Sunday, May 16, 2010

Divinity. It's more than a fudge recipe.

CCI May 2010 Graduation
We attended the spring graduation ceremony for Canine Companions for Independence on Saturday. (My experiences at the Feb 2010 CCI graduation are here .)  Another wondrous day of making new memories and new friends. The stuff of life.

I'm not a devotee of luck or fate, but I do have a healthy appreciation of the divine touch when a big dose of awesomeness gets dropped in our laps. A little story to illustrate . . .

We made it to the graduation a bit early. By early, I mean as navigator I kinda overestimated the time to drive to Columbus, so we showed up an hour before things were to start. Could have easily chalked this one up to yet another goof-up on my part, but if we showed up later we would have missed out on meeting someone very special. 

A bit of backstory first. The last CCI puppy we raised, the lovely Inga, finished her six months of advanced training and so was involved in the team training sessions for this graduation class. In the end, however, she was not matched with anyone as a Service Dog, Skilled Companion or Facility Dog. This is not good news nor bad news. It's just news, really. Inga will stay at the North Central Regional Center this summer, then rotate over to the next team training scheduled for August. A moment of reflection on my part to deal with the disappointment, then moving on to fantasies of handing over the leash in three months. It's ok, I'm good with it now.

So, we show up in Columbus with an obscene amount of time to kill. Just walking around aimlessly at the conference center, while trying to not look like we're doing exactly that. The very first person we encountered was a young mother with her son, David. As we introduced David to Micron and Micron's ever-enthusiastic tongue, the mom told us about the service dog that David was matched with as a Skilled Companion. Of the eleven dogs in the selection process, the mom felt a connection with two dogs, who happened to be littermates. As the week progressed, she started to feel this connection get stronger with one dog. She thinks, please let this be the One for David. 

David graduated on Saturday with Irina as his new Skilled Companion Dog. The very same dog the mom sensed to be the partner for her son. A perfect, blessed match. And not a match made by dumb luck; this kind of life changing beauty is no accident of fate.

What I love about this story? Irina and Inga are littermates. Through Inga and Irina, we are refreshed with new hope. We are inspired by a young mother doing the best and beyond for her child. This was one of those in-your-face moments for a puppy raiser - to see first-hand just how these dogs impact lives. 

Did we raise a future service dog in Inga? I don't know the answer to that yet, but I feel pretty good that we sure gave it a heck of try.

And speaking of the lovely Inga
Another puppy raiser asked if I would be stopping at the regional center to see Inga while we were in the area on Saturday. I don't know, I say. Probably not. Why not, he wanted to know.

Why not, indeed. Why was I so hesistant to see the pup I raised; was it fear? Afraid she wouldn't recognize me? Afraid I would find her miserable and unhappy? Maybe it would be upsetting for her to see me. Or too hard for me to see her and not take her back home? It's been six months since I've patted her ornery head.

Oh for goodness sake, what the heck is the matter with me? I'm stronger than that. We're not talking about delicate flowers here, this dog and me. Time to take a deep breath of reality, cowgirl up and drive up to the center.

And wow. Sometimes it's good to be wrong. Inga is happy, healthy and totally in love with the staff at the center. We got in some puppy hugs and I ended up with a pound of yellow fur on my clothes for old times sake. 

Inga's nose has gone completely dudley. The pic at the top of the post shows her mature features as she crams a goughnut into my camera lens.

This next shot shows her catching up with Derek on her latest acts of derring do.

And here's Inga going all T Rex on a levitating goughnut.

How can you give them up?

It's a question a CCI puppy raiser hears a lot, but not an easy thing to answer. We take in these furry little carpet stainers at eight weeks old. We feed, train, groom and socialize for the next 14-16 months, then return the pups to CCI. How can you give them up? With a lot of pride and a box of tissues is a quick quip, but that doesn't capture the essence of what a puppy raiser truly feels.

What follows is authored by fellow CCI puppy raiser, Elizabeth Holman, who has successfully put into words what is so difficult to say. Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to share your thoughts here.

"How can you give them up?" As puppy raisers, if we had a quarter for every time we heard that question we could buy enough toys to keep even the strongest chewer busy for a year. It's always well-meaning people (well, almost always) who marvel at our kindness. I appreciate it - but sometimes I want to ask them to lean in close so I can whisper something in their ear.

