Friday, August 28, 2009

CCI Puppy Turn-in

Debbie Zilka, president, CCI Old Dominion Chapter and puppy raiser (PR), shares her thoughts about puppy turn-in. That's Debbie, Amethyst, and Bonnie above.

Just wanted to share with you all my family trip up to the CCI NE facility...

For the first time, graduation was on a Friday. This was my first EVER trip up and it was a wonderful experience. The day started at the Miller Family Campus in Medford, NY on Long Island. They had a continental breakfast set up for the PRs and families of the matriculating pups. We got to mingle with other PRs, trainers and new graduate teams. Three tables were set up so you could do the final turn-in paperwork with a trainer and get our pups' matriculating cape for the graduation ceremony.

Following that, we got to take a self-guided tour of the facility. It was even better than I expected! The first thing we noticed was the collage in the hallway with a BIG picture of Kimberly and Lace. SO cool! It's amazing to see how much she's grown in just three years! While on our tour, we stopped in the kitchen. There we met Oswego with Matt! He had come back to visit with staff and see graduation. It was good seeing Oswego "all grown up". When we entered the medical area, we saw Brioni. She was recovering nicely from her spay surgery. She was very happy to see us! Next, we toured the play yard and got to see first hand the play equipment donated by our chapter. (Way-to-go Old Dominion!) We then proceeded down the kennel isle and were greeted by Batchelor, Ivory, Zellic, Innis and Ione (they were sharing a kennel!) On the last leg of the tour, we got to view one of the dormitory rooms. Wow, very spacious...a double AND a twin bed, flat screen TV, desk, dresser and nightstand. The bathroom was state-of-the art for a disabled person...walk-in shower, curved sink and very spacious! I can tell A LOT of attention to detail was put into the planning of those rooms! After the tour, we let Ammy and Stinson play with other furry friends in the fenced in grassy play yard and then we left for lunch. CCI NE was hosting a luncheon onsite for graduate teams and PRs with a graduating dog.

The graduation ceremony began late afternoon. After introductions, the ceremony started with a slide show of the 25 matriculating pups. It was very fun to watch and to see the different personalities of the PRs and their pups! The slide show was followed by a parade of the matriculating pups and their PRs, a personal puppy raiser story and volunteer appreciation awards. Matriculating pups from the Old Dominion Chapter included: Amethyst, Innis, Ione, and Mariah. Following the parade of pups was the team training slide show. You could tell all the graduate teams worked very hard! Ten service teams graduated and two of the dogs were raised in the Old Dominion Chapter. Congratulations to Cheri Goodson and Terri Laundon with the placement of Zellic and to Cindy Morrison and her family with the placement of Batchelor. Special guests in attendance were John and Kristin Miller. They presented the certificates to the August graduation teams. For me, the most moving part of the whole ceremony were the two graduating class speakers. From a puppy raiser's perspective, to hear their stories and how these dogs were going to forever change their lives validated why we do this! The ceremony ended with closing remarks from Debbie Dougherty, Executive Director.

After graduation, we returned to the Miller Family Campus for the dreaded "turn-in". We took our last pictures of Amethyst and let her take her last romp in the play yard with us. Then, we gave her her final hugs and kisses and handed over the leash to Katrina. She never looked back. So sad!

The whole day was a wonderful experience for me and my family. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!

Below: Owega & Matt; Zellic with Patrick & PR Cheri Goodson.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Lilly is a five-month-old fox red Lab out of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. Lilly belongs to the Boyd family. When she grows up, she will be Reb Boyd's diabetic alert dog. For now, she is in training.

We traveled three hours from home yesterday to pick up Lilly. She will board and train with me for a minimum of three weeks.

Lilly traveled well in her crate. Upon arriving at my house, she met my two Labs, Cody and Murphy. Lilly is a small Lab. She will probably be no more than 55 lbs. when she is grown. She is about half that now. My female yellow Lab, Cody weighs 70 lbs. Murphy, my chocolate male, 90 lbs. No matter. Lilly was not intimidated by size. She saw, smelled and heard: DOGS! Woohoo!

After much mutual sniffing, posturing, and general goofiness, everyone settled down. Dinner was consumed, canine toileting needs were met, and we settled in for the evening. Everyone slept through the night and awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - ready for another great doggy day.

Follow along as I work with Lilly. Understand that she is a smart dog, full of energy and willing to challenge the rules at every opportunity ... but also very teachable. I will work on improving her existing obedience skills - adding duration, distance and distraction to everything. We will spend a great deal of time on public access. Since she will rely on her nose when she is an operational diabetic alert dog, we will work on scent recognition and alerting. The final piece of the puzzle: building her self-confidence and teaching self-control.


Monday, August 24, 2009

A New Day

I am a dog trainer. Starting today, I am a full-time dog trainer.

I am making final preparations this fine Monday morning for Lilly, a five-month-old Labrador Retriever - in training to be a diabetic alert dog. I will pick her up in NC today and bring her home for three weeks of board and train. Her family lives in SC. We are meeting in the middle.

My assistant trainers, Cody and Murphy, are starting to understand something new and different is about to happen. Cody is my 8-year-old yellow Lab. Murphy is my 4-year-old chocolate Lab. These two will help Lilly get what it means to be a dog ... a good dog. Lilly's trained behaviors will improve with consistency, redundancy, patience and the constant challenge of adult dogs who know the drill very well.

Follow this blog as I share what is sure to be an amazing experience with a wonderful pup. She is smart, full of spirit, and best of all, within a few weeks of finishing teething!

To the Boyds: Thank you for entrusting Lilly's training to me. To the Thorntons: t\Thank you for starting this pup so well. To the Stewarts: Thank you for breeding great Labs!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are special. They visit nursing homes and hospitals. They bring smiles to folks who may need a reason to smile. These visits have come to be known as Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA).

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is even more. AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal becomes an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is designed to promote improvement in physical, social, emotional, and/or thinking and intellectual skills. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. The process is documented and evaluated. AAT is directed by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise and within the scope of practice of his or her profession. In AAT:
  • there are specified goals and objectives for each individual
  • progress is measured

Dogs (and other species) can be incorporated into a variety of programs. Following are typical AAT goals:

  • improve fine motor skills
  • improve wheelchair skills
  • improve standing balance
Mental Health
  • increase verbal interactions
  • increase attention skills like focusing and staying on task
  • develop leisure/recreation skills
  • increase self-esteem
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce loneliness
  • increase vocabulary
  • aid in long- or short-term memory
  • improve knowledge of concepts such as size and color
  • improve willingness to be involved in a group activity
  • improve interactions others
  • increase exercise
Interested in therapy dog work? Join Murphy and me and the other members of Life's Journey Therapy Dogs. It's the best volunteer job ever! Contact me at for more information.