Inez III, Service Dog


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.



149. That’s how many days have passed since I handed over Inez’s leash and told her I would see her again someday. That translates to just under five months. In many ways, it seems like the last five months have crawled at a snails pace. But when I think back over all the things I have done and the fact that it’s already April, I realize that these five months have flown by.

The last Wednesday of every month have become my favorite day of the month, however they are also my most nerve-wracking. Every Wednesday between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, I receive an email from Becca Bell, my Puppy Program Manager in Irving, Texas. The contents of the emails include Inez’s advanced training report. Admittedly, the first two months were quite rocky for little Inez. She struggled with some alert barking when seeing new or unfamiliar people around town and on campus. She was also showing suspicious behavior and didn’t appear to be trusting of strangers. However, that third report card is where everything turned around.

Inez has been working incredibly hard, and her trainer Madison has also been helping her through her nerves and her barking. She is alert and notices people, but she is now easily redirected and will give her attention to Madison when asked. She is moving along in training, and this last email said the following:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the puppy that you raised will rotate through the May Team Training class at the South Central Regional Center!”

Wow. I had to read those words multiple times. I have waited a combined 11 years to read those words. The road I’ve traveled on to get to this point has been long and arduous. It has been filled with disappointment, loss, and great sadness. It has also been filled with more joy than I can ever put into words, friends who have become family, and adventures I never thought I would go on.

Since I was a wee child, I always wanted to raise a puppy and change a life. Only God knew that the life that would change was my own. I am so excited at the thought that Inez is one step closer to fulfilling every dream I’ve had for her. I am making my plans for Texas, and I am looking forward to hearing who her soul connects with. The next time I hear from Becca, I’ll hopefully be hearing the words that Inez has made a pre-match. Stay tuned, Inez’s story isn’t over yet.

Give Until it Hurts

Where has the time gone? That is a question that we as puppy raisers ask ourselves regularly. It is baffling that standard time can often times crawl at a snails pace, but puppy raiser time flies by in a blink of an eye. Don’t believe me? Ask one of the 2,000 puppy raisers across the country and they’ll tell you that it is, in fact, an unexplained phenomenon.

The day had been marked on my calendar since Inez’s arrival in June of 2014. November 6th. That was puppy raiser D-Day. It was a day that was brought up in nearly every encounter with the general public, and the closer we got to the date, the harder it became to answer the question.

When our tiny puppies arrive to us, it seems that we have forever with them. A year and a half is a long time! But when it comes down to it, it’s never long enough. When we are having really difficult times with our puppies, like stomach upsets or restless nights (or both), it seems those days will never end. But then they do, and you wonder how you ever got to the other side. That’s basically puppy raising in a nutshell for me. The hard days are hard and seem never ending, and the good days are so good and seem like they are never long enough. Thankfully I believe most of us have more good days than bad.

With Inez, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. She was one of my most challenging puppies to date. She and I had a really rough few months together, and I didn’t think she would ever grow up and mature. Most of those days were spent frustrated and hoping that we would get to the other side and that we would come to an understanding. Then one day, just like that, we did. Things clicked, and she became this amazing dog I knew she could be. Our bond deepened and she trusted me, as I trusted her. Then before I knew it, we were talking about turn in and making plans to fly to Santa Rosa again.

On November 4th, we made our way to the airport and began our adventure to Santa Rosa. Our fight left really early so we stayed close to the airport the night before. Leaving home together for the last time is one of the hardest parts. Of course, I marked the moment with a photo.

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Inez’s last photo as a resident of 578.

We arrived at the airport and got through security without any issues. Inez had flown before so she knew what she was doing. She was patient and attentive, she trusted me every step of the way, and she listened to ever command given to her. She was perfect. And she was proving every moment of the day that she truly was ready for this next big adventure. When we boarded the plane, we learned that it was basically empty. We love flying Alaska Airlines, and shout out to all the people who were on flight 323 to Oakland, who treated us like we were royalty! They offered us an entire row to ourselves! Despite having all the room in the world to stretch out, Inez chose to snuggle close and lean on me.

