Worth It Already

Last Friday was one of the best days of our lives. We’d dreamed about it for years – literally, since 2009, when we brought home our first service dog puppy for Canine Companions for Independence. Our first two pups had been released from Advanced Training (flunked out, basically). Our third was accepted as a breeder – a success, but not quite the heartwarming, This Animal Has Become A Service Dog And Will Now Change Someone’s Life moment that we’d imagined.

Then came Fenwick.
fenwick at the vet

After six months of Advanced Training, he’d learned all the skills he could master and, after nearly two weeks of intensive Team Training, he’d been matched with someone in need. He was, indeed, to Become A Service Dog And Change Someone’s Life. Seven years later, we were finally attending the first CCI graduation of a puppy we’d raised.

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Reunited!!

It was almost more than I could handle.

I thought I understood why this was such a big deal. I assumed that Fenwick’s long-awaited placement would be the “reward,” that after a seventeen months with him – obedience classes, vet visits, bringing him everywhere with us, loving him with everything in us – we would finally see our hard work “pay off,” and that would feel great.

Turns out, assumptions really do make an ass out of you and me.

Ten days prior to graduation, we learned that Fenwick had been matched – but we didn’t know with whom. That news was, in and of itself, tremendous. He’d done it. OUR BOY HAD DONE IT!! Whoever he was placed with was surely perfect for him; it was all good.

Three days prior to graduation, however, when we learned that Fen’s perfect partner was a twelve year-old boy… Somehow, that made things seem even more tremendous. A boy – a child – would grow up with a buddy by his side. A child‘s life was going to be different because of Fenwick. That joyous news nearly did me in.

Again, I thought I understood why I was so deeply moved. Children tug at our heartstrings. Children are supposed to be carefree. They’re supposed to play, laugh, run, grow, and dream. They’re not “supposed” to have to deal with the hardships that adults face, whether they be financial difficulties, illnesses, physical limitations, losses, or heartbreaks. When we hear that a child is going through a challenging time, our Not Fair genes kick into high gear and our empathy goes into overdrive.

I assumed that was why I was so moved by Fen being matched up with a young child. But that was only part of it.

On Friday morning, we arrived at the CCI Northeast regional center right at 9:00, which was the earliest we were allowed to meet up with Fenwick. We hadn’t really worried that he’d have forgotten us since February, but seeing him wiggle around with glee at the sight of us and physically knock us over with his exuberance felt pretty great nevertheless. After an hour of hugs, belly rubs, a walk, and making him show off a few of his recently-acquired skills (he totally gave us some side eye when we made him “get” my cell phone off the ground), it was time to bring him to the reception room where the graduate teams were waiting.
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No way around it: I was nervous. Would it be awkward, this meeting of two families who loved the same dog? What if we didn’t have anything in common? How could we convey that we were genuinely thrilled that Fenwick was being placed with them, but we still wanted to hug him one more time? Could we explain how delightful we thought it would be to keep in touch, without it seeming stalker creepy?

And most important: What if they didn’t like us?

After a few deep breaths, we entered the room and found G and his mom almost immediately. There were introductions and polite greetings until G’s mom and I got to one another. Rather than accepting my handshake, she held her arms out for a hug. I was so relieved and grateful, I thought I might sink right into the floor; and then, as our arms encircled one another, she whispered, “I can’t thank you enough for doing this.”

The tears that had already escaped a few times that morning let fully loose; I pretty much didn’t stop crying for the next five hours.

All of our concerns and anxiousness disappeared the moment we began talking with G and his mother (her sister was with them as well, and equally lovely). They were nice! They were funny! Our kids are six months apart in age! They like books and Star Wars! Best of all, it was readily apparent that Fenwick and G were crazy about one another, and that this was exactly what Fen was born to do: be with G. We never felt awkward or uncomfortable; they could not have been more gracious about the “we love the same dog” thing.

The 90 minute brunch absolutely flew by as we exchanged life stories, Fenwick stories, ate scrambled eggs and cake, traded mementos and gifts, looked at Fenwick photos and videos, and generally took one another in. It was a bit mind-bogglingly awesome to think that what connected us was a yellow furball asleep at our feet.

