by Laura Sylvester
Our Journey to Orbit Story ...
In August of last year, I attended a CCI Skilled Companion Dog graduation ceremony at the San Luis Rey Mission. My friend, Moira, and her son, Vico, had been right around the corner from our house at CCI for a 2-week training session with their new service dog, Navarro. Today was their big day when they all got to go home together. There was no way I was gonna miss this. They were down in San Diego from LA and I was within walking distance of the big event. And of course, dogs, dogs, and more dogs – it doesn’t get much better than that…so I bounced on over.
I walked into the Serra Center, which is a huge auditorium on the mission grounds, and I was shocked at what I saw – I didn’t realize this was such a BIG event. At least 300 people and 150 dogs filled the big room. I was in utter amazement at the calmness in the place – no barking or whining, no disruption of any kind, one would not know this was a room full of dogs if they closed their eyes. I was happy to see another mutual friend, Becky, was with her two boys in the audience. I said hello and sat down with them. In front of us sat a man and his son along with a beautiful 18-month old yellow lab. When the man saw me staring at his dog, he asked if I wanted to pet him. “Of course,” I nodded with a big ol’ smile. The Man gave one tap on the empty chair in front of me and “Bubba” jumped up to a sit. As I started to pet Bubba’s soft yellow fur, he leaned into me like we had known each other for years. He rested his big head on the back of the chair and stared into my eyes. Of course, I began to cry. It was no use even trying to hold back the river that was welling up inside me. I felt like I had been holding it back for years. Until this moment, I didn’t realize that I had developed an underlying belief that I would never get to have a dog in the family again. There were several reasons for why I thought this: 1. When we tried owning a chocolate lab, Kipper, a few years after Buddy passed, we had to give him away to a farm (really it was! a 2-acre farm in Escondido with a lovely family and a neuro-typical boy). Elliot and Kipper got along great when Kipper was a small puppy. But when Kipper got bigger, Elliot became afraid. (We all became afraid.) 2. Nanny and GrandDad’s Australian Shepard barks loudly and unexpectedly and it sends Elliot jumping to the sky in fright. 3. Gramma Sylvester’s Bitchin’ Freezay, always jumps up on Elliot’s (always in shorts) legs and scratches him. All of this led me to the conclusion that getting another dog was never going to happen.
The CCI graduation was amazing but it was the Matriculation Ceremony portion of the event that REALLY got to me. You see, Bubba was there to be matriculated. This is where his puppy raiser, the person who volunteers to teach basic obedience and care for the dog until he/she is old enough to move on, hands the dog over to the professional CCI trainers to make a service dog out of him. Many of the puppy raisers have gone through this a multitude of times, but some were not handling it so well. There was a teenage girl on stage handing over her dog so overcome with tears that she could hardly stand up. I saw a few more with tears rolling down their checks and lumps in their throats. I thought, ‘What a gift these people give.’ I was in awe of them. I watched as Bubba walked the stage with the kind man who had let me pet him. He handed over his leash and walked back to his seat alone. No dog to go back home with. And of course, I started to cry again.
During my walk home, I realized the hope of dog ownership had re-emerged through this experience. I was filled with thoughts of how I could successfully relay the impact of this day to Rick and convince him to take another shot at it. I was sure that it could be different this time. That this really was a good idea for us.
And today, as Orbit and I take that same walk home from the mission, I am feeling so grateful for my husband and his open mind and heart. I am joyous thinking of the many ways he shows how much he truly loves me, especially when even I think I might be nuts.