Sunday, November 13, 2011

Successor Service Dog Bright II

Graduation Day:
It was here...the wait was over...the excitement was overwhelming. Our van of people (me, my mom, my sister, and Team Orson) pulled in to CCI around 9:30am. I walked in to the main lobby area and immediately saw my friend Nancy who was also going through TT to receiv
e her SSD. I gave her a hug and a big Congratulations! Nancy also told me that I would love Bright's new person, Alex, and that the match was absolutely perfect. I then went in search of a trainer...or anyone who would be able to get Bright out for me. Instead, they brought out Buffy first! (Buffy had gone in to the kennels for her heat cycle about 4 weeks before and we were picking her up yesterday as well) I got lots of puppy kisses and hugs from Buffy. YAY!
Finally, they brought Bright out and she looked so beautiful in her new blue pull harness! I think she didn't quite recognize me, until I called out "Pooka!" which was her nickname when she was with me. Then the tail started wagging and she got her happy look. I fell on the floor and gave her hugs and kisses! Then we took a bunch of pictures....

(when they first brought Bright out)

The last one is with my sister...who played photographer!
Then we wandered over to another part of the property and took even more pictures!While we were sitting with Bright, we all noticed that she was constantly searching for someone. She was looking for Alex. Their bond was already so strong that she knew she was missing and wanted to find Alex. Seeing that she was already so dedicated to her new person made me smile. This is what all Puppy Raisers hope for.

After we got to spend awhile with Bright, we were called in to one of the training rooms where they were serving us lunch. Here we were introduced to Alex and her husband Bryan. What a great couple! We talked all about Bright and how TT was for them. I was told that once they saw Bright, they knew that she was the one for them. Perfect! We laughed and shared stories, it was incredible. I gave them the scrapbook that I had made as well as the toys we had bought. I had also made a video for Bright when I was learning how to use a new program.
(tissue alert)

We then got called in to another training room where we had group photos taken. These will go into the video of the graduation and we will also receive them on a cd. The volunteers that create these videos are awesome and I've had the pleasure of knowing them for many years. The videos are done so well and they help us relive all those great moments. I went to talk to Liz, the photographer, and she said that when she saw we had a graduate she was so excited and couldn't wait to tell us congratulations. The CCI family is the best!

After that it was time to head over to the Islandia Marriott for the graduation ceremony. After we got there we were given Bright again to have for the ceremony. Butterflies started fluttering around my stomach as I waited to enter the ballroom where the ceremony was being held. I was nervous because I had been asked to give the Puppy Raiser speech at graduation. This speech is my way of sharing my experience with raising Bright.

The ceremony began and it was different because we were also honoring the Veterans for Veteran's Day. Many thanks to Sam and his Service Dog Gillian for giving a fantastic speech. Then it was time for the Matriculation slide show to start. Butterflies again....but this time because the slide show was created by me, and I wasn't sure how it would go. Everyone loved it though! Phew! Then the butterflies went crazy as Katrina announced me as the speaker. Here goes!

Almost 2 years ago to the day I was sitting where all of you are now and getting ready to turn-in a puppy. It was an emotional day, but it ended on a happy note. That was the day that I was handed a squirmy little 3 month old puppy named Bright II. Katrina handed her to me and I took one look into her eyes and my heart completely melted. This puppy, I knew, was a keeper. A fellow Puppy Raiser walked over and asked to take a look at the new pup in our New Jersey chapter. He looked her in the eye, turned to me and said “this one is special. She’s going to graduate.” And so our journey together began.

As a Puppy Raiser, we are tasked with helping this little puppy learn commands and perfect socialization. Bright however, acted like that little kid in 2nd grade who declares that they are going to be something important when they grow up and then goes on to achieve just that. Bright declared that she was going to become a Service Dog, because it was what she loved to do the most. Author Natalie Goldberg said, “Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” Bright taught herself new things without my help and instinctively knew everything else. I often thought that she was raising herself and I was just along for the ride as her moral support.

You might think that all it takes is one person to raise a puppy. Instead it involves an entire community. Bright learned how to not eat food off the floor from the guy at the prepared foods section of Wegmans. She learned how to patiently stay in a Down and listen to a child read her a story at the local library. She learned how to become invisible in a restaurant and then scare the waitress at the end of the meal by walking calmly out from under the table; the waitress not having any clue that there was a dog underneath. She learned how to do an Up command on many counters at the numerous stores that we visited. And most importantly she learned how to properly behave in any situation.

One goal as a Puppy Raiser is to expose your puppy to every situation or environment possible. Bright took each new challenge in stride. She calmly rode in the car to Rhode Island and Minnesota. She was also asked by Service Dog Orson to go to Disney World, which of course she accepted. I guess the perk of being her Puppy Raiser was that I got to go along too. Did you know that it was a big attraction to see a puppy walking down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom in a pair of yellow booties? How about 2 dogs in yellow booties? Seriously, I’ve never seen so many people video-taping a dog drinking water or eating dinner before!