Things were going just about as well as I could have hoped when G’s mom explained how she’d sought out CCI in the first place: because she knew that G needed help, and a service dog was a way to obtain that help. As was said during the graduation ceremony, Fenwick provided G with “the bridge between ‘I can’t” and “I can” (and is) “the friend (he) can always rely on.”

All at once, what had been light and happy became substantially heavier and more meaningful. Fenwick’s placement with G opened up avenues and possibilities in G’s life that, two weeks prior, had only been hopes and wishes. Within the span of mere days, and embodied in one furry being, G’s entire life had changed. While I had considered all of this before in some capacity – it’s why we started with CCI in the first place – seeing it right in front of me was more affecting than I can describe.

While this is true for every graduate, from eight years old to eighty, and is why what CCI does is so incredible, hearing G’s mom describe how the life of her son was changing drove everything home. Yes, my heartstrings had been tugged because G is a kid and kids aren’t “supposed” to have to go through the hard stuff, but now I saw things through G’s mom’s perspective. She had been searching for answers to help make things better for, easier for, open possibilities for her child – and BAM! all at once, those wishes came true… in a four-legged pup. As a mother, I cannot imagine anything more significant or worthwhile.

With comprehension finally dawning, I felt like the Grinch with his suddenly three-sizes-larger heart; no joke, my heart literally felt bigger, spreading a warmth throughout my chest that lasted all day.

When we’d learned that Fenwick and G were to be matched, I’d gleefully announced their pairing on Facebook. A wonderful friend of mine commented on the post that it was a “full circle moment… Such a great example of the love you showed him!” I had never considered it in that way but before instantly latched onto the idea. For all of those months, through those vet visits and grocery store trips and Target candle aisle mishaps, through nights snuggling close and days romping about, we were loving on Fenwick with everything we had. That love was stored up inside of him – and maybe even made him just a wee bit more awesome (I mean, we’re pretty cool) – and now he was able give that love back to G.

Mic. Drop.

IMG_0539One last hug for Fenwick at graduation before we turned over the leash…

I’ve written before about how raising CCI pups changes lives… most significantly, our own. I’ve also written about how it’s pretty much awful saying goodbye and turning the pups in for Advanced Training. Through it all, I’d assumed that, if one of the pups made it and became a service dog, it would have been worth it.

The more the girls, Nick, and I talked, the more we understood that the joy of Graduation Day – and all it means – so far eclipses the sadness of Turn In day, there’s no comparison. Fenwick becoming a service dogs wasn’t the reward (although, don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the most incredible things that’s ever happened in my life).
Raising him was, in and of itself, the reward.

Fenwick has taught us – and our girls – more about what it means to love, to give fully, to believe, to hope, and to dream than most people ever will. We couldn’t teach Annie and Ella those lessons on our own if we spent our lives trying; raising CCI pups does it for us. Saying that it was an honor to have raised Fenwick, and then to have seen him pass that love and those hopes and dreams along to G is an understatement; our Grinch-grown hearts are so full with pure joy, they are nearly bursting.

I’d worried that saying goodbye to Fenwick for the final time would be tough. Turns out, it wasn’t at all; he’s doing what he’s meant to do and we’re so thrilled him and G, sending them off was happy and hopeful.

Plus, we had our own CCI furball waiting for us at home… With another year to pour love into her, just imagine the possibilities…

IMG_6447This face definitely makes things worth it. Dirty… but worth it.

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It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

It’s been eight hours since we said goodbye to Fenwick and returned him to CCI for Advanced Training. It still feels pretty miserable. It will for a while.

This, we knew. Since Fenwick was the fourth puppy we’ve raised for CCI – and, thus, the fourth to whom we’ve said farewell, holding our broken hearts delicately in our hands while reminding ourselves of why our heartbreak is so very worth it – we knew that this part would suckfen turn in6
Fen was super patient during the matriculation/graduation ceremony.

After four times through, we knew what to expect (more or less. All dogs have their own awesome personalities and quirks – like, for example, pooping next to the candles in Target…). We were prepared for the early sleepless nights and razor sharp teeth. We’ve got the moving-of-the-dog-gates down to a science. We were psyched for Fenwick to bond with our CCI release dog, Langston.
fen sleeps on lang
WHY DO DOGS DO THIS? HOW DO THEY EXPECT ANYONE TO ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING WHEN THEY ARE EXHIBITING SUCH CUTENESS?

