Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ikey Doodle Dandy

I've been promising a post about Ike the Labradoodle for a few weeks now, but I've been enjoying my little blogging vacation. Since I've had a puppy-free week and am about to take on another puppysitting assignment, though, I thought I'd best get to it.

Ike is a sweetheart. It was such a comfort to have another dog in the apartment after Lomax's turn-in, especially one so willing to cuddle (Lomax was always a little bit "places to go, people to see, stop trying to hold me still"). And what a 180-degree difference: a long, tall, black, power-chewing, crazy-haired, soft-correction, easy-leash dog!

I love to watch him run; he's got quite the poodle-y spring to him with those long legs and tail, and he's really light on his delightfully hairy feet. Soft to the touch, too, and lovely to groom, despite what I was expecting for a longer-haired pooch. My roommate dubbed him "Captain Yellowbeard" in honor of his piratesque appearance.

Unfortunately, IkeyDoodle wasn't entirely comfortable with his surroundings the week he stayed with me. I walked him twice a day around my neighborhood, to which he never quite grew accustomed. He'd generally start out very strong and confident, walking in a *perfect* loose-lead heel position such that I felt like there was no dog there at all...then something would spook him, and he'd tail-tuck and lose his focus and throw his head back every few steps to look behind us, and have a tough time recovering. Sometimes it was the German shepherd who lives down the street, barking from behind his fence. Sometimes it was a human passerby, out for a walk. Once -- and he nearly tore my arm off with an unexpected bolt behind me and to my other side -- it was bees.

Poor little Ikey. I felt terrible.

He did very well, however, inside my apartment and at my office. It was as though these were places he felt safe; he would calm down and settle right in whenever we came back from our walks.

Sure, he was somewhat fearful, but Ike also has many excellent qualities that would make him a good guide! His obedience is great; in fact, he is lightning-fast with a "down" command and exhibits beautiful control walking up and down stairs, self-correcting with just a gently spoken "easy, Ike" if he gets too far ahead. And he is unbelievably cooperative with ear medication. I've never seen such a thing! All I had to do was pick up the ear drop bottle, sit on the floor and call his name, and he'd trot right over and lie down, turning one ear up toward me. Then he'd turn his head so I could medicate the other ear! That got some positive reinforcement, believe me.

Ike also seemed unphased by most non-dog animals we encountered, whether it was a flock of pigeons on the ground five feet away, or a long-extinct creature mired in a bubbling pit of smelly tar.

Even when it comes to that fearfulness, I'll give him this: Ike is very aware of his surroundings. Due to his "constant vigilance (!)," my roommate also took to calling him "Mad Ike Moody" (you Harry Potter fans will get my meaning).

Ike's fifteen months old and going in for training at the next turn-in, which is in November. Before then, a bunch of us will be swapping Ike around every once in a while so he can get in some extra practice with other handlers...I hope he can come back and visit again soon, because I already miss his lovable, springy self.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lomax Update: Two Weeks Down

Today marks the two-week point since Lomax's turn-in, and I haven't heard anything. As always, no news is good news.

This means that my irrepressible little friend has gone through all his medical checks and, come Monday, will start working with the trainers assigned to his "string" (group of dogs). I'm very excited for him. I'll probably give it another few weeks before I start stalking the puppy department staff, pestering them with phone calls and e-mails, asking how he's doing.

Though come to think of it, maybe I'd be better off not knowing. Less to worry about.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Apparently, Lomax Is It (Our "Five Weird Things")

I've been "tagged" by Moonshadow!

Ahhh, the wonderful world of the Internet -- the only place on Earth where you can play a game of tag without actually getting any exercise. How do you play? Let me explain:

List "five weird things or habits about you" on your blog. Then "tag" five blogger friends and list their names at the end of your post. Your victims-- er, friends (hee hee) have to continue the game by writing their "five weird things" on their own blogs, stating this rule clearly, and tagging five more people (or, in this case, dogs). Don't forget to let your friends know you've tagged them, by leaving a "you've been tagged" comment on their blog that instructs them to read your blog for details.

