April 13, 2014
West is 16 months old now and will only be living with us for one more month.  OMG, I will miss this wonderful dog.  But, I know that he will be well cared for and loved by the trainers at Advanced Training at the Canine Companions for Independence facility in Ohio.  I often compare our puppy raising contribution as seeing the pups through their high school years and then them going off to college.  In keeping with that analogy, his kennel will be his dorm and his dorm mate will be another young student, possibly even a litter mate.  When I prior pup, Frankie went to “college” he roomed with his brother.  Frankie and Fargo recognized each other (probably through their heightened sense of smell) and were excited to be reunited.
So, West will continue his journey to become a service dog.  He will go through a series of tests to evaluate his health and potential and then the training will begin.  He will be there for six months.  During this time we will receive progress reports.  The first will be a phone call telling us how our boy is adjusting and then there will be monthly written reports.  A phone call after the first one is generally not a good thing, it would likely mean that West was being released from the program.  Does this surprise you?  Even with the best breading, training, planning and hoping, less than 1/2 of the dogs graduate as service dogs.  This is because Canine Companions for Independence has high standards.  It would be traumatic for all involved to place a dog that did not have all the right attributes to become a service dog for someone with a disability.  Each dog has do be healthy, have a sound temperament and have the ability to focus as well as the ability to wait quietly until needed.  
The first Canine Companions for Independence puppy I raised, Nia did not have the focus.  She wanted to chase bunnies and squirrels.  I was given the first opportunity to have her back as my pet but due to the timing, I could not take her back.  Instead, she was adopted.  The Canine Companions Release Dogs are available for adoption.  In a nut shell, potential owners are required to make a one time donation of $500.00, fill out and application and then be willing to be placed on the waiting list.  The wait time varies by the number of dogs released and the number of people on the list but is usually about two years.  Dogs that are released are wonderful dogs that are already spayed or neutered and have gone through extensive training but are just not the exceptional dogs that graduate. 
Will West graduate?  No one knows.  What???  You’ve seen West and he is outstanding.  On some days he is nearly perfect….other days he is still fabulous.  However, just as our teens act differently when they go off to college, so do your pups.  It is an adjustment to go from living in a cushy home where he is often the center of attention to a kennel with dozens of other dogs.  We have given West a great foundation.  He is confident, smart and strong.  He will miss me but he will adjust and frankly, he will adjust faster than I will.  He loves me deeply.  He is at my feet as I write this.  He has learned a lot of things, including how to love.  Or maybe he instinctively knew and has now experienced it.  Like people, we take some time after a break up and then go on to a new relationship.  After the six months of advanced training (presuming he has not been released), West will be more than ready to “love” again (as if he will ever stop, he’s such a lover and an affectionate boy).  Anyway, for the sake of the analogy, West will be ready for a new love and he will bond completely with his person after the match is made.  I’ve seen this and it makes every tear worthwhile
If West does get released, we will welcome him back to our home.  He will have what we call a Career Change and take steps to become a Therapy Dog.  By the way, a Therapy Dog is much, much different from a Service Dog.  The law says that a Service Dog is not a pet.  Though certainly loved as much as any pet, they are working animals and classified differently.  A Therapy Dog is a pet.  You can train your dog to do therapy work without giving them up.  You and your dog would be a team who make visits to places such as nursing homes and hospitals.  A fun way (at least I think it is fun) to remember about Therapy Dogs being pets is that the letters of the word pet and jumbled up in the word therapy.  (hint: read it backwards).
Back on topic….whether West graduates as a Service Dog or becomes a pet who does therapy work, it’s a win/win.  If he graduates, he is fulfilling our highest hopes for him.  If he does not, we have loved being his puppy raisers, we have been fantastic ambassadors for Service Dogs during our outings and demonstrations and we will continue to brighten the lives of others in a revised capacity as a Therapy Dog.
Our home will certainly be different when West goes to Ohio.  However, we do have a pet.  Simon is our two year old German Shepherd Dog.  In addition to Simon, we have been approved for our next Canine Companions for Independence Puppy.  Both Simon and this new candidate will distract us from missing West.  We don’t know if we will be getting a male or female or what color he/she will be.  We know that Canine Companions for Independence’s breading program uses Black Labs, Yellow Lab and Golden Retrievers and that the majority of the dogs are crosses of these breeds.  My first was a black female cross and both Frankie and West were light colored crosses.  The next puppy will be my 4th so for now I am calling him/her Number Four.  This is also what I used to name my team for DogFest.  More details to follow on that but for now, mark your calendars for Saturday October 18th and plan to come walk with us to raise money & awareness for Canine Companions for Independence.


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