My Guide Dog Story

For the GDB scholarship (which I’m applying for) we have to write our “guide dog story” including our goals, accomplishments, and future goals. It was limited to 4 pages (which was kinda hard) and I thought I’d share mine with you all. My mom will be proof-reading it for grammar before I send it, but PLEASE make comments so I know what you all think. Especially you teachers 😉

Oh, but first of all, is anyone else out there applying for the scholarship this year? Just curious.. 😉

My story began long before I even knew what guide dogs were. Ever since I was little I knew I wanted a dog. My parents, knowing I was not ready for the long-term commitment of having a dog, let me try other types of pets. One hamster and several dozen fish later, I knew that nothing would replace my longing for a dog.

One evening in January 2005 our family attended my brother’s wrestling match. While there I saw a little yellow lab puppy in a green vest. Not the type of person to approach a stranger, I watched the girl and her dog negotiate the bleachers and crowds of teens. Immediately I thought “how cool would it be to have a dog that you could take with you everywhere?” So as soon as we went home, I hopped on the computer and started researching guide dog puppy raising. After investigating different organizations and what they required, I took a deep breath and approached my parents. At first they said flat out no. Disappointed, I let the idea slip from my mind. Several months later my parents saw an ad in the newspaper looking for puppy raisers and agreed to visit a few meetings and just see what was involved.

The rest is history. At first the friendly faces and masses of yellow and black pups overwhelmed me. However, after a few meetings I was sure I wanted to join this group of committed puppy raisers—but my parents were not so sure. Several more long family discussions and hours of research later, my mom and dad agreed to let me raise a guide dog. From that point in May 2005, my life sped up dramatically. Before I knew it, my leader inspected our house, we signed an application, and puppy-sat our first dog, Francisco. That July I received “the call” from my leader. If we were available, a little yellow lab boy was available to be flown up to our house in three days. Ecstatically I agreed and signed away my heart to the “A” puppy flying up.

July 22nd, 2005 Arturo graced my life for the first time.  This floppy-eared, droopy-eyed lab stole my heart from the first wet kiss. Like any first-time puppy raiser I was eager to do everything right. Immediately I began teaching Arturo his name, sit, and do your business.  When my leader dropped by that night, he was happily settled on the floor chewing one of his collection of toys. How could life be more perfect? …..and then he began to grow up. Ever the explorer, Arturo energetically attacked every opportunity to learn and experience something new.  Keeping up with him was a challenge. As he grew up, I grew with him and learned so much about both raising puppies and myself.

The biggest thing raising Arturo taught me was selflessness. Before working with Arturo I mostly concerned myself with what bettered my life, and what I enjoyed. However, I quickly learned that someone else’s life mattered as much, if not more, than mine. He relied solely on me for everything from food to training to potty breaks. If something clashed between his schedule and mine, my schedule was the one that gave way. For instance, I can remember dozens of times saying I couldn’t hang out with a friend or spend the night because my puppy couldn’t handle it. But I loved Arturo so much that it didn’t seem to matter very much.

Not to say that I enjoyed every minute of it. Any dog owner knows that training a young dog is exhausting. I can’t say that Arturo went through a particular “teenage” phase. He mainly had one big issue—dog distraction. Months of correcting did not seem to work, so we tried the head collar. That controlled him for the most part, but he was not making his own choices. Fortunately our Community Field Representative put him on food reward for his dog distraction. That was the key. Between maturing and the almighty kibble, Arturo steadily grew into a wonderful dog. At 15 months old he was a dream to take out and about. Nothing seemed to faze him except for occasional dogs. We went to football games, parades, doctors’ offices, colleges, airports, and countless other places. Together we tackled school presentations and met hundreds of new people. A few times he was a perfect ambassador for Guide Dogs for the Blind in elementary and high schools. We talked about how guide dogs are raised and proper etiquette around working dogs to younger kids, and encouraged teens to consider raising. With Arturo by my side, I felt invincible. Because of him I laughed and cried, and he made me very proud several times.

My proudest moment while raising Arturo was 4-H state fair. A few days before, we had one of our “final evaluations” with our CFR. Arturo was horrible. He quickly picked up on my anxiety and whined, lunged, and successfully accomplished he knew he was not supposed to do. At the end of the evaluation I feared hearing the most petrifying words any puppy raiser can hear, “your dog has been career changed.” However Michele, my CFR, told me something that stuck in my head. “Arturo hasn’t shown me that he can be a guide dog. But he also hasn’t shown me he can’t be a guide dog.” With a few more months of work, perhaps he’d be ready. So that takes us to fair.

We crept into the barn full of a couple dozen guide dogs in training. Whining and pulling left and right, I maneuvered Arturo over to our spot on the show bench and clipped him onto his tie-down while I checked in. If first impressions count for anything, I knew Arturo would fail at fair. Surprisingly, his only competition in his age category was his brother, Armand. Both boys had identical problems and since I had become friends with Armand’s raiser, we eagerly anticipated the “Control Class” (obedience and distraction work) showdown. Arturo was the first dog of the day to step into the ring. We introduced ourselves to the gathering crowd and began the route. Slipping through the line of mechanical toys without a flaw, he pranced to the biggest distraction—a doughnut. I sat at a table, had Arturo “kennel” under the table, and the doughnut was placed inches from his face. After a tiny sniff, he ignored it and waited to be released. Next we moved to a floor full of approved and unapproved dog toys. Knowing he was being tested, Arturo didn’t go for any of them, and just waited until the judge cleared us to move to the next section. His happy tail thumped as a judge greeted him, but he held his “sit” until we headed to the crate for the “kennel” command. Again, he executed the command beautifully. Unfortunately I forgot to take off his vest, so we were docked points. That was the end of the course, but we waited for the group long “sit-stay” and “down-stays”. In the end, Arturo and his brother tied, and at a tie-breaker the slightest lunge from Armand tipped Arturo into first place. My boy won the blue ribbon in obedience.

