Big Steps for Little Paws-Loving and Letting Go

A little over 100 days old and the puppies continue their journeys towards the destination of becoming assistance dogs and giving freedom to their clients! While it was tough for me to let them go at 7 weeks of age, today I realize how difficult it is for the great start families to say goodbye as well since I have had a few great start pups of my own along the way.

They’ve had Liam and Lyric for about 5 weeks now, and I know how quickly these pups steal your heart!  They’ve worked with them on all of the critical puppy skills; socialization, potty training, crate training, leash manners, basic obedience and much more.  They got to add critical parts to the building blocks of the puppies success and now they get to watch their efforts blossom in the next stage of their journey at Stanley Prison in Wisconsin. What a gift you’ve given to these pups to get them started successfully on their way!

I’ve been thinking about those two pups all day. I wondered how they were doing, whether they were adjusting to yet another change, how the great start families were doing after they had to say goodbye, whether the volunteer handlers would be thrilled to see them and fall in love with them just as quickly as the rest of us. I secretly wished I could be a fly on the wall and watch the interactions of the puppies and their puppy raisers that they will be learning the ropes from – and then as if he could hear my thoughts this evening I received a text from Mark who was filming the day’s events at Stanley.  He followed his text up with a couple of pictures and a phone call, and once again my heart melted as Mark shared some of the great things that happened as the puppies were getting to know their new surroundings and people! His descriptions allowed me to visualize the day, the welcoming of the staff and other inmates, the excitement of the puppy raisers when they got to see the puppies enter, the support for the puppies and the program that was much bigger than just the handlers for Liam and Lyric……It sounds like an incredible day of life and puppy love!

It’s probably a very good thing I wasn’t there or I would have spent the whole day in tears of happiness and gratitude I’m sure!  If hearing about the journey today wasn’t enough, I got the pure joy of seeing some pictures of the interactions between the puppies and their handlers.  The prison puppy program has had a little mystery around it for me over my years as a volunteer because we hear occasional stories about the progress of the puppies during their time at various prisons in the program, but never before have I been fortunate enough to have the details of the first day that the puppies arrive, which I attribute to the fact that these puppies are being filmed for the purpose of Mark’s documentary.

I’m sure today is much like every other puppy arrival into the program for everyone else-but for me, it’s totally different because these are Sugar’s puppies and I feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their well-being, happiness, and success even though they are no longer with me.  I totally understand that this is an expectation I place on myself and that it is unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter.  My hopes and dreams for these puppies will be realized when I see them walk across the stage and change someone’s life-until that time the journey isn’t complete.


So, the pictures throughout this blog post will give you a sense of why I’m so thrilled this evening!  These are a couple of pictures of their day today. They look confident and carefree. I love seeing the handlers interacting with them, and I can see that they are looking forward to getting to know these puppies and loving them! Liam and Lyric are going to be just fine!  They are going to get love, fun, training and adventure and I can’t wait to see them grow!  My appreciation continues to grow for each and every person who has touched these puppies lives and I continue to be amazed at how lucky the dogs in this organization are to have so many people giving them love and training.

To the Warden and staff at Stanley, I want to express my appreciation and thanks for supporting the program so wholeheartedly! And for the inmates and puppy raisers at Stanley, please know that I am so honored to share in the journey of changing lives through the wonderful journey of assistance dogs in training with Can Do Canines!  Some day I hope I get the chance to thank you personally for puppy raising these Sugar Babies!!!!



A quick nap before playtime begins again!


Lyric during the warm weather spell in February


Lyric and his foster brother Ace



Liam at puppy class at Can Do Canines


Liam taking a well-deserved nap!


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

Day 44- Two by Two!

Today the puppies earned the opportunity to come out of their play area and explore the house free from fences!  I brought two out at a time to check out the bigger world with Sugar’s watchful eye and give them a chance to play with Sugar and test out a new environment.

They loved the freedom and I loved watching their pure joy in playing!  I made sure they had gone to the bathroom before I took them out but since they are small, so is their ability to hold their bladder so they only got to be out for 10 minutes at a time. I feel a little bad that they don’t get more of an area to play, so today was about redesigning space to give them room to run! imgp6829imgp6833


The stakes were high with a full canine audience-who would win the match??????

Then in the afternoon, their puppy dog faces convince me that they should get the run of the entry way and kitchen and that I should build a larger play area…..and I couldn’t stand to say no. So I hauled all of my x-pen inventory in the house and started to determine how to make it puppy friendly!  See the video on the facebook page;” target=”_blank”>Video of Sugar and puppies playing on Facebook Page

And that is how we finish our day of new things!  Tomorrow we get to see the initial start of teaching them the task “sit”………

Day 43-The Great Escape

I knew it would happen at some point.  In fact I was a little surprised that it hadn’t happened yet-

I was in the bathroom with our 8 month old grandson giving him a “steamroom” to help his congestion which I thought was PERFECT timing as my husband had the day off from work and he could keep an eye on other things, namely the puppies.  What I hadn’t anticipated was that he didn’t think they NEEDED to be watched so while I was tending to our grandson he was getting other things done……

And that’s when I came out to our living room to see an empty play area all but for 1 lone puppy who was trying to find the way out!  I frantically looked around and saw Sugar in all of her motherliness trying to round up the other 6 puppies in two different rooms looking like “What just happened and who is going to help me with this crisis???????”  The puppies were in high explore mode and I was so happy that our house is mostly childproofed  because of our grandson and definitely dog proofed due to the numbers of animals we have come through our doors, so I didn’t have to panic that they had gotten anything:)  It was at that moment I realized I didn’t have nearly enough hands to handle 1 baby and 6 puppies, so I had to try to dig out my business problem solving skills which have been on vacation since the birth of the puppies and tackle the most critical issue at hand-rounding those spunky puppies up!!!

