So here it is, the count down to puppy turn-in, or as I like to call it: the first of the lasts. The last time you take your puppy to this park, the last time your puppy goes to work, the last time Grandpa Jane and Next-Door-Neighbor-Bill get to help with excited greetings. They come pretty quickly and pretty soon everything you are doing is the last time you are going to be doing it with your puppy, and that sucks.

I have said this before and I will not stop saying it because it is true. Turning you puppy in is hard. Sure there may be exceptions from time to time – some turn-ins that are harder than others. Still for the most part, my limited personal experience and the experiences I see my friends having every four months is that turn-in is hard. . Here is the simple, humbling truth: regardless if you are turning you puppy in on February 15, 2012 or February 2015 there is someone out there waiting for a dog from Canine Companions. Chances are that their need is far greater than the heartbreak of turning in your pup. And that is why, my friends the very smart people at Canine Companions pair the puppy turn-in, with the puppy graduation.

Graduation day, at least for me, is always magical. Graduation day may be an awesome day for the people who, mostly like after a very long wait, are going home with their new partner. However, it is also the day that the universe reminds me that I am so lucky to be part of an awesome organization and that while I may face trials and tribulations not only do other face them too. Mine often pale in comparison. I will be honest and say that generally the graduations where a service man or women is graduating with an assistance dog from Canine Companions generally move me the most, but there is one that will live with me forever.

After the parade of puppies that are turning in march across the stage the graduates and their families are brough on stage. They wait there one by one as a proud puppy raiser comes up on stage and hands over their leash. At this particular graduation there was a young child probably about 6 and average height for her age who sat with her parents, waiting for her dog. She didn’t make much eye contact with anyone else and sat quietly in front of this huge noisy crowd waiting for her dog. One by one the dogs were presented and with each dog, although not her dog, she perked up a bit. Finally her dog came and she LIT UP!!! (Okay I am actually getting teary right now writing this – geeze) The thing is that her dog lit up too.

So after the initial hugs and exchanges were done there was still more to the ceremony and I couldn’t take my eyes of this young child who had almost seemed like an unlit candle before her dog and then a raging fire of happy emotion after they were reunited on stage. At some point she slipped off her chair and laid on top of this enormous dog that she had been teamed with. I swear they both let out a contented sigh and stayed that way until they were “released” from the stage.

We weren’t turning in a dog that day, but I hold that memory in my heart and I can not only see it like it was yesterday – I can FEEL it like it was  yesterday. I played that moment in my mind when we turned in Sabina and Lacinda, I will rely on it to get me through when we turn in Cate and all of our other dogs to come. I will be thinking of all of my friends and Canine Companions volunteers as they turn-in their puppies in two weeks. I know it will be bittersweet, and the next few months full of excitement and worry as you wait to hear if your dog will graduate. So I leave you with this.

You did your best and gave your dog everything you had to give. You gave of your time, heart, and soul and your effort is more than admirable. It is now their turn to go and figure out where they fit in this world. It may be as a Canine Companions assistance dog or it might not. What I know is that regardless of where they do end up or what their job is, they will always be in your heart and you in theirs.