Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chill-axin at Sea Ranch

What a weekend! I'll have to post pictures in my next entry cause I'm not on my own paw-top this weekend. My grandpaw turned 80 this week, so our family all met up at this place called Sea Ranch. With a word like Sea in the name, you would think I would see more water. But all I see is lots of trees! Big! Giant! Huge trees! Crazy big trees! Mom says they are red wood trees - and she's right, the wood is kinda red.

Because this is Dad's family, Accord is here too! What fun!! We've been playing and having fun (while being good too, of course). We have chewed on bones together and played tug. We have romped on the decks and gone potty on the strangest ground! It's all prickly and feels funny under my feet! And don't ask me to sit on it! NOT fun!! A girl is sensitive back there, ya know?!?!

We have seen some crazy stuff while we left home yesterday. As we were driving here, there were cows in the middle of the road!! How crazy is that? Don't they know that cars are dangerous? Silly cows! I knew that were all sorts of other friends around here just by smelling the ground around the house, but we have seen some crazy things! A couple of foxes came running around the house! And a whole bunch of deer have been around! But then came the ugly... Oh so ugly!! Mom called them turkeys. But, she calls me a turkey sometimes, but I don't look anything like them! They have wrinkly reddish heads and skinny scaley legs. And there were SO many of them! At least 10 were walking around the driveway! It was SO crazy! Next time Mom calls me a turkey, I'm gonna say "I'm WAY cuter than that!"

Accord is awake and says its time to play again! Gotta go!

Love and Licks,


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I'm Back in Action!

I'm home! I'm home! Miss Melanie came to visit me in the kennel yesterday.She does that sometimes, so I didn't think too much of it (other than being excited to see her). But yesterday was different. She had a leash! AND she put it on me! She sprung me!! I'm bummed that my black lab roommate didn't get to come with us, but I was SO excited to see my Mom and Dad! I wiggled so hard I almost broke myself!

Now, its back to work for me! With Mom today and Dad tomorrow. After work on Friday, we are heading off for a family weekend for Papa Marks' 80th Birthday. Then home and off again for a trip with my 'rents. Much more excitement than in the kennel.

Happy to be home!!

Love and Licks,

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Puppy Raising Now - 20 years later

Now that I have survived (and enjoyed) my 20th Fun Day, I thought I would do some more reflecting on my puppy raising experiences. Poppy is still in season - hopefully coming home on Wednesday or Thursday (since we leave for a family weekend at Sea Ranch on Friday through Sunday, then leave Monday for a week at the Sullivan family coast house. I really don't want her to stay at GDB an extra week (nor do I want to be away from her for an extra week!)

Puppy raising is a totally different experience in 2009 than it was in 1989. Puppies can no longer stay home alone while the whole family is at home/work/play. Puppies have way more expectations upon them and way fewer toy and food options. No more free for all toys, no more raw meat for skinny GSDs or cottage cheese and raw eggs for all. The changes have their merits. I like the dogs we are turning out now, their behavior and their successes. The overall program seems less personal these days. There are few staff members that I would consider "friends." I think that goes for many puppy groups as well. We come to a meeting, get started and get out of there. Now, it is something to get through. The group I grew up in shared life together. Some of the people from back then have turned in to life long friends. It makes me sad to see groups that come and don't talk to each other, don't know about each others lives outside of the dog circle. As a leader, I have tried to foster those relationships, but I don't think I've been as successful as I would like to be.

On the dog front, I think my relationship with my dogs are totally different. As much as I loved my first dogs, I don't really consider what we had as a relationship. I didn't do anything to try to train them from their perspective. I expected them to adapt to whatever was in me. Over the years I have learned that there is NO dog training without a relationship between dog and handler. To be the most successful trainer I can be, I need to figure out how the dog's brain works and change MY habits and techniques to fit within that dog's frame of mind. I need to figure how what motivates each dog and the best way to teach that dog. I really try to focus on the dog part of the relationship and doing my best to work with that particular dog. I would love to be able to go back and raise my first 5 puppies again. Knowing what I know now, I wonder how differently they would have turned out. 3 of the 5 were medical career changes, so the ultimate outcomes would not have changed. But, I wonder how different their personalities and habits would have been. And the two GSDs... Oh my! I really wonder how differently they would have turned out. If only!

As a leader, I have tried to help teach my raisers how to do this as well. Sometimes, it means ME taking their dog and doing the figuring out part, then helping them implement the ideas I've come up with. But, more important that being perfect dog handlers is for the kids to feel successful and have fun raising their puppies. Though it is important, overall, for the dogs to be successful, I feel like it is more important for the kids to feel like they are doing a good job and being successful. I hope that I help my kids to feel that (and I call all of the raiser my "kids" the 9 year olds an the retired couples - they are all my "kids" when talking about puppy raisers.)

