Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Road Trip

I got bad news last Monday that my last remaining uncle died. My cousin asked if I could come up to help and of course I said I could. I had a trip to Las Vegas planned, but I told her I would come as soon as I got back. The services weren't until Sunday, so I had a couple of days leeway.

When I got back from LV on Friday I picked Sergi up from Ann's house and brought him home for the night. We got up early Saturday, packed our bags, and left by 6:30 AM for the long drive to Santa Rosa with a quick stop in Valencia to pick up my other cousin. Sergi settled into his crate in the car and I hoped that he would not get too restless during the 10+ hour drive.

We stayed in a hotel -- The Flamingo -- a couple of miles from my aunt and uncle's house and spent the next few days visiting, cooking, drinking wine, snacking on bread and cheese, remembering, talking, laughing, crying and sharing.

My aunt had requested that Sergi come on the trip to see her. She had briefly met him back in November when I was there visiting over the Thanksgiving weekend. She loves all of the CCI pups I have raised and was eager to see Sergi again and see how the rambunctious young fellow was doing. I was a little concerned that his energy would be unappreciated with all that was going on, so I made a point of taking him for walks each morning to try to burn off some of it before going over to the house. This was also his first stay in a hotel, and though I had a familiar portable crate for him, there is always the worry about the strangeness of the room and his ability to adjust to new surroundings. At four months old, Sergi was being asked to behave and adapt at a level above his usual expectations.

Well, I couldn't have been more proud from beginning to end. Sergi rode quietly in his crate every moment we were in the car. He was calm throughout the day, even though there was quite a bit of hubbub going on. He sat near my auntie and let her pat and stroke him while she told him about how sad she was. He went with us to the church for the service and up to the altar kneeling rail with me when we received communion. (He actually tried to go up past me, with tail wagging, to greet the priest as he prepared the wine, but I snatched him back down. The priest thought he was great!) Sergi went to the graveside and stood near my aunt as we threw dirt on the grave, and was still and gentle as it all took place. His demeanor in the hotel was stellar and we had no accidents or issues. He really could not have done better.

We puppyraisers talk all the time about how amazing these pups are and how they touch people. Yes, when they graduate, they change lives. Their new partners tell us over and over how much the dogs enrich their lives and help them overcome or deal with their handicaps. But as puppyraisers we also see how our pups enrich the lives of the people along the way well before they graduate. This experience was one of those moments. Having Sergi there helped us all. Surely, my aunt who needed a pair of big, brown non-judgemental eyes to tell her sorrow to. But also each of the rest of us, who would reach over for a pat or a lick or a tummy scritch. Each of us found a few seconds of solace and joy in the interaction with a little yellow pup who was eager to share his soft coat and velvet ears and unconditional love.

These dogs touch lives. I'm so happy to be able to share in all that they have to give.

Sleep Over

For my birthday this year, my dearest friend, Louise, treated me to a Las Vegas vacation/show package. We went to see Phantom of the Opera, which she knows is one of my very, very favorites. It clearly was not a place appropriate for such a young puppy as Sergi, so I had to make arrangements for him to stay with someone during the three days I would be gone.

The first person who came to mind was my good friend Ann, who adopted my third puppy, Hefner. She is a great dog handler, knows the CCI commands, and is able to take the dogs to work with her. I crossed my fingers when I called and was thrilled when she answered "yes" to my request to puppy sit. Sergi was going to get to stay with his big brother for two nights and I was going to get to enjoy my birthday without worrying about my boy.

I was sorry that Sergi was not more reliably toilet-trained for his visit, but Ann was willing to deal with it anyway. I packed his overnight bag, filled it with familiar toys and food, and off he went last Wednesday for his adventure.

When I picked him up on Friday, Ann was still speaking to me and said that it had gone pretty well. Sergi had a couple of accidents, but did well for the most part. Ann was also puppysitting another dog, Clementine, which took the pressure off of Hefner to be Sergi's sole source of amusement. Sergi and Clem did very well, I heard, and the three of them tired each other out.