Side note: we were not psyched for Fenwick to bond with our Old Man Dog, Joey, because in his 13 years of life, Joey has bonded with exactly nobody… But, hey. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks.
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Three dogs… one bed. Somehow, the math works.

We were ready to answer the gazillions of questions that we get asked when we’re out in public, to smile when toddlers run up to Fen before their parents could stop them, to hear strangers’ stories about their own dogs. (Those are my favorites, truly.) We were prepared to love this dog with everything in us for seventeen months and then tearfully return him to be loved by the incredible CCI trainers, knowing that our fragile hearts would slowly fuse back together again with the hope that he could change someone’s life.

What we were not prepared for was one of our daughters falling equally in love with this dog… nor for her heartbreak when he had to be turned in.

From practically Day One, Annie and Fenwick took a shine to one another. fenwick arrives13
fenwick plays

Wherever Annie went, Fenwick would follow. Sometimes, he’d try to get her to play with him. Other times, he’d simply curl up at her feet and wait for her to finish whatever she was doing. Either way, he just wanted to be near her.

The feeling was mutual.
annie and fenwick

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In addition to wanting to hang out with Fenwick, Annie wanted to help. Sure, Ella could be counted on to feed Fen in a pinch, to go for walks with us, or to give him some gigantic hugs… but it was Annie who really felt that assisting with Fenwick was her responsibility, one that she was proud to have.

She brushed him and helped bathe him. She fed him and worked with him on his commands in the living room. She came to obedience class with me and gladly took Fen’s leash when we went for hikes. If I asked the girls if they’d like to take the pup with us to a store or restaurant, it was Annie who piped up, “Yes!” first and Annie who asked to take his leash and guide him.

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At the grocery store…

fenwick with annie at the y
… and the YMCA.

All of this time together made them the best of buds. Sometimes, upon hearing something unusual in another room, I’d discover that Annie had her head close to Fenwick’s and was sharing secrets with him. When they didn’t know I was looking, I’d catch them loving on one another, full stop.
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Bedtime kisses…
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… and kitchen kisses.

Over the last month or so, Annie had requested that Fenwick sleep in her room (we’re required by CCI to have the dogs sleep in one of our rooms at night; we were happy to oblige). Every night, Fenwick would eagerly trot into Annie’s bedroom and curl up on his dog bed, at the foot of Annie’s bunk.
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And every night, when I’d check on her several hours later and let Fenwick out one last time, I’d find him on her bed, curled into her as tightly as he could.IMG_3825

When I say that Fen and Nini were the best of buddies – I mean it. Which made his return today more difficult than I’d ever imagined.

It’s one thing to break your own heart, knowing it’s for a greater good. It’s another to show your children how to survive a broken heart – how, sometimes, sadness is not only okay but necessary in order to achieve joy in the end. It’s another thing entirely to realize that your own child’s heart is breaking. No matter how important the “lesson” is, no matter how much good you believe you’re doing… seeing your babe’s anguish as she struggles to let go of something she adores – knowing there’s nothing you can do to make it better or speed along her recovery beyond acknowledging how much it hurts – is really just awful.

Even when you’re doing the right things, parenting can be so damned hard.

Matriculation and graduation went just as they should today. Fenwick was cool as a cucumber throughout the 90 minute ceremony. Annie walked him across the stage when we got our certificate. We awwwed over the ridiculous cuteness of the other dogs and cried tears of the most joyful joy as we saw the current graduating class be placed with the dogs who were providing them with new hope, new dreams, new lives.

As one of the commencement speakers said, today was (their) independence day.
It’s hard not to feel pretty inspired and awesome after hearing that.fen turn in5
How can you not just melt into a puddle when you see dogs like this during a graduation ceremony? YOU CANNOT. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

With graduation over, we took Fen back to the CCI campus, allowing him some time to meet a few of the other matriculating dogs and run amok with them in the huge outdoor play space.

