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.

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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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