Canine Companions For Independence Graduation Day!

IMG_0504Last Friday, Canine Companions for Independence held the first graduation class of 2015 at multiple sites across the country. I, along with my wife, daughter, and three puppies in tow, attended the festivities at their facility in Oceanside, California. It was an emotional day as was every other graduation we’ve attended.

The emotional release comes in two phases. The first is when the puppies that have just completed their eighteen-month training period are turned in at matriculation, and will now enter nine months of professional training. Slides are shown of all the matriculating puppies — there were about forty at this graduation — from the time they were eight weeks old until they were fully grown. Ahhhhhhs can be heard throughout the auditorium as each puppy’s timeline is displayed on a big screen. And this starts the first crying session. The families that raised the puppies are obviously overwhelmed at the thought that their sweetest little puppy will no longer be with them. I can’t tell you what that feeling is like; you’re basically losing a child, a four-legged, furry one, but a child nonetheless.

Then phase two begins, where the graduates receive their assistance dog to take home and live with for the rest of the dog’s service life, which is usually ten years. Videos are shown of the graduate describing how he or she fell in love with the dog in a matter of days, and what it was like to have their new assistance dog at their side for the two-week training period that each graduate goes through. They try to explain what their dog will do for them, but don’t realize that they really haven’t experienced all of it just yet, because they’ve spent such a short time with the dog so far. But the smiles on their faces indicate they have a wonderful feeling inside that their life is about to change dramatically. And once again,  audience tears start to fall, but this time from the knowledge of what this organization and these dogs do for the graduates, and how it will definitely change the graduate’s life forever. And then the puppy raisers, who raised and trained the dog for the eighteen months, walks up on stage with the dog on leash and ceremonially hands the dog over to the graduate.

The first time I saw a graduation, I wondered why there where Kleenex boxes positioned on every forth seat across every row in the audience. Now that I’ve attended and experienced the ceremony, both in delivering my dog for matriculation and handing it over to a graduate, I really don’t know how the audience — or I — would get through the ceremony without those welcomed Kleenex boxes.

Ladies And Gentlemen, I’d Like To Introduce … Trotsky

IMG_6505Now don’t be confused, this little guy pictured to the right is not related to Leon, the Russian Marxist. He’s an eight-week-old black, male Labrador/Golden Retriever mix puppy, whose name just happens to be the same as the Russian theorist. I picked him up today at Canine Companions for Independence, and this cute little puppy will live with my family for the next eighteen months.

During that time, we will train him in the basic commands to become an assistance dog for someone who has a physical disability. But more importantly, we will socialize him to surroundings that he may encounter in his life as an assistance dog. This will entail taking Trotsky to restaurants and hotels, letting him ride on busses, trains, airplanes, and even boats, going up and down on elevators, plus going to department and grocery stores; every conceivable place his recipient would possibly go,

My family and I have been training service dogs for over five years now, and we love every minute of it. There are times when we lower our heads and sigh, and then clean up the mess, but that is no different than any regular puppy. But when you see what these dogs will ultimately do for a disabled person, it would astound you.

After the eighteen months he lives with us, he will then go off and be trained by professionals at Canine Companions, who will work with him for six more months in the commands specific to a person they feel he is best suited to assist. When you see these dogs at graduation, and the love the recipient has already developed for the dog after only being with it during a two-week training period at the end of the six-month professional training, it brings tears to your eyes. And believe me, Canine Companions definitely knows that’s what brings all us puppy raisers back to raise and train another dog. And we all willingly do it in order to help this wonderful organization provide someone in need of such care and love from a dog, no matter how many tears we shed when we have to turn them in.

A Warm Heart and a Wet Nose!

IMG_8541I just completed my training at Torrance Memorial Medical Center (TMMC) for the volunteer dog program. Tawny (that’s her on the left) and I will now visit patients, and family members who are visiting, trying to ease the situation of being at the hospital. I’ve wanted to volunteer at TMMC with Tawny since she was released from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an organization that trains assistance dogs for disabled individuals in wheelchairs. Tawny was three weeks shy of completing her six-month professional training, when she suddenly decided she wanted to return to her original pack—our family— and made her wishes known to the trainer. The trainers at CCI do an incredible job of reading the dogs, and when one shows any signs of not wanting to continue, they will release the dog from the program.  Since I was Tawny’s volunteer trainer, which started when she was seven weeks old and continued for eighteen months, I had first rights if she was not assigned to a recipient. When I received the call, telling me that Tawny appeared to be homesick and that I could come and get her if I wanted to, I never drove so fast to CCI in my life.

I honestly believe she will do great at the hospital. I had her certified as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, and she has an absolutely wonderful personality. People love to pet her and often mention how beautiful she is. Of course, I always agree. She truly enjoys being around people, which will fit in perfectly at the hospital. She will wear a blue bandana around her neck, and also wear a name badge, just like I do. I honestly believe we will do TMMC proud, while warming the hearts of patients who need the loving touch of a dog.

If you happened to read my posting last week, which is just below, she is lying at the foot of the table as I signed books at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She certainly helped in drawing the crowd. So stay tuned; I’ll be giving future updates on Tawny, and her adventures at TMMC.