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. 

Here we go

We left on August 11th to return Kolby to Canine Companions and to the place where his journey began in Santa Rosa, CA. It was difficult for me to pack myself up and get into the car. I found every excuse on what "had to be done" in order to leave the house, and none of that was getting my clothes into a bag, nor Kolby's travel bag packed. It was a late night on Sunday, but I eventually got myself to do it and we rolled out on Monday.
We planned to have dinner with my hubby's Aunt, Uncle, and cousins on the way the first day. So our trip was not very long as we stopped about three hours to meet them at this fabulous resort. Kolby enjoyed all of the attention and it was nice that our family was able to put a touch to this puppy that they have followed since he was 8 weeks old.
Our Aunt said something that stuck with me, she said she had never fallen so in love with a dog that she had never met before. I found that sweet and probably very true if you have followed his journey, I am not sure what isn't to like about this cute, handsome, and endless-expressioned puppy. And Kolby held true to everything I have shared about him; he proved that I tell the truth (wink).  Kolby was his typical rock-star-self with excellent manners and sweet lovin' when we were saying our goodbyes.
The next day turned into a rather long car ride of twelve hours. Kolby didn't make a sound, but obviously enjoyed his time out of the car for brisk stretching of his legs, water breaks, bathroom, and dinner. He is a fabulous traveler.
On Wednesday we enjoyed a full day traveling from Oceanside to Winery. We fell upon Bodega Bay from the recommendation of the hotel clerk and I am glad we opted for the suggestion. Although the fog held for a bit at the ocean, it was still beautiful and a chance to check off "Pacific Ocean" on Kolby's Puppy in Program List of things to do and see before College.
And on the flip side, we got to enjoy some winery meandering with Kolby. The highlight here were getting super cute photos in 90 degree temps with a black puppy; who held it together like a pro and kept up with our pace. We also met a leash-less winery dog that came quickly out of nowhere, barking and scurrying about next to Kolby. Our puppy was interested, but that was about it and we continued our walk with little Toquiots Taco Bell following us for a little stretch of time.
It was about this day when I realized something very powerful. My daughter explained it best and I appreciate her insight at the moment when I needed to hear it best. I will paraphrase.
She was explaining that it was time for Kolby to leave us, not because we were tired of him, or he was of us, but because he had seen it all. There wasn't anything on our Kolby Bucket List that was left off, we had been thorough and complete in showing him the world. The list is rather long and we are proud to say we did it. I am confident that we gave our all to raising our puppy for Canine Companions. My girl went on to explain that Kolby surpassed our expectations of what he needed to do with us. He knew all of his 30-commands, could perform them in various social outings, and was very trustworthy. We always knew what to expect from Kolby's behavior no matter where we were during our day or night. He was solid.
Therefore, he was ready for his next step. Now he would go to College and learn new tasks, harder tasks, things that will push him to start over in his learning. My girl is very wise and this was her final thought: Kolby will succeed in Advanced Training if he can handle the new expectations. And if he chooses to come home, it does not mean that he was not successful as a Puppy in Program, nor did we do anything that jeopardized his advanced learning. Rather, the success to Graduate or come home is simply the choice of Kolby's if he wants to keep working, or not.
I liked that. College Life is a whole new ball game. While we have equipped our puppy with the skills and foundation, in the end Kolby gets to choose if he wants to step up to the challenge of learning and working, or if he wants to say that he is done, and his 18 months with us provided him with amazing skills that will work great in another avenue in life.
And as we continued on our journey through Calistoga, Sonoma, and Napa with Kolby by our side, I smiled with confidence - not sadness - that we had done an amazing job raising Kolby and in return he held tight to wanting to learn and grow. He chose to work hard and follow through with his training. He chose to have amazing adventures with his solid behavior. And now, no matter his choice in Advanced Training, we can definitely say Kolby completed the high standard of training while in our care and he is one successful puppy!
I am so proud of our Mister Kolby.