Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Passing the Baton

Chiffon and Peppermint
By Sue Mooney

The first time our eyes locked, I was sure she was the one for us - floppy blond ears, liquid brown eyes, a nose that twitched like a bunny's, and over-sized feet that never stopped moving.

There was a plethora of puppies in the exercise pen, running, leaping, smashing into each other as they went every which way chomping on the plastic water bottles their handlers known as the "puppy storks" has thrown to them as playthings. These were future Guide Dogs for the Blind, and we were embarking on our first adventure as puppy raisers.

Every few minutes, this energetic little blond would stop and make definite eye contact with Jim and me, telegraphing, "I think I'm going home with you guys." Turns out she was right - this was Peppermint, the whirling dervish disguised as a yellow lab who would become the center of our universe for the next year or so. The first night we spent with her in the Grand Junction, Colo. motel was unforgettable - at about 5:30 a.m. when we were roused once again by puppy howls, I muttered, "I'm much too old to be raising an 8 week old."

That was over a year ago now, and there have been many firsts with Miss Peppermint - store visits, restaurants, church, writers' group, and public school classroom visits, to name just a few. Peppermint grew and matured in many ways, and so did we. Patience that hadn't been important since our kids were little had to be summoned up again, but with that came huge quantities of love.

Two weeks ago, the time to say goodbye to Peppermint arrived. After many farewells to her friends at all her favorite places, and a puppy goodbye party with the other raisers and club members, it was time to make the reverse journey to Grand Junction. The puppy truck was coming out from the Guide Dog school in California with new puppies, and taking these young adult dogs on to further training at their facility in Oregon.

The trip that beautiful Spring morning was bittersweet, and reminiscent of taking our kids to college many years before. Peppermint would be spending one more night with us. In the morning, she would be leaving, and we would be getting a new puppy to raise - another female lab, only black instead of yellow.

We spent a quiet afternoon together. One of our favorite activities has been shopping at our local mall, so we thoroughly enjoyed mall walking at the Mesa Mall. As they say, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."

After an early dinner with Peppermint quietly at our side, we took an early evening stroll. Later, as we walked back to the motel, we saw that the puppy truck had arrived. When Peppermint saw it, I couldn't help thinking that there was a glimmer of recognition in her eyes.

We got her settled in her crate in our room, and I helped walk the other big dogs who were off to school. Jim spent time getting acquainted with our new family member, Chiffon. She and Peppermint had a chance to meet, too. Chiffon was in the exercise pen, and we guided Peppermint over. Chiffon stood up on the pen, and she and Pepp went nose to nose, tails wagging. It was kind of a "passing of the baton" moment.

Peppermint slept well that night, but even with the new puppy still in the crate on the truck, we didn't - more of those memories of the past year tugging at our heart strings, I guess. When morning came, it was time to bid farewell. We hugged and cuddled Pepp, before turning her over to Lee and Jason's caring, competent hands, and officially welcomed little Chiffon into our family. After watching the puppy truck head out to Oregon with Peppermint and the other big dogs who would be her classmates, we left for Durango with Chiffon. We'll never forget Peppermint, and it will be wonderful to follow her progress.

We're falling more in love with our new fur daughter every day, and it's an amazing process. There's just something about Spring and a new puppy!

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