Saturday, March 22, 2014

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

This weekend, I had the good fortune of experiencing two of my favorite things about raising puppies.

First, the puppy truck.

Puppy trucks are a blast. They come bearing tiny, fluffy, needy little balls of fur. These pups are around 8-weeks-old and are absolute blank slates. They are also a total mystery to the raisers that come to pick them up. All the raisers know is the breed, color and first letter of their new pup's name. It's all very exciting. The pups are presented one-by-one as their names are announced and immediate partnerships are formed. There is a photographer there to capture the first moments of meeting the new charge. There are cheers and a never-ending chorus of "ooos" and ahhs." There are lots of smiles all around.

There are also some tears. Puppies who have passed their evaluation and who are ready to go back to Guide Dog campus also attend the event. Oftentimes, the raisers who are meeting their brand new fluffikins are trading back their very loved, esteemed older pups who they are extremely attached to. It's not easy. Anyone who tells you that it is are lying through their teeth.

Regardless of the bittersweet feelings, attending a puppy truck is always a very positive experience. The new puppies always play on heartstrings, and the returning pups give their raisers a sense of pride, knowing that they have given the dog their best chance and have succeeded with their portion of the training.

Saturday, I attended our puppy truck in Phoenix. The Flagstaff group received two new babies, and transferred one pup to another raiser in California. Our two new puppies are a male yellow lab named Joust and a male black lab named Fernandez. They are unavoidably adorable, of course.

Welcome to CocoPups Joust and Fernandez. We promise you exciting adventures, positive challenges, and unconditional love.

Now for my second favorite element of the puppy raising life - breakthroughs.

Puppy raising is not all unicorns and rainbows. It has it's fair share of pulling-out-your-hair challenges and I-am-all-out-of-patience periods. Breakthroughs are those "ah-ha" moments for you and your puppy. When the dog just starts "getting it." It's when you both start having the most successful communication and every time you increase situational difficulty, the dog responds positively.

Kyra and I hit that this week. She's always been a good dog, but this Just wow. I am so excited at how much maturation I have seen in Kyra.

She has always been a somewhat easily distractible puppy. However, her 9/10 month adolescent phase had more than usual of those times when I wanted to pull my hair out. Birds, balls, leaves, name it and it's been able to break her focus at some point. Loose-leash walking? Not unless she feels like it. Excitability? You betcha.

But as she matures, things have been consistently improving. She is a smart, reliable pup and I've never had any doubts in her. And since we hit her major breakthrough this week, I am in heaven. She is amazing. We've been working extra hard on positive reinforcement using food rewards. This has helped immensely with everything she struggled with. There has been no pulling, very little distraction, and when she is greeted, everyone compliments on how gentle and calm she is and how they can't believe she is just a puppy.

I'm so proud.

Patience pays off profitably with these dogs. Kyra just needs to be treated with patience and encouragement, and she loves to work. We can walk right by screaming children without a reaction. We can sit in a coffee shop for 4 hours and she will lay at my feet and ignore everything else. We can go mini golfing and she won't attempt to chase the balls. An overexcited two-year-old can run straight up to her and she will sit still and calm and let him go crazy in her face. She doesn't relieve without her command.

Is there still work to be done?

Absolutely. There are always improvements, setbacks, mistakes and additional breakthroughs to accomplish. But as Kyra's recall date creeps remarkably closer, she continues to earn the confidence and pride that I continually have in her.

Puppy trucks and breakthroughs. This is what makes my world go round.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Original Hero

I've avoided writing about this for a few weeks now, but I think it's time, especially since writing is a major tool for therapy.

When a dog graduates, puppy raisers have the opportunity to attend graduation and meet the puppy's future partner. It's a really exciting moment when you find out who was matched up with your former little ball of fur. Personally, I'll always remember that first conversation I had with Lori, Hero's partner. There aren't words to describe how I felt when hearing stories about Lori and Hero's first steps, or his little personality quirks that he never grew out. It was life-changing to hear about how Hero gives her confidence, mobility and independence. Yet, all I could imagine was the first time I held Hero in my arms, and I could only picture him as that small, helpless pup.

As I continue to hear about Hero's progress as a guide, that's still all I can imagine. When I hear stories, I picture baby Hero in a big, grown-up harness traipsing along the sidewalk next to Lori. Although I've obviously seen him as an adult dog, that's not the Hero that initially comes to mind. Lori and Hero are a great match and I am so happy that they are together.

There is so much good. Not long ago, Lori shared a story with us in which Hero saved her from an overhead obstacle that probably would have caused a severe head injury. This kind of story is commonplace in the world of Guide Dogs, as they literally save and affect their partners' lives daily. Knowing that Hero is among these canine saviors make everything worth it. Every small issue we ever had raising him, every challenge I ran into with campus life, giving him up - everything.

However, there is also some bad. Developing a lifelong communication with your dog's partner means that you don't only get the stories with the happy endings. You also hear when something is going terribly wrong. In Hero's situation, this has recently been the case. He is in such a good, loving home with Lori, but he has become very sick. The vets are not sure why. He is currently being housed at the Oregon Campus for observation and future decision-making. I won't go into detail, but we're all very concerned.