I hope he’s already made a buddy and isn’t lonely tonight.
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All too soon, it was time to formally turn him in. We gathered to bid him farewell and give him one last hug, lingering for a while as we whispered “Good luck!” and “We’ll miss you!” and “I love you, you goofball!” in his ear.
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Ella giving Fender Bender one final smoosh.

Annie was the last to join. She was hesitating… wanting to stretch the moment as long as possible, to maybe avoid having to say goodbye at all. When, at last, we could wait no longer, she took her turn.
I will never forget that moment.fen turn in

Like all of our other CCI dogs, Fenwick jauntily made his way down the hall and out of sight, eager for his next adventure, never looking back. I wish we could feel the same.

As I wrote when we turned in Jambi (our last CCI pup):

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

I know, through her relationship with Fen, our Nini has already received her return. I know – I hope – some day, she will be grateful for all of these opportunities to change lives… not to mention the opportunity to get to know these wonderful dogs.

I just wish there was a way to help her heart heal a little faster in the meantime.

We love you, Fenwick. Go make that difference!
(Just not in the candle aisle again, please. Thanks.)

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Jumping in with four paws

Last week, I was in the checkout line at our local grocery store – with Fenwick in tow – when a good acquaintance got in line behind me. She knew already that we raise service dog puppies and commented about how well he seemed to be doing. After thanking her for her support, I confessed that I was actually so nervous about our visit to the store, my lower back physically hurt from the tension. What followed was a perfectly reasonable question: “What are you so nervous about?”

After considering her question, I listed the reasons, talking nonstop for over a minute. Her eyes widened as she said, “I had no idea there was so much to think about!”

See, a couple of months ago, I was asked if I would be able to bring Fenwick to a local Girl Scout troop meeting; I quickly agreed. We love to promote CCI whenever and wherever we can. Also, I always appreciate having enough time to answer some of the most commonly asked questions (“How can you give the dogs up??” or “What kinds of things do they need to learn?”) as well as dispel some of the more common misconceptions that we’ve encountered (“Oh, poor thing; he must hate having to wear that cape” and “Don’t they ever get to have any fun??” Answer: NO, NOT EVER.)

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Not Having Fun on Christmas Eve. 
Okay, so maybe they were’t having fun – especially Langston – but they’re definitely not serious working dogs all the time.

Plus? Sharing an adorable dog with a bunch of kids? Yes, please!

Once I agreed to attend the meeting, I promptly forgot all about it. I mean, it was on my calendar and in my to-do book and I’d figured out the logistics (pick up girls from swimming, eat dinner in the car, head over to the meeting place) and all that, but I wasn’t really thinking about it, if you know what I mean. Which kinda makes sense because, in the past, each time I’ve brought one of our CCI pups to a “formal” event, the dog has been totally prepped and ready so there’s been little for me to think about, per se.

Fenwick, however… Not so ready.

CCI is very clear with puppy raisers like us: we need to set a good example by only taking our dogs into public places when they’re up to the task. We work hard training our pups but are told not to take them out and about until we receive their “official” capes/vests (when the pups turn five months old, give or take). By then, it’s assumed that the dogs will be house trained, will have learned some basic commands, will walk appropriately on leash, and will behave in a way that, you know, befits a service dog.

I absolutely understand. We need to represent not only CCI but also the individuals who may eventually receive these dogs. The last thing I want to do is take a crazy, nutty furball into the mall, have it wreak havoc on the place, and put a sour taste regarding service dogs in everyone’s mouth.

Hence, we’ve been very careful about only taking our pups out in public when we feel they’re ready to do so. It’s always a gradual thing – first, dashing into the post office to drop a package in the slot. Next, a five minute, middle-of-the-day run to an uncrowded Starbucks. If those go well, maybe we’ll take the dog to the library while we look at books for fifteen minutes. Eventually, as the pup succeeds at each progressively more advanced/difficult task, we work our way through trips to Target, going to restaurants and movies, navigating the grocery store, and even traveling on planes. By the time we finally bring the dogs into school to meet the girls’ classmates, they’re more than good to go.

