There was plenty of laughter and tears at the graduation ceremony for Canine Companions for Independence at SeaWorld on Saturday.
Puppies were given awards, and 12 recipients received their dogs in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people.
It was an emotional ceremony as the puppy raisers who spent about 18 months with their dogs handed them over to Canine Companions for what will be their advanced training before becoming candidates for placement.
At the same time, the dogs that were paired during the May 2014 team training session made the match with their dogs official and received the dog from the person or people who raised it from the age of about eight weeks old.
I didn’t expect to be so moved by the ceremony, but the video segments of the interviews with the recipients and the tribute to our class brought tears to my eyes.
We worked together to make this experience happen and bonded with each other throughout the session. I didn’t know these people two weeks ago, and now I’m saddened by the fact that we’re all going our separate ways with our new four-legged family members.
We were driven by an amazing staff who watched us as we “fell for the fur” over and over again. They taught us that we’re not doing the dogs any favors by avoiding corrections — and that they’re actual happier when we’re tough “pack leaders.”
They practically broke their backs while holding a carpet dog as we learned proper leash management and the right way to praise and encourage the canines.
For me, I’ll never forget the fact that despite missing practically the entire second week of training, they understood that family came first, Karina was ours and not to worry about the training until J.P. was better.
Maybe that’s why it was such an emotional day for me — not so much because I got the dog that my family strived for almost a year to secure — but because the people who hardly knew us before training somehow made their way into our hearts and showed us love and grace during what was a very stressful time for my wife and I.
I wish we could have spent more time with these very special people who got that sparkle in their eyes as the bond grew between them and their dogs. I felt it as Karina began working hard to gain my approval as she carried out the commands I gave her — as well as the smiles J.P. gave her as she realized it’s OK to violate his personal space. The closer the better for him.
I only wish Paige and J.P. had been able to experience the laughter and tears of a very special ceremony with the newest group of pack leaders as we begin a new chapter in our lives thanks to the staff at Canine Companions for Independence.
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