Love Never Fails
While my blog has affectionately been known as “Bella’s Blog” and then “Ulysses’ Blog,” it’s actually “Raised to Serve.” This week is devoted to the culmination of almost 11 months in Bella’s life which led to her graduating with her Warrior.
As the “Breaking News” blog said, Bella was paired with her warrior, Melissa, on March 6th. As I saw a few photos on Facebook and Instagram, my gut told me the match was the right one. When I met Melissa face to face before graduation, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the folks at K9s For Warriors matched Bella with the right person for her.
Kathy, my adviser at K9s For Warriors, said we would get a few minutes before graduation to meet with the Warrior that got our puppy-raised dog. There were actually 3 pups at graduation that came up through the puppy-raising program. Bobby, Lazer and Bella. I had a gift bag for Melissa of Bella’s favorite toys, along with a card and a few letters. When Melissa walked in with Bella, my heart was in my throat. I didn’t know what to expect. She kept Bella in line, shook my hand then gave me a huge hug. When we talked, she said she had some trepidation (I think that’s the word she used) about meeting me. My response, “Oh honey, I was terrified! The last thing I wanted to do was upset Bella and then you before graduation. I deleted 3 emails to Kathy saying I didn’t want to meet you until my friend Kristen said it was actually better for Bella if I did.” When she asked if I wanted to say Hello to Bella, my answer was no. After graduation, maybe, but not before.
The graduation ceremony went as expected, and Bella was good even though she kept wanting to get up in Melissa’s lap. The bond that had grown between them in 3 short weeks was obvious, and for that I’m very grateful. Afterwards I had a little more time to chat with Melissa before scratching Bella on the head and heading home. Afterall, they had a plane to catch the next day.
Friends asked me, “So how did it feel? How are you? You doing ok?” To be bluntly honest, it hurt like hell, more than I ever imagined that it would. It was, by far, the hardest thing I have every voluntarily done, so much so that I thought to myself that if I didn’t have Ulysses at home, I might not have taken another puppy to raise. (That thought didn’t last long, just through the grieving process.) That said, never once in 3 weeks and especially at graduation did I ever feel that Melissa had my dog. Somehow, someway, my heart never went there. From when the first photo was posted, Bella was hers. I do, now, feel free and relieved. Free of the worry that Bella would wash out of the program; relieved that she did graduate and now has a permanent home. She is a tough cookie!
Melissa graciously said she’d keep me appraised of Bella’s progress and her new life. I can tell you that she’s now in the mid-West on 7 acres of land with 2 boys to play with when she’s off work. Every time I think of that, all I do is smile.
I’ve thought a lot about the training process that Bella has been through and what Ulysses will go through, and while it’s tough on the dogs, it’s necessary. Someone said to me how they felt badly for the pup – to go from living in a home to living in a kennel, and breaking that bond. I compare it to what our military does with new recruits: They break them down so they can build them up. Fortunately, the dogs are not “broken down,” but that bond with their raiser is broken. That is hard for them; I think it was really hard for Bella, but because of that, she was able to bond quickly with Melissa. (At least that was my impression.) She’s known love because she got it in bunches from me. The folks and volunteers at Camp K9 know what dogs have been raised in someone’s home, so they love on them a lot. By the time that dog is matched with the veteran, I just feel that the dog is ready to connect and bond with their person. Yes, it’s hard, but it works. That’s what’s most important – It. Works.
My Dearest Bella
As I stated above, there were a couple of letters in the gift bag for Melissa and Bella at graduation. One was addressed to Bella and said, “Please ask your mom to read this to you.” Here is that letter.
My Dearest Bella, Bell-Bell, Psycho-Puppy, Pogo, Thunderball, and all the other names you were given during your time with me.
I can’t believe this day is finally here – your graduation. I still remember that Monday afternoon when you were taken out of the K9s For Warriors van and handed to me. This round black bundle of a puppy. You slept all the way home, then bounded in to my living room not caring that there were 2 other dogs that were bigger than you. You had no fear, and that stayed with you throughout our time together.
8 months later, I took you back to Camp K9 for the final time. I handed your leash over, and you trotted away without a look back. Even though you didn’t know it, you faced your future with complete confidence. It broke my heart to know you were no longer “mine” (not that you really ever were) and that you were now going to spend a few months in a kennel instead of your crate in your house with your sisters. Please know that on that January day, I did not abandon you. I let you go so that you could become the dog you were destined to be, and to prepare you for your life with your warrior, with Melissa.
You sure did challenge me. So head strong and confident. I did my best, and I learned from you. Because of you, Ulysses gets a better puppy raiser than you had, but with the same love and devotion that I gave to you because that is what helps you in preparing for your life ahead.
I’m so proud of you, more than I can find words for. From that chunky puppy who tripped over her feet, to a beautiful girl ready to make a difference in Melissa’s life. Serve her well; she deserves and needs it. You are hers and she is yours. Do not fear to bond because I had to leave you; that had to happen for this to happen, and you’re the better for it.
I know you’re “just a dog,” well, that’s not exactly true. You’re more than “just a dog.” You Are A Service Dog trained to serve one of the brave women of our military. Bravo my Bella; bravo.
One of the things that changed in my thinking after finishing Bella’s journey was realizing that her Warrior was waiting for her before she was born. The wait time after an application has been accepted at K9s for Warriors until the Warrior joins a class is between 20 and 22 months. For 8 months, Bella and I worked towards to goal for her nameless, faceless Warrior, but for 18 months Melissa was waiting for her nameless, faceless dog. Now I look at Ulysses and while his Warrior is still nameless and faceless, I know that he or she is already waiting. This may seem like semantics to you, but to me it’s a pretty big change. It tightens my resolve and helps me keep my focus when training gets tough. Someone is already waiting for the Blonde Boy.
Next week we’ll catch up on Ulysses’ progress. He’s doing well, growing and learning.
Until then, be safe.
This seemed appropriate this week.
The photograph at the top is one I took of the sunrise in Coco Beach back in 2012.