Sunday, April 17, 2011

staying in touch

This is one of several upcoming posts I'm bringing over from my other blog.

Working with a guide dog involves many people: the people at the breeding station, the staff who cares for them in the kennels, and the trainers who teach them how to guide. However, the puppy raisers and the people who have them after they retire are an important part of the process.
I received my first guide Valerie in July 2006. At first I agreed with other students that I didn't want contact; I don't remember why, but that's how it started. A couple months later, I changed my mind. We received a puppy profile with basic info: name, age, what kind of environment, habbits of the puppy, how did the puppy let you know when it wanted to relieve ETC, but I wanted to know more. I also started to think that if I had raised a dog for a year, I would want to know how he or she was since it was like losing a family member with no idea what happened for the rest of his or her life. My puppy paper had the first names of the main raiser, her sister and brother, and the parents. I did a search online and found their last name. I found the main raiser on one of the social networking sites and sent her a message letting her know I had her former puppy and asking if she and her family would want to stay in contact. At first, she thought I had the wrong person, since Valerie's name didn't match. I knew that since Valerie was a reissue, a dog that had a previous handler, that she had another name. After we confirmed my information was correct, we started chatting on AIM, and I got to learn fun things about my dog. Valerie was the focus of her senior project for high school, so she was used to being busy and surrounded by lots of people. She went to volleyball games, bowling, the mall, and the airport. She had dog and cat friends, and she loved to cuddle with anyone who would hold her. She knew bed time, and she would come down the stairs to stair at people to come with her. I shared info about how it was to work with her in college. I told her how my French professor always pretended to offer Valerie coffee and tell me seeing her made him feel better on bad days. She loved to curl up in a beanbag chair and take a nap. She did a good job guiding through crowds of students, and I had never felt comfortable walking that fast before I got a guide dog. I also shared my struggles. How I got hopelessly lost for the first three weeks going to class on a new campus every day, how she would sometimes not move faster even with correction, and that she would scavenge for food on the ground.
Once we had been chatting for a couple of months, I said they could come visit Valerie and me if they wanted to. We met, and that was awesome. We talked for a couple of hours, while everyone petted Valerie and gave her beloved belly rubs. They took lots of pictures, and they gave us presents. There was a squeaky hamburger and a nylabone; Valerie of course has destroyed the nylabone, but she still has the burger. They also gave me a water bowl/bottle holder, a bone keychain, and my favorite, a photo album. It shows her from the day they got her at two months old to the postcard they received in the mail from when she was in training at The Seeing Eye; it is one of the things that is always with me, no matter how many times I have moved since 2006. We also met again a few months later when I went to their house for the weekend. It was great getting to see where Valerie was raised. I learned she loved to sit on a certain step and stare out the window at all the people passing by. She loved to chase snowballs with the other dogs in the family. She knew how to balance a treat on her nose, throw it up in the air, and catch it before it hit the floor. We went to the mall, a bookstore, and the movies, where they got to see Valerie guide and do her job well.
Over the next few months, I began to realize that we wouldn't make it long as a team. I called the school every three months or so with maor issues; they would straighten out for awhile, but then something new would happen. I also noticed her continuing health problems with infections and tiredness. It was eventually determined that she was stressed and had alergies to chicken, wheat, rice, and 17 other outdoor-related things. I was worried that they would be upset or angry that Valerie wasn't going to be working for a long time, but they were awesome and supportive.
When she retired, it took me a few months to find and decide on a final home for Valerie. The school would have gladly placed her in a loving home, but again, I wanted contact and would have had none if I had gone that route. She is now with one of my former roommates friend's parents about an hour away from where I go to school. I forwarded the puppy raisers the new contact info, and they went to visit her once she had been settled. The lady who has her now and I send emails every few months; I ask how she is, and she shares stories. Valerie goes for walks a couple times per day; I taught her with clicker and treats, and Valerie continues getting treats for sitting at the corner and other things. One day, she refused to move from the corner and cross the street till she received her reward. She chases grasshoppers, loves to steal tomatoes from the garden, and has dog and human friends, especially the little children in the family. I have seen Valerie twice since she retired almost 2.5 years ago. She is happy, healthy, and stress-free, and that is all I wanted for her.
As her raiser told me, "inside the heart of every dog guide beats the heart of a puppy raiser." I also say inside every former guide dog is the love of a handler who always tried to make the right decision for the dog based on his/her needs, even if it was hard hurt at the time.
This is my submission for The Second Assistance Dog Blog Carnival I hope you take the time to read posts by others who made decisions involving assistance dogs.


  1. This was a really neat post to read. I have always kept in touch with the raisers of my dog's and was always curious as to why people decided not to do so. I bet Valerie's family was elated to hear about her out of the blue. We fostered two puppies and have been lucky to keep in touch with their families and in some cases get daily updates. I've been lucky to have had a chance to experience both sides of the service dog world - raiser and user - so I know how important it is to know your puppy is doing well and being loved.

    It makes it easier to say goodbye.

  2. Sometimes people have had bad experiences with raisers. Others I think don't want to seem like a charity case and don't want the we have to be grateful mentality. To me, it's similar in some ways to adoption, so it's nice to be a part and know how everything goes, the good and the bad.