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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.