Once again, all I can see is fluffy baby Hero. When he was just 8 weeks old, he had a spider bite, or some sort of poisonous encounter, and almost didn't make it. I think that this experience made him stronger, more alive, happier even. Hero is an anomaly. I strongly believe that he always will be. I believe he will come out of this and be an even better guide, with an unbeatable attitude.

Whatever happens, however, he will always be my hero and Lori's hero. We will always share that bond and connection. His time with me was short-lived, and although I hope and pray that his time with Lori is 10 times longer, the affect that a dog like Hero can have in such a short time is incredible. He has forever changed both of our lives and whatever is next for him, I believe that he will have an eternal purpose and be an immortal hero.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meant To Be Together

Kyra was never supposed to be my puppy. 

This simple truth was something I was reminded of the other day as I logged on to fill out her monthly report. Actually, my co-raisers and I applied for a male puppy and were matched up with Kyra's brother, Keaton. Due to a very last minute bout with puppy tummy aches, Kyra was placed on the road to Phoenix in his place. 

Baby Kyra gives Hero a kiss on the nose before he gets on the puppy truck. 
She is so thoughtful.

Thinking about being a different puppy's raiser is rather unsettling. Although I am sure that Keaton is just as wonderful of a dog as Kyra is, life without Kyra is something I don't want to consider.

I feel like each puppy we are given to raise has it's own special duty. Although the puppy is OUR charge and OUR responsibility, I am pretty sure that the pup doesn't see it that way. I think that the puppies see us as their first human project. I know it sounds crazy, but these dogs know that they were born to change lives. And whose lives do they change first? Those of their puppy raisers.

My first puppy, Hero, taught me perseverance, selflessness and responsibility, and was always there for me emotionally. Kyra has shown me true patience, unconditional love and bravery. It's amazing what you can learn from a dog. Each have their own unique personality and their own special place in our lives.   

(Okay, so I know this is a little different than my usual blog, but bear with me here – this is going to get deep.)

I think that this whole principle has taught me a lot about human relationships, too. Just like each puppy has its own purpose in its raiser’s life, each human companion we come across has its time and place as well. The puppies that we raise form us into who we are, develop additional connections with those around us, and never fail to throw in a life lesson on the side.

Relationships do the exact same thing.

Long story short, there is a reason for everything.

When I got the call that I wouldn’t be receiving Keaton, I was very nervous. I wasn’t sure how I would do with a female puppy and overall I was just stressed that plans had changed so last minute. I didn’t know it at the time, but Kyra was the exact puppy I needed at this time in my life. Even though raising her is full of its ups and downs, without her I wouldn’t be the same, I wouldn’t have met the people I have this semester, I wouldn’t have taken the paths that I’ve gone down since last May.

Why would I choose to change a thing?

Well, I wouldn’t. I also wouldn’t change any of the relationships that have come and gone in my lifetime. Just like Kyra and Hero have left their own pawprints on my heart, those I’ve been surrounded by have left their own unique mark on my life.

Letting go of Hero broke my heart, but the little bit of pain I experienced giving him up didn’t even begin to touch the joy I continue to live remembering our partnership and the pride that I feel knowing that he is changing lives just like he knew he would. I’m overjoyed that he allowed me to be his practice human.  

Someday, when I meet Keaton, I will personally thank him for not being ready to get on that puppy truck. I love my Kyra-bear to death, and even though I know she is only with me a short while, I wouldn’t trade this time with her for the world. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

As Kyra Grows

It’s been awhile – sorry to all of those who are eagerly awaiting Kyra and Hero updates. Well, let’s start with Kyra.

So, Kyra accompanied me on my trip back up to Flagstaff and was, of course, a sweet, loving puppy the entire ride. I was concerned that she would struggle with a long ride at such a young age but she was fine. We had to pull off a couple times when she became fussy and obviously had to use the bathroom, but overall she just wanted to cuddle.

Once we got to Flag, it was time to drop her off with our co-raising family: Dave, Lisa and Andrew Foss. Let me just pause in my Kyra anecdote to mention this amazing family. The Fosses have raised two puppies that are now working Guides: Kent and Fresno. And then they stepped up and raised Hero for about 5 months before he went back to school. Long story short, I couldn’t do any of this puppy raising thing without them and I am so grateful that we are raising Kyra together. My Guide Dog family is amazing!!

Anyway, Kyra meets her other family and it is obviously love at first sight. She loves them and has the best of care. Which is great, because soon after we dropped her off, it became apparent that she had a female issue that was causing all her weird peeing episodes. The Fosses were awesome in dealing with that, and I am happy to report that Kyra is now a completely healthy, happy puppy on the road to being potty-trained.

During the past two weeks, I’ve seen Kyra twice at our weekly meetings. She is growing so much and is learning quickly! I think that she is an incredibly smart and observant pup. She knows sit (when there’s food involved) and is becoming very responsive to her name. She is still very eager to please and loves attention and cuddling. It is impossible to not love her. I am so excited to watch her grow!

