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)


Erin and the Furry Troops said...

Wow, the way you started into raising was pretty much the same way I did. Take a dog with you? Cool.

My parents were more like: Don't keep the dog forever? Great! lol

Boy little did they know what they were getting into!!

Thanks for sharing your story!

Poppy The Puppy said...

I say that about my parents all the time - they had no clue what they were really getting in to!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I always like hearing how people got involved with Guide Dogs. We have a Jessa currently in our club. :)

Hobbes Dogs said...

Congratulations on 20 years Cassie - that is quite an accomplishment!

I am closing in on 6 years now, and was a little older than you were when I started, but several parts of my story are very similar to yours ... especially how shy I was when I started! I hope one day I'll be able to say I've been doing this for 20 years as well.

Cabana's Puppy Raiser said...

I can't even imagine you as a shy teenager! It's amazing how much puppy raising is a part of who you are.

How funny that GDB let their pups roam loose around your backyard back then. Seems crazy now!

I loved reading that post!