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When we arrived in Oakland, I waited patiently to exit the plane last. I was hoping that I could get some photos of Inez sitting outside of the cockpit. When we got to the front of the plane, some of the flight attendants that didn’t see us board mentioned that they didn’t even realize there was a dog on the flight. That was the biggest compliment that we could have ever received. It means that we have done our job correctly, and she was as discreet as possible. I explained to them that she was returning for advanced training, and I asked if they would be willing to let us take some photos near the cockpit. The captain came and met us, and he was the kindest man. He was so excited to meet Inez, and he even gave us full privileges to go into the cockpit and take as many photos as we would like! That included allowing her on the seat! It was the neatest experience I have ever had, and solidifies why I always spend just a tiny bit more to fly Alaska.

We got to our rental car, gave Inez her breakfast, and headed into the city. It has now become a tradition to visit San Francisco before turn in, and I’m glad it has. I am not really a city gal, but I really do enjoy San Francisco. It is a beautiful city with a ton of history, and there is always adventure to be had. Awaiting us was my dear friend Kim and her best friend Annette, who made the trek to California from Montana. I am so thankful that these ladies came. I had no idea just how much I would need them when we arrived, and despite having never met Annette before, we hit it off and she became a great support for me!

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Hampton and Inez at Fisherman’s Wharf

After spending time at the Wharf, we made our way up to Santa Rosa and managed to beat all the traffic. That was the biggest win for us if you ask me. I am NOT a fan of the traffic that we usually encounter between San Francisco and Santa Rosa. We headed straight to Canine Companions where Kim was reunited with her second puppy Pam, who was chosen as a breeder. We took the dogs to the play yard, and met up with our friend Laura, her puppy Lilo, and her retired breeder Shawn, who is Inez’s great great grandma. We spent hours on campus, and it was amazing. I always love spending time at Canine Companions, and I truly do make every excuse to be there.

After our puppies were worn out and ready to relax, we made our way to one of our favorite sushi stops and we made it just in time for happy hour. I had spent the day laughing and having so much fun, but the reality of being in Santa Rosa paired with the delicious mojito overwhelmed me, and I began crying over my sushi. It wasn’t a proud moment, but thankfully I was in good company and they understood. The rest of the evening was spent visiting puppies, playing cards against humanity, and just being together in the company of good friends. It ended with a muscle relaxer and sobbing, but that’s another story entirely.

Morning came too quickly, and I spent too much time laying in bed and snuggling with Inez. I was under the impression that if I ignored time long enough, I would never have to get up and get moving. For future reference: Procrastination helps no one, especially me. Our breakfast was rushed and my hair was still damp. Thankfully I mostly looked like I had my life together, which is an impressive feat.

I held it together pretty well, but I was overwhelmed with anxiety when I turned on to Dutton Avenue. I knew that this was truly it. We were going through turn in all over again. I opened up the back hatch of my rental car, and there was beautiful Inez. She was sitting patiently waiting for me to get her gear on. However, instead of putting her gear on, I was taking most of it off. I tearfully removed her collar and tossed it in her travel bag. I tucked her vest into her travel bag as well, since they are to be returned to my chapter. I snapped her leash on to her gentle leader, and that was it. We were on our way to check in.

After getting checked in, we had many photo shoots:


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We even met up with one of her half siblings Greece, who was raised in our chapter for the first couple of months but then transferred to the Cascade Chapter in Oregon with her college-aged puppy raisers.

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We enjoyed lunch with our other friends who were turning in, and we spent the morning smiling and laughing. There was an excellent hearing dog demonstration performed; the best matriculation day demonstration I’ve ever seen. We also did the tour and I took it all in. I spent time just staring at the campus, looking back towards the training kennels and imagining how in just a few short hours, Inez would become a resident of one of the kennel blocks. It was emotional but also beautiful.

