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It was a busy weekend with the OC Pet Expo and Dublin’s graduation, but it was all worth it!
It’s been a whirlwind since about 2 weeks ago when I first found out that Dublin was going to graduate. Excellent news I must say! I started writing about it here on the blog, posting new pictures to Facebook, Tweeting little snippets here and there, and finally adding a new Puppy In Training TV episode to YouTube announcing Dublin’s graduation.
So you might have noticed that things slowed a bit here on the blog. Not to worry…we’re back! Now that everything has sunk in I’d like to share my experience with my first guide dog graduate, Dublin! 🙂
Things To Do Before Guide Dog Graduation
Of course writing to my blog, emailing friends and family, posting to Facebook are all very important, but what did I need to do to prep for Dublin’s Graduation Day?
I put together a gift bag for Dublin’s new partner that included:
- Dublin’s first 2 blankets. If you watched episode 1 you’ll see the 2 blankets I put into the gift bag.
- A Dog Toy – Dublin liked pretty much all toys so I included a nice durable Kong.
- Photo Book – I went to Costco and developed over a 100 of Dublin’s puppy pics and put it into a nice photo album. I tried to do Shutterfly, but after 5 hours of work the book would not have been delivered until Monday after graduation. If you want to do Shutterfly for your graduate make sure you have one ready to go before you get the call from the puppy department.
- A New Blanket – Dublin got a brand new handmade blanket for his kennel.
A few other things I did before graduation were:
- Speech Preparation – I didn’t prepare a formal speech because I just wanted to keep it short. After all this day is about Dublin and Liz (his new partner) not me. Basically congratulations to the new team and thank you to everyone who helped get Dublin this day. However, I still mentally thought about it. I think I might have been better off writing things down as I was quite nervous and felt like even my short congrats and thank you’s would be forgotten. Luckily I think I did okay.
- Emotional Preparation – I wanted to enjoy the day and try not to get too emotional.
- Talk to as many Puppy Raisers about what to expect – I heard a lot of great advice from Facebook friends as well as OCGDA puppy raiser group and listed them in a blog post.
What Happened During Graduation?
I wasn’t too sure what to expect when graduation day came around, but here’s what happened:
I had trouble sleeping the night before graduation and probably only really got about 2-3 hours of sleep. When I first got the call from the Puppy Department I was very excited for Dublin, but the day of graduation I was feeling pretty much every emotion in the book: happy, sad, excited, nervous, etc.
I got up early in the morning shot a little bit of video for Puppy In Training TV then drove off to GDA. We arrived at 9am (1 hour before the start of graduation) for orientation with Louise from the puppy department. She told us that we would meet with our puppies and their new partners for about 30 minutes before graduation. After meeting for 30 minutes an announcement would come over the loud speaker letting graduates know it was time to harness dogs and come out of the room. At that time we (puppy raisers) were to go into the hall, lineup, and start heading towards the stage. Graduates would follow us after we were seated.
Orientation Before Meeting Liz And Dublin
During orientation Louse emphasized a couple things:
- Keep things positive – basically talk to your graduate about all the positive things your puppy has done and don’t talk about the negatives.
- Keep speeches short and positive – the day is about the graduates not the puppy raisers so keep the speeches nice and short. If you say anything in your speech about your puppy then keep it positive.
So after about a 30 minute orientation we left the meeting room and waited to be escorted to our graduates rooms.
Meeting Liz And Dublin For The First Time!
I met Liz and Dublin for the first time and was uber excited! Dublin might have been more excited because he was having trouble staying calm. I just ignored him and tried to follow Liz’s cues and let her work with his training.
We entered the room and took a seat while Liz worked with Dublin. She asked if the trainers said whether or not it was okay for her to allow us to pet Dublin. He was already out of harness and just on his leash. I told her it was up to her according to the trainers, but I would love to pet him and say hello. So she let him come to me and I said hello to my little buddy for the first time in 6 months! It was a great moment for me! I was so proud and excited which was probably feeding into Dublin’s energy.
After saying my hello’s to Dublin I got to chat and know a little bit about Liz. She’s from Chandler, Arizona is very close to my age and is married with 2 young daughters. She asked me how much I wanted to be updated on Dublin and indicated that she was informed that some people didn’t want updates at all. I let her know that I’d love to stay in communication and would appreciate as many updates as she was able.