Fenwick received his official CCI cape in December and we decided to take him with us to a quick meal at Panera the next day. It did not go well. Turns out our little dude was not ready. At all. Pulling on the leash, refusing to sit, nipping at people’s hands, wriggling out from under the table, darting toward every door. We made it through but vowed that it would be a nice long while until he was ready to go out in public again.

Fast forward to a couple of days before the Girl Scout meeting when it suddenly dawned on me that, despite having not gone out in public even once since our disastrous Panera escapade, I needed to present Fenwick to these girls. Not just “present”… but represent CCI in a positive way. And, um, not look like a total schmuck with an unruly service dog.

So, with only a few days left until the Big Reveal, I did the only thing I felt was fitting: I jumped in with both feet. Or four paws. There was no time to slowly help Fenwick acclimate to public outings; I had to know immediately if he was up to the task of meeting these Scouts (’cause if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t bring him — that wouldn’t be helpful for any of us). Which is why I decided that his first foray into the real world would be a trip to the grocery store. Not just any trip, either… My Official Weekly Grocery Run – the one that would take at least an hour (even if the store was miraculously uncrowded) and which would require me to traverse every single aisle of the store and pile my cart with a gazillion items and bags.

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Learning the safest place to sit while the human pays for the groceries.

This was the kind of outing to which you couldn’t pay me to take my ten year-old — yet there I was, my not-quite-six-month-old puppy beside me as I weighed produce and considered the merits of unsweetened-vanilla versus regular-vanilla almond milk. Every step was so tense, I could feel the spasms building in my back.

It wasn’t until my friendly acquaintance in the checkout line asked me why I’d been so nervous that I stopped to consider all that was required for a successful visit to the store – but when I did, I was actually a little astounded at how complex a simple trip to Wegmans turns out to be. To wit:

* Fenwick could have an accident. Obviously, I stopped to have him do his business before we went into the store, but even that’s easier said than done – it can be difficult convincing a dog to pee or poop on concrete or asphalt (Fen’s actually pretty good at this, but you still never know if they’re going to have problems in-store, a la Jambi with the apples, omg…).

* He’d never even seen, much less had to walk quietly and calmly beside, a grocery cart and I had no idea if it would freak him out or not (it didn’t). I also didn’t know if he’d figure out how to walk beside a cart and not pull away or get his paws run over or step right in front of me and entangle me with his leash (he didn’t).

* He – like several of our other CCI dogs – might have wigged out when the automatic doors opened as we entered the store and the warm air whooshed past us and refused to even move (he didn’t particularly like the doors, but he kept walking).

* He might not have liked the smooth floor and decided not to take another step. (Good thing it’s not at all embarrassing when this happens and you find yourself literally dragging your dog across the store as her claws scrape against the tiles. Thankfully, Fenwick didn’t mind.)

* He’d never had food in such close proximity (we keep it away from him at the house), and certainly not fresh, unpackaged food right at his level (helloooo, tantalizing apples and oranges and tomatoes and bananas and every single item in the produce section) and I had no idea if he’d lunge for it or lick it (he did neither).

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Enjoying the attention of the kids at a local ice cream shop following Ella’s chorus concert. He was a big hit AND he didn’t try to eat any of the ice cream. Bonus!

* The number of people at the store, especially in the more crowded areas, could have made him nervous and he might pull on his leash, cower, become hyper, or anything else that demonstrated anxiety (he did seem a little uncertain about the busyness of the setting, but he handled it quite well).

* When people come up to pet him (because they always do, even though he’s wearing his WORKING DOG vest), he might not have greeted them properly; he’s supposed to sit or stand still and calmly allow people to pet him. This can take a lot of getting used to because many of our dogs get excited when people pay them attention. (His furry rump left the ground a few times when people approached him, but a reminder from me got his butt back in gear.)

* He’s mouthy. I don’t mean that he bites or that he’s aggressive, but just that he likes to explore things – and people – with his mouth, licking and prodding with his nose, walking right up to someone and nudging their hand, sometimes gently using his teeth. It’s something that we’re actively working on with him – teaching him appropriate interactions – but it’s definitely a work in progress and I didn’t really want to test his resolve by tempting him with the hands of 392 customers. (He did lick a little but otherwise kept to himself.)