We made our way to the Wells Fargo Center, where I was able to meet up with some puppy raising friends from Idaho, and that included Inez’s sister Ingrid!

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We also met up with one of my favorite graduate teams; Karen and Kolby! I hadn’t had the chance to meet Karen and her husband Bobby previously, but it was a mission of mine to say hello. After I introduced myself, we spent several minutes talking about puppy raising, and they explained just how much Kolby meant to them. It really helped hearing those words at that exact moment in time, and it helped make turn in just a smidge easier. Karen gave me a moment to take a photo of Inez and Kolby together, and also gave me a moment to just snuggle him. He’s still one of my favorite boys, and I’m so glad I got to see him and chat with his wonderful family.

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The graduation ceremony was beautiful as always. It was filled with much inspiration and many tears. We had several dogs from the Puget Sound Chapter graduate that day, and it was awesome to see the end result of many months of love, tears, and happiness. Of course, the time came where graduation was over. My itinerary for the day was nearly complete. I had no more demonstrations to watch, no more people to meet up with, and nothing more I had to do, except return Inez to Canine Companions and hand over the leash.

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When we arrived back on campus, I fed Inez her last meal and then split apart from my group. I also took one last photo of her looking up at me, waiting for the next command to be given.


Her consistent eye contact told me daily that she trusted me, and she looked to me for direction. I know that she’s going to look at her graduate with those same adoring eyes and her “what’s next” look some day.

We walked passed the now silent court yard. Earlier in the day it was bustling with activity, happiness, and laughter. This time it was silent. No one was there getting photos with Snoopy. No one was laughing. There was a definite sadness that fell over campus. We sat down in the grass and I just hugged her and cried into her fur. I told her all the things I wanted her to carry with her. I told her that I wasn’t leaving her here because I didn’t love her, but I was leaving here because I DID love her, and that she had a purpose that she needed to find on her own. And I told her that if she ever for a second didn’t enjoy what she was doing, that she can always come home to me. After all was said, I got the intense courage it takes to walk to the training building and say goodbye to a part of your soul.

I was met by my friends from Idaho, as they were turning Ingrid in for her puppy raiser who couldn’t be there. I am so thankful for that moment in time. I received a huge hug and words of encouragement; just what I needed to continue with the intense courage.

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There were only two trainers taking dogs back during this particular turn in, so when I arrived I had to wait for someone to come back in order to hand the leash over. During that moment, I got my last kiss on her nose, and I’m so thankful that Laura was here to capture this photo:

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After that moment, a trainer arrived and Inez greeted her enthusiastically. I knew that this was it for us. This is where our paths fork and we go our separate ways. I handed the leash over, and Inez marched confidently into her future, without even looking back.

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She was ready for that next big adventure despite my heart not being ready to let her go. She has since been proving herself at Canine Companions. She went through her evaluations and an intense selection process, and was chosen to complete her training at the new Baylor Scott and White Health Kinkeade Campus in Irving, Texas. Her first report will come at the end of December, and I’m excited to hear how she’s doing. However, I know in my heart that she’s not coming home. She’s got a big job ahead of her, and she’s going to find what that is.

Give until it hurts, and then give just a little more.

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A New Beginning

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

And now I have Semisonic’s Closing Time stuck in my head.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated the blog. This summer was incredibly busy; it was filled with vacations, puppy training, weddings, weekend trips, and then some. I was gone nearly every weekend from the end of May to the beginning of October. Life carried me away at full speed, and before I knew it, this thing collected so much dust I needed a leaf blower to get through it all.

Inez is preparing for her matriculation to advanced training, which will take place on November 6th. For those of you who aren’t aware that we are at the tail end of October, that is next Friday. An update will come with that shortly; once I stop crying long enough for the swelling to go down in my eyes.

This update is about a new little nugget. You see, Helaine had her first litter on October 11th, and I get the extreme pleasure of raising her only puppy! She is a full yellow lab, and she’s oh so cute! She will arrive in December. Until then, I’ll be glued to my phone looking for new videos and photos on Facebook.

