Day 70: The Journey-A Day Full of Firsts!

It is 2:54 am, and tonight sleep is evasive; the puppies are tucked safely away in their new homes and all is returning back to normal(except for the not sleeping part!). But unless you have had a litter of puppies in your home, the one thing that no one prepares you for is that although these are “just puppies” and they were only in my home for a short 7 weeks of their lives, they get a piece of my heart for a lifetime. I don’t stop worrying about them or thinking about them because they aren’t present in my home-it reminds me instead of when my own children went off to college. I frequently think of Sugar’s first litter that are almost 1 1/2 years old, counting down to the time when they will meet their person. Tonight I woke up after dreaming about the puppies and couldn’t fall back to sleep, so decided to write for awhile.  But as I write this, I once again realize and appreciate the fact that although they aren’t with me, whelping homes are SO lucky because we get to experience their journey vicariously through the joy of others!

When the updates on the puppies started arriving as early as the same evening of the transition I was thrilled!  I anxiously waited until the next morning to check Facebook (okay, SCOUR Facebook!) and see how their first night had gone in their new homes, what puppy antics they had put their new puppy raisers and great start homes through, and how they were adapting to yet another change in their lives. It’s an emotional roller coaster that no one can adequately prepare you for, and as with anything else I’m sure everyone feels varying degrees of attachment to pups that they raise in their home. I am one of those that feels large amounts of emotion so it seems fitting that my connection to these pups would continue, just as it did with Sugar’s first litter.  I somehow feel an “ownership” in how their journey plays out just as I’ve done in the past when I have been a puppy raiser.  I also think that doing this blog and facebook page to document the journey and share it with others has increased my connection to these puppies since I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about them! I think that the varied connections to these dogs are what make the volunteer journey so special.


Leonard with his new family friend!


Lizzie with her new pal!


Linus learning the ropes at Can Do Canines where he will get to visit frequently with his puppy raiser!


Lola learning where the best napping spots are in her new home!


Lyric with his new buddy!




Liam with his new confidante!

When I think of the number of people that touch the lives of these dogs to get them to their final placement, it’s almost overwhelming. If the program gets in 70 puppies throughout the year, 70 or more new volunteers are needed. Breeding Fosters, Whelping Homes, Great Start Homes, Puppy Raisers, Inmate Puppy Raisers, Fosters, volunteers that exercise the dogs at the facility and take them on outings to make sure they are ready for their duties, Trainers, Staff that connect the dots for each of the dogs coming into or leaving the program and the list continues.  Each of us gets to put a piece of the puzzle together to create the building blocks of the assistance dog in training on the “yellow brick road” to their client.


When that dog doesn’t make it to what we have already built in our mind as their destiny, disappointment follows-at least I know it does for me. It doesn’t matter the reason for the detour; many of us think if there is something we could have done differently-if we could have worked harder, if we could have trained better.  In our minds, we know that many things determine whether a dog graduates from the program-but our heart takes the lead and it’s hard not to make it personal because we’ve put a lot of time and energy into “our dream” to make them great. I don’t pat myself on the back and tell myself “Well Holly, you did a great job anyways”-but rather “what did I miss and how could I have done it differently?” I don’t beat myself up over it as I know there are MANY reasons a dog may not make it through the entire program and many of those reasons are completely out of my control, but I would be lying if I said that once a dog has spent time with me in my home that I don’t take a vested interest in their success 🙂

But, on the other hand, when a dog whose life we have touched makes it to that pinnacle moment and our dream for them is realized I can only imagine what that will feel like.  I say that because although I have been a volunteer for more than 5 years I have yet to be “in that moment”.  I’ve lost count of the number of dogs through our home.  We have tried to volunteer in as many opportunities as possible including great start, puppy raising, fostering, breeding/whelping etc. We have puppy raised three incredible dogs, all three were a different breed of dog-all with VERY different journeys.  One was career changed(now a very happy and loved family pet for someone), one was moved into a different career path, and one is in final training to become possibly a mobility assist dog. But then there are the puppies that have been through our home and just as anxiously I wait for them to move through the program because I am equally thrilled to follow their journey!  I feel a similar connection to them although I wasn’t a part of their formal training and growing up years-but I WAS part of their beginning days! I personally believe that everyone who has a hand in touching the lives of these pups rightly deserves the opportunity to celebrate in some form or another when they find their forever person!

