Monday, December 31, 2007


It's always amazing to me how resilient a dog is. The eighth week of a CCI puppy's life is a good example. The pup is separated from its litter and mother for the first time in its life. It is transported to a kennel environment at CCI NW in Santa Rosa where it is vaccinated, tattooed, examined and handled by a variety of strangers. After a day or two, it takes a couple hour car ride to the San Francisco airport, is loaded into an airplane cargo hold and is shipped to some other part of the US where it is again picked up by another stranger, taken to a different kennel, bathed and handled by more people. Hopefully, within a few hours, the puppy will meet its puppy raiser and be taken to a home where it will live for the next 14-16 months before being sent back to the kennel. And that's just the beginning.

During its first year, the pup will be asked to learn English and how to behave and react to and around all of the different noises, sights, textures and critters that abound in its new world. And a puppy will do all of this with a wagging tail and a joy of life that continues to make us love them all the more. If only people could deal with change and the unknown as bravely and temperately as a dog!

Because I also volunteer with CCI to pick up puppies at the airport and bring them back to the facility, I was allowed to go get Sergi myself when he flew in from Santa Rosa. I loaded Pryde, half-brother to Sergi and my soon-to-be-turned-in CCI pup, into the car and off we went to meet our new addition. I could hear Sergi right away, yip, yip, yipping in his crate as they brought him out of the holding area. My friend, Celeste Kennedy, who is also a CCI volunteer, met me at the airport to help and take pictures of Sergi's arrival. We took him out of his crate for a short while, cleaned it and him up, and soon we were on our way to CCI SW in Oceanside to get him checked in, bathed and fed.

Sergi wanted to be sure I knew he was around, so he continually barked in his crate during the entire drive from San Diego to Oceanside (uh-oh). We stopped briefly in Del Mar to take a few photos with Sergi's half-brother, Hefner. Hefner, Pryde and Sergi are from the same mom, Toddy, but all have different dads. I couldn't resist getting a few pictures of puppies from her first, third and fifth litters while I still had Pryde with me. Sergi was less than cooperative during the photo shoot as he had absolutely no concept of holding still. But we got one or two that were acceptable and we soon were back in the car, on the way to SW where Sergi was about to meet his namesake.

Ken Sergi, one of those people who always greets you as if you were the one person he'd been waiting all day to see, has been working and volunteering with CCI for years. In October, Breeder Caretaker Pam Flanagan emailed me about Toddy's latest litter and asked me if I had any suggestions for names. The puppies would all receive names beginning with the letter "S". It only took me a couple of seconds to come up with the name "Sergi" as a possibility, it seemed a fitting honor for one who has done so much for so long. Pam wrote me a week or so later to say that the name had been accepted by CCI, and they were working on getting that pup assigned to me. I was delighted at the news, particularly thinking I would have some GREAT pictures to look forward from the original Sergi!

When the two Sergis met, it was a joy to behold. Puppy Sergi, still covered in gobs of green ink from his ear tattoo, loved being cuddled and held by Daddy Sergi. It was as if there were already a bond between them. And then, of course, came the pictures. And more pictures. And more.

The following Saturday, as I was preparing to turn in Pryde, Puppy Sergi was at center stage in front of the camera lens of Daddy Sergi. Puppy Sergi even had his own camera attached to him, just in case he wants to follow in Ken's footsteps. Let's see...will that be a new CCI command? Sit, Pose, Smile, Shoot!

Many of Puppy Sergi's photos can be seen online at Daddy Sergi's Shutterfly link:

Let's hope their server will be able to handle the uploads during the next 14 months!

Holiday Hijinks

Depending on when a puppy raiser receives a puppy, we get to spend one, maybe two Christmas holidays with them. Sergi came to live with me on November 17, so is experiencing his first Christmas as a little pup -- which is very hard -- and will get to have another, more mature Christmas here next year. This 2007 holiday was tough for the little guy.

Sergi has lots of energy. At this stage in his growth and training, he is generally not allowed to access the house independently off-leash. On occasion, I will play with him inside (especially if it is raining or particularly cold out) but he is closely supervised. Yet, that has not stopped him from taking a detour while chasing a thrown ball to veer over to the Christmas tree, grab an ornament or two, and rip around the living room a couple of times, delighted with the illicit treasure in his mouth. He thinks that this is great fun. I do not. We're lucky sometimes the tree is still standing.