So without further ado, I introduce to you, Sansa!


Is there anything cuter than a sleeping puppy? I didn’t think so.

California Adventure Part Two

We woke up the next morning, hardly ready to start the day.  Truth be told, we stayed up way too late the previous night after traveling all day and we didn’t get nearly as much sleep as we had hoped we would.  Kim and I shared a bed, and Sara ended up with all of the dogs on her bed.  She was quite pleased with the how that worked out.

Kim and Pam left for a bit to have some alone time together. I did my best to give her space because a short nine months prior, that was Helaine and I as we prepared for our goodbye. I completely understood the need to just be alone with the pup, and the space that is needed at times. We got ready to start our day and to meet my Favorite Family in the lobby of our hotel. We were once again reunited in California, though admittedly this time was much more pleasant as they were preparing to meet Kolby’s forever family and to see him again. We were buzzing at the breakfast table with three puppies casually laying underneath. It was quite the sight to see I’m sure.

Mid-way through breakfast, Cynthia arrived with Helaine. She was not able to spend the whole day on campus celebrating, but asked if I wanted to take Helaine for the day and then overnight. Of course I would have been absolutely crazy to say no! I was even more excited to see them this time around than I was to see them in February. Cynthia and Helaine walked through the door and I tried to keep my cool, but I was just so excited. This was also the first time my Favorite Family had been able to see Helaine since Turn In 2014, and Helaine was just as excited and happy to see them, as they were to see her.

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We had some last minute finishing touches to do, and things to gather so after breakfast we headed up to our room with four dogs in tow now. They tried to play a bit in the room, but because it was so early and I’m sure there were other guests who would not appreciate hearing puppies running around, we had them settle and just hang out. I sat down at the table to do the last minute finishing touches on my makeup, and these girls were sitting right next to me. This was the first time they’ve been together since Inez was a little pup, and I was thrilled to see they got a long so well. Helaine was not really a fan of the little one when she arrived, but I think she has separated herself from me well enough that she is no longer jealous when she’s not getting all of my attention. Believe it or not, it was nice to see that separation, knowing that I am no longer hers.

We loaded up our rental car and hopped on the 101 south to Santa Rosa. The dogs nestled in and we chatted along the way. When we arrived on campus, it was already alive with activity. There was a sea of blue and yellow everywhere. Puppies who were matriculating that day were already sporting their signature matriculation cape, and lining up to get their photos taken. We turned in the gear that is sent to us from Canine Companions, and exchanged it for the gear the matriculating puppies were to wear that day.It was really nice being there and experiencing it all with clarity. Although I was going through the motion of matriculation again, Ryann was not my puppy and I wasn’t emotionally distraught. It was really nice to be there fully in the moment, and not off in space with my emotions.

We made our way to the statues where the traditional turn in day photos are taken. Since I had both of my girls with me, I wanted to get photos with them and of them. I took so many photos that weekend, my memory on my phone was bogged down and ticked at me.

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When photos were done, we met up with two members of our chapter who were turning in their first two puppies. These gals work at the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They had yet to turn in puppies, and their sweet Phantom and Ace were ready. We went to the play yard and let the dogs run like crazy. It was good to let them get all of their energy out. There I was finally able to meet folks I have “known” since Helaine was a wee pup, but only through social media. It was really awesome to finally get to see and speak to these people in real time, and real life! Social media has been an awesome tool to connect with Canine Companions volunteers and supports across the country! When I found the Puget Sound Chapter three years ago, I never imagined I would have this large of a network! I am blown away!

Once the pups were good and tired, we sat down to lunch and enjoyed the company of one another. I took some time to really soak in the day. I spent a lot of time just looking around campus, listening to the buzz of conversation, the laughter, and yes even some cries. I’ll say it again, it was amazing being there with so much clarity in my head and my heart. If you ever have the chance to go through a matriculation celebration without the dog you’re turning in, do it!

Helaine and Inez were both very good girls together, They each had their side they walked on, and they spent a good amount of time laying close together.

