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. 


  1. Beautiful. In all these pictures, you can see Kolby's chill and content personality, happy to be wherever he has the chance to go. He is a confident boy, ready for anything, and that's all you can hope for when they leave for their next adventure. You and your family did a fantastic job raising and loving on Kolby! It's hard, so incredibly hard, but you are so right that it is worth it a thousand times over when you witness first hand what these dogs do. Hugs to you!

  2. Thank you, Hannah. Your words are very meaningful and appreciated. Thank you for cheering us on along his journey. Big hugs to you!