My weekly update from Dave mentions that she is doing quite well with housetraining, has no problems with the stairs, is being introduced to her Gentle Leader, behaves well on a tie down, has good leash behavior for her age, and climbs in a car by herself. He also referenced to her many quirks, including her confusion at whistling, her tendency to get wild when she’s sleepy, and how she likes running water and eating ants.

I’ve noticed that Kyra has an essential level of confidence. Nothing fazes her. Everything is new and exciting and she explores without a fragment of fear. She is so curious and willing to learn. She loves other dogs and plays really well. Kyra loves to play tug-of-war with the older dogs and doesn’t nip on them as much as the typical puppy. She also loves people and becomes strongly attached in a short amount of time. When she takes food from our hands, she is very gentle and patient – only using her tongue and not stretching for the treat. Overall, I think Kyra will be known for her giant personality in her tiny body.

As for Hero, he is still in Phase 0. I don’t know much about him, except that he has recovered from being neutered and is very happy, as we would all expect. I miss that dog every single day but I can’t wait to watch him change the world and live up to his name. 
Hero in his training days with CocoPup Salsa, now in Phase 6 of training!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Kyra's First Adventure

Kyra's personality emanates from her tiny body every minute. Today was a fun day for the little trooper! She slept through the whole night without any crying, although we awoke to a small accident. And then it's play, play, play...especially when she spots Buster.

Buster and Kyra bonding.

After sufficient play time, we went to Kyra's first puppy meeting this afternoon. She was passed around from person-to-person, and ignored the other dogs and distractions around her. I have no doubt this little puppy is going to be both fun and challenging to train! After the meeting, we stopped at PetsMart, Trader Joe's and Macys, all accompanied by a lovely pup in our arms. Kyra is very affectionate, and loves to be held. 

Kyra cuddling in the car.

Kyra is doing much better in the crate. We are now rewarding good crate behavior with food, which is doing wonders. She's very apprehensive about many things, the crate and the car being the toughest. Lots of praise and food rewards will do the trick with this one. 

Kyra showing her ferocity with the Jolly Ball. 

Playtime with Kyra is an adventure in itself. She is gentle, but loves to play tug and hop around clumsily after Buster. She's just a little bundle of happy, and it that way she reminds me of Hero. It doesn't take long to attach.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The First of a New Chapter

Hero and Kyra meeting for the first time

Today was the end of my first chapter with Guide Dogs for the Blind, and it wasn't an easy day. Hero was the first puppy I raised to become a Guide Dog and he did so awesome in his first stage of training that he is getting sent back to San Rafael to finish up with formal training and get partnered! And so the goodbyes commence...

We arrived at the meeting place around 1:00 with an unfazed, 14-month-old sweetie who taught me more than I ever taught him. Hero has been the most amazing pup to raise. Always happy, always bringing a smile to everyone's face with his giant personality and jovial demeanor. However, I've always known this moment was coming, and my excitement for his future overtook my apprehension to let him go.

                                          Hero when we first brought him home last June.

Hero was excited to see all the other dogs at the puppy truck, including his sister Hava. Then the parade of puppies begin. It is so awesome watching the new blank slates of puppies get presented to both new and repeating raisers. As raisers, we all think we are changing lives, but in reality, our lives are the ones that are most changed.

And then my name is called. A double-cross golden/lab is presented to me...Kyra. From the very moment she was placed in my arms, I knew I had a completely different puppy.

Being presented with Kyra

So much happiness and excitement in the air!!! But then the tough part comes...Hero is called back to be loaded on the truck. I'm so proud of this little guy! He gets his "ticket" and then jumps right up into the truck, ready and prepared for his new adventure!! And all I want is one more hug. He's going to do so well at Guide Dog school, and he is going to love it - just like every new situation he's been placed in this year.

Hero ready to board...with me a bit more hesitant.

Kyra is a firecracker. SO much personality in a really tiny body. She is much different than Hero was as a puppy, which I expected. Kyra is a bundle of energy and is extremely eager to please. I think she is going to be so much fun to train and to work with, but also a major challenge. She is very clingy and wants to be held all the time, like a toddler. I can also tell that Kyra is very sweet and that positive reinforcement is going to work wonders with her. Just from one day she almost knows "come", and her relieving is awesome! Everytime we praise her she looks so darn happy.

Kyra also has some attachment issues. I am glad the Fosses and I are co-raising this one, because she will definitely benefit from being passed around. She hates the kennel so far, especially if she can't see us. First five minutes in the crate and she had a potty accident. But we're working with it, trying to make kennel time 'fun'.

Kyra's playtime is ridiculously cute. She is SO small and loves to hop around after Buster (our pet boxer). She is also a beast at tug-o-war and can already give Buster a run for his money. However, she is far more people-oriented than Hero ever was. She always runs back to us for approval. 

Regardless of all the differences, I am just overjoyed to once again be raising for Guide Dogs. It's such a worthwhile program and I learn and grow so much through every experience. I know Kyra will be a joy and I am excited to watch Hero progress!!