Thursday, November 7, 2013

Novel at Home

Good gravy, where has the time gone!?

It has been nearly a month since I picked up Novel and brought him home, and he has settled back in to life here - this time as a pet - very well.

I'll admit, the first few days (week) were a little rough for both of us. Novel obviously needed a few days to adjust after the whirlwind of changes that he had undergone in such a short amount of time, and for the first day or so he wasn't quite himself. I was still adjusting too. Please don't misunderstand me, I was - and am! -THRILLED to have my boy back. Still, it is hard (impossible?) to let go of a dream you've carried and worked toward for over a year and a half in just one or two days.

It's sometimes hard to not feel like I've failed in some way when he is here with me, and all around my circle of CCI friends, other raiser's puppies are still getting monthly reports, or rotating into team training. And when people ask why he was released, it is really hard to not feel totally ridiculous when I tell them that he was released for "inappropriate toileting." I mean, come on, that's basic stuff. I had him for a year and a half and I wasn't able to potty train him thoroughly?

Of course, I know in my brain that the toileting issues at advanced training were almost certainly stress related. I haven't had the slightest iota of trouble with it since he has been back home. I know that I did my very, absolute best with him, that he had as good a chance as any, and ultimately he went to the very best place for him. I knew all that in my brain a month ago, but it has become increasingly easy to accept it in my heart; to let go of the old dream and look forward to new exciting adventures in the future.

All that being said, I'd like to share a video with you. I think you'll enjoy it:
(about the plastic bag at the beginning...he had apparently been working on the "hold" command using a
plastic bag, and when he saw it he thought he was supposed to "hold" it ;)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Moray and the Mountain

At the beginning of October I had the pleasure of a visit from the adorable black pupster, none other than Moray himself! We had a fabulous several days together full of beautiful weather, exciting adventures, and even a few snakes. Moray's puppy raisers dropped him off on Wednesday after I was done with classes for the day.

On Thursday I had classes most of the day...but my last class was Ecology Lab. Even though my college had turned down my request to bring a puppy in training to classes, Ecology Lab is a little different, and my professor had already cleared it with me. So at 2pm I nixed taking the college bus to Roan Mt to study high altitude ecosystems. Instead I drove my own car so I could stop at home to pick up Moray and a snack for both of us. Everyone in my class and my professor....all 5 of them...LOVED Moray. The crisp air, filled with the scent of plants unique to this area, was pretty distracting for Moray at first. I'll admit, I wasn't focused on him quite as much as the situation warranted, and I resorted to using a discrete bribe several times to get his attention back on me. In my defense, I was technically in class...

It was a beautiful day. The sky was an intense blue, the air was perfectly still and clear, and the trees were just starting to turn. After Ecology was over, the rest of the class drove back down the mountain, but Moray and I stayed. I planed on spending the rest of the afternoon here, even if I DID have homework to do back home. It was about 4:30pm and I really wanted to stay at least long enough to see the sunset.

Moray was such a trooper. We took our time hiking to Grassy Ridge which is only about 2.5 miles from the parking lot, but the total elevation gain is 1150 feet, making it a fairly decent climb. It was also unusually warm for Roan Mountain with almost no breeze, so I was glad that I had brought water for both of us. Before the final steep ascent, I stopped to let Moray rest and drink...steep climbs can wear out even the most spry puppy legs and the dude was panting.

I was enjoying my rest and laughing as I watched Moray stumble clumsily through the thick, clumpy, grass chasing grasshoppers.

At least I thought they were grasshoppers. When I finally got up for a closer look, I saw this:
Can you tell what that is?

Here's a closer look:

That's two little snakes you see there...the big one is eating the small one. Nice find Moray.

We continued on our way up to the top and as we walked, the trail continued to get narrower and deeper. You see, the trail on Roan Mountain is wide and well graveled with wooden steps for the first few hundred yards to the first bald where most of the people stop to take pictures and then go back. After that, it is really just a rut worn into the thick meadow grass of the balds. Rain running down off the mountain naturally flows through the trail, washing it deeper. The steeper the trail, the deeper the rut. Because of the light traffic it gets once you're past the first bald or so, it is very narrow - just wide enough for one set of feet to walk without bumping the edges of the rut. Grass grows thickly on the edges and falls over the top making it look even narrower. Unfortunately for Moray, the grass also made the ground look bigger. On the way up the mountain, he was constantly trying to climb out of the rut and walk beside me on the grass...and constantly  tripping and falling back in where it draped over the trail. Eventually he figured out that there really wasn't enough space to walk beside me and settled in behind me.

