Denver - Remember my friend Randi, who went to Team Training in November to get her successor dog? If not, here are links to previous DogBlogs about Randi:
I'll snooze while you catch up. (Sound of snoring)
Ready? Excellent! As you might expect, I checked in with Randi to see how she and Hughy, her Canine Companions partner, are doing.
JEB: What was your first reaction when you got the call to go to November Team Training?
RANDI: As you know, losing Lucky was devastating for me, so when I got the call to go to Team Training it was a reminder that my sweet Lucky would not be coming back; sounds funny that after a year I would still be surprised by that emotion, but so it was. I had just gotten to the gym when I got the call. I was in the lobby and I just started crying, and Simi was very understanding.
JEB: Yes, I've heard how amazing Simi is with you humans. I guess she has to be, since she's Graduate Program Manager. Were you sad?
RANDI: No, I told Simi I was happy but it was just that Lucky was such an extraordinary dog and they had set the bar so high with him; they hit it out of the park matching me with Lucky and Simi simply replied, "I know, and we've done it again."
RANDI: I know! That made me stop in my tracks. Later I told Simi that I almost called her back that day to tell her I wasn't ready, and she told me that she almost called me back too. It was just so hard to move forward without my Lucky, but I knew I had to; he would want me to, and that would be the best way I could honor him. I remember having to leave the gym because I was crying, and I cried all the way home, so grateful and yes, even excited, but so very bittersweet too. I was fairly certain lightning could not strike twice.
JEB: When you got to Team Training in November did you feel like Lucky was there, "helping?"
RANDI: When I decided to apply for another dog I said prayers that somehow I would know that Lucky had a paw in picking the next guy. It was something I absolutely had to have a sense of, I needed a sign, otherwise I knew I wouldn't be able to do it. I know that sounds goofy but it's what I needed. I recall talking to one of the vets at Colorado State University after the wonderful memorial service they hold every year for animals that have passed, and I was telling her about needing a sign, and she said, "Don't look too hard because you might miss the signs that are right in front of you."
JEB: Interesting. And did you see the signs you were hoping for?
RANDI: Yes! When we arrived for Team Training the first thing I saw were two ravens landing on the light post. That made my heart skip a beat because as Lucky was taking his last breath, I looked up and noticed two ravens sitting on a telephone pole there by the pond at CSU; seeing two of them again made me take notice!
JEB: Yeah, I'd say that was a sign all right. Anything else?
RANDI: Another thing that made me know Lucky was there was occurred during the brunch for puppy raisers just prior to our graduation ceremony. CCI had put together a beautiful musical slide show of the dogs as puppies and of the new graduate teams together. As they showed the picture of Hughy and me, the song "Wonderful World" started to play, and that was the song that we played at Lucky's memorial service. And then the trainers read the very same poem that I had printed on the program at Lucky's service: "He is your friend your partner, your defender, your dog, you are his life, his love, his leader, you owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion." Lucky obviously wanted it to be very clear to me that he helped in the whole process and that he was handing the baton to Hughy to carry on for him.
JEB: (sniffling) Uh, let me just grab a tissue. How did this TT experience compare to your first time?
RANDI: I was surprised by how exhausting it was, maybe because I'm older or not as strong as I was before, but it was more intense than I remembered. I had a wonderful friend (Chris Blackwell, you can print that so she gets the kudos she deserves) who went with me this time. Had it not been for Chris I know I would have turned tail and headed back home.
JEB: Wait, you have a tail?
RANDI: No, silly, that's just a term we humans use; I don't really have a tail.
JEB: Oh, that's too bad. But back to Team Training, was it similar to the last time you were there?
RANDI: The training was mostly the same with just a few differences. For instance, I worked with more dogs this time, and they had us "meet and greet" all the dogs; I don't recall doing that last time.
JEB: Tell me about meeting Donahue: What did you think of him?
RANDI: I first saw Donahue (now known as Hughy) in his kennel in the training room that first afternoon. I had seen the crates the night before class started, they were all lined up, stacked two high, and the names of the dogs were on them. I saw Leo's name, and Dinah, and Lochlin, names I recognized from knowing the puppy raisers. I also saw new names and when I saw Donahue on the bottom crate, far right. I thought it was a funny name and said, "Well, his first name has got to be Phil."
RANDI: I saw Hughy the next day when all dogs were in their crates, but he was so black that he was hard to see in his crate. I remember he worked with one of my classmates and I noticed how intently he watched the wheels of his power chair as they did a "let's go" around the room; he looked very smart. We did our first "meet and greet" on Tuesday. The trainers brought a few dogs out in the morning and after lunch so we all had a chance to meet them.
