Friday, December 19, 2014


My favorite Christmas Card came today. Our sweet Kolby looks so much like himself it makes me beam that he is truly happy and in his element of working hard, finding plenty of attention, and feeling the love.

There are just over twenty dogs in College who are all at the same level of training. They were all born around the same time frame and started college on the same day. There are a number of trainers who are then responsible for training their "string" or "team" of dogs. Kolby's trainer is Amanda and she has the responsibility of teaching the dogs all the wisdom that college has to offer, evaluating their progress, and writing the monthly reports that go to each of the Puppy Raisers on her team. That is just the surface level, short description, of how this works, because I know in "real life" it is a very complex system of running an elite school to train service dogs.

If Kolby continues to work well and is on schedule, he will Graduate in February!! It is less than two months away and I can't wait to wrap my arms around him while he's wearing his official working blue vest and tell him how proud I am of him.

Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Second Semester

The day before Thanksgiving brought us another report on College Boy Kolby. The check marks continue in all the positive boxes and Kolby continues to hold off on getting check marks in the behavior boxes that need improvement. So in a nutshell, he is working really well on campus. I am very pleased. 

He continues with his same trainer, Amanda, and this is what she typed about the specifics of Kolby: 

"This month we have introduced the tug and step commands and Kolby is doing well in training. He continues to show some insecurity during training, but we are working on this. Kolby is attentive to his handler and gives good eye contact throughout his training sessions. On field trips Kolby is calm and is well behaved in public. We have started to generalize known commands in the wheelchair and he is retrieving several different items. Kolby continues to play well with other dogs and loves to snuggle with his handler during grooming sessions."

I don't know any additional information about the insecurity mentioned, but I wish I did since it has appeared in his last two reports. I wonder what it is that he is doing which gives the trainer signs that he is insecure. I'm not too surprised, but I am curious. If he is asking to leave college early, then he better step it up a notch because the rest of his report shows signs that they feel he can make it.   

If he continues to stay, I wonder if this is a sign that he will be asked to wait an additional three months to graduate; which is what Haddie chose to do. If the trainers feel that a dog has the strong potential to graduate, but they need some minor fine tuning before graduating - then the trainer will opt to keep the dog for extra months until the next rotation of graduation. 

The life of a Puppy Raiser at this stage is a lot of hurry-up and wait. Every time I get a report it feels like Christmas morning, unwrapping the first gift to see what is inside. And then when it is revealed, the wait continues for that next gift - but unlike Christmas, you have to wait an entire month. 

It will be fun to see what transpires in the next two report cards, but from this Puppy Raiser's view, we are getting soooo close to February!!  I can't wait to see if we get a phone call or a letter to enter Team Training. 

Missing you, Kolby, but I am so proud of your report cards. If you want to come home, I suggest you just let it be known (politely, of course) because I think we all know you can make it!! Be confident and finish strong. LOVE YOU!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Match Call Anniversary

A year ago today, my friend treated me to a yummy lunch at John Howie Steak. She had made a purchase of a gift card to this restaurant from our Canine Companions' Auction that October. During that lunch I received THE call from James that Haddie had made a final match with Sharon. This is the call that I had hoped would happen since the moment we picked up Haddie at the airport in August 2011. I was literally shaking with excitement, my friend had to hold the paper steady so I could keep writing all the details about Sharon that James was sharing. We would leave two days later for Santa Rosa to see Haddie again, and to meet Sharon and her family.

The start of an incredible new chapter. I am so very thankful.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October's College Update

Another month under Kolby' collar and we have a college report card for October. Kolby continues to be a start student with only the positive behavior boxes marked and zero boxes marked in the "negative" or "needs improvement on" categories. He is solid and that makes me happy that he is thriving.

Here are the words stated by his Trainer Amanda:

This month we have introduced the wheelchair to Kolby and he is doing well in training. He continues to be easy to motivate and progress with commands. However, Kolby has started to show a lack in confidence when being introduced to new commands, but we are working on raising his confidence with more praise. Kolby continues to be distracted at times, but can be redirected with a verbal correction. On another field trip to Target, Kolby was attentive to his handler and was easy to manage throughout the entire trip. Kolby loves to play fetch in the yard and has a good recall. 

