It was four years ago that I began this journey as a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. On September 5, 2008, we welcomed the lovely Inga into our lives as an eight week old cotton ball. In these mere few years there’s certainly been no shortage of opportunities to learn something new. Always those helpful life lessons on how to do things right.
But you know, there’s the other side of the leash as well.
And today I share with y’all . . .
Five Things I Stopped Doing After Becoming a Volunteer Puppy Raiser
1. Wishing I had three arms
We human beans been granted the brain power to multitask, but frustratingly enough, we’re a little short-handed, so to speak, on the body parts. This was especially apparent to me as a young mom carrying a fussy toddler in one arm and rummaging across the bottom of the purse for enough change to buy Tylenol because anything stronger needed a prescription. How many times did I wish for a third arm those days.
Kid munching on Cheerios in the highchair, dog strategically positioned with maw open like a moat gator catching the crumbs, dinner on the stove, pots soaking in the sink. You know the rest, the phone’s ringing, the man wants your attention for some such thing, and the washer buzzes that the load’s done. Those days it would have been nice to have one hand on a magazine, the other in a delicate grasp of a glass of chilled white. Instead my greatest wish was to have an extra appendage to just expedite the evening.
|Um, speaking of needing a hand here
It’s different now, my mindset on this. Puppy raisers learn to do it all with only one hand free. Oh! Don’t even try to make that dirty, now. Honestly, people. I’m trying to be all serious here.
When folk ask me, would you like me to hold the dog while you do that, I politely decline.
You see, I wonder what it would be like if I actually had limited mobility. With this pup in training, how much can I trust him to hold a command, to stay still by my side until it’s time to move along again? Can distractions be ignored? The best way for me, a fully physically able person, to determine this is to limit my own range of motion in some way.
So, I’m learning. Do you want to leave the pup with me while you go through the buffet line?, asks the Husband. Naw, I say. I’m good. I’d like to walk her near the food and reinforce her self-control.
With the leash in my left hand, I balance the plate and its mounded deep-fried buffet goodness in my dominant right. The pup is at Heel and totally solid. In tune with my movements, she answers every Let’s Go and stops to sit when I pause. We’re like dance partners. It’s beautiful.
Oh ugh, the sour cream is stuck to the spoon. My attempt to give the spoon a sharp shake to dislodge the clotted mass goes terribly awry. The dairy glob takes a right turn at Albuquerque and bypasses my baked potato. Instead it smacks squarely on the pup’s cape. She looks up at me to ask what she should do about this.
Well, I say. Shit. Which I know is totally unacceptable at a buffet. Even Golden Corral, the Wal-Mart of buffets. But in my defense, I kinda forgot myself, not having the previous life experience of slapping sour cream on a dog in a buffet line. How does one react to such things, anyway?
2. Asking my dogs to follow commands
Say it like you mean it, I tell co-workers. He’ll sit the first time. We dog lovers want to be gentle and caring with our furry family members. We want to be kind, we do.
What do the dogs want? Well, consistency is a good start. Ok, we say, you can lie on the sofa next to me, but not if you’re muddy. Yeah, that kind of thinking doesn’t chug well through a dog noggin. And if you want them to sit, you tell them Sit with that tone that makes clear there’s not really an alternative option here. If you ask them kindly to sit and they just stand and look at you, you going to have to ask a second time. Or even a third. By the fourth SIT! with your hand pushing on their butt they will finally plant it. So now your dog knows that he doesn’t have to do anything until you ask four times. And that’s consistency.
So I don’t ask my dogs to do things. I let them know what behavior is expected and what will get them praise and possibly score them a cookie.
An assistance dog must be responsive. These dogs love having a job to do and want to do it well. And we want them to feel good about themselves, after all.
3. Leaving offerings to the food fairy
Did you catch that gaping maw moat alligator mentioned in Number One above? Ah, there was a magical time in my life that I didn’t really clean the kitchen floor all that much. I had a dog.
A friend with small children was lamenting about how her otherwise adorable kids had taken a carton of eggs out to the living room and cracked each one open on the carpet. A dozen eggs!, she cried. How do you even begin to get that out of the carpet?
You know what I’d do? I said, calmly sipping my coffee. I’d just let the dog out there. Better than a wet vac, in my experience. A Labrador would suck every trace of that egg slime out of the fiber, now wouldn’t he?
Oh, but it’s not the same with an assistance pup in training. An assistance dog cannot walk into a restaurant with his handler and be hoovering the carpet all the way to the table. And this starts with the puppy raiser.
With three dogs in the kitchen as I work at the cutting board, food flying everywhere like it has super powers or something. A potato morsel lands next to a dog nose, but no matter. These furries are being trained to ignore food on the ground. Their goodies come from their food bowl or a dog cookie from my hand.
Why didn’t I do this before I was a puppy raiser? Never again will I have a begging dog at the dinner table.
|So, whatcha eatin’?
4. Panic over a torn dewclaw
Or other such small things. Just like kids, the more dogs you have come through your house the more relaxed you get about minor emergencies.
I was a Cub Scout leader for a few years. I’d hear things like, Mrs. Sword! Bobby poked me in the eye with a stick! And I’d ask, Is it bleeding? Still got the marble in your head? You can still see? Then get back out there and play capture the flag, kiddo. Come back if you’ve cracked a rib or something.
Before puppy raising, we just had Jager as an Only Dog in the house. My sister went on a long deserved vacation and I’m keeping the kids for a couple of weeks. The two kids are playing fetch with Jager in the backyard when he gets so excited he somehow rips a dewclaw. Holy cow, but do those things bleed. I try some basic first aid, but the dog has ripped the thing at the root and there’s tissue damage as well. Fine, no prob. Ok, maybe a little bit of a prob. I’m just a bit rattled. I pack the kids and the bleeder in the car (Direct pressure, kids. Elevate that leg). and we head off to the vet for a stitch or two.
|Jager can get a wee bit intense when playing
Problem is, I left all the bloody gauze and smeared blood all over the kitchen floor without nary a note of explanation. The Husband comes home from work to this CSI crime scene. Which one was it, he wonders. The wife, the niece or the nephew? Well, at least I answered my cell phone to What the hell is going on! to keep the police out of it all.
Since then, I’ve taken a Red Cross first aid course for pets. I’ve not had the opportunity to put a dog snout in my mouth to give CPR respirations, but I’m ready for it should the need arise.
With this gig of raising valuable dogs that aren’t even mine, well, I want to do the right thing to keep the furries safe, sound and healthy. I do feel more confident about handling certain canine emergencies. But still hoping to avoid the CPR dog snout thing.
5. Forgetting the camera. Again.
|You just can’t plan for this kind of adorable
A pup in training is a 24/7 photo op. After about a hundred and two times of wishing I had a camera to capture the moment, I finally starting carrying a permanent purse camera. I was thwarted in the attempt to save money by buying an inexpensive model and had to replace the cheap little piece of electronic waste with another purse camera. And for serious stuff, I have my beloved Canon to capture the pretty portrait shots. It’s entirely possible I might have more cameras stashed about the house, too. Theoretically and all.
So, how many cameras do you have, asks the Husband as he observes me pulling equipment out of the camera bag like it’s a circus clown car. Oh, I don’t know, I admit. Isn’t that like asking how many pairs of shoes I have? [sigh] says the Husband.
Raising a puppy is a 24 hour gig. I want a camera to be there for all the adventures.
Awesome isn’t something that you can plan. It just happens.
|That’s it, Micron! Work it!
And in volunteer puppy raising, awesomeness happens a lot.