* He might have “forgotten” all of his commands and refused to listen to me, making an ass out of both of us and also potentially getting himself into trouble or danger (thankfully, to paraphrase my girls’ preschool teachers, he used his listening ears superbly).

In short, going out in public with a service animal – especially to large and crowded and sensory-overloading places like the grocery store – requires a heckuva lot of coordination, patience, and thinking. Because Fen is our fourth CCI pup, we’ve got the mental checklist fairly well memorized and we are alert to potential bumps in the road, which certainly helps… but dogs – like toddlers and teenagers – are unpredictable.

In the end, Fenwick did a bang-up job. There are definitely a few things we need to work on, but given that he’s only six months old, that’s more than okay. I knew that he could handle meeting the Girl Scouts and that he’d represent CCI nicely; our visit went off without a hitch!

I don’t recommend that you choose your weekly grocery run for your service pup-in-training’s first big outing, but if you do, I hope your dog does as well as Fenwick and that your back holds out better than mine. And if you happen to see someone out and about with a service animal, maybe take a moment to remember that there’s a lot going on for both the animal and the person with it. If they don’t stop to chat with you or only smile politely when you acknowledge their animal, don’t take it personally; their minds might be occupied making sure that the outing is as successful as possible for everyone involved.

Or maybe they’re just rude, in which case you probably didn’t want to have a conversation with them anyway. No worries; Fenwick and I would be happy to hang out any day.

annie and fenwick
Fenwick and Annie would probably hang out with you, too. When they’re not too busy working, that is… 

 

Settling In

It’s now been three weeks since we got Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, and I daresay things feel distinctly different than when I last posted about him. He’s becoming a true member of our household and raising him is turning out to be relatively easy*.

* I realized I just jinxed myself. Universe, please have pity on me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several reasons why the adjustment to having another puppy around has gone more smoothly this time. To wit, in no particular order:

1) I’m no longer feeling detached, nor keeping my distance. Once I realized that’s what I’d been doing, I decided to knock it off. He’s not Jambi and that’s okay; he’s his own self and that self is pretty fantastic.

2) This face. All day, every day.
fenwick at the vet

3) He still has puppy breath. (And very sharp teeth.)

4) He lets us know when he needs to do his business and then almost always waits until he’s outside to actually do it. THIS IS HUGE, people. Langston had a habit of asking to be let out, peeing like crazy, and then peeing again the instant he got back into the house or was put in his kennel. (Our CCI program manager actually had to ask us not to bathe him so often because it was bad for his skin, so we resorted to hosing him off a couple of times a day.) Jambi went through a lovely stage where she would poop in her kennel at night and not let us know; I’d “discover” it when I’d awaken to use the bathroom and would be overpowered by the stench. So, Fenwick asking to go out and then doing his business outside? GENIUS.

5) Speaking of genius… he’s smart. He totally knows his name, responds to the “sit” and “here!” and “Let’s go!” commands, and has mastered the art of sitting, waiting, and then being given the “okay” command before he eats his meals. He also walks on a leash quite nicely now; we’ve managed to make it a whole ten minutes up the street before he gives up and needs to be carried.

6) He’s a total imp. He knows the “here” command but will purposely dart away from me if he’d rather play outside. He pulls the girls’ swim towels off of their drying spots, drags them around the kitchen, and then lies down in the middle of them. If you’re not watching very closely, he’ll slip out of any open gate or door to follow you. He’s a twerp.
fenwick and the stick Dragging a stick that’s three times his size because he is a COMPLETE GOOFBALL.

7) He talks. I don’t mean that he barks or is just plain noisy (although both of those are true), but that he vocalizes often and it sounds just like a human being – but not in a creepy, disembodied way. More in an adorable, “OMG, he sounds like a cross between an Ewok and a Wookiee!” kind of way. (Yeah, yeah, I know that those are technically not human… but they were voiced by humans. Point for me.)

8) I’ll deny I ever said this, but he just might be sleeping through the night. You didn’t hear it here. Nope.