In speaking with our Contract Trainer about the confidence issue, she assured me that Kolby received an excellent report and that most dogs lose a bit of confidence when they are taught new things. And considering the volume of new things he is learning, it is to be expected. However, once they get it, the confidence goes back up. And knowing Kolby as well as I do, if they up their Praises, he no doubt will bounce back. He is all about himself and getting as much attention as possible from his Handler. HA!

And all those adventures to Target and like-stores when we were together proves that practicing outings with your puppy has definite perks for them in college.

My heart did a little flutter when I read that he loves to play fetch in the yard because it means that he is getting his happy-place moments while in College. He loved, loved, loved to play fetch any moment we would offer it to him. I can just see him showing his joy on campus anticipating that next toss of the ball; his super long tongue hanging sideways, his extra long ears bouncing to his panting, and those eyes, his eyes that melt every. single. person. when he is keyed up on bliss. Sigh. Very happy Puppy Raiser.

There is about a week delay from the time the reports are written and the time the Puppy Program Manager has collected them all for distribution to the appropriate Puppy Raiser. So, the disclaimer is always; at the time of this writing, this is what we are finding about Kolby. I am good with that, because Canine Companions will always work diligently at correcting negative behavior with a puppy in training, however, they are also equally as diligent in taking responsibility in listening to and watching every puppy if they show signs that they do not want a working life. Not every puppy wants to work, therefore, every puppy gets a choice.

As of this writing, Kolby is choosing to stay and continue his focus. I would love to fast forward and see where he is in 6 months. What life did he choose?

We love you, KOLBY!!!  We are so very proud of every day that you are on campus learning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Months

Today marks the Two Year Month mark of Kolby spending his first night on campus. Puppy Raising aside, I can't believe we are already well into the month of October!! The year is flying by and at this rate, I should start packing my bags for a February Graduation because that is how quickly these months are cruising.
This photo makes me smile. Taken October 18, 2013 ... just short of a year ago, when I had a mini photo shoot with the puppies because they put themselves here and I told them both to Stay while I fetched my dying camera. The quality didn't turn out the best, but I love the picture anyway.

Let's study this picture for a bit as the memories flood back. Kolby was only a 9 monther and at this age he was very rambunctious. To the point of getting help via a long phone call with our Contract Trainer who walked me through some ideas on how to curb his Alpha status that had somehow polluted his thoughts that it was a good idea to control the two-leggeds.

Cora was 8 years old at the time and had started slowing down on the topic of all-things-Mister. She was more fond of Kolby when he arrived, than when Haddie arrived. But by October, she was d.o.n.e. with him. I couldn't really blame her. Look at her eyes - it kind of says it all; "I got in here without thinking." and "Please take your photo quickly, I'd like to escape." and "Why is he holding my paw behind the corner of the bed?" 

All the while Kolby's look says, "I'm sorry. For everything."

At the moment I was worried if he would even make it to Turn In, but with the persistence of Team Kolby, he outgrew his thoughts of being Alpha, and realized that taking second position wasn't so bad. He thrived the remainder of his training, and continues to enjoy College Life as of this typing.

As for Cora and Kolby's relationship - he slowed way down with her and the two were able to pal-around and enjoy time together before he left for Santa Rosa. Cora liked him, and Kolby was thrilled, but played it cool.

Miss ya', Mister!! Thanks for all the stressful memories that got you to where you are today. For without them, it just wouldn't have been your story. Kisses and Love. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

First Report!!

I was sitting on the couch waiting for my daughter to get off the bus, watching my son make a cheese quesadilla while texting my best puppy raising friend, when the text read I just got Helaine's Report!  This was shocking news only because it was coming an entire week ahead of schedule. Dashing to my computer as my daughter was walking into the house, I didn't see an email from Canine Companions. Refreshing like crazy produced the same result. Nothing.

Fast forward 60-minutes and we were walking back into the house from a dental appointment for my daughter knowing that the email had been sent, but the report document is not readable on a phone unless you have a certain app which I do not have; we could not wait to read the news.

