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You’re kind of a big deal

A gift from CCI pup in training, Rocket.
Rocket is being raised in Colorado and has his own dog blog.

Which color do you want, blue or purple?

Gimme the purple one.

Don’t draw a dog. It’ll just make you sad.

With purple crayon poised over the white butcher paper covering the restaurant table, I hesitate. What to draw while we’re awaiting our pasta dinners?  Sorely lacking in any artistic ability, I could do the same clever little cartoon fish that I usually scrawl out, but I ordered seafood and that seems insensitive. Ugh, quit being silly, I tell myself. My mood is in a bruised state and I’m getting weary of putting on a brave front.

We pass the time by writing our names upside down and with our non-dominant hands. 

My Favorite Kid, left handed and right brained, is the artist of the family. While I draw the crayon version of a play-doh snake, he creates a very nice portrait of “Labrador retriever in blue crayon”. 

You told me not to draw a dog because it would make me sad, I say.

It makes me happy, he says.

Ah, he’s got the right attitude. Let’s celebrate the journey that brought us to where we are right now. And I begin to feel a little better about this end of a busy day. Twelve hours filled with the roller coaster extremes of emotional highs and lows.

We arrive in Dublin in early morning with Yaxley in tow to meet up with other CCI puppy raisers for training and workshop. That’s Dublin, Ohio (the Heart of America!), the same state that holds other such landlocked exotic locales as Russia, Bellfontaine, Lebanon and Versailles. Each pronounced differently than one would expect, and in some cases, make one cringe a little.

Yaxley (L) and Yoda (R)

Yaxley reunites with his littermate, Yoda, who was raised in Illinois. The two haven’t seen each other since they flew in from Santa Rosa eighteen months ago. They looked liked twins at eight week old powder puffs, but today we see some very distinct differences in their appearance.

Both are devastatingly handsome, of course.  At least some things never change.

Watching the college babes.

We take a break from the workshop and move from the conference room to the auditorium, to attend CCI’s August Graduation ceremony.  I do try to make it to each graduation ceremony, held four times a year, as it keeps me grounded in this puppy raising thing. A visceral reminder that this isn’t my dog. Of why I do this.  But actually, our attendance today is rather obligatory as it’s Yaxley’s matriculation into Advanced Training.

Puppy raisers and their charges being recognized on stage. I’m on the right
(in lavender) clutching my carnation and sporting a look on my face like
 I wonder if they’ll make an even trade – flower for dog?
(photo courtesy Marty M., puppy raiser)

Like Christmas, it’s been on the calendar and I know full well it’s coming, but doesn’t mean I’m totally prepared for it. And the day shows up anyway, regardless of my self-imposed state of denial.

After the puppy raiser recognition, we return to our seats for the main event. The Pièce de résistance, pardon my French.

We watch as seven people, both children and adults, receive their fully trained assistance dogs. Graduates and dogs have completed two full weeks of intensive Team Training to reach today. (The dogs have completed six months of Advanced Training.) All have worked hard for this glorious moment when they can mark the beginning on the next path of their life.  More than a constant companion, these highly trained assistance dogs are at the ready to change their partner’s life in a deep and profound way.

The graduate is introduced on stage and when the name of their assistance dog is announced to us in the audience, we watch as the puppy raiser of this amazing creature enters the stage and hands the leash to the grad. Symbolic that, the handing over of the leash. A closure of sorts for the puppy raiser. I did this just for you, my friend. And I thank you for allowing me this awesome moment, thinks the puppy raiser.

The dog may give one last glance to the puppy raiser (I love you), but they then turn to their new partner and with a doggie smile and tail wag, they say What are we doing next? I’m ready for ya!  We witness the bond that is already there. One that will grow even stronger over the next few years. We watch as a young boy in a wheelchair asks his dog to Lap. The dog puts front legs gently onto the boys lap and leans in for a bear hug. Tail wagging as the boy presses his head into his dog’s soft fur. Amid the aaahs, there are sniffles heard about the auditorium.

How can we do this puppy raising thing? you ask. How can we “give them up?”   Yeah, people, that’s how.

We joke around the office about how to keep Yaxley from Advanced Training. Who do I need to talk to about this? asks one high level manager, only partly kidding. My friend and co-worker attended this ceremony for the first time so she could give Yaxley one last hug. Afterwards, she says, Now I get it. I understand what Yaxley’s supposed to do. I really want him to pass the program and graduate.

