Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let Us Be Your Guide

black Lab GDB puppy beside a stack of books in a library

by Liz Montgomery, inspired by Jacinda

“Let us be your guide… to the social sciences,” reads the poster at the entrance to the Social Science section of the Brigham Young University (BYU) Library. The poster was made possible by the one and only—and might I add, the adorable— Jacinda.

Jacinda is my fourth Guide Dog puppy-in-training, and the first I’ve trained by myself. I raised the other three (Dodger, Mayfield, and Unitas) with the help of my family, beginning when I was 12 years old. I took a break in high school because my life became too busy, but when I came out to BYU, I decided to start again. I figured, “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be busy all my life. Why not have a pup by my side through it all?” I puppy-sat my freshman year and then got Jacinda as a transfer (from another raiser family) in August 2010.
And so our adventure began. She went everywhere with me: to classes, church, on errands, you name it. And when I got a job in the library in January, she went there with me, too. (I’m pretty sure she’s spent more time in the library than the majority of the student body.)

It felt so good to have a dog with me all the time, even if she wasn’t always the easiest pup. One of the hardest things for me was learning to deal with the social implications of having a dog by my side. It was difficult for me to continue to be enthusiastic about answering the same set of seven or so questions for the umpteenth time, and I didn’t like being seen as merely a “dog trainer” when there was so much more to me. But I’ve worked through those issues, and now I see Jacinda as an excuse to interact with others and hopefully brighten their day.

When I got Jacinda, I didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with her during the ensuing months. Because the responsibilities with my previous three dogs were shared among my family members, I didn’t spend as much time with those pups as I did with Jacinda, who is completely my responsibility. I’ve had her for 9.5 months, somewhere around 27 days a month (calculating in puppy-trading), and roughly 16 waking hours a day. If you do the math, that’s 4,104 hours she and I have spent together. I’m pretty sure you’d fall in love with a pet rock having spent that much time with it, let alone a spunky, super cute black Lab.

Not only do I value the bond that we share, but I feel blessed for the things I have learned from training her, the most important of which is how to treat others. Since Jacinda apparently had quite a wild youth, I felt as though she had many negative judgments passed on to her, which I found hard not to take personally. I felt:(1) you can’t disapprove of my girl without at least in part disapproving of me and (2) if you knew her like I do, I know you’d love her. I know everything there is to know about that dog: I know her personality; I know her strengths and weaknesses. I know her self-control tactics and how hard she tries, and most importantly, I know her potential. Through that experience, I've come to the conclusion that to know someone is to love them, and it has made me want to get to know others more and judge them less. Jacinda is far from perfect, but I love her all the same, and she has made me want to love others all the same as well.

Well, needless to say, Jacinda will be missed come August; giving her up will probably be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And like many other raisers can attest, the only way I will be able to get through it is by thinking about the difference she is going to make in the world as she does exactly what she is meant to do. And if all goes well, some very lucky person is going to be getting an incredibly beautiful pair of brown eyes. And trust me—those eyes see everything.

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