Ann made a slide show for me of Sergi's adventures. The captions on the pictures are just priceless, I wish I had her wit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cabin Fever

We are mostly blessed in Southern California to be able to be active outside about 355 days a year. Where I live, near the ocean, the average temperature is in the low 70's and almost every day is a Chamber of Commerce day. We don't have snow, sleet, hail, gales, tornadoes, hurricanes or, for that matter, enough rain usually. We have been ten years now in a drought, but it looks like this winter we will get enough precipitation to reach our normal rainfall level of about eight inches. This weekend has been one of the few that has kept Sergi and me indoors because of the inclement weather. Sergi's having a tough time staying indoors, but it beats the alternative.

For the most part, Sergi is one brave dog, but yesterday I found his weakness: rain. He is miserable in it and wants nothing to do with it. The first time he went out and raindrops hit him, he yowled like a junkyard dog. It was like little balls of fire were pelting him from the sky. When asked to walk through a puddle, he almost became immobile. He couldn't figure out how to get around the puddle, so he actually sort of "tiptoed" through it, as if getting his feet wet would cause him to melt. It is actually hilarious to watch (poor puppy!).

In between cloudbursts today, I took him outside for a short romp and run to get his energy out. He tore around the front yard like a bullet. The term "FRAP" is used for this kind of wild running, an acronym for Frenetic Running And Playing. His tail is tucked, his head down and he runs like a racehorse going for the finish line. I tried taking pictures of it, but mostly he was going so fast I had lots of empty frames of nothing but grass.

One major thing I noticed today is that Sergi is losing his puppy shape. There's a big change starting in his body structure – the transition from cute rolly polly puppy to dog. His abdomen is starting to show a tuck and he is developing his waistline. His legs are getting longer and he will soon be starting his lanky, gangly stage.

This is always such a bittersweet time since maturity signals progress and is so much easier to deal with on a day-to-day supervision basis. But it also is a hallmark of the loss of those cute little puppyisms, the innocence, the antics that only babies provide.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


One of my favorite hobbies is a game/sport called geocaching. It involves one person hiding an item, listing the long/lat coordinates on a website ( and then another person using a handheld GPS unit going out and finding it. Once the cache is located, the finder signs a log inside and replaces it so that the next geocacher can have the same fun. The item can be as small as a thumbnail or as large as a paint bucket. The cache can be hidden in a shopping center parking lot or on top of Mount Whitney (yes, there really is one there!).

One of the best things about geocaching is that it takes you to trails you don't necessarily know about, to see things you may not have seen and gives you a reason to get up and outside in the fresh air and put some miles on your boots. I first learned about geocaching by reading about it in the dog magazine "The Bark" as a fun activity to do with a dog. And that it is!

Sergi is old enough now and has had enough shots to start going out into the world. On New Year's Day, I took him out for his first geocaching hike along the improved trails around Discovery Lake. We went with Patty Irby, a CCI trainer, and her two pet dogs, Molly and Matthau. We hiked about three miles and found four caches. Sergi was a terrific trail dog! He trotted alongside the big dogs, matching them stride for stride. I was worried that he would get tired and I would have to carry him, but he kept up easily everywhere we went. Of course, whenever we stopped to find a cache and sign the log, Sergi lay down and rested for a few minutes. But he eagerly got up each time he was asked to go again.

We saw lots of people and other dogs walking around the trails. A few mountain bikes whizzed by, joggers passed us, we saw lots of birds, ducks and coots, and all the time Sergi was excellent about walking on a loose leash, not pulling and not reacting fearfully to anything that came his way.

Encouraged by that success, I took him out again today in the hills above the Batiquitos Lagoon. We walked on posted but rocky trails and did a few steep hill climbs. Again, Sergi was magnificent in his ability to walk next to me without lunging or dragging and was willing to go anywhere I asked him to go. He drank easily from the flexible water dish I brought with us and even helped me find one of the caches I was looking for.

It's a nice omen to have a pup that is not reluctant to go new places and is not afraid of new surroundings. I was very proud of the boy out there and look forward to some great times together, hiking and walking together as a team.

A good friend of mine, who is also a puppy raiser for CCI, has a blog all about geocaching with her puppy. You can check it out at