Later that afternoon we participated in an evaluation course around the fair with our CFR, and my blue-ribbon pup strutted his stuff yet again. After the great evaluation, both Armand’s raiser and I were given a tentative recall date. I was ecstatic. Although I had many little checkpoints along the way, my only real goal was for Arturo to be recalled so he could live out his purpose. I knew he loved to work. He loved the mental challenge of tough situations. When the green vest came out of the drawer, or he heard the jingle of the leash, he came running and pranced, tail high, in front of me. So confidently I prepared myself and Arturo for recall.

No amount of thinking, planning, and talking can ever prepare a first-time raiser for recall. On November 4, 2006 a melancholy mood descended over our van as we drove down to the Boring campus. As we pulled in on that rainy, windy day I gathered up Arturo’s leash, collars, and paperwork and trudged out of the car. No tears came until the canine welfare technician asked if we were ready, and pulled out the short leash. After one last hug, I handed him over and as he pranced out called “bye Artu! I love you! I’ll miss you!” and whispered “I’ll see ya later.” That night I closed his kennel door for the last time. I picked up his dishes, and no yellow fur ball bounded into the kitchen. I un-tethered his tie-downs and stuck all his toys in the basket. Pulling the clean-up kits, collapsible bowls, and water bottles out of my purses I silently wept and thought my heart couldn’t possibly break any more.

On November 11th, 2006, the phone rang. My mom answered and I remember hearing her say hi to our guide dog leaders. Then I remember the disappointment in her voice and hoped beyond hope that this wasn’t really happening. I don’t remember the exact words she said, but I can remember the foggy haze of denial that swept over me when she told me Arturo had been career changed for cataracts. Telling my friends and family the sad news broke my heart over and over again, and I cried non-stop. Even writing this made tears pour down my face. Sadly I could not keep him, and our friends who wanted him had adopted another dog, so we had Guide Dogs place him. Now I have tremendous faith in the placement department—they found my boy the absolute perfect home. He is very well loved, and his adopters still tell me how he is doing. In February 2007 his forever family brought him to a graduation and I was able to say my final goodbye. As sad as I was to lose him, the promise of puppy breath brightened the future.

I was not able to raise a full-time dog again, but after Arturo my parents let me raise two starter puppies. The first, Mr. Lawrence, was a dream. For the entire month we had him, I loved every minute. He slept through the night on day two, and quickly picked up on everything I taught him. Transferring him made me sad as my parents would have let me continue raising the little guy, but his second raisers loved him. Last October I had the privilege of watching him graduate with a great man. That was one of the highlights of my puppy raising experience.  His partner still keeps up with me and regularly calls or e-mails with stories of “Sir Lawrence.”

Starter puppy number two arrived in November 2007. Miss Pomona had a challenging streak from the beginning. Barking, whining, growling, indiscriminant relieving, and destructive chewing were just a few of her problems. After almost a month and a half with her, our family decided she needed to be transferred to another home who could give her more hands-on attention. After another transfer and a few days of evaluation at the Boring campus, little Pomona began life with two very hard working families. Sadly she was just career changed at the beginning of March 2009 for elbow dysplasia.

Now I have a very fun and special job in our puppy raising club. I am a puppy-sitter for all the great pups in Compass Canines, and our house has become known as “puppy boot camp.” As much as I miss raising my own dog, I love making a little fingerprint on every puppy’s life. This winter I have had a great time taking one of the puppies, Vortex, to school with me. Vortex’ big problem was people distraction, and working daily at a college helped him improve quite a bit. Fall quarter, Vortex became a regular in my public speaking class. Together we presented two speeches on service dog certification. My classmates grew to love him so much that I enlisted them to help with his training. They would pop into class and meander past Vortex, sometimes fluffing his fur, and I either praised or corrected him. With time he began to understand the game and really enjoyed school. I love the challenge that he presented me. After working with Arturo, Pomona, Vortex, and another challenging puppy, Flynn, I learned that I just love tough dogs.

Flynn reminded me a lot of Arturo. This dog distracted little guy was being raised by a family who traveled out of town frequently. Because of the experiences with my puppy, I was able to share some tips with Flynn’s family. When they headed out of town he came and visited me, and became a regular at my youth group and school. Together we hit trails and walking routes, attempting to curb his dog distraction. Even with food reward Flynn didn’t seem to improve as quickly as Arturo, so he required persistent work. But I loved every minute of it.  Something about watching the light turn on in his eyes and see the difference that hard work made really excites me.

That’s exactly why I am working towards becoming a guide dog instructor for GDB. Somewhere between picking Arturo up and dropping him off for recall, I fell in love with the mission of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Where the public often view people with disabilities as “scary” or “weird” I realized how great they really are. Some of the most joyful people I have met are blind or visually impaired. Just stepping back and observing a guide dog work fascinates me, and that has become my dream career. My goal for the near future is to major in Communications and Theater and possibly go for the Masters in Guide Dog Orientation and Mobility Instruction. However, no matter where I go or what I do, I always want to raise guide dogs.

As I sat at the dinner table this evening, I wondered out loud what I would have been like if I had never become involved with guide dogs. Then I realized all I would have missed. I would never have had to sacrifice myself and my time, never learned the responsibility of a life depending on me, never met the amazing and supportive guide dog community, never spread my wings and taken on challenges, never considered working with guide dogs as a career, never spent evenings curled up with a sleeping puppy, and never learned the meaning of true love—or true sacrifice. If I had never become involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I would have never seen the dawn of new horizons and possibilities that have opened up to me. Raising guide dogs has changed my life. Literally.