Everyone's heard about the Customs' Foster Carer Program, right? We saw it first on TV and immediately thought - that sounds exciting. I remember applying for getting a Customs puppy way back around Mar 2010 and was initially told we would be contacted soonish about this.
It wasn't actually until Sept 2011 that we heard back from Australian Customs and informed that we were successful in our application and that they finally had some puppies now ready to be taken to their foster homes. We were asked to come to their Training Centre (previously in Tullamarine, just behind the airport, but now relocated to Bulla) and pick up a "black lab, 6 weeks, male" after hours. Little V was only 3 months old then and it was going to be a big task, managing 2 babies and of course, the big one - Benji. However, the moment we first set our eyes on this gorgeous, cuddly set of pure joy, we knew it was going to be one helluva journey. Out of the 5 puppies ready to go to their foster house, I reckon Denver was probably the largest in size and most athletic (his jumps were enough evidence to that!).
One of the conditions around raising Denver was that he wasn't allowed to sleep inside the house, regardless of what the weather was like outside. It was a bit disheartening to leave him outside the first night, though Benji immediately jumped in and straight away took control of Denver's bed and his house, in spite of having his own bed laid next to Denver's. It was funny initially to see Denver curled up besides Benji in the same house and that's how they slept the first few months. Personally, I think Denver loved curling up to someone like him, though as he grew bigger, Benji soon had to make his own arrangements.
Around the house
Denver started like all pups do - chewing at anything and everything that he could. He was also encouraged by the fact that Benji still regularly destroyed anything new in the backyard and routinely demolished any attempts of maintaining a proper backyard.
Denver was sharp though. He was quick to respond to his name and even quicker to respond to praises. Even as a pup, you could see his superior hunting skills. He could find anything within seconds, no matter where you hid it in the backyard.
Benji and Denver had an absolute crazy time in the backyard, chasing each other, playfully biting and rolling each other.
I remember we got him inside the house the first time, to familiarise him with the environment, and the effect 15 minutes later was near similar to when the tsunami stuck Japan. Absolute chaos within the house. He loved going through everything and shred it to pieces.
I once took Denver to the airport to socialise him in crowded environments and he immediately took to task of sniffing out traveller's bags, as if he was already employed to do so. This was when he was a mere 3 months old. He walked around with an air of absolute fearlessness, inquisitive and watchful every single time. And boy, was he strong. At the age of 5 months, he was already pulling me easily on leash and taking me on regular walks around the house. By the time he was 7 months, he could easily haul my backside and not be out of breath after 30 minutes.
Around 5 months of age, we took him to the local pond where Benji loves swimming. At first, we were apprehensive of how Denver would go in the water. He astounded us with swimming as if he's been to the Olympics, in his first attempt. He even went in further than Benji and absolutely loved the idea of fetching balls that I threw in for Benji primarily. Shaking off the water with gay abandon, without a care of other pets or owners, he would search for Benji and follow him like a little brother. Benji no doubt loved the attention and it kept him fit and on his paws. In hindsight, Benji taught him more about being a tough pet than anyone.
By the time Denver was 10 months old, he was bigger in size and weight than Benji, given his extremely talented parentage and could easily dominate Benji.
We had to play with Benji and Denver separately, as his foster caring conditions didn't allow us to get Denver to fetch objects like we'd do with Benji. So one of us had to take Benji for a walk while the other played tug-of-war with Denver, letting Denver win every single time (this is crucial for their development).
It was funny to see the amazing similarities and differences between 2 kids (V and Denver) growing up in and around the house. Little V had a great time watching Denver and Benji and also imitating them by licking the windows from the inside, while Benji and Denver did the same on the outside.
The Customs team provided food, medicines and all other support over the year and came out every month to test Denver, closer to the house and then take him away for 5 days, every 3 months for a more rigorous training.
Soon after he returned from their training, they would send us an assessment of his skills/shortcomings and ask us to work on a particular thing. One great feedback throughout the year was he was great around other dogs and had an amazing nature. Again, Benji at work.
Ready for the real world
Around the 11-month mark, Denver was taken for his final assessment and we were informed that due to Denver's superior hunting skills, he was to be shown to Australian Federal Police in the next 2 weeks and if he was selected, we would not see him again. We had 1 week to say our goodbyes.
On the last morning for Denver with us, we had taken him to the pond for one last time with us and that's when I got the call from the Customs guy that he was waiting for us at the car park and since he had the work car with him, he could take Denver straight to the Customs Training Centre once we were done with our walk.
Splashing his way out of the freezing cold water, onto the car park and just like that, Denver was gone.
I received a call from Customs 2 weeks later informing me that Denver was successfully selected by Australian Federal Police and that he would now go to Canberra for further training.
Denver not only made us proud by getting selected, but also taught us a few things we easily overlook these days - loyalty, fearlessness, love and a genuine zest for life.