As we slide into our booth at the Hometown Grill (curses, caught eating out again), I ask Andy, Do you want me to read it to you? "Yes," he replies.
I don't get very far into the letter before my eyes well up and I can't read the words anymore. Great. I can't believe that the letter Leader Dog graduate, Jim Platzer, read to us (from his Leader Dog, Maddy, to her puppy-raiser) at Puppy Days a couple of weeks ago still has the same effect over me. Sandy in Puppy Development at Leader Dogs for the Blind emailed me a copy this morning and I printed it so I could share it with Andy.
I remove my glasses, wipe my eyes with my as-of-yet-clean napkin, and try again. When I get to the sentence, "You left a great impact on me, and as such, I have chosen to live an exceptional life," I can't continue. A woman having coffee at the counter turns to look at me and smiles; I glance up and try to laugh.
That's when I notice Andy. He's got his glasses off, wiping his eyes, too.
We both fall about laughing, if for nothing else to keep from bawling. Neither of us seems to care what fools we are making of ourselves.
Andy is an amazing man. I think I fell for him the very first time he came into my house. He stopped over right from work, dressed in a nice suit. I had two mutt dogs at the time, and when he saw them, he dropped to his knees for a double face licking. Never mind the dog hair, never mind the slobber. I remember standing there thinking to myself, Who IS this guy?
Back to Maddy's letter. I have to pause at "The most rewarding endeavor in life is to care for others." (I think of my brother Jim's sermon.) And pause again when Maddy worries about when she can't work for Jim any longer, and that the only thing that saves her is the knowledge that her raiser "will be out there...raising another puppy that will follow in my footsteps."
When I am finally able to finish, I tell Andy, There wasn't a dry eye in the building when Jim Platzer read this to us, including him!
Jim Platzer, accompanied by his guide dog, Maddy, gave a moving speech before he broke us all up with his letter "from Maddy." Jim was articulate, funny, inspiring, and informative as he spoke of his journey from sight to insight dealing with the degenerative disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. He shared stories and feelings and told what all of us puppy-raisers in the room needed to hear--that our efforts in raising puppies impacts other people's lives in ways we can't imagine.
If there were any puppy-raisers listening who thought they weren't going to raise another puppy, they certainly changed their minds after hearing Jim speak, I added. While Andy is very supportive of my puppy-raising activities, I know he looks forward to the time in-between puppies!
"I never expected you NOT to raise another puppy," he says.
Meanwhile, FLD Mike is snoozing comfortably under our booth, undisturbed by my emotions. Thanks, I suppose, to our four-miles-plus trek earlier this morning.
FLD Mike is due to return to Leader Dogs for the Blind on September 13 to begin his formal training. Not so far away. Not so very far away at all. But thanks to Jim Platzer, and his Leader Dog Maddy, when I shed my tears when "giving up" Mike, I will think of Jim and LD Maddy. I will remember that FLD Mike is following in Maddy's footsteps as he masters new skills. And like Maddy, if he decides "to live an exceptional life," he will persist to provide "independence and mobility for someone who is blind."
Thank you, Jim Platzer and Leader Dog Maddy!