August 9th, 2016 changed my life. I had just received a call from my Puppy Program Manager in Irving, TX and she said the words I’ve waited my whole life to hear; “Inez’s match is considered final.” She had done it! She had persevered through so many ups and downs and she and finally found her perfect match, the one whom she was put on this earth for! I was overjoyed, overwhelmed, and so excited to head to Dallas.
I spent a couple of days adventuring around Texas and seeing as much as I possibly could before I had to fly home again. I traveled with my dear friend Rhoda, who manages the prison program at the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Joint Base Lewis McChord, a place where all of my puppies have “done hard time”. We had a great time seeing the sights, but one thing kept creeping up in our mind. Graduation. We were happy to be adventuring around, but we truthfully just wanted to get to Friday. Their puppy Buchanan had also found his perfect match, and all we wanted to do was meet their recipients and the individuals who would become a part of our extended family.
August 12, 2016 once again changed my life. I awoke filled with nerves. I was so excited, so nervous, and so ready to meet the man Inez had been matched with. We packed our belongings and loaded up the car. We poked at some breakfast and lost track of time. All of a sudden we were rushing out the door and flying down the road towards the Canine Companions for Independence Baylor Scott & White Health Kinkeade Campus (try saying that 10 times fast!) We parked the car and high tailed it to the building where we were to meet the rest of the group and go through orientation prior to meeting our graduates.
After a quick tour of the campus, we walked across the street to the hotel where the graduate brunch was to be held. It is important to note that this was the hottest day of the summer in Texas. That short walk felt like FOREVER. The best way to describe the heat and humidity combination would be like trying to breathe under a hot blanket. It was rough!
We walked into the banquet hall and the nerves were at an all time high. I could barely breathe. I was so anxious, so hopeful, so excited. I was filled with so many emotions. I was proud and thankful that the day was finally here. I approached Becca and she scanned the room. The man of the hour wasn’t there yet. So we conversed for a quick moment. A man walked right by us as we were chatting, and I wondered if that could possibly be him. Becca looked around the room one more time and found that he had just arrived, so we proceeded towards the table. The man that walked by us was indeed him. His back was towards us when we arrived and she said “Rex, I’d like to introduce Inez’s puppy raiser”. He turned around and his eyes and face softened. As tears started flowing (both his and mine) we embraced for what seemed like an eternity. He continuously thanked me as I sobbed with humble gratitude on his shoulder. Yes, thinking of this moment and describing it has me crying all over again. The best kind of cry though.
After introducing me to his precious family, we settled in for brunch. My problem with brunch was that I couldn’t stop talking. We had such a short amount of one on one time before graduation that rather than eating the delicious meal placed in front of me, we talked instead. Inez’s puppy book made it’s appearance and I loved sharing stories of the photos within it. There was a sweet video of the puppy raising experience that was filled with photos of all the dogs graduating, as well as some photos from team training. I cried during the entire of it. I had so many “pinch me” moments. I couldn’t believe I was actually finally there!
Several puppy raisers stood up and said some heartwarming words, and Rhoda being the comedian she is had to throw some jokes out there to break up the crying. It was fun to hear stories of some of the graduating dogs. It was amazing to be in the same room as so many who are filled with love, gratitude, hope, and appreciation of this amazing program. There was so much pure, heartfelt love in that room. It was electric.
The hour spent at brunch felt like a millisecond and before I knew it, it was time to be reunited with Inez. I was second to the last to get back to campus (again, I couldn’t stop talking). I walked into the room and set my things down. This was one of the moments I was looking forward to for nine long months. Would she remember me? Would she be excited to see me? Would she be the same sweet gal I left in Santa Rosa in November? I was seconds from finding out.
She came out of her kennel and initially looked around the room. When I said her name and I caught her eye, she could hardly contain her excitement! She instantly went into her full body wiggle, and she was sniffing me as if she thought her eyes were deceiving her.
When the initial excitement died down, I sat on the floor and just looked at her. I touched her velvet ears, kissed her face, and just loved on her. We loved on each other. She placed her head on my shoulder and I just hugged her. It was exactly what she did in the courtyard at Canine Companions in Santa Rosa, just moments before I handed the leash over for Advanced Training. It was a surreal moment for me. She had a maturity about her, but she was also the same gal I remembered. I put her in a cradle and she began to fall asleep. She is still the snuggliest pup I ever did meet.
Inez was incredibly excited and happy to see me, but I could also feel the disconnect. I could feel that she knew I wasn’t her priority anymore. It almost seemed as if she was looking for Rex. We were instructed to stay separated from our graduates during the hour we had with our pups, because we didn’t want to confuse them. So we walked around campus to find some good spots for photos.
11:45 am rolled around, and it was time to head into the building. I was a bit blindsided when Becca approached me and asked me if I would speak to a reporter who was doing a segment on graduation. I composed myself (did I mention it was HOT) and we situated ourselves in front of the camera. Inez was in a heel next to me, and I was answering all the questions thrown at me about my involvement with the organization, Inez’s pupphood, and everything in between. Rex walked by as we were being interviewed, and he caught Inez’s eye. She watched him walk by and away for as long as she could see him, all the while not breaking her heel position. That was the exact moment I knew she had a deep bond with him and he was hers. It was exactly as it should be.
We took our seats and prepared to walk across the stage. I took this opportunity to get as much love from Inez as possible before asking her to lay down. She happily obliged when I gave her the Lap command, but was equally as happy to lay at my feet on the cold floor. In true Inez fashion, she had to have her head resting on my foot. Oh how I love this sweet gal!
After the invocation and a speech from Judge Kinkeade whom the campus is named for, it was time. One by one, graduates and puppy raisers marched across the stage and the leashes were handed off to the graduates. I got a couple of last snuggles in, and it was time for us to make it official. Rex was called to the stage, and a short bio of the team was given by Erin, Inez’s trainer. This was it! This was what I had always hoped would come to be for Inez. I was about to hand the leash over to her amazing graduate, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
We approached the stage and I was holding back the tears. I was so so very thankful that I was there in that moment, and that my gal…Rex’s gal had gone all the way. There was so much emotion in that moment.
As I began to hand the leash over, I hugged Rex and then he said something that touched my heart to the absolute core. He said “you are my new hero”. Wow. As a veteran, Rex is MY hero. So for someone who is so brave and selfless to call me his hero was life and heart changing for me. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. I am so humbled, and so thankful.
I was so incredibly disappointed when Inez didn’t match in May. I couldn’t believe that being the lovely, dedicated, and hard working gal that she is, that she couldn’t find her match! After meeting Rex and his family and hearing how she has changed his life in just two weeks, I know now that she knew exactly who she was looking for and she knew she had to wait to find him. She traveled 2,173 from my front porch to Canine Companions to find him, and I thank the good Lord she did. Rex is an answer to many prayers. Not just my prayers, but the prayers of so many who watched Inez grow up. From my own family, my best friends, and my chapter friends, but to my Canine Companions family all across the country, and all the people who have followed this blog and her journey on my own blog Facebook page. Inez has been touching lives for as long as she’s been on this earth and I know she isn’t going to stop at graduation. She was put on this earth to change lives, and it started with mine. My family grew quite a bit bigger on August 12th, and I am thankful every minute of every day that Inez brought us together. I have never felt more love, more thankfulness, or more pride in my heart than I do today. And it all started with a sweet yellow pup full of love. Good girl, Inez.