April 23, 2012
Remember my friend Randi? Her CCI service dog Lucky passed away last October. Click here
to read about Randi and Lucky if you need a refresher. Have the tissues handy.
I had dinner with Randi recently and she mentioned that she'd just returned from CCI in Oceanside, Calif.
"Oooh, did you get a successor dog?" I asked. "Where is he?"
Randi shook her head. "It's not that easy, Rocket. I had to go through the exact same process I did the first time. In fact, my friend Christine, who came to stay with me after Lucky died, was really concerned about me being without a dog so she called Simi, CCI program manager, to see if she could get the process started on my behalf. "
I sat up. "That seems like a good idea. What did Simi tell Christine?"
"Simi told her it wasn't a good idea. CCI feels it is important that the graduate initiate the process. She told Christine that when I was ready I had to contact them directly; they would not allow someone else to start the process for me."
I frowned. "That seems kind of harsh to me. They know you, they know how much you loved and cared for Lucky, and how much he helped you."
Randi shook her head again, "No, it's very wise of CCI to require the person to go through the process again. It was very emotional and very difficult for me, but very necessary. Just like the first time, I had to fill out the extensive application outlining my everyday life, my work, my social network, hobbies and habits, as well as send photos of my house and yard so they could get a really good idea of how I live my life."
"Gee, that sounds like a lot of work," I said.
"And that's only the beginning! I sent in the application in mid-November, the Monday after Lucky's memorial service, and had my phone interview with CCI staff at the end of January."
"You'd already filled out the application; what else did they need to know?" I wondered.
"They want more details about why I want a CCI dog and what my expectations are," Randi said. "At every step they make it very clear that the application process, even for a successor dog, in no way guarantees that an applicant will be approved for a dog. It is not a slam dunk, not by any means!"
She paused to take a bite of lasagna. "Two weeks after phone interview I received forms in the mail to be filled out by my doctor and another reference. The references were asked how they know me, what they think I struggle with the most and how a dog might benefit me. CCI also asked the references to describe my physical abilities and mental/emotional capabilities." Randi laughed and said, "I always joke that it is almost harder to get a CCI dog than it is to adopt a baby!"
"Kind of sounds that way," I agreed. "So why did you go to Oceanside?"
"It's the next step in the process. It was similar to the first time I interviewed on campus, except that I knew a bit better what to expect. More importantly, now I know very well just how a service dog can help me! When I applied the first time, I wasn't even sure I needed a service dog; I really had no idea what exactly the dog would do. Now I know so well what a dog can do, and in fact, was surprised to realize how very dependent I was on Lucky. Even though I was nowhere near ready for another dog last November, I knew I needed to start the process so I would have the absolutely essential presence of a service dog in my life. THAT
is what struck me most: six years ago I was not even sure I needed a dog and now I am absolutely lost without one.
I was getting a little choked up so I crunched on an ice cube as an excuse to regain my composure. "Was it hard to be back on campus without Lucky?"
Randi nodded. "It was very bittersweet going back to Oceanside, and I took a friend with me for moral support because I was not sure I would be able to hold it together. When we arrived, before I went inside, I sat in the parking lot and had a good cry. I cried for my beloved Lucky, knowing that no matter how hard I looked, his face would not be among all the sweet, furry faces I would see. It was another reminder that our time together, at least here on Earth, had passed and now it was time to move forward. It was tough because I didn't want Lucky to think I was leaving him behind, and you know what? I didn't -- he came along with me! I felt his presence as soon as I went inside. As I wheeled through campus, memories of Lucky were everywhere, and to my surprise, very comforting. It was as if Lucky was putting his paw print of approval on the whole process. Somehow I was able to be strong and get through the day gracefully and with lots of joy, thanks to Lucky, unseen by my eyes, but sensed very strongly by my heart."
GULP. I had to crunch on another ice cube before I was able to ask, "What was the actual interview like?"
"There were four of us there to interview. First we watched a DVD and a presentation on CCI, what they expect from us and what we can expect from them. I am always struck by CCI's standard of excellence and their high standards and expectations from the graduates. They hold the well-being of the dogs and the safety of the team as their highest priority and I absolutely and heartily respect them for that."
I barked loudly in agreement. Darned straight.
Randi poked me nervously. "Rocket, hush! Inside voice."
OOPS. I forgot we were in a restaurant. "Sorry."
"Good boy." Randi patted my head. "CCI makes it very clear that the interview day is for the applicants to decide if CCI is the right organization for them as well as the applicants being right for CCI; it is a day to "try each other on" to some degree."
"Yeah, yeah right, but what about dogs? Did you meet any dogs?" I asked impatiently.