JEB: Was it a free for all or structured?
RANDI: The trainers had us form a circle and then brought the dogs around to interact with us. I remember when Hughy came to meet me, he stepped up on my footplate and came at me like a freight train of love, licking my face, wiggling, wagging his tail, almost slurped the earrings right off my ears!
JEB: Freight train of love - that's a great description! Did you feel like he was "the one?"
RANDI: I think he was saying, "Hey, it's me, I'm the one Lucky picked for you, I am so glad to meet you!" However, at the time I had my eye on a big yellow guy that looked a lot like Lucky to me, so my heart wasn't all the way open to big old Hughy. I thought he might be "too much dog" for me because he was SO big and SO exuberant. In fact, that afternoon, I had to leave the training room because I was getting emotional; I didn't think I could do it, I just wanted Lucky back.
JEB: Jeepers, that sounds like it was really hard for you.
RANDI: Dear Simi, she was right there by my side and she said that just like a wedding, we could call it off and wait until I was ready, but she hoped that I would trust her and the process and just enjoy the dogs and not think about anything besides that. I told her that I would never be "ready," but I had to move forward anyway. I told her I would trust her and just enjoy each dog.
JEB: Then what happened?
RANDI: That afternoon I actually worked with Hughy and thought he was beautiful and fun, and when they chose him to do the first "walk around campus" I had a moment when I realized that he was the one Lucky picked. It didn't make it any easier, but at least I knew. I remember thinking."Are you SURE? THIS guy?? He's so BIG and SO exuberant…really??!??!? Who in their right mind would think this is the dog for me!??!?!"
JEB: Jeez, offhand I'd say Simi and the trainers and Lucky thought he was the dog for you! Did it get easier after that?
RANDI: No, it was still a tough couple of days. I was matched with Hughy on Wednesday morning, and every chance I got I asked the trainers if they thought he was a great dog; I was seeking reassurance that he was the perfect dog for me. Simi finally sat me down and said, "WE know he's the perfect dog for you, but YOU are the one who has to know it," and that's when it hit me that I would have to leave Lucky behind before I could move on with a new dog.
JEB: He'll always be with you, don't you know that? We dogs always leave paw prints on your heart, you know.
RANDI: Yup, Simi just looked at me with her wise Simi look and said, "Of course you don't leave Lucky behind, he comes right along with you; he's always by your side."
That was all it took. Once I knew that I wasn't leaving Lucky, I was OK. It blindsided me, all the emotion I felt, but it was a very new experience, and I had nothing really to compare it to. The bond with a service dog is so very unique and so very, very close.
After that day it was a quick and slippery slope to falling for my big, black and shiny Hughy!
JEB: What was the first night like when he got to sleep in your room?
RANDI: The trainers coached us how to act for our first night in the dorm. We were instructed to put the dogs on a "release" but not allow them to jump on the bed unless invited. I got back to the dorm room and told Hughy "Release!" after which he promptly executed a beautiful swan dive on to the bed......and that is my Hughy, so resolute and purposeful and responsive under command, but a bit like a frat boy when released.
RANDI: He jumped off the bed after my stern "Off!" command and proceeded to the dirty clothes pile where he deftly fetched a bra and started trotting around the room showing off his prize. Next thing, I thought, he's going to grab a beer and the remote control in true frat boy fashion.
RANDI: Needless to say, we took every precaution and "Hughy-proofed" the room. I had forgotten what it's like to have a puppy, and even a two-year old puppy is still a puppy. One thing I will say for Hughy - he keeps me on my toes!
JEB: How does he compare to Lucky, in terms of how he works with you?
RANDI: I learned that each dog is so very unique unto themselves, and it will take some time to get to know Hughy and for him to get to know me. He is very different from Lucky in many ways, but at times I see a twinkle of the familiar in his eyes. As for how he works with me, I call him my firemen and my Marine: he is at attention at the mere mention of his name. Sometimes, when Hughy is lying by my feet and I am talking to a friend and I mention his name, he pops to attention on all fours in a nanosecond, at the ready; he is so amazing that way.
JEB: Sounds kind of show-offy to me, but maybe that's just my puppy perspective.
