Blood, Sweat, and Tears

If that title didn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

There’s a question that I get asked a lot, and I never feel like I have enough time to do the answer justice: Did you train her yourself?

I’m going to give you a really quick overview of the journey of a CCI puppy from birth to retirement, but my plan is to spend the bulk of this article paying homage to the people behind our four legged life savers.

So for starters, No. No, I did not train my dog.

The road map for a Graduate CCI dog looks like this: 

1. Puppies are born and spend their first eight weeks or so with their Breeder Caretaker. (Breeder Caretakers are the permanent human partners of Breeders.)

2. Puppies are placed with Puppy Raisers.

3. At somewhere between 15 and 18 months of age, puppies are turned in to CCI and spend their next 6 to 9 months in Advanced Training. (Pups are evaluated along the way and can be released because of health, personality, or behavior difficulties. Never fear – they never, ever, go without loving homes.)

4. If they’re successful in Advanced Training, they graduate with a human counterpart for one of several kinds of jobs.

5. Graduate Teams work together until it’s deemed appropriate for the dog to retire, and at that time he or she transitions into the luxurious life of pet-dom, more often than not in the home of his or her current partner.

Every step in the process is filled with important people who dedicate much time and energy to the raising and training of exceptional dogs, but today, I want to focus on Puppy Raisers.


Have you ever been nipped by a playful puppy? Their teeth are like needles. All a puppy has to do to make you bleed is show them!

Puppy Raisers get their adorable little fur balls at about eight weeks of age. At that age, they only do a few things: eat, sleep, chew, poop, sleep, have accidents, and look adorable. And sleep.

As they grow, their little personalities start to emerge. Puppies are a lot like little kids; some of them are quiet, happy, and generally easy, but most of them are mouthy, mischievous, and busy. Ask a PR how many pairs of slippers or underwear their most recent puppy destroyed, or how many bottles of carpet cleaner they’ve gone through in the last 18 months. Ask a long time puppy raiser if they even have carpet anymore.

On that note, ask them how many toys they’ve tripped over which have caused faceplants on the hardwood. Where there are puppies, there is blood.


A major difference between puppies and little kids is the rate at which they age. By the time a PR turns in a puppy, they’ve been through toddlerhood, pre-adolescence, and the hormone-filled early teen stage.

If you’ve had a toddler, you know that the shower you manage to squeeze in every couple of days is a public service, if nothing else. You often chase that kid from one end of the house to the other and back again, only to clean up puke, change a diaper, or band-aid an owie.

Puppy class. Fundraiser. Awareness event. Puppy sitting. Bath time. Vet appointment. Grooming. Exercise.

All of the above are regulars on the Puppy Raiser’s calendar. And they sweat. A lot.


Now, I’m not a Puppy Raiser, but I’ve met enough of them to know that through all of the work, inconveniences, and messes, they love their puppies. They’re together for so many milestones and so much fun – newly learned commands, playdates, outings into the community, public awareness events, overcoming bad behaviors and habits – and all of these things deepen the bond between them. Sometimes there are tears of victory, and other times, they’re tears of frustration; either way, there would be no bond without tears.

Then, just as puppies are coming out of their difficult teen stages and morphing into pleasant, mostly compliant adults, they’re returned to CCI. Cue the tears of pride and anxiety.


Puppy Raisers have this funny little extension on their bodies – it’s a four foot rope with a bouncy little ball of fur at the end. It becomes part of their identities, and if that extension is ever missing, it’s all anyone can think about. “Where is your dog?” might be the only combination of words they hear until the world is returned to its right state and the leash is back in hand.

And they spend all of the time, money, energy, and emotion knowing that it’s likely that at some point, that pup will no longer be theirs. When I explain this to inquiring minds, the first thing they say is, “I could never do that.” All I can say is thank God someone can.

The life of a Puppy Raiser is a labor of love. They often start because they love dogs; then they see how their dogs are impacting people, and they begin to love those people. Then, before they know it, they’ve raised and given away three, four, nine, ten, or fifteen dogs.

Bright’s Puppy Raisers, Lauren and May, are angels. Lauren has a blog, which you can check out for more insight into her world, and after Bright and I graduated, she wrote a touching post. Here’s a little excerpt that explains her dedication:

I want everyone to know something though. Being a Puppy Raiser means that your heart breaks a little bit more with each dog that you return to an organization. It breaks, but seeing the end result, and knowing that you helped create that outcome, heals all the broken pieces. It allows a Puppy Raiser to remember why they do what they do. It teaches them that there is a bright spot at the end of the journey. We spend our time training a puppy to be the best they can, and we try to encourage them as much as possible. If you ask a Puppy Raiser why they raise a puppy only to have to give it away again, you will probably receive a variation of the same answer. We do it because we love it, we have a passion for it. All the heartbreak that comes with it? We can deal with that because we know that these pups are going to help someone become independent again, help them become someone that they may never have dreamed possible. We can offer someone hope and dreams and that makes this all worth it.

So finally….congratulations again to Alex and Bright. You guys are a match made in Heaven and I wish you both the best of luck as you begin this new journey together.

That’s Bright and me with her Puppy Raisers.

I don’t think there’s any way to adequately thank a stranger who makes such a personal and sacrificial contribution to my well-being. I’m humbled by this beautiful expression of caring, and I can’t speak highly enough of the people who commit their lives to it, even if it’s only for a season.

Thanks to Lauren and May, and also to Keno’s PRs, Sharon and John, I’ve been able to experience independence like I couldn’t have imagined. Puppy Raisers, know that your dedication doesn’t go unnoticed; on behalf of all the Graduates I know, thank you.

If you know a Puppy Raiser you’d like to recognize, leave a comment and tell us their story!

Interested in learning more about becoming a Puppy Raiser? Check out CCI’s official site.

10 thoughts on “Blood, Sweat, and Tears

  1. Alex I love this post! “How can you give them up?” is pretty much the number one question I get is a puppy raiser. I would love to say that being a puppy raiser is completely an altruistic thing. Yes there is blood, sweat, and tears (in fact you summed up being a puppy raiser perfectly) – but how often in this life do you get to be part of something so special? Being a puppy raiser is simply one of the best and most rewarding things I have ever done and may ever do in my life. Thank you (and to all the grads) who share your CCI experiences. I always say you never know when you will make contact with the next graduate, volunteer, or donor.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all the various stages these amazing dogs go through with their equally amazing handlers!!! Truly selfless people that make such a huge difference to others.

  3. Tear. I am often asked how I’m going to give up my puppy and why I’m doing this. The quick answer is that I want to help. This puppy needs me and there is Human out there who will have a better life if I do this. I am truly honored to be a part of it.

  4. Pingback: I Could Never Do That | Help On Four Legs

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