The Doni Coop at Brigadoon Service Dogs - By Amie Chapman (2019)
I am a co-founder of Growing Up Guide Pup and here we have had the privilege to build a lot of relationships with service dog people on the internet. Growing Up Guide Pup has been a fire starter for new ideas, experimentation, and pushing service dog culture for almost a decade. When Colby Morita, the founder of puppyintraining.com, contacted my husband and co-founder Matt about donating a puppy to Brigadoon Service Dogs, Matt had to immediately contact Denise and inform her of the unique opportunity at hand.
Growing Up Guide Pup and Puppy in Training have similar missions and so we saw this is a special opportunity for all three of our organizations to work together and follow a puppy growing up and developing. It is very unique that a service dog organization would welcome such a progressive idea and this is just one more reason why Brigadoon Service Dogs is amazing and has grabbed our hearts.
Over the last 17 years, we have had a lot of puppies come and go through our home. We have had both service dog puppies in training and we have had rescue puppy fosters. But recently we had a chance to be part of facilitating the transport of a service dog puppy from an AKC breeder/donor to a service dog organization for the first time. We have known Colby from Puppy in Training for a few years and have always respected and supported his work. He recently had a litter of golden retriever puppies and after a talk with Matt, he offered to donate a puppy to Brigadoon Service Dogs. We were super excited to help facilitate this as we watched the recent “D” litter grow and develop on the Puppy in Training social media platforms. We had no idea which puppy was coming, but we knew it was going to be a great puppy.
Last month we were told that the puppies were close to being ready to leave their mom. We needed to figure out how to get the puppy from Southern California up to Bellingham, Washington. We looked at our schedule and decided that it would be best for me to fly down and then fly back to our house, keep the puppy with us for a little bit, and then figure out how to get her to Brigadoon as soon as possible. Matt stayed in the Bay Area. I had a flight to Los Angeles booked first thing in the morning and I made it to the airport with what I thought was plenty of time. But once I checked in for my flight, I noticed that I left my cell phone in the car and I had to go back to the parking garage to get it. Not a huge deal but once I grabbed my phone and went back to get into the security line, I was getting pressed for time. The security line was moving very slow. The x-ray machines that TSA screened people with were down and they stopped people halfway through the line for the detection dog to inspect everyone. We walked two people at a time past the dog and then to a line for the metal detector. The interesting part was that the TSA agents were a little confused about why the pet carrier I had was empty. All of this slowed me down enough to miss my flight by 2 minutes. I was worried about getting on another flight that would make it possible for my return flight to be made on time now. With the help of the ticket agent, I was put on another flight going into LAX that left only 20 minutes after my original flight, but my original flight was going into Santa Ana Airport. I made the new flight no problem. As soon as I landed I grabbed an Uber to take me to Santa Ana where I was going to meet Colby and receive the puppy. It was about a 40-minute drive and I got there with enough time to make my original flight home. Phew!
Colby met me at the airport and we had a few minutes to catch up. He told me a little bit about the little female. She was absolutely adorable, and so tiny! I told Colby her name would be Doni. The stipulation was that her name needed to start with the letter “D” since this was Colby’s fourth litter. A week prior we had already discussed naming options with Denise over dinner and she made it clear she didn’t want us to name the pup after her. We all talked and agreed we should name the pup after Donald, the new Brigadoon president. Although she is a female and Donald obviously is not, Doni was a perfect solution. After a quick hello and goodbye, Doni and I were off to tackle through airport security. Little Doni was only 8 weeks old and 8lbs. I felt that the safest way for her to travel was by pet carrier. I was concerned that she would not be accepting of the carrier since she had never been in a bag style carrier before according to Colby. To my surprise, she quickly settled in and didn’t make a peep. Once we got to the x-ray machine I removed Doni from the carrier. The “oh my god she is so cute” and “look at that cuteness” comments began. Doni was super calm as I carried her through the metal detector. All the TSA agents wanted to pet her which she was more than happy to allow. Once through security Doni was gently placed back into the carrier and she once again settled right in. Since the gate wasn’t too far away and my flight hadn’t started boarding yet, I thought I would see if Doni needed to potty one last time. The gate we were at was only about 20 yards away from the pet relief area. Being that Doni was only 8 weeks old and wasn’t fully vaccinated I was a little apprehensive to put her down in the pet area. There was a small patch of fake grass, but plenty of concrete too. I had some potty pads and I was able to lay those down so her feet didn’t actually come into contact with the ground. She quickly peed, which I was ecstatic about! A minute later we were back in the carrier and ready to board our flight.