9) Langston has changed his tune and has decided that Fenwick is a pretty fabulous playmate. Lang brings toys over to play with him, gets all dog-mouthy with him, and gleefully flings him across the floor when enough is enough. He’s even willingly sharing his bed and not trying to curl into a tight ball in the corner so he doesn’t have to touch Fenwick. OH HAPPY DAY.
fenwick and lang are buddies

And perhaps the biggest reason why raising this puppy is easier (so far) than the previous three puppies…

10) Ella and Annie help. THIS IS A GAME CHANGER, Y’ALL. With our first CCI pup, Diamond, they were really too young to do anything besides avoid becoming chew toys. With Langston and Jambi, they wanted to help, but were either too little to be too effective (the pups were too heavy to carry, they couldn’t reach the food) or got bored ten seconds into working on “down” and would walk away, leaving the puppies chewing on couch cushions in the living room.

This time, not only are they capable of pitching in, they actually want to participate. Feeding the puppy? Not a problem. Letting him out, even on short notice (“He’s about to have an accident! Go go GO!”), and then watching him so he doesn’t get into trouble? Done. Patiently working with him on learning his name? Okay, so maybe they weren’t patient, but they definitely offered assistance. Knowing how to handle it without falling apart when Fenwick nips at their toes or chews on the hems of their bathrobes? You bet.

The other day, Ella decided that the puppy was getting a bit stinky, so she gave him a bath – in the shower, by herself – and then toweled him off and brought him back downstairs. Yeah, she mixed his dirty, hairy towel in with hers, but she hung them both up so I consider it a total win. Heck, one time, Annie even cleaned up after Fenwick when he peed inside… and then sprayed the floor with disinfectant. As you can see, this is all kinds of awesome.

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So, to sum up, if you want to raise a puppy and have the experience be particularly excellent, I highly recommend that you a) get a really cute dog, b) get a smart dog that makes you feel like a super-competent trainer, c) get a dog with personality so you can laugh it off when they try to chew through the handle of your new rake, and d) above all else, have a seven and nine year-old on hand to assist you with all of your puppy-raising needs.

Except for getting up in the middle of the night and picking up poop. Those are still on you. At least this adorable face will make it more bearable.fenwick 11 weeks
Oh. Mah. Gah.

Make Room For Puppy

Four days ago, our family grew by one: we welcomed Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, to the fold.
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Don’t mind the green around his ear; that’s just a little extra ink from his uber-cool tattoo.

We’d been planning to get another CCI pup since before we turned Jambi in for Advanced Training, but a puppy wasn’t available to us until last week. We met him at the airport, a howling bundle of fuzz that couldn’t wait to get out of the kennel where he’d been cooped up for more than twelve hours. Annie had stayed home sick that day, so she ventured with us to get Fenwick; on our way home, we drove by their elementary school right at Ella’s lunchtime… so an impromptu meet-and-greet was held in the school parking lot.

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What? Don’t all the sick kids wear magician star skirts on their days home from school?

Half Golden Retriever and half Labrador Retriever, Fenwick (we don’t name them, btw, but I think his name is very dignified – in a Brit-lit kind of way – and pretty rad all-around) has a very clear Golden look. He’s absurdly fluffy and soft, not at all wiry like Labs tend to be, and by far the smallest puppy we’ve had. He is also crazy loud when he’s left alone and prefers not to be, screaming in a freakish way that is almost human. Aww, puppies!

The girls took to him immediately, declaring him “The cutest dog ever!” and cuddling with him and carrying him around in that way that children do with puppies and cats that makes you question whether small humans and small animals should ever share the same space. Then they torture play with him and help wash him and any Hey, you dropped me on the tile floor and could’ve killed me memories are all but forgotten.
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See the leaf? You can’t eat it! But you can look at it! See it? Don’t eat it! Look – a leaf! Leaves aren’t for dogs! I CAN DO THIS ALL DAY.

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Okay, okay… so maybe peeing in my kennel wasn’t such a good idea…

Nick seems to think that Fenwick is just dandy, but he went out of town less than twenty-four hours after picking him up, so his opinion doesn’t fully count. Which leaves me as the lone hold-out who isn’t completely smitten with this adorable little furball.