I gave Liz the gift bag and explained which each item was. She flipped through the photo book (she still has some vision) and took a peek at the blankets as I explained the significance of each. Liz told me her family drove out from Arizona to see her at graduation.
30 minutes went by in what seemed like seconds and before I knew it they announced over the loud speaker that it was time to get ready for graduation. I was ecstatic after meeting Liz and so happy that Dublin was with such a nice person. Before I left we arranged to meet for pictures after graduation.
We exited the room and headed towards the stage for the graduation ceremony.
The Start Of The Guide Dog Graduation Ceremonies
Liz sat to my left on the stage and Dublin sat to her left so I couldn’t really see how well he was behaving. Everyone later told me that he did very well.
After the formalities to start graduation each graduate and puppy raisers gets to do a little speech. Liz talked about how life changing Dublin was and thanked us for raising him. It was wonderful to here her talk about her first experiences working with Dublin at GDA.
I was as nervous as could be and worried that I would break down and cry. However, I kept it together and started by saying: “Hi Everyone, I just wanted to say congratulations to Liz and Dublin…” and as soon as I said Dublin he stood up and walked towards me. I guess he still remembered his recall. Here’s a picture of the moment:
Yep, he should have stayed in his down-stay, but I guess he still remembers my voice 🙂 Here’s what Janice said about it on her Facebook page:
“For those of you who wonder whether or not the dog remembers its puppy raiser… As soon as Colby started speaking and said Dublin’s name, Dublin came over to him (even though, technically, he wasn’t supposed to). You can’t help but go, “Awww,” when it happens 🙂 And you can see how vigorously Dublin is wagging his tail!”
Anyways, I continued with my speech saying: “…I’m so happy and excited for both of you. Dublin was a great dog and I feel very honored that I had the chance to be his puppy raiser. I’m going to keep it nice and short and just say: thank you to my friends and family and everyone here at Guide Dogs of America and of course the Orange County Guide Dogs of America group who without their support this never would have happened for us. Thank you!”
After The Graduation
The graduation ended shortly after the last speech Liz and Dublin headed back to their room and I left the stage to talk to friends and family. I was beaming! I was so happy that Dublin had a wonderful partner and was ready to start his career as a guide dog. Shortly after I walked off the stage I saw and met Liz’s husband and 2 little girls. They were all very nice and very appreciative that I raised Dublin. I was very excited that Dublin was going to such a wonderful home.
After receiving congratulations from everyone we met up with Liz and her family for a few pictures. I asked if they’d like to go to lunch with us and they agreed. At lunch I had an opportunity to learn more about Liz’s 2 children and her husband. It was a wonderful time. Eventually Liz had to get back to GDA so we exchanged contact information and we said our goodbyes.
Oh and guess what else…
Arizona Memorial Day Weekend – Meet Dublin – Working Guide Dog
Every Memorial Day weekend for the past 4 years I’ve gone to Scottsdale, AZ and this year I’m also planning on going to Tucson…and guess what? Liz and her family live in Chandler, Arizona which we will pass through on our way to Tucson. 🙂 I already asked Liz if we could stop by and she said that would be great! I’m so excited now for Memorial Day weekend! Not only am I excited to see Dublin again when he’s not working, but I really want to see him on the job. I caught a glimpse of him and Liz in action walking around the campus, but I really am excited to see a little bit more. Maybe even shoot a little bit of video if that’s okay with Liz…which means after graduation episode maybe, just maybe 1 final episode of Puppy In Training TV showing Dublin as a working guide dog…my fingers are crossed!
I got home and I was absolutely exhausted…emotionally and physically. It was an awesome day! I didn’t really know what to expect going in and I came away excited for Liz and Dublin as well as happy and proud of Dublin and the things we accomplished. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
So that’s my (and Dublin’s) graduation story. In the next few days we’ll have Dublin’s Graduation video posted and you can see a little bit of what I just talked about.
I know a lot of you out there have 1 or more guide dog college graduates. I’d really love to hear everyone else’s experiences. Tell me a little bit about your story in the comment section below.