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Monday, August 9, 2010

A Bigger Job

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting something other than a bill or junk advertising in your mailbox these days can be exciting.  But for 11 volunteer puppy-raisers this past weekend, finding the larger-than-letter-sized envelope with the Leader Dogs for the Blind return address brought lumps to all of our throats.

Mike, Radar, Chloe, Raven, Molly, Nora, Claire, Callie, Madison, Pepper, and Gabby (siblings all) received their first "Birthday Cards" from Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The card is a very nice gesture, but what comes along with the birthday card is what makes our hearts jump into our throats.  Our puppy's return date.  (Mike and Radar go back on the 13th of September, the others go later in October.)

We all knew what we were getting into when we signed our puppy-raiser contract with Leader Dogs last November.  These bundles of joy are not ours to keep, even though they stole our hearts.

Where did the year go?  

The first few weeks seemed to take forever--no sleep, constant vigil for signs our puppies are looking for a place to "park," a thousand times sweeping stuff out of needle-teethed mouths, three-steps backwards walking for every step forward.  The accelerated learning curve of the crucial age before 16 weeks.

Where did the year go?

Suddenly, we noticed our puppies maturing.  The females went into heat; the males began to lift their legs.  Particularly aggravating was the adolescent challenge, "You want me to do what?!"  I'm sure I haven't been the only raiser who was tempted to send a seven-or-eight-month old puppy back to Leader Dogs early!

We hung on.  We shared stories, adventures, pictures, and videos.  We aired our frustrations, offering and receiving advice and understanding via emails.  We kept in close contact through the attentions of Julia, the young girl whose family hosts Reece, the mother of these amazing 11 puppies.

Where did the year go?

Now we share some tears, knowing what's just ahead of us.

Strangers ask of us, "Isn't it hard to give them up?"  Of course it is.  But we get over it.  Many of us go on to do it again, in spite of the difficulty.  We know that what we do is more than just about us.  We are privileged to be a part of an organization that is devoted to "enhancing the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired."

Our tears are also tears of pride.  

We've done the best best we could to prepare our incredible charges for the next phase of their journey at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  

When our puppies return to Leader Dogs, they first must pass a series of physical exams.  An exceptional puppy might be selected for the Leader Dogs breeding program (by the way, host families are needed for breeders--especially moms).  Exams passed, the rest are neutered or spayed and sent into advanced training.  Four phases, four months.

 Our tears are also tears of hope.

Then we wait.  It's hard not to pester the Leader Dogs Puppy Department for news about our puppy-in-training.  Sometimes no news is good news--not every dog is cut out to do this important job.

If our puppies decide "to live an exceptional life" as a Leader Dog, they are placed with a vision-impaired person; together, they continue with 26 more days of training.  Imagine what it must be like to learn to "trust" this bundle of canine capacity to lead you through a darkened world.

Our tears are because we know our puppies are so much more than us.

This morning, I overheard my husband Andy say to FLD Mike, as Mike pestered him for attention:  "Mike,  you have a bigger job to attend to than me."

A special thank-you to Julia, for bringing us together.
Thank-you to FLD Mike's siblings' raisers, for sharing. 
A big thank-you to Andy, for understanding. 
Thank-you to everyone at Leader Dogs for making this possible.
And a thank-you to you, reader, for caring enough to read.


  1. Thanks, Erin! And to the rest of his litter-mates, too. Give that Pompeii of yours a squeeze for us. :)

  2. ' you're makin' me cry while I'm supposed to be paying attention in class...trying to do this on the sly, and you're ruining my cover!

  3. But wait, isn't your class a "grief" class? Think it would be a good cover!

  4. Happy birthday and best of luck in training to Mike and his siblings!

  5. Thanks, L--I'll be sure to keep everyone posted!