I’m not sure why, exactly. I knew it would be difficult – eight week-old puppies almost always are. They wake you up at night to go to the bathroom, they whine when they’re displeased, they pee and poop in the house indiscriminately and sometimes wind up soaked in their own urine. (This is eerily similar to most two year-old humans.) They nip at your fingers and hemlines and shoes, they put everything in their mouths – especially the things that shouldn’t go there – and they are utterly unpredictable. (This is exactly like most two year-old humans, except it’s legal to lock them in cages.)

I knew all of this going in, and I was prepared. Cleaning up the umpteenth mess of the day (five minutes after I let him out and with absolutely zero warning or preamble) is exhausting – but that’s not really why I’m not crazy for this boy yet. I don’t dislike him – he’s got that delightful puppy breath and is and full of zany puppy energy and makes little grunting noises when you hold him and likes to drag a stick around the backyard that’s six times longer than he is, which cracks me up to no end. I’m just not all in quite yet.

I know – I know! – how can I not be completely taken in? I mean, look at this guy.
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Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

I think part of it is that we’re going out of town next weekend, so I’m almost afraid to put too much into it because I’m half-worried that he’ll forget us entirely in our absence. I’m also worried that he’ll still be up in the night and will be soiling the floors at regular intervals when our petsitter is here and, well, I’m just nervous, so I’m not jumping in fully to enjoy him. I think part of it is that I miss Jambi – not just any old puppy, but Jambi specifically – and when Fenwick’s personality diverges from hers, it’s a reminder that she’s gone, and that’s hard.

But I think the biggest reason I’m not totally head over heels for this puppy is that Langston isn’t head over heels, which is not at all what I expected. He and Jambi were ridiculously good pals, playing and lounging and napping together from day one. He’s also been really friendly with other dogs, though, so we assumed that he would love having a puppy around again – especially since he’d been practically bouncing off the walls with boredom since we turned Jambi in. When we brought Fencick home and introduced them, I actually said to Lang, “We brought you a present!” (Yes, I talk to my dogs as though they’re human. Preach it.)

To my dismay (and surprise), Langston doesn’t care. In some ways, he’s even annoyed by Fenwick – which, upon closer inspection, I guess I can understand. Fenwick bites at Langston’s wagging tail, causing him to yelp with pain; he attempts to gnaw on his hind legs as though they were teething toys; he jumps up on him in a never-ending game of Notice Me! Notice Me! Notice Me!

I’d been so convinced that Langston would be thrilled that we were bringing home another puppy, I didn’t even consider how it would feel if he wasn’t completely taken with the new dog. Turns out, I’d been putting a lot of stock into the two of them getting along, to being buddies, and now that it hasn’t played out that way (yet), I’m really bummed.

I say “yet” because I know that it’s only been four days… four days out of the sixteen months that Fenwick will be with us. He’s only a baby. We’re all still adjusting. Hell, he’s still on west coast time – jet leg will do strange things to a dog. I know that there’s plenty of time for Langston to come around – or not. Maybe they’ll never be the best of pals. But there’s plenty of time to adjust to that, too, and for me to fall in love with this smooshy little buddy simply because he’s him, rather than because he’s Langston’s companion.

And yet… Last night, I’d invited Langston up on the couch to chew the new favorite bear we’d gotten him, keeping it safe from Fenwick’s shark puppy teeth. A moment later, however, Langston had gotten off the couch – bear in hand mouth – and walked over to Fenwick… to play. With his bear. Langston wanted to play with Fenwick by sharing his bear. Oh, be still my heart!

They played longer than this, but I was so busy watching like a giddy buffoon for the first minute or so, I didn’t even think about grabbing my phone until Ella said, “Mom! Don’t you want to record this??” She is so my daughter.

You guys, my heart soared. So yeah, they only played together for about five minutes today, and that was only because Langston grew so tired of Fenwick trying to nip him to death, he decided to nip back and some dog-mouth-play ensued, but still. It’s a start! And a good reminder to me that, like people, no two dogs are alike – and it’s pretty unfair to judge one based on the other. Today, Fenwick ate all of his dinner (woo hoo) and let me know each time he needed to go out to poop, so overall, it feels like a win. He’s responding to his name and walking better on a leash and feels just absolutely perfect in my arms.

We’ll get there. I’m not worried. Neither is Fenwick. It’s all good – doggone it.

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Dog tired.