It's no secret that all of our dogs here at GDB are pretty special. What you may not know, is that so many of the dogs that don't become guides (who we affectionately refer to as "career change" dogs) - or even many retired guides - go on to have all types of other fulfilling and rewarding careers. And even if they don't, they make for some of the best pets in the world, and still manage to touch the lives of many people.
Regardless of their paths in life, our dogs make a difference every day. Puppy raising leader Sharon Davis of Aurora, Colo., may have summed it up best when she describes her experience with Argos, a puppy she raised that was recently career changed:
"I had just received the news I didn’t want to hear," she said, "Argos, the puppy I had spent the last year loving and training, was being career changed. My first feeling was one of failure-- I failed to accomplish the goal that I had been devoting hours to for the last year; I wasn’t good enough as a raiser to get this lovable, high energy dog up to the standards required to be a Guide Dog.
"But now that I have had a few weeks to reflect and think, I realize I did not fail," she said. "I raised a wonderful, happy, loving dog. I was well aware of his challenges, and my co-raiser and I spent hours working on them; a local park became our second home as we walked and walked, trying to work on his dog distraction. Argos tried too. We would see improvement, but really, he just wanted to play with those other dogs. He is the dog he was meant to be.
"Going through the career change process the last few weeks, I was struck by another thought: I just want Argos to be in the situation that is best for him. If he is not suited for guidework, then I wouldn’t want him to be in that position."
Argos went home to Colorado, where he is settling in with a new adoptive family. "They already love him as we do, and I’m very happy that he is where he needs to be," she said. "I didn’t fail, I raised a dog that loves life and is relishing his new role as a family pet. We will get a new puppy in July and try again. Maybe the next one will become a guide, but if not, I know that at the end of the journey, we all will have given it our best shot."
We certainly agree with Sharon: our career change dogs all manage to find their niche, and we'd like to share with you some of their stories.
Jodianne and Leilani
Jodianne and Leilani were both raised by Sue and John Baptista in Ft. Collins, Colo. Both dogs are now enjoying their work as therapy dogs; they visit two schools as part of a reading program.
"I know there are other great GDB dogs out there doing amazing things, and Herbert is just one of them," writes puppy raising leader Bonnie Anderson, "but to Benton County Oregon, Herbert is a special member of the District Attorney's Office team." As part of GDB's new Pet Ambassador program, Herbert interacts with members of the public (adults orchildren) who have been involved in various criminal cases, either as victims or witnesses, who might benefit from a friendly, gentle dog's presence. In addition, he is a friend to staff members who feel the stress of the environment and subject matter they deal with every day.
"I know Herbert makes a difference," Bonnie said. "In a recent case, four young children had to be at the courthouse all day, waiting to testify at the trial, and their tension was noticeable and increasing. I took Herbert to visit them, and soon they were laughing, having Herbert do his little tricks, taking him for walks, feeding him treats, and totally forgetting why and where they were. The next afternoon, their grandmother reported that all the kids talked about from their tough day was how much fun they had with Herbert. In an environment of the unknown, a friendly black dog is something people recognize and appreciate."
As a therapy dog with Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) program in Walnut Creek, Calif., Mingus has the enviable job of "Pet Hug Pack Member." His job is to visit with people and put a smile on their faces. "It was important for me to find him a new job," said Ellen Aguirre, Mingus's puppy raiser and career change adopter. "Pet therapy has been perfect - he does his job very well."
During the summer, every Monday Mingus visits Camp Arroyo in Livermore, which is a special camp for kids with serious or life-threatening medical ailments. Every other Friday he also visits seniors in two different senior living complexes in Pleasanton.
"The most common comment we get when we are out is 'Wow! He is a big dog!'" Ellen said. "He weighs 95 pounds. I just tell them that just means there is more to pet!"
Black Lab Rigo goes to work as a therapy dog with his career change adopter, Diana McQuarrie. The duo visit schools, mental health centers, hospitals, and anywhere that might need the gentle, healing visits that a dog can provide. "Rigo is a wise soul," Diana said. "His deep dark eyes melt hearts, calm fears and invite confidences. He is quiet, calm and gentle. He touches many lives, but I dare say none as deeply as mine." Rigo and Diana are the subjects of a new self-published book by author Teri Pichot, called "Transformation Of The Heart: Tales Of The Profound Impact Therapy Dogs Have On Their Humans."
Retirement from guidework for yellow Lab Phoebe truly means "career change." In her new career as a hospital visitation dog, Phoebe and her adopter, Patti Herman of Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., spend their days spreading cheer.
"Phoebe is not only a welcome addition to our family," Patti said, "but she is continuing to share her special calm, loving personality in the Pet Visitation Program at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, where we visit every other week. It's apparent to me as we make our rounds, whether she is greeting the staff, reaching out her paw to visitors, or on
a patient's bed getting hugs and belly rubs, that she is providing a positive benefit to everyone at the hospital. With her Guide Dog experience, Phoebe is a natural and the perfect dog for her new career. I am heartened and proud to be her partner at the other end of the leash... it's a win/win for everyone."