This past Saturday was the Puget Sound Chapter’s 11th annual Gift of Miracles Gala.  I am still in a state of euphoria from it.  I spent the better part of the last year on the procurement committee for this incredible event, and it was amazing to see it all come together.  In the last several months, I had inadvertently stepped away from the auction committee because of the business needs at work.  I work for a major medical insurance company in my state, and with all the changes to health care as well as new groups transitioning over to my service center, things have been hectic.  I did not mean to back down from my duties to the auction committee, but sometimes these things are unavoidable.  I am glad that the event went to wonderfully and that I was able to celebrate Canine Companions with everyone!

I volunteered to assist in any way possible the day of the gala.  I knew that I was going to be in charge of selling raffle tickets during the silent auction, and I was also asked to do a quick training demonstration with Helaine (I’ll touch on those in just a moment) but I also came down early to assist with the set up.  By the time I got there, there was almost nothing left for me to do!  I pulled apart some truffle cups, but that was it.  The afternoon was spent at the hotel, hanging out with Ann, one of the fabulous auction chairs, and relaxing in preparation for our huge night that was before us.  Helaine spent most of the time playing, but there was one moment where I caught her snoozing.

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4:00 rolled around and after cleaning up a bit, it was time to head back to the venue and prepare for the nights festivities.  I met up with my dear friend and puppy raiser to Kolby, and together we took in the sights of the room.  Walking through the doors, I heard music playing softly, the lights were down low and the ambiance was relaxed, and even though it was organized chaos, it was peaceful.  It was really something.  We found a spot to snap some pictures of Helaine before I had to rush off to get my duties assigned to me.  And it took a treat and some crazy dancing behind my dear friend to get Helaine to perk those ears.

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Now earlier I mentioned that I had voluteered to sell raffle tickets.  Well, I didn’t sell just any old ordinary raffle ticket.  I was in charge of the golden tickets!  These little pieces of paper were $100 a pop, and the winner got to choose anything…ANYTHING from the live auction table before bidding started.  I was eying that African Safari (is is a dream of mine to see my beloved Elephants!)  We were paired up to get our selling on and let me tell you, I’m NOT good at selling anything.  I’m just not convincing enough.  So between my partner (I cannot for the life of me remember his name) and my puppy, we sold 20 of them.  Not bad if you ask me, but I couldn’t have done it without (insert name here) and my cutie at the end of the leash.  Before we knew it, it was time to be seated to dinner, but before that happened the photographer came around and snapped some pictures of my girl.

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Once we all took our seats and the salads started to arrive at our tables, the introductions began.  It started with a board member from Canine Companions, welcoming everyone to the event and recognizing graduates, puppy raisers, volunteers and others.  From there my dear sweet friend, and the president of our chapter, Lisa took the podium.  Her words were incredibly moving, and touched me deeply.  She has been a puppy raising role model to me from the moment I met her last year and I am so thankful for the friendship and the guidance she has provided to me.  *LIsa, you’re the best.  I cannot thank you enough for being such a wonderful example of leadership, as well as a trusted and dearly loved friend.
As the main courses came around it was time to start the auction.  We were so lucky to have the best auctioneer and emcee ever.  They kept everyone on their toes, and their playful banter back and forth brought many cheers and much laughter from the crowd.  Before we knew it, things were in full swing and items were flying out the door!
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Fred, doing his thing!
Now, remember how I mentioned the training demonstration?  Half way through our live auction, we took an itermission.  Our guest speaker Jason, and his service dog Napal had prepared a presentation for us, but before he took over there was a brief training demonstration featuring my girl and I.  It included just a few commands, Up, Shake and Back.  Helaine absolutely LOVED showing her stuff.  She is such a ham and adores when the attention is on her.  She didn’t do too poorly either.  She struggled with back, though I’m not sure why as she has that down.  But overall, our guests adored her and she recieved much applause.
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Waiting for our shot.  Helaine looks SOOO relaxed up there.
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 Okay, So I look totally bored and I was NOT. 
Nervous maybe, but NOT bored. 
Preparing for the “Up” command
“Helaine, UP!”
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Preparing for the “Shake ” Command
I was really impressed with how calm and mature Helaine was on stage in such close proximity to the working dogs.  Perhaps she was on her mark because she knew she was in the presence of the best of the best.  She’s got a long way to go, but I really don’t see any issue big enough to knock her out of the program.
After Helaine and I finished our demonstration, it was time for the big dogs to come in.  Jason is a retired Airman, and while on tour in 1996. he was in an accident that crushed his back.  He has been wheelchair bound ever since.  He recieved his service dog Napal, trained and completed a marathon, and he inspired us all that night.
His story truly moved me to tears, and I’m sure that is the case with most others in attendance.  His words were powerful and I was further inspired by the work that we all do for Canine Companions.  When I’m out with Helaine, or when we’re at home working on commands, I feel that I am just training a puppy to be a well behaved dog who will eventually be a tremendous help to someone some day.  Maybe it’s because I hide behind my modesty, but I don’t see it as doing anything more than being a good human being and helping those in need.  Watching Jason and Napal work together, sitting with Ryan and Docker during dinner, and being in the presence of several graduates proved to me that I am doing more than just being a good human being and helping those in need.  As a puppy raiser for CCI, I am helping to provide a miracle to someone who long ago gave up on miracles.  I am providing a best friend to a child who otherwise had no one.  I am sending out into the world, a snuggle buddy to lend a careful ear and a kiss to someone  who has been through hell and back.  As a puppy raiser, I am gifting independence to someone who lost it, or never knew what it meant.  I always wondered why it is that people thanked me for doing this.  I truly don’t think anything of it.  I love what I do for CCI and I get such joy out of it!  But watching that team work together as one showed me that puppy raising is so much more.
My heart has changed over and over again in the last year as a CCI puppy raiser and volunteer, but my heart was changed even more on October 19th.  I was surrounded by so much love.  I could feel it all night long.  I was also surrounded by generosity like you wouldn’t believe.  I haven’t yet heard the figures on how much we made in total, but before we left for the evening it was announced that after Jason’s presentation, when we opened up for donations to sponsor a team, we had raised a total of $30,000.  That is enough money to sponsor three teams in team training.  My jaw dropped.  I know that without a doubt that Canine Companions for Independence has the best supporters, volunteers, staff members, graduates and puppy raisers in the entire world.  I am truly blessed and honored that I get to share this life with so many wonderful and inspiring people and I look forward to many many years with this organization.
I am blessed.  I am lucky.  I am inspired.

2 thoughts on “Inspired

  1. What a fantastic night!

    You and your girl look so good! I think the thing that struck me the most is the intentionality of the way you are handling her. Being in an area where we have to attend regular pet puppy classes I often cringe at the way some people handle their dogs. I love to watch puppy raisers, graduates, and professional CCI trainers work their dogs because there is so much knowledge, flow, and artistry in the way that we/they interact with our four-legged friends. Dreaming of the day we have a real Chapter like your’s — we just added our third raiser though, three more than we had 2 years ago 🙂

    • If given the opportunity, I would GLADLY move out your way and become a contract trainer if the need is there and I’m worthy enough 😉 But seriously…I am really really lucky to have a chapter so (relatively) close to home. While I’ve been doing this dog training thing for fifteen years, I am STILL learning from all of those around me. I too enjoy watching other CCI-er’s work their dogs. There is just something special about us, am I right?

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