Monday, November 11, 2013

Haddie, Service Dog

I will admit, we were Puppy Raiser #2 of seventeen to take their puppy off of the Puppy Truck. We knew our time with Haddie had a limit so it is obvious that we wanted to capture every one of those.
As I walked across the parking lot, I really didn't have an expectation in my mind of how this all would go. I hadn't been dreaming or thinking extensively about that moment when we would take the leash from her Trainer. I just wanted it to be the way it was going to be, and not have any let down, or high level of something that maybe wouldn't even happen. I just wanted it to be.
Erin, Haddie's Trainer for the first six months of her training, was in the van. We had never met and now wasn't the time to chit-chat about life, but we both had beaming smiles when she found out which dog we were there to pickup. She had nothing but praise about our sweet puppy. And it wasn't until later when I thought - this was Erin's goodbye too, yet she was so strong and didn't hesitate getting Haddie out of her crate and into our arms.
And there she was ~ all yellow, super clean, and extra soft. Haddie had been extremely well cared for and looked like a very mature and grown-up girl. Our puppy, was now a Service Dog, and as I looked into her eyes, I told her how very Proud I was of her. The kids and I continued to love on Haddie as Mike did an amazing job taking photos. And then ...
... and then it clicked. All of a sudden Haddie jumped on my girl and gave her a thousand kisses on her lips and cheeks. My girl was laughing and we all knew at that moment Haddie remembered us. Haddie jumped off of my girl, turned, and jumped to me with smothering kisses and a speedy tail. Of course I couldn't stop her, and I didn't want to either, and just as fast as she had powered her way onto my face, she turned once again and supplied my son with a very hearty welcome of joy. Ohhh, the love that Haddie gave each of us was just perfect.
We settled her down for photos and time together. My sweet friend from California and fellow Puppy Raiser was there to celebrate with us, and did a fabulous job of capturing our moments with Haddie. I don't know what I would have done had we not had that extra set of hands, eyes, and squeaky toy to get our photos of our puppy. Thank you, Monica!!
The hour seemed to be in slow motion. I was thankful for that, but there came a time when it felt right to keep the momentum of this gift to Sharon on a continuous path. It was time to head into the building and find our seats for Graduation.
As we sat and waited, my mind flicked back and forth between the February day when we were sitting in that same room going through the Matriculation ~ walking across the stage with Haddie to receive her ribbon around her neck. She seemed so mature and ready for Advanced Training, yet so puppy-like at only 20 months old. I looked at her present day and she was different. Her maturity was strong, at just shy of 2.5 years old, my girl had grown up a lot, learned a lot, and was ready to start her life of work for Sharon. It was a great feeling; to know the puppy Haddie and to see the mature Haddie.
Haddie was much calmer in the seating area than she had been outside. She sensed the change in atmosphere and the seriousness of our attitude. While she would snuggle on our lap with a Visit command, or get her front paws across our legs in a Lap command, Haddie was in full concentration in looking at each of us. I like to think that she knew this was our goodbye; our final time alone with her.
At one point, shortly before it was our turn to present her on stage, I said, "Haddie ~ where is (insert my daughter's name)." and Haddie looked directly at my girl and went over to her for final loves. Then after she had been back in front of me for awhile, I said, "Haddie ~ where is (insert my son's name)." and she looked directly at my son and went over to him.
This is something that my girl had taught Haddie while she was in our care. My daughter would say, "Where is ..." and call out a family member's name. To which Haddie would respond by searching the house until she found them. It was one of our favorite things while she was with us. She knew exactly what she was doing, and knew everyone's name.

She remembered - nine months with a dozen extra, advanced training commands later - she remembered.

My husband handed his fancy camera to our friend, and we walked up the side aisle as a family. We had been instructed to stand up in front, waiting while they introduced our Graduate. While the Trainer was talking about Sharon, I happened to look over at my son who was standing next to me. He had been so strong for so long, but now the emotions were evident. My daughter quickly followed and with tears that were full of joy and peace and the realization that we had done this ... we had raised a Service Dog ... we walked up on stage as a family.
As my family hugged Sharon one at a time, I had the leash in my hand with Haddie wiggling her behind in pure excitement. She hadn't seen Sharon since the night prior as Haddie had spent the entire morning away from Sharon. After I Thanked Sharon, giving her a huge hug, I proudly handed the leash to Sharon, patted Haddie's head, and we walked off the stage.
I sat in the audience and watched Sharon and Haddie - not paying any attention to the Graduates who followed, but just soaked in the beauty of seeing Haddie so confident, strong, able, and focused on Sharon. I watched at Sharon positioned Haddie in a Heal position, and Haddie took no time following the command. I saw a few tears wiped from Sharon's cheek, I saw Haddie get up and climb a bit onto Sharon for hugs, and more tail wags. Haddie was working.
I continued to rub my son's back as he calmed down - and I knew at that moment that what was expected of my family was huge. Two years ago we were newbie puppy raisers, enjoying the ups and downs of getting a highly intelligent puppy focused on a working lifestyle, of obeying commands and teaching her not to be afraid of anything in the real world. We fell in love, and without a second thought, we stood strong and gave the leash back to Canine Companions for the hope that Haddie could change the life of one individual.
And here we were - among our Canine Companions family - cherishing the beauty of our volunteer work that our puppy had exactly changed a life. The tears were of accomplishment, and praise that our prayers had been answered. We had done something big, and worthwhile, and amazing - yet I felt so small. Haddie is the gem in all of this, and I am so honored to say that we raised this puppy, that we knew her from 10 weeks of fluff to a mature and wise adult dog.
When the ceremony was complete, we met Sharon in the lobby for one final photo. With paws on Sharon's lap, and a wagging tail, our family of four behind them, the photo was snapped and forever cherished of the Service Dog named Haddie with her favorite, most loved, forever person, Sharon.

Godspeed, Sharon and Haddie, for a life filled with love, laughter, and memories together.

Thank you for all of our answered prayers, Lord ~ for the spark to get us started in Puppy Raising, for our first puppy who filled us with laughter and responsibility, for the wisdom to know how to train and learn along the way, for the strength to give her back, for the peace to accept that Haddie belongs to Sharon. We are grateful for all that you have taught us during this entire process. Thank you for your never-ending love, and for this perfect day. Amen.
My final footsies with Haddie


  1. What a journey! Congratulations on your huge success with your little girl!

  2. WOW - what a day! I admit, it took me awhile to read through all the happy tears blurring the words, but what a miracle of a story it is. Go Haddie! Just proves patience really is a virtue when you get to see perfection like that! Go Haddie, Go CCI, Go you!

  3. Man, she does look good in Service Dog Blue! (when I own my own house, I am going to have one room just for the puppies and I will find the perfect color of service dog blue for the walls!). I am so incredibly proud of you and of Haddie. I've said all the words of encouragement I think I have in me so I'm finding it hard to collect words now. But what a cherished and amazing moment. Beautiful.

  4. Oh my I have tears listening to this!! I am so inspired by your family! Best to Haddie and Sharon on a beautiful life together!