Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We've Got Mail: A GDB Alumna Pays Tribute to Puppy Raisers

Dear Puppy Raisers,

I have been using these incredible dogs for more than 35 years. I got my first dog when I was 18 and preparing to go to college. Although blind from the age of 14, I knew nothing about working dogs; indeed, I had never even met one. My first dog was named Whirl. She was a beautiful, delightful Golden Retriever. As with most Goldens, she had a happy, fun-loving personality, yet was an excellent worker. Whirl never met a tennis ball she didn’t love!

Debra Cooper and Portia
Immediately after returning from the school in California, I went to Arizona State University, which at that time had approximately 40,000 students. Whirl and I were sorority girls and spent four years walking all over that campus. After graduating, I taught high school for a couple of years before going to work at the Arizona Republic newspaper. Naturally, Whirl was with me every step of the way. Everyone loved her; it would have been impossible not to.

After Whirl had to officially “hang up the harness,” I went on to have four more Golden Retriever guides. Three of my dogs worked for nearly ten years each. Today, I have Portia, a precious little black Lab, who is sitting right here at my feet as I write this.

What I want to convey to you is two-fold. First, I want you to know how much each of these dogs has meant to me. Because they exist, I can do so much more, be so much more. Prior to getting Whirl, I felt embarrassed about being disabled. In fact, my greatest reluctance about getting my first dog was that now “everyone would know.” For the previous four years, while with a boyfriend, or group of girls, no one really knew that I was “different.” The fact that I had no independence was irrelevant – at that time in my life, the most important issue to me was that no one know I was blind.

Getting Whirl completely changed my life. We could do anything together: walk down the street, cross intersections, go into stores. I came to literally trust her with my life. But most importantly, my shame vanished. I went from embarrassed of being me to incredibly proud of being us.

Because of the autonomy a Guide Dog provides, I have been able to get an education, work at a variety of jobs, even walk my son to school when he was a little boy. Just having Whirl, Nomi or Rosie at my side has helped me to be a stronger, more confident woman. Moreover, when in public with my dog, I have had the utter joy of seeing how very helpful, kind and thoughtful people can be.

Which brings me to my second point: how much I appreciate you. I cannot thank you enough for all the time and “heart” each of you has invested in this program. Whether it is caring for the puppies day to day, taking them to vet appointments, or introducing them to the home environment on the weekends, each of you is playing a priceless role in another person’s future. That puppy who chews your shoes, or just refuses to learn the “down” command, or throws up at the most inconvenient time, may one day make the absolute difference in someone’s life. Perhaps it is a person who is alone and homebound, or is an individual who uses a cane and never really feels safe, or maybe, just maybe, there is another young person out there who is profoundly ashamed of being blind. The puppy you know and love today may very possibly release her from that shame tomorrow.

Blindness is extremely difficult. It is a very hard way to live. There are far more challenges than you could ever imagine. However, because you selflessly raise these dogs, love and care for them - all the time knowing you must say goodbye to them one day – because of you, life becomes more about choices, and less about challenges.

God placed these wonderful dogs on this earth to help His children. After all your hard work, when that dog is presented to its owner, I know God smiles.

God bless you all.

Debra Cooper


  1. Thank you, Debra, for your words of encouragement to us, the Guide Dog puppy raisers. And of course I have a special bias towards you and your dog, Portia. My daughter, Moriah, and I were Portia's puppy raisers!

    I am convinced that every inconvenience, and the reluctance to say goodbye to Portia when she left our home, was worth it all.

    Thank you for courageously pursuing freedom for your life! You continue to be an inspiration to us, and we give thanks for you (and Portia) in our prayers.

    ~Kristine and Moriah Magee

  2. Such a touching story. It makes it that much easier to be a puppy raiser when I read and hear stories like this one.

  3. Thank you Debra. What a wonderful story. This kind of story sure helps after someone on the street tells us puppy raisers that we are being cruel to the puppy by making them work instead letting them play. This really helps us understand why we raise them. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Exactly what I needed to remind me why I'm doing what I'm doing! Thank you!!

    Zenith's puppy raiser :)

  5. As a hopeful puppy raiser, it is surprising to me how few have commented on this lovely post that beautifully sums up why raisers, CFRs, Club leaders, and employees of GSB do what they do - simply to assist others. Even as a newcomer, I am keenly aware of the idea of helping someone else, whatever the need. This post makes me even more determined to finish what I have begun and do so as long as I am able. Thank you for your willingness to share your beautiful story.

    --A Puppy Raiser In Training