I can describe all this to you and try to show you in words. But people, it’s attending a CCI graduation or seeing these assistance dogs in action that brings it home. It’s actually takes being in the presence of something awesome to really understand it, I think. 

Sure, I’m sad to not have Yaxley in my life anymore. It’s been a great ride these past eighteen months and I do love that dog. A very lot. And a week later I still look for him or reach out to pat his yellow noggin and my eyes tear up a little. But our time together is done. I’m left with knowing I did my best by him and CCI – and hope that it was enough.

Because in six months, I want to hand over the leash. I want that last glance back before he turns to his new partner to wag his tail and ask What’s next?

I want, I want. It’s not about me, though. In the end, as with all the CCI pups, it will be Yaxley that determines his next path. Will he do well in his new place at CCI, will he be strong and take on the training like this is what he was born to do? Or will he not be the right stuff of an assistance dog?  Some behavioral infraction that will take him to the fork in the road that leads to being an excellent pet for someone?

The professional trainers at CCI will take him through this dog college of sorts. They’ll show him what he needs to know.

And we’ll be right here waiting to hear about his progress. With high hopes, positive thoughts and fingers crossed. And some prayers, too.

We’ll keep y’all in the loop here. Good news or not so much, updates on Yaxley will be here so we can continue to ride together on this amazing journey.

Hey lookit! I can be as still as a, well, you know.

One college grad down, one to go.

About Donna Black-Sword

Lover of all things Dog.

10 responses »

  1. Crying. . . So beautifully written.

    Yax is such a handsome fellow, best of luck to you, buddy!


  2. Donna thank yougor sharing this blog and your puppies wuth all of us at work. I am truly missing seeing you, Micron and Yaksley since I have been gone. I will continue reading your blogs. This really brought tears to my eyes. – Cathy


  3. Thanks for the good luck wishes, Hannah. Hugs to you and Dante.


  4. We miss you around the office too, Cathy. Your positive attitude is something we need sorely right now. Thanks for reading the blog. I'm hoping to have news on the next pup soon, maybe even this week.


  5. You really know how to rip at one's emotions! The turn-in, going home to an empty house is the toughest part of this job. Seeing the graduates with their new life buddy is the best thing. We turn Carver in next February. We can only hope he follows in Ansel's paw prints.

    Best of luck to Yaxley, you surely did give him the best start possible!

    When's the next puppy arrive?


  6. I could not have articulated that better. Leaving Fedara at the NCR center in February was hard, hearing that she was not only graduating but a whole month early was surreal and the graduation they had for the 4 side placements in July was one of my best days ever! Now when people ask that question we all get, I say “as much as I wanted to have Fedara back, I didn't need her” then I flash the picture of her getting hugged on by her new person and say “he needs her”. Thanks for sharing your journey.


  7. The amazing Ansel! You guys did such a wonderful job raising him and it shows.

    When we handed over the leash, it was like bringing everything full circle. Like, now it feels complete.

    Thanks for the good luck wishes for Yaxley. We're getting our first follow-up call this week. Fingers crossed he's accepting the new digs ok.

    New pup coming soon, but not soon enough for my impatient self. Just announced yesterday, we'll be raising a pup from a Eukanauba sponsored litter (on the Euk FB page). Can't wait!


  8. Congratulations on Fedara! I understand why we do the side placements, but wish there was a better way to share the event with other puppy raisers.

    I absolutely love your inspired response to folk. I have to agree. I don't “need” the pup, no matter how much I do love him. I'm embarrassed to say it never occurred to me to carry a photo of my graduate pup and her partner. I'm scanning a copy right now . . .


  9. I had it with me to show friends that asked about her and ended up leaving it in my purse. It seems to end the inquisition and often leaves the other person with tears in their eyes. I really lucked out because the July side placement was really a mini graduation so I got to visit alone with Fedara, then have a nice lunch with everyone and hand over the leash-all in a much more intimate setting (the board room at the center itself) just like at a regular graduation.


  10. I wondered how the side placements were handled, worried that the PR didn't actually get to meet the person. It sounds wonderful, especially without all the distractions that come with the larger events. And very cool that you could visit with Fedara. We had a half hour with Inga before the graduation and I remember every moment of it. Awesome stuff.



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