The news was good. He is showing his Instructor all the knowledge of Basic Commands that he learned while with us, and he is learning new Advanced Commands from her of Retrieve, Hold, and Push. All the positive selections had been marked, with no negative selections made, so far so good. I jumped down to the free-write that his Instructor Amanda had shared:

Kolby has completed all his medical and behavioral evaluations and is settling into the kennels nicely. He is easy to motivate and gives good eye contact during training. Kolby is a quick learner and is responsive to his handler. Kolby does get distracted at times, but he can be easily redirected. On his first field trip to Barnes and Nobles, Kolby did very well and was confident throughout the entire trip. During play time, Kolby plays well with other dogs and is easy to manage. 

In shock, I continued to read it a few times. I had always classified him as needing me, and not to sound boastful, but it was evident by many that Kolby had attached himself to me during his 18-months with us. What I had thought would mean a "Oh, this sleepover has been fun, but I'm ready to return home now..." had not happened and his view of kennel life and school was fitting him well his first month.

I can't pretend that I wasn't a little in disbelief for this aspect of the report. The "can be distracted, but easily redirected" was no surprise. I was truthful in sharing that feature on his monthly reports from me to Canine Companions throughout our months together. Kolby takes in the world - he has to know what's up, and not in a fearful way, but in a confident way that says he's ready for anything to come his way to handle. But offer him his name and he's back in tune with his handler.

So there I sat, the first report complete. The first moment fading of opening the document and reading it for the first time and feeling the pull towards being in the same room as Kolby, and wanting it to return repeatedly to feel that connection again. The wait returns ... his second report will come in another thirty days.

I am so proud of Kolby. No matter if he decides to leave college before Graduation, he made it his first month on solid ground. I am so proud of him. What a great accomplishment for a puppy who I thought needed me. I am glad that he is flying solo and enjoying his college experience.

Love you, Kolby.

Monday, September 15, 2014

One Month

Hey Mister!!

I have been thinking about you consistently since we departed ways on campus. We have not had any communication from Canine Companions during the month you have been an active student. They promise a first report the first week of October. That still feels like too far away, but I know reality is that we are getting closer. Once I get that first report, I will be able to visualize what it is that you are doing and how you are doing. Right now I am only guessing that you are hanging in there, as I haven't received a 707-area call.

Since you've been gone, the kids have independently shared throughout different times how much they miss you. We will relive memories with a smile and then fade off into not talking or sharing for a bit. It is a different style of mourning, as we know you are just two states away and haven't really left us. But there are days when we are really missing you, and we look at photos or videos of you, that it certainly feels like you are no longer on this earth. Those are the toughest days.

Are you wondering about your 12", four-legged friend named Cora? She's doing well, but I like to think that she misses her big, handsome playmate. While you guys had your ups and downs, I am very content knowing that you left on an upswing. You two finally accepted and acknowledged one another on equal terms the last quarter you were with us. It made the stress-less, so thank you for your part in that. She has been sleeping in all the spots where you used to hang; and you know that is kinda odd because she protected and loved her bed and space while you were here. I think she is trying to fill your big footsteps and show her talents hoping to be a future Service Dog too. Don't worry, it'll never happen, but we'll just keep playing the game with her.

Your favorite weather has been sticking around here, so really - if you are enjoying the California Sun, we still got it too. Come on up for a visit!!  (I wish)

Just wanted to check in with you to let you know that you are thought of dozens of times per day, and talked about frequently by so many who are not part of our family, but are part of your journey. All of your siblings are still in College, so your human families across the country are very proud of all of you. Keep working hard, pay attention, and try your best ~ it'll make your decision making process so much easier when it comes time for you to decide if you want a Working Life or a Change of Career Life.

Much love forever and always, Kolby.

~ Your Forever Puppy Raiser

Friday, September 5, 2014

Go Big, or Go Home

It hit me today as I was driving under the sunshine on this beautiful September day, that our Puppy Kolby has been in college for three weeks. I am pretty positive that no phone call from area code 707 at this point means that he received passing grades on his Medical and Temperament Testing.

And that is worth taking pause to Celebrate!!

