Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of... A Newborn Guide Dog Puppy

A litter of newborn Labrador puppies

Readers: This is the first of a series of articles originally published in our Community Connections Newsletter. We are reprinting them here for your enjoyment. Click on the "A Day in the Life" label link to list the entire series (see Labels section, right hand side).

I arrived in this world alongside my six littermates in the middle of the night – 2:00 a.m. to be precise! As I took my first breaths, my mom diligently started to lick me clean. She must have gotten a little help, because a tender hand scooped me up and helped to clear the fluids in my nose and mouth, and rubbed me down with a nice warm towel. One by one, each of my littermates and I were weighed and physically examined (I felt fingers run down my tail, open my mouth, hold and turn my feet, and turn my body sideways and back…it all kind of tickled!). I even got my first haircut! Vibrating clippers shaved an identifying mark on my left hip. Cool! 

Once we were returned to mom’s side, my littermates and I were ready to get down to business: we were hungry! Since our eyes weren’t open yet, we all fumbled along in the dark a bit to find mom’s nipples… but find them we did! (Boy were we determined!) We jockeyed for position, all while mom was tirelessly checking up on us with licks and nudges. Eventually we all had our fill of milk and nodded off to sleep. With a full belly and the warmth of my mom and littermates – I was in heaven!

It turns out that I am the runt of my litter! Since I was so small, the gentle hands came and helped me nurse every two hours around the clock, which I totally appreciated! It was nice to have my big fat brothers and sisters held off while I nursed my fill. (Can you say SHARE? Well, puppies can’t!) Apparently, I’ll get the round-the-clock nursing help for a few days as I work on growing. And if the nursing isn’t enough, I’ll even get offered a bottle of formula (not as good as what mom makes – but a meal is a meal!). In no time, I’ll be big enough to hold my own!

I’ve learned a bit more about my days ahead, here in Guide Dogs’ whelping kennel. I can’t wait to settle in to the routine and learn all of the new things that are in store. I will get weighed every day, and moved to clean and dry bedding on a regular basis. Those nice hands will continue to keep my clip mark neat, and I’ll even get my nails trimmed. There’s also a special group of volunteer hands that I get to meet when I turn 8 days old – with them, I’ll get lots of special attention and handling (I’m looking forward to the lavender-scented soft toys they’ll eventually bring for me to play with), and most importantly, I’ll learn that that those hands all belong to people, and that people are my friends.

But I’m really looking forward to my 14-day birthday – that’s when my life will really start to change! By then, my eyes will open, and my ears will work much better – and I can’t wait until I discover my own voice: yapping, growling and howling… that’s the fun stuff in my future!

At 4 weeks old, my teeth will start coming in, and I’ll be eating solid foods three times a day (I can’t wait!). I’ll still be getting my fill of milk from dear old mom too! By 6 weeks old, we’ll have said goodbye to mom (the milk truck has departed – drats!), and will be looking forward to moving day. Moving day is a big deal – it’s the first time we’ll all venture out from the only world we’ve ever known (the Whelping Kennel), and get a new home in the Puppy Kennel. There’s one stop on the way – we get to visit the vet clinic! While there, the doctors will have a peek at my eyes, ears, and other parts and give me a clean bill of health for the next phase of my young life.

My days will be entirely different once I am settled into the Puppy Kennel. Fortunately for me that does not mean I leave the kennel staff behind, just that I get a huge number of new friends before setting out for life outside of GDB. Stay tuned for the next installment: A Day in the Life of… a Guide Dog puppy and the campus socializers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Featured Fellow Blogger

From time to time, we'd like to introduce you to members of the Guide Dog Family who are not only passionate about their connection to GDB, but are wonderful writers, as well.

One such person is Becky Andrews with her Guide Dog Cricket. Becky writes about how when retinitis pigmentosa took her sight, it also took her car keys.

But she doesn't let that stop her. Sporting flashy and fashionable TEAM GDB bike jerseys, Becky and her husband take a tandem out for a spin – and cycling becomes a family activity once more.

Although it's snowing right now in Bountiful, Utah, where Becky and her family live, there's a lot of warmth to go around. Becky works as a Marriage and Family therapist, and Cricket is the perfect office mate. "She is very sweet," Becky says, "She has an innate ability to know just how my clients are feeling. She's been known to sidle up to them and extend a paw, just at the right moment."

We like reading Becky's posts because she engenders community and celebrates independence with an indomitable "can do" spirit. We hope you enjoy reading her blog, Crusin' with Cricket, as much as we do.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Story Wall, Part 2: Dream On, Little Puppies, Dream On!

Puppies grow, don't you know. And while they sleep, their mom dreams of their future.

The new wall mural at our California campus (introduced in is finished and our tour visitors are wowed (some are even bow-wowed…)

Artist Michelle Imbach painting on details of a black lab
Closeup of the breeder mom's drawing in progress
Photo of part of the finished mural
We unveiled the mural in a special ceremony held just before our January graduation, in honor of muralist Michelle Imbach and funder Wally Smith. Michelle was able to capture some of the personal features of Wally's late retired guide Panda in the black Labrador in appreciation of Wally's generosity (You'll even find Panda's name on the dog tag!)

Sweet dreams, little ones. Sweet dreams and bright futures!

Monday, February 2, 2009

February Franco Update

[This is an update from Franco, a puppy from our 'F' litter currently in his puppy raiser's home.]

Dear Mama,

January was a quiet month. Other than my trade week I spent most of my time at home. It was so relaxing after the busy holiday season.

Our Puppy Raising Community Field Representative, Cathie Laber, stopped by in early January to teach us the new "Go to Bed" exercise. While we dogs love it some of our raisers are better than others at teaching us how to do it. It is really fun for me to do. I love hearing the verbal marker "Nice!" and getting treats. Cathie made it look so easy and yet when my raiser does it we don't get results as fast as Cathie did, which just means more treats for me. For a while there I thought that you were supposed to also take the fingers while you took the treats. So that has been a little bit of a challenge for me to learn to use my soft tongue to get the treats rather than my new SHARP TEETH. It is a challenge to learn new stuff but I am sure that my raiser and I will get it sometime soon.

A closeup photo of yellow lab Franco's face
I went to the movies with my puppy raising club, 4 Paws for Freedom, and saw Hotel for Dogs staring Cosmo & JR as Friday. I didn't bark or whine. I just looked between the seats so I could see what was happening up there on the big screen. It's hard to see it when you are so short, on a down and in the back.

With over 70 dogs in that story that were going to end up in an animal shelter that were not going to get adopted I am so glad that our Guide Dog community is doing such a good job at finding and keeping us in safe and loving homes all of our lives by matching our needs to our potential adoptive home. I have heard that in most cases, career change dogs are adopted by their puppy raisers. That would be wonderful, but I know that others may go on to work in search and rescue, hearing or service dog training, agility, cancer detection, or pet therapy. The dogs released from our program to become pets or companions are placed in adoptive homes through our Dog Placement Program. I also understand that none of the career change dogs may be used as working guides for the visually impaired, nor have they been trained to perform tasks for persons with other special needs. I think that it is so honorable that we are well taken care of all of our lives.

With love and licks,