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Before I began volunteering with Canine Companions for Independence I was the leader of a motley pack of labs Puck, Boz, and Angel. First we adopted Puck as a six-week old puppy from the Ft. Bragg (California) Humane Society.

We hadn’t ever, as married couple or adults, had a puppy of our own. I had no idea such a little pup could a) do so much damage and b) change my life in so many great ways. A few months into having her we (Dave will tell you I as in me Wendy) decided she needed a friend. We adopted Boz from a pet store adoption event. He was the love of my life. Several years later a coworker needed to re-home her nine-year old dog. Finding no takers and to avoid her going into a shelter we took her temporarily to find her a good home. That turned out to be our home and she lived for seven more years.

I think shelter dogs are the most wonderful dogs on the planet. I truly believe that they know they are getting a second chance and are grateful for their new homes. You can roll your eyes, but I truly believe that. Puck, Box and Angel have all long gone across the rainbow bridge, and while I miss them terribly I would have done it all again despite the painful endings. My life was certainly enriched by loving and being loved by this crazy crew.

These days my home is populated by more labs, golden retrievers and crosses of the two. I am not just a Canine Companion volunteer puppy raiser but – GASP! – I am a breeder now as well. Yes, I intentionally bring little puppies into this over populated pet world and since it is about to happen again. I wanted to tell you why.

Canine Companions for Independence, as do many other reputable service dog organizations, has its own breeding program. For over 35 years Canine Companions has been overseeing a very successful and healthy breeding program. Yes some of the dogs are purebred labs and golden retrievers, but most are a cross between the two. Think about it – when you take an extremely healthy even-tempered hard-working lab and breed it with an extremely healthy even-tempered people loving golden you get a pretty awesome dog.

Breeders are selected for a variety of reasons: temperament, aptitude, health, and blood lines are a few. Canine Companions also breeds with other service dog organizations to ensure ongoing quality. Being a service dog is serious work, and we want the best possible dog for the job. Probably most important though is that you know their whole story, from start to finish. We know everything about these dogs from the moment they are born till the time they leave this world, and everything in between.

BozzyBoy (Boz) was the most gentle wonderful dog I have ever known. I often think that he would have made a great service dog, and if he was born into the CCI program he may have been. But he wasn’t it and showed. Boz had only been with us for a few months when Dave and I had an argument. We have been married for over twenty years and it happens from time to time. Boz was beside himself, he kept pacing in between us and finely bared his teeth at my husband. Yep, a full blood, pure bred lab (we had the paper work from his previous owners) bared his teeth. He also had a HUGE aversion to anyone touching his feet.

We met his first “parents” at the adoption event. They told us how wonderful he was, they seemed devastated that they couldn’t take him when they moved, they cried when we left. When we went to the parking lot he stopped at a truck that must have been theirs. After the teeth baring incident I called his previous vet because we were told that he once had an allergic reaction to vaccines and I wanted to get the records for our vet. The vet was pleasant, asked how he was doing, and finally asked in a lowered voice “has he bitten anyone else?” WHAT!??!! Um – no, why do you ask? The vet placed me on hold to go in to her office and that is when I learned Boz’s real story.

The vet staff suspected that he lived in a home of domestic violence and had been abused himself but never could really prove it. It was their suspicion that the male owner stomped on his feet as punishment and even broke his foot once. They couldn’t prove abuse as the story was plausible and the woman corroborated. Then finally one day an animal care officer called to get his records, it seemed that Boz had bitten the male during a serious attack against the woman. She went back to him, and they placed Boz up for adoption. Quite frankly I am surprised he lived to be placed for adoption.

There was a piece of me that liked knowing he was protective over me, but in my new life I can’t help but think how disastrous it could have been if after Boz was adopted someone tried to make him a service dog. Picture him being placed with a male child who has emotional challenges who might scream, yell, or even hit another family member. Boz absolutely did not have the coping skills for that type of placement, and no one would have known until it was too late.

Puck had, with her litter, been left in a box by the side of the road. She never got over being a little squirrely out in busy traffic on a walk, and sometimes she would startle and bolt. I am an able-bodied woman who could remain standing when 60 pounds hit the end of a leash at full startle speed. Imagine what that would look like if the person on the other end was in a wheelchair. Imagine them being pulled out of their chair and down to the ground as they tried to cross a busy intersection.

Even Angel wasn’t without her issues, seems she really wasn’t socialized like we were told. It took her and Puck many months of hard work to settle into a relationship. Oh and she apparently wasn’t really a house dog or house broken either like the owner said. Did I mention that after having her for six months she developed a seizure disorder and over the remainder of her very happy life she cost us hundreds if not thousands of dollars in medical bills?

I already told you that despite all of that I would do it all again. I loved them dearly, but service dogs they would not make. Service dogs need to be steady – bomb proof – as we call it. They have to be able to cope with things like traffic and raised voices, they have to be medically sound, they have to be the best of the best. While there are probably some dogs in shelters that are up to the service dog test, it is a huge risk. Shelter dogs do go on to have great jobs in therapy, search and rescue, and what I think is one of the most awesome jobs – being a kids best friend.

As I have mentioned before the point of this blog is to help educate people about Canine Companions, hopefully encourage someone to volunteer their time, make a donation, or to help someone make the decision to apply for a service dog; as well as a creative outlet for me.

Now you know why, over the next few weeks we will cover the how. I guess you technically know the “how” part. I guess the next part is really the what part, as in what happens during their first eight weeks of life. I hope that you will share this blog with your friends and families and stay tuned for the adventures of the next baby beans.

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