We knew it would be tight, but we had to go. Only about 35% of the dogs raised and trained to be service dogs are actually matched with someone who has a disability. It's complicated because the dog has to have just the right disposition, be very healthy, and want to work. So when Emma got the call saying that Lexus had been matched and would graduate from her team training, we were thrilled! Emma was, of course, invited to come and hand off Lexus to her new owner during the graduation ceremony in Oceanside, California. We had to go.
Up at 3:30 am to fly out to Orange County. The flight was smooth and nice and there was a man with a service dog in the seat directly in front of us. The dog looked so much like Lexus, it surprised me when it didn't recognize us. When we arrived, we picked up our rental car and headed out to Oceanside.
We couldn't check into our accommodations right away because school was still in session. So we went down to the beach, which was only 4 blocks from where we were staying. Had there been others at the beach, we would have immediately been recognized as tourists. (OMG! Water! OMG! Palm trees!) We took a lot of photos. I was amazed at how cold it was.
We stopped at the store, picking up peanut butter, bread, and jelly, before checking in with our hosts. Thank you to Kristen and Patrick Arrastia for allowing us to sleep in their lovely kindergarten room. It was magical, like sleeping in a story book.
It rained most of the night and we got up to this beautiful complete rainbow.
We had to be out of the kindy by 7:30 am. Down to the beach again, we never got tired of staring at the ocean. I was amazed by the power of the waves rolling in one after another. Though it was cold, there were a few surfers out there. I would have been terrified. As it was, I startled and jumped out of the way when the tide came in too close to my feet!
Today we had a tour of the training facility at Canine Companions for Independence. It's impressive! They can house over 90 dogs at one time and the work they do is amazing. The dogs are taught approx. 40 specialized commands and can turn lights on and off, open doors, retrieve a soda from the fridge, and press the button for the elevator. Some dogs go to individuals with disabilities, some go to facilities, and some go to families with disabled children.
After the tour we stopped at a couple of shops in town and had some ice cream.
Day 3 - This was it! Graduation day! We arrived at CCI at 9:30 am and were given instructions. Then we went to brunch and met the man who was matched with Lexus. Buddy and his wife, Sheri, are lovely people. Buddy's first service dog, Hilary, died last year and he misses her very much. It will take time for Lexus and Buddy to form the same kind of partnership, but I'm confident they will.
Then, a reunion with Lexus, a drive to the place where the ceremony would be, and... everything seemed to go so fast.
Just before the ceremony started, Lexus was brought back to Buddy for a TV news interview. Afterward, she was back with us, but could see Buddy across the room. She was not terribly happy to be separated from her new friend.
The bond they are beginning to form is obvious. It's also obvious Lexus enjoys working. People ask us how we can raise a dog for 18 months and then give it up. It was hard! I remember when it was time for Lexus to go back to Oceanside last August. We weren't able to come ourselves so another family took her. We left Lexus playing happily with Vanessa's dog and it didn't hit us until we got to the car. Emma and I both had some tears, then we went to visit our local animal shelter for a dog fix.
All that went away as soon as we saw Lexus with Buddy. Now, all I can think is how lucky she is to have found such a great friend and partner. I'm sure she'll work hard.
Day 4 - We left our storybook house and family. As I stepped into the kitchen to return a few dishes and leave a card, the inside door opened a little and 2 1/2 year old Josie looked in. I said good morning. She didn't say anything, just looked and slowly closed the door again.
We were driving to Palm Springs and needed to be on the road early...so I'd have time to get lost. I got lost... sort of. I missed one turnoff and we went a slightly longer route, but we made it in, a little later than planned, but we made it.
My friend, Harold, took us to lunch at a lovely Mexican restaurant and we ate in the garden and listened to a young man playing guitar. After lunch, Harold gave us the scenic tour past several houses belonging to celebrities. Then we went back to his house and met his husband, Jeff, and chatted even more. Jeff went over our driving directions so I wouldn't get lost on our way to LA. All in all, it was a really nice visit.
Jeff's instructions were perfect and we arrived at Kelly's apartment exactly two hours after leaving Palm Springs. Kelly is one of my former kindergarten students and has been friends with Emma for years. She had her roommate, Zippy, hosted us for the next two days. We watched the movie, Mortdecai, the first night. I know it got terrible reviews, but we laughed all through it and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Day 5 -
A slower day. I took my scooter and explored the neighborhood while the girls watched some program on the computer. In the evening, Kelly and Zippy arranged for us to join them watching a production of Julius Ceasar at The Noise Within Theatre.
Day 6 -
We spent the morning at The Grove, a shopping center where Zippy reported seeing more celebrities than anywhere else she'd been. I suspect any celebrities were trying hard to not look like celebrities, and since there were many people who seemed to be trying hard to look like celebrities, we may or may not have seen any. What would we have done if we had recognized someone? Nothing. We'd be tongue-tied and awkward, and our luck, we'd find it was a celebrity look alike. So why did we go? We were that close to Hollywood, it wouldn't have seemed right if we hadn't.
Back to the airport. We drove from The Grove back to Orange County/Santa Ana/John Wayne Aiport. Maybe it was first time visitor luck, but we never ran into bad traffic the entire time we were in Los Angeles. I also found the drivers to be gracious and polite. Anytime I turned on my blinker to change lanes, someone let me in. We left in plenty of time to get lost, so of course, we didn't. And our flight was delayed. I was exhausted. I know I'll crash this week, but it was worth it. I was happy when we finally arrived in Denver and home at 10 pm.
Emma, however, was still California dreaming.