Sunday, November 17, 2013

Six Months

My goodness does life move quickly - nearly six months since my last post. We are still here, still doing what we do.

In January we got a letter from Guide Dogs introducing us to Norton's new family. My mom read me the letter over the phone and we both cried from the relief of knowing that his new Mom is a Veterinarian - seriously, could Guide Dogs have found him a better home?!? In the months since, we've received pictures and stories of Norton and his new black lab career change brother Mulligan, and we just know he is in exactly the right spot. He has unfortunately shown some symptoms of his mystery illness, but his new family is seriously amazing and does what is right to see he gets better as soon as possible. I miss Norton's giant black blockhead but I hope to see him again soon!

Norton in his new home, with paws in the river!
Handsome Norton in his new home
In April, Niecy returned to Guide Dogs to begin her formal training - what started as a 3 week puppy sit turned into six months of much-needed time with Niecy. We only wished it could have been longer.

Niecy is always a good sport for everything.
Saxon and Niecy grew to love each other.
Niecy in Braille class, just before she returned for training.
 As summer rolled around, I started another master's degree program to work with people with visual impairments (yes, I'm now working on two of them). I spent all summer outside in the sun, practicing learning and teaching safe travel skills with a white cane, including crossing streets, riding busses, and walking through downtown LA while blindfolded. Each week of my school lessons seemed to correspond with that week of Niecy's guide dog training, according to the Guide Dogs' training schedule. It was fun to think of Niecy learning about the same things I was learning, and the anticipation of her graduation grew as I continued into my second quarter of my second master's degree program.

how I spent my summer - under blindfold!

It is almost selfish, I know, to send my pups off to the next phase of their life thinking of what - and who - they will bring back into my life, but it is something I look forward to every time a dog leaves my care. The circle of people I know, love, and care about grows each time someone receives one of my dogs. This is what I think about when people ask me how I can give up my puppies. A very selfish - but you have no idea what they give back to me.  In this regard, Niecy did not disappoint. Last month we were invited to Niecy's graduation ceremony in San Rafael, California to meet her new handler, Susan. Susan lost her last guide dog quite young, to cancer. I told her about the hole Norton left, and about losing Hero, and how Niecy did her best to fill in. Niecy has prepared for this role her whole life, and plays the part well. The graduation ceremony was lovely and meeting Susan was wonderful. I am excited to follow their adventures and count Susan as a friend.

Niecy portrait before she went back for training.

Sometime over the summer, I left the Los Angeles based puppy club I help found in 2001 and joined one in Orange County, California. While I miss the old puppy club members, the new puppy club is closer to where I live and overall, a much better fit when it comes to club leadership. I am thankful for the support of GDB's management in facilitating this change as smoothly as possible, and for introducing me to more amazing puppy raisers. The new puppy club uses positive reinforcement based training. While GDB is moving towards this methodology as a whole, the new club's leader is trained by the Karen Pryor Academy and our raisers benefit from her expertise. Prentice and I have been working hard to learn the new techniques - and Saxon is very happy to be our guinea pig, since their are treats involved. :)

Did somebody say treats? - Saxon

In August, we received a new guide dog puppy - Supreme, a male yellow lab. Supreme is a lovely, tiny, mellow little guy and we are really enjoying him. His name has grown on us, too. He is Guide Dogs' very first puppy named "Supreme" - I guess they were saving it for someone special! Supreme and Saxon share the same sire, Jenkins, but the two "S" dogs could not be more different in personality, size, fur color! Supreme is now five months old and cruising. We have high hopes for him as well.

Prentice and Supreme, fresh off the puppy truck!

Brothers! Tiny Supreme and Gigantic Saxon

When you're a puppy, everything's a pillow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Hero, You are Missed.

On February 11, 2013, we said goodbye to Hero, the second guide dog puppy I raised. Yesterday would have been his 15th birthday.

Hero and I, the day I picked him up from Guide Dogs' kennels. I was 15, he was 10.5 weeks old
Hero was fully trained as a Guide Dog but started having trouble while he was waiting to be matched with a visually impaired partner. He would quit in the middle of his training routes, wouldn't respond to commands. He made up his mind and he didn't want to be a guide dog, he wanted to be our dog.

Close up of Hero's face as he eats a conversation heart that says "My Hero"
Little did we know we needed Hero more than ever. Just a year after Hero came home to us, my father was diagnosed with Cancer. The whole time my dad was sick, Hero stayed by my Dad's side. When my Dad died, Hero remained our constant through sad, scary, and challenging times. There are no words to adequately describe how much I owe to Hero and how much my family loved him.

My Hero with his sad face on
Over the last few years we watched him grow older, his hips gave out more and more, he panted a lot, but he was a happy boy, even until his last moments. As strange as it sounds, I miss helping him get up when he lost his old-man balance. I always felt like he did the exact same thing for me after my dad died. He was always there for me when I needed help and I was honored to pay him back.

Hero at 13, looking out the front door of the house
We miss you Hero. We are so, so, so glad you didn't want to be a guide dog.

13 year old Hero basking in the late afternoon sunshine at the house.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Saxon Checks In

Close up of Saxon on the beach, happy smile on his face.

One of Saxon's favorite things about being a career change dog is the local Southern California dog beach. He has the best time there and it is so fun to watch him be a total goofball.

