Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My (losing) Guide Dog Puppy Raiser Story

The Guide Dog Foundation held a story competition for puppy raisers. The prompt was to "tell us about your time as a puppy raiser and what it has meant to you. We are looking for stories that tie in that dreaded but expected moment when you have to return the puppy you have been caring for over 12 months."

The 6 finalists were posted today and I hope you'll visit the Guide Dog Foundation Facebook Page and vote for your favorite story by clicking "like" and/or commenting. They are all worthy, wonderful stories about the joy, laughter, challenges, and tears that come with being a puppy raiser. Since my story wasn't selected as a finalist, I don't get the "prize pack" (Nancy will have to tell me what's in it), but I do get to share it with you here. Enjoy and please share your own (losing winning) stories in the comments. 

On my kitchen table right now there is a silver gift bag filled with purple and yellow tissue paper.  Inside the gift bag is a scrapbook chronicling the most significant year out of all 24 I have lived.  On each page of the scrapbook, I see the sad, expressive eyes offset by the big goofy smile that greeted me every morning of my most significant year.  The first page of the scrapbook shows a pile of indistinguishable black puppies in the parking lot of my apartment in North Carolina, crazed and thirsty after a 10-hour drive from New York.  I still don’t know which squirmy, blubbery, delicious mush in the picture is the one that I loved that year.  The second page of the book shows him engulfed by a bright yellow vest that is dragging on the ground behind his little bowling-ball body.  As I turn the pages of the scrapbook, I see all of his “firsts”.  His first car ride, his first puppy class, his first romp in the fall leaves, and his first frolic in the rare Carolina snow storm.  There he is sitting on the lawn at a baseball game, on his first airplane, wearing a silly Santa hat.  And then, all too quickly, there is his last puppy class, his goodbye puppy cake, and him sprawled on the seat next to me in the moving van that would take us from NC to NY, where we would each move into a new home – separately. 
I will never forget what it felt like leaving him at the Guide Dog Foundation that day.  I remember one of the volunteers offering to hold his leash while I took off my coat, and the mere act of passing it to her for a moment had me erupting into tears.  I remember sitting in the conference room with Maria, completing his training report and trying to tell her all of the “important” things she needed to know about him.  He loves carrots, but hates string beans.  He throws up if his meals aren’t exactly 12 hours apart.  He walks slowly, but not too slowly, just kind of slowly.  He needs a bed to sleep on, otherwise he can’t settle down.  She let me say it all, everything I needed to tell her.  And then she led us to the little kennel in the sterile little exam room, where she asked me to take off his leash and collar and put him inside.  The floor of the temporary kennel scared him as the metal cracked under his paws and I instinctually slammed the door before he could hop out.  

The last time I saw Robbie was when he was in that little metal kennel in the exam room, his sad, expressive eyes staring through the bars as I left with tears pouring down my cheeks.  Tomorrow I will take the silver gift bag, filled with purple and yellow tissue paper, with the scrapbook and his favorite bone inside it, to Celebration Sunday, where I will give it to the veteran who has gained a new lease on life because of my most significant year.  I could wait and write this story tomorrow, but I don’t need to.  I know it was all worth it, all the love, all the tears, and all the middle of the night busying, because I know his veteran will be perfect for him.  I know he will learn that Robbie likes carrots but not string beans and that he needs a bed to sleep on and that he walks slowly but not too slowly, just kind of slowly.  I know that Robbie will be perfect for him, too, and that each day he will greet him with those sad, expressive eyes and that big goofy smile that I loved so much.       

Robbie on his first day of "work"
Celebration Sunday - his veteran is truly a perfect match


  1. Awesome story, Lia. What a great job you did, raising Robbie :-) Your story is a winner to me!

  2. Lia, this story is so happy and sad! It's a lot of work to do a job like this, and to be able to give up that mush of a dog after all of that would be too much for me. I have a lot of respect for you for doing this.

  3. It's a lot of work, but it definitely gets easier. I won't be as sad to see "Sophie" go now that I know the end result is so worthwhile. Thanks for reading - can't wait to ACTUALLY DO our joint-blog biscuit venture.

  4. I love this story! Thank you for sharing it. You have a genuine talent in turning a phrase. And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for helping enhance the life of a veteran. Lia, you're the best :)

  5. Thank you, Grete. I appreciate you taking the time to read it. This story competition was a great idea and I truly enjoyed writing mine and reading those that were posted on FB.

  6. Cried reading this..