Sergi also has found delight in trying to open Christmas packages by himself. Even ones that are not addressed to him. We have a routine at the end of the evening when I sit on the floor with him and cradle him. During this time, I play with his toes, trim his nails, rub his belly and get him used to being handled and touched. If the phone rings or I get distracted in some other way, Sergi occasionally is left on his own for a minute or two. Although tethered to the heavy coffee table, he found that he could reach the gifts under the tree by stretching out full length and grabbing them with his sharp puppy teeth. Then begins the delight of ripping the paper to shreds and opening the package. Clearly, I was the one in training here as it took me twice before I figured out to put the items farther away and tether him in a different manner. Sergi was very disappointed that I learned almost as quickly as he does.

Of course, one of the most delightful things about having a puppy is all of the photo opportunities they present, especially at Christmas. We go in search of Santas everywhere, just to take all those goofy pictures. I have one whole entire box dedicated to Christmas dog collars, leashes, hats and bells to string, tie, and wrap around my dog and his body parts. None of the dogs seem to be crazy about it, but it sure makes the humans laugh. Because Sergi is still so young, it's even more fun to take his picture now -- everybody loves puppy pictures. Getting him to sit still long enough for the shot is the problem, but if you take enough, eventually one will come out. That will be the one saved for his scrap book that his future new partner will look at and say, "Awwww.....!"

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Part of the life of a CCI puppy is regular puppy school attendance. Soon after he came to live with me, I started taking Sergi to Kindergarten with contract trainer Mike Fowler. We go to class every two weeks, and sometimes will also go to an additional Cath Phillips class as an added bonus.

Sergi is a very bright and intelligent puppy. He learns his commands quickly and is eager to please. During his first class, Sergi behaved appropriately and did exceptionally well in the most important skill: Walking on a loose leash. He will work during the next couple of months on other commands like Sit, Down, Wait, Shake, Speak, Drop, Dress, Here, Kennel and Release. By the time he takes his final exam for Kindergarten he will be required to perform a 2-minute Sit-Stay with distractions and a 5-minute Down-Stay with distractions.

There is a lot of learning going on during a puppy's first six months and Sergi will learn all of these commands with little difficulty. More importantly, he will be schooled in all of the behavior qualities that will make him able to live side-by-side in peace and contentment with his forever partner: What items are appropriate for chewing; when to bark, when to be quiet; where and when to toilet; how to stay/sleep happily in a crate; how to greet strangers; how to be alone and stay out of mischief. These things will come more slowly and are the hardest of all to teach.

Being the bright and inquisitive dog that he is, Sergi has already demonstrated difficulty in shutting his brain off and relaxing. He is very busy, busy, busy, and constantly is eager to explore, taste, and jump on the world around him. His challenge ahead will be learning to control his energy and find a balance between play, work and rest.

An Apple a Day

One of the responsibilities of a puppy raiser is to take care of the basic medical needs of the pup. During the first couple of months, the pup needs to go to the vet for a series of vaccinations and well puppy exams. We all hope that doctor visits are limited to just those issues, but we are also prepared in case something else surfaces or goes wrong. It is important, during these visits, to make these trips pleasant and positive experiences so that the puppy will not develop fear or insecurity issues for future checkups.

Throughout the time we raise these puppies, and in particular during the days preceding vet appointments, we make a point of handling and examining the puppy's paws, teeth, gums and general body parts. Then, with a pocketful of treats, we go to into the doctor's office and show the pup what great fun it is to visit the vet.

Sergi did great during his first vet visit. He is so interested in treats, he didn't squirm or yelp when getting his shots and he was quiet and gentle as the vet poked and prodded him. Everyone in the office remarked on how extremely good-looking he is. As he matures, his boxy lab head is developing beautifully and his soft, sleek coat is taking on a gorgeous golden hue. Dr. Morgan looked him over carefully and pronounced him in great health. All in all, Sergi behaved perfectly and was everything we hope for as we watch our puppies grow.

A Clean Slate

As a veteran puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, I constantly have to remind myself of one of the most important lessons we learn: Each puppy is very different from the last and it's a slippery slope to try to compare one to the other.

So it is as I start anew with my fifth puppy, Sergi, a remarkably handsome yellow male Labrador Retriever. Sergi shares the same mother as my last two pups – Toddy – and was born in Carmichael, California, on September 15, 2007. Sergi is second born (blue collar) in Toddy's fifth and last litter and spent his first eight weeks of life under the care, love and supervision of Breeder-Caretaker Extraordinaire Pam Flanagan. He was named in recognition of Ken Sergi, an amazing professional photographer, who is a familiar face at CCI graduations, events and fundraisers.

And thus we start our training and life challenges with a clean slate, trying not to compare this to the last or the one before that. And just as this pup greets each new expe
rience with no preconceptions or notions, I strive to train him according to his specific needs and capabilities. And our journey begins....