 Once we made it to the top, we sat back to back on the boulders that form the summit and drank in the breathtaking beauty. And the water I brought, of course. I munched on an apple and some trail mix and Moray had his supper. We took pictures, (well, I took pictures...) and cuddled, and laughed and sat silently in awe of the mountain.
Oh, hello
Well, Ok then.
Such a doll
I was laughing because he kept moving out of the shot
or bumping me just as I took it...
...he was really just bumping me out of the way so he
could get this shot of his "good side"
"if only the background wasn't so cluttered..." he thinks ;)
Finally I realized that the sun was just starting to sink behind the clouds atop Roan Mt. (the actual peak) so we headed back.

 The sky all around us continued to blaze brighter and brighter until it climaxed just as we topped the last bald before the parking lot. It literally looked like the mountain was on fire.

My pictures are frustrating because clearly my phone didn't do a great job of capturing the magnificence and intensity of the colors. But they're better than nothing.

We drove home in the dark and slept very well that night.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Plans Change Again - and an advanced training report!

*Note: PPM = Puppy Program Manager

Getting the news that Novel was released was devastating. I had such high hopes for this dude! I know many of you have never actually met him, but he really is just an amazing, amazing dog. It's apparent to anyone who meets him - he's just special. I know every CCI dog is but ya know, Novel was mine... ;)
Me, Novel, and my mom at Turn-In

Here's the honest truth: I really thought that Novel would graduate. He was so solid with his commands. He loved to work. He had the best personality! I constantly told myself and others that he probably wouldn't graduate, just to be safe, but deep down I really thought he would. Sure, I loved him to the moon and back, but I knew first hand what an impact he could make on a life, and I didn't want that to be "wasted."

I don't know how well it came out in this blog, but we had such a special connection. Out in public we would have random strangers come up to us and say things out of the blue, like:
"That dog sure loves you!"
"You can tell that he just ADORES you"
"I've been watching you all work from over there - you two are an amazing team"
As one coworker always put it "you two are a match made in heaven!" She was always very vocal about the fact that she believed that Novel would be released (or at least hoped that he would be) so that he could come back and live with me.

The problem with being released, was that I wouldn't be able to take him back, and I knew it. If I hoped to raise a second puppy - which I definitely did - I wouldn't have the time or money to responsibly take Novel back. Telling the PPM that over the phone on Friday was very possibly the hardest thing I've ever had to say. 

When I got home from work that evening, I sat on my bed to check my email. I had been emailing back and forth with several people in my college about working out a way to get permission to bring a puppy in training to classes with me. When I called the PPM on Monday after I had the weekend to work things out, we were supposed to start going over some details concerning the puppy I hoped to start raising in December. So, I hoped to have some sort of definite permission from my college concerning puppy raising by Monday. So far things seemed to be going fairly well, and I was very hopeful that it would work out. 

When I opened my email, I saw I had a message from the college about puppy raising. Excited that I might finally have my answer, I opened it. It started out sounding great: "We are always learn about...students involved in service..." it began. There was a bunch of fluffy stuff about how great he thought "the CCI" was, and then he politely stated that "we are not able to accommodate this request." It was pretty blunt. This was the end of negotiations.

"Dude." I thought. "Could this day get any worse?"
Thankfully it didn't.

I don't really know how to describe the rest of all that happened in a nice storyish format, except to say that I finally put 2 and 2 together. I initially contacted my brother and sister-in-law to see if they wanted Novel so he could at least stay in the family. Novel pretty much grew up with my Nephew who is only a few months older than him, and they get along famously. A placement with my brother's family would make me very happy. They said they would love him, but their apartment didn't allow pets and their lease isn't up for another 10 months. They suggested the possibility of me fostering him for them until then....

Finally, I realized that with puppy raising out the window for me right now, there was absolutely no reason on earth why I couldn't adopt Novel myself. 