Each puppy teaches their Puppy Raiser something new. Bright showed me the true meaning of what a Canine Companions dog is – Intelligent, easy to manage, a joy to train, and a best friend who captures your heart and loves you no matter what. She has always wanted to be someone’s extra set of hands and their shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Mary Lou Retton said, “Each one of us has a fire in our heart for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.” Bright has found her “fire” in helping Alexandra in any way she can. I know that she loves what she is doing and that the two of them make an incredible team. So, congratulations to Alexandra and Bright; and Congratulations to every new team that graduates today.

Everyone said I spoke with confidence, but I was up there and shaking I was so nervous! Then the matriculating dogs were honored and the graduate slide show was presented. After that the class speakers were given the floor....and Alex was one of them! Go Team Bright! She and Noah had fun poking fun at the trainers and gave a very lively speech! I guess the one downside for Alex being the speaker was that I had to give my pup up that much sooner. They stayed on stage and Katrina called Bright's name. My mother and I walked up the stage and, emotionally, handed over her leash. Now she was no longer mine, but Alex's and I couldn't have been happier. We clapped and cheered while all the other graduates got their dogs (Nancy was matched with a huge pup named Junior!). Then the graduation was over an it was time to say a final goodbye.

We had all exchanged information earlier and so it was just a matter of giving Bright one more kiss, or one more hug before she went out the door to the newest part of her journey. I was so sad to see her go, but I knew that she was going to get so much love and attention from Alex and Bryan. So we said our goodbyes and made promises to keep in touch. It was bittersweet and worth all the time and effort.

I want everyone to know something though. Being a Puppy Raiser means that your heart breaks a little bit more with each dog that you return to an organization. It breaks, but seeing the end result, and knowing that you helped create that outcome, heals all the broken pieces. It allows a Puppy Raiser to remember why they do what they do. It teaches them that there is a bright spot at the end of the journey. We spend our time training a puppy to be the best they can, and we try to encourage them as much as possible. If you ask a Puppy Raiser why they raise a puppy only to have to give it away again, you will probably receive a variation of the same answer. We do it because we love it, we have a passion for it. All the heartbreak that comes with it? We can deal with that because we know that these pups are going to help someone become independent again, help them become someone that they may never have dreamed possible. We can offer someone hope and dreams and that makes this all worth it.

So finally....congratulations again to Alex and Bright. You guys are a match made in Heaven and I wish you both the best of luck as you begin this new journey together.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

At The Beginning

I always found it interesting how they always say that at the end, you always remember the beginning. Well truer words have never been spoken! As the weeks wind down, I remember that day in November when i picked up Bright. She was a little squirmy thing that wanted to play with everyone. She was handed over to me and I remember my heart melting. This one was a keeper.
Now I think that the ones I want to keep are the ones that are destined for great things. As one Puppy Raiser said that day, "This one is special, she's going to graduate". Tears sprang to my eyes and I had to scold myself and remember that there is a goal to be reached, even if it is very far into the future.

That future is now here! Oh how the time has flown by! That dreaded manila envelope has arrived and so goes the process of turn-in. I think this is the one thing about puppy raising that I dislike the most. Sure, I hate the turn-in day as much as the next person, but I dread the time when that envelope arrives. Its like we can believe that we have all the time in the world to spend with our pups and nothing can stop us. That envelope is like a splash of cold water. A way to remind us that this pup is not ours, and we have to return it in just a few short weeks.

For all you repeat PRs out there, you know what the next few weeks consist of. For those newbies out there? You're in for a bit of a surprise! Once that envelope arrives, time just speeds up. You're in a whirlwind of motion these next few weeks as you get paperwork filled out, vaccinations updated, pictures selected for the slide show. When you finally stop to take a deep breath and prepare, the day of Matriculation is here. Surprise! It snuck up on you when you weren't paying any attention.
So these next few weeks are going to pass by quickly and pull me along for the ride. Bright knows something is different. She knows that there is something coming, but she can't figure it out. This seems to be a trend with my pups. They know something is happening. (Shane ate my cell phone, Tiffany ate my mom's glasses) She has become a bit on the sulky side as if she knows that soon our time together will come to an end and that makes her sad.

So we will spend the next few weeks playing around and working hard on our commands. (She's almost perfect on everything but Speak!) I'm ready for the next few weeks.....BringIt On!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Buffy III!

Buffy is the 9th pup I've raised for CCI and I'm super excited to be starting another puppy journey. I still have Bright, and we are still working hard towards her matriculation in May. Like I said before, I like to overlap pups and so today, I picked up Buffy!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Countdown: 3 Months

Is it really almost time?

Bright is now 17 months old and the time is continuing to fly past. Was it really over a year ago that she came home with me?
November 2009. CCI November Graduation. That day was a new experience for me, having a pup matriculate and picking up a new pup at the same time. As many people know, I like to overlap my pups. It does take more work, but I find that it's the best way to raise pups. It also helps to have that other pup to snuggle with once your older pup walks away to his/her new life.

