Denver - February 4, 2014
Coincidentally, after I recently interviewed Canine Companions breeder girl Ghita, I was contacted by a puppy raiser who is going to be getting one of the puppies from her B litter! Jennifer and her 16-year old daughter Rebecca are raising their first CCI puppy, named Inca, together. I asked them to chat with me about their experience.
JEB: Thanks for talking with me today. First of all, where do you live? What CCI region are you in?
JENNIFER: We live in Seneca, IL - if you look at a map of Illinois and find Interstate 80, Seneca is about in the middle of the state. It's a small town and we don't even live IN it, we live 7 miles north in the country. We’re in the North Central region of CCI.
JEB: So, Inca is your first puppy. Boy or girl?
JENNIFER: Inca is our first puppy - his name is actually Inca IV, there were three CCI dogs named Inca before him, and he is ALL BOY.
JEB: HA! Like me, I bet. How did you get into puppy raising?
REBECCA: In my FFA chapter we are required to have a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). I wanted to work with animals, but unlike many of the other members in my chapter, I don't live on a farm or have access to the buildings and equipment necessary to work with and raise the kinds of animals more typically chosen. An SAE does not have to be animal-related, some members raise and sell corn, hay and chrysanthemums. I really wanted to find a project that would allow me to fulfill the requirements of the project but still work with animals. Too, I hope eventually to work with persons with special needs and hoped my project would take me in that direction as well. Raising service puppies is a perfect fit.
JEB: How do you divide up the duties of raising Inca?
JENNIFER: Rebecca is AMAZING in her responsibility to Inca. She is up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to get him up and out. They burn some energy outside as the weather permits - hello, Polar Vortex - and she spends a good 90 minutes with him every morning as she gets ready for school. He is with her wherever she is getting ready and they work on commands, too. Once Rebecca leaves for school, though, Inca is my baby. We take walks and play in the yard when we can, work on commands here and there, and he follows me from room to room. After school either my husband or Rebecca takes Inca on a good run or bike ride - again, as the weather allows, this winter has been rough on a big boy with a lot of energy to burn! When Rebecca is home, Inca is entirely her responsibility. When she is gone to school activities after school, everyone in the family helps out feeding him, taking him outside, etc.
JEB: Who else is in your family and are they involved?
JENNIFER: There are six in our family - Mom (Jennifer), Dad (Michael), Rebecca (16), Anna (13), Joshua (8), and Daniel (7).)
JEB: Does Inca go to school with Rebecca?
JENNIFER: CCI does not want their puppies in a school environment prior to six months of age. After that, puppies are only allowed to attend school with special permission. Because Inca struggled for a long time with waiting until he was outside to relieve himself, we have never felt comfortable putting him in school with Rebecca all day. He has, however, been to school functions. He was at the Homecoming Parade, he has been to school with Rebecca for a quick before or after school errand, and during her Public Speaking class, Rebecca used her CCI Puppy Raiser experience as the basis for her "demonstration speech" and brought Inca in to meet the class and demonstrate his mastery of several CCI commands. He did very well! He has been with us to soccer and little league games, camping, and even Christmas tree hunting!
JEB: What has been the best part of puppy raising?
REBECCA: Inca is MY dog. (Yes, we realize that he is CCI's dog - but I had wanted a dog forever, and for these sixteen months, Inca has been MINE.) The benefit of having such a well-trained dog is that it is enjoyable to exercise with him. After working with Inca for several months, I tried to walk a friend's dog and was shocked and frustrated at the dog's inability to walk calmly at my side and follow my lead the way Inca does.
JEB: What’s been the most unexpected outcome of raising a CCI puppy?
REBECCA: The sixteen months we've had Inca have gone by quickly - faster than I expected. Raising a CCI puppy is a lot different than just having a dog as a pet. We have had to be vigilant in making sure Inca learns commands properly, doesn't develop bad habits, and is treated/trained consistently by everyone who works with him.
JEB: Do you have a story about Inca to share with my readers?
