Contributed by Dianne B. Phelps
A few months ago, I received an email from Stephanie Perkins, one of the puppy raisers on the GDB Lounge email list. We discovered that I lived just a couple blocks from where she was working one day a week. So, we decided to meet for lunch to get to know one another. Reyna, the yellow Lab pup Stephanie and her family are co-raising (pictured), and my working yellow Lab Guide, Hibiscus, curled up under the table for a nice snooze while Stephanie and I visited.
Stephanie shared with me the fact that this is a family commitment on the part of the puppy raisers. As she described her experiences with her puppies, I was once again struck by the difference we see in our dogs as they meet us in class with the new techniques being used with the pups. Our dogs are more ready than ever before because of the social exposure and special handling techniques they experience as pups.
As our friendship has continued, Stephanie asked me to attend an outing with her puppy raising group, The Contra Costa County Puppy Raising Club. All together, nine puppies and their raisers and three of us with working guides (myself and Hibiscus, Vicki Kennedy with guide Angela, Judy Hemmer with guide Tamiko) joined in the fun. Angela and Tamiko had been raised in this group, and while Hibiscus (who had been bred before becoming a guide) was with her breeder-keepers, she attended obedience sessions with the group to keep up her very important skills. Stephanie's Husband, Tony, who takes just as much care in this work, was with us on this outing, and many of the puppies had multiple family members working with them.
We all boarded the BART train in Walnut Creek and rode the train all the way to San Francisco International Airport where we got off and walked (pictured). This walk was designed to expose these tiny puppies in training to all sorts of surfaces - some shiny, some rough, some carpeted, up stairs and down, in and out of elevators, through doors, around people and luggage and moving cleaning carts. We popped into a conference room for a quick lunch and a bit of talk, and even went through a simulation of a TSA airport security check. The grown guides were eager to show off for the pups and their raiser, and we three working guide dog handlers were so touched and amazed to watch these little puppies taking in all of these busy experiences, all well behaved and doing their best to do what was asked of them. We then made our way back to the BART station for the long trip home and some warm cozy beds for some tired puppies and guides.
Recently, Stephanie and Tony and their son, Tyler, shared with me the culmination of their work with their previous pup Wendy's graduation. Graduation is the goal toward which every puppy raiser works toward with such mixed emotions (Wendy is pictured with her new partner, Glenda Johnson). On one hand, all puppy raisers want their puppy to make it, but on the other, it is so difficult to lovingly give them up, knowing they will stay with their new forever person.
I had listened to Stephanie speak of the special relationship and bond she and her family had experienced with Wendy and how she worried that just the right loving person would receive her. She even worried about her little Wendy being at GDB and experiencing the kennel life for a period of time. As I listened to her, I realized that her concerns and feelings are just like those of us graduates who face having their guide at GDB or in any kennel situation which separates us for any reason. The fact is, the human-canine bond experienced by those of us connected with GDB is probably surpassed by nothing else in this world. The love of puppy-raisers, staff instructors and alumni for these dogs is something palpable and tangible that we share together. Without our puppy raisers, the dedication of the instructors, and the care given to both pups and dogs alike by GDB's veterinary staff, we would not have such a phenomenal program. As a graduate working my eighth guide dog, I can only say a heart felt thank you!