I absolutely love any chance I get to go to the Canine Companions for Independence Campus. When Helaine was chosen as a breeder back in October, I instantly made plans to attend the February graduation and matriculation ceremonies in order to present her. While she wasn’t graduating as a service dog and I wasn’t handing her leash over to her forever person per se, it was an opportunity to close out that chapter of our life together as puppy raiser and puppy in program. That, and I’ll make absolutely any excuse to visit Canine Companions.
My best friend and I had decided that we would wake up exceptionally early on Thursday and drive to the airport. We may have been a little excessive in our planning, because we got to the airport around 3:30 and our flight didn’t leave until 6:05. It provided plenty of time to hang out, eat breakfast, and allow our anxiety to grow. I was anxious to get to California so I could be one step closer to seeing Helaine. She was anxious because she hadn’t been on a flight in 10 years or more. Of course, we were feeding off of each other and our anxiety only escalated. When we finally boarded the plane and got in the air, I meditated and dozed off a bit…in between my BFF jabbing me awake to chat about something, or to take snap chat photos. It was a relatively fun flight.
When we landed in San Francisco and retrieved our rental car, we started driving around the city looking for some place to grab a bite to eat. We had a pretty wimpy breakfast and the in flight snacks were not that delicious, so we needed to take an early lunch. We drove all around the city looking for a sushi place, and found one…that ended up being in the worst part of the town. We would learn later in the day that the location of the restaurant we were intending to eat at was located in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco…the most dangerous part of town, and where the majority of the people there are involved in drugs or other illegal activity. We were thankful we didn’t stop.
Instead of stopping in the sketchy part of town, we decided to go to Fisherman’s Wharf again. This was the same place we went six months prior as our last hurrah with Helaine before her matriculation into advanced training. We ate a fish and chips lunch at The Franciscan. It was pretty tasty I think. We were so hungry we ate pretty quickly. After lunch we walked around the Wharf and ended up taking a tour on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It is a 2 hour tour around the city on a double decker bus, and we could get on and off at the designated stops as we pleased. It turned out to be the best investment. We had contemplated it when we were there in August, but our schedule didn’t allow it. I am so glad we went this time. We were able to get to places that were much harder to get to when we didn’t quite know where we were going.
After hopping off at the Golden Gate Bridge, getting some photos, and continuing on the next bus that came for us, we high tailed it out of the city before the traffic got really bad. We arrived at our hotel in Rohnert Park and settled in for a quick rest and some freshening up. Within a few hours, we would be at the home our Helaine’s new family…her breeder caretaker. I have been friends with Cynthia for several months now, as I was trying to get a puppy out of her other breeder Zaire’s first litter. After a long battle, that dream never came to fruition. However, it seemed to come full circle when Helaine was chosen as a breeder and Cynthia decided to foster her, and even more so when she and her man Jake decided to be her forever family. I love how things tend to work out perfectly when you’re least expecting it.
In my mind we were running late, but in real life I was actually early. We arrived at their home about 30 minutes earlier than expected (for them) and 30 minutes later than expected for me. I blame it on the fact that we had been awake for so long, I was getting confused. When we arrived, Cynthia let Helaine and Zaire out to see us. Helaine instantly began bouncing all four off the ground just like she used to. She was so excited. We came inside and I couldn’t stop staring at her. Six months ago, I handed her off to let her destiny unfold, and it has completely. She is in her new home, with her new family and a dog to call her own sister. She was clearly happy there and it made my heart happy to see her in her new element.
After a delicious dinner prepared by Jake, we chatted over cookies about all things Canine Companions. A few hours had passed when we realized that the night was growing old and we should get back to our hotel. This time, I was taking Helaine with us. She was coming for a sleepover. I was so very excited to have her overnight.
We got into the hotel and she made herself right at home on the bed. As a breeder, she’s allowed to get on the bed whenever her little lab heart desires. She’s still a pro at hogging it. I crawled into bed with her and just snuggled with her. She’s still as snuggly and loving as she always has been. She took up most of the bed and slept as close to me as she possibly could. I slept with my hand on her all night. It was like I was living this really amazingly beautiful dream. There is something about being reunited with your heart dog after six months away that is so special and amazing. While she has changed in many ways, she still has her super sweet and sensitive personality. It was amazing waking up the next morning with her right by my side.