Randi laughed. "Yes Rocket, but first we worked with Carpet Dog."
"Carpet Dog? Ugh, I've heard a lot of peculiar names for CCI dogs, but seriously, Carpet Dog
?" I huffed. "That's got to be the worst name ever."
"He's not a real dog, Rocket. Carpet Dog is made from what looks like a large wooden spool, about the size of a Welsh Corgi; the middle of the spool is covered with carpet, thus the name Carpet Dog."
I sighed. "That's a relief. What's it for?"
"The trainers use it to teach the graduates how to do corrections and to see how able they are to use their arms and hands for corrections. Carpet Dog has a prong collar around its "neck" that is attached to a leash. You tell Carpet Dog to sit and if he does, then you praise him. If you tell him to sit and he doesn't, you correct him with "Don't!" and pop of the collar." Randi gave me a sly look. "Sounds like your puppy class, doesn't it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said, insulted. "I am a Very Good Puppy and never need corrections."
For some reason, Randi choked on her wine. After she'd stopped coughing, I asked, " What else does Carpet Dog do?"
"Simi is the "puppet master" for Carpet Dog, and does a sublime job, right down to the subtle wag of his tail when he has been a good boy!" Randi smiled. "After we gave Carpet Dog a few commands and the staff observed us, we moved on to the real dogs. I got to work with Norad, a big golden retriever/labrador mix."
"Same mix as me!" I said. "What was Norad like?"
"First thing I noticed about him was when he was in his kennel he made the "hippopotamus moan" that Lucky always made, and of course my heart melted! And when he came out of his kennel and walked up to me he had the Lucky butt wiggle and my heart melted even more! He was a big lug of a love, he had those beautiful brown eyes and that sweet, soulful look that I have seen before in Lucky's eyes, so my heart melted all over the place. I told him to sit, he looked at me as if to say "Well, alrighty then," and proceeded to plunk his bottom on the floor, looking up at me as if to say, "I'm a good boy aren't I?" I praised him, then said, "Norad, down." He did a slow slide to the floor, once again as if to say "Okey dokey, whatever you want, I'm jiggy with it."
I frowned at her. "You know, we CCI dogs hardly ever say okey dokey or jiggy. Seriously."
Randi ignored me. "After the group session we had intense hour-long individual interviews. It is uncanny to me how well CCI matches dogs with people, and I know part of the reason is the interview process. They are masters of observation and of knowing human as well as animal behavior; it truly is fascinating. They could teach psychology at Harvard!"
"So I've heard," I said. "Did you pass? When do you get your new partner?"
"A week after my interview I found out that I am on the wait list! They made it very
clear during interview day that the dogs drive the wait list. They do give successor candidates preference on the list because they understand how hard it is to be without a dog once you have had one, but it takes the right dog AND the right person. You may be on the list for a short time and the right dog for you comes along, so you may get a dog before someone who has been on the list longer, or you can be on the list longer than others, it just depends upon when the right match comes along. AND, they make it very
clear that when you do get called to team training it is an opportunity
to match with a dog, not a given."
Randi paused and gave me a serious look. "Rocket, I know I harp on this, but it such an essential function of what the trainers and selection committee does; they know the dogs so well, and they know the people very well after the extensive selection process, so they know when the *right* dog comes along."
I sidled over and put my head in Randi's lap. "How are you feeling about all of this?"
Randi thought for a moment. "It's a very singular experience, almost like losing a spouse and then going to a matchmaker to find another one. It seems too soon in some ways, but in other ways it seems that it can't come soon enough. I don't know how I will ever love another dog to the degree that I loved Lucky. He was my heartbeat; I don't know where I ended and he began, he was my other half of a whole. But all the reasons that Lucky was in my life, and all the gifts he gave to me are why I am in the midst of the process again. Lucky's purpose was to give me independence and confidence and bring joy to my life. He was faithful and true to the last beat of his heart and I owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. So I am opening my heart to another canine companion who will carry on his legacy, should I be blessed with the privilege of having a successor dog."
"I'd love to be your successor dog, but I have a lot more training to do," I admitted. "But like you say, CCI makes magical matches. I'm sure your perfect dog is waiting for you."
"I am and always will be grateful to CCI for giving me the gift of Lucky. He made me a better person, he opened my heart and he gave me the confidence to walk down the path before me. He made every day a joy and a delight, he made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and I will live the rest of my life grateful to CCI for what they do. Because of them, because of Lucky and whomever comes after him, I can live an independent and joyful life. Lucky me!"
When we left the restaurant, Randi gave me a quick hug and promised that she'd let me know when she gets the call to go to Team Training. Stay tuned!
Chow for now!
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