Confused yet? Here. Let me demonstrate by listing Lomax's "five weird things:"

1. Lomax liked to tuck me in at night. If I turned off my light and got into bed while he was in another part of my bedroom, I would hear him get up and walk over, then I'd feel the pressure of his head pressing on the mattress, making sure I was there, then he'd curl up on the floor next to the bed.

2. When Lomax was REALLY hungry for breakfast or dinner, he'd do this crazy, hopping and spinning dance on his hind legs that made him look like a trained Lipizzaner stallion.

3. Lomax didn't want anyone visiting my fish tank without his supervision. He'd feel the need to get between you and the tank, and wiggle and wag and snort until you paid him the proper attention that let him know he was cuter than the fish.

4. He wanted no part of the meat department at the grocery store.

5. When I (or my roommate) was sitting in the floor or lying on the couch, Lomax especially enjoyed being the perpetrator of a "drive-by licking."

Now, who's it? I tag Chandler, Rockwell, Petey, Zoom, and Jake!

The Blog Verdict is In...

...and I've decided to stay right here, rather than starting a new blog for every new dog. Thank you to everyone who commented with an opinion!

As much as I sympathize with those who have low bandwith and slow computers (that used to be me, too), I think it's ultimately easiest for almost everyone if I just continue with this blog. That way, new readers can have easier access to Lomax's story if they want, and everyone who's been so gracious as to link to me won't have to do any updating. And of course, I won't have to sign in and out a billion times when I'm posting about different dogs (good point, Sam).

I've been dogless since last Friday, when I took Ike back to his regularly scheduled puppy raisers. I'll be blogging about him soon, I promise...I've just been enjoying a little break from posting and walking and feeding and grooming and training, et cetera....

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Time Flies

Lomax has been in formal training for a week now, which means he's halfway through his thorough medical exams. No news is good news!

I was thinking just the other day that I had him for just over ten months. Didn't seem like that long to me, and it makes me wonder how quickly sixteen or eighteen months will pass when I start all over again with a teeny puppy.

This photo was taken on September 21, 2005, on his first day with me:

This one was taken on August 3, 2006, at the company picnic just a couple of days before turn-in:

Also wanted to take a little poll...I'm trying to decide whether to start an entirely new blog for the next dog (and puppies I watch before he arrives), or to continue posting to this one. Fellow puppy raisers, what say you? I know some of you have a different blog for each dog. Advantages of that? Disadvantages? I'm leaning toward keeping things here, but would love to hear your opinions.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mr. Lomax Goes to College

Ah, the arrival of the beautiful and terrible day!

Lomax and I had been to a "pre-turn-in party" the night before with several other puppy raisers, which was of great value; it always helps to be with other sympathetic souls when you're in the throes of emotional distress. In addition to the blessings of food and drink and puppy-free-for-all playtime in the yard, I received many lovely cards with notes containing words of comfort, encouragement and wisdom. My area group is a community of people committed to an act of service, and committed to mutual support of others who are engaged in that service. What also stems from that is friendship.

I had been told many things about turn-in day, some good, some...well, quite frankly, horrifying. And I had reached the point where I was preparing myself for the absolute worst, but maybe that was a good place from which to start.

All things considered, I slept well on Friday night. The alarm was set for early so I'd have plenty of time to spend with my boy before Liam and his people came to pick us up. After breakfast, we took one last walk around the neighborhood, where I took his photo in front of a house with a lovely English garden. Afterward, we had a nice game of "Kong ball" in the parking garage -- one of his favorite things -- and came upstairs to play with his favorite toys. And as an extra-special treat, he was allowed to go into my roommate Amy's bedroom, which had always been off-limits to him. It didn't take much convincing -- Lomax had always been fascinated with Amy's room, and would sit patiently at her door while she was working at her computer, staring little holes in the back of her head in the vain hope that she would relent.

Liam and his people (I suppose we can just call them Matt & Amy) came up to the apartment, and we let the boys have one last brotherly frolic. Because it's my tradition that all the puppies I puppysit get their photos taken with Woody -- the mannequin in our living room, long story -- we of course had to have a session with him before piling into the car for the (too long, and yet not nearly long enough) trip up to GDA.

