I cried yesterday. In public. But they were all happy tears and I was just joining in with everyone else at the CCI graduation for the North Central Region. Some seriously positive Karma going around in that auditorium. Good vibrations, if you will.
Canine Companions for Independence holds graduation ceremonies four times a year. People who have been partnered with a skilled assistance dog by CCI complete two weeks of team training at the regional center. A graduation ceremony is then held after the successful completion of this unique bonding and training experience. Let's stop here for a second. Those last two sentences hold so much and it is truly difficult to put into words just how profound this process is. It would take a book to hold all the words, I think.
And how to explain the emotions at a Team Training Graduation? It's one of those "you had to be there" kinda things, but I'll give it a heck of a try. Ok, so imagine yourself in a auditorium. It's a sold out event and late comers are left standing in the back and sitting in the aisles. Now imagine that for about every three or four people, there is also a dog. Except for the occasional dog hair in the dust motes, a casual observer would have no idea that the auditorium is filled with dogs. No barking, no dog smell, no dogs moving around.
Board of Directors VP, Carolyn, takes the stage and asks everyone who has attended a graduation before to please stand. We look around to see who is still seated, there are so many first timers here. These new people are our future, she tells us. These are the CCI supporters, volunteers and maybe even new puppy raisers. We're to make sure they have tissues for what's next.
The puppy raisers with matriculating dogs are now on the stage to be recognized. After the ceremony, they will drive to the regional center to turn the pups they've raised over to CCI for the next phase of advanced training. These folk and the pups have been together for the last 14 months or so. Some stand there straight and strong on stage. Others may have a tear or two roll down. For those of us who have stood on that stage, we understand. How do we give them up, we're asked. With a lot of pride and a box of tissues, we say.
Now it's time to meet the new teams. Yesterday's ceremony had eleven graduating teams, some adults and some children. One team at a time is brought on stage. The individual first, then the puppy raiser of their skilled companion joins them on stage. We're not going to see a paper diploma handed over here. Something else intended to help them on their journey as they move onto this next path in life. The puppy raiser walks their new skilled companion to them to "pass the leash." This is it, people. The proudest moment for a CCI puppy raiser; whatever we did over those 14 months, everything that the amazing CCI trainers did, everything the dog can offer. The puppy we love so much is now in the hands of someone who will love them even more. Our dog, who is not our dog, has found their destiny. This is it.
To repeat what I said before, you really have to be there to get this experience. I've shared how I feel as a new puppy raiser. It's an experience unique to each person. Information on the next graduation ceremonies for each regional center can be found on the CCI's website (CCI graduation dates). A search of youtube will bring up some excellent presentations like this one: puppy raiser presentation.
Each CCI Team Training Graduation is a feel-good time, but this particular one had even more meaning for me than most. Fellow puppy raiser, Jeff, turned over Nao's leash to a young boy and his family. That's Nao in the photo (top) and the other is with the lovely Inga on their last play date. I've known the ruggedly handsome Nao since he was a young pup as he grew up in the office as the same time as Inga. I've not yet had the honor of "passing the leash" so I can only guess how wonderful this must feel. I am so happy for Jeff, Nao and especially this young family. What a perfect, blessed match.
Please excuse me now. I think I have something in my eye.
Those who know me well respect that I'm not a morning person. Actually, even those who don't know me well seem to figure that little factoid out pretty quickly. But I gotta say that this past week's puppy sitting duties brought a change in attitude.
We had a puppy party every morning in my kitchen starting at the otherwise grim and unforgiving hour of 7 a.m. A fellow CCI puppy raiser had a tight work schedule over these last few days, so he dropped his little furby off at my place. And what a blast we had. The family dog, our CCI pup and this new little guy collided together each morning and ran through the house as a single conjoined fur unit. There was no way I could hold onto the morning grumpies while in the same house as three dogs in the throes of frenzied happiness. It just takes all the ugly out of a day.
Not that I could keep this kind of pace up all day, of course. After I got to the office, I prompty handed one pup over to my BFF cube farm partner. By promptly, I mean that I called her from my cell phone in the parking lot to come out here and get the one of these dogs. Please.
I get the occasional question from folk asking if my first CCI pup, Inga, were to be released from the CCI program, would I adopt her. I think it obvious that I want her to pass and become a skilled service dog for someone, but yeah, I would take her back. "But," people say, "then you'd have three dogs in your house." I would smile sweetly at this naiveté and tell them how much I love dogs and not to worry. "I really think I can handle it just fine," I say. Reality is a cold and cruel master, however. Sure, I can handle three dogs. Just maybe not at the same time. Check that; I absolutely do believe it's possible to live with three dogs successfully in a thriving and happy household.
It's two young puppies and a terrier mix tearing through my house like a Cub Scout pack tanked on Mountain Dew that is a test of my humble abilities. But would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Photos this time around are of Micron and his new puppy friend, Karsen. On top, they share an eviscerated frog toy, courtesy of the lovely Inga. Next two shots are their separate interpretations of a Sit Stay. And the parting shot is blessed naptime. To be clear, they do both have comfy dog beds and crates.
Inga's advanced training progress report came in from her CCI trainer in the last week of January. Eric has started working with her on the Push and Retrieve training and other advanced behaviors. She's getting more comfortable with her new place and so some of the misbehavior Eric saw during her first month at the center is resolving. I'm seeing good things . . . Inga is settling in, she's with an excellent handler, and CCI hasn't called me yet to come get her.
Two months down. Four to go. Paws crossed for success.
Some earlier photos of Inga for memory's sake. Top shot is Inga less than thrilled about wearing her puppy cape for the first time.
And next here she is sharing her office crate with Nao; that's her on the left. Inga and Nao pretty much grew up together and became very close. Nao is quite a bit larger than the petite Inga and I'm really not sure where the rest of him is in the crate. So yeah, maybe she is a bit dominant, ya think?
The last shot is her first Christmas photo with Santa. Do check out the unfortunate placement of that left paw. That's not a smile on Santa's face.