[u]Executive Details[/b] This thread is not about fishing, but something rather different. Hopefully someone will read it and say - "Hey that's for me. Sign me up..."
[u]Details[/b] Through Girl Scouts my wife and daughter had signed up for some puppy hugging session down at Southeastern Guide Dogs, and of course everyone came home wanting a dog. Having had a Yellow Lab for 14 years I had pretty much had enough of the dog routine and opted out. Fast forward 6 months or so - Wonderboy needed some service hours for graduation. After hearing that he was willing to sign up for it and having thoroughly discussed his responsibilities we went through the process of agreeing to raise a guide dog.
There's an interview and you have to signoff of a variety of documents to say that you understand that the dog is not yours and will be at the biweekly mandatory meetings. These meetings are so that the regional coordinator can a) make sure the dog is making progress on their commands and b) see the health of the dog. There are very few exceptions (dogs in heat, health reasons...) so you are pretty much signing up for 26 Sundays annually to have the dog at a given location. With all that said we found ourselves with a dog a bit quicker than expected - people had moved to the Keys and the dog needed a home.
We ended up with a Gold-a-dor (half Golden Retriever/ half Lab). His name was Lalo (Spanish nickname for Edurado). We received him when he was about 2 or 3 months old; a good looking dog nonetheless. Here he is sitting inside what will be his harness to assist blind people.
We were given a guide dog in training coat, identification cards , and a 174 page "How To" book. There are procedures for everything - and procedures on what not to do. Things like the three or four step process to going in every door every time. (Sit, in sit, take a break - or sit, switch, in, sit, take a break) It depends on where the hinges are on the door.
Wonderboy was in charge of Lalo and Lalo slept next to him every night for the last 10-12 months. This also meant that Wonderboy was on the hook for getting up every morning at about 6 am to let him out (sit, out, sit, forward - Good boy) and then "busy busy" - Good boy. Then "sit, switch, sit, in, sit, good boy ,take a break". Frankly I had my doubts about him lasting, but over time we realized he was good with it. He even went solo to a variety of the meetings - some in Sarasota, some downtown Tampa, some at Apollo Beach...
Last Sat (4/20) was Lalo's in for training ceremony. This is the ceremony where the dog raiser (Wonderboy) turns in the dog to the professional trainer. It's a pretty emotional ceremony. About 28 dogs were handed over. Many people cry, many people hold on to the dog a little extra long, but if you raised the dog properly the dog walks away with any person wagging his tail. Most dogs don't look back as they've become accustomed to something exciting happening with a new handler.
Here's a before after look at Lalo.
Here's a snapshot of Wonderboy handing over Lalo.
For two weeks we swapped out dogs with the regional coordinator - so we raised another dog for a bit as well. Ruth is Lalo's sister. Same litter but very different personalities.
With the last dog handed in and people still misty eyed, they take the raisers to see the new batch of pups ready to be the next group of guide dogs. There's no therapy for giving up a dog like seeing a bunch of pups. On the way we pass by Veteran's Park (the five flags fly the five branches of the armed forces ).
Eventually we make it in the "puppy hugging" area where we were given access to new pups that had not been handled in a large group before. Like all pups they are out of control, pee and poop ("busy") all over the place, and in general everyone feels pretty happy. Some people picked up a new puppy to take home right then and there. We opted not to. (Yeah - they know exactly what they are doing.)
After the puppy hugging we go back to hear from a graduate (receivers of dogs spend 26 days at the facility getting to know the dog and learn commands). However, before that we are given the opportunity to get a feel for what it's like to be guided. You put on a a pair of sunglasses that have been blacked out. I would estimate you can see about 2-5% of what you normally would. It's a pretty unsettling feeling and all the sudden you are much more aware of the roots of oak trees. In this case the dog BB walked me up to a curb where she stopped. I then had to feel for the slope of the sidewalk. During this time you really connect with the dog. It's telling you what to do, but you have to listen to the cues. The entire family did this and everyone agreed that it was hard to just trust the dog.
Like many of the people who get dogs Chris was partially blind and had a disease that at night basically made him 100% blind. Max his dog was there by his side during his presentation. It was somewhat comforting to see Max trying to eat some gum. All dogs are trained not to eat foreign foods - how are blind people going to know what's being eaten - but most dogs struggle with that concept. Lalo was no exception. On a side note with the exception of dogs who become pets all dogs are given away for free; however, the cost for the pet dogs is about $3000. There's a waiting list of about 18 months.
After's Chris' presentation we heard from the Paws for Patriots coordinator. Many dogs go to Veterans who need the extra confidence to know that "someone has their 6", "block" or just give a hug. After having done a couple Heroes On Water sessions I confessed to the regional coordinator that I hope Lalo washes out of Guide Dog school and becomes a Paws for Patriot or a therapy dog.
The odds of him making it through Guide Dog U are 4 in 10. Dogs wash out for a variety of reasons - medical, aren't meant to be guide dogs, or after a while the dog opts out. The other remaining 60% of dogs are career changed with 4 becoming service dogs (breeder, bomb, narcotic, therapy, paws for patriots...) and 2 becoming pets.
After all of those presentations (it takes about 4 hours to get through the sessions) there's a brief recognition of the handlers. Wonderboy received a cool T-Shirt for his efforts. Later he said that it was a great effort and something the started as a mandatory effort really didn't feel like it. Seems he's maturing now...
We ended up going home and found ourselves on 41. By now we needed some chow so we stopped by Beanies for some burgers. I hang out there a bunch so they kinda know me and when an order for a beer was messed up I got one "on the house". We talked about the team effort it was to raise the dog, but Wonderboy and the wife get 90% credit. Ironically Lalo probably spent more time with me during the "waking hours" but being the dog he was he was asleep in my office most of it.
Couple interesting stories while we raised him...
- Lalo went to church with us religiously every Sunday (pun intended); ironically people thought that Wonderboy was blind and had been praying for him; imagine to their shock and somewhat delight that he was fine.
- on the flip side I have taken Lalo into a few drinking establishments; on occasion I've had to wear my sunglasses inside because it was too bright. People were clearing out of the way all over the place. It wasn't until I had put Lalo under the table I realized they thought I was blind. It would have been a hoot to see their faces when I drove home.
- Lalo was given dispensation for sleeping and occasionally snoring during the pastors sermons; ironically when it was mentioned that he was shipping out there was a great gasp in the congregation - seems that even though he was not allowed to be pet while in coat everyone bonded with Lalo
To wrap things up (if you made it this far seems you may be cut out to be a raiser) here's a couple photos we'll remember him by.
This one gives a glimpse of his personality - it's more of a "Yeah I know I'm working, but I'm still a dog."
And a personal favorite of mine
Major thumbs up to Wonderboy for making it through the entire year without complaining.
If you want to learn more about Southeastern Guide dogs you can PM me or go directly to their website
. There are multiple branches in the Tampa/St. Pete and many of the dogs were from out of the region. West Palm, Miami, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Ft. Myers, and even some from North Carolina, Texas.
In all it's a very rewarding experience - as I told the regional coordinator when we first got Lalo. This is a two way street and I'm expecting that Wonderboy will learn a bunch from this. He certainly did as did the rest of the family.
Will we sign up for another dog? Probably, just not this summer. As gut wrenching as it is to hand over the dog knowing that it's going on to help someone else out has it's rewards for sure. Course Wondergirl will be picking up that slack...
Closing things out Wonderboy finally decided on what college he'll be attending. He'll be going to UF and was accepted into the Honor's College. He thinks he'll major in Engineering. So...come Aug/Sept we get to drop him of at UF. I guess that'll be part 2 of the graduate ceremonies.