I'd rarely been just a passenger in a vehicle with Lomax; I was usually the driver. So while we were on the freeway, with that feeling of our inevitable, imminent separation in the pit of my stomach, I spent as much time looking at him and petting him and holding his little face in my hands as I possibly could. He has always been adorable, beautiful to look at, but I could hardly bear it now. I wanted to burn the image and the feel of him into my memory, I could not touch him enough, and yet, doing so felt like the final acceptance of the idea that I would not be able to do so again.

We parked. We steeled ourselves for the moment. I put on his bow tie.

That's right -- Mr. Personality was NOT going to arrive at school on such an auspicious occasion without making the proper impression. I wanted everyone to know exactly with whom they were dealing...and it seemed to be a big hit. Everyone noticed and commented. Lomax, always the one to bring the party with him, no doubt relished the attention as he always does.

We turned in our jackets and our paperwork, received our certificates of appreciation for puppy raising, then took seats in the dining area and waited for lunch. I ate surprisingly well; I was actually hungry, and the food (many thanks to the generous folks at the North Woods Inn in Covina) was actually delicious. My roommate, who doesn't give herself nearly enough credit for being funny, dubbed it "The World's Saddest Barbecue."

Staff members from the GDA puppy department expressed their appreciation and gave us the rundown of what our dogs would be doing for the next several months: two weeks of health examinations, followed by a gradually building schedule of walks and harness work. They went out of their way to reassure us that our puppies would receive the best and most loving kennel and vet staff care, have a great time living in community with the other dogs, and never be pushed beyond what they wanted to do. We also heard from GDA employee Lorri Bernson, who is herself a guide dog user. Lorri and her mom, who also spoke, provided everyone with packs of Kleenex and bags of chocolates, tied with a note: "Thank you for the difference that you've made."

We had a break for photos. This is usually a time when you might find littermates you haven't seen since the day you picked up your tiny puppy a year and a half beforehand. Unfortunately, since there have been career-changes and early turn-ins and (more happily!) breeder evaluations in our litter, Liam and Lomax were the only "L" representatives on the day. So we took our own family photo, then posed for some shots of all five of the South Bay Group dogs headed for their bright futures (left to right: Patton, Nevada, Liam, Lomax, Mahina). Then it was time for the walk down to the kennels.

Louise, head of the puppy department, grouped us together in the shade while she read aloud the names of the dogs who would be paired in each kennel. Our wait wasn't long. Just a few names in, she called...Lomax and Liam.

I felt like I was on The Price is Right, so enthusiastic was the whooping of those who knew our boys. Liam and Lomax, come on dowwwwwwn!!!! This was the biggest gift of the day for me -- the brothers would be roommates. Any concerns I had about my little man's comfort and happiness were instantly alleviated. The Fabulous L Boys, The Brothers Tongue, The Little Bachelors...they've played together and spent time at "Camp GDA" together frequently over the last ten months. On our way into the lads' new home, I dropped a "slightly used" (certified pre-owned?) Nylabone ring into the toy collection bucket for the enjoyment of all.

There it was: number 26, hung with nametags and what would soon be our boys' new working collars. Lomax had absolutely no qualms about his new digs. The instant that Liam shot through the doggy door to the outside section of the kennel, Lomax was wiggling furiously and straining against my attempts at removing his training collar. I let him zoom on through. Surely he was thinking, "I finally have a YARD! And I can go there any time I WANT!"

Two other South Bay dogs, Nevada and Mahina, are neighbors on either side, and Patton is just down the row. So (with the exception of an...ahem, outspoken poodle a couple of kennels down) it looks like a pretty sweet neighborhood!

This, of course, is where the tears came. The GDA staff is very patient and understanding, and allows us to spend as much time as we need to with our pups before we say goodbye, but no one's ever truly ready. Amy and I (and Matt & Amy, and Nevada's raiser Katie) went in and out of the kennels, hugging and kissing and talking to the dogs, taking pictures and trying to make sense of it all. Lomax, of course, was far too busy running around with Liam and jumping up to greet his next-door neighbors to hold still for a proper hug (what else is new?), but Amy and I did our best. After most of the others had gone and things had settled down a bit, Amy and I went back into the kennel to say a prayer for "our boys" and the people whose lives they will touch. As a Christian, it's my belief that nothing I "own" is truly mine -- everything has been given to me by God, entrusted to my stewardship, but everything still belongs to Him. This, too, has made turn-in day easier: my giving Lomax back to his rightful owner, every single day.