Once aboard the plane, I got her carrier all settled in (it was a pretty tight fit under the seat in front of me), slipped her a tasty chew treat, and settled in myself. Doni barely moved and didn’t make a peep the entire flight home. I was thinking “Wow! What a great little puppy!” Things could not have gone any better than how they went. The night before I had left, I set up an exercise pen for Doni with clean toys and a comfy bed so when we got home she was given a chance to potty and then ready to be placed in the pen in our living room. All the dogs were really excited when I walked in the door with the carrier. Ricki and Ozzy are very used to me bringing baby animals into the house randomly. Penny has only had two other experiences with baby animals. This would be Pixie’s first experience. So needless to say Penny and Pixie were very excited to see what was in the bag.
Both Pixie and Penny can get very excited when they meet other dogs so we kept their contact very controlled. Doni is so little we carried her in and out to go potty. She was given separate playtime by herself away from the other dogs. Pixie was probably the most disappointed about this as we discovered she loves little Doni. The first night we prepared to not get much sleep. Most of our puppies have rough first nights away from their litter. Being in the kennel and in a new environment for the first time is a lot. Doni was a rare exception. At bedtime she went out to potty and then she was placed in her kennel. We gave her a few toys as well as treated her. Then she settled right in. She watched us get ready for bed but didn’t make a peep. Once we turned out the lights she went right to sleep and didn’t make a sound until about 6am when she needed to go out to potty. We thought maybe the first night was a fluke and perhaps she was just tired from all the activity the day before. But the second night went exactly like the first night except this time Doni didn’t wake up until our alarm went off. Out of the 20+ puppies we had crate trained, Doni is definitely in the top 5 best pups... easy. Doni was just as good at being quiet and content in her exercise pen. She also was super eager to learn and earn food rewards. We started clicker training the second day we had her. She loved that game. We started with attention as behavior, name recognition, and walking calmly on a leash. She was a lot of fun to work with. For four days our schedule consisted of both Matt and I sharing dog duty as usual, but we both worked with Pixie and Doni one on one. It was pretty obvious when we were up in Washington getting feedback from Denise that Pixie was very focused and attached to me. She struggled sometimes to work with Matt. I have always been her primary handler and spent the most time with her so she naturally paid more attention to me. We wanted to make sure that Doni got used to being handled by more than one person right away to prevent a similar scenario. Since we returned from Bellingham Matt has been working with Pixie more and it is really making an impact. Matt is reinforcing what I have been working on and it is helping her be more confident.
Doni was never meant to stay with us long term. Only a few days after she arrived Matt found a great way to get her up to Brigadoon. Tammy, one of Brigadoon’s volunteers, just happened to be in the Bay Area with another dog trainer attending a training seminar at the Marin County Humane Society. This is only about an hour from us. Matt reached out to Tammy and they were so kind to accept the mission to take Doni north. So Doni hitched a ride back to Washington and saved us the effort and cost. We are very appreciative of the support. As much as we wanted Doni to stay (I mean come on, she is super cute, super fun to work with, super sweet, and just a great little puppy) we needed to get back to focusing on Pixie and other duties. It is hard enough for us to balance work, home repairs, working with Pixie, making sure our other 3 dogs get enough attention, Matt being on the Brigadoon board, and moving forward with GUGP ideas. We really don’t have any spare time to train a second puppy.
It has been three weeks since Doni arrived in Bellingham. She has quickly become a favorite according to Maria. She is learning skills from Denise that she needs to have the best chance possible to become a service dog. We are happy she is in the best hands possible. Moving forward it will be exciting to experiment with the media co-op and watch little Doni grow up. We encourage everyone to watch for her through the three organizations. She is a special little pup and we can’t wait to see what her future holds. Who knows, maybe we will help bring more co-op deliveries in the future? I always enjoy feeding my puppy fix.