So, the next time you see someone with a service dog in training and you want to ask them the #1 question we get asked of “How can you give them up after you have them for so long?”(Just for the record, the answer is “It’s hard! And, yes, we are sad to say goodbye. But we try to keep our mind on the final goal and remember that this dog will change someone’s life and that is incredibly AWESOME!”), try asking a different question instead to get a better picture, like”How do you feel when you see them change a life?”, “Why do you choose to do this kind of volunteer work?”, or the best question, “How can I help?”  I think you will be inspired by the answers you hear!!!!

Day 69-The Names of Champions!!!

Tonight was the night I had been waiting for since they left our house.  The night when I would have a reunion with the little balls of fur I had fallen in love with.  Tomorrow they turn 10 weeks old-And this was the night that they would be named.  There was so much anticipation and excitement in my heart throughout the day that I thought I was going to be sick on my way there. I picked up Ken at work and quickly got us there 20 minutes early, and then the waiting game began…..

Mark was there filming the evening and the first thing on the agenda was learning about the names that had been chosen for the litter.  They are the L litter so all of the names would start with an “L”.  I got to bring the “list” that I had emailed to Can Do Canines with some suggestions of L names that either I liked or those making suggestions on the Life of Sugar facebook page.  It was a LOOOOONNNNNNGGGG list, so I was fairly certain that SOME of the names on the list had to be chosen, or would they???? They would tell me the names that were selected, and I would have the fabulous opportunity of choosing which pup would get which name!!!  You have no idea how exciting the thought of being able to match a name with the puppy I thought it would fit best was for me!!!



It was then that I was sure the pups remembered us!


Ken was enjoying the puppies just as much as I was!


Ken’s favorite Miss Purple/Lizzie



First was Lizzie/Miss Purple and Logic/Mr. Blue-the two pups going with another organization, so while these are their names for now, they will most likely be renamed when they go to their final destination.  Then there was the name-a-puppy; someone had donated or raised funds in order to have the opportunity to name a puppy from a litter and Miss White would have the honor of carrying the name-a-puppy designation and the name Lola!  We were down to the final four (always important in sports, so of course I thought it was just as important in this situation as well!)  I was shown the final names that had been selected….Linus, Lyric, Leonard and Liam!  My heart almost leapt out of my chest as I realized that Liam happened to also be the name of my grandson!  I immediately broke up with tears of happiness that I would have the opportunity to assign one of the pups with a name that was so near and dear to me, and of course I knew EXACTLY which puppy would get that name……..the puppy that stole my heart early on in the first day or two and I had no idea why.  Of course, that name would go to Mr. Orange!  One of the great things about puppies being named is that many people are able to make a connection with a name in one way or another-the name of a family member, a friend, a beloved pet, or a colleague.  When it happens and you can make a connection with a name, you immediately adore that puppy just a little bit more if that’s even possible!



Then Kaity showed up with the Can Do Canines van and walked in to let us know the puppies had arrived!  I got to reintroduce myself to them in the “potty yard” since they had just had a very long ride back and I loved when they ran up to me and jumped on me with their wet paws.  It seemed like they had some inkling of who I was and as time went on that “memory” seemed to take hold.  By the time we got into the play room they seemed completely okay with Ken and I being there and to me anyways it seemed like they had made the full connection.   We would call them back and forth and they would come running across the room, and once again I would bust out in laughter at their big ears, their clumsy feet and their lanky bodies!