There is clear sailing ahead for learning good stuff in the area of new training challenges. What happens now is all up to Kolby.

Will he GO BIG

or will he

Go Home.

The wait begins and I am so excited to see what he chooses.

You can do it, Kolby - if ya' wanna ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2.5 Weeks

My heart thinks that Mister has been gone for 2.5 years, when in reality it is only a painful 2.5 weeks. How can the weeks be so seriously slow when my days have been jammed packed with activities, responsibilities and other thoughts? This Advanced Training wait is for those with a stronger mind, because I am going crazy.

All it takes is for me to reminiscence about the memory of Kolby to flip me in a tail spin of wanting to see him again. The kids went back to school yesterday and while the house was quiet, minus my happily, content, sleeping beagle who snores like an 89 year old Grandpa, I was happy and had a great day.

The characters in my life returned home full of stories. Everyone had a fabulous day; the kids, the hubby, the beagle, and myself. It wasn't until the sun set and I was on the couch relaxing that my mind was held hostage to the thought of our Black Lab Golden Cross puppy who used to lay next to the couch and poke his head up every now and then to check that I was still there.
This face. The intense eyes and the stories he would show about his emotions were like no other puppy I have known. The whites of his eyes were obvoius against his black fur and he wore his emotions and thoughts right through them.

What was his day like? What did he learn? Who did he play with? Is he happy? Does he think of us as we think of him?

Whomever is being blessed by Kolby will be the happiest recipient. I know Kolby will not disappoint, he will stand true to his Best Friend Status, showing his awesome teamwork and zest for all-things-good in life. The hanging question is who that person will be ... could it be our family, or will we be adding to our family upon Graduation?

2.5 weeks is really nothing in comparison to the big picture of life. But 2.5 weeks to a Puppy Raiser with a Puppy in Advanced Training - it is a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A new normal

We arrived home late Monday afternoon. It was pretty much a toss-the-luggage on the living room floor and I'd get to it when I felt like it. I was tired of our long car rides and the emotions of the week, so the thought of getting life back to normal with laundry and luggage put away was not a top priority.

As I had mentioned in a previous blog post, I had done everything to my house but pack until the last minute. One of those things was cleaning the house, which is common for many to do because you want to come home to a clean place after hotel'ing in a somewhat pampering state (insert no laundry, no cooking, no bed making, etc).

On that Monday when we departed, I remember thinking when it was about time to load Kolby into the car, that I needed to sweep and vacuum before we actually closed up the house. Again, finding that "anything to stall the inevitable".

My kids vetoed my idea. They wanted some normal to come home to, in other words, they wanted the Kolby hair left on the floor. I smiled and let it be. We were summons to the car and off we went with Mister.

I will say that it was the best veto. Of course, we needed some Kolby hair upon our return. And I remembered instantly that it was going to be there when we pulled into the garage and I longed to see those little fluffs of black whisping in the air as I walked through the hallway to the kitchen.

I let it be for a day. The hair miscellaneously placed throughout the house. I also let Kolby's luggage sit on my dinning room table until this evening.

I had packed a large bag for him; food, grooming, toys, vest, treats, his red blanket. And when we walked back to the car on Friday without Kolby, I just closed the bag and told my husband that we could leave it in the car until we got home. And we did.

So tonight I opened the bag in the laundry room and began to go through the items and put them away. I purposefully brought one extra serving of dog food for Kolby, so I dumped that back into the remaining dog food in his container and replaced his red food bowl on top. It was all going smooth until I got to his collar with his personal identification of our name and phone number attached. His collar that he wore when we was little until he was big. The collar that I stripped off him every night before bed and replaced every morning before his breakfast. His collar that was only his, and will only be his, now hangs on the wall next to his leash.

A new normal has started. I am not sure what exactly that looks like or will really feel like, but for now it means that Kolby's accessories have been put away and I sit here waiting for that next thing.