And so the countdown begins. 3 months and counting down. Bright, as well as all pups in the NER, are turning in 3 months later than normal. So I have my BrightStar for an extra 3 months. 3 more months of puppy kisses and fun times. 3 more months to get her training correct. 3 more months until I have to give her back.

Out of all the pups that I've raised, she was the one that we did the most with. She traveled all over. To Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and even down to Disney World for a week. The experiences with her have been amazing and she has taught me so much in the time that I have had her. She was another of my "easy" pups and she easily adapted to the environment around her.

Lately I have been working with her on just a flat collar or a martingale. She does wonderfully on either one! Again, an "easy" pup. I wish they could all be like her!

So, 14 months ago I picked up this cute little puppy from NER and together we began an amazing journey. One filled with many new experiences and challenges. We met each one head on and we will continue to work hard. We have a goal to reach: Bright's Matriculation.

So the countdown has officially begun. Time to get ready to receive that turn-in packet. Time to train hard on all her commands. Time to get myself ready to say another goodbye and to send Bright off to "college" with a piece of my heart so she always knows I'm there.........

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tribute to Marvelous Mercer

A young woman realized that there were many things that she could not do, so instead she wrote stories about how her service dog Mercer could do them for her. Mercer would go ice skating for her, and do everything that she couldn't do. Mercer's stories were published and have warmed the hearts of everyone that has read them.
Sadly, Mercer passed away from cancer at the end of June. He was strong and I know that Shea loved him with all her heart.

The latest version of the Northeast Companion (CCI's newsletter for the Northeast Region) was just delivered to my house this morning. Inside, Shea had written a heart-wrenching tribute to her wonderful friend, Mercer. It touched me so much that I wanted to share it with you all:

"My dear CCI family,
Here is one of those letters I thought I wouldn't be writing until years from now.

As many of you know, me sweet Mercer, born February 15th, 2:10 am, 15 perfect ounces, died of cancer on a weekday in June. I was overseas in Europe - my hero protected me from the pain of seeing him so ill, until the day he died.

After Mercer wasn't there to greet me off the plane, I was told in the parking lot of JFK that he was gone. It was the first time in my entire life where I wanted my world to fade to black. I put my head against the car seat and broke down. "He was my world," I cried. "My entire world."

And like a dear friend would soon tell me, "He still is."
I did then the only thing I could think to do. I started to sing.
Phil Collins - "You'll Be In My Heart." Our song. The same song I would sing to him during thunderstorms, or while he was gently falling asleep in his kennel.
"I know you can hear me," I cried.
And he did.

A week later, on my way to visit a special friend of Mercer's, I turned on the channel of the radio. It was as if the song switched on the exact moment I landed on it.
Disney songs? Never on the radio.
And now, I still see him forming little black circles on my bed, watching me with those infinitely knowing eyes. I know now what he would say to me from heaven.
"Why are you crying?" he'd look at me in bewilderment. "I'm here. And my job is never done. Not even now."

Not even now - I've already met my guardian angel. And once again Merc, you know so much more than I do.
But you've taught me, Mercer. Life is about pulling our head back up from the car seat, and watching the headlights go by you. It's about feeling your heart beating, and wondering if that was a second beat you might have felt with you somehow.

And it's about holding on. Holding on to your collar, holding on to you with all that I am.

Don't think I am letting go.
I love you my sweet boy.

Our hearts and thoughts still go out to the Megale family and amazing Shea. Be strong and know that we are all here for you if there is ever anything you need.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Puppy Pictures to Make You Smile

Not much going on right now as we gear up for the NJ-Chapter's benefit in a week and a half. YIKES! Lots of work to still be done!
But here are some cute puppy pictures that should make you smile! I'll post again (hopefully) when things calm down a bit after the event!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daniel's Charity Baseball Game

This past Sunday, CCI was very honored to be the beneficiary of Daniel's Charity Baseball Game! The background story? Daniel wanted to help out other people and decided to host a charity baseball game every year. Each year he would choose a charity and donate all the proceeds from the game to that organization. This year he chose CCI to be the beneficiary!Thanks to our NJ Chapter Public Relations Chair, Jen, for getting us all involved. I believe that she knew the family when she was raising Callie and that's how they learned about CCI in the first place. The game was a "pickup" baseball game between the 11th graders at Daniel's school and the Westfield Police Department. It was a ton of fun and you could see that everyone was having a good time as well.
They had set up some tables which they put auction items on. You could buy a ticket to place in the bags to put in your "bid". Then at the end of the event, Daniel went around picking out numbers and handing out the prizes. It was very well done!
The dogs had a lot of fun meeting everyone and everyone had fun meeting the pups!
Thank you again Daniel for choosing CCI and for inviting us to be there! It was a great event and we had a lot of fun!