So, the evening progressed-playtime with all of the puppies, running around, calling them with a ridiculously high voice and letting them crawl all over me and maul me and then I would squeal with delight! It was like everything around me disappeared and my vision only included the puppies-I didn’t notice anyone or anything around me and once I got home I realized that it was like a blur, except for the crystal clear images I still have in my mind of each of the puppies.



And then the time came where the new puppy raisers and great starts got to come in (in 2 different shifts) to meet with their new pup!  At that moment, it brought me back 5 years ago when I was the one coming to pick up a puppy that I was waiting for and I remembered the absolute thrill of those first moments; it was incredible to be on the other side of that and to watch that pure excitement of others.  I was so incredibly happy to be able to witness that! All of the volunteer puppy raisers are excited to get these puppies; they have to figure out what these puppies are like; how they are going to fit into their household and all of the other concerns that go along with having a puppy in your house-but the joy I saw when they walked in to greet their new member of their family is what will keep these families enjoying every moment they get to spend with these puppies!




They didn’t take long to figure out that Dora was the key person to hang around…..

One by one the puppies started to leave the room with their new families, and at one very brief point I thought for sure I was going to cry at watching them leave.   I have no idea why, because I was so happy to have the opportunity to meet the families and have the reunion with the puppies. Maybe it was because the evening was filled with so many different emotions that I was going to overflow with the excess, maybe it was because this was the final moment that I would be officially a part of these puppies lives, or maybe it was because I was a little nostalgic that tonight was the last night these puppies would be “littermates” that got to play and fight with each other.  Luckily for me, I was able to make a quick walk over to the corner of the room to pull myself back together before the final group of volunteers came in.


And after 3 hours of being at the facility waiting, playing, and saying goodbye, it was time to go home.  What I have thought about since leaving was my amazement at exactly what it takes for an organization like Can Do Canines to smoothly operate and combine all of the facets of all of these dogs to make sure everything is successful.  I am so unbelievably impressed with all of the staff that insure the safety and placement of puppy raisers, great starts, fosters, final training homes, dealing with other organizations, the breeding program, the training program and all of the behind-the-scenes day to day operations of marketing, accounting, photography, business development, etc. that make this program so successful.  I’ve been a great start home, a foster for many, a puppy raiser and a breeding/whelping home-I know the amount of work that EACH one of those programs needs just from my volunteer perspective and tonight I really felt like I got to experience a little of all of these experiences.  I will add this to my “OIL” list; my Once In A Lifetime experiences. Thank you to all of the staff that make our journey as volunteers a meaningful one!

I’m hoping to see lots of pictures in the future of these adorable L pups and I will share whatever possible along their journey through this blog and the Life of Sugar Facebook page. I can’t wait to see their future unfold!!!!

Tonight I got to personally experience what can be accomplished when many work together for a common goal, and for that, I will always be thankful!!!!

Sugar’s L Litter Update!

Mark, who has been filming all of the stages of Sugar’s journey as a breeder dog for Can Do Canines during the L litter and will continue filming the process of “puppy to assistance dog”, will be also adding some updates along the way of the puppies and what they are doing as they grow!

His assignments have taken him all over the world, and I consider it extremely fortunate that he has chosen to document the process of an assistance dog and that Sugar is part of the story!!!

He will be taking a variety of footage of the entire process which he did with Sugar during her pregnancy and after the puppies were born, and he sees it with the fresh eyes of someone who hasn’t witnessed this part of the assistance dog program! He will continue to film them along their journey and I can’t wait to see how they will change lives!

I think it’s fair to say that during his filming he also fell in love with these puppies! I’m thrilled, as this will add another fresh view of the process and gives followers the opportunity for first-hand reports of their progress!

Here is his update from yesterday: Enjoy!!!

Life of Sugar Update from Mark

January 13, 2017

We’ve known for some time that two puppies from Sugar’s L litter will be raised by the inmates at Stanley Correctional Institution in Stanley, Wisconsin.