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When the lunch and demonstrations were over, we went on a tour of the campus. Though I had been on this tour before, it was a bit different this time around (again with the clarity thing). We also had the privilege of having Helaine’s trainer Kristina guide us. Lots of great questions were asked, and seeing the campus again of course made my heart smile a little bit. There is something about that campus that just feels amazing. I could spend an entire day there and not do a thing aside from take in the magic and the amazingness that is this organization.

The time came where all the campus activities were done for the day, and we needed to move on to the Wells Fargo Center where graduation was to be held. I was getting particularly excited because I was finally going to be able to see Mister Kolby temporarily reunited with my Favorite Family, and of course give him some love and kisses. We once again loaded up the puppies and went on our way.  But not without snapping this photo first.

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It was so funny, they each seemed to have their own place in the car and they always went to their seat. Looking back and seeing these cute faces made the short drive just a little more entertaining.

We arrived at the center just as one of my chapter-mates and friend was getting her puppy Kerwin off the training van. I stopped and watched the moment from a distance. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood straight up, and my whole body was covered in goosebumps.  I cannot wait to experience the moments leading up to having that leash put in my hand (you hear that Inez!!). What a marvelous and magical day that will be.

Walking around the center, I looked out the window and watched my Favorite Family posing with and loving on their Mister. I wanted to give them as much time and respect as needed so again, I just watched from a distance. When Elle saw us, she waved us out to join them. At that moment, Kolby and Helaine were reunited and wiggled around one another. They seemed pretty pleased to see one another again.

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We couldn’t get many great photos, because Mister couldn’t keep his paws of Helaine. He was very very pleased with himself and excited to have so much attention on him. Do you blame him though? Look at how fancy he looks in that blue! He was born for that vest no doubt!

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This photo is one of my favorites. Pam, Helaine, and Kolby solidified a deep friendship between Kim, Elle and I. They made friends and family out of strangers. Words cannot even begin to describe just how thankful I was to be there in that moment with them. I wasn’t supposed to be initially, but by a stroke of luck and the grace of God, I was able to spend such an emotional, beautiful day with them.

We settled in to the auditorium and waited for the ceremony to start. Once it did, I found myself in a puddle of tears with my girls on both side of me, snoozing soundly. Most graduations make me cry anyway, but this one…this one did it from the very moment their first video started, and I continued until it ended. When I think about how much this organization has profoundly impacted my life and my heart, I get choked up. There are absolutely no words that I can string together that will accurately and completely illustrate the depth of my love for this great organization.

After all the pomp and circumstance of the day was over, it was time to do the thing. The pups were loaded for the last time as the four-some, and we headed back to campus. Ryann and Pam were fed, and loved. I was the first to turn in since I was tasked with taking the photos of the “passing of the leash” for my friends. As I looked around the now silent courtyard and campus, I can feel the agony. The sadness cuts like a knife through the serenity of the campus. One by one, people were taking their puppies into the south training room, and coming out empty handed with tears streaming down their faces. It was only a matter of time before it was time for my dear friends to go through the same anguish. The first to go was Laura and Battier. I have been following Battier since she was a baby, and hadn’t met Laura in person until this trip. It really did seem like I had known her all along, and it didn’t feel like I was meeting her for the first time. Sara snapped pictures of the hand off, and when Laura came out I lost it. That was the beginning of a downhill slide of emotions for me.

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Watching Rhoda and Jen turn in Ace and Phantom was one of the harder parts of my day. They have come so far in this program, and have had many many tears and upsets to get to this point. They deserved this turn in so much, and yet it was so excruciating to watch. I am fortunate that I was able to spend this first turn in of theirs with them, and capture their pivotal moments.

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When it was Kim’s turn to hand over the leash, I started crying before she even started towards the training building. As I said in a previous post, Kim is so so very dear to my heart, and our puppies are what really bound us together as friends-turned-family. Miss Pam has gotten Kim through some incredibly difficult moments in the last year, the major one being her husbands deployment. While she had hew new little puppy Hampton at home waiting for her, I know all too well that it wasn’t going to be quite the same without miss Pam. As she handed that leash over, that’s when I really lost my cool. Even looking at these photos has me in a puddle of mush right now.