RANDI: Oh no, Hughy is a dog who loves to work! He loves to push drawers and doors closed. In fact, in the mornings when I'm getting ready if I leave the closet door open or a drawer open he will just waltz in and push them shut, I don't even have to ask him! And, the other day as I was getting out of my van, I dropped a water bottle but I just decided I would get it later, my hands were full. I gave Hughy the "off" command to get out of the van, but before he got out he picked up the water bottle; what a gentleman! I don't recall Lucky ever doing that. But Lucky could pick up anything off the floor in a second; he was so deft at the "get" and "give" commands, very fluid. Hughy sometimes takes his time and moves things around a bit before picking them up. I think he just needs more practice. Lucky had amazing house and yard manners when he was off duty; Hughy, not so much. As I mentioned before, Hughy is part frat boy and part toddler, and he can get into mischief. He loves to explore the trash can, the kitty litter, whatever may be on the floor. I have become a much better housekeeper because of him!
JEB: I hope you make him help with the housekeeping, at least. Has it been a big adjustment learning to work with a new partner?
RANDI: It is a very big adjustment getting used to working with a new dog. Lucky and I were so closely bonded and knew each other so well that many of the things I asked Lucky to do, it seemed he already knew to do, we just worked together so seamlessly. I always called Lucky the perfect dance partner; he never missed a step. He was so graceful around the wheelchair and knew how to move with it, so I never worried about running into him or otherwise having a stumble. I bet Hughy and I will get there too; Lucky and I had six years to perfect our dance and Hughy and I are new partners.
JEB: Any other differences?
RANDI: Hughy is a bit more of a body blocker than Lucky, meaning he likes to be in front of me or very close next to me, so I have to take more care how I move the chair, but we will learn each other. Lucky was my blithe and loving free spirit. He kept an eye on me, but he was subtle about it. With Hughy it is very obvious that he is taking everything in, he is watching out for his mama, he has known from day one what his purpose is, and he keeps a very close eye on me; from the moment we met he is ever watchful of the world around us.
Lucky could be in another room in the house and he would come if he heard me drop something, but Hughy follows me around the house. He prefers to be in the same room with me, yet he does not cuddle as closely with me as Lucky did. Funny how different they are but how with each I feel equally "looked after."
JEB: What's it been like introducing him to friends and co-workers?
RANDI: The whole journey has been both very sweet and very sad for me. Of course everyone loves him, he is such a joyful dog, my freight train of love, yet part of me will always miss Lucky. It doesn't take away from my joy with Hughy, but it is a sweet reminder of who came before and who paved the way for Hughy to with me today. Lucky taught me how to open my heart, and Hughy will reap the benefits of that.
JEB: How do your kitties feel about him? What's he think of the kitties?
RANDI: Oh boy, there's a whole other can of worms!! My big black alley cat, Ralph Argys, actually prefers the company of dogs and he was delighted to hear that I was "getting him a dog." Ralph Argys loved Lucky, he always slept with him, followed him around outside, followed us on our walks to the mailbox, and he was very sad when Lucky died. Ralph Argys got more than he bargained for with Hughy! Hughy is a big guy who doesn't realize how big he is, he is definitely "big love" doggified. Argys loves to tumble around with him but will swat him if he gets too boisterous. They often lie on my bed together and watch TV; they are quickly becoming fast friends.
Tashi, on the other hand is another story. In fact, I think the name Tashi means "I hate dogs" in Japanese. Tashi plots Hughy's demise and has devised assault plans to execute his evil intentions. He sits in front of Hughy's water bowl and just waits for Hughy to come take a drink. Or, he will sit on the counter and when Hughy comes to drink, he launches an attack from above. It is not uncommon for me to see him sliding on the hardwood floors as he rounds a corner at breakneck speed in hot pursuit of Hughy; he stalks him and attacks him for no apparent reason.
JEB: *Snicker* Sorry, I just think it's funny that Tashi chases Hughy! But that actually sounds like something of a problem.
RANDI: I was initially quite concerned and told Tashi that unless he mended his ways and repented he would find his suitcase on the front lawn, but CCI assured me that given time, Tashi will learn to tolerate the big black interloper. It seems that, though while detente has not yet been reached, at least Tashi has lightened up on the number of attacks, and on occasion I will see him sniffing Hughy while he is sleeps...so just maybe they will be friends.
JEB: What is your favorite thing about Hughy so far?
RANDI: I love his big goofiness and how he loves to have something in his mouth all the time: a shoe, a toy, the dishtowel; he loves to cart them out into the yard.
JEB: What else should my readers know?
RANDI: Just this: that even though I was heartbroken over Lucky and certain that lightning could never strike twice, CCI proved me wrong and did it again; they gave me the perfect dog for where I am now in life. I don't know how they do it!
JEB: Obviously the CCI staff has attended Hogwarts School of Wizardry. But more importantly, when can I come over to play with him?
RANDI: Let's make a play date, he's ready when you are! Something tells me Hughy would love your big floppy puppy self!!
JEB: I'll have my people call and set something up!
Chow for now!