On October 9, 2013, with the very first rays of fall break dawning, I was speeding down the interstate toward Orlando Florida, and Novel. 
On October 10, 2013, exactly one month before my 20th birthday, my very best friend came charging into my arms forever.
On October 11, 2013, I woke up in my own bed, with my own, wonderful dog snuggled tightly against me.
For the very first time. 

Now, about the title of this post. I suppose that could have been a little cruelly misleading. The fact is, however, that I DID get an Advanced Training report on Novel even though he was released. I gotta admit, it was a little hard hearing about other puppies' reports knowing that I wouldn't get to experience the same excitement. After all, I've been nearly dying for the past month and a half waiting for it. When I picked Novel up from the SER in Orlando, I asked how he had done overall, apart from the potty issue of course. I was thrilled when the PPM handed me his AT report! Apparently his trainer had submitted it just before they decided that Novel would have to be dropped. In my opinion, his report seemed pretty great and I was proud. But without further ado:

The report had 8 "good behavior" boxes checked, including "attentive to Handler" "Walks nicely on leash" (yay!) "interacts appropriately w/people" and "Allows/accepts physical handling/grooming," leaving out only "interacts appropriately w/ dogs." That didn't surprise me when I looked down to the "bad behavior" boxes and saw that "rough play w/ other dogs" was checked along with "mounting" and of course "inappropriate toileting." I knew that Novel would have rough play checked off. He's always been a nut when he plays. The mounting really surprised me though because I never - once - remember seeing him mount another dog. "Licking" "whining" and "excitable greetings" were not checked off in the bad behaviors - that surprised me a bit. Of the 28 "bad behavior" options, Novel only had 3 checked off. That made me proud. Novel was marked as Moderate on all the "overall performance" sections (fear, distractibility, energy and training) which I will choose to take as a good thing :) I think I would have expected a low rating in fear, but with everything so new, I'm not surprised by the moderate rating.

Novel's trainer commented: 
"Novel has completed the physical and behavioral evaluations at the beginning of the semester. He is doing well with his basic behaviors as well as learning the hold portion of the retrieve behavior. Novel has had several instances of inappropriate toileting while in training sessions, as well as out on field trips. Novel is becoming more focused on his trainer and is becoming consistent with his behaviors as he gets into the training routine. He plays rough with other dogs in community run and often excessively mounts other dogs."

The toileting issues for which he was released....intrigue me. Novel was a very difficult dog to house train, but he eventually got it down solidly. He never was one to really let you know he needed to go out, but I eventually learned to interpret a certain look he would get on his face and take him out then. He never had accidents inside after that. He did have a weird issue where he always wanted to poo at one spot in our walk, but that was outside. Admittedly, there were a few instances where Novel suddenly decided he needed to poo in a public place (Example) But they were so rare, they didn't really bother me that much. It is the apparent frequency and diversity of Novel's pottying behavior at AT the has me curious. Talking it over with the PPM, the general decision was that it likely has something to do with Novel's frequent vomiting just before turn in. The vomiting disappeared at turn in, but this showed up. So who knows. Maybe it's a medical issue. 

Regardless, it isn't an issue that will interfere with him being a superb pet :) 
My superb pet.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Plans Change

Yes, I have been putting this post off for way to long.

I could argue that it is late because I have been busy...which I have been. Insanely so.

But the reality is simply that I have been putting it off on purpose, as if writing it all out here would somehow make the events of the past few weeks reality...while deep down, I knew that I really was only denying events that already were reality. I simply couldn't...or wouldn't...admit that reality to myself.

When I drink my coffee in the morning, my first sip is a test. Often the coffee is too hot to drink at that time. And so I wait. I let it cool. I drink it when it is not so hot; when it is less painful. And then I find that I actually enjoy it.

So, perhaps putting off this blog post was simply my way of letting the coffee cool.

I know that I sometimes like to pretend that I write this blog for the benefit of my few readers who are presumably interested in Novel. The truth is that I write it only for my own sanity. Some people drink coffee, some people watch TV, some people exercise to maintain sanity. I walk in the woods and I write. As a warning, this post will be one of those particularly "sanity-saving" posts, so please brace yourselves as I prepare to work through my feelings and bare the truth in my soul in an endeavor to embrace reality....and not insanity. Allow me to drink my coffee:

I was, actually, drinking coffee. It was 9:38am on Friday morning, September 27th. An hour earlier, I had just finished an invigorating swim, but for the past 33 minutes, my chemistry professor had been delivering a fascinating lecture on quantum mechanics, atomic orbitals, and electron configurations. "How does an electron move from one value of n to another without ever crossing a node?"