My reasons for raising are different now as well. Or maybe my understanding of why and what I am doing. Now, I look at my job as one that is ultimately to make the life easier of whoever ends up with the puppy. If I am able to socialize a puppy to the point where they are capable of handling anything that life can throw at them - public situations, transportation, home situations - I am improving the life of someone beyond what the dog itself is doing in guiding them or doing other work for them. If I focus on obedience and make sure that the dog's behavior is appropriate, it is one less battle that will need to be taken on with the training staff and the future partner of the dog. Beyond that, I have a more complete idea of everything that the dogs will do in the future. I think that gives me a better idea of what I should be doing and the whys of it all.

It has been a great ride! I am looking forward to whats to come. Especially getting to see this face again. She can be a ton of work, but we miss Poppy!!

Happy Puppy Raising!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

20 Years of Puppy Raising - Then

Well, 20 years and 4 days! Since Poppy is in season, I decided to take some time to reflect on my last 20 years of puppy raising, the changes in the program and the changes in me.

I was 12 when my friend Jill and I spent the day at a mall petting zoo. There was a local telethon going on at the mall for our Children's Hospital, with a petting zoo in an empty old store. I saw guide dog puppies there. I was painfully shy at that point in my life. I didn't like strangers - or tall men for that matter - and tried to avoid talking to them if I could. But, I was so intrigued by these puppies being allowed to go places! I wanted to know more. I probably asked a million questions and took every hand out they had. I remember that it took a lot to talk to them. It was SO cool to see the dogs in the mall! That's what it was about for me - getting to take a dog places with me. My parents never let our pet dog go anywhere, no matter how many times I asked (or maybe because of how many times I asked??) I saw these pups in the mall and thought that this was how I could get to take a dog with me! I had also always wanted a golden retriever. Again, my parents kept saying no. I don't think I really had any clue about what a guide dog really was or what I was going to be doing. I tried to convince my parents to let me raise a puppy when we got home. But, I thought it was a no-go. I went to camp with my friend Elisa and had pretty much forgotten about it, when my parents brought it up again on our way home. I remember shaking with excitement while my mom was on the phone with the puppy group leader. 3 weeks later, I was getting a puppy!

On August 4, 1989, I went to my first Fun Day in San Rafael. Back then, it was actually called a Field Day. I had only attended 2 puppy meetings and had my home visit. I will probably never forget that my leader, Eve Hoopes, told her dog to stop being "bitchy" right there at our kitchen table! I was 12 and, if I used such words, it was never in front of an adult and I had never had an adult say that one in front of me! That's where I learned that our "cuss" word came from a term for a female dog.

That Field Day seemed to last a life time! I'm sure that I drove people crazy! I started the day without a puppy and had to wait until 1 PM. to get in line for my dog. I didn't think I was going to survive (looking back, I thought the time would never come, but the potential of losing my life was probably more a result of driving my mother insane with my impatience!) I lined up in the kennel as soon as my mom would let me. I think I stood there for over an hour waiting for them to hand out puppies, but I was first in line! When the time finally came, I was handed a fluffy golden retriever named Jessa. She was the beginning of quite an adventure!

In 1989, guide dog puppies could live in the back yard for a big chunk of the day. Jessa stayed in the backyard while Mom was teaching, Andy and I were in school and Dad was working. Jessa hung out with our pet dog Mitzi all day. One day, I arrived home from school to my neighbor running down the street at me. Jessa had fallen in our pool and could not get herself out. She was in the deep end and made it to a step, but could not jump out. Our neighbor jumped the fence and pulled her out. I don't remember this, but that night was our first meeting with Lynne Shaw. She worked for GDB and worked with the puppies and raisers (a CFR of sorts). I learned years later that Jessa falling in the pool was the last straw before GDB started requiring puppy raisers to have a kennel or fenced off pool. Sorry to those of you who have had to change your yard because of my puppy!

Having this puppy by my side, I was forced to talk to people (strangers no less!) and figured out that I could do it. Not all people were so scary! As this was a 4-H project, I also had to figure out how to do public speaking. At my first fair talk, all I had to do was introduce myself and the puppy I had (Jessa was too young for the fair, so I had a GSD named Nicolette) and tell the people what breeds of dogs are used in the program. I'm told that I looked at my feet, about to burst into tears the whole time. I forgot my dog's name. I'm not sure that I remembered my own name. But, I survived. The next fair talk was a little easier. I look back on those days and chuckle. Now, I can do it with my brain turned off.

My parents originally told me that I could raise 1 puppy. I'm not sure what convinced them to let me raise another. I've never asked. Maybe because it was teaching me so much and giving me more self confidence than I had previously had. Or maybe it was that I made some very dear friends in the group (even the obnoxious older brother types Doug). I'm not sure why, but it has turned into one of the best things that I have done in my life. I'm thankful that they said yes the first time and have been supportive ever since.

In my first set of dogs (my first 5 puppies, raised through Jr High and High School), I am not convinced that I had a great grasp of why we raise the puppies. At first, it was so I could take my puppy and have a golden retriever. But, then it was about the friends I had made and the people in my group and the person I was with a leash in my hand. Jessa was career changed for bad (HORRIBLE) hips. Then came Chotah, a female golden retriever who was Jessa's half sister. She was also career changed for bad hips.

