Mar 17, 2012

The Final Chapter

Ok, those of you out there that follow my blog probably follow other Southeastern Guide Dogs puppy raiser blogs and have read about Puppy Raiser Day a number of times.  This posting won't be much different from all of them, at least to you.  But, this one is very different to me because this was our FIRST puppy raiser day. 
First, the explanation.........  A few days before a class of new guide dogs and their handlers graduate, the families that raised those dogs are invited to the school to see their clumsy little balls of puppy fur actually walk their new owners around in a very grownup and professional manner.  Then the puppy raisers get to meet that new person and spend some quality time with their former  (and forever) loved one. 
Today was that day for us and Joey.  It was amazing to see Joey walk the route with his new forever person, Bob.  Then we got to meet Bob.  I had pictured this meeting in my head dozens of times.  Every time, he would get about 20 feet away from us before Joey would explode into an excited black blur, half dragging Bob the rest of the way to us.  In actuality, Bob walked all the way to us with Joey totally ignoring us.  We introduced ourselves, taking time to properly greet Bob before asking that long awaited question, "May we pet your dog?"   I guess we took too much time, because Bob, who apparently was just as excited as we were, asked us if we wanted to pet Joey.  Cindy and the boys all got down to greet Joey, who until that second, was still properly ignoring us.  He suddenly turned back into a big puppy again.  He was so excited to see us.  After we all got a chance to calm down a little, we got to know Bob a little bit. 
                                                 Picture of our family with Bob and Joey
                                                               front and center

I am going to take a little trip back in time here, to our very first puppy raiser group meeting before ever getting Joey.  One of the heavily experienced raisers and long time volunteer at Southeastern, was telling us about puppy raiser day.  He told us that on that day, our dog would show us that he really wasn't our dog any longer.  He was absolutly right.  It was very clear to us that Joey was with Bob now.  As happy as he was to see us, Joey kept physical contact with Bob's leg the entire time and instantly reacted to his voice.  The way the trainers match up the students and dogs is wonderful.  Some would say there is a science to it, but others would say it is an art.  Those trainers are true artists of matching.  Bob and Joey are, of course, the perfect match.  We always knew that Joey would would be totally devoted to whoever he was matched with, but it was still amazing to see.  We moved inside to the dining room to have a wonderful brunch and get to know each other more.  Bob gave us a thank you card from the entire class.  Last week was Joey's birthday and I had dropped off a cake for the students and trainers, and Frosty Paws doggy ice cream for the dogs.  They all enjoyed their little party and everyone in the class signed the card.  I was deeply touched by their gesture.  We presented Bob with a bunch of Joey's old toys and a photo album of Joey's life prior to being matched; from a picture of the litter the day he was born, to the harness picture taken after he went in for training.  There was also a DVD with a slide show of Joey set to music, and a CD with all our photos of Joey along with a diary of all his adventures, including a few that never made it onto this blog. 
Far too quickly, we got the warning that our time together was coming to an end.  After saying goodbye and assuring each other we that we would get back in touch after the mandatory 90 day no-contact period, I got down for a little man-to-man with Joey.  I told him that there was only one thing I had asked of him when he went in for training, "Make us proud."  He had done that.  Now, there was one last thing for him to do------

Keep him safe.

Mar 3, 2012

The Best News Ever

Back in December, just one day after that month's Southeastern Guidedogs class started, I happened to see a Facebook entry that mentioned the name of one of the dogs that was matched in that class.  (The student's wife did it.) That dog was from our puppy raiser group, and went in for training the same time Joey did.  The names of the dogs in that class weren't officially released for another week, so I had to stay quiet about what I saw posted on-line for millions of people around the world to see.  When the next class started, I started looking at Facebook pretty heavily, trying to see anything about which dogs were matched.  I couldn't find anything. 
This week, another class started and I again started searching Facebook for any news at all.   We will be moving out of the area soon, and this class might be the last chance we have to see Joey again and meet his forever person.  I even openned a Twitter account and started searching it to find any news.  -----------Nothing.  I guess Southeastern found the weak spot in in their information security and took measures to plug the leak.  After a couple days, I accepted the fact that I will have to wait for the official news to be released.  Yesterday morning, my area coordinator called and gave me the best news ever.  Joey HAS been matched!  I know that there is still a very small chance that the match will not work out, and he may have to be swapped out for another dog, but I am still very happy that we will get to close this chapter of our lives before moving to Canada.  In a couple weeks, we will go to the campus and watch from a distance as Joey guides his new handler around the Freedom Walk.  It will be hard to keep the kids from calling out to Joey, but he can't know we are there.  It would be very distracting for him.  After the walk, we will be able to meet the handler and greet Joey again.

Today we attended the Southeastern Guidedogs Walkathon and enjoyed seeing some old friends and meeting new ones.  I met a few people and dogs that I have been following on-line through their blogs.  I was suffering from a sore knee, so I didn't actually walk the 3K, but spent the time greeting other non-walkers and answering questions about Southeastern, particularly the one about how can we possibly give up these wonderful dogs when it is time to go in for training. 
After the walkathon, it was time to head out to the school itself for Mick's ITF date. I haven't mentioned Mick much here, because this blog is Just About Joey.  Mick is the pup we got 6 months ago, when he was already about 8 months old.  The timing of Mick's IFT date and Joey's matching has put me in a rather rare circumstance of attending IFT and Puppy Raiser Day in the same month. 
So, after a few months of very little posting, I should be back on-line in just two weeks, with the final chapter of Just About Joey.