her biggest fan. Tonight there were some tears when we were saying our good-byes. It almost broke my heart and yet it was filled at the same time. I was sad that one of the sweetest girls ever, who wasn’t sure of Lucinda to start with, who is about to go on a great family trip, was so sad to leave her puppy. But my heart swelled to know that someone loved Lu-Bugs as much as we do – and it is so so very clear that she loves them – maybe more than kibble!

Tonight Lucinda is not at her home, she is a very cherished guest our home.  She can’t come home again – at least not with us – because our home is not her home anymore. Her home is not just the greatest home and family a dog could have, it is the only home for her, it’s where she is supposed to be. Dave and I, and all puppy raisers, can’t ask for more than that.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass…

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If you thought that this was going to be a post about Days of Our Lives – wrong! Sort of…. but it is more like the Days of Puppy Raiser’s Lives.

I was just lamenting on facebook the other day what I am calling the “stealing of summer.” As my friends were posting all of their kiddo’s first days of schools (and one very cute 32nd first day of school of a teacher friend) I was wondering what happened to school starting the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Since when does school start in August – or gasp July? Where is the fun in that? It feels like a waste of the long summer nights that are surely still ahead.

It is these familiar things that mark the passage of time for me. Like Labor Day marks the end of the season of wearing white, Easter means the bulbs are almost blooming and in Sacramento the passing of ground-hog day marks not only my anniversary but also the beginning of the fog. At any rate all of if seems, the older I get, to be whizzing by. That is until you have a puppy enter professional training. To very loosely quote from a very funny running shirt I saw – the passage of time when your puppy is at advancnced training is slower than a turtle running through peanut butter. I am telling you that from the moment you turn in your puppy until that first puppy progress report seems like there is a pebble stuck in that big ol’ hour glass.

Yesterday we turned in Cate our 3rd puppy-in-training for Canine Companions to AT. Before you ask – yes it is hard. In fact it pretty much sucks, but I have learned a few things since I turned in my first pup. Here are the turn-in truths as I know them…

Northwest Region Pups after their Class Picture

Northwest Region Pups after their Class Picture. Certainly not having fun at all.

1) The pups have fun at professional training. Particularly the ones that like to work. Yes professional training is hard, the dogs go through adjustments, and it can be stressful – but they also have fun.

2) The trainers love your pups as much as you do. WHAT?? Not possible you say? I have first hand experience with this – they do love your pups and have a very vested interest in their graduation. I was so sad that no one would snuggle and love the Bean (she wasn’t Mama Bean yet) like we did when we turned her in. Who would know how to make her happy like I did? I mean surely no one would scratch her ears just right. Wow – was I wrong – see Truth #3….

3) Your pups love their trainers too. I have posted about this before, the pups love their trainers and that is pretty much the puppy raiser’s fault. Puppy raisers who uber socialize their pups and trade with other raisers when possible, turn-in great and confident pups who are happy to work for whomever asks. In our case Sabina not only loves her trainer – she loves her more than me. Don’t shake your head, it is true. I have come to terms with it and as long as I stay in her top 5 I am good.

4) This is a necessary step to get to our ultimate goal. It struck me during our last litter that there is someone out their already waiting for a Canine Companions assistance pup even before they are born. We puppy raisers do a great job, but nothing compares to the training they get from the Canine Companion trainers. Bottom line there is only one way to get to graduation blue – professional training.

Cate "testing" out her mama's breeder scarf. Doesn't she look good in it?

Cate “testing” out her mama’s breeder scarf. Doesn’t she look good in it?

5) They end up where they are supposed to be. I have yet to see a Canine Companions pup end anywhere except where they were meant to be. This, like many things, is not always something we are happy about or even understand. Our second pup Lacinda didn’t graduate and we were pretty devastated as we had high hopes for her. She is now living with a family that already has an assistance dog for their son. Lacinda is living her dream with a family that loves and needs her. A better place couldn’t be had for her.

Lacinda on her turn-in day.