Then came Harvard, my big boy. He was a brute of a GSD at 110 pounds. He went on to graduate with the best person. Bob is an amazing man and was the perfect person to have my first graduate. At 15, I remember being struck by the fact that this man was my dog in a person body. They were SO much alike - though I don't think Bob would ever bite a waiter at a Christmas party as Harvard did. Oops! The incident lead to Harvard's retirement, but not to the end of our relationship. Bob was such a gift to me, teaching me about guide work and blindness. He also taught me that I wasn't losing a dog at graduation. I was gaining another person in my life.

Next was Lindsay, my screwball female GSD. She was my first behavioral career change. I often wonder how she would have turned out if I raised her now, rather than at 15. My dog knowledge is greater and I try to always be aware of the dog and how our relationship is enhancing or detracting from the dog's behavior. With the others I know they were not meant to be guides. I have no doubt that, even without medical problems, none of the others would have graduated. And that no one else could have raised the dog into a guide.

The last of my first set was Georgie. Another female golden. Another dog dropped for bad hips. But, since my parents always promised me that I could keep a CC'd dog if I didn't raise another, I jumped at the chance to take her. I was leaving for college and wasn't planning on raising any more. So, she came home! She spent 2 years with them, then came to live with me. She was with me until she started having seizures and problems that needed more supervision than a single working adult could provide. She spent the last year of her life back with my parents.

One of the things that made puppy raising so special for me was the people. I had a wonderful puppy group. I had adults I could turn to if I needed help. They were the first adults that I considered friends. I had friends my own age that were some of my best friends. I looked forward to all the puppy meetings and all the long car rides going to Field Days around the state. It was a great way for me to spend my teen years.

I can't say enough about how special the people were that worked in the Puppy Raising Department back then. Not that they aren't great today, but you had personal relationships with them. All raisers did. You sent them cards and pictures of your puppies. You included them in your life, because they were apart of it. Geri Owens was amazing. Not only was she super friendly and knowledgeable, but she also had an amazing knack for knowing the family tree of each and every dog in the program. It was insane! Char Hanson was equally amazing (even if she did give my second puppy away for someone to walk when we were late to pick her up. We got lost. And Char lost my puppy. I was 13 and was almost in tears over it). Paul Keasberry (sp??) was great. Betsy was fabulous (despite the fact that I spent years scared of her). I can look back now and see that Lynne Shaw had tremendous dog knowledge, but I was so stinking scared of her that I couldn't think when I was around her back then. And Howard. What a character! There was a large span of time when I spoke to him each and every Thursday for training updates on the puppies in my group. He brought me Georgie (and ruined her on the way by allowing her to sit in the front seat. To her dying day, if she could push someone into giving up the front seat for her, she would). He's still around GDB and still a character.

And Dr Dietrich! Doc - the guide dog school vet is amazing. He has done such special things for me over the years - things that are just his nature, but meant so much to me at the time. He's not involved with every puppy, but those moments that he is involved in are often scary or upsetting. He has had a way of making them so much easier to get through. 20 years later, he is still the vet that I compare all others to. I have a hard time finding a new vet because I expect so much out of them based on my experiences with Doc. He's still at GDB and is still amazing. When Poppy had her throat issue, I was so happy he was the one treating us that I could have cried! I will be one sad puppy raiser when he retires!

That is the then. I will end here for now and reflect on the years since later. Its been a great adventure for me and I am thankful every day for the people and pups that have come in to my life over the past 20 years. Hopefully, I'll dig up some "then" pictures to add too :)

No licks, but lots of love,
Cassie (missing Poppy)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I'm Outta Here!

Just wanted to let you all know that I'm going on a 3 week vacation! I'm going to a resort where there is no internet connection, where I have to do nothing other than lay around and relax or play as I please. My meals will be prepared for me and someone will clean up after me. And, I will have LOTS of friends around me! I'm came in season today, so its off the the GDB Kennels I go!

I'm really hoping that they forget that Mom told them I cannot have Nylabones - I saw them in the other kennels and REALLY hope I get one too!

But, there are lots of things I am going to miss while I am away too. Mom's work picnic is on Saturday, then my puppy group is having one on Tuesday. Next Friday, I was supposed to go to a BBQ at Melanie's house. Next Saturday is Fun Day - my sisters and brothers will be there and I'm gonna miss out! Then, Sunday is the big Ferry Ride with Mom's old puppy group. A BBQ at our house follows later in the week, my 2-foot cousin is having a Birthday party and all sorts of cool stuff is happening while I'm away!! I'm TOTALLY bummed about that! But, hopefully, I will be back home before Mom and Dad head off for a weekend at Sea Ranch, then back to Morro Bay for a week. I hear Accord is going to be at both those places! So, at least some fun stuff will be happening when I get back.

Have fun and Fun Day for me!
Love and Licks,