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Category Archives: matriculation

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.

You look good in blue

Yaxley looking sporty in his matriculation cape. He wears it well.

More later on the ceremony.  But today I’m gonna be busy hugging Micron and Jager.

I’m sure you understand. [sniffle]

Don’t cry because it’s over

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.       -Dr. Suess

Some of us are good with change. I’ve met people, always at work it seems, that proudly claim to be Claim Agents. They wear this self-proclaimed title like a flag. And good for them, I say. More power to you and all that.  But there come times when it would be nice that instead of stirring that big pot of life, could we just keep things at a simmer for a couple hours?

But even a slow simmer person as myself will admit that life changes can bring excitement and renewal. My job has recently moved to another location which has me driving over a hundred miles round trip each workday. On the suck scale, I’d give the commute an eight out of ten. But truth be told, once I’m settled in at my desk, I kinda love it. Surrounded by windows now instead of the prior florescent-lighted cube farm environment. Great co-workers and a rewarding job at a good company. It really is pretty great. They pay me to show up and work, not to say nice things. So they get that one for free.

Micron and Karsen sporting their
matriculation capes

But some change is bittersweet. We’ve all encountered that, haven’t we? Good and not so good all mixed together. Last Friday was one of those for us.

Micron is now off to advanced training at CCI’s North Central Regional Center. Dog college, so to speak. Our work with him is done and we’ve said our good-byes. 

Isn’t that hard to do, we’re asked, to give them up?  The answer is a hearty yes. Indeed, it’s tough to do, to return the dog to CCI. But you know, if it were easy, then honestly, something ain’t right. You might think that we fall madly in love with these fuzzies somewhere over those fourteen to sixteen months we have them. Not true, I say. That magic moment actually happens when you pick up the eight week old cotton ball and look into those brown eyes for the first time. Mutual trust, respect and admiration. And isn’t that the meat-and-potatoes of  true love?

So what the heck are we doing here? Why throw ourselves so willingly into all this drama and  emotional gymnastics?  I couldn’t possibly answer this for any other puppy raiser. Of the thousand plus CCI puppy raisers out there, each could share their own motivation. But as a personal expert on, well, my personal self, let me share my vision.

I see . . .

  • A young person with the confidence to attend college and live independently with their companion. 
  • A dog who provides comfort that they are there by your side for only one reason. You.
  • A dog creating a social bridge for a child with a disability. Who perhaps finds it easier to make new friendships with their dog by their side.
  • A person who is no longer afraid to travel. Who no longer sleeps in the hotel chair, but instead can get a good night’s sleep knowing their Hearing Assistance dog will wake them in case of a fire alarm or a knock on the door.
  • A dog in an elementary school classroom. Laying quietly as the kids practice their flashcards on his side.

So, what is Micron’s destiny? How’s he going to do at CCI U?  Dunno yet.

But know what?  I bet he’ll make us proud whatever he chooses to do.

Hey Karsen, let’s go scope out the cute chicks at CCI U.
You thinking brunettes or blondes?

College boys, Micron (CCI U) and Derek (BGSU)

Crying towel, a gift from fellow puppy raiser, Elisa.
A gift from Mars’ puppy raiser, Marianne.

How can you give them up?

It’s a question a CCI puppy raiser hears a lot, but not an easy thing to answer. We take in these furry little carpet stainers at eight weeks old. We feed, train, groom and socialize for the next 14-16 months, then return the pups to CCI. How can you give them up? With a lot of pride and a box of tissues is a quick quip, but that doesn’t capture the essence of what a puppy raiser truly feels.

What follows is authored by fellow CCI puppy raiser, Elizabeth Holman, who has successfully put into words what is so difficult to say. Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to share your thoughts here.

“How can you give them up?” As puppy raisers, if we had a quarter for every time we heard that question we could buy enough toys to keep even the strongest chewer busy for a year. It’s always well-meaning people (well, almost always) who marvel at our kindness. I appreciate it – but sometimes I want to ask them to lean in close so I can whisper something in their ear.

Let me tell you a secret: You will say goodbye to everyone and everything you love. It may be soon or it may be a long time from now, but the reality of our existence is that we keep nothing. Many of these partings will be surprises, and many will be filled with tears. As puppy raisers, we have given ourselves a great gift – we give our puppies up to life.

We know exactly when we will say goodbye. We pass their leash to loving hands and watch them walk off, tail wagging, to an exciting new world. We know they will be cared for by people who love them (nearly!) as much as we do. We know they will discover their joy in working with one special person, or be released to find their heart’s home. They come to us as little squirmy sparks of life, and after watching them grow we say farewell when they are young, strong, and on the verge of new adventures.

So don’t pity us or admire us as puppy raisers for being strong enough to give them up. Envy us for being lucky enough to give them up in precisely the right way.

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