A mystifying question indeed.

When my phone buzzed in my pocket I nearly jumped out of my seat in fright. Cell phones are strictly forbidden in the lecture hall, and to have one go off in class could very well cost you its privileges for the next week. Thankfully, my phone was on vibrate, and didn't make enough noise to attract the attention of my professor. I glanced down discretely to see who was calling.

"Puppy Program Manager - CCI" blinked across my screen.

"Hmm. I wonder why she's calling" I thought carelessly and brushed it from my mind, returning body and soul into the fascinating topic at hand.

Another buzz of my phone suddenly brought a thought and a steadily rising feeling of dread. I had the intense urge to excuse myself on "important business" and run out of the room to answer my phone. But instead I sat, frozen and terrified, listening to the nearly imperceptible buzz of my phone. How does a person calmly await...and ignore...impending doom without moving a muscle?

A mystifying question indeed.

I convinced myself that she must have been calling for some other reason, perhaps regarding the CCI puppy I would be sitting in the next week. I knew it wasn't a wise move, but it helped me to make it through the rest of chemistry class.

After class, as I walked to my car, I hit redial and left a message. It was a long message and I was painfully cheerful; laughing, even. I knew it was stupid, but laughing is my default language, and I was so nervous I could only resort to default. I hopped into my car and headed to work.

Halfway into my half hour drive, my phone buzzed again. I slapped off the radio and stared at the name blinking across my screen for the second time that day:

"Puppy Program Manager - CCI"

I knew I had to answer it, but I put it off until the 3rd or 4th ring, and then answered mechanically,

"Hello, this is Katherine..."

I don't remember many of the specifics of the phone call. I was informed that Novel had been having unpredictable accidents, and attempts to "fix" them had been unsuccessful. Because of this, Novel was being released from the program.
 I was professional. I commented on her observations and answered her questions with maturity. I kept myself emotionally detached.
"Yes, I completely understand."
"No, I probably will not be able to take him back as a pet due to financial and time constraints resulting from school, work, and a possible second puppy in training."
"Thank you for letting me know."

I actually made it through the phone call without crying, but when I hung up, there was a sob. A single, involuntary, heart bursting sob that embodied every ounce of hope and worry and pride that had accumulated in my soul over the year and a half that I have known Novel, and the tears flowed down for an instant. As comforting as a giant sigh, as exhausting as a marathon, and as comprehensive as I know my chemistry final will be, that sob left me with absolutely nothing else to cry with. Still, I couldn't help feeling absolutely devastated.

By 5:30pm, my work day had gone by fairly well considering the state of my insides; all tied in knots and dunked in poo and run over by monster trucks. And my mind that was racing a million miles a second trying to hold it together and make sense of it all.
...Actually, my day wasn't really that great at all. An angry cat sliced my hand open going into anesthesia, surgeries went long and I got almost no lunch break, and in general the day was crazy because we were short one tech.

To top it all off, just as I was leaving, a coworker dropped an off-hand comment about Novel and I, forgetting that he was gone. She quickly realized her mistake, but then, afraid that she had upset me by mentioning him, she started apologizing profusely, but rather insincerely. Normally the comment wouldn't have bothered me. Even today when the subject of Novel was particularly tender, it was only the apologizing that really got to me. I assured her that she was forgiven and no harm was done, but I wanted desperately to escape the situation before it turned to discussing Novel's training in Florida.

I headed for the door.

"But speaking of Novel," she continued shamelessly. Bluntly. Heartlessly.
I knew where she was going with this, and my heart sank.
"Have you gotten any news on how he is doing recently?"

All eyes turned to me expectantly.

I couldn't make myself tell them the truth.
And so I lied:
"No," I said. "I haven't heard anything"
Then, feeling my insides only sink lower, now into the slimy pit of guilt, I added cheerfully as if I had just thought of it:
"Although! The puppy program manager did leave a message on my phone this morning in chemistry class, but she didn't really say anything. I'll have to call her back and we'll see what she says. Who knows, she could have been calling to say Novel is released."
That last part I added in a half sarcastic voice to hide the truth in it.