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After we shed our tears, we made our way to my favorite restaurant in Santa Rosa that I was introducing all my friends to. We were able to drink, eat, and laugh with one another. We were able to share stories, shed a few tears when necessary, and just relish the day and the amazing task that these gals completed earlier on in the day. It will never cease to amaze me how amazing the friends are, that I have made through Canine Companions. We are always there for one another, always supporting, always caring, and always always always loving one another through every up and down. We are truly a family, a band of brothers and sisters whose paths have found one another to unite for a common cause. It’s a pretty neat thing, and something I will never take for granted.

California Adventure Part One

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No, not that California Adventure!  This California Adventure was much better than some Disney park.  This California Adventure was much different.

In April, a member from my volunteer chapter of Canine Companions sent out an all call to the chapter, and told us that she wouldn’t be able to take her dog down for matriculation.  They had way too many things going on around that date, and they asked if anyone would be able to take their pup down.  I had been contemplating taking another trip to Santa Rosa for the May matriculation and graduation ceremonies prior to reading that email, and when it came through I jumped at the chance.  I don’t “need” an excuse to visit Santa Rosa, but it was nice to have one anyway!

A good friend of mine from the other side of my state is also a puppy raiser.  She turned her dog in at the February ceremony, the same one I went to to present Helaine as a breeder.  She too had been searching for a reason to go back to Canine Companions for graduation, and the opportunity presented itself when I decided I wanted Inez to come to California too!  There is NO way I could handle both dogs on a flight.  I wouldn’t even dare try it.  But, with Sara coming along, that wasn’t even a though I needed to think about!

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I had always wanted to make a trip to Canine Companions with Helaine prior to turn in, but I never had a chance.  Now that I had the chance to experience all the wonder of graduation without having to turn in or present one of my dogs, I want to do it again and again.  I don’t think the folks that live even within a couple hours driving distance of Canine Companions realizes how great they have it.  I am head over heels for this program, and I love to spend as much time as possible on campus when I’m in the area.  If I lived near campus, I would probably live ON campus.

When we arrived at Sea-Tac airport, Sara and Inez were already waiting for us.  Inez went home with Sara a few days before we traveled, and they took a flight from her home to Seattle, and waited for us.  Both Ryann and Inez handled the airport with ease. You would think they’ve been doing it their entire career! They were seasoned pros. They weren’t at all bothered by the rolling suitcases, the crowds of people, the weird noises, or any of the general hubbub that comes along with the airport life.

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The flight from Seattle to Oakland was a breeze.  Ryann is long and lanky, but she curled up as tight as she possibly could in between my feet.  She did her best not to bother anyone sitting next to her, and I made sure to tuck her tail in so it wouldn’t be stepped on or rolled over by the refreshment cart. We were fortunate enough to be seated in bulkhead, but the only seat they had left was the aisle seat which didn’t provide as much room as I was hoping for, but more than any of the other seats would have.  She was a fabulous little traveler. She slept the entire time, only stirring to adjust herself.

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When we arrived in Oakland, it was grey and kind of gross.  My legs hurt SO bad from being so cramped. Sharing your foot space with a dog is a big sacrifice for someone who is 5′ 11 1/2” tall!  The airport was so easy to navigate! Much smaller than San Francisco or even Sea-Tac for that matter! We quickly found a restroom for the two leggeds on this journey, and I left my luggage and Ryann with Sara.  When I returned to them, my dog was replaced with a cute black puppy, which only meant one thing!  My friend Kim from Great Falls, MT also flew into Oakland that day, as she was returning her puppy that weekend as well!  That cute black pup was none other than miss Pam.  I hadn’t seen Kim since last August when I turned Helaine in for advanced training.  It was amazing getting to spend so much of that weekend with her!

