So much has happened in the last few months. Copper has seemed to transition amazingly well with his new family on the east coast, (his family moved to Virginia several weeks after he arrived.) Tucker has healed completely from his neuter surgery and continues to grow and mature every day, AND we added a new trainee to our little group.
Meet Dodger! This approximately 6 month old cutie was found as a stray out on the streets of the central valley. He was picked up by Kings County Animal Services (KCAS) and that's where I found him. I honestly wasn't looking for another project or service dog in training (SDiT.) I was somewhere in the middle of New Mexico on my way back from the excursion to Ohio with Copper, and in the Safeway parking lot I had opened up my facebook feed on my phone while I took a driving break and snacked on a sandwich I had gotten for dinner. A rescue acquaintance of mine who I had spent some time with back in the days when I fostered dogs for a local rescue and who also happened to the Executive Director of KCAS had posted pictures of several dogs currently in the shelter who were ready for adoption or rescue. I couldn't help myself in taking a look. KCAS was one of my favorite central valley shelters to pull dogs from when I worked in the Behavior Department at Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation a few years ago. I thought It doesn't hurt to take a look. So I went, I took a look, and I fell in love.
My parent's live in Selma, so I was eager to stop for a few days and rest from the long road trip on my way back to the bay from the Midwest. I was spoiled at my childhood home - it features a big backyard, country property and a big comfortable house to relax. It's the perfect place to host a foster dog for a few days to find out if they have the ideal personality for service dog work. Contrary to common belief not every dog has what it takes to be a full time service dog. I always tell people "it takes a special person to be a great nurse" and it's the same for service dogs. Just because I am a trainer does not mean I can change a dog's personality. If they have it, they have it, if they don't, they don't. After spending a few minutes with Dodger (who was unnamed at that point) in his kennel at the shelter I had already made up my mind that he was the one I wanted to try out. He was attentive, friendly, seemed to be able to handle other dogs appropriately (his roommate was adorable but a little obnoxious with how he asked Dodger for attention) and he was all about me. Dogs in surrounding kennels were barking and whining up a storm in their quest to grab my attention - but not Dodger. He just stared at me and wagged his tail.
I loaded him up in my car that Friday afternoon in early August and headed for my parents home for a weekend of "testing." I had several things planned for the next few days. I wasn't driving back to the bay until Monday and until then I had several things I was keeping a look out for:
1.) How he handled a pet store and meeting new people and friendly, but unfamiliar, dogs.
2.) What he was like in a dog friendly cafe type setting
3.) How he handled being in a crate away from me during the night
4.) What he was like meeting a variety of new dogs of different sizes
5.) What was his current basic manners skill set
I had scheduled a coffee date with a high school friend of mine that I hadn't see for years Saturday morning and right before I wanted to stop by the pet store around the corner for his first test. Honesty, Dodger kinda blew me away. He was attentive and easily redirected with treats when he was distracted. His leash manners were excellent for such a young dog that I had presumed hadn't had any real training in his lifetime AND he was very friendly with any person who approached him. He rode in the car quietly on the way to the coffee shop afterwards, and, settled right in for a nap as I chatted with my friend for over an hour. Many people stopped and commented on his stunning blue eyes and his story which made me launch into the tale of how he was in training to be a SDiT and I had JUST picked him up from the shelter the day before. The reaction was very similar across the board from everyone you got this dog at a shelter?!
The entire weekend, he played amazingly well with Tucker (who had stayed at my parents place during my Copper placement trip) as well as with their other three dogs (ranging in size from 4lbs to 65lbs.) He settled in his crate well, and slept all throughout the night without any accidents. I was already head over heels in love, and after discussing how well the weekend went with Alex we both decided I should bring him back to the bay for his second phase of testing for service dog work.
It took me a few days to decide on the perfect name. I wanted to stick with the Disney theme as much as possible, and after mulling it over for a bit I decided to name him after the main character in Disney's animated picture Oliver and Company. Besides having some similar features, this shelter puppy reminded me of the shrewd, yet softhearted and friendly street dog who took a lost and lonely kitten under his wing. While my Dodger isn't a thief in the traditional sense like his namesake - he sure stole my heart in a second.
It's been over a month since Dodger came back with me, and although there are a couple hiccups we're having to figure out (Dodger does NOT like to be separated from us so we are slowly working on building his confidence with being alone for short periods of time) he's progressing well! I'm curious to see how he develops as he matures. Keep any eye out on our social media accounts for more pictures of his training as he develops. We have high hopes for this guy that one day he'll be a full access service dog at the side of his handler who will depend on him greatly. It's some big shoes to fill but I think Mr. Dodger is up for it.