The new normal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 15, 2014

We had been through this part of Puppy Raising before; the Turn In as it is called. The day that Puppy Raisers return the puppy back to Canine Companions after 18 months of love, care, and training.
Friday, August 15th, started as any other. We got ready in record time and headed to breakfast with Kolby to meet our sweet friend with Helaine. We ate and small talked about everything but turning in our dogs. We all handle stress and worry in different ways, but the commonality of the tough job ahead kept us smiling and laughing no matter what the insides were feeling; for it was too early in the day to break down just yet. It was nice to have another team walking this day with us.
The day on campus went rather fast as we secured our professional photos of Kolby with us, and took our endless amount of posing around campus with our cameras. Small talk with friends who are now family that live all over the region, whom we have chatted with throughout our training of Kolby, was a perfect diversion and made the morning and early afternoon just right.
At this point in the day, it seems like everyone is holding it together fairly well. The smiles are big as we are so proud of our puppies. We like the idea of them wearing Blue (a Graduate dog for Canine Companions receives a blue working vest), and so to see Kolby wearing his large Blue Matriculation Vest was a nice step forward to our hope of Graduation.
We spent some time with Kolby's mom Kanga and his sister Kashi and his dad Luca before it was time for our catered lunch from Panera Bread. There are so many wonderful Volunteers that are part of this day; and the lunch is definitely one that caters to the hearts of Puppy Raisers. To be able to sit and fellowship with friends, with our puppies under the table, was a very nice celebratory event and it would not be possible without the huge and generous hearts of volunteers who love Canine Companions as much as the next volunteer. We really are one big, emotional, supportive team and I wouldn't want it any other way.
While we had been on the tour in February 2013 with Haddie, we wanted to go on the tour again. Because there are certain things that the Trainer shares that you will only hear on the Tour. For example, you find out your puppy's roommate, which is a huge deal because you want to visualize everything you can about the experience your pup receives while at College. So seeing the name of the roommate makes it possible to then find that puppy on campus, introduce the pups and peeps, before moving forward.

As I had chosen when we Turned in Haddie, I will continue to not share many pictures nor stories about the Tour. I think it is a very sacred experience that Puppy Raisers need to experience for themselves, so I don't want to spoil anything here. But I will share a moment that brought me and my friend to tear-up. Helaine and Kolby have been best of friends since they arrived in our region just two days apart. They have been on many outings together and they just click exceptionally well.
Halaine's brother Harbaugh will be roomming with Kolby. Kolby's sister Kashi will be roomming with Helaine. The two kennels are next to each other in location #1 and #2. What could be better than rooming together, than rooming with your best friend's sibling and being so close to one another that you can kiss through the kennel fence? Nothing. It is pure perfection. Together Kolby and Helaine will travel the adventures of college together, and that makes me so happy.
Upon the completion of the tour we loaded up our respective cars and headed over to the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa to witness the Graduation and Matriculation Ceremony. This is the part of the day that every stranger, family member, and friend asks while you are Puppy Raising ~ "How can you give them back?!" And the answer? You just do.
You hand over the leash because you have just witnessed Eleven Recipients receive their graduate dog moments prior; you saw the smiles and tail wags, the kisses and licks, and you heard the personal testimony of each recipient about their experience in Team Training and what it means to them to receive their dog.
Independence. Freedom. Confidence. Communication.

Skills that the individual has never mastered before are now skills that are reachable, that are worked toward, that are new because of the dog. You will learn about one individual through the voice of his dad, with tears streaming down his face, as he explains that years of physical therapy showed no progress in his son's ability to move his right arm, yet the first day his son slept in the same room as his dog, his son reached his right arm into the dog crate to pet his new best friend.
You know that the emotions of saying goodbye are far out reached by the emotions of hearing and seeing the pure joy and appreciation and love that every recipient expresses towards their new graduate dog. There are no words to convince me otherwise that everyone can return the puppy they have raised after seeing the real stories of lives changed through the exceptional dogs raised through Canine Companions. It is worth every tear, every drop of the heart, every worry, every late night wondering about your puppy two states away.
We  hand over the leash with a piece of our heart attached, with memories shared of secrets and adventures that are played over and over at rapid pace, as we snuggle in tight and whisper our lasts to our puppy.
After the ceremony is complete, we returned to campus and fed Kolby by the car ~ enjoying his enthusiastic dinnertime ritual without a care about life from Mister. He remained calm and happy and that shows that he is confident and ready for the separation from us. Kolby was ready to take on College solo - to have the opportunity to learn new commands, to learn to work from a Professional Dog Trainer, to learn to live with a roommate that wasn't a human, to learn to play and run free in the giant fenced yard, to learn, and learn, and learn.
The tears were raw, the ache was real, but we walked into the room as a family ... proudly said your name to be checked in ... and handed your leash to a Trainer who walked you back to your new College dorm. You didn't look back, rather you pranced your way forward glancing at your Trainer with a wag in your tail as if to say, "Let's do this".
You were so proud.