Sugar brought me methodically around to each puppy like she was doing a headcount herself (and I totally think she’s capable of doing that!) and walked me over to the play pen area as if she was telling me where the puppies needed to go.Then she would go to the next rogue puppy and wait for me to gather him up ! After they were all safely tucked away, she insisted on going into the puppy area, walking around to each puppy, giving it a lick and a once-over and then was happy to come out and go back to her business of the day.  The whole scene was pretty incredible now that I have time to think about it-it was such a testament to her mothering skills that it gets me a little choked up:) She’s the epitome of what a mother should be!

The puppies decided that they had enough shenanigans for the morning and they were exhausted:)

It was a crazy filled morning, but it presented many lessons on life in the example of Sugar and her Sugar Babies:)


Day 42-The Great Outdoors!

It was another big day for the L litter as they had some more filming done, they had some visitors for socialization, and the big event was they had their first day outside in an x-pen, their first real leash walk in the yard and their first time exploring snow outside!  They were very tentative at first, but they started getting the hang of it and I brought Sugar out on a leash as an added reward for them to walk around and play with her.  I want to make sure that they have this experience this week while the weather is still warm enough so that they aren’t too overwhelmed next week when they leave.

When we came back inside they were pretty exhausted from all of the activity, so they all started to fall asleep.  This was our opportunity for some adorable puppy pictures and they were too tired to object!


They handled all of the new experiences well and they didn’t show any signs of prolonged stress, so the day was a great success!  They kept their confidence when they got back into their “own world” which is what I was checking for.  This litter seems to do a great job in the resilience category which if they continue in that manner will go a long ways in making them great assistance dogs!

Their level of activity during the day continues to increase and I sometimes finding myself wondering if I have enough spare time to disappear and take a nap:) Their teeth have also come in full force, and they have now earned the litter name “Puppy Piranhas”…My hands, toes and arms are getting a beating!!!!!

I’m in awe of their development and no matter how much time I spend with them I’m always amazed that their faces have changed so much in just the last few weeks which you can see with the head shots of them:


Mr. Yellow in all of his handsomeness!


Miss Purple waiting to stir up trouble:)


Quiet Mr. Green


Observant Mr. Blue


Mr. Red with his stunning, bold face-and his signature right pink paw pads….


Mr. Orange with his unique half & half nose!


Miss White

With only 5 days left to enjoy these bundles of playful, teething, friendly furballs I will spend every moment I can with them!

Day 38-All about Puppies!

Today the puppies got their first opportunity to take a short ride in the car! They were all kenneled in one large kennel and we went for a ride to get them used to the movement and the different surroundings.  Hopefully these brief road trips will help to prepare them for their first long trip in two weeks where they will have a two hour ride to their next journey where they will spend two weeks in Duluth at the prison for their first training series. They all did wonderfully and they came back without any real stress about their experience which is great!  When they got back from their jaunt, they got right back to the business of playing like nothing had happened!

Time to learn about car rides!

Sugar wanted to go along to supervise the transportation education….

Sometimes I have to stop and laugh because I have this huge area for the puppies and I think it’s hilarious that they all gather in one TINY spot!  In the pics below you see 6 of the pups squished into one area, and then you see Mr. Orange who figured out the REAL way to get a good nap…….Smart Boy Mr. Orange!

Today I was reading a book titled “The Monks of New Skete-The art of raising a puppy” and I was intrigued by the information I was reading about.  It dawned as me as it has many times over the years that for every “answer” to a training or puppy raising question, there are 100 more “answers” to that very question.  So, how does everyone figure out which answers are the “right” ones?  And which ones will make the puppy we bring into our house the best dog it can be?  That’s where it gets murky……

-This litter has an intense instinct to scratch the ground after going to the bathroom.  Some “experts” say that dogs scratch at the ground after going to the bathroom because they are trying to cover up their smell; others in the field say that they are scratching to “spread” the scent to diffuse the potency of it that might draw predators.  In the end, the big picture seems to indicate that the final result is to lessen the possibility of predators finding them due to a centralized scent, but the two theories of what they are doing are exactly opposite!

-I thought weighing the pups was purely for the purpose of keeping an eye on them and seeing which ones were gaining and to catch any issues if one of them began to lose weight. Some experts say that weighing the puppies is supposed to be an early opportunity to look for personality traits which I had NEVER even considered before!~ Do some squirm more than others, not like to be on their sides or in a confined container while being weighed-which ones are more reactive, more vocal and more sensitive to touch…..imbalance than their counterparts raised without such stimulation.” (from book above)

This gives just a small idea of how hard it is for anyone who brings a pet puppy into their family to try to figure out exactly what the right thing to do really is-and for a service dog puppy you can imagine how that becomes so much more complicated!  Luckily for us volunteers, we don’t have to think too much about it because it is our role to go to classes during the puppy raising time and we are trained by staff trainers who let us know what they want us to teach the dogs, how to go about teaching them the needed tasks, and what is important for them to know to get the desired results!

Sugar ran into the play area, stole one of their toys and came back out to taunt them from the outside……