Puppy walking

An adventure in looking after a puppy until it is old enough to be properly trained as a guide dog for the blind.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Puppy walking intro

When I worked in Manotick 15 years ago, the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind had just built a new centre there. It housed dogs in training, offices and the blind people who had to be trained how to handle the trained dogs. I heard they had a volunteer program of people called “puppy walkers” and I thought that sounded like a great volunteer job - walking puppies! When I looked into it, it turned out that “puppy walkers” were like foster parents who raised a dog during its puppy years until it was old enough to be properly trained as an assistance dog. You can’t raise an assistance dog in isolation in a kennel because then it doesn’t get proper socialization. As well, puppy walkers get to take the puppy into public places so that it gets additional socializing that regular pet dogs do not. A guide dog has to be able to accept busses and shopping malls and restaurants, unlike a pet dog and it’s best to expose them to these environments at an early age.

I was accepted into the volunteer program and I got my puppy, Uma of the U litter, on December 13, 1990. She was only 6 weeks old, having been born on October 31. We raised her right until January of 1992 and then she went into the program to be trained. Unfortunately, kennel life did not agree with her and she flunked. Puppy walkers are usually offered the dog as a pet if it flunks and that is what happened with our Uma. She became our friend and Buddha for the next 13 years. When she passed away this June, we (read “I”) started talking about getting another guide dog puppy. Only this time, we would let it be adopted by someone else if it flunked. We hemmed and hawed about this for a while and finally last week, I called Guide Dogs to volunteer. Because it had been so long since the last (and only other) time we did this, we went to the orientation session and learned they had changed a few things. We were also living in a different house under different circumstances.

The puppy walking person (Sheila) came out to the house a few days after the orientation session and after some time asking questions and surveying our domain, pronounced us “awesome”. I still feared being rejected, especially because we didn’t have a fenced yard. We made plans to put up temporary fencing and visited the Home Depot to ascertain supplies. Later that very afternoon, they called us and asked if we could take a puppy two days later, on Friday! We said yes and were thrown into a tizzy. We went back to the Home Depot and got $68 worth of materials and constructed a fence. We puppy-proofed the house in anticipation of our charge’s arrival.

Friday afternoon, we received Rockwell, an 11 week old Labrador-Golden cross. He’d been “born in the USA” and needed a home to settle into asap. Since they put puppies in homes at the age of 8 weeks now, he was overdue for a “permanent” puppy walker household. We got our manual of instructions from Guide Dogs and asked many questions we had forgotten the answers to over 14 years with an adult dog. Shortly after Sheila left us alone with Rockwell, he went to the back patio door and looked out. Then he sat down and glanced over his shoulder at me. i thought this was so cute I took a picture of him sitting there. Then I noticed his “sit” posture looked a little odd and realized he was peeing on the carpet at the door! Apparently, his sit and stare over the shoulder was his request to go out to pee. Ah well, live and learn.

We played with him quite a bit before dinner and by the time I put him in his kennel so we could eat, he was zonked and slept for hours. I woke him up before we went to bed, so he would hopefully sleep through the night. We played some more and then he went out for one last pee and then to bed. He cried just a little at being left alone and then we all went to sleep. All three of us were exhausted from the newness of the situation.

Rockwell slept until 6:30 the next morning and then I heard him whimper so I got up to let him out. He went straight out for a pee and then I thought I’d put him back in the box and go back for a bit of shuteye myself. Forget it! He barked and yelped so I gave him breakfast instead and then we went out for the inevitable poop that directly follows food in the puppy tummy. I sat up for a while, reading the paper and then popped him back in the kennel and went back to bed. He protested mildly and then went to sleep himself.

After we all got up again at 9ish, we spent much of the day reading, eating, peeing and at least the dog got a lot of snoozing in. Right now, Rockwell is sleeping under my chair as I write this and Peter is working on his bicycle in the garage. There will be leftover lasagna and salad for dinner, some tv to watch and then to bed early. Once we get a proper routine going, I think we will all settle down.


At 9:25 p.m., September 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Julia, this is Sharon Edwards' daughter Sarah, my mom sent me the link to this blog and I was reading this while waiting for my boyfriend David (of over 2 years WOO!) to call me (he's eating crabs with family), and it was really interesting with the dogs. I wouldn't be able to give up the puppy at the end, I can barely say bye to Smokey (i'm sure you have heard of him from my mom lol) just at the night time to go to bed. I burst out laughing at the "sit posture" part. Good luck with Rockwell :).


At 10:04 a.m., September 11, 2005, Blogger JuliaR said...

Sarah! Welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy future posts too. When we gave Uma back to Guide Dogs for her training, there was crying on both sides. But you do have the knowledge that someone else is going to need that dog a lot more than you ever will. And when (not if) Rocky graduates, we get to go to the graduation and meet his new owner and see them be a real team together. That will be worth it. Something like your parents watching you go out in the world on your own - happy and sad at the same time. Well, maybe more happy than sad after 18 years! After all, we'll only have Rocky for a year. :)


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