The boys were still running around as we left, zooming in and out of the doggy door (Lomax squatting hilariously on the way through, because he's not used to such things), but my little man jumped up to watch as I went. He smiled, and I blew him a kiss: "Be good, Moof! I love you!"

On the way out, I greeted Jessie, who was getting a ride home from GDA with the family who turned in Nevada. She wiggled and snorted and licked my ear, and "moofed" at me...which was surely a message Lomax asked her to pass along.

There was a traditional post-turn-in gathering at Chili's for food and drink which, to my delight, was populated with several other South Bay raisers and their pups. Everyone asked how I was doing -- despite my three-plus years of involvement, this was my first turn-in -- and offered me the company of their dogs to help soften the blow of the empty kennel and ubiquitous yellow dog hair awaiting me at home.

I will be raising again, but am going to take a few months' break just to puppysit while I re-prepare myself to take on the challenge of a seven-week-old Labrador. It will be nice, and probably necessary, to remind myself that every dog is different and special and uniquely wonderful, despite the fact that there will never be another Lomax. At the moment, I can't imagine how that could be. But for now, Ike -- a sweet 15-month-old Labradoodle with beautiful eyelashes, about whom you will be hearing more as he is a more frequent guest in weeks to come -- is an excellent cuddler and slurper of salty tears.

On the whole, the day wasn't as bad as I was expecting, and there were moments of great relief and gladness. The sadness comes and goes, but I find joy in knowing my little man is in good hands and beginning a very exciting journey that will end happily, whatever decision he makes.

Besides, the sadness is only on my part -- I'm sure Lomax is having the time of his life. And I'd bet my life savings that he's the last one tired at the end of each day.

Thank you all (blog readers, fellow puppy raisers, South Bay Group friends, family) for your support and encouragement! Your comments and notes have meant so much. I will keep you posted as to Lomax's progress so you may celebrate each step with me, and I'm bound to keep blogging for sure. Stay tuned....

Friday, August 04, 2006


We enter the next phase of Lomax's journey tomorrow; in one minute, it will be August 5, 2006. But even with our minds on the future, we can stop to enjoy the moment at hand.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Early Lomax

Joanna was kind enough to give me some of Lomax's baby pictures, and I thought I'd share my favorite "before I knew Lomax" shots. Joanna, if you want to give us some context, feel free to leave explanations in the comments section!

Brothers Liam and Lomax on puppy pickup day:

What I assume to be Lomax's first encounter with a being of the feline persuasion:

Dog is my co-pilot:

Lomax and the first of many indignities to come (see "Lomaximus"):

And I'm REALLY curious about "Air Lomax" in this one:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Happiest Dog On Earth Meets The Happiest Place On Earth

A trip to Disneyland is a puppy-in-training rite of passage, and lucky Mr. Lomax has been able to go twice!

It's a great experience in general. First of all, unlike many public places, the park is very accommodating toward working service dogs AND dogs in training. All the "cast members" (Disneyland employees) we encounter welcome us and go out of their way to make sure we have immediate escorted access to the handicapped entry and exit points on the attractions...yes, Lomax gets to go on the rides, and the rest of his party doesn't have to stand in an hour-long line! Disneyland Guest Services does not have an official printed list of do's and don'ts. They do recommend you not take dogs on rides that require safety restraints (no dogs on Space Mountain, for example), but for the most part, decisions are left to the puppy raiser's discretion, since we're the ones who know our dogs best.

A day at Disneyland is a "no touch" day, meaning that I don't allow people to pet Lomax, no matter how nicely they ask. It's just too overwhelming an environment, and it's best to let a dog focus on the task of navigating the crowds without any additional distractions or stressors. The one exception I allow is a Disneyland cast member. If no one else is looking, I'll let the employees greet Lomax as a gesture of our thanks -- you see, not only are the park staffers accommodating, many of them also voluntarily contribute money from their paychecks to the Disneyland Cast Fund. The Fund has sponsored many a GDA puppy, each dog named after a Disney character (Lady, Ariel, etc.). I figure they've earned a little puppy love for their generosity!

