Graduation Day

Graduation Day

Steve commented this morning on how different it was to participate in a CCI graduation ceremony with a graduating dog (rather than a puppy being placed). In the past, when we turned in Tucker and then Yuli and then Brando, we’d seen the little video presentation introducing the graduates (the dog recipients), and we’d been touched by their stories and warmed by the thought of how the dogs would be improving their lives. But yesterday, the persistent thoughts that assailed both Steve and me were: Who are these people who’ll be taking Brando? Are they responsible? Will they treat him well? Will they love him?

The Sun-Times reports about Aimee and Yuliy’s saga made it more than obvious that if anyone deserved a break, it was them. Bur deserving a break after suffering terrible reversals is not the same as loving a dog. So almost as soon as I was introduced to Aimee and Yuriy and Amy’s mother Debbie (who came along from their home on the south side of Chicago and also learned how to work with Brando), I asked Aimee how they had learned about CCI and decided to apply for a canine companion. She told me they had long wanted a dog. Yuliy’s childhood pet had been killed shortly after he had his accident, and that had come as one more bitter blow. But they hadn’t had the time to train a puppy; to teach it to behave well. Recently, they’d gotten a house with a nice yard. And when they learned about CCI, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

What a great response, I thought. These are folks who realize that dogs need training and safe quarters. And in the conversation that flowed among us in the hour that followed, Aimee and Debbie sounded like they were enchanted by Brando — charmed by his passion for balls and love of the fluffy toy they’d given him; warmed by his capacity for melting into you and suffusing you with his cuddly love. Yuriy can’t say very much, but he made it clear he wanted to give me a hug. And his wife told me he had also insisted on giving at least a few verbal commands to Brando himself. She said Yuriy sometimes became very anxious, but when soft, soft Brando climbed into his lap or snuggled up against him in bed, Yuliy calmed. He seemed happier than she had seen him in years, she told me.
By the time the brunch ended, Steve and I were convinced that these were wonderful people — the best anyone could want for the puppy they had raised.  And our reunion with Brando a little later reminded us of what a lovely soul they were getting.  I could see him recognize us and explode with happy tail-wagging wiggliness.  He looked ecstatic, laying on this back, getting his belly rubbed and his nose caressed.  He was the puppy I had loved for 16 months — but also a calmer, obviously more mature and solid animal.
We got to walk him over to the mission and hang out with him till noon, when the graduation ceremony began.  He sat with us during most of the ceremony, laying calmly at my feet.  I barely registered most of what was going on.  I felt magnetized by Brando, who’s made me laugh more and charmed me more than maybe any dog I’ve ever had.  I felt the moments slipping by, and I didn’t dread the thought of giving him away forever, because I’d become convinced it truly WAS his mission to bring more love and joy into the home of Aimee and Yuriy (where great love is already clearly present).  But I still felt transfixed by the enormity of the moment bearing down on me — like standing on shore as a cruise ship approaches to dock.
When they finally called our names, I was happy that the entire assembly rose to their feet and cheered for Yuriy as least as loudly as they had for the other veterans receiving dogs. Or was it louder? (or was that only in my imagination?)  When we handed over Brando’s leash, he climbed up on Yuriy’s lap and nuzzled his face and wagged his tail.  Clearly, he was in a place that made him happy.
It was a deeply emotional experience about which I could write much more.  But I won’t.  I’ll only mention the other most persistent realization we both took from the experience.  Over and over in the past few weeks, people have complimented Steve and me and told us how noble and virtuous and selfless we are to raise these puppies to give away to someone else whose life will be enriched. This has long seemed like a sham to us. The truth is that we raise the puppies because doing so gives us endless pleasure and entertainment, and also because we cherish the community of fine people who get involved with CCI. 
But it’s also true that it IS difficult to say goodbye to a fabulous dog that you love a lot.  Now that we’ve gone the whole distance, I can testify that knowing that the dog is going to someone extraordinary, someone who will love the dog even more than we would, goes a long, long way to making it easier.    
Aimee’s thank you note to us.

A Good Match!

A Good Match!

We got another call from Stu at CCI this morning, informing us that Brando’s “pre-match” with Yuriy and Aimee has been confirmed.  He is definitely set to graduate Friday.

Seasoned CCI puppyraisers do talk about at least one dog who made it all the way to the day of graduation, only to bolt at a cat — and be summarily released.  But I can’t imagine Brando doing something like that. 

I also cannot wait to see him again after the brunch Friday morning that will introduce us to his new owners.  Once it’s over, we’ll get to spend about 20 final minutes playing with him and once again stroking his velvety, velvety fur.  And taking pictures that will assuredly be posted here.


We got the call this morning that we’ve never gotten before.  It was Stu Wahrenbrock, letting us know that Brando has been “pre-matched” to Yuri Zmysly, a 27-year-old young man from Illinois.  Yuri, Brando, and Yuri’s wife Aimee will spend a lot of time together in the next few days. In fact, kennel life for Brando ends today. He’ll spend tonight in Yuri and Aimee’s room. If they click well over the next few days, Stu will let us know next Tuesday. Then it’s graduation here we all come (barring some catastrophic bad behavior on Brando’s part.)

Stu didn’t know any details about the injury that disabled Yuri, but the fact that his dog would be classed as a skilled companion (rather than a service dog) suggests that it was severe enough to rob Yuri of the physical and/or manual dexterity necessary to control a dog. (Aimee will help him with that.) We’ll learn much more next week, assuming all goes well, when the puppy raisers meet the folks who’ll be receiving their dogs at a brunch (on the morning of Friday, August 12.)

In the meantime, I’ve put together a “baby book” to share with Yuri and Aimee some of Brando’s journey on the way to them.  To check it out, click here. (If you click on the square with the arrows in the lower right-hand corner, you can view it full-screen and advance by clicking on the arrow to the right of the main image.)