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 receive 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!
(when they first brought Bright out)
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.
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.