Sunday, November 13, 2011


Yesterday we drove with Orent to Long Island to attend the NE Region November graduation. Other than me deciding to take the AC Expressway to the Garden State Parkway, thus taking us an hour out of our way, we managed to avoid the epic traffic. The cool thing was, despite the 4+ hour drive, Orent was a quiet and calm passenger! While he did stand up and pull against his harness a few times, he calmed right back down! Way to go (ha!), little guy!

Thanks to my directional challenge, we arrived moments after graduation was supposed to begin. The room was packed! There were dogs and people of all ages. It was awesome seeing dogs in vests from yellow puppy capes to blue "graduation gowns" to blue service dog vests.

A dog that was there to start advanced training. He was very good!

We found a spot to squeeze into in the back and watched the ceremony, and watched Orent watch the ceremony.
Orent, being very good in a very chaotic room.
Here are some highlights:

  • Orent was good. He was way to interested to hold a long down or sit, but we let him sit, stand, and lie as needed. He was quiet, let other dogs walk past while focusing on us (and our kibble!), and didn't pull on his leash to go visit the other dogs. He even met a toddler and only licked her once. I'd say he was one of the best yellow-vested guys there!
  • It was amazing to hear the graduation speakers. I'm really curious what team training is like, so it was neat to hear their inside jokes and reflections!
  • There were so many different kinds of assistant dogs graduating, from dogs who will be helping at an advocacy center for victims of abuse, to dogs assisting wounded vets, to dogs who will be skilled companions for kids.
  • I'm so glad our first graduation won't be Orent's turn-in. It's good to know what to expect, and when we'll be busting out the tissues. I also think we're going to have to start now narrowing down the photos for his slide show.
  • After the ceremony we went to a grassy patch in the parking lot to run off some steam before heading home. A working team were getting into their van near us and Orent froze and just stood there watching them. The team's facilitator said, "he's thinking, 'that's what I want to do when I grow up!'" It's true, too, I think somehow he knows he's got a job to do and wants to help people.

The main thing graduation got me thinking about was the conversation I've had with almost every person I've told about Orent, "how can you turn him in? I couldn't." Some people even say it in a tone that makes me feel guilty, as though I don't love my puppy as much as they would, because I'm willing to "give him up." I'm never sure what to say in the moment, but here's what I think about later:
  • People often say to people with disabilities (or parents of kids with disabilities), "oh, I could never do what you do. You're so brave." But it's not like people have a choice... if your kid has a disability, you don't get to say, "oh, I can't do this, I give up." If you have a hard time getting around, it doesn't usually feel brave to leave the house, it's just living your life. The alternative is not living, which is not an alternative at all. So when I think of giving Orent up, I often think about how it's not a choice. It's just the thing I have to do so that someone can keep on living.
  • From the moment I held the pudgy ball of soft, puppy-smelling fuzz that was Orent at 7 weeks, I somehow knew that he was not a pet. This little guy, who didn't even know how to poop, play, or fall asleep without crying and getting distracted, had a nobility, a calmness, a je ne sais quoi that made it clear that he was a guy on a mission and I was just facilitating his journey. So even though I thought he was the cutest thing I'd ever been associated with, it felt like a privilege to know him for 18 months, not a loss to only know him for that long.
  • I think all the time about how much I'm going to miss the little guy! I can't imagine walking up the stairs without him looking back at me to say, "hey, aren't you coming? You don't need to lock the door, they're nice people out there." I can't imagine sleeping past 7:30 without a friendly squeak reminding me it's been 8 hours since we last snuggled and played and had kibbles. I can't imagine coming home and not having anyone to wag their tail and sit looking up at me with melting brown eyes. I can't imagine encountering new things without a puppy just behind me raising one eyebrow skeptically. His relaxed but friendly personality, his funny quirky sounds and ways of sleeping all twisted around and his favorite games all make me so happy!
  • On the other hand, I've lost other dogs to cancer and to old age and to relationships ending badly. Those are all a lot sadder ways to lose dogs than sending them off to make a difference in someone's life. In fact, unless you're about 92 years old, the dog you're living with right now is going to leave you before you're ready for them to. Why not have that be a positive experience, complete with pomp, circumstance, and the knowledge you and your pup are enabling someone to live better than they could before?
What Orent may grow up to be!


  1. Fantastic post!! I agree to ALL of our bullet points and perspective. Well said!!!

  2. so did either of you cry at this "practice" graduation? i think i would have. graduations always get me so emotional! but i agree with you. you guys are doing a great thing. and there is totally a difference in feeling between a "pet" and a dog you're helping to help other people. but it's crazy for people to think you don't love him as much...

  3. ps: orent is waaaay cuter than the other dogs

  4. No tears, but there will definitely be tears when he gets dropped off for good. And you are so right!