All of that was completely true. the puppy program manager HAD called and left a message, and she really didn't say anything at that point. I had already talked to her, but I did still have to call her back to give her my definite decision on adoption...and so I wasn't really lying...right?

I slunk out the back door and drove home, feeling lower than the dirty, dog hairy floor boards of my car.

* Please note: this is not the end. I will be posting part 2 in a day or so. I've gone on much to long and run out of time today. Just keep your chin up, it gets better! After all, I wouldn't have said I enjoyed drinking coffee if I planned on ending the story here :) 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Time to Read

I spend a lot of time in the car every day. At least, it's much more than I would like to be spending. It's gotten better since I transferred to a closer college this fall, but I'm still averaging close to 2 hours driving time every day. That's two hours that I can't be studying. That's two hours that I can't be trail running. That's two hours I can't be dog training. That's two hours where I sit almost motionless, strapped to a horrid cushioned chair and stare out a window. Believe me, those two empty hours are painful in a schedule as busy as mine. It's like starving to death in a roomful of poisoned cupcakes.

...or something like that.

Switching gears:

I have always felt that reading is very important. Books are powerful. I firmly believe that the books we read have a huge impact on the way we live our lives and the people we become. Through books, we can access concepts and ideas that we wouldn't necessarily have encountered otherwise. We can meet people and do things and go places that we never could have gone before. And from these hypothetical experiences, we form conclusions about the world and about ourselves that are important, and that change us.

....You may be wondering why I'm writing all this. What could this all possibly have to do with Novel, CCI, or Puppy Raising? Just hang on and I'll get to that. I promise.

You can imagine with what frustration I watched for the past few years as my list of books to read grew ever longer and my minutes of time to read grew ever shorter. Or I should say non-existent. What's worse is that I'm a very slow reader. I would think about this as I drove all those endless empty minutes to school, and to work, and back again.

And then I discovered - or rather re-discovered - audio books, and my life-enjoyment meter jumped about 50 points. As a kid, I was always always listening to a "book-on-tape." I'd listen to them right through the night because my sister would turn them on to go to sleep...but I would never fall asleep.

My 2 hour daily stint in the car was redeemed and I started chugging through my book list at an alarming rate. And now I'm chugging through the Public Library's audio book section. I'm going through about one book a week and it's great.

All that to say this: I recently finished a book that really got me thinking. Maybe you've heard of it. They've made it into a movie that's coming out in December, and no, it's not the Hobbit. Although that is a good book. But it's fiction. And this isn't. It's called The Lone Survivor.

Do you remember, a while back, 2005, there was a big news story about a rescue helicopter full of Navy Seals that got shot down in Afghanistan? They were going in to rescue a 4 man Seal team that had been ambushed by the Taliban. The news report at the time stated that there were no survivors - but there was one.

His story, and that of the men who fought and died beside him that day is truly breathtaking. I'm not kidding, I would get to school and then sit there in my car in the parking lot with my mouth hanging open, just staring at the CD player. The courageous, super-human valiance, the awesome magnitude of these men's sacrifice for their country is impossible to convey.

As I listened, I, of course couldn't help but think of my own brother who is in the Special Forces, or of the Special Forces veteran who gave us all chills at CCI's Southeast August graduation. I am sure that he got the longest spontaneous standing ovation I have ever witnessed - and he deserved every second of it.

My point is this: There are some truly amazing people in this world who give literally everything they have in a selfless effort to create something they very often don't even get to enjoy. It is a very small force of good against a massive expanse of darkness and cruelty and indifference. In light of this level of service, what can I possibly do that could hope to have an impact? How can I show my gratitude? And if I can - because I must - how can I join them? It is an elite group and half-hearted-ness will not suffice. The answer is as simple as it is profound: just raise puppies. It sounds silly. Childish even, but in a world where "only your very best counts, but every little bit matters," it's the best shot I've got at this whole make-a-difference thing.

And it does make a difference.
And it's a difference for the better.

And that, my friends, is why I am a puppy raiser.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Future Plans

Hey ya'll.

