Puppy raiser Jennifer Edwards is an assistant director at Camp Augusta, a residential summer camp in Northern California that provides children a safe, fun-filled experience to serve as a catalyst for personal growth and an appreciation of the outdoors. This past year, Jennifer brought along her Guide Dog puppy, Neil; the following is an excerpt she wrote for the camp’s newsletter highlighting their adventures.
Neil came to camp in January, when the skies were predominantly over-cast, the air was chill, and there was snow on the ground. As he stepped out of the car, his nose went up, and he took his first glance at the cabins tipped with snow and the giant oak and pine trees towering above us. Camp has a quiet, regal air in the winter, with only five or six people on site and everything closed up. Beneath the quiet, I have always had a sense of resting and anticipation for the time when children and families spark the magic to life again.
By spring, Neil had grown and the 2009 season was ready to start. Camp and Neil both had received some polishing during the winter and were ready to see what the season had to offer. May is a time of awakening and blossoming; new animals are born, and we often see fawns still with spots in the underbrush. The flowers and trees are starting to push new growth out at an alarming rate. We all got used to the change in pace and energy. That undercurrent of magic present in the winter was starting to sparkle with life.
After three weeks of staff training in June came the summer season. For
Neil this was the beginning of a brave new world of evenings spent cuddled with groups of campers listening to stories, playing tug in the lodge, hearing his name called from six different directions at campfire, and meeting many, many new friends. He learned how to listen, even with lots of distractions around, and the joy that can be found surrounded by friends and family. He arose each day to the vision of campers, waking up slowly to the fresh smell and soft light of morning. Neil would fall asleep for his mid-afternoon nap to the sound of the fairies giggling as they stole all the post-it notes from the office, the triumphant cheer as a camper that had returned year after year finally completed the Giant’s Junkyard (a ropes course). His evenings were spent watching campers run and laugh and play, or enjoying the firelight at the campfire circle, glancing up to see millions of stars all the more bright without the haze given off by cities.
He, and the campers in our care, had a magical summer that sadly is at an end.
I just came back from watching a Guide Dogs’ graduation, where the fully trained dogs are presented by their puppy raisers to the people they will be bonded with, to work together to navigate the world safely. The thought of Neil graduating is sad because we won’t see him anymore, but also very rewarding, in that the efforts we put in have helped him become a well adjusted, happy dog and given him this amazing opportunity to work so closely with another person. I am reminded that this is not dissimilar from our goal with the campers in our care, to provide them with tools and experiences that will help them grow. These tools, in addition to the many they receive from parents, teachers and friends, foster the development of well adjusted and happy people.
It has been amazing to watch Neil grow, both physically and emotionally, over the past nine months. Going from a small puppy, learning about the world, to a well-traveled, confident and adaptable creature that travels comfortably in many different situations and environments has been very rewarding.
Neil goes back to Guide Dogs for the Blind’s training center in San Rafael, California at the end of November. Regardless of how he does, we’re very proud of him and how he has grown in his time here at Camp Augusta. Neil is now a part of the Camp Augusta family, irrespective of where his path in life goes. In the case that our paths diverge, we send him forward with the knowledge that we hold him in our hearts and wish for him all the best the world has to offer.