JENNIFER: It's actually an Inca-and-Rebecca story. We live in the country - we have one neighbor 50 yards to the west and no other neighbor for a half mile. In order to expose Inca to a variety of situations and distractions, we take him into neighboring towns and walk the streets, spend time in the parks, etc. We were in a neighboring town one day this summer, and Inca was dressed for work in his CCI Puppy-in-Training cape. After parking the van at the grocery store, we walked Inca up and down the main street in town, passing businesses, passing the police department, stopping to talk to folks and stopping to work on commands in places with a lot of distractions. A summer thunderstorm blew in quickly. In minutes the sky went from blue with puffy clouds to an ugly black. As the winds picked up, we hurried back to the van. By the time we had the grocery store in sight, the rain was pouring down. I left Rebecca and Inca standing under the store's awning, out of the rain, while I hurried to get the van and pick them up. After I got them loaded in the van, Rebecca said that no fewer than three people, including a cashier from inside the store, came to her and pleaded for her to bring her dog inside and seek shelter from the storm. It must have seemed to everyone that Inca was not "in training" but that he was actually Rebecca's service dog. I am sure I looked like Mother-of-the-Year (NOT!) as everyone must have thought I parked my daughter and her service dog under an awning in a storm!
JEB: That's hilarious! When does Inca turn in? How do you feel about turn in, as it approaches?
JENNIFER: Inca's turn in date is February 14th. Because Rebecca participates in high school speech contests, however, we have to miss his graduation, as the speech meet that weekend is on the 14th and 15th. We will bring Inca back to Ohio on February 11th. We are both very sad that we don't get to show off our boy, meet other puppy raisers and their CCI pups, and experience this part of Inca's training process. Turn-in is going to be harder than we expected.
JEB: Oh, yeah? How so?
JENNIFER: We are "animal people" - at this moment we have Inca, two cats (Mr. Smee and Spencer) and a Bearded Dragon (Hershel Johnson). We have had other dogs, we have had fish and hermit crabs. We understand that animals come and go from our lives. We were prepared before we ever brought Inca home that this was not "forever," and that we were raising someone else's dog. But, of course, we fell in love. The crazy puppy that was the most difficult to housebreak of any dog we've had and that ate the living room carpet when we took our eyes off him for a minute has grown into a lover who wants nothing more than a blanket upon which to nap and someone to scratch his ears and fill his favorite treat ball. We will miss this crazy dog.
JEB: Since we first connected, you’ve found out that you’ll be raising Beck, from the Ghita and Zorba B litter. How exciting!
REBECCA: Yes! When we go to Ohio to turn in Inca we will pick up Beck!
JEB: Thank you for raising another puppy! What made you decide to raise again?
REBECCA: I will be an FFA member until I graduate next year. I do have the option of designing another SAE to fulfill that requirement of membership, but I have enjoyed raising Inca and think that I've learned quite a bit through this experience and would like to put everything I've learned into practice with one more puppy.
JEB: I understand it’s kind of addictive, so don’t be surprised if there’s a puppy #3 and #4 and #5….after all, I’m #9! Is there anything you’ll do differently with Puppy #2?
REBECCA: I will certainly be much more diligent in training Beck. It's not that I didn't work hard with Inca, but I simply understand the process better. I am much more confident in my ability to do this job well, and I have learned through the areas in which Inca has struggled. Too, I have my driver's license now, and so I have much more freedom in being able to take Beck out.
JEB: What else should my readers know about you?
JENNIFER: Raising Inca has a special significance for our family. We keep telling ourselves that no matter how hard it will be to surrender him, someone is waiting for him, and if he passes Advanced Training, he will become an invaluable part of someone's life.
JEB: So true, so true.
JENNIFER: We don't need to look beyond our family to understand what this means, as our son/brother, Joshua, will likely benefit from the assistance and companionship of a service dog at some point in his life. Joshua was born in Ukraine in 2005. We adopted him in 2012. He was born with a rare genetic condition called Bruck Syndrome. His condition includes features of Arthrogryposis (joint contractures), Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones), and severe scoliosis. Joshua uses both a wheelchair and a walker to navigate his world and will need some level of support to live/work independently as an adult. It might sound cliché to say that a dog like Inca can sense things about people, but Inca certainly favors Joshua over everyone in the family - except, perhaps, for Rebecca.
JEB: I don’t think that’s a cliché at all; of COURSE we dogs can sense things about you humans, and ESPECIALLY dogs like Inca and me. I wish Inca the best of luck in Advanced Training, and please keep me updated on Beck. Readers, check out the slideshow for photos of Inca, Rebecca and Beck!
Chow for now!
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