Thursday, August 20, 2009

Such an eloquent tribute

This was written by Mark Kowalski, puppy raiser of Kaelen, selected as a breeder, and shared by Marianne Hymanson, a CCI puppy raiser in Phoenix.


CCI Puppy Raisers are front-line ambassadors for CCI. If you’re not a PR and are thinking of becoming one, you must know and accept this. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Ask any Puppy Raiser and you’ll find out it isn’t so simple. For, as a (usually but not always!) able-bodied person in public, handling a dog with a cape, you’ll be the ultimate source for the curious who want to know exactly how these very special dogs get prepared for their life’s work.

This means, that you’ll have to be prepared to answer the top 3 hot questions that many people ask a Raiser:

1. “How do you ever give it up?”
2. “How will you ever give her up?”
3. “How will you ever give him up?”

Oh, and I really have to include the ancillary question: “Isn’t it really hard to give them up?”

These questions are usually followed up by easy questions concerning the dogs a) breed, b) age, c) sex, and d) chances of making it. The answers to these are so simple I’ll just give them to you now:

a) Golden, Labrador, or LGX (“what’s that?”);
b) Somewhere between 2 and 20 months; 
c) One of A) male, B) female, C) formerly A or B; and
d) "Gee, I don’t know. My job is to get Skippy here to the next stage in his life. But you have to have hope!"

So that knocks off the follow-up questions. I’m not saying there aren’t complications. Take me, as an example. Because of the large complement of “extra blond” hairs on my head, my sore knees, and my wrist with carpel-tunnel syndrome, I often must explain that, “No, the 5 month old dog with me is not MY service dog; I’m just raising it and this is one stage in its preparation.” And you must always be prepared to provide the CCI mission statement and summarize the overall training program.

But, what about those hot top 3? I think that we can safely condense those to one question: “How do you ever give them up?” Even though I’m on my 6th pup at the moment, and even though I’ve thought often and deeply about how to answer this question, I still have no solid recommendations for you.

I don’t know what answer people are looking for, or, what answer I should give them.

Should I break down and sob and tell them "Oh, Boo hoo hoo! Yes, it’s just awful!" like some poor victim being interviewed for the 6 o'clock news? After all, if you had to give your pet up, you’d be very upset. I know I would be. 

But this dog is not a pet. It’s the embodiment of a message of love and hope and help and I’m just writing a few introductory sentences into its life’s message. The Breeder Caretaker has already written theirs and the staff and volunteers at CCI added a short note at 8 weeks. “More film at 18 months, folks, stay tuned!”

Well, should I say, "No, it’s OK, my heart is made of stone.", another 5 second TV sound bite? That’s a pretty silly answer, isn’t it? 

But maybe some of the public think a Puppy Raiser is a special make of robot that feels nothing, does not appreciate that every puppy they raise is unique, that does not let the pup into his or her heart and life, that does not worry and fret over every little thing that might ruin their puppy’s chance for success? Oh, I hope they wouldn’t believe that of us!

Do I have the time (and do they), to engage in a serious discussion of the responsibility I feel to help those less fortunate than me? Maybe this amount or type of "donation" is beyond many people's understanding, though lots of people do understand, give us a quiet "Thank you for what you do", and leave it at that.

Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know what to say anymore.

I could drag them off to a CCI graduation and say "Look! LOOK! See?? See? Now do you understand?" Not going to happen too often, is it? But, actually, this does happen and if you can get them there, magic happens! You can always get a graduation DVD and let them borrow it.

When I talk in excess about CCI pups at home, my wife is fond of telling me that "It's not about the dog, it's about the graduate." And, yes, I agree, ultimately it is about the graduate.

“It’s not about the dog?!?” Hmm, well, maybe it’s a little about the dog, too, since it's a graduate TEAM. Clich├ęs aside, I’ve heard many graduates tell us PRs that they’ve accepted their Canine Companion into their life as one of their best and most valued friends. 

This then, might be my latest answer to the Big Question.

When we open our heart to accept its help, the dog is only too willing to lend us its angel wings. Those wings carry us far above our troubles, they beat against the closed hearts of others, and they tug open the gates that have held us back. What a supreme friend we have in the dog! Who among us would deny sharing this friendship with another friend in need? I, for one, cannot. And I think you couldn’t either!

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