After I delivered Dionne to the CCI’s campus in Oceanside this morning, I drove to the home of my friend Leslie, in nearby Carlsbad. Leslie commented at one point that, while sudden and a bit premature, Dionne’s departure from our lives wasn’t caused by a tragic event, say, her getting hit and killed by a car. I agreed and remembered what I tell every stranger who exclaims that they could never raise a puppy/service dog because they could never bear to give it up. “Yeah, it’s hard,” I acknowledge. “You have to keep in mind that it’s not your dog; that you just get to live with this really cool animal for a while. Kind of like taking care of a friend’s dog while they’re on vacation.” (An 18-month-long vacation.)

Still. This feels worse than normal. Dionne and I walked in CCI’s front door a little after 11. I handed the receptionist all my paperwork (hastily completed in the last two days), then she took the leash and they walked away. (Typically, Dionne never once glanced back.)

She was so distracted by the sounds and smells of the other dogs, she wouldn’t even look at the camera.
My last glimpse of her. Note that the tail is wagging.

Home again, only staid, sleepy, 9-year-old Tucker was there to greet me. (Steve’s away on business for two days.) So many routines were instantly upended. I opened the doors to the patio — and left them open (the way we used to live before we began raising CCI puppies.) I got out the nice new rug we bought last month and laid it on our bedroom floor (where we’d been afraid to install it, lest Dionne be tempted to chew on it.) I put my gardening shoes on the floor of Steve’s office, by the door (instead of out of reach on top of a filing cabinet.)

All afternoon I’ve been aware of all the things we’ve become accustomed to tracking constantly, almost unconsciously, things to which I suddenly need pay no more attention: where Dionne is, when she last defecated (and whether either of us had yet cleaned up her and Tucker’s droppings), whether she required a break for exercise; a toy to play with. All trivial and mundane, like the chatter of a talk radio show playing softly in another room. Then someone turns it off, and the silence can be jarring.

All these changes occur every time you turn in a puppy. The surprise, to me, is how the pomp and ceremony of the Turn-In proceedings blunts them. It helps to hear the stories of the folks who are receiving graduate dogs. It helps to experience the sadness of giving up the puppy that you raised in the presence of a cohort of other sad puppy-raisers.

Maybe one other thing that makes this experience worse is that we’re not planning to get another puppy until November. Various commitments make us think we’ll be too distracted between now and then to undertake the responsibility again immediately. Steve was fretting last night. “What if we get out of the rhythm? Maybe we won’t be able to go back to it.”

That I’m not too worried about.

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