The first time, we went with brother Liam and his puppy raisers, who (like my roommate and I) are also annual passholders. This makes it easy to hit the park and not feel like you've just wasted sixty dollars if your dog is tired and stressed and needs to leave a few hours into your day. Being a summer weekend, it was hot, humid, and crowded, but I was very proud of Lomax. He handled the crowds like a champ, with nary a sign of stress. He didn't even pull on the leash until the very end of the day, when he was tuckered out and losing a little focus (which, after eight hours at Disneyland, happens to the best of us).

There are a million photo ops in the park -- the first one I insisted upon, of course, was the huge sign at the entrance to Disney's California Adventure.

One of the things that got me interested in puppy raising was the fact that I was always seeing puppy raisers when I went to Disneyland. This day was no exception -- as we were relieving Lomax and heading over to a cafe for lunch in the Grand Californian Hotel, we were stopped by a man and his son, who recognized Lomax's yellow working jacket. Turns out, they have a GDA puppy as well, who since he is from the most recent "K" litter was too young to accompany them to the park. But isn't it funny? Just like being in a foreign nation and recognizing someone from your native country, you feel a kinship with a total stranger and are compelled to say hello.

It's hard to take photos on the actual rides, because in general, I prefer having both hands on the dog. :) But there's something amazing about Disneyland that enables you to get a good shot even of someone lying under a table at lunchtime.

And everyone's excited to see these dogs. Toddlers (who are at DISNEYLAND, for cryin' out loud!) completely look away from whatever they're into to shout, "Doggie! Doggie!" Cast members ooh and ahh...including a costumed character overdue for her break who has waved bye-bye to a bunch of children clamoring for her to stay. Lilo was as excited as she could be without breaking the costumed character vow of silence, waving us over for a picture.

There are so many traditions involved in the "last hurrah" at the park: the stop at City Hall on Main Street for "Honorary Citizen" stickers, the purchasing of nametags, the requisite photo at Mickey's house. He was a little freaked out by Mickey at first and didn't want to sit still for a photo, so I had to step in and take the leash. Toon Town was fun, but I think Lomax decided that if Liam was driving, he wanted no part of the experience.

Between his two Disney excursions (one with Liam & company, and one with our roommate Amy), Lomax experienced several of the park's attractions...

* It's A Small World
* The Disneyland Express train ride around the park
* Haunted Mansion
* Jungle Cruise (he settled quickly after the initial surprise of the gunshot)
* Pirates of the Caribbean

...and a whole host of other unusual sights, sounds and smells throughout the day.

Like I said, I was very proud of him, as I have been frequently over the last several months. I wasn't sure how he'd react to the craziness, but he was a pro, both times. I think he's ready for formal training.

And here's a rare sight for you... Lomax, tired. Genuinely tired. (So THAT's what it takes!)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Does This Mean He's Obedient Now?

Tonight was our last obedience class. We've been attending ongoing weekly classes with many of the same dogs who have been attending for years. That's the great thing about this -- it's not just a six or eight or ten week course; you can keep coming to keep your dog sharp. A few of our human classmates have been training their pooches for dog shows, and it's been fun to see the pups' progress.

So I brought my camera, because I wanted to post some photos of Lomax's friends.

Here's most of the lineup:

And who is this handsome young man?

Me with GDA "career change" dog Neon, who looks like the girl version of Lomax:

Chico, in the capable hands of his young handler:

Michael, who's Chico's "brother":

The girls, Olive and Mandy:

Our good buddy Trooper:

When I started taking Lomax to this class last fall, he was so wiggly and distracted that he could hardly walk next to another dog for ten seconds without lunging for playtime. He was also completely focused on the basketball players on neighboring courts. But tonight, he heeled perfectly on a loose lead and ignored the half-dozen or so basketballs that bounced or rolled through our class thanks to the spirited game going on just a few feet away.

He's come so far already, and I don't think he's done yet. Good job, little man.