Lacinda on her turn-in day.

So today there are certainly some sad moments knowing that Cate will most likely not cross our threshold again. However it is exhilarating at the same time. For the next six months we will be on pins and needles waiting for the call about what Cate’s future holds. We know whatever it is we will be proud and happy for her.

Love you Baby-Cates!

Cate and her mama Sabina on Cate's turn-in day.

Cate and her mama Sabina on Cate’s turn-in day.

Epilogue: On February 14, 2014 – VALENTINES DAY! – Cate Monster graduated with the most amazing woman. There was never any doubt that this was the most perfect match. Truly we never know what the future holds for us or our precious pups. I know on that day I certainly received more than I gave, and my heart was certainly made fuller.

Fragile

Hmmm. I am not sure where to begin. I can tell you that I never intended to stop blogging and think quite often – I need to blog this or blog that. Then I started feeling terrible for being so behind, then work got crazy(er), Sabina had another litter, and well life just sort of happened. I kept feeling guilty for not blogging and would have some great idea for a post, but would think – how to do explain the absence. Finally I decided that I just need to blog and that resulted in at least another month trying to figure out how to start blogging again. Do I just apologize for being gone, do I do a ton of back dated posts because goodness knows I have a ton of material.

All the while I trying to figure this mess out I realize how much I miss blogging. I actually have two other blogging ideas but then think if I can’t do one about my first love and passion how can I manage anything else.  The voice in my head has the  conversation that goes “well if brings you that much joy you would make time”, “if it is that important you would make time”. Sometimes I hate that other women who lives in my brain, and wonder why can’t she ever use her indoor voice? Really shouting isn’t necessary. And then she starts up again going on about how I used to make time, then my mind (and other voices start in) and wander about why I don’t make time if it is sooo important?

Then Thompson died. You don’t know about Thompson. I was supposed to be blogging about him. He was our 4th puppy raised for Canine Companions, a Sabina puppy from our last litter. Um yeah – you don’t know about the T litter either because, well – I wasn’t blogging. After Thompson died we were able to bring him home from the vet to rest eternally at his co-raisers home. But first we brought him to our home so that Sabina could say her good-byes.

I knew exactly how she would react. She came to his side and nuzzled him, she licked him, checked him for life. It was only a few moments before she knew. She walked away, nuzzled me, and then laid down. She came with us as we made Thompson’s final arrangements. It was a quiet and miserable evening. (and that my friends was the biggest understatement of all eternity) The next day we decided – ok my husband decided and drug me out of bed – that a quiet day at the beach was the gateway back to the new normal.

That day and the days that followed I was a hot mess, and I am not ready to blog about it. As I was pulled through that most horrible day and all the days that have followed, by our friends and family, I thought that sitting down to blog would help me get to my new normal. Unfortunately his passing just sort of threw another wrench in the plan and created a whole new set of issues about how to kick-start this blog again. So these pages sat for another week or so.

Then tonight I learned of the passing of a very vibrant woman who is new to my life. She has left behind a beautiful family including a young daughter and I for one can not find a single reason for it. As I was sending out a message to our local volunteer chapter I was struck by the fragility of it all. Everything: relationships, life, puppies, children, hearts, china plates, peace in the middle east – everything is fragile.

This re-realization of the world’s fragility does not want me to retreat or live in a bubble. It makes me want to be bold, to not waste a moment. I want to live like Thompson and all puppies do – for the now. That day at the beach Sabina had a ball. She basked in the warm sun, tried to dig a hole to China, and chased the surf. I think that human hearts, at least my heart, will take more time to heal than Sabina’s – but she reminds me that it is okay to accept what we can’t change and honor the life we are given by living it to the fullest.

This blog is part of me living to the fullest. I am not sure how things will unfold exactly, but I am no longer worried about “fixing” my absence. I just want to get back to why I started – to share this crazy journey of puppy raising, raise awareness of Canine Companions, and have some laughs along the way. I am back – blogging to the fullest.