Saxon running full speed on the beach - with a giant smile still on his face!
Today as soon as I let him off the leash he took off, running about a quarter mile down the beach at top speed before slamming on the brakes and sprinting back.

A wide shot of Saxon standing with a 'found' tennis ball in his mouth like he actually fetched it (he didn't!)

At one point he even picked up a tennis ball and pretended he knew what to do with it! He was a happy dogs today, and happy dogs make happy owners.

The happiest Saxon in the world

I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday season, we certainly did!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Etsy Black (Dog) Friday Sale!

I decided to offer free first class domestic shipping on all orders placed this weekend at my etsy store - which has new, way nicer pictures of my leashes! Now is a great time to buy if you've been wanting one of my leashes, just saying... :)

Just enter the code blackdogfriday with your order and your first class domestic shipping is free!

Monday, November 19, 2012

One Month with Niecy

Saturday marked one month since Niecy's been in my care, seems like it flew right by! After so many months nursing Norton through his illness, it is almost a little weird to just get up and go someplace with a guide dog puppy again without another thought, but Niecy is a perfect puppy for it. She is so easy to have around and loves to get up and go wherever and whenever. When we are out in public, she walks like she knows she was born for this life and so she makes me look good. Here are some pictures from our first month together. Still not sure how much longer I will have Niecy, so we are just taking things one day at a time.

Close up of Niecy's pretty face!

Niecy and Saxon sunbathing... their lives are obviously very difficult.

A half asleep Niecy in the car. My puppies always rest their heads on the car seat - why is that?

Niecy in front of some pumpkins at Trader Joe's

Niecy asleep on top of four of her toys.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Not Norton

Norton in his puppy coat for his "final" portraits - at almost 10 months

Well, a little more dust has settled onto this blog, and again I apologize. It has been a tough few months, but I wanted to update anyone who is still out there reading this blog on my last few months as a puppy raiser. In September, Norton got very sick, again. My sweet boy went from being a happy-go-lucky dude one night to a puppy who didn't want to move - not even to sit down - because he was so sick and in pain the next morning. There were some very scary days for Norton and everyone who loves him, and the experience was enough that once Norton was on the mend, Guide Dogs for the Blind called him back to their Northern California campus for a medical evaluation to try to find out why he keeps getting so sick. Late in the month, I sent a recovering Norton back to GDB's campus for his medical evaluation and I will tell you right now that in my 15 years of puppy raising, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do - I was an absolute, blubbering wreck of a human being.

Norton sitting by the front door on the morning he left for Guide Dogs - lunch packed in a bag that says his name on it!

Fortunately, perhaps, for Norton, none of the wonderful, knowledgable, experienced Veterinarians he's seen can find a single thing wrong with him to explain why he keeps getting sick and so he was declared clinically normal and I am very hopeful that he will never ever get horribly sick ever again. Unfortunately for Norton, his medical history was enough to convince Guide Dogs that he probably shouldn't be a guide dog, and he was released from their training program due to an unknown medical prognosis.

A close up of Norton's adorable face.

While I know this is the right decision for Norton, I am still very, very sad. He would have been an amazing, gorgeous guide dog or stud dog, and really, selfishly I just wasn't ready to be done with raising him. He is - as of this writing, not even 11 months old, and when he isn't sick, he is a fantastic, wonderful, model guide dog puppy.

Norton at LAX leading a "welcome home" committee with endless enthusiasm... :)

Guide Dogs for the Blind has an entire department dedicated to finding homes for their career change dogs, and while I know that they will find an awesome home for Norton, a really big part of me wanted it to be with me, but with my grad school schedule and budget combined... it just wouldn't be fair to Norton, or to me. Knowing that Guide Dogs will do right by him is comforting and I am very thankful to be involved with an organization that takes such wonderful care of their dogs - even the ones that don't become guides.

A blurry but adorable picture of my black boys - Norton and Saxon, now both career changes!

In October, just after I received news of Norton's career change, I got a message from a friend asking if I could help with someone very special - Norton's sister, puppy in training Niecy. As it turns out, Niecy's raiser is dealing with some health problems of her own and Niecy needed a place to stay. I don't think I could say "yes" fast enough - a little piece of Norton was just what I needed, and to be able to help out a fellow puppy raiser on top of it? What an honor.

Niecy getting a bath and looking especially like her brother
Niecy is wonderful, adorable, hilarious - just like her brother, only she's never been sick a day in her life. I am not sure how long she will be staying with me at this point, but I am really enjoying her company and how much she reminds me of her brother. I find myself petting her and telling her about him, and how some things just happen for a reason. It is nice to have a puppy by my side again, with a sigh and a hopeful eye towards the future.

The "black dogs" now - Niecy and Saxon

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hello Again

This blog has collected a little dust recently, and I apologize for the lack of updates. On top of some not so fun things going on, Norton has been feeling a bit under the weather and so we have been taking it easy and I haven't felt much like writing about things that are not fun to write about. Or read about. The good news is that Norton is feeling much better now and things are looking up.

Melissa and her new guide dog meet for the first time.

I also wanted to share that my dear friend Melissa, whose first guide dog Anya passed away in June is back at Guide Dogs for the Blind training with her second guide dog. She updates her blog every night with her adventures from the day. I anxiously await each entry and love hearing about her training and seeing pictures of her new guy - he is so cute and I can't wait to meet him! Please check out her blog and follow along on her journey.