I took her outside to hurry. The poor girl had to hold it as we traveled down from the third floor to the grass outside. For the record, she still doesn’t like her photos taken much. Some things just never change. I had almost forgotten that she had some advanced training commands under her collar, and then I dropped the hotel key card. Helaine looked at it, and I gave her the “get” command. Would you believe it? She picked it up! We went back into the hotel and I tried another with her. This time I opened the fridge door and asked her to “push”. Holy cow! She closed it! I couldn’t remember what else they had worked on before she was selected for breeding, so I left it at that. But it was neat to see her do a couple of her advanced commands that her awesome trainer Kristina taught her first hand!
We got ready for the day and then we slipped up into the more wooded area of Santa Rosa to visit Inez’s breeder caretaker for a quick breakfast before heading to Canine Companions. It was great to meet her and she Inez’s momma Luray, or Lulu as they call her. She was so sweet and cuddly, and has a new litter of 10 puppies who are about 2 weeks old. They were so precious and I could have sat there staring at them all day, except we had a busy day planned and we had to get going!
We arrived on campus and the magic hit my soul. There is something about being on campus that is so revitalizing. It’s like you can feel that so much good happens there, it’s more magical than Disneyland if you ask me! The air was electric with excitement. When we arrived in the front courtyard, the puppy raisers of the dogs graduating that day were getting their graduate’s information. My heart leaped for joy for them, and I can only imagine how completely excited they were knowing they were moments from meeting their graduate. Once the courtyard cleared, we snapped a few photos for old time’s sake.
It took about 30 shots to get a few good ones…thankfully we had a few extra treats that Cynthia packed with her overnight things, and we were able to get her to pay some attention to the camera. We perused the gift shop and watched the demos, as well as met up with some of the folks from my chapter who were preparing to turn in that day. After we made our rounds, we headed to lunch. Neither of us had been to In-N-Out, so that’s where we headed. They offered outside dining so we were able to sit in the sunshine and Helaine was able to join us. While that was our first time, it will most likely be our last. You live and you learn.
We headed to the center where the graduation ceremony was to be held. We got there early, before any of the puppy raisers of graduates had arrived. The two dog vans were pulled up out front with dogs patiently waiting in kennels for their puppy raisers to come see them before graduation. It was neat to catch a small glimpse at something I hope to experience with Inez. We grabbed a graduation program and read through it. We flipped to the page where the breeders are listed and there it was. Helaine’s name. There is something so official about seeing it on paper. I was bursting with pride.
Prior to the graduation ceremony starting, I met up with Helaine’s brother Harbaugh who graduated as a skilled companion for a 10 year old boy, and the gal that was involved in raising him. He was raised in the prison puppy program in Montana and he is so handsome. You can totally tell they are related. They have the same sweet eyes.
We found our way into the auditorium to find our seats, and settle in for the graduation that included 20 new teams. It was amazing to see each team presented and to see the dogs react to their forever partner. I cannot wait to see that with Inez or one of my future puppies some day. That moment must be magic. Helaine spent almost the entire length of the graduation ceremony in a “visit” with her head in my lap, or in a “lap” which means her whole body is across my lap. I didn’t mind one bit. It was amazing just getting to snuggle with her and love on her.
She’s still got the eyes that just melt my soul. I’m not sure that will ever change. Those eyes can get you to do just about anything she wants you to do.
When it was time to hand her back over to Cynthia and Jake, and go our separate ways after the graduation ceremony, my heart was torn. I didn’t cry when I was reunited with her like I thought I would, however handing her back over and saying goodbye was rough. Admittedly I cried harder than I was expecting, and stayed emotional the rest of the trip. I am so thankful for that time with her, and I look forward to the next time I see her, and every time after that. This is the closing of a chapter in my life with Helaine. The puppy raising chapter is now firmly and officially closed, and the next chapter of breeder is open, and I can’t wait to see all that this chapter has to offer.
*Thank you Cynthia and Jake for taking Helaine in and making her yours. Thank you for loving her like you raised her yourself. Most importantly, thank you for allowing me to be a part of her life and yours. CCI is exceptional at creating family out of strangers and I feel that this is definitely the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. Until we meet again…*