When I received the voicemail from CCI about Jambi, it didn’t even cross my mind that something was amiss. By contrast, it was wholly shocking a year and a half ago when we got a call only eleven days (!!) after Langston had been turned in. We’d been sure he was going to do well in Advanced Training – he was such a pleaser, so smart, so loving. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be the loving part of his personality that would get him dismissed; indeed, he adored and missed us so much, he became crazily anxious not being with us (and, um, got into a fight with another dog and then bit the trainer who stepped in to intervene – oopsies!). It was clear that Lang was meant to be our forever dog and we welcomed him home with open arms.
With Jambi, it was different. We felt in our bones that she was a good egg, that she was cut out for the life of a service dog. Her exceedingly calm demeanor and unflappable nature, her cuddliness and sweetness, her intelligence and desire to please; this dog was going places, damn it! And so when the call came yesterday, it never occurred to me that Jambi had been released – it was far too early for her to have been placed (she wasn’t slated for graduation until February), but surely nothing was wrong.
As I reached the part in the voicemail where our puppy program manager said she had “great news” to tell us immediately, I turned to the girls and told them that I was all but certain that I knew what the news was: Jambi had been selected as a breeder. An hour later, my suspicions were confirmed.
Up until now, I’ve only mentioned that CCI puppies face one of two possibilities: to be released from the program (which the vast majority are because perfection is a very difficult standard) and become someone’s pet, or to graduate and become a working dog in some capacity – a hearing dog, a service dog, an assistance dog, a therapy dog, etc. There is, however, a third possibility. A very small number of pups are selected as CCI breeders, taken out of Advanced Training, and sent off to California, near CCI’s headquarters, to begin a life of leisure (and humping) with a volunteer breeder/caretaker family.
In order to ensure that the dogs are properly and safely bred, that they’re well cared for, and that certain genetic characteristics are passed on from dog to dog, CCI breeds all of its own puppies – Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or crosses of the two. I’ve been saying for over a year now to anyone who would listen (or at least who I thought might be even mildly interested) that I thought it was highly likely that our Beast would be chosen as a breeder. Not only did she have a terrific personality, one I thought CCI might like to, you know, pass along, she was also small for a Lab – something helpful when you’re navigating tight spaces, trying to fit under airplane seats, squeezing onto subway cars, etc. Plus, she’s gorgeous.
Jambi’s most recent progress report reiterated what a fantastic dog she is – attentive, quick, calm, super smart, not easily distractible, not fearful, highly motivated. She was doing incredibly well in Advanced Training, easily well enough to have gone on and graduated… so well, in fact, that they decided that there should be more dogs like Jambi.
Having suspected that this would be her fate long ago, I wasn’t shocked to hear the news. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel conflicted. See, we really really wanted her to become a service dog. That’s what makes it all worth it – the training, the pooping in the middle of stores, the heartbreak of growing close to her only to return her. The idea that Jambi could someday change someone’s life makes it all worthwhile.
If she can’t, however – if she’s just not cut out for it – then flunking out didn’t seem to be the end of the world, especially since we’d planned on her going to live with my sister-in-law (and new brother-in-law; more on that soon). She would be in a loving home! She would be with people who would continue with her solid training foundation! We could still see her! These did not seem like such bad options.
To have neither feels a bit… hard. Jambi didn’t quite make it. She’s not coming back. We’ll probably never see her again, ever. Sure, she’ll be with a new, doting family – but will they appreciate her adorable grunting noises the way we did? Will they love the velvety feel of her perfectly cold, wet nose? Will they know that she lives for ice cubes and will come running the moment she hears one jostling about in the freezer?
And then there’s the whole breeding thing; it just seems so impersonal. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am with a guy she’s never even met, whose butt she’s only just begun to sniff – what if she doesn’t like it, this mating thing? And then when she’s pregnant (but she’s so young!) and uncomfortable and has squalling puppies all around her, pawing at her and nipping – what if she doesn’t really enjoy being a mom?
It’s not easy when your babies grow up and fly the coop and get knocked up all within the space of a few months!
With our first CCI dog, Diamond, I actively hoped against her becoming a breeder; it wasn’t helping enough; it felt like all of the time and effort and love we’d put in would go to waste. I preferred that she flunk out than become a breeder. This time around, I no longer held those views. Maybe it was having worked with CCI longer and seeing how important all of the dogs are, maybe it was seeing two of our pups get released, or perhaps it was because I’ve had the feeling for so long that Jambi would be selected as a breeder. Whatever it was, I wasn’t hoping she wouldn’t be bred, so receiving the news wasn’t the punch in the gut it would have been a few years ago.
And, when you think about it, being chosen as a breeder is actually a pretty fantastic thing. CCI hopes that Jambi will have 5 or so litters, which amounts to 40 or so puppies. It is essentially impossible that none of those puppies will go on to become service dogs, and far more likely that several – maybe even a dozen – of them will. That means a whole lot more people’s lives will be forever changed for the better than if Jambi had become a service dog herself. (And they’ll be damned cute, too.)
If changing lives is why we raise CCI pups, it seems that we’ve hit the jackpot with this one.
Nevertheless, it’s still hard. Even though we know that this is a wonderful thing, a true honor, it’s still not what we’d originally hoped would happen, and changing emotions on a dime isn’t really my strong suit. (Unless I happen to be watching a good Budweiser commercial, in which case I can go from smiling to sobbing in a matter of seconds.) Knowing that we won’t get to see her again hurts. Wondering how she’ll take to being an incubator is tough.
But I’m going to look on the bright side. With luck, her new breeder/caretaker family will be amenable to connecting with us through digital media so we can watch her grow, be a part of her pregnancies, and ooooh and ahhhh over her new puppies. My mother-in-law pointed out that Jambi’s exceedingly sweet and adoring nature means she’ll probably be a tremendous mama. And, if we play our cards right, down the road we should be able to raise one of Jambi’s puppies as our next CCI dog — which is pretty freakin’ incredible.
And so, to Jambi… We knew you were destined for great things, Beast! We miss you so much, but this is such awesome news; you’ll be amazing and will bring such joy into so many other lives. And if we ever make it out near you in California, I expect an uncontrollable full-body wiggle as a greeting, deal? Deal.