As part of the filming project, I visited Stanley yesterday and met with the warden, Reed Richardson, his assistant, Lori Patrouille and Can Do Canine’s trainer, Dyan Larson.

I first have to say that in my many years as a cameraman for Dateline/NBC, I’ve filmed in a lot of correctional institutions. However, I’ve never been treated better anywhere than at Stanley. They have granted incredible access to tell the story of Sugar’s pups in prison and I know it’s going to be amazing! This is all thanks to Warden Richardson who was the driving force in getting Stanley to become a “dog prison”, one of only two in Wisconsin!

On my tour, I got to watch one of the weekly training sessions that Dyan leads. All 40 inmates of the Dog Unit are there, even if they don’t currently have a puppy of their own to train. As with all puppies trained at Stanley, the two yet to be chosen “L” pups will each be assigned to two inmates. I met both teams and they’re so excited to meet the “L”s and start the next phase of their journey. We don’t know the exact date when that will happen, but we’ll keep you posted.

The two inmates share a very small cell and the crate takes up easily 40% of the floor. However, as you can imagine, there are NO complaints! The pups in training will go to the inmate work areas, just like other puppy raisers take their dogs to work. At night, the cell doors are locked but if a puppy has to go to the bathroom, the inmate rings a buzzer and his door is unlocked remotely. The inmate and puppy then go to a secured area just outside the housing unit where the puppy does their business. I’ve always wondered how that works and now I know!

One of the sweetest things is the big bulletin board they have in the open area of the housing unit. Along with all the newsletters from Can Do and photos of the dogs they’re training, there was a big display of pictures that Holly took of Sugar and the pups when they were just days old. So, their excitement builds as the day gets closer to when they get to be introduced to their new additions at Stanley!


Sugar’s Transition-and my ATTEMPT to get back to normal……

It’s been 82 days since Sugar’s ultrasound that confirmed her pregnancy and put her in “quarantine” so that she didn’t unnecessarily expose the unborn pups to something.  Now was the day I had been waiting for-the time when Sugar and I could go on an outing again together to rediscover all of the fun things waiting for us!  I was thrilled, so I decided to take her to the car dealership while I got an oil change-not exciting, but I thought it was a good first outing for her after her long time off.  What I wasn’t counting on was the fact that I had also not been out of the house in a very long time for any long excursions and I was not ready for the days’ events! After spilling my coffee (twice) at the dealership, and forgetting where I was going, forgetting a grocery list and forgetting about a call I was supposed to make, I called it a day and I decided to go back home and get ready to start the day again tomorrow!

I had to switch from puppy brain to “Dog in Cape” brain and remember everything I haven’t worked on for over 3 months.  Navigating in tight spaces with a dog, telling people that they couldn’t pet her as she was working and everything else that goes along with that.  I’m happy to say that Sugar did an awesome job and helped me through the hard parts-leave it up to a dog to save the day…….. 🙂

So, what did I learn along the way with Sugar and her beautiful pups? What would I say to them if they could understand me?

  • Along this journey we become a different person.
  • Today is the most important person I will ever be.
  • I don’t have to really remember much as I go on with getting “back to normal”.  All I need to do is remember to LIVE-by the way I interact with others, by the choices I make, by those I take time to help;
  • I’m not navigating the milestones……they are. I simply get to be an active bystander along this journey for them.

That’s the real story here, and puppies are just a beautiful way of reminding me of the obvious and letting me get back to it.

“So long for now little ones; your first day to shine has arrived, and I can’t wait to see where your journey takes you!  I wish you knew the absolute beauty of the destiny that awaits you when you reach your pinnacle and you find your forever person.”

And the countdown begins for when I get to see them next! Hopefully January 24th!  Stay tuned for an update!


