My experience raising guide dog puppies, especially my second puppy Harlow, has benefited others in my community. Harlow was a pretty easy puppy, other than her tendency to swallow socks whole. Harlow’s graduation was the first opportunity I had to meet a recipient of my hard work in raising guide dogs. Her new owner, Philip Doblado, shared with my family and I the difficult transition he had when deciding to get a guide dog. Philip lost his eyesight a few years before deciding to get a dog and was apprehensive about putting all of his trust into a dog, but his friend Linda Becker convinced him to give it a try. When Philip went to train at San Rafael, he passed up the first dog he was paired with because something didn’t feel right, so Harlow advanced in her training and was paired with Philip. The connection that Philip and Harlow had was instantaneous.
We were lucky enough to see Harlow a few times even after graduation. Once, while at the Braille Institute with our puppy club, we ran into Philip and Harlow taking some classes to help Philip adapt to everyday living with visual impairment. It was exciting to see how Harlow helped Philip to be more confident and enabled him to do things he never could without her by his side. We invited Philip and Harlow to our club’s annual holiday party and got to catch up with them, hearing about their travels and adventures they had faced during the year. Philip told us about the time that Harlow saved him from walking into an open manhole and once when he believes she protected him from potentially being robbed. He said it was the first and only time that he had heard Harlow bark. Sadly, Philip and Harlow moved to Texas, but they still keep in touch with us. Philip wrote to us to tell us of how Harlow once steered him around a rattlesnake. All of these stories really showed me how much my work can impact someone else positively.
Another popular question I get is "How can you give them up?" and my answer is hard for people to understand. I always cry on the days leading up to and the nights after giving my dog back. It's not an easy thing to do, but having given eight dogs back to the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization, and having seen the extraordinary results of my hard work benefit someone else, I can definitely say that the benefits outweigh the heartache. The people who ask this question have never been to a guide dog graduation ceremony, and witnessed how these dogs completely change the life of the blind person. The relationships that guide dog users have with their dogs are bonds much stronger than any fully abled person could fathom. Getting a note in the mail from the owner of our second dog, Harlow, explaining how Harlow saved him from walking into an open manhole was one instance that helped me to truly understand the value of this program.
Through raising guide dogs I have learned things like confidence, patience, people skills, and communication, but most of all I have learned that I can’t control everything. Of the eight dogs I’ve given back to GDB, three have been career changed. I have learned that just because my dog “failed” doesn’t mean that I failed.
By participating in demos, working at club events, and leading 4-H meetings, I learned quite a bit about communication and people skills that I wouldn’t have learned without being involved in Guide Dogs.
Taking my dog out in public has helped me to develop a more outgoing and confident personality. I am used to people giving me funny looks or just staring at me because they've never seen someone with a dog in Target before. Each time I take a dog out with me, I have to answer questions. The typical ones have to do with the dog's age, name, and purpose. Those are easy questions. The questions that are a little more surprising are the ones along the lines of "So you're training a blind dog?" or "Are you totally blind or just partially blind?" Hearing these questions time after time has helped me to remember to be patient with people and that I really can teach someone something new every day.