And we were too.

Kolby - as I watched my children say their wishes and goodbye to you, I was reminded that you have changed our life. You have reached deep into the core of who we are and brought out the very best. Selfless love is hard, but something that we must all experience in our life to truly understand the meaning of why we are here. You gave yourself freely to this task of learning how to be a working dog, you have been so giving, and we have learned to do so in return by returning you. You have taught us how to love big, act silly, smile wide with our tongues hanging out. You have taught us that a good game of fetch is a simple pleasure, that if we all Wag More and Bark Less that life really would be perfect. 

Thank you, Kolby, for being you. For coming into our life and filling it with entertainment, dedication, and love. You are a puppy that will be forever in our hearts, close in thought, and prayed for immensely for the rest of our lives.

We love you, Mister. 

It was fun. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Family Affair

By Thursday we were exhausted. Tired of riding in the car, tired of tourism, just tired. It had been an emotional last few weeks and the excitement of exploring while on vacation had us. The kids and I needed down time and time spent with our hands on our Kolby. This would be our last day before going to Canine Companions for the Matriculation Celebrations and the dreaded return.
My husband, the amazing photographer, knew that this was a day that we needed alone, and took the time to head out on a photography adventure of his own. It worked well as he could get the morning shots he was looking for and enjoy the scenery at a photographer's pace. He is such a good supporter in this journey.
Meanwhile, the kids and I took Kolby to the hotel pool. I was so tempted to take off Kolby's vest and let him swim with us in the pool. But I didn't. Instead I made a cute tent out of pool towels and chairs and offered some shade in the summer California Sun for our buddy. He slept and slept and slept while we played and played and played in the water. It was so nice to be alone with him poolside (we didn't see a single person other than ourselves - it was perfect), getting in our loves and chats.
That evening we were treated to a beautiful and very happy dinner party at Kolby's Breeder Caretaker's house. It was lovely and perfect. The husband and wife team were very thoughtful and spoiled their Puppy Raisers of Kolby's litter; us and another couple that raised Kolby's sister, who was also turning in at the same location.
It is hard to say if Kolby remembered his mom and sister, or if he was just excited to see other dogs and get the chance to play. The dogs were in puppy-heaven getting to run and play and chase and wrestle and chew bones and play ball, and run and play and chase and wrestle and chew bones and play ball, and run .... they did eventually lay still when commanded, but we didn't torture them with too long of a Down Stay. Just enough for everyone to catch their breath! (the cute little yellow puppy is Kolby's half brother, his mom had her second litter of puppies since Kolby and his siblings left home).
When it was time to say goodbye and return to the hotel for our final sleep, it hit me. This was really going to happen. And with that - we snuggled up with Kolby on the bed - who was dog tired!!! and went to sleep. At one point Kolby found his way up to my girl's and my face and snuggled in tight before it was time to wake up. I am positive he knew that this trip was something special, because why else was he invited up on the bed?!
The next morning came way too quickly. I left Kolby on the bed with my girl while I took my shower and got ready for the big day. When I returned to the room all I could see was the silhouette of Kolby looking at me, and then I knew that this was the start of our goodbyes.

*for the record, a Puppy in Program is allowed to sleep on the bed with his/her person only if they are invited to do so. No jumping nor sleeping on the bed is allowed if volunteered by the puppy. I can proudly say that Kolby has slept with us enough to know bed manners and he is just so darn adorable. He snuggles well and holds still all night long, with only an occasional jimmy-leg when he dreams of chasing happy playmates.