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Let me talk about Kim for a moment. Kim and I became friends by chance. She came to Seattle in October of 2013 when Helaine was just a little squirt, for our annual Gift of Miracle Gala. She was friends with my favorite family already, as they had turned in Haddie and Leslie together. Kim and I hit it off right away, and the rest is history. She has become such a strong, important figure in my life. She has really swooped in and has treated me like her own. She is one of the greatest mother figure I think I could ever ask for, and I am eternally grateful for the impact that she has had on my life and on my heart. When I found out that I was coming to California, I knew instantly that I needed to make sure to spend time with her. Thankfully I got plenty of time with her, though it will never be enough.

After we said our hellos, we got on the shuttle to go to the rental car area. That entire 10 minute shuttle ride included all three of us talking to a group of travelers who happened to be from our area and who were curious about the program. We answered a lot of questions, and let the pups get plenty of pets! We handed out cards with information on them, and hopefully we see some new puppy raisers in Seattle!

The rental car company let us pick out whatever car we wanted, which was a stark difference to my previous experience. We went with an SUV since we were hauling upwards of five dogs at any given time, though we started out with just three. We got on the road and made our way north to Santa Rosa.  We had a really long day ahead, and that included spending the day with our friend Laura, who was preparing to turn in her pup Battier.

We had hoped to let the puppies out in the play yard on campus, however we brought some much needed rain to California and it dumped buckets. Instead of running them in the play yard, we went to the Charles Schultz museum that is in downtown Santa Rosa. Mr. Schultz was a huge supporter of Canine Companions, and actually donated the land that the campus resides on. His wife still continues the support of the program in many ways. The museum was a really neat place to take the pups, and is actually one of the stops they make during Team Training! It was fun to see all the paw prints on the wall where the automatic door button is. It made us all smile and think about the future of our puppies.

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We made our way to a sushi restaurant not far from the museum. It was warm and wonderful, and we sat out on the patio with all of our pups, and a retired breeder who is owned by Laura. The wait staff was more than accommodating. They brought out water to the dogs, and even included ice cubes for them. The food was delicious and we had a great time just catching up and being together. We had spent so much time planning this trip, that it was so surreal that it was actually taking place.

After lunch, we went back to Canine Companions since the weather had cleared and the sun came out. At this point, the gates were locked so we had to park on the street. This was a perfect opportunity to get photos in front of the Canine Companions sign, and there were tons of flowers blooming too that provided a great back drop. Prior to coming on this trip, I told myself I wasn’t going to take any photos of Inez in places that are typically saved for turn in.  However, my mind quickly changed because it’s not often that we actually get to make it down prior to turn in, and I like to document everything anyway! So it made sense. I’m so glad I did.  These photos will be cherished forever.

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After our photo session at the entrance, we took the pups to the play yard and let them run their hearts out. Inez chased a tennis ball until her tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth, and she couldn’t run any longer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that exhausted. All the pups really enjoyed going over the agility equipment, and going through the tunnels. They would all chase each other through the tunnel and around the yard with great delight. They were having the time of their life.

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When they were good in tired, we meandered around campus. It was early evening and the weather was mild enough to wear a sweatshirt. The campus was quiet, not a peep was heard from the kennels, and you could still feel the magic that resides there. Even though the campus was vacant on the outside, we knew that there were teams in Gittinger hall who were just buzzing and beaming at the prospect of graduating the very next day. It was a pretty sweet thought.

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When the pups had enough posing and playing, we went back to Laura’s hotel room for a game of Cards Against Humanity and some drinks. We all laughed, and cried, and laughed some more. We talked about turn in, we talked about life, and over all we just bonded. It was a really great first day. We even set the pups up for one party photo before three of the girls went back to Canine Companions.


It was finally time for us to head to our hotel in Windsor. We grabbed our pups and our things, and we parted ways.  However, this was only the beginning of this fabulous weekend.  Stay tuned, part two will be on its way…

Happy Birthday!

