Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Canine Companions for Independence Volunteer Leadership Conference

This in from Marilyn K. on the Canine Companions for Independence Volunteer Leadership Conference 2013 - Please join her in August 2014....
     In late August I found myself attending the 2013 Volunteer Leadership Conference at Canine Companions' National Headquarters in Santa Rosa, California. I am not a "meeting person" at all, so to be attending a 2 1/2 day conference was stepping way out of my comfort zone...BIG TIME. The trip was an early birthday gift from my daughter and her family and although so thoughtful, I was already having doubts about sitting for long stretches of time, being bored out of mind. It's not that I didn't want to attend, I just wanted to be there on my own terms. I wanted to see the campus, see dogs and meet people I'd read posts from on e-mails and blogs. I wanted to find "relatives" of the "W" litter (Jolee/Luca) and I wanted to be with folks who loved dogs and this program as much as I do. I wanted to share the excitement I get when picking up a new puppy, doing an outreach presentation or filling out my monthly Progress Report........okay, maybe not that last one. I guess I went to California to see where I fit into this big jig-saw puzzle they call Canine Companions for Independence.

     I am a Puppy Raiser first and foremost. My purpose for being in this program is to hopefully, someday, be able to pass my dog's leash into the hands of someone who really needs her and will be her partner through thick and thin. I want to know that I truly helped someone live a more independent life. I can do this by raising puppies; so why the conference? why suffer with TB (tired butt) and the fact that after sitting for awhile I can't straighten myself up and walk in a straight line? As the conference unfurled, these questions faded and I found myself engaged in just about every aspect the conference had to offer.

     In my opinion, conferences and guest speakers are one and the same.However, the keynote speakers at this year's Leadership Conference, Colonel Christopher Conlin, USMC (Ret) and Robert James (also retired military) were charismatic and engaging and made one feel that anyone could be an inspiring leader, if they would adhere to some basic common courtesies. Graduate speaker, Captain James Van Thach (Ret) with Service Dog, Liz, is a tireless supporter of the Wounded Veterans Initiative,who travels exstensively speaking to other wounded veterans about the difference an assistance dog can make in their lives. Speakers from the corporate sector were also on hand to promote Canine Companions' signature national event, "DogFest" and gave information as to how to get involved in this endeavor. The "Breakout Sessions" were a favorite and included, a walking course of the Santa Rosa Campus, a Hearing Dog Demo, a session on "disability etiquette", a "yard sale" of sorts with great bargains from the gift shop, and ways to "breathe new life into your chapter". This year's conference definitely offered "something for everyone".

     So how about meeting those people raising Wiita's littermates and sharing the excitement with those who get just as teary as I do when talking about Canine Companions? Yep, that was included, too. Wiita is from a litter of 10 and I met Wilda (YF) and Wistar (BF), both being raised in the NW Region. I was able to put "doggie names" to breeder faces; "Tatum", "Jubilee" and "Sabina" and even met the lady who sells Gentle Leaders, Terry Laundon, from Virginia (a co-raiser to "Wiggles", sister to our very own, "Wallis"). I also realized that our chapter is no different when it comes to member retention and involvement, concerns of "all regions being on the same page", and the never ending "what if" questions. We're all in this together; raising puppies for people with disabilities, trying to find our way through the mire, that at times, gets us down and holds us back. Each of us in our own way is making a difference. We can't forget that. "Special people raising special  puppies".......that's us......we're Puppy Raisers first and foremost.

     This all being said, would I go again? Absolutely. Only this time, I want YOU to go, too. Start saving your spare change and start looking for affordable air fares and lodging. August 2014 will be here before we know it. I would love to have a large delegation from the state of Utah. It would be AWESOME! Let's make it a plan!


Marilyn & Wiita