Let me tell you a secret: You will say goodbye to everyone and everything you love. It may be soon or it may be a long time from now, but the reality of our existence is that we keep nothing. Many of these partings will be surprises, and many will be filled with tears. As puppy raisers, we have given ourselves a great gift - we give our puppies up to life.

We know exactly when we will say goodbye. We pass their leash to loving hands and watch them walk off, tail wagging, to an exciting new world. We know they will be cared for by people who love them (nearly!) as much as we do. We know they will discover their joy in working with one special person, or be released to find their heart's home. They come to us as little squirmy sparks of life, and after watching them grow we say farewell when they are young, strong, and on the verge of new adventures.

So don't pity us or admire us as puppy raisers for being strong enough to give them up. Envy us for being lucky enough to give them up in precisely the right way.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oxymorons and other oddities

There was some buzz this past week in one of the CCI social networks about the logic behind puppy naming. Since the moose I'm raising is tagged with the moniker of Micron (irony, anyone?), I found this a pretty interesting conversation string.  Some highlights I think worth sharing . . .

Each litter from Canine Companions for Independence's exceptional breeding program is assigned an alphabetic letter. Micron is from the "M" litter of nine pups: Mars, Madden, Marlena, Marco, Madias, Miwa, Meryl, Molina. Because of the number of successful litters, it can present a challenge to come up with unique names. Our last pup, Inga, is is fourth pup to be named such, making her official CCI name Inga IV.

Name suggestions are submitted by puppy raisers, breeder caretakers, donors and others within the CCI community. Some lucky folk are honored by having a dog named after them. Micron's brother Madias is named after the breeder caretaker of their litter. Of course I think it would be amazing to have a super intelligent service dog strutting around with my name, but I do admit to mixed emotions on that one. I kinda cringe at the thought of my name associated with a puppy puddle on the kitchen floor, you know?  Oh, Donna. Baaad girl . . .

We've all heard this bit of advice: before naming your baby, try yelling the name out the back door a few times. A name might look good on paper, but maybe not as great when screaming at your kid to "get your butt outta the neighbor's tree, Kal-el!" (Earth calling Nicholas Cage. Time to come back from Kryton and name your kids something that won't get them beat up in middle school.)

Ok, reality check. We're not talking about naming kids something hippy dippy like a comic book character. These are future service dogs; professionally trained and highly skilled. Not only is it ok to tag them with unique names, it's appropriate. These dogs stand levels above the average pet; their names should reflect this as well. 

Some of the CCI pups I've encountered in my circle of activity have been Wallaby, Kel, Naoko, Dreamer, Yahtzee, Karsen, Harvey, Yaz, Inez and the newest one I'll be meeting in a couple of weeks - a little black pup named Red.

Some other notable names of recent pups are Beatrix, Pavlov (got drool?), Patina, Fonzi, Jango, Bliss, Wasabi, Truman, and Bogie. As a long-time owner of labs, I love the pup names of Hoover and Chewy.
To paraphrase a CCI graduate, it doesn't matter to her what her dog's name is. She loves the dog and he loves her. She would proudly call the dog Doo Doo if that were his given name. And after meeting her service dog, people would want to name their own dogs Doo Too. Along that same line of thinking, another fellow said if his dog were named Poophead, he would call him Poopy or Heddy with apologies to no one. Sounds like a healthy attitude to me.

What's that old one-liner -- I don't care what you call me, so long as you don't call me late for dinner? Yeah, that's pretty much the take on puppy names. Guess what the dog really cares about. A clue? It ain't that their name might sound like a body function. (Enunciate now when you say Wizzard.)


I'm including a handful of photos of Micron's busy week. The top shot is when he went with me to the polls on Tuesday to vote on our local issues. Micron was so well-behaved and impressive that a helpful lady thought he was my service dog and asked if I wanted to use the large screen voting monitor. She would even have one of the workers escort me. Micron must have been looking pretty darn good and I probably should have had that third cup of coffee before I left the house.

Lunch hour on Wednesday was a trip to the scrapbook store with my croppin' buddy, Renee.  Here's Micron doing a wonderful down-stay while we shopped. No, I don't think he looks depressed about being there. 

This next shot is Micron trying to get his head around why that box is making such a racket. It's a box o'chicks. Fifty chicks, so I was told. Noisy little buggers. 

Last couple of photos are from Saturday's Furry Skurry in Dayton,OH. Micron was the spokesdog at the Iams booth. He did a fine job showing off his healthy Eukanuba skin and coat.

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