Thoughts of a Matriculating Puppy

Words and photo by Becky Miles

PAIN

When I saw Lisa sitting with Liza, I had to apologize afterwards to the PRs with whom I was talking, because I instantly dropped our conversation and took shots of her.

In that moment, I saw *every* Canine Companion for Independence PRs heart breaking.

I saw *every* tear down a PR's face.

I felt the weight on *every* PR's chest.

It's a universal understanding we all have for one another.

The depth of sheer, excruciating pain we feel at letting go of someone so exquisitely beautiful is something that words can't explain, but we all understand.

And that's the beauty of this image.

We try to hold it together for those last few hours with our pups, because we know our stress travels down the leash.

We spent the entire last month categorizing and noting all of our "Lasts".......the "last" time we'd bring our pup to church, the "last" time we'd have him do an "up" at Walmart, the "last" time we'd walk around the block, the "last" time we'd take him to our child's soccer game, the "last" time we'd give him a bath, the "last" time we'd put on the cape.

~If only we could have another month.
~What about one more day?
~If only there would be one more hour.
~Can't that stupid clock stop ticking?
~If only graduation didn't have to end.
~Maybe there will be a traffic jam on the way to the Center.
~I know, I'll pack him in my suitcase and fly to Mexico.

Then we hear the final clap and the final 'thank you' from the microphone.

OH NO.

OH NO.

PLEASE NO.

I CAN'T DO THIS.

WHY DID I DO THIS?

It's time.

Brutal reality stares us in the face.
Our heart sinks and breathing becomes laborious.

The drive to the Center seems to fly by in an instant.
How did it happen so fast?
This drive wasn't so short all the other times I drove here.

Then we open the door to the building.

Those last hundred steps, down to the kennel, feel like a death sentence.
The physical pain that makes it even more difficult to breathe.
The edges of our lips quiver.
We can barely see.
Our noses are stuffed.

We open the kennel door and put on a smile, then say with a fake voice, "Bye Little One".
Then we close the kennel door.
He stands there watching us and our lungs feel heavy.
We walk away.

We wonder if the change in lifestyle will be too much.
We worry that we didn't train enough.
We think about all the times we may have failed to follow through on a command.
Then those thoughts creep in, "maybe he won't make it, and he'll come home".
We shove those thoughts away and remind ourselves of our commitment eighteen months prior.
We remind ourselves of why we gave every last ounce of energy when we were sick on the couch, why we taught the 30 commands and did everything to perfect him, why we went out of our way to have the pup do an "up" on a Lowe's toilet display or a "jump" onto a Rubbermaid in Walmart or a "quiet" in church, why we carried doggie bags in the cape pockets, why we asked the fiftieth rambunctious child to stop touching the dog, why we listened to hundreds of peoples' pet stories, why wiped the slime off our hands after shoving them down the throat of a little pup who tried to eat something inappropriate.
We did all of this for a reason.

We walk away from the Center and we feel our shoulders are heavy with the absence.
We no longer can harness the restraint we displayed for our Advanced Pup, so tears stream down.
In the parking lot in our car, the tears come fast and our head falls. We curse at some silent person who we blame for causing this pain and then we beg Him to take away that same pain.

We tell ourselves he'll be fine.
We remind ourselves that these Canine Companions for Independence dogs are the BEST of the BEST.
They're resilient.
They're meticulously bred.
After all, our guy IS *ready*.

We'll hang on for that first AT Trainer's Report.
Then we'll hang on another 29 days until the next report.
We muster every bandaid we can find, and we patch that cookie cutter hole in our heart in the shape of our Advanced Training pup.

Then we grab our eight week old new trainee and hold her close.

Our tears fall on her fur, we give her another big hug, we strap her in, we give her some advice and reassure her, put the car in drive and begin anew.

.......holding off this torture for another eighteen months.

All of us understand your anguish in this image.

You did good, puppy raiser.