Whew! We haven't even picked up our guide dog puppy and I'm already tired. Dale and I decided to raise a guide dog puppy back in early February and we are finally 3 days away from meeting our new friend. The process has been long, but Guide Dogs for the Blind (www.guidedogs.com) really wants to make sure you are totally committed and not a complete nut job.
-So you may be wondering why on earth are you raising a guide dog puppy?
Well, while our cats are fun they aren't as interactive as we would like them to be. Dale has been wanting a dog for a while, but I wasn't ready to make the long term 15 year commitment that getting a pet dog would mean. So I was trying to figure out what our other options were when I remembered that when I drive up to teach at Dominican University in San Rafael, I notice there are lots of blind people walking with guide dogs. It made me think of a girl in high school who was raising a guide dog and brought it into school one day. I remembered how cool I thought it would be to be a part of that. So I started looking around online and found out that San Rafael doesn't have lots of blind people running around on the streets, the dogs that I saw on were in training from the Guide Dogs for the Blind center which is located near Dominican. (Funny side note, Guide Dogs has another training facility up in Boring, OR near where Grandpa Dan and Grandma Irene used to live!) So I read about becoming a guide dog puppy raiser and thought it sounded interesting, so I signed up for more information. Next thing I know I'm talking to one of the super friendly leaders of our local area guide dog puppy raising club, Robin. She answered all of my questions and was so enthusiastic about the process, that I was hooked. She suggested we start attending the meetings and so our journey began!
-What does it take to prove you aren't a total lunatic?
Guide Dogs for the Blind is serious about raising their puppies, so they want to make sure that you are ready for the commitment that it is going to take and so they properly vet you (no pun intended). There are many hoops to jump through starting with attending the Puppy Club meetings that are held twice a month. To demonstrate your commitment and to show that you can be reliable enough to come to regular meetings on time, we had to go to 3 consecutive meetings. The meetings were great as they introduced us to many new wonderful people who have in the past or are currently raising puppies.
Once we went to the meetings, we received the Official Training Manual which we had to read. There was a 100 question multiple choice test (just kidding). Reading the manual was very useful as it gives a lot of details on exactly how Guide Dogs wants you to raise their puppy. Dale and I are used to reading a lot of dry information, so the manual didn't scare us in the slightest especially since it had pictures of cute puppies on the front. I emailed the leaders of our puppy club the next day and told them that we wanted in!
Next we had to have a home interview visit with the leaders of the club to make sure our house was appropriate and to give suggestions about what we needed to fix to get our house puppy ready. (I'm sure they were also making sure we weren't total psychos.) After our application was filled out and we were approved by the leaders, we were ready for our puppy! Oh no, it wasn't that easy.
First to understand what is it like to have a guide dog puppy in our house, we had to puppy sit (baby sit) 3 times for other puppies in the club. After some scheduling madness, I set it all up and we were ready to have some puppy time. We ended up sitting Amity, an 8 month old female black lab, twice for the day. She and I had excellent adventures. We went to the library where we were swarmed by 40 1st graders all totally googly-eyed over a puppy in the library. Since I obviously had a dog, they knew I would want to know all about their pets. So I heard about a beagle named Larry who liked to sit on the couch, a parrot named Lucky, and also about how they loved gymnastics...6 year olds are pretty random. We also took a trip to the hardware store. That was when I realized that if you were single raising a guide dog puppy would be the best thing EVER! You walk around with a dog in a store which draws attention and is an obvious conversation starter AND you look all sensitive and nice because you are raising a guide dog. If that doesn't score digits, I don't know what would...
Our other puppy sitting adventure was with Neola, a 12 month old female black lab, for an entire weekend. We picked her up and off we went! We went on a long hike with friends (Charlotte and Alex) and then went over to visit other friends for the evening (Court and Michelle). We decided to go out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, but we needed to make sure they would allow the puppy to come in too. I called and finally got their okay after slowly repeating in a loud voice "I AM RAISING A GUIDE DOG PUPPY. CAN I BRING IT INTO YOUR RESTAURANT? WHAT IS A GUIDE DOG? YOU KNOW BLIND PEOPLE? BLIND AS IS PEOPLE WHO CAN'T SEE BECAUSE THEIR EYES DON'T WORK..." Dinner was great and it was a huge compliment as we got up to leave the waiter told us with surprised eyes that he didn't even realize we had a dog with us. The next day was fun as I finally realized the swollen teat that I noticed the day before was actually a tick, so the puppy raiser took Neola to the vet and got it all checked out.
The suprising thing was that after all that the kitties don't totally hate us. Daisy asserted her dominance and was all, "Get the F away from me...Don't make me smack you." Puppies learned real quick to leave Daisy alone. Shadow was really intrigued and curious about them. She would casually go over to sniff and then run away when the big dog would come towards her. So this bodes well for when we get our puppy.
Now that we have done the puppy sitting we are even more excited about getting our puppy and starting the process. It will definitely be tough and will required lots of hard work, but it will be fun and rewarding as well. Dale and I attended a graduation ceremony at Guide Dogs last month for the guide dog graduates and their blind partners. It was a really amazing thing to hear the blind people share how much having a guide dog partner meant to them. The dogs truely change people's lives and the whole event was so inspiring.
-So what do we mean when we say we are raising a guide dog puppy?
Our job as puppy raisers is to socialize and teach the puppy basic commands and manners. We not only house train the puppy, but also teach it to relieve on a leash and on command. We will teach it basic commands like sit, stay, down, and come. We will be responsible for taking the puppy to many different places to get the puppy used to being in crowded busy places where they will most likely find themselves with their blind partner. We take the puppy to school, work, store, library, sporting events, restaurants, movies, friend's houses, and pretty much anywhere you can think of. Although fully trained guide dogs are allowed by law to go anywhere with their blind partners, the puppies in training are not considered to be service animals, so we are only able to take the puppy into places that allow us entry. The guide dog puppies require a lot of attention, handling, managing, and training, so it is a tough job almost like keeping Britney out of rehab.
-So when do we get our puppy already?
After going through everything, we are totally psyched about getting our guide dog puppy. Almost 3 months after we started this whole process, we got an email saying our puppy is ready to be picked up from Guide Dogs on 4/18. Which was actually about a week or two before we thought we'd get one! So we have been scrambling around trying to make sure we have everything ready. All we know is that the puppy may be a female black lab with a first name that starts with "R" (we don't get to name the puppy, the center does it all so that way none of the dogs have the same name). As long as it isn't named Rachael I'm cool with it. Dale says we can refer to it as R-tard when it isn't minding.
The plan is to pick up the puppy on monday (4/20) afternoon! And take lots of pictures! We are going to embark on an epic journey and here we will be chronicling our crazy adventures. Wish us luck and tune in for the next installment of Puppy Madness! :)