I know it's been a little while since my last blog post. In my defense, I haven't exactly had as much blogging material to feed you since Novel went off to college, but at the same time, there are still plenty of things I could - and should - be blogging about. Ya know, fun stories about Novel that I've never posted before, future plans involving CCI, deep, insightful explorations of my inner feelings about Novel since he left for dog college... ;) ...heck, stories about Abbi for once! ...and the like.

I do feel that some of you may be interested to know some of my plans involving CCI. Of course, first and foremost in everyone's mind: "Will I be raising another puppy?" I can't tell you how many times I've been asked that in the past three weeks...really I should say the last year and a half because that's usually the second thing people ask me after asking "how will you give him up?" For most of that year and a half I had to tell people that I would like to, but I just wasn't entirely sure what my life would look like at that point, and I could never give a definitive answer.

Part of the problem was my school. This fall I transferred to a new college. It has been a pretty rough transition with a lot of headaches and paperwork to worry about over the summer, and my schedule this semester is very, very full. I knew I didn't want to throw a new puppy on top of all that. Also, a cursory inquiry informed me that I would not be allowed to bring a puppy in training on campus. We'll have to see about that. I'm not about to drop the issue that easily, and I really feel that we can come to "an understanding" if I personally appeal/explain the situation to the college.

The second part of the problem was my family. That sounds horrible but it really isn't. The rest of my family just isn't exactly gung-ho about animals like I am. Which is don't exactly have to adore animals to be considered normal...although that would make more sense to me ;) Most of my family has a very "traditional" understanding of the relationship between dogs and people...meaning they think dogs should "be dogs." You know, play rough, stay outside, be able to run off-leash, maybe get a bath twice a year - and that outside in the hose. So, when you think about trying to add a service dog puppy who really should do none of those things to that environment, you can imagine that there would be some issues. Since I am still living at home, my family (some more than others) has had to make some -sometimes unwelcome- changes in order to accommodate the different needs of a service dog in training. (read: If I needed someone else to let Novel out to potty while I was gone, they usually didn't like having to put him on leash. etc.)

Going into this, I knew there would be an adjustment period, and I did my best to prepare myself and my family for it. My family was incredibly gracious, supportive and accommodating toward Novel and I, but admittedly, there were some pretty rough spots. Really, rougher than what I was truly prepared for. There were multiple times when I wondered if I had made a mistake in thinking my family and I were ready, or even capable of raising a service dog. Honestly, puppy raising is hard! It's hard emotionally, hard mentally, hard physically, even. It's hard to function on three hours of sleep because the new puppy doesn't like the's even harder to expect your family to do the same. It can be hard sometimes just to make enough time in the day to ensure that puppy has been fed, exercised, socialized, trained, and otherwise well-cared-for. But it IS worth it. It's totally worth it.

So I'm sure that you can understand that although I wanted - and want! - desperately to raise another puppy as soon as possible, I have approached the decision with much trepidation. First and foremost, I wanted to be sure my family was still completely supportive and accepting of the decision. Knowing all the adjustments they have already made for Novel, I definitely don't want to bring a puppy into a resentful environment just because I  want to raise another one.

And SO, drum-roll please! I have come to a decision. Well, actually, I came to a decision three weeks ago, but you all didn't know that ;)

I will be getting a second puppy! Apparently after a year and a half with Novel, my family has become pretty accustomed to the whole idea, and don't feel that a second puppy would be too much of an imposition :) I am on "the list" for mid December just after final week ends when I'll have a whole month of Christmas break to get to know puppers before the spring semester starts. You now have permission to wait painfully with me for December when adorable puppy pictures and sweet puppy breath will once again float your way!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Just one click...

Hello ya'll...

This will be real quick. I just have to ask you a favor, and I promise it is very easy and simple!
It has come to my attention that a fellow CCI puppy raiser and blogger (which essentially makes us family, right?) has the unique opportunity to see her puppy in training Helaine featured in a commercial! If you are interested in specifics, please head on over to her blog and read her post Dear America which you can do simply by clicking on those gray words that turn blue when you mouse over them. Basically, what she needs is lots of views on her picture of Helaine, which you can help out with simply by clicking here. That's it. Just one simple click. Believe me, you won't be sorry you did because the picture is adorable. What's not to love about a CCI puppy??

C'mon people let's make this puppy FAMOUS!