The Night Before Leaving, and All Through the House……


The night before leaving and all through the house,
The puppies were stirring, destroying the house,
The playing was loud, the play fighting intense,
Each of the pups worked to create their defense.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but torn up duct tape that neglected to adhere,
to the flooring they thought was their best new toy,
And they ripped, chewed and tore at it with a new sense of joy.

They are 7 weeks old,
with their  journey to begin,
and I take joy in their new path
which brings back my big grin.

For letting them go,
so very tough for the soul,
but helping them become
the very best is the goal.

Because some day I will see,
the effects of this time
and I am the one that will know
how steep was the climb

To start from a pup,
that didn’t walk, hear or see,
with a desire and a passion
to make them all they could be.

They gave me their best,
and I gave them mine,
so others could see,
how one day they would shine.

They will change someone’s life
although that person doesn’t know
the gifts that one pup
alone can bestow.

So watch these gifts of life,
to see what they achieve
and you too will take pride,
because they make you believe.

That life has surprises,
fresh, big and new
if you choose to make a difference,
the best comes back to you.

Good Luck to the beautiful, precocious, fun, sweet and loving L litter! I can’t wait to see the lives you change, the love you give, and the difference you make!!!! I’m going to miss you!!!






Days 45 & 46-What’s in a Name?

Happy New Year!

I often get asked how the puppies are named-although I don’t have all the answers because I don’t know the full scope of the program, I do know a couple of things that might answer some questions!

Puppies currently are being named by letters of the alphabet, which I am assuming is to keep track of the litters better and to understand the relationships of each puppy. Last year, there were some “themed” litters like the Grandparents litter, the Spice Girls (Sugar’s FIRST litter), the Disney litter etc. but I think overall the alphabet system is preferable for most organizations.  Sugar’s litter is the “L” litter which means that most if not all of her litter will have names beginning with L.  Why “most”?  Occasionally there is a “name a puppy” where someone has raised a certain amount of money in order to have the opportunity to name a puppy so it’s a possibility that in a litter there is a puppy that doesn’t have the same beginning letter:)  There are a variety of ways the puppies can be named and each organization picks what works best for them and their breeding program.


A friend came over to help socialize the pups on New Year’s Eve. Red wasn’t relaxed at all…….


Orange having fun in the tunnel

imgp6878 As a whelping home, we don’t name the puppies as there is a lot more to it than us just “picking a name” so the organization chooses the names.  I also think this policy is in place partially to help organizations keepa little bit of the “separation of attachment” in place.  It may seem like a simple task, but what I’ve learned over the last 5 years volunteering is that nothing is as simple as it seems!  As whelping homes, we do get the opportunity if we choose to send in a list of our favorites and if the stars align and it works, it’s possible we might see a name or two from our list make it to the top and a puppy may show up with that name! Not guaranteed, but it’s fun for us whelping homes to send in some of our choices and anticipate the day when the puppies get named~!

And why does it take so long to get named? Why am I still calling them by collar colors?  Well, the process is pretty intense-in this case, there is another organization involved that will be taking a couple of the puppies for their program and there are many other moving parts that need to be considered before the names are given-so hopefully all of the pieces will fall into place in the near future and when they come back after 2 weeks at the prison I will hopefully get the opportunity to meet my litter and greet them by name!  I feel like I am waiting for the birth of a child that I sort of know but need to see them with their name to make sure it fits!!!  It may seem like a simple thing, but it’s not easy for me to wait that long to discover who these puppies will be!  I have to have a conversation with myself frequently and recite “patience is a virtue” and “all in good time”……… but it WILL happen!!!!

So what are some of the names I’ve thrown around? Here are a few!

Lingo         Lego
Lyric          Legend
Lulu           Limerick (Ricky for a nickname)
Lena          Lucca
Ladybug    Levi
Lacy           Leif (we are the state of the vikings….)
Lira            Logic
Lady          Layton
Maybe you have a favorite “L” name?  If so I’d love to hear it!

Like Mother, Like Son