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.

Dec 7, 2011

Not Knowing is the Worst

Since Joey was my first guide dog puppy and he is still in training, I haven’t had the chance to experience everything a raiser can face.  Until now, I thought the hardest part of puppy raising was IFT day, when you take your not-so-little-anymore pup back to the school for the next phase of his life. This last week, especially the last couple days, have been pure torture.

With IFT day, you know when it is coming.  Not knowing what is coming, and waiting for news can be much, much worse. 

Joey is in the final stage of his training and could be matched with a student anytime.  I have heard that Southeastern Guide Dogs normally does not have a class in December because of the holiday season.  But there IS a class this month.  I look at this month’s students as receiving one of the greatest Christmas presents ever and I was hoping Joey was going to be one of those presents.  This month’s students were matched up with their dogs last week, but nobody outside of the school knows which dogs those are.  I know that occasionally, but not very often, a match just doesn’t work out and a dog may be returned to the training kennel and a replacement brought in.  Southeastern Guide Dogs will not let the puppy raisers know which dogs are matched for about a week, until they know for sure that every student and dog are the perfect match.  So any day now, hopefully any hour now, I will get a phone call or email telling me if my Joey is indeed part of this class.  Sometimes it is six days after they are matched, sometimes it is longer.  Of course, now that it is possible that Joey has been matched, it is longer.  Every hour of not knowing is agony. 

Well, I had to walk away from writing this post for an appointment. I came back home and found the email I had been waiting for.  Joey has not been matched yet.  The agony of not knowing is over.  Joey not being matched isn’t even a disappointment.  Even if he is ready to be matched up with a student, that guy just hasn’t walked through the door yet.  Yes, I said “that guy”.  I am 100% sure that Joey will go to a man.  He is just too big and too strong for most ladies.  Like Southeastern Guide Dogs, I want Joey to be with somebody that is a perfect match, not just the next one in line. 

Joey doesn’t understand the concept of Christmas anyway.  He will love anybody, anytime.  Unconditionally.  I love that about dogs.

Oct 14, 2011

Great Report Card

I just got Joey's progress report for September.  He is doing very well!
He is now in phase three- polishing and blindfold walks.  The comments by the trainer said---
"Joey was able to ride the bus this last month and we had a fun time trying to fit him on there since he loves to stretch out when he is in a settle. He has excellent obedience and very good turns. I can tell he truly cares about me because he is cautious when moving around obstacles and tight spaces. "
There is his extra large size coming into play. He is a big boy and can definately take up a lot of floor space when he wants to.  The only item not checked off on his report is the one that says " Accepts physical handling/grooming."  I know exactly what this means.  Joey has NEVER accepted getting his toenails clipped.  No matter what or how much I tried, he would not let me close to his feet when I had a clipper.  I would lay it on the floor next to him while playing with him, and work up to holding it in my hand while playing with his foot with my other hand.  But as soon as I moved the clipper toward his foot, he would pull away.  I tried getting him used to a Dremel tool, and the noise never bothered him.  But, if I got it close to his foot, running or not, the game was over.  The only successful method of trimming his nails was to use an emery board.  I even made my own Joey-sized one by glueing coarse sandpaper to a paint paddle. 
Even with the board, I could only get one paw done at a sitting.  He was just too fidgity.  But, Joey seems to be doing very well with his training.  I think if he was going to be career-changed, it would have happened by now.  It looks more and more like he is going to make it as a guide dog.  Keep it up, Joey.  Continue making us proud. 
In other news, our quiet house is back to what we have come to accept as normal.  We have another pup now.  For just over three weeks now, we have had another big black blur slipping and sliding around on the hardwood floors.  He is a nine month old lab named Mick, that we have taken over the job of raising.  He is a lot different from Joey, but we love having him.  But, his name is a bit of a problem.  I am sure that the Mick he was named for was a great person that meant a lot to somebody, but when doing obedience with him, I sound like a McDonalds commercial.  Mick sit, Mick down, Mick stay, Mick switch, Mick in, Mick out---go ahead, say it out loud and you will understand. 

Aug 20, 2011

Guess What Came Today

We hadn't received Joey's harness picture from SEGD yet and I had been anxiously awaiting the mail all week.  When I saw the mailman come by today, I immediately sent my son Brandon out to get the mail.  He came back in very excited.  I didn't realize that he had been waiting for this delivery as much as I was.  He showed me a birthday card that came for him from his godparents in Canada.  My spirits started to sink.  Darn!  Well maybe sometime next week.  After all, there are a lot of dogs going IFT all at once now.  It takes a while to take all the pictures.  Then he handed me an envelope, saying, "Oh, I think you were waiting for this".   It was from Southeastern!  The little stinker had been holding out on me!  Here is what I had been waiting for:

  Like I have seen mentioned in other blogs about Southeastern Guide Dogs, he looks very mature and professional in this picture, not like the big pup we took back to SEGD.  Maybe he understands what his future is all about and is very proud to wear the harness.  Maybe the SEGD photographer is very good at getting just the right shot.   Well, his latest report card said that he gets very excited when the harness comes out, so I think I know the answer to that.  You're looking good Joey!  Keep making us proud!

Jul 13, 2011

Getting Closer

Tonight we got an email that brought varied reactions and emotions from the family.  I found that I was not as happy as I thought I would be when I got this news.  Joey is NOT going to be a breeder.  We were mentally preparing for the disappointment of losing the chance to be a guide, but the joy of bringing him home.  So, now we are accepting the disappointment of Joey NOT coming home, and the joy of him being that much closer to his ultimate goal.  Fortunately, the joy outweighs the sorrow. 
This Saturday, I will be leading some Cub Scouts families to the campus for puppy hugging and dog walking.  Southeastern Guide Dogs differs from other guide dog schools by allowing the general public to come in and play with young puppies that are not yet ready to go home with raisers.  This helps to socialize the pups and give them more confidence.  You can also walk some of the dogs that are in training, to give them a  little break from the kennel with somebody new at the end of the leash.  I can't have any contact with Joey while he is at the school, so I need to avoid the training kennel and the dog walking areas while I am there.  Of course, if any of my scouting families happens to get lucky by walking Joey, they will know that they have to give him a special hug from me.

Jun 28, 2011

Another Hurdle Cleared

During the first month that SEGD puppies are back in for training, the dogs do not get any training.  They are in an adjustment period where they get aclimated to kennel life without the added stress of training.  They get a complete medical checkup, including xrays.  We received word today that Joey passed his hips and elbows evaluation, so he has reached another level in his journey to becoming a guide dog.  But, he is also still a breeder candidate.  If you have been following this blog, you know how we feel about that.  We would be very proud of Joey for being special enough to be selected for breeding, but we would rather see him fixed and become the great guide we know he can be.  Cindy and I avoided talking about what we would do if Joey was selected as a breeder, because we just don't want that to happen.  Since the time is drawing nearer that we would be hearing something, we finally sat down and discussed it.  It was a very short discussion.  If Joey is not going to be a guide dog, then yes, we do want him back in our home.  A lot of SEGD puppy raisers live too far away from the school to be breeder hosts, so we need to take advantage of our proximity to the school and have Joey come home to us. 
We have been keeping a close eye on the Blue Coat Journal blog hoping to catch a picture of Joey, but we haven't been able to positively identify him in any of the pictures yet.  I could spot his blonde brother, Deni, very easily.  But, all the black dogs jumping and playing together look too much alike.    The pictures show bunches of dogs having fun playing together, so even if we can't single out Joey, we know he is having fun.