Can you believe it?  Inez turned ONE on May 2nd!  Where did the time go?  It quite literally feels like I was just bringing her home to start this amazing puppy raising journey, and now we have less than six months left together!  The thought of that makes me teary and emotional.  I have fallen completely head over heels in love with this sweet yellow girl, and just like it was with Helaine, it is impossible to think of a single day where she isn’t mine.  Of course, I know that it is entirely possible because it is exactly why I am raising her, but I still feel the twinge of sadness knowing that our time is dwindling down.

In order to celebrate her birthday properly, we headed down to Seattle for a day filled with adventure. We began her day with a trip to a pet boutique and bakery that I had found while browsing online. Here she was able to pick out a new toy, and I picked up a couple of sweet treats for her!

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The place was very cute and the lady behind the counter gave Inez an extra special Mariners themed cookie for good measure.  She gulped it down with glee, and continued staring with hopes that she would give her just one more.

From the bakery, we made our way down to the waterfront.  Spring has sprung and I was hoping to find some fresh flowers at the world famous Pike Place Market.  It was an absolutely stunning day in Seattle.  The weather was perfect and warm, which brought so many people to the market.  It was also the first day of cruise season and we had the first cruise ship of said season dock in Seattle that day.  The city was buzzing with people from all walks of life and there were many many people, sights, and sounds that Inez has not experienced before.  Living in a moderately rural county, there are some things she just won’t see here.

We found decent parking about three blocks and a giant hill away from the market.  Thankfully because the weather was so unbelievably perfect, we didn’t mind taking a walk through the city and down that giant hill.

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Inez is a great girl.  She is so patient and focused when she knows she’s working.  Of course, she has her silly side but she is all business when it’s time to work. It never ceases to amaze me just all the things she is capable of handling.  Pike Place Market becomes incredibly crowded, and because it’s so narrow, people are very close together moving in all sorts of directions.  She handled the crowds exponentially better than I did, and didn’t even bat an eye. Even though she was undoubtedly getting stepped on and moved around with feet and legs of strangers, she just kept her focus on me and trusted everything I asked of her.

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Of course no trip to Pike Place is complete without visiting the gum wall…which is disgusting.  I truly couldn’t get her any closer to it than that.  Because it was so warm, it smelled sickly sweet in the alley, as the gooey germ-ridden gum released it’s stale scent into the spring air. We didn’t stay long…just long enough to snap a few photos.

After we adventured through Pike Place Market and enjoyed lunch, we headed north towards the Fremont Troll.  For those of you who don’t know, under Aurora Avenue lives a giant troll!  It is an art piece that was sculpted by four different artists, and is a very popular tourist destination.  I have lived in Washington State my entire life and I had never visited it, so I made my way down since I was in the area and looking for adventure!  Inez was not impressed.

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After our little adventure to the Troll, we made our way to the final stop on our trip, which was Kerry Park.  Kerry Park is nestled on Queen Anne Hill and offers a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline, Elliott Bay, Mount Rainier and more.  Kerry Park is yet another place I have never visited in my 26 years as a Washingtonian, so it made sense to add it to the list of adventures.  Here I met up with one of my oldest friends, whom I have known for about 19 years and counting!  It was great to spend some time just talking and catching up.  We don’t see each other often, but when we do we talk for hours and it seems like no time has passed.  Inez lay quietly at my feet and took in her surroundings.  She was so patient and comfortable.  She’s so incredibly sweet and takes everything in stride, whether we’re super busy or totally relaxed.

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After our visit with my dear friend, and a few photos for the memory book, we made our way back to our little valley.  It had been an incredibly long and busy day, and it was certainly time for us to go home, relax, and give Inez her special birthday cookie after she had her dinner.

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My girl is growing up and I can hardly believe it!  She has become such a precious little puppy, filled with confidence and wisdom far beyond her year.  She is brave, loyal, and so funny.  She is teaching me something new every day and I love her deeply.  I look forward to the rest of our adventures together and for what the future holds!  Happy birthday, my girl!