Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Freya Saves the Day

By Erin Austin, puppy raiser

Black Lab Freya at graduation
Recall day is one of the hardest days ever for a puppy raiser. I think it’s especially hard for a first time raiser. This past February, I had to return my first puppy to the GDB campus in California. Since there was no puppy truck going through my town on recall day, my leader, Mary, her daughter Brenna, and I all headed up to Guide Dogs on our own.

Nothing I could have done would have prepared me for the moment that I placed Freya in her kennel run. In fact, nothing could have prepared me for how fast she flew through all ten phases (though I was worried because she spent the longest in Phase 1 and I was afraid her bow legs were the cause). I was fully prepared to take up a hotel room the day I dropped her off because I was certain that the next day I would receive a call telling me that they was no way they could use such a wild pup and that I should pick her up immediately before she influenced the other dogs in the kennels. But I got no such phone call.

Freya was in formal training for less than three months before she was put into class. I didn’t know exactly how to feel about my dog being with someone else. I had loved and cared for this dog for fourteen months and I did not want to say goodbye forever. I knew that there was a possibility that her new person wouldn’t want to stay in touch with me. I kept reminding myself that this was what she was born to do and I had respect the wishes of her new person.

So, when the day came when I could call her new partner, I prepared myself for someone who wouldn’t want to talk or keep in touch. I got quite the opposite. His name is Mike, and I could hear in his voice how much he loved her and how much Freya had bonded with him. I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when he asked me if I wanted to keep in touch with him. On graduation day we exchanged contact information. While Freya remembered me, she and he were obviously the team now. I was so happy to see that someone appreciated the kind of dog Freya was as much as I did.

Now I receive e-mails of Freya’s many travels and frequent updates on how they are doing as a team. I received this wonderful e-mail about how Freya saved Mike from a wild animal:

Hi Erin,

I have to tell you about a tense few minutes that happened on our walk this weekend. Did you know that there are wild animals in Alabama waiting to feed on a careless Guide Dog Team? Freya and I were walking down a sidewalk when I could suddenly feel a difference in Freya’s stride and body. She usually walks with her front shoulders down and pulling and her head moves around like she is scanning and sniffing the route. But suddenly her shoulders came up, her head stopped moving, and her pace slowed to about half speed. I could tell that she was looking at something in front of us and it kind of spooked her.

After a few more steps she slowed even more and came to a stop. I asked her to go forward and she tried to lead me off the sidewalk and to the grass on the right side. So I stopped her and attempted to find out what she was trying to avoid and what concerned her so much. It turned out to be a Lion waiting for a tasty Guide Team to walk thru the kill zone.

Ok... it wasn’t really a lion. It was a motorcycle parked parallel with the sidewalk and facing toward us. The motorcycle had a large faring and wind screen to protect the rider’s legs, arms, and face. The faring was painted to look like a lion and the two (side-by-side) headlights on the bike were the lion’s eyes. Freya was not going to take any chances by getting too close to this beast of prey.

We eventually worked our way past the wild beast, but Freya kept looking behind us to make sure we were not being chased. My protector (Freya) never left my side. I am so glad that I had her watchful eyes and guidance or else I might have been eaten by the hungry beast. I guess we won't be going to the zoo anytime soon.

Take care,

Mike and Freya on the hunt in Alabama

My fear of having to say goodbye forever is gone. Freya was the wild child of my group, which is full of first-time raisers who will have to give up their puppies soon. I hope that hearing about Freya and her job will make their recall day easier.

I am so happy that Freya is Mike's ever-watchful guide and guardian. Thank you Guide Dogs for making a wonderful match!


  1. As a first time (but not yet qualified) Guide Dog Owner I was really touched by this piece and the emotions involved in letting go of the dog you've loved and nurtured. I can also appreciate the response of the guide dog too as mine refused to approach or pass a large white fibre-glass rhinoceros in a shopping mall during training.

    I am only one of many GDO's who owe people like you much praise and blessings for the time and effort and love that goes into preparing our dogs for the life we have for them to lead. You are the ones who put in all the hard work, and the training that enable them to take on their final training to take on those of us whose lives will be changed by them. It is an awesome change to go from being restricted in what you do and where you go, to being free to go anywhere. That will be me soon. Thank you to all you Puppy raisers for the hard work you put in. It's really appreciated!

  2. This is amazing! I met freya mike and Rosie on a trip to Alaska this past week and I have to say I fell in love, not only with freya and how cute she was but also with their dedication and work together and the way she looked at him. The time I spent with them is something I'll never forget and getting to know their story over lunch and countless times we sat and talked. I could never imagine giving up one of my own dogs but the love freya had for mike, even when she was biting his arm during her